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May 14, 2010 (Last Update)


By Santiago Mendez

Michael Land is most famous for being one of the creators of the so familiar Monkey Island theme. He also composed the score for Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, The Curse of Monkey Island and SimCity 4 among others. His most remarkable score for a game is arguably the one he did for The Dig.

For those who don't know you can you tell us a little about yourself. When did you found your first interest in music?

Michael Land at the 4th of July in a parade in AlamedaI started taking classical piano lessons when I was five, but I never practiced enough, and quit in frustration at age 12. Shortly thereafter I started teaching myself to improvise on the piano, and a couple of years later I plunged headfirst into the electric bass. In high school and college I "studied" all kinds of rock, which gradually lead me to electronic music, which lead me back to classical music, completing a kind of loop.

Which musicians do you admire?

My favorites are Beethoven, Wagner, Hendrix, The Grateful Dead and Renaissance choral music. I've also been playing a lot of Irish guitar lately, and have developed a real appreciation for that tradition.

How did you get into LucasArts?

Oddly enough from a newspaper ad posted by an unauthorized headhunter. I guess you could say I had some pretty lucky timing, because LucasArts jobs weren't usually posted in newspapers, and I never looked in newspapers for jobs, but right at that time my mom insisted I check the newspaper, and it all lined up.

When did you started working on The Dig? Was it with Sean Clark or back then with Brian Moriarty?

The first work I did on the project was the music for a trailer-style video that Brian put together. Then there was a big gap, and then I started working fulltime with Sean about a year before it shipped.

Did you always had in mind what kind of musical style you wanted for The Dig?

Overall, yes. To be more precise, I always knew exactly the mood and feeling I wanted, but certain aspects of the style developed over the course of the project.

Tell us about the music development. Did you made the music based on what you saw from the game and what you knew about the story?

From just being around LucasArts for years while the game was in various stages of pre-production, I had already developed my own sense of what the mood and feel of the game were about, which over time gave rise to a vague collection of musical ideas that I would play around with from time to time. When I started working with Sean, we had some key conversations early on where he explained the game to me in more detail... not just the story and characters, but also what was going on under the surface in terms of psychological themes and meanings. A big part of developing the score was correlating and shaping my pool of musical ideas to fit the specific dramatic structures that Sean was developing.

What was exactly what you take from Wagner to made your score?

Michael recording the Timapni, for The DigChords, lots of chords. I went through two hours of Wagner orchestral music and isolated about 300 little segments, ranging from 2 to 10 seconds, where a nicely orchestrated chord is played without too much melodic activity on top. I then took these chord snippets, adjusting their pitch as needed, and added them one measure at a time to compositions that I had performed on a midi keyboard. The Wagner chords really add a lot of richness and depth, and a slightly otherworldly quality because every few seconds they switch from one snippet to another, which creates all kinds of unexpected textural variations on a subliminal level.

How long have you spend on composing the musical score?

I worked on scoring the game for a solid year, and then an intense seven weeks re-working the music for the CD.

This may sound a bit stupid but why is it (the score) so darn good?

First, thanks for the compliment. I think one thing that made a big difference for me was that the moods and feelings that I associated with the game were ones that I tend to feel about life in general, in terms of my overall emotional orientation. So I always felt that with this score I was reaching inside of myself and expressing what I really feel.

Where did you recorded it? Was it all synthesized?

The main melody and chords were played live on a K2000 synthesizer. A lot of it had Wagner snippets under it, and in a few places there was live violin or timpani mixed in. After the game shipped, I did a few more live player sessions for the CD, especially a great woodwind session with Paul McCandless. Everything was recorded at LucasArts.

Would you like to have a real orchestra to perform that score?

I'd love to.

Whose voice is it in "A River Canyon"?

Emily Bezar, a local new music performer/composer who happens to have killer operatic chops.

Who got the idea of releasing
The Dig Soundtrack CD?

The idea for releasing the soundtrack actually came from Angel records. When I raised the idea of using Wagner snippets, LucasArts approached Angel about licensing some Wagner, and Angel suggested that in return for the use of the Wagner, they would get the rights to release a soundtrack of the game score.

There are differences between the music on the game and the music on the CD soundtrack. What was your aproach on the CD?

The music on the CD, being linear like most music, has a more traditional form, in the sense that each piece builds and develops, hopefully goes somewhere or says something, and then ends -- you're working toward a destination in each case. In the game, the music tended to do the opposite, because pieces were usually associated with locations: there's a big flourish when you arrive somewhere, then it settles down into a medium statement of the melody, then a quieter statement, and then it either hangs around or trickles off. So when making the CD, I had to more or less take the musical themes from the game and reverse the musical trajectories of the pieces, to make them ramp up rather than ramping down. The other major difference is that, unlike a game, you can control the way the pieces fit together, so I focused a lot on making the transitions and juxtapositions of the pieces as meaningful as possible.

Page of the score for the english horn and oboe parts of "ghosts"You mentioned that with The Dig score you where expressing what you really feel. In the The Dig the characters had to dig deep within themselves in other to survive. And it seems like you had to dig deep within yourselve to find this music. What does this score means to you?

I think that for me, the score expresses a vaguely religious feeling I have about the spirituality of life, perhaps the sadness of its temporariness, as well as the hope and redemption that comes from connecting to forces larger than oneself. For me, there's a certain way in which sadness and beauty come together in a particular feeling, and that's what I was trying to express.

I recall loading The Dig game, using Boston Low to go the the underwater cavern, leaving him in front of that underwater window, leaving the PC and taking a nap listening the beautiful and peaceful music that was played in that location.
I think if most of us had to imagine what music could work for the game, I guess most of the people would imagine suspence music, with drama and tension (the sort of music that is common in sci-fi movies).
Why did you choose (very wisely in my humble opinion) to make something different?

The story certainly had its dramatic and tense aspects. But there were other aspects of it that came across stronger for me, like the otherworldly strangeness, the amazing beauty of the artwork, and the sense of mystery around the alien civilization. I guess those were the factors that seemed most in the forefront when I experienced the game. And of course I was talking with Sean Clark a lot throughout the process about what was under the surface, on a subliminal level, and that helped a lot.

You created or co-created the iMUSE music system. How does this system works?

The thing that's hard about music for games is imagining how it's going to work in the game. The iMUSE system was really good at letting the composer constantly test out the various interactive responses of the music: how transitions worked between pieces, how different mixes sounded when they changed based on game parameters, etc. Without a system like that, it's much harder to conceive of the score as a coherent overall work.

Any anecdotes from The Dig?

I remember some early video experiments during the Noah Falstein era of The Dig, probably around '92, where Sean Clark put on a scuba outfit and walked around the LucasArts parking lot while being videotaped (the next best thing to an astronaut in a space suit). I don't think that concept made it very far, but Sean sure did... he eventually led the version of the project that finally shipped.

Have you played the game? What do you think of it?

I played the game, and liked it a lot. I particularly liked the artwork, and how all the different scenes and places fit together to create a world with unique rugged beauty.

November, 2005
Copyright © 2005 Santiago Méndez.

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