Sound Byte: Meet the Composer Behind Divinity II
We speak with composer Kirill Pokrovsky about his background and work on the recent Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga.
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One of the best things about role-playing games is that they are almost always accompanied by an epic and moving score that inspires the adventurer in all of us. Divinity II may have flown under your radar, multiple times in fact, since it was originally released on the PC and Xbox 360 back in early 2010 as Divinity II: Ego Draconis. Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga is a remastered version of the original adventure with new content, an improved engine, and the expansion Flames of Vengeance. If you haven't played the game, you might want take a listen to the score, which was composed and performed by Russian composer Kirill Pokrovsky. You'll be amazed at the things you take for granted when it comes to media. You can find more Divinity II music along with tunes from other video games at Sound Byte Radio.
GameSpot: Could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background?
Kirill Pokrovsky: Well, my name is Kirill Pokrovsky, and I was born and raised in Moscow. Of course, this is the capital of Russia now, but back then, the USSR still existed and all things Western--the forbidden fruits--like books, magazines, and Western music recordings had to be smuggled through the Iron Curtain. I started playing music from a very early age, and as a teenager, I became interested in rock music. When Gorbachev came to power and suddenly all the outlawed Western influences became OK, the band I was in was allowed to stage concerts. We toured, and on one occasion, we played in front of 250,000 fans all singing along to our songs. What a time that was! Our album sold more than a million copies, but because we still lived in the socialist system, this didn't make us rich. Still, fame was sweet!
GS: What was the first instrument that you picked up?
KP: Like I said, I began playing when I was very young as my mother was a practicing teacher and concert pianist. First, I played the violin for a bit, which she selected for me because of my "perfect pitch" hearing. We couldn't find a little violin, so I remember myself as a four-year-old kid holding en enormous adult-sized one, sweating and cursing. Later, I switched to piano, so of course my mother was a big help. That's when I first started to compose, and my first opus was the "ideologically correct" song "Lenin on Parade," performed by a very little me and a famous opera soprano singer. For this, I won my first award and the performance was broadcasted on national television.
GS: Is there an instrument you wish you knew how to play?
KP: The instrument I always wanted to play was the electric guitar, but an unfortunate little incident put a stop to that. When I was a teen, I managed to get my hands on an electric guitar from East Germany--some copy of a Fender Stratocaster--but the only amplifying device at our place was the TV set. I managed to connect the guitar to it, but after striking the first chord, the little speakers of the television were literally blown away. This ended in a huge row with my parents, and so my very short-lived guitar career came to an end.
GS: What is your fondest memory when it comes to music?
KP: Fond may be the wrong word, but there's this one story I think is quite funny. I was in a studio still writing music that was about to be recorded. My computer crashed on me, so I had to write the partitions by hand. The producer was becoming nervous and angry, especially when the very posh and very expensive musicians arrived. Reluctantly, they started playing the handwritten scores. All went fine until the third piece, when all of a sudden, the music started to sound like a complete cacophony. The musicians, though, thought this was just another one of those "modern" pieces and just kept playing! I quickly asked for a toilet break during which I amended the mistake that led them to unwittingly botch up the score. Luckily, the rest of the recording went ahead relatively peacefully.
GS: How did you get into making music for video games?
KP: When I first started doing solo projects, I ended up in Belgium. At first, I was only planning to stay a year or so, but I fell in love with the country and, especially, the city of Bruges. There, I met Swen Vincke (CEO of Larian Studios - Ed.), who was, at that time, still a student. He was a programmer…very ambitious. And even though he didn't know how as yet, he knew he was going to make video games. He also appreciated the importance of music in games. I met his crew and finally found myself surrounded again by a group of enthusiastic people doing something new. A few tumultuous years later Divine Divinity was a fact.
GS: What's your inspiration when working on the Divinity games? And, what is your process when composing a particular track?
KP: Music starts from silence. Then, you hear some fragments, take a look at the monitor, and get inspired by sketches and scenes. Sometimes everything is going smoothly and sometimes you struggle hard and long to catch the right atmosphere. From time to time, I put myself in the place of the player who wanders the landscape as he quests. What music is called for here? How long should a melody last? The music shouldn't be dominant: I must restrain my composer ego. Sometimes I go around the office and watch my colleagues working. This inspires me a lot: The story inspires you, but even more, the entire process inspires you. Just to be there…where the game is being made among people who are doing their utmost.
GS: Do you have a favorite piece from Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga?
KP: After all the work is done, it's difficult to tell just what your favourite track is. You need some time to pass by because at first, you simply can't listen to a track without wanting to change something. And of course, you have heard this music so many times while composing. Now, though, my favourites are "Fly, Dragon, Fly" and "Airborne," not that I wouldn't still change a couple things in these pieces.
GS: Is there a particular style that you're fond of? Are there other artists in the game music industry that you admire (and why)?
KP: I try to remain uninfluenced by colleagues in the business, but of course, there are great names like Jeremy Soule that you just can't escape. John Debney is another one. But we are all so different, and I don't believe in any kind of real comparison. We work in different environments with different possibilities, deadlines, budgets, etc. What I don't like is the current trend of "hyper-epic" score writing that makes every track sound alike. You know the kind of thing: dramatic and ecstatic female choirs all over the place and brass riffs ready to blow your speakers. This Carmina Burana approach came from Hollywood and "industrial" production houses where a bunch of often totally unconnected people do the composing, arranging, scoring, and orchestrating only to finally record somewhere in a remote corner of Bulgaria. Sure, it can sound great and impressive, but how often do you remember such a melody and whistle it all day?
GS: What kind of music do you listen to now?
KP: I usually listen to music that is quite different from the style in which I compose for games. It can be Portuguese fado or Klaus Schulze. And depending on the mood I'm in, almost anything really, from jazz to heavy metal.
GS: What are your biggest influences?
KP: My list may not be very original, but I still regard Mozart and Bach as the greatest of composers. I am also influenced by Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and Scriabin. And I will, of course, mention Mussorgsky and Debussy. Striking a more modern chord, I admire great synthesiser masters like Jarre and Vangelis and keyboard hero Keith Emerson.
GS: What projects are you currently working on?
KP: I play in a band, write scores for documentaries, and play a lot of piano. I have been in negotiations for a couple of projects, but most of all, I prepare myself for the upcoming journey--the next Larian Studios game. The adventures will continue!
GS: What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?
KP: Don't give up! I know how painful and disappointing it can be when your music is not appreciated or suddenly rejected. So often you have to go that extra mile, be patient, do whatever it takes to remain inspired under the stress of deadlines. But nevertheless, you still do it, right? Because you respect all those players who are going to enjoy your work!
GS: Thank you for your time!
Sound Byte is GameSpot's game music blog, which covers every aspect of music and audio in games, including interviews with top game music composers and sound designers, as well as discussions of new or classic game soundtracks. Have a question or suggestion? Leave us a comment below or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. For a list of previous Sound Byte features, click here.
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