Every Alien vs Predator game (and the original Aliens: Colonial Marine) for the last ten years has had a single man behind the composing: Rich Ragsdale. February 2010 saw the birth of something new. Aliens vs Predator for the next generation. New gameplay style, new mythos and new composer. Mark Rutherford took the helm for the score of Sega & Rebellion’s last release and he took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to us.
AvPGalaxy – We’re talking to Mark Rutherford today. For those who don’t have a clue who you are, what is your involvement in the franchise?
Mark Rutherford – I am the composer and producer of the score for Aliens vs Predator video game (2010).
AvPGalaxy – From what I understand, you do composing for both feature films and video games. How did you come to be in this profession?
Mark Rutherford – I first started working on feature films when Grammy award winning producer Steve Levine offered me the opportunity to work alongside him in his studio in London. Together we worked on many feature films including the Grammy Award winning ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’, ‘Eversmile New Jersey’ starring Daniel Day-Lewis and ‘Mister Frost’ starring Jeff Goldblum. It was during this time that I learned all aspects of composing and producing music for film. Composing for video games, for me, came much later.
AvPGalaxy – Are you a fan of the franchises? When were your first experiences with Aliens/vs/Predator?
Mark Rutherford – Definitely, I think like so many other people, I was a fan right from the very beginning when the first films came out.
AvPGalaxy – This Aliens vs Predator game is the first in over ten years without Rich Ragsdale behind the score. How exactly did you find yourself in the position of scoring the game?
Mark Rutherford – It’s quite simple really, the developer Rebellion approached me and asked if I would be interested in scoring Aliens vs Predator. I think in terms of how sophisticated games have become in recent years and how games are moving closer in so many ways to movies. The opportunity to use the experience I have gained over the years in films within a franchise that started it’s life in cinemas, was one that I couldn’t pass up.
AvPGalaxy – Have you ever had much experience with the previous games in the franchise?
Mark Rutherford – No, none. This is my first experience with an AvP game. I consider my lack of experience within the game genre to be an advantage, I treat the game like a kind of massive interactive movie. This, along with the inspiration I got from talking to the guy’s at Rebellion, meant that the process was seamless and I felt very at home doing it.
AvPGalaxy – Both the Alien and Predator franchises have notable musical talent behind them. From your position as a musician, which of the film scores is your favorite and why?
Mark Rutherford – Well I am afraid I change my mind all the time on this one. When you consider the talent of some of these composers it’s really hard to choose between them. If I had to pick one right now, for many reasons I think I would go for John Frizzell’s Alien Resurrection.
AvPGalaxy – One of the major criticisms behind the score of AvP Requiem was how it referenced the source material too much. Some even called it a medley of the previous scores. What sort of balance has to go into the writing to ensure it feels similar to the source material but still unique enough to stand on it’s own?
Mark Rutherford – This is an interesting point because throughout the whole process of scoring Aliens vs Predator I avoided listening to any of the soundtracks from the films. Like many people I have seen the films on and off over the years, so without really thinking about it I have had the music from the films playing in my subconscious. Being unique is something I always try to strive for. For each soundtrack I compose, I invariably record and sample a bespoke set of sounds that are unique to that particular film or game, sounds that, hopefully, have never been heard before. I really saw scoring Aliens vs Predator as an opportunity to put my own take on the music but also to try to come up with something that not only touched a familiar nerve with everyone but also something that pushed the boundaries and gave everyone a bit more than they bargained for.
AvPGalaxy – How long did you work on the score for the game? From writing to recording?
Mark Rutherford – Initially the process started quite slowly using art work and screen grabs as inspiration. The whole process took about a year to be developed into the final score. Needless to say the nearer we got to the finishing line the more intense the workload became.
AvPGalaxy – I’m curious as to how you approach the music for games. Obviously those tracks that are done for cutscenes are conventional but for during actual gameplay, how do you approach those kind of tracks?
Mark Rutherford – My method, as mentioned, is that I treat the game like an interactive movie. I pretty much always aim to compose the complete pieces of music first , whilst keeping an eye on how the full piece can be broken down into stems which are basically kind of splinters of the full piece. These splinters can be used individually or grouped together, which then run alongside, and are triggered by the gameplay.
AvPGalaxy – Talk me through the creation of a track for the game? From writing to recording.
Mark Rutherford – Initially a brief is developed which gives a written indication of what the game should sound like. I also speak to the development team as much as possible to find out what’s going on in their heads and what their end vision of the game is. Sometimes talking to the creatives in this way reveals much more than a written brief. With this knowledge in hand I begin to compose demos.
These are scaled down versions of the final pieces of music. A demo, essentially, is the essence / bare bones of a piece of music. If the demo is liked by everyone the next stage entails moving into full production and full composition. In the case of Aliens vs Predator this was a full orchestral project so the preparation process was much more complicated than if it were a only a midi based project.
