Why video game composer Austin Wintory lives for awkward situations - Technical.ly Brooklyn

Creative

Jul. 13, 2016 11:33 am

Why video game composer Austin Wintory lives for awkward situations

“If everyone is trying to be some kind of weird, socially acceptable creature, then we’re not going to get anywhere,” said the Grammy-nominated composer at NYU last week.

Austin Wintory speaks in the NYU Tandon School of Engineering building.

(Photo by Grant Engle)

It might sound a little odd for a bunch of NYU game development and engineering students to come see a musician give a two-plus hour talk, but Austin Wintory isn’t your “typical” composer.

Sure, Wintory is classically trained — practicing his passion in both NYU’s and the University of Southern California’s acclaimed music programs years ago — but the Los Angeles-based composer is most well-known for his work in the video game industry.

And he writes music for video games with a very specific purpose.

“How do I take my music and use it as a force for good?” he asked a group of NYU students last week. “I write music to nudge the world in the direction I want it to go. I know that sounds lofty, but I believe every action we take impacts the world, even if that effect seems minuscule to some.”

"Everything we do has the potential to be art."
Austin Wintory

Wintory wrote the score for the hit PlayStation game, Journey, which became the first video game soundtrack to ever be nominated for a Grammy in 2012.

The composer, who also wrote the score for the massively successful Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, told the NYU students at the beginning of his talk that he wanted to have an open conversation, rather than a lecture.

For two-and-a-half hours in NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering building, Wintory exchanged ideas with students about relying on string or brass instruments depending on the project, the importance of playing a game extensively before writing music for it and even the exact definitions of “music” and “art.”

“Everything we do has the potential to be art — it’s just the meaning is completely subjective,” Wintory said. “Music wasn’t really created. It was discovered. It comes down to acoustical physics. So, being an artist in this form, it requires you to rely on tonal science.”

Throughout the talk, Wintory imparted some professional guidance to the talk’s attendees, mostly centered around taking creative risks and going outside of their respective comfort zones.

“I’ve thought I was going to get fired from nearly every project I’ve worked on,” Wintory said with a chuckle. “I’ve found that more people want to hire me because I’m always willing to try new things and go for the unexpected.”

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Wintory closed Thursday’s talk with a few lines that seemed to resonate with the audience, prompting a loud ovation in the small room.

“Being divisive is core to an artist’s life. Have ideas. Shake things up,” Wintory urged. “When you’re in a creative environment, don’t be afraid to stick your neck out. When I was unafraid to put myself in awkward situations, my career really took off. People who didn’t want me got rid of me quickly, but people who wanted me held on tighter than ever before. If everyone is trying to be some kind of weird, socially acceptable creature, then we’re not going to get anywhere.”

Wintory followed Thursday’s talk at NYU with a live performance of the Journey soundtrack at National Sawdust in Williamsburg Friday night.

The performance consisted of someone playing Journey on a big screen while Wintory conducted an orchestra playing the score.

While Wintory described it as “amazing but stressful” the night before the performance, he said live performances of his scores are always an honor and something he plans to continue doing.

What’s next for Wintory? He mentioned he’s working on exciting projects he can’t yet talk about, but he was very proud to give the crowd a preview of music from the upcoming game Abzû. The game marks a reunion with the artist behind Journey, which generated significant buzz in the gaming community at this year’s E3.

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