Music for Assassins

A startlingly diverse crowd packed the UBS Forum tonight for the live recording of Top Score podcast presenter Emily Reese's conversation with Assassin's Creed composer Jesper Kyd.


Hipsters, gamers, and classical buffs came to learn a few of the secrets behind the immensely popular video game franchise, which released its fourth title Assassin's Creed:Revelations on Tuesday.

Kyd (right) is a Dane who is unusual among video game music composers in that he didn't begin his career in film. He began composing what he laughingly called bleep music on what was then his cutting edge Commodore 64. He moved on to an Amiga with its whopping four channels and joined the European Demoscene where he and his friends composed music like maniacs. He said he tried to do a tune a day.

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"Don't take it that seriously," he said of learning how to write music. "That's important. I didn't really care. I wrote a lot of music that really sucked, but I had a good time."

He said he also got to know a lot of other people in the scene too, composers and graphic artists all drawn together by the maverick spirit, and it was an almost natural progression that they put their skills together to create a game. It was so good Sega bought it, and he moved to the US.


Kyd has done the scores for all four of the Assassin's games so far, and he told Emily Reese the music provides an interesting challenge. While much of the action in the first game occurs during the Crusades, and in the second in 15th century Italy, with the third being a combination of both, the storyline is actually set in 2012. It's really a science fiction travel adventure, with strong historical elements.

Kyd says he works hard to keep that science fiction element in the scores, while also conjuring the feel of those historical times. Part of his secret is his use of electronic music, and his delight in manipulation and sampling. He always uses a live choir for recording the music, but will digitally alter the sound to get the effect he is after.

He has little time for those who claim orchestral music is superior to electronic material. Instead of having many players he says, an electronic musician creates a framework alone, and then builds around it.

"You have to create that awesomeness of your own," he said. He researches a great deal as he composes, but bluntly says most people today find the music of the Crusades primitive. He says the trick is not to be accurate, but working on creating the music so people feel it is accurate.

He also talked about the difference between composing for a game and writing music for a film. A film is finite, and a composer knows what is going to happen. For a game however a lot depends on how a gamer is playing.

"A lot of it is to try to work out what would be cool (to hear) when you are playing," he said.

There is also a lot of opportunity to explore musical themes and variations. He said for Assassin's Creed II he delivered three hours of finished music.


Jesper Kyd signs copies of Assassin's Creed games after appearing on Top Score

"Assassin's Creed: Revelations" is so new Kyd admits he hasn't actually played it. In fact he's not entirely sure how his music is used in the game.

When asked if he is working on the next game in the series he smiled and said "I can't really talk about that. I'd get into trouble." He paused for a moment and continued, "But there is more music on the way."

After talking and taking questions for an hour the final piece of business was a drawing for two collector's editions of the new game.

When Reese asked him if he wanted to draw the XBox or the PS3 entries, he smiled and said "That's a loaded question," making the gamers in the audience roar with laughter.

He went with the XBox.