Sound Byte: Meet the Composer - Martin O'Donnell

We talk to Halo series composer Marty to get his thoughts on Bungie's final game in the franchise.


Halo: Reach

No Caption Provided Last year at the Penny Arcade Expo we met up with Martin O'Donnell to do a Meet the Composer interview, so if you missed it, check it out right here! Marty talks about his influences and how he got into the video game industry, so here's your chance to meet the man behind the music. Now that the saga is complete, I sent a few questions over to Marty to get his thoughts on how the project went.

GameSpot: How long were you working on the soundtrack to Halo: Reach? How was the experience?

Martin O'Donnell: We started serious work on the music about a year before Reach was shipped. However, the majority of the music production was completed in the final three months. This time I also collaborated with Stan LePard and C Paul Johnson (in addition to Mike Salvatori) for a lot of the content. I really enjoyed working with other composers and hearing what they brought to some of the simple themes I sent out to them.

GS: After working on the Halo series from the beginning, what do you do to try to keep things fresh and exciting each time?

MO: Besides getting other composers involved, I also try and go back to the well and see if I can find new themes and sounds that will enhance the new story. Sitting by myself in my studio at the keyboard is the best way for me to do that.

GS: What were some of the challenges while working on Reach?

MO: Time is always an issue. The game itself usually isn't completely playable until quite late in the process, and I prefer to score the game as it will be played by the public. Making sure that the music had a more heroic sacrificial feel was another challenge. I wanted the music for Reach to emphasize the feeling of despair and yet still give some hope for the future.

GS: What are some of your most memorable moments while working on the series?

MO: All of the sessions at Seattle's Studio X with live musicians and singers were amazing. Probably my most enjoyable session was when Steve Vai (Halo 2) came to the studio and played guitar with my tracks for more than 4 hours.

GS: How do you approach each track? What is your process?

MO: I try to keep my approach as organic and natural as possible. I improvise quite a bit and wait until something I'm playing causes me to have a strong emotional response. Those are the little moments that I expand and share with the other composers. Sometimes I'm just listening to some of the raw material from the others and see if I have an emotional response and then expand on those pieces. After I have accumulated lots of strong musical material, I organize it by emotional categories and determine what's missing. When I begin the implementation process, I draw from that pool of music and basically hope that I've got all that I need. If I get to a point in the game where something isn't working or I believe that I need something new, I compose something specifically for that.

GS: Halo: Reach has a very different tone. What were your influences?

MO: My main influence was the story of the game itself. I've been working with other creatives at Bungie for three years on the story of Reach and was fully immersed in that story. Our cinematics team also give me great inspiration because composing music to finished picture is wonderful. I try not to rely on direct musical influences, but I'm sure that all the music I've loved, played, or listened to my whole life has certainly contributed to what I compose.

GS: Now that Halo: Reach is out, what's next for you?

MO: A little R&R and then full speed ahead on Bungie's next "big thing." The future is bright.

GS: Thank you for your time!

Sound Byte is GameSpot's game music blog, which covers every aspect of music in games, including interviews with top game music composers and discussions of new and classic game soundtracks. The blog is usually updated on Fridays, but things might happen midweek too. Have a question or suggestion? Leave us a comment below. For a list of previous Sound Byte features, click here.

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