Tilman Sillescu – An Interview for Gamers Listeners

250x200_TilmanSiilescuOver the last decade, Germany has grown to a superpower in the field of game music. Not only did Germans successfully promote fantastic concerts (Böcker’s Symphonic series), but also they manage to provide the genre’s enthusiasts with top-notch original music almost every year. Tilman Sillescu, one of the founders of Dynamedion and currently the studio’s creative director, has had a huge contribution to this state of affairs. In his interview for Gamers Listeners, he talks about his newest projects (Ryse: Son of Rome), his usual and unusual responsibilities, and gives us a quick lesson about self-promotion.

Gamers Listeners: You studied classical music as well as jazz. So how did you become interested in game music all of a sudden? Or maybe it just seemed like a reasonable idea for a business?

Tilman Sillescu:  (laughter) Clever introductory question! I have to admit that as a young man, I was indeed not very much interested in games or game music generally. My first love to game music came suddenly and was caused by a present from a classical guitar student during my time as a guitar teacher: I got an audio CD with the game soundtrack for Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter by Jeremy Soule and I was totally blown away by his music. I had no idea that this kind of quality was created for games. Then, my business partner Pierre Langer had the idea to try to get a job as a game composers. I was very enthusiastic about this and luckily it didn’t take long before I was able to quit my job as a teacher.

Gamers Listeners: Recently, you were working on Ryse: Son of Rome, an action game set in the quasi-historical ancient Rome. Tell us more about this production.

Tilman Sillescu: Well, it was a nice surprise for me: one year ago, my good friend and fellow composer Borislav Slavov sent me an email that he will be in Frankfurt and asked me to meet him to have a beer together. On this evening, he brought Campbell Askew, Cryteks Audio Director with him and they asked me if I would like to be a composer for Ryse: Son of Rome. I was very happy because, in my opinion, Borislav and I make such a good team and I simply love working with him. We had a kick-off meeting together with Borislav, Campbell and Peter Antowski (composer for Crysis: Warhead) and Campbell told us how he would like us three to work together and who would compose for which parts of the game. The production process was very well organized: we all got video caps from the levels and locations, with complete sound in it. So I loaded the videos into my music program and composed the background and combat music almost as if it was for a movie. Surely, I had to consider that it has to work as game music, but I still think it was a good workflow for a very cinemastic approach. Campbell, as always, gave us highest possible artistic freedom and I enjoyed my job very much. When the music was finished, we all went to Budapest to record hours of music at Tomtom studios. After returning home, we had to balance the orchestral recording together with the heavy percussion and other additional solo instruments (ethnic flutes and string instruments) in the mix.

Gamers Listeners: Crysis 2 Original Soundtrack from 2011 was awarded, quite deservingly, a few prestigious prizes and nominations (even we chose it as a pretender to the album of the year title). Also, it was released as a 2CD edition, which is unusual among Western soundtracks. How was it received by the game’s fans? How did it sell?

Tilman Sillescu: Thanks! I remember that it was Campbell Askews idea to have a 2 CD edition – he was so enthusiastic about the soundtrack and believed that this deserves such a big release. But to be honest, I think in fact the appearance of film composer Hans Zimmer was responsible for this release (laughter). I think the game’s fans liked the music very much, I still receive mails from Crysis2 fans with nice compliments about our music.

Gamers Listeners: Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe composed the main themes, which in reality constituted just a fraction of the entire soundtrack, so it’s obvious to us that the music owes its success to the Dynamedion team. Crysis 2 Original Soundtrack is an example of a curious tendency to hire famous film music composers to create a couple of tracks, just to have their names on the cover. Any thoughts regarding this trend?

Tilman Sillescu: When I heard that Hans Zimmer would be involved in the soundtrack as composer for the main theme, I was very pleased. It is always good to work with such a big composer: Hans has so many fans in the business and having worked with him on a big game project has been very useful for us to get other jobs. In general, I think everyone profits from this situation as the game music gets more public attention this way.

Gamers Listeners: Paraworld is a perfect example of a soundtrack whose popularity dwarfs that of the game itself. While this SEK studio’s production didn’t stand the test of time, the Dynamedion’s album is still an object of collectors’ interest. Did you expect Paraworld Soundtrack to be so successful back when you were creating it? Was there anything special about the production process?

Tilman Sillescu: I remember that we had very much fun to compose the Paraworld soundtrack. SEKs’ Audio Director was a big fan of traditional film music, so we went for a very classical and archaic approach, inspired by soundtracks which we loved, like Conan, 13th Warrior and others. I didn’t expect this success and I think maybe the public interest began when we received the famous GANG Audio Award for the Paraworld main theme as best instrumental composition for a game.

Gamers Listeners: Anno, a series of economic strategies, was until recently regarded as a synonym of persistent evolution rather than revolution, including its audio side. Interestingly, Anno 2070 turns the whole concept upside down, getting rid of the historical setting in favour of (slightly over-the-top) sci-fi. Tell us something about this soundtrack. How great is the role of electronic sounds in it?

Tilman Sillescu: The fundament of the music in Anno 2070 is still live orchestra and choir, but we wanted the soundtrack to reflect both the epic adventure and the modern sci-fi setting at the same time. Thus we tried to connect the “human” colours (orchestra, choir) with modern electronics. But we wanted to make sure that most of our tracks are able to “live” even without the electronics, so the electronics are used more as additional colours to our compositions.

Gamers Listeners: You hold the position of creative director at Dynamedion. What are your responsibilities? How has your role in Dynamedion changed since the company’s debut?