Once the composition stage is complete, before we can go ahead and record the orchestra, there is a lot of preparation work that needs to be done. This includes things like orchestration, copying checking arrangements etc. The whole process can take around four to six weeks. After recording the orchestra we brought all of the recordings back to my studio in London, chose the best bits and then overdubbed any additional musicians that were required.
Once all this was done it was then time to mix the sessions and then move into the final stage, which is called mastering. Mastering is when you tweak your final mixes to enhance them. Normally, that’s it, job done. But for me, I like to be involved in the audio side of the game right up until the final delivery.
AvPGalaxy – There seems to be some elements of the Alien 3 soundtrack within the games score. Was that movie’s soundtrack a much larger inspiration when composing your music
Mark Rutherford – I have to say I really like the atmosphere that Elliot Goldenthal gave the Alien 3 score. I’m not sure if it was a larger inspiration though. All of the films soundtracks along with many others must be rolling around in the back of my head somewhere. So I believe I am influenced by everything I have ever heard in some way.
AvPGalaxy – The franchises have extremely distinctive musical styles. Did those styles help or hinder you when you sat down to figure out the sound of the game?
Mark Rutherford – Knowing this actually helped me greatly, and I was totally up for the challenge of creating a score for such a cool franchise. Having said that, I knew it was going to be a tough act to follow and also knew that whatever I did, my score would always be compared to the great film scores that had preceded this game.
AvPGalaxy – How do you think your use of organic and natural sounds helped the game?
Mark Rutherford – Part of the way I work,as mentioned before, is to keep things unique sounding. This is becoming a bit of an obsession of mine and means, where possible I try not to heavily rely on other peoples pre recorded sound libraries. I try to make a point of making my own sounds and creating my own library of sounds. The knock on effect of this, coupled with the fact that I used the orchestra on almost every piece of music in the game, means that as a result the music sounds more natural, organic and that word again, unique.
AvPGalaxy – Did you own experiences living amongst the tribes of East Africa contribute to how you approached the Predator style music in the game?
Mark Rutherford – This experience contributed greatly. Africa was a different place back in those days and sometimes my travels took me to some quite scary places, There was one time when I was at the Kenyan / Ethiopian boarder and one of the villagers took me in the middle of the night to see a kind of tribal gathering. To find them we walked for about an hour even further into the desert than we were already.
Eventually we came across a group of about 40 to 50 people in a kind of trance-like state; chanting, clapping their hands and pogoing in a circle. With only the moonlight to see I sat on the outside of the circle for quite a while, averting my eyes so as not to have too much direct visual contact with them. After a while some of the tribes people started communicating with me through gestures.
Eventually they even allowed me to record some of their chanting and clapping on a small recorder I had with me. The tribespeople were actually extremely friendly and quite inquisitive especially with regard to the recorder. It is the rhythm I heard on that evening with the Turkana tribe that I used as the basis to the Predators rhythm. I also used the recording that I made that evening as a kind of subliminal layer of sound. That is what I think helps the “Predator’s Rhythm” tracks to sound unique.
AvPGalaxy – What do you think defines the musical styles of the different characters?
Mark Rutherford – I have tried to create very strong identities for each of the species, in particular these can be heard in the Alien and Predator rhythm tracks. For the marines I composed some very robust military sounding tracks with rolling military snares, big slow brass themes which hopefully all go to enhance the overall gaming experience.
AvPGalaxy – Over all, what do you think of the experience you had while working on the game?
Mark Rutherford – Working on Aliens vs Predator was a great experience, and I feel proud to have composed the music for what has become Sega’s fastest selling title in the companies history.
AvPGalaxy – Which track would you say was your favorite and why?
Mark Rutherford – I think Finnis Omnium is one of my favorites, it’s one of those very slow almost death march tracks that has the potential to work well with many different scenes. I wrote the soprano part for this piece in a particular way that was intended to make it sound unearthly, I partly did this by making some of the notes almost impossible to sing in one breath but I have to say Clare’s performance as soprano, dealt with this fantastically.
AvPGalaxy – Is it likely that fans will get to enjoy your music outside of the game? Will we be seeing a CD release?
Mark Rutherford – Through my web site I have had an untold amount of requests from people wanting to know where they can get hold of the music. I think the Aliens vs Predator score is an obvious candidate for a soundtrack album. All of the tracks work incredibly well in the listening only environment so fingers crossed.
AvPGalaxy – Have you had a chance to experience your work in the game yet? If so, how do you think it all came together?
Mark Rutherford – I have, but unfortunately I have got to be the worlds worst gamer. I normally end up getting blown away within a few minutes. As a result I usually end up watching and listening intently while my friends play through the levels.
AvPGalaxy – Before we sign off, do you have anything you’d just like to say to the community?
Mark Rutherford – I’d like to thank AvP Galaxy for giving me the opportunity to do this interview and share with you all some of the experiences that happened along the way while composing the Aliens vs Predator score.
I am sure there is something out there aren’t you?
Be sure to visit Mark’s homepage to listen to various tracks from Aliens vs Predator (2010) and other work he has done.