Scoring videogames with Laura Karpman


Laura Karpman has been providing scores for film and television for over eighteen years. It wasn’t until a few years ago that she branched out into the world of videogame music, a surprising move on her part. Read on as FG talks to the award-winning composer about her experience in scoring videogames among other things.

Interested in music from the mere age of seven, Laura has come a long way and is now an established composer, producing music for works in film and television such as Taken, The Breakup, Odyssey 5 and The Living Edens to name a few. But taking on the project of scoring Sony’s Everquest II in 2004 was an interesting new direction for the composer to go into.

After working in the new surroundings of the video game music department, Laura says she does see some “basic nitty gritty differences between different media." In writing game music she is scoring events, atmospheres, and moments, instead of specific hits and dialogue. Something that can be very freeing to compose, given that she's able to "really go for it without other constraints.”

However, despite EQ2 being a completely different form of media for Laura to work on compared to her previous works, she nevertheless approaches “every project conceptually, regardless of medium.” She also feels that although many of her projects are so different from each other, she loves working on all of them, be it “writing an epic sci-fi score, an animated cartoon score, concert music, or a big action sweeping video game score.”

As far as creative process for scoring a videogame is concerned, there are many factors to choose from that can be of influence on the music, such as storyboards, footage, in-game locations and scenarios. Laura herself tries to work with any and all material that she can get her hands on for inspiration. “For EQ2 I was mainly inspired both by written descriptions from the developers and ideas from the art dept. We also spent some time playing Everquest 1 just to get a general hands-on feeling of how the game worked. I’m always interested in taking any concrete idea that already exists within the game and finding ways that music can embellish this idea in order to make the game truly immersive.”

Concerning the structure of her compositions, Laura feels that some instruments can be “used as signature voices for characters”, but that on the whole her work for each game requires a generally orchestral sound that is unique.

“I would say that my sound is created more orchestrationally than individually,”

Composing game-related music has not changed Laura’s personal musical style in scoring that she has had over the years. “One of the things I do love about game music is that its roots are so transparent. In their scores, game composers are musically acknowledging the sonic allusions. I had a lot of fun with this on EQ2, where I musically scored the game as a study of the greatest hits of 20th century orchestral music. “

Laura is also no stranger to performing her works live in concert. Most recently, Laura led the Metropole Orchestra for the second edition of the Games In Music concert in the Netherlands. “The performance was a combination of rock, rap, jazz and epic orchestral music. The audience went wild. I really enjoy diverse musical styles finding their way onto the stage together.” Her general reaction to working and traveling in foreign countries is positive.

“As many other composers have, I’ve recorded quite a bit of music abroad and it’s always good to travel and meet new musicians.”

When it comes to the use of video game footage being played during the concert and its effect on the concert ambiance, Laura admits that she does not see it as something bothersome. “With everything that went on during the concert I have to confess that I was very focused on the music and the musicians. As video game music is not one thing, these concerts also do not have to be one thing. I can conceive of a concert without video game footage and I think audiences very much enjoy seeing their games live as well. “

Out of her own compositions, Laura finds it hard to pick favourites, but there are certain pieces she feels “more connected” to than others, like Drafling Tower from Everquest 2, or In Strowbill Wer from Untold Legends Dark Kingdom.

A dream project that Laura would someday like to work on is composing videogame music that is more deeply interactive. She is currently working on another one of her long-time dreams – “writing an opera for Jessye Norman that will premiere in Carnegie Hall.”

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