Tilman Sillescu: I am responsible for the overall quality of Dynamedion’s soundtracks. For our biggest projects, I organize the composer team and I am communicating with the game developers to define the best “tone” and style of the soundtrack. My role has changed somewhat in the last few years as I started to produce sample libraries now as well. You may know our virtual instruments “Action Strings” and “Action Strikes”, which contain live performed orchestral string phrases and programmed cinematic percussion loops, respectively. In these projects I enjoy a different “composing” process: I try to find basic phrases, rhythms or figures that I as composer would like to have at my fingertips to create my own music. To find the best material, I immerse myself into a special type of music and orchestration, listen to film music and study certain musical archetypes, which is very inspiring for me. Having programmed all ensemble patterns for Action Strikes, I feel like I’ve finally made some good progress in arranging percussions for myself (laughter).

Gamers Listeners: Dynamedion’s strengths are not limited to composing music, but they also include sound effects and orchestrations. How did the demand for the studio’s various services evolve over the years?

Tilman Sillescu: From our first beginnings as game composers, we got requests to make sound design for games as well. We started to do SFX by ourselves but then we realized that we can’t do both at top quality, so we built a SFX team, led by Axel Rohrbach. Axel is now the head of our SFX label BOOM Library, which offers the best SFX Libraries for sound designers. Regarding orchestration and soundtrack recordings, we have many connections to other game and film composers who like our orchestral sound and asked us to completely produce their soundtracks. This includes orchestration as well as orchestral recordings, mixing and mastering. For Star Wars KINECT, we organized the orchestral recording in Abbey Road Studios with the London Symphony Orchestra, at the moment we are doing orchestration and recording of orchestra and many ethnic solo musicians for a huge game project. We love this part of our job as it connects us to other great composers, which is always inspiring and fun.

Gamers Listeners: Some of Dynamedion’s compositions were performed live in the years 2003-2006 e.g. in Leipzig during the Games Convention. Back then, the idea of thematic concerts was in its infancy, with Thomas Böcker’s most influencial events (Drammatica, Symphonic Shades) still to come. So one could say that the stage potential of your music is far from exhausted. Is there any real chance of seeing an event summarizing your achievements, organized on the scale comparable with Symphonic Shades or some kind of “commemorative concert”?

Tilman Sillescu: Yeah, it would be fun to see a concert with all Dynamedion music, at least for us (laughter). But to be honest, we simply don’t have the time to organize concerts. In Germany, our music is frequently played live in concerts, but this is always in game music events like for example Video Games in Concert, which play our music amongst other game soundtracks.

Gamers Listeners: Even judging only by the success of the concerts, video game music seems to be incredibly popular in Germany. Do you think that Dynamedion or its individual composers are present in the minds of German gamers?

Tilman Sillescu: In fact, we are getting a lot of very kind mails about our music from game music fans, but this is not limited to Germany. Since Crysis 2, we get mails from all over the world, which very often give us really nice feedback. Sometimes, when I have the feeling to run out of ideas, mails like these often make my day.

Gamers Listeners: As a studio, you wrote and produced music for the Angry Birds miniseries. The concept resembles good old-school cartoons, in which the narration is carried out by the music due to the lack of dialogues. Tell us more about this production.

Tilman Sillescu: Yes, for Angry Birds, we are composing film music, which is a nice job variation especially for our composers Alexander Roeder and Benny Oschmann who are mainly scoring for this. Alex and Benny always loved this kind of musical style and they are enjoying this new field of activity very much. They get complete episodes to score, so they are able to compose the music in a very narrative way.

Gamers Listeners: One could think that for a studio specializing in soundtracks, becoming a publisher is not a huge leap. However, in your previous interviews you and Pierre Langer often said how problematic that would be. Can you tell us more about this? What happens to a soundtrack after it’s recorded, but before it’s released either on CD or digitally?

Tilman Sillescu: Well, in the past, we have released a few of our soundtracks by ourselves. As far as I remember, the biggest issues were to get green light from the game publisher, clarify the rights and then of course doing promotion. Sometimes, the soundtrack CDs of our games come along with Collector’s Editions of the game and sometimes, we can convince publishers to make an official soundtrack release. What we have to do then is almost only collecting the best tracks and find an appropriate order for them. Today, many of our fans buy our songs on iTunes or Amazon.


Chris’ private collection of Dynamedion CDs

Gamers Listeners: Lastly, we’d like to ask you a general question about promotion, because we, as music enthusiasts dealing with a specific area of the industry, sometimes have problems with understanding some of this industry’s mechanisms. We don’t expect video game music to suddenly gain crowds of fans, but, frankly, sometimes it should. Do you have any thoughts about the publishing market, gamers or game music journalists? How do you, as a composer, cope with the need for promotion in the 21st century, and how does Dynamedion do it?

Tilman Sillescu: To be honest, at Dynamedion, we don’t do much to promote our music. We have our website and use social media to keep our fans and clients informed about our projects, but most of the time, we just remain on the creative side of the job. But we do promotion for the products that we release with BOOM Library or Sonuscore. Speaking about promotion: Please, if you read this, buy Action Strings, Action Strikes and all our BOOM products! How did I do?  (laughter)

Gamers Listeners: Very convincing. We wish you and the entire Dynamedion team many successes in the future. Would you like to add anything?

Tilman Sillescu: Thank you very much; I wish the same for you! If I had one thing to add, it would be what I often used to add in past interviews: game music is nice, but if you like orchestral music, don’t forget to listen to the music of the real geniuses, Stravinski, Schostakowitch, Prokofiev, Brahms etc. These are the incredible guys that almost all good game composers look up to :)

Interview was conducted by Arkadiusz Haratym and Chris Pyter. Special thanks to Marcin Moń (FTL Translations).


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