September 25th, 2013 | By Lance Hayes
Article Update (Day One, 11/22/13)
The Forza Motorsport 5 Soundtrack: An Insider’s View
Forza Motorsport 5’s release date is closing fast, and the excitement about this landmark installment of the franchise is building. Much has been made in the press about the soundtrack and how it’s a significant departure from previous iterations of the game. As the lead composer on FM5, I wanted to share some details and stories about its conception as well as how it’s been brought to life as the flagship title for the Xbox One.
When Forza Motorsport 5 is released on the same day as the Xbox One on November 22, it will be a bold redirection for one of the most anticipated racing titles in the world. The game is a massive push forward as Forza has historically been known for testing the limits of the technology in every generation of Xbox. Sporting a fresh new approach to the music and the music implementation, the soundtrack is no exception. Fans will be excited in new ways as they race their dream cars all around the world.
This music, as noted by the press, is indeed a departure from the previous Forza scores. Forza 5 is enhanced by a full string orchestra, choir and percussion along with many of the elements from its traditional electronic scores.
When Turn 10’s Audio Director, Nick Wiswell, disclosed his vision for FM5 to me, he wanted me to be a part of the musical reboot for the series which included live orchestra. I was humbled to be involved and very excited. Starting months before the formal composition phase, I worked closely with Nick and Chase Combs, Audio Content Lead for Turn 10 Studios, crafting the new sound for FM5. Many ideas were developed and many of the concepts created during that period helped guide and inform the sessions that followed as we advanced into composing the soundtrack.
We knew that as it was going to be the Day One launch title, FM5’s score required that we work with top talent and the world’s finest musicians. Paul Lipson, Microsoft Studios Music Director, was involved early on organizing the orchestrations, the recording facilities and managing the player talent.
The core concept behind FM5’s soundtrack is that it underscores the player’s journey from their garage to the race and back to the finish line. As you play the game, the music engine is adaptively scoring your progress from the ambient beginnings, through to the epic and tumultuous racing on to your, hopefully, triumphant finish.
In past iterations, the game had a collection of music in the race sections that was primarily licensed and the last two editions featured my electronic music in the UI. All of that has changed in 5. The UI is still a chill experience but as you move forward towards the race you get a new level of exhilaration from the music as it develops into full blown cinematic excitement and uses electronics mixed with live performances by some of the world’s top musical talent.
To facilitate this we wrote an original score for female choir, strings, percussion, piano, and electronics and it was an absolute privilege to be joined in writing the soundtrack by game industry veteran John Broomhall. Ours was a trans-Atlantic collaboration as John is based in the UK and he also served as one of the music supervisors on FM5. He made several trips out to the US for various legs of the project and joined us for many of the recording sessions.
Once John and I had finished the core composition with Nick and Chase’s approval, the scores were sent to Lennie Moore for transcription and arrangements. Lennie worked quickly and very effectively with his team to put together the finished arrangements that met us at the various studios around the US for the recording sessions. During the composition and recording phases my assistant, Mathew Steele, was invaluable in the studio outputting over a thousand audio stems and the hundreds of MIDI files to send to Lennie for arranging.
This was truly team effort focused on achieving the highest quality and the recording sessions, spread out across the US in some of the finest facilities in the world, maintained that high bar established during the early stages of the project.
Tales from the Road
Sonic Fuel, Los Angeles CA
As the project was going to have many layers of sound we started out at Christopher Lennertz’s fantastic facility, Sonic Fuel. Paul Lipson was in charge of many of the details leading up to and during the executions of the live sessions. Paul contracted an astonishing list of players starting with M.B. Gordy on percussion.
M.B. was hand-picked by Paul for his incredible chops and he didn’t disappoint. Layers of percussion were tracked with everything from subtle djembe to powerful passes with the massive Taiko drums and toms that he’s used on such notable soundtracks as Battlestar Galactica and the Transformer films. M.B. was equally adept with the subtle quiet passages as he was with the thunderous accents and massive sections of our scores.
It was a treat to work with M.B. and a great time was had hanging out at Sonic Fuel. We left Los Angeles with unbelievable drum work. Our next destination was just north of the San Francisco Bay.
Skywalker Ranch, The Bay Area CA
There are few experiences that can match driving through the lush hills that surround the gates at Skywalker Ranch. There are fewer still that can prepare you for your visit as a guest at Skywalker Ranch. There are even less that can match the excitement you have when your visit is for your project, and that alongside the remarkable location, world class facility etc., you get to work with Leslie Ann Jones and her crack team on your sessions. “Over the moon” almost sums up my giddy feelings as Matthew and I were waved through the gate the day before we started recording our strings for FM5 at this venerable facility in the hills above the bay.
At the Ranch, we met up with Pyramind’s Michael Roache and Lennie Moore. Michael was in charge of all the Pro Tools sessions and Lennie’s company SkyPrep was there to assure that the entire Skywalker team had everything they needed from the scores on the project. This was the first time that I’d worked with Lennie and, as a longtime fan of his work, it was a special treat to spend time with him.
Working with Leslie Ann was nothing short of astounding. Her team was remarkable, warm and professional. They took the time to make sure we were comfortable and that all of the work coming out of the building was of the very highest quality. The Neve 88R certainly didn’t disappoint, and thanks to Leslie Ann, we were treated to some of the most marvelous strings I’ve ever heard in or out of the studio. I could not have been happier than I was in the control room at Skywalker.
The Skywalker Symphony strings, under the baton of Marco D’Ambrosio, treated us to breathtaking performances of the score. Marco elicited fantastic interpretations, and these stellar players, who were a collection of the finest the Bay Area had to offer, delivered on every cue. Various members of the orchestra made special mention of how excited they were to be working on Forza and one of the first soundtracks for Xbox One. A big shout out to Janet Ketchum for assembling this top-notch string orchestra.
When our visit to Skywalker came to an end we headed off to a destination in New York City that I had been waiting to visit all of my life.
Avatar, New York
The thing that kept running through my mind, as my plane touched down at LaGuardia, is just how much classic pop and jazz was recorded at Avatar. This legendary facility, formerly as the “Power Station,” is where artists as diverse as Bjork, Esperanza Spalding, Roxy Music, Wynton Marsalis, David Bowie and many more have chosen to record. And for good reason, the facility and indeed the entire staff are amazing. We worked with veteran Avatar engineer Roy Hendrickson on their wonderful SSL 9000J board in Studio B to record the phenomenal singers of the New York Film Chorale.
Our score called for Alto and Soprano so Studio B was a fantastic fit for the assembled choir. The New York Film Chorale delivered vocal chills and power under the skillful direction of director, Dwayne Condon. Listening to these world class singers work their magic is near the top of the list among the great pleasures of my composing career. On take after take their superlative work could not have been more inspired, and they were as delighted as we were to be working on a Day One title. Many thanks to Kathryn Amyotte for bringing these great voices together for the session.
This project has certainly allowed me to tick off a number of items from my bucket list, and there were many delightful “only in NYC” moments that caught me by surprise. One of those was on the second day of recording when I bumped into Yoko Ono in the Avatar lobby on my way through to collect my coffee. We exchanged greetings and when I returned a few minutes later she was gone. Just another day at Avatar.
More to Tell
As you can guess, there are more tales and more to share, but Day One is coming and some things are better left to surprise. Suffice it to say that the coming months are going to be big ones for fans of Forza and the music of Forza so keep checking the official Forza Blogs at forzamotorsport.net and look for big updates coming on my Facebook and Twitter pages in the coming weeks.