Composer Kevin Riepl will be best known to film fans as the man behind the excellent music to movies such as The Aggression Scale and Silent Night (both directed by Stephen C Miller) and Cabin Fever 3: Patient Zero (due out next month). He’s also an extremely successful composer of video game scores, and can count among his successes the music to Gears of War, Hunted: The Demon’s Forge and Aliens: Colonial Marines. This is Horror caught up with this prolific composer of macabre and often pulse-pounding music to ask him about his work for movies and games, and about his love of music in general.
What was the first soundtrack or composition that you listened to and how did it affect you?
The first soundtrack that affected me while watching a film that I can remember was Star Wars. I don’t think I can clearly explain how it affected me, but it was the first film I can recall seeing in a theater. So it might have been the entire presentation and the weight of the production which was all so new to me. That’s what seemed to make such an impact and introduced me to a new world at such a young age. At that time, I was unaware (or my parents were) that one could purchase a soundtrack separately from the film and listen to it at home. That being said, many years later, the first soundtrack that I remember getting – and not for the orchestral pieces but for the rock songs on it – was Back To The Future. I asked for the cassette just solely for the Johnny B. Good song. When I heard Alan Silvestri’s pieces on the album isolated from the film, I was taken back to the same feeling I had when watching the film in the theater, and the same feeling I had while watching Star Wars. From that point on I was hooked. It opened a whole new world of music for me. I grew up in a household where my parents listened to Meatloaf, Billy Joel, Steppenwolf, Creedence Clearwater Revival and the like (which, mind you, were very integral to the rock stages of my life). Orchestral and/or classical music was not very present in the mix though. Star Wars and Back To The Future opened that world up for me.
What was it that first attracted you to horror?
Ridley Scott’s Alien. During the same period of my childhood where I was introduced to Star Wars, Back To The Future and similar films. My parents, oddly enough, let me join them in watching Alien on VHS. Since I was so young, of course they realized it was a bad choice in letting me watch when the chestburster scene came up. Fighting to keep their hands from covering my eyes, I caught glimpses of the ‘horror’ on screen. Seeing everything up to that point in the film, all of Giger’s work, the music, the facehugger, it was all enough to make an impression. I think from that point on, every weekend when my family went to the video rental store, I searched for the movies with the scariest, darkest looking cover art. There was an ‘otherworldly’ quality to these films. I was hooked.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on an unannounced video game title and Christian Sesma’s feature, The Night Crew. After that I am set to work on Eric Blue’s horror film Beacon Point.
What achievement are you most proud of?
In life, my twin seven year old boys. In work, I am most proud that I am able to actually do this for a living. There is not one specific achievement I can pick out that I am more proud of than others. This career is forever growing and building upon itself, so every achievement is something I value.
Whom do you admire musically?
Any artist that sticks with their own voice, or who actually has their own voice, whether world renowned or not. Those are the ones who inspire me. In my opinion, being a composer for any medium, it is essential to be as versatile as possible. I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from original artists who do their own thing and do it passionately. This sort of goes along the same thought process of composers who say they admire and look up to the likes of John Williams (I am of course one of them). But I think it’s essential to go back and see who he was inspired by, who he admired, where his ‘voice’ came from…the origins. With Williams, you’d find Korngold, Stravinsky, Dvorak etc. With Elfman you’d find Bernard Herrmann, Stravinsky, Philip Glass, and Elfman is heavily influenced by the music from the 1920s and 1930s. In short, I admire those who have original voices and create new ideas and sounds, along with those that take on their influences and mold it into a new sound of their own, their own unique voice.
What influences you when writing music?
Whether it’s for a videogame or film, it’s speaking with the creative director or director of the film; whoever’s vision I am going to be supporting with music. I get amped and excited about the project when I hear the passion in their voice as they explain their vision. After that, the concept art, story boards, the film, the gameplay – all of this is definitely an integral part of what influences me when I write for any given project.
Does writing music for games differ from writing for film and television? Are there any specific difficulties?
When writing for features, there is a story arc which usually allows you to develop and expand on themes and motifs. With video games, it is a whole different frame of mind. Being that gameplay is not a fixed linear story, the music has to be flexible and be used in a variety of ways. When composing for games, you not only have to think of how a full piece of music will sound, but also how different elements in that one piece of music may be used when isolated or combined with different musical elements.
Sometimes a composer is brought on to a project early and there isn’t anything to play at that point. When that happens we rely on script, the creative director’s vision, concept art, and any musical references the team has compiled. When being brought onto a project during the latter development period, one of the things I request is either a playable build or video captures of gameplay. Any sort of gameplay that captures the mood of the game.
What has fan reaction been like to the music you’ve written? Do gamers take time out to write to you?
I am always amazed at the support and passion of game music fans. They do, in fact, take the time to write, whether it is through email or leaving comments on my site, Facebook or Twitter. I do my darned best to get back to each and every one of those that write me.
Could you recommend a score for our readers?
If you mean one of my own, I would say my latest score being released in July for Cabin Fever: Patient Zero.
If I were to suggest a score from another composer…definitely check out Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score for The Miner’s Hymns. The documentary film is about the ill-fated coal mining communities in North East England. It is a beautifully sad score.
JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT
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