Austin Wintory is a Tease (and GSO is Awesome)

May 1, 2012

Yeah, you read that right. Austin Wintory is a tease. For the meanings behind his music, of course. (Minds out of the gutter, folks. Seriously.)

Austin Wintory at the American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

Before the University of Maryland’s Gamer Symphony Orchestra (GSO) performed last Saturday in the Kogod Courtyard at the American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., Wintory held a brief Q&A session. While the acoustics there proved wonderful for a symphony, they were less so for a discussion—I didn’t even catch the name of the woman interviewing him. Although the Q&A was not open to the audience, she asked some excellent questions, including one about the languages are used in the ending credits. More on that in a bit.

As stirring and organic as Journey‘s soundtrack feels, you would almost expect it to have originated from an epic orchestrated score, but it was planned to be entirely electronic from the start, Wintory said. “Creatively we didn’t even discuss orchestra music because there wasn’t a budget for it.”

When Wintory was hired, Journey didn’t even have concept art—it was a mere twinkle in Jenova Chen‘s eye.

“So [thatgamecompany] would say go write a piece of music. There’s going to be a section that’s open desert, and it’s going to be kind of playful. Go see what that means,” Wintory recalled. “And I’d write something, and then they’d design the game around my work. Then they would make something that I thought was so beautiful and amazing that I would say that my music now would seem stupid.”

So Wintory would go and rework the music again, and thatgamecompany in turn would make alterations to the game with the updated melodies in mind. The cycle continued for roughly three years.

Austin Wintory and the Gamer Symphony Orchestra drew quite a crowd. I’m thrilled to see this many people from the D.C. metro area at a game-related event.

Despite the many iterations in music, there was only one “I Was Born for This,” which is the game’s ending aria that simulataneously warms and chills your soul, and serves as the perfect coda.

“That actually is probably the only piece in the whole game that has one version,” Wintory said, adding that after he had composed the other tracks for Journey, he felt confident enough to write the song in one go. That’s not to say there weren’t any tweaks to “I Was Born for This,” but Wintory wanted it to be a reflection of the Journey experience and waited until the last second to compose it.

And then, the interviewer landed the question that’s been on many Journey veterans’ minds: What languages are used in “I Was Born for This”?

Wintory didn’t specify which are used but said the song has six different languages. From what I’ve come across on a brief Google search, people have already cracked the French and Japanese verses. I asked Wintory during intermission if he could expand more on his answer, but because he’s presently writing up his own blog post that explains the meaning of the lyrics and recaps the entire experience of composing Journey‘s score, he kept mum on the subject.

“Every verse is a different language. Every time [Lisbeth Scott, the vocalist] opens her mouth, basically it’s a different language,” he said. “I didn’t actually intend to torture people. I just wanted to blog about it, and I haven’t had time.”

So what’s the method to the madness? Why so many languages?

“The reason why is because the game is noncultural. If I chose it all in English, now it’s an American/British game. If I did it all in Japanese, [it’d be a Japanese game], you know what I mean?” Wintory explained. “But I didn’t want it to be just a lot of like *imitates aria songs* ‘ahhahhhaaaahhh’ and I wanted something that has meaning.”

Although Journey‘s world is fictional, Wintory didn’t want to build its ending song around a made-up language either. So he hit the books with fellow composer Jeremy Howard Beck and assembled quotes from various sources in literature, including The Aeneid, Beowolf and The Hero With a Thousand Faces, a seminal book on mythology and basis of the hero archetype found in lore worldwide. Here’s to hoping Wintory will get to that blog post soon and helps players solve a mystery that’s surprisingly run longer than Fez’s monolith puzzle.

Ladies and gentleman, I present the University of Maryland’s talented Gamer Symphony Orchestra. If you’re in the area, go see them sometime. For real. Also, if you’re interested in starting a games symphony at your own university or college, GSO has offered to help (i.e., sheet music, advice, etc.), so get in touch with them.

After Wintory’s half-hour Q&A, GSO went on and played a very excellent set that began with my favorite Final Fantasy 7 arrangement—the piano version of “Those Who Fight” from the Advent Children movie—and ended with Civilization IV‘s theme song. My favorites in between those two points were Kira Levitzky’s superb Shadow of the Colossus arrangement, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker medley (complete with mandolin solo), Final Fantasy VI‘s “Dancing Mad” and, of course, “The World of flOw,” which was arranged by Wintory.

As the flOw arrangement wrapped up, I looked for Wintory in the crowd.

He gave a nod of approval, and while I’m not a lip-reading expert, I’m almost positive I spotted a, “not bad.”

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