Inside the Music with Video Game Composer Inon Zur

Interview with Inon Zur

Originally writing for movies and television, Emmy award-winning composer Inon Zur has become one of the leading video game composers of the 21st century, having worked on Fallout, Dragon Age, and Prince of Persia, among other notable titles.

Most recently, Zur wrote the immersive soundtrack to the latest in the Syberia series, Syberia: The World Before – the world premiere of which will be performed by Emily Bear on November 20th, 2022 at The Soraya in Los Angeles in a concert that will also feature music from the Fallout series, the Dragon Age series, The Elder Scrolls: Blades, and the highly anticipated Starfield. Tickets are available here.

Download Syberia: The World Before sheet music

Interview with video game composer Inon Zur

Sheet Music Direct ("S"): You are obviously best-known today for your video game music but you've also done plenty of work for movies and television. Can you tell us a little about your musical background and how you got into composing for games?

Inon Zur ("I"): I arrived in the United States in 1990 with the strong aspiration to excel in jazz music but after one inspiring year studying composition at the Grove School of Music in Los Angeles, I discovered film music and this totally changed my perspective on how I looked at composing. The combination of dramatic elements, emotional aspects and the connection with visual projects really had a great impact on me and compelled me to pursue this direction. So I started sending demos and composing for student films while simultaneously studying film music privately and attending UCLA. My big opportunity came later to score some TV shows at the Fox Family channel which I happily embraced because I thought this would be a great stepping stone for me to score film. In 1996 I was approached by a manager for video game composers to see if I would be interested to compose music for games. At this time the field was relatively unknown to most people and of course to me as well, so I did not see it as a great opportunity at first. However, recognizing the fact that I could record with live orchestras for games really pushed me to give it a try because I always wanted to record orchestras for my projects. My first game was Star Trek: Klingon Academy which I recorded with the Seattle Symphony. The experience was so powerful I felt I was embarking on a new journey that would take me on great adventures.

S: Who were your musical inspirations growing up?

I: I had many. I studied classical music rigorously, from the early composers of the 15th and 16th centuries through the 20th century. In my late teenage years, I was also introduced to jazz and rock music which also opened up new horizons in my musical imagination and influenced me, as well as classical composers like Debussy, Stravinsky, Dvořák, Brahms, Beethoven, Bach, and Prokoviev. But also jazz composers like Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis. In pop/rock music, bands like The Beatles, The Police and of course Queen had a great impact on my writing also. But then I got introduced to film composers John Williams, Thomas Newman, and Jerry Goldsmith. Combined they all had a great influence on my writing.

S: Can you walk us through your writing process? How is this different for video games compared to film and TV?

   When you start composing for video games you have a clean slate. There is often no picture to score to initially."

I: When you start composing for video games you have a clean slate. There is often no picture to score to initially. In many cases there are no images available just a description. So what's really interesting for me is finding what kind of atmosphere and emotion I need to create for this specific level or scene. For that I need to know the basic story of the game, the characters, the style of the gameplay, how it looks and feels. These components are crucial to influencing how I will write the music. I need to know where, when, and most importantly why – what is the main motivation for the story? I have to know all of these elements before I even start writing one note.

S: We're delighted to have the official sheet music for Syberia: The World Before. The original score features piano heavily alongside a full orchestra. How well do you think these songs adapted for solo piano?

I: Obviously the whole score for Syberia: The World Before was heavily influenced and conceived as a piano concerto. The piano has a major role in the score, like in the main story, and thus it was really straightforward to adapt the music into piano solo. In fact, many of the parts could be taken as is to be performed. Unlike other scores featuring no piano at all where you have to start from scratch, in this case the writing is very much piano-driven and so this is the most natural translation from the score into solo piano.

   The whole score for Syberia: The World Before was heavily influenced and conceived as a piano concerto."

S: Do you have a favorite musical moment from Syberia: The World Before?

I: I do! My favorite musical moment is "The Hymn of Vaghen" – when Dana is old and she is approaching the house of Kate Walker's mother when Kate is a young girl. Dana enters the home and hears piano playing. She recognizes the melody playing is the same that she herself played when she was very young in Vaghen and that the little girl playing is her granddaughter. It moves her to tears emotionally, seeing and hearing her granddaughter playing the same melody that she did 50 years ago. The music that I wrote there started with a solo piano, which I played on my own piano at home. Then the music segways once Dana is sitting next to Kate and helping her, eventually they end up playing a concert on four hands. The music grows and grows, the orchestra then steps in and bursts of memories are flooding Dana, with the cinematics following her memories. This is by far my favorite moment in the game.

S: It's a fantastic piece of music, we agree! You also composed the score for the highly anticipated Starfield, slated for release next year. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?

I: Starfield is a huge universe of exploration, with all the magic, mystery and new revelations of outer space. It is an epic game of hope and wonder asking the big questions, where did we come from and where are we going? Once you embark on this journey it is immensely captivating and deeply emotional, and the music conveys this shared adventure for humanity.

S: Is there any music by other artists or composers that you're enjoying listening to, or indeed playing right now?

I: I'm always on the search for new music artists and musical voices. I'm still very much engaged in listening to classical composers but at the same time young, up-and-coming composers.

S: What else are you working on next that we can look forward to?

I: Some very exciting projects are in the works but I cannot disclose yet. I can say they are extremely diverse with different styles, hopefully I can reveal more in the near future.

S: We look forward to hearing what's in store in due course! Thanks for your time.

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