With the impending release of our fourth Elite: Dangerous audiobook, John Harper’s Elite: And Here The Wheel – available soon on CD and MP3 download – we thought we’d take a chance to chat with the musician we’ve chosen to bring John’s work to life, Steve Wilson. Composing on Soundcloud as Omniboy, Steve has provide the musical score for this upcoming release, a mix of space piracy, family honour and political intrigue. Christopher Jarvis (head honcho and sound engineering master at the Radio Theatre Workshop) sat him down for a few moments to hear his take on Elite: Dangerous, score composition and the romance of science fiction.
RTW: Welcome to the Elite: Dangerous audiobooks, Steve.
SW: Thank you.
RTW: You’ve got quite a variety of music styles on your Soundcloud page – Omniboy. Why were you inspired to write music about Elite: Dangerous?
SW: I’ve always loved film music and grew up listening to various composers such as John Williams, Hanz Zimmer, Jerry Goldsmith and Vangelis. Elite: Dangerous was a great way to focus my attention on the type of music I like to compose and the themes I am most excited about, space and sci-fi. I do compose a number of other types of music but I find that electronic orchestral music is what I do best.
RTW: What’s your history with the game series?
SW: A number of years ago – about thirty in total – I was playing Elite on my friend’s BBC computer. I used to love that game and although I only played it now and again I loved the feeling of exploration and the vastness of the Elite universe. I try to reflect these emotions in my music.
RTW: We found you as a result of your involvement with the Elite Soundcloud group – how did you come across that and was it hard to get included? How might others get involved?
SW: It was actually very straightforward to become included. I visited the Elite forums where Elite fiction and community creations were discussed. There are a lot of very talented people creating some amazing Elite: Dangerous related works. I had listened to a number of Lave Radio broadcasts previously and when I saw the opportunity to get involved on one of the threads I decided to do just that. Allen Stroud gave me a link to join the Elite: Dangerous play-list and then shortly after I had my music as part of the Lave Radio live stream. There are a lot of different composers out there all doing great work!
RTW: A lot of composers in the Elite Soundcloud have very different styles and textures, all expressing and somehow perfectly fitting the Elite universe. Your music is very cinematic, broad and orchestral. What is it that defines that aspect of the game world for you?
SW: A well written orchestral track can be timeless. I guess I’m trying to touch on that timeless feel to an extent with a modern electronic style mixed in. I think the vast style differences in the music being created reflects just how different each person expresses themselves and how Elite: Dangerous, space and the universe makes them feel.
RTW: The pieces themselves have a great thematic variety throughout – do you let the music itself develop, or do your have a narrative in your head to which the music provides a score?
SW: For Encounter I had a very clear vision of how the music would evolve. It was a story of discovery, fear, threat, battle and finally victory in the face of death. I listen to so many film tracks to get an understanding of how to try and create an emotion. Which instruments to use, how to score each section. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but when it comes together it is exciting. The reflection, or “calm” section in To Come was one of these sections that worked really well. The simple use of cello over voices and strings gives a feeling of vastness and also a romantic connection with the universe. The music in Alien is fantastic, especially the intro theme. I remember watching the documentary about the music composition where someone mentioned the romantic feeling that space can present. For His Journey it really was an experiment of different emotions using basically the same chord structure and overall musical theme. I had been listening to a lot of Hanz Zimmer so this probably had something to do with the heavy drums in the third phrase.
RTW: And for the techies, what’s your set-up? Do you use live instrument recordings or is your work entirely digital?
SW: I use Cubase 8 with a number of VST instruments: Vienna Symphonic, Omnisphere, u-he Zebra & Diva, plus plenty of Kontakt instruments. I recently transferred all my VST’s onto an SSD which made a lot of difference to loading times. I would recommend it highly. Other than VST’s, I sometimes use an electric guitar but only for very basic heavy chords or simple leads. Anything more complicated and I would more than likely hire a session player. If you are serious about producing high quality tracks and can afford it I would recommend using live performers. I can’t state enough how you cannot beat the real thing no matter if that is piano, guitar, strings or vocals.
RTW: What would you love to be able to do next?
SW: I would love to compose for film if the opportunity ever presented itself and write for a real Orchestra. Although desktop sampling has come a long way, you just can’t beat the real thing. Sci-fi and space musical composition really is the thing that excites me. I would love to do any composition for that type of thing again, whether it be film, TV or audiobook. It would be good to attempt to compose other types of electronic orchestral music as well. I’m up for trying anything. Dive in at the deep end and see how it pans out. The worse thing to happen is you fail.
Thanks for your time Steve, you are clearly a great fit for both the audio world, the film industry and, of course, Fantastic Books Audio!
Welcome to the family, you’re Fantastic!