Sound Byte: Meet the Performer - Aubrey Ashburn

We talk to the singer of the Dragon Age and Dragon's Dogma's themes about her background and her voice work.

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Vocalist Aubrey Ashburn turned heads with the work she did for the Dragon Age series with composer Inon Zur. Her other works include "Guardian Theme" for Rift: Planes of Telara, the cinematic themes for Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II, and "Out of Darkness" for Devil May Cry 4. She recently performed the vocals for the main theme of recent RPG Dragon's Dogma titled "Eternal Return".

GameSpot managed to get a quick word from the artist about her past and current work, as well as how she goes about the songbird business.

How did you get started with singing?

I was originally a solo artist, performing live and promoting my album release, when I was hired on to represent composers at Soundelux in Hollywood. It was there that I became intrigued by the level of artistry in game music and instantly knew I wanted to get involved. One of the first scores I worked on was LOTR’s: Battle For Middle Earth II, through one of the composers I worked with, Jamie Christopherson.

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Who are your primary influences in your field of work?

I am inspired by the voices of Lisbeth Scott (Munich), Lisa Gerard (Gladiator), and Azam Ali (300). I have also been greatly influenced by the stylistic approach of many of the composers I have had the pleasure to collaborate with.

What kind of musical genres complement your style of singing?

My voice naturally lends itself to Celtic folk music/scores and other emotional orchestral mutations involving the female voice.

Describe the training vocal artists have to go through each week.

The voice is an instrument of the body and like any other sport or craft, you have to keep it well conditioned and tuned. Daily warm-ups, meditation, and exercise are necessary for me to keep my mind & body in line for creative opportunities.

What element of video game music draws you to lend your talent to games like Dragon Age and Dragon's Dogma?

I believe that games with great stories call for great scores and that is what I’m drawn to. When the score is telling a story of its own as opposed to filling space, I become interested.

Let's switch focus to the Dragon Age series. For Origins, describe the process behind the pieces like "Love Song" and "Leliana's Song".

“Leliana’s Song” was created early on in the process and it was a slam-dunk type of piece. The producer wanted a song for a very specific purpose and the writing team provided us with Elven lyrics that indicated a certain phrasing. Inon came up with a context almost instantly and I had a very simple job to coax the phrasing a bit and perform it. It was a very effortless effort and it’s still one of my favorite songs/performances.

“Love Song” came along at a similar speed and we didn’t realize at the time how well-received this piece would be, but it does have a certain vulnerability about it that captures you. Inon wrote the music and together we placed the pseudo-Elven language I concocted and it took shape nicely.

I also notice that Inon Zur and you are almost always together for projects. How did the two of you meet?

We knew of each other because the game world is a small world and I was introduced to Inon at the GDC conference years ago. It wasn’t until I left Soundelux that I approached him with my portfolio of material and told him I’d like to do more in game music.

Dragon Age: Origins was the first project he hired me for, and in fact, the main theme I performed was the piece that won him the contract to do the score. So we knew it was a promising team from the start.

You lent your vocal talents to Lost Planet: Extreme Conditions with Capcom. Who approached who first: you or Capcom?

Capcom was a client of Soundelux. Since I worked closely with composers Jamie Christopherson and Deddy Tzur, Capcom hired me to provide some female essence to some of the themes. All I had to do was walk down the hallway from my office to their composer suite to lay down some tracks. It’s what I call the proximity effect in Hollywood.

Speaking of which, let's talk about Dragon's Dogma for a bit. How did the tune and lyrics of Eternal Return come to be?

For Dragon’s Dogma, I was a hired gun. Capcom’s in-house composers wrote the theme and lyrics and sent it to me with a temp vocal, so it was pretty straightforward once I got into the sound booth. The Japanese like to work in a very organized and clear cut way. The composers were able to listen to a live stream of my recording from Japan and provide feedback on the spot.

What are the primary differences you've noticed between Japanese and Western composers in terms of creating music?

The Japanese, from what I’ve experienced, are more premeditated and exert more positive control over the projects. They like to be as efficient as possible with no room for surprises. On the other hand, Western composers are more laid back, spontaneous and in the moment.

Maybe it’s because I work more directly with composers in most other situations, compared to working with Capcom where I’m interacting more with producers and less with the composer. At least on Dragon’s Dogma, that was the case.

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It's obviously hard to pick the favorite songs you did. Which songs that you've done and sung for so far made you go "alright, I nailed it!"?

Dragon Age: Origins main theme was like that. I had a sort of spiritual experience recording it and I still enjoy listening to it. I wouldn’t change a thing about it. “Leliana’s Song” is definitely in that category as well, just the way it came to be and how Bioware used it in the game.

If there is something about a performance that bugs me, for instance a moment where I think I sound ingenuine, it will always bug me. I also favor some performances I did on LOTR: War in The North titled “Rivendell” & “Zarthog”.

What are your plans for the future in terms of video game music?

I’d like to do more projects that continue to challenge me and also consist of elements that have a deep spiritual impact on listeners. My intention is that if it moves me, maybe it will move others.

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