Journey composer sees games as music’s ‘Wild West’

Journey composer Austin Wintory feels privileged to work in a medium that he believes is a ‘Wild West’ for musicians.

Wintory’s score for Thatgamecompany’s award-winning title is the first full game soundtrack to receive a Grammy nod – a development that wasn’t lost on Christopher Tin, whose Civilization IV track Baba Yetu was the first song from a video game to win such an accolade.

"When he won that Grammy two years ago, it was the first time … the game itself wasn’t being acknowledged, it was the piece he had extracted from the game," Wintory told Gamasutra. "So it was really wonderful that of all the people, by chance the trailblazer would be the one to call me… how perfect."

Wintory credits the success of the soundtrack, as well as the game as a whole, to thatgamecompany founder Jenova Chen’s unique approach to game development.

"The designers of the game went out of their way to make this… almost soul to soul contact," said Wintory. I never in a million years saw people imagining those kinds of experiences, living in the game in that sort of way."

"Jenova doesn’t start with some cool new technology; it’s always, ‘what’s the emotional takeaway that I want the player to have,’" added Wintory. "It’s remarkable that’s sort of unique among game developers.

"Among composers… you don’t start typically with, ‘okay, I have strings, what do I want to do with them?’ It’s the old saying, that if you just walk around with a hammer, then everything in the world looks like a nail. If it’s all about your tools, it’s different than looking at a scenario and asking ‘what tools do I need in order to deal with that scenario.’"

Wintory concludes getting other musicians who are unaware of what games offer as a medium to understand and receive the ‘Wild West’ concept "has gotten easier every year.”

"A week ago in Colorado, the Boulder Symphony played a piece of mine from Journey in a concert of otherwise all classical music—it wasn’t a game night or a pops concert. I got up and spoke to the audience before they played, and as I was explaining the thrill of nonlinear music and why, as a composer, that’s so exciting… the audience was the expected orchestra audience, but they were really interested.

"That dismissing, as soon as they hear the word ‘video game’… I didn’t sense any of it," Wintory said. "The idea that they were receptive to what they were going to be hearing, to me, it was one of those humanity-affirming moments."

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