INTERVIEW WITH SOUND DIRECTOR/COMPOSER GARETH LUMB

Updated: Nov 20, 2020



ROH: Can you share a little bit of your background in video game work, like how long you’ve been working in the industry and what other projects you’ve worked on?

My background in the industry really centers around Wales Interactive. I’ve been with the studio as a freelancer since 2014 when I was studying for my master’s degree in creative sound production. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and I hadn’t really had plans to work in games but we took part in an internship scheme as part of the course and I came to WI. I was there for a couple of weeks and it really opened my eyes that this was something I could do. They must have liked the work I was doing because they took me on as the resident sound professional. I was hooked immediately, I have always been an avid gamer and game music has been hugely influential to me as a musician, so I think it was just a good match. I’ve been responsible for all sound and music on all WI’s first-party games ever since, so I’ve had the pleasure of working on Soul Axiom, Don’t Knock Twice, Time Carnage, and now Maid of Sker.

ROH: It’s not too often I see composers and musicians also double their duty as the sound director on a game as well. Can you explain how you got tasked with both duties on Maid of Sker?

Haha … yes if it makes a sound, it was me! It’s always been that way since I joined the studio. It’s a really lucky position to be in. I love having control over all elements of the sound and it’s a great experience to be able to work on such a diverse range of tasks; I get to write and record music, record and edit dialogue and work with the fantastic voice talent, I get to design all the sound effects, and do implementation of audio in conjunction with our coders. It is a lot of work though and a lot of responsibility when all audio-related bucks stop with me! I think it’s mainly just by virtue of the size of our team. Most of the team do more than one job, and I’m no exception. The scope and ambition of Maid of Sker has really pushed all of the team and that’s been hugely challenging but a lot of fun too.

ROH: On to Maid of Sker specifically, I love the very frequent female vocals that carry so many of the tracks featured in the game, and the vocalist Tia did a fantastic job on the performances. Was this always part of the plan of the music design from the beginning to include a female voice as one of the main musical components?

I can’t praise Tia highly enough! Her voice is really the defining element of the soundtrack. It wasn’t always the plan though. In the research and development phase I had written a fair bit of music (in a totally different style) but our studio co-founder and Game Director, David Banner, came up with the idea of using Welsh hymns to tie in with the folklore themes running through the game. I went away and listened to loads of Welsh music which was a nice way to connect with my musical heritage. I came back with the three hymns. It took a while to arrange them into minor keys and to give them a more chilling feel. We have never had a performer budget on previous projects but I had done a bit of work with Tia on some of my own music, I knew her voice would be a good match and also that she was a fluent Welsh speaker, so we decided to give it a go. Once we recorded Tia, we immediately knew we were about to produce something special for the fans. The only downside was that it rendered a lot of the music I’d already written irrelevant and out of step, so I went back to the drawing board and based the more incidental music around the mood set by the hymns.

ROH: I also like the juxtaposition of the beautiful and haunting vocals mixed with many of the more shocking or unpleasant sounds from broken instruments or dissonant chords. Was there any inspiration for this idea to mix the two together so often?

I think that’s always been a central part of my musical philosophy — when something beautiful and melodic is contrasted against something harsh and discordant, for me that’s one of my favorite feelings. Also, this being a horror game, I wanted to set players on edge and that uncanny valley between beauty and ugliness is the perfect way to do so. I wouldn’t say there was a particular inspiration, it was more that I’d just found a load of broken old instruments in my attic. In particular, a violin with one string and the most ragged bow you’ve ever seen! Plus, there was a broken zither with a load of the strings snapped. These instruments formed the basis of a horror sound rig that I built in my studio. I also used a branch from a monkey puzzle tree and a lot of my old broken cymbals (I’m a frustrated rock drummer) amongst other assorted junk. I tried to come up with as many interesting ways to make sound from this collection of objects and instruments, bowing the cymbals with the monkey puzzle branch and hitting the zither with mallets, that kind of thing. I had a lot of the basic ideas for tracks laid down as sketches with piano and string parts so I just recorded myself performing along to the tracks and that was how I started to flesh them out.

ROH: What other horror films or games inspired a lot of your work here on Maid of Sker? I heard a lot of Resident Evil 2/CODE Veronica influence on the track “Night Falls,” whether it was intentional or not, and I love it. I also felt what sounds a little like some of the Friday the 13th soundtracks in “Green Fingers” and I’m wondering if those things were of any influence or you had picked them up from elsewhere.

Growing up I played all the Resident Evil games as they came out so there’s no doubt that’s influenced my writing. Specifically, the save room themes. I got really excited when I realized that we were going to have “traditional” save rooms in Maid of Sker and that I would get to write a theme for this. The track “Sanctuary” is one of my favorites on the OST. I also love the music on SOMA and De