Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The ZOEN Talks Call of Duty: Black Ops II (Part 1): Meet Composer Jack Wall

On the heels of last week’s record breaking release of Call of Duty: Black Ops II, The ZOEN’s Phil Amalong sat down with the game’s composer, Jack Wall. In this two-part post, the longtime friends and musicians explore the path that brought Wall to video games, the tune that got him the gig and the value of online music lessons.

Phil:  Jack—good to see you! Let’s just kick this off with some background.

Jack:  A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, Phil Amalong, and I were classmates. I’ve watched Phil progress as a master musician while I made a decision later in life to become a composer. Phil and I played together when we were young and it was always an awesome way to spend my free time with friends or on my own playing guitar or piano or whatever I could find.

My music career began with an internship at [The Cars] Synchro Sound Studios, on Newbury Street in Boston where I learned how to become an engineer. Within three months I was the studio manager, booking my own gigs as an engineer. I eventually moved to New York, started working with John Cale, David Byrne and Patti Smith - the avant-garde artists in New York City. John gave me a lot to do on his albums, so I had all this great exposure.  

All these wonderful composers were such an influence on me.  They made me feel that I could do it and eventually I just thought “I’ve been doing all this for these other writers, why don’t I start writing myself."  I had an opportunity in 1996 to write a video game score - I jumped on it, and I’ve been writing game scores ever since.

Phil:  Last week’s Call of Duty Black Ops II launch is one of the biggest entertainment launches in history, and music is an integral part of the entire game experience. As the creative force behind many great game titles, tell us how you got this particular gig.

Jack:  Everything in business is about connections and who you know. Ten years ago I worked for a small developer called Gigawatt Studios in Hollywood. Gigawatt did a lot of license games, Disney’s Ultimate Ride - they worked for Disney, Imaginarium. The audio director at Gigawatt was a guy named Brian Tuey who ended up being the audio director for Treyarch. Treyarch is one of the two developer studios for Call of Duty.  A couple years ago, a game I worked on called Mass Effect 2 came out and it was sort of the darling of Treyarch. Everyone was playing it, they really liked the music. When the credits rolled Brian saw my name and immediately gave me a call and said “Hey, do you have any interest in Call of Duty?” and I’m like “absolutely!” and he said “well, you’ve got to audition for that because we love your music and would love to have your input.”

So, I auditioned and the first person I called when I got that opportunity was, you, Phil!  I had this whacky idea of doing a piano concerto, something really emotional that could show some musicality, and I thought it was a really interesting and unique idea.  And they loved it too.  You did an amazing, amazing job, Phil - we should play that now!

Click the play button above to hear the piece 

So I got the gig!  They didn’t want piano in the final score, I’m sad to say, but it was a good effort and I’m glad we did it because it showed that I was going to do something unique, and that’s what they were looking for, more than exactly what I was going to do for the game. Sometimes, what you normally end up composing for a game (that’s based on storyline and visuals, and you get inspired that way) changes quite a bit from the original idea.

1 comment:

  1. Great interview Phil. Love the demo soundtrack!


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