Eterna Gaming had the wonderful pleasure and honor in interviewing the amazing Neal Acree, who has composed music for massively popular game franchises World of Warcraft, Overwatch, StarCraft, Diablo, Chinese MMO Revelation Online, shows like Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, Witchblade and 30 feature films.
E.G: Neal, thank you so much for giving us the time for this interview. Let’s get right to it!
What, or perhaps who, inspired your creation for the Revelation Online OST?
N.A: While the artwork and story of the game were tremendously inspiring, the music of Revelation ended up becoming a very personal journey for me. My father loved the Asian culture so I grew up on Asian philosophy, martial arts movies and their music. He was an artist and a musician as well and so much of who I am came from him. When I first wrote Asian influenced music for World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, it came surprisingly naturally to me even though I have never had any training in it. I have to think that growing up around it had something to do with that.
Right before I started working on Revelation my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The next year and a half was the most difficult time in my life but the music became a way of channeling those emotions and paying tribute to the person who has inspired me in so many ways throughout my life. The music I wrote was for the game but came from a very deep and personal place. It was the last score I was able to play for him and I’m very grateful that I was able to do that.
E.G: Since most of your scores are western/fantasy oriented, how did your experience differ when composing an East Asian based theme such as Revelation Online?
N.A: Needless to say, as a westerner with no formal training in Asian music, being approached by a Chinese company to write a Chinese score for the Chinese market was a daunting but exciting challenge. I try with every score, regardless of genre, to find something new to say musically and Revelation was a wonderful opportunity to push myself to do something unlike anything I had done before.
I knew that to create as authentic of an Asian influenced score as possible I would have to unlearn a lot of my Western tendencies and begin to hear melodies and harmonies in a new way. Much like mastering a new language, it’s not just about learning new words but the grammar and cadences that go with them as well. This can be a difficult and uncomfortable process at first but always seems to open the doors to new musical approaches. Sometimes to find new things to say you have to expand your vocabulary.
Ultimately, there are many parallels between the musical languages and instrumentation of the East and West and the emotion behind the music is universal. It’s exciting to be able to communicate and connect musically with a culture whose spoken language is so different that ours. This whole experience has made the world a much smaller and more connected place for me.
E.G: Prior to composing most of your scores, were you given an idea as to the background of the video games that you were composing them for? if yes, would you say that the video games inspired parts of the score or is it the other way around?
N.A: Yes, I am always given some kind of reference material. This usually involves concept art and a written story or overview of some kind. The further along the game is, the more detailed the reference is. Zones are usually defined and I am usually given plenty of material to help narrow down the musical identity of each area.
Even though influences might come from outside sources from time to time, I am always inspired on some level by the game. Can the game be inspired by the music? Absolutely. Games are a very collaborative art form and we are all inspired by each other.
E.G: The game is Chinese and has a very strong Chinese cultural feeling. How do you find the references and sources to stay true to the tonal and composition requirements, and how free are you to take liberties in your vision of their portrayal?
N.A: I had learned a bit about the instrumentation and tonality while working on Mists of Pandaria but I knew this was an opportunity to take things a lot further. I did a lot of research online and worked directly with the musicians to try to bring the most out of each of the instruments. I listened to a lot of Chinese and Japanese traditional music to immerse myself in the tonality.
The game team had a lot of ideas about instrumentation and style that helped shape the direction of the music but they were open to my own interpretation of those ideas. There were other cultural influences in the music as well as the game but ultimately all of that had to filter through my own musical voice.
We asked some fans of yours on the Unofficial Community Discord what they’d like to ask you, and the biggest question we got were:
E.G: Will there be a live concert of works done for Revelation Online?
N.A: I have conducted music from Revelation in China, Mexico, Ireland and will be conducting it in Los Angeles this coming February. Hopefully as the game is released and more people become aware of the music, there will be more opportunities to perform it live.
N.A: Absolutely. The soundtrack is available digitally and on CD from Varese Sarabande records which is part of the Universal Music Group. It was one of the first video game soundtracks to be released on the label which is the top film soundtrack label in the world. I wrote some music for the album that you won’t hear in the game so I hope people will check it out.
E.G: How much music did you make for Revelation Online exactly?
N.A: Over an hour. There is more than that in the game but that was handled by the team in China so I couldn’t tell you much about it.
E.G: As a musician, how did you start out making music?
N.A: I started playing guitar when I was 14 years old. I wanted to be a rock star but more than anything I just wanted to make music. I was in a few bands but I spent most of my time experimenting with sound and recording. I taught myself how to play piano and how to use my computer to make music which was a fairly new technology at the time.
In college I started out studying art but music quickly took over. I was writing and recording a lot of instrumental music and that eventually led the way to writing music for film and television. I started out like most people scoring short films and working as an assistant for other composers and slowly worked my way up.
After about 9 years of writing for film/tv I got an opportunity to write for games. I had scored 20 films at that point and was a co-composer on the Stargate SG-1 show but never could have imagined what a wild ride the game industry would be.
E.G: Have you ever found a piece of your music in a movie or tv show completely by accident?
N.A: If I recall correctly, years ago there was a European TV show that was using some of my World of Warcraft music as their theme song. It doesn’t happen very often though. I do know that our music gets used a lot on YouTube but that’s a little different.
E.G: One last final question Neal, will you be playing the North American release of Revelation Online next year?
N.A: Absolutely! I played a little bit of the Chinese version and though I couldn’t understand the text and dialogue I did see how easy it was to get lost in the beautiful world of the game. I’m really looking forward to playing the English version!
E.G: Perhaps you’re looking for a guild or gaming community to join (wink, wink)?
N.A: That’s a wonderful idea!
E.G: Any new projects, MMORPGs that you’re currently working on?
N.A: In addition to World of Warcraft: Legion I recently worked on a mobile MMO called Mist World and a fantasy RPG called Epic Tavern. Plus a couple projects that haven’t been announced yet. It has been a very busy year and I’m looking forward to sharing all the new music soon!
E.G: Is there anything you’d like to tell the fan-base of Revelation Online, your own fans of course and lastly people that just discovered your music?
N.A: It’s hard to put into words just how much it means to me that the music resonates with people. Composing is a relatively solitary art and with the exception of the time we spend working with the musicians, much of it is spent alone in a small room agonizing over every note. I don’t have a lot of time to think about whether it will be heard beyond my four walls. I make it because I love it and I would go crazy if I wasn’t creating something. Knowing that it has not only reached people but that it has resonated in so many different countries and languages absolutely blows my mind.
Thank you to everyone that has supported my music and helped spread the word over the years and to the fans of Revelation Online, I hope you enjoy the music as much as I enjoyed working on it!
Thanks to Neal for allowing us to conduct this interview and we can’t wait to see his amazing compositions in Revelation Online in 2017! Thanks to the unOfficial Community Discord (www.RevelationDiscord.com) for asking some fantastic questions!
You can learn more about Neal and his works below: