Anybody who’s ever played Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, Tomb Raider Chronicles or Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness will know just how significant and evocative the game’s soundtracks are. I have many favourites from these titles: that frantic, thumping number that blares out when you try to trap the sword-wielding Minotaur on the streets of Cairo; the dance of the Lux Veritatis; the melancholic notes of The Angel of Darkness‘ closing moments, as a half-smiling Lara disappears into the shadows in search of her lost friend.
The music for these games was all composed by Peter Connelly (in collaboration with Martin Iveson on The Angel of Darkness) and the music has proven to be such a hit with fans that Peter Connelly recently announced that he would be launching a Kickstarter to produce a special soundtrack album. Titled The Dark Angel Symphony, the release will comprise of music from TR4, TR5 and AOD, re-arranged and re-recorded to take full advantage of 2018’s technology.
In-keeping with my tradition of interviewing people from the world of Tomb Raider, I thought I’d chance it and ask Peter if he’d be happy for me to ask him some questions about his work. He kindly agreed (although you probably worked that out from the headline…)
Before we begin, here are some fun facts about Peter. His favourite Tomb Raider game is Tomb Raider 3, and his favourite musical genres are pop, classical and electronica. In terms of instruments, he’s a big fan of the french horn, drums, piano and trombone.
But what first inspired him to create The Dark Angel Symphony album? When did he first decide that he’d like to give it a go…?
“In all honesty, the idea has been toyed with in my head for quite some time,” Peter explains, “but the first time I shared these ideas publicly was in 2015 and, to my surprise, I was amazed at how much of a response I got from just throwing my ideas out there. I have been asked many times over the years if there was a commercially available product of my OSTs – even approached by digital distributors – so that has kind of triggered my thoughts on making this a possibility.”
Here’s my full interview with Peter Connelly – composer and sound designer…
Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation was the first Lara Croft game that you wrote the music for. What approach did you take in composing the music? Did you sit down with the dev team at an early stage to discuss mood and tone, or did you look at specific levels in the game and write appropriate pieces?
I wrote my first piece for TR3 as I came in JUST as they were finishing up the game, but unfortunately it was too late to get it in the game, so I kept this for The Last Revelation. It’s slightly different to the one I did for TR3 but, as almost a year passed, it’s safe to say that it would get some form of re-work (I’m forever fiddling.) Which is why, 15-20 years after working on TR, I can see my scores in a totally different light, hence The Dark Angel Symphony.
Everything I did, I did off the top of my head, but worked to builds of the game. One day there were one or two rooms to explore; I booted these up, walked about, got some inspiration and worked from that. I could re-boot the level a week later and see it develop which was great, as this opened creative channels which just kept going and going.
We know now that The Angel of Darkness had a troubled development. To what extent do you think these issues impacted on your job as a composer? Were you working on the game on a daily basis, or did you take a more ‘back seat’ approach?
Being in a studio, on my own, I wasn’t that involved in the daily politics and troubles that might have gone on. For me, particularly in the earlier days, everything felt normal and like it had been on TR4 and TR5 but, towards the end, the cracks started to form. Like any other project, the stress slowly increases and nothing ever goes 100% to plan – there are always changes and compromises.
But, all in all, some of the issues with the game, IMO, were minimal and could’ve been sorted had we been given the time… Unfortunately, time wasn’t an option. But, imagine – had patches been available back then, all the creases could’ve been ironed out after release. Some of the games I’ve worked on since have gone out in worse states, but always with the intention that, upon release or soon after, a patch will be made available. Sadly, AOD didn’t have the luxury of this so, all in all, AOD was in much better shape upon release than most games we play today.
The Lost Dominion was intended to follow The Angel of Darkness, before the franchise was taken over by Crystal Dynamics. Did you compose any preliminary pieces for this game?
By this point, I had jumped ship and left Core Design [the TR developer.] The VERY last thing I did at Core was create SFX and music edits (initially from AOD) for Anniversary.
Since your Core Design days, you’ve composed for some other notable titles including Watch Dogs and The Crew. How has the process of writing video game music evolved since the late 90s?
Technology has moved on LOTS since the late 90’s. Nowadays, everything can be driven pretty much ITB (In the Box) inside a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). All instruments, vocals, SFX can be manipulated, recorded, rendered inside the computer with great ease, and some of the sound libraries available now (e.g. by Orchestral Tools – I use these a lot) are light years ahead of where we were in the 1990s.
For TR4 and TR5, I pretty much used a Roland JX-1080 with an orchestral expansion board. If anyone buys this combination, the TR sound is right in there, in your face. Now, I have 5x 4TB SSDs loaded with amazing libraries that can have articulations played by any instrument within an orchestra, from soft hits of a timpani to full 60-piece string FX. It’s all there and it’s so much easier to get it sounding more realistic than it was before.
Who, or what, would you say have been the greatest musical influences on you as a composer?
Burt Bacharach is what, first and foremost, got me inspired to become a composer. I became hooked on his work at a very early age; he is such a genius. I love bands such as The Smiths, Pet Shop Boys, Brand New Heavies, Soul 2 Soul, Jamiroquai, etc. John Williams and Hans Zimmer certainly play a huge part in my inspiration, but there are also a lot of geniuses out there who don’t get the credit they deserve.
One thing I have learnt over the years is that trying to be a one-man band can be so creatively destroying… Ideally, you need a team to achieve the results you want to (without getting lost in what you’re doing) and the team we have on board The Dark Angel Symphony are all handpicked. Richard Niles, for example, who is known heavily for his meticulous arrangements (Pet Shop Boys, Take That, Tears for Fears, Grace Jones, Trevor Horn, Paul McCartney, to name but a few) will be taking the music from TR4, TR5 and AOD and taking it to a whole new level, without losing the authenticity of the original scores. I have no doubt his wizardry will transform the music to bigger and better plains.
I must add that technology within the industry has kept me hooked too. The 80s were such an amazing time for innovation with amazing synthesizers and devices such as the Fairlight to make it all look cool and appealing. People are striving for these sounds today; a lot of new technologies are based on these “sounds of the 80s.”
When you look back on the work you’ve produced so far, what would you say your proudest moments have been?
I am both a sound designer and composer, so I do one or the other. Rarely I do both, but musically I am rather proud of my Blackguards 2 OST which, incidentally, was my first jump back into full-time composing since AOD, so you’re looking at over 10 years between these.
Sound Design: I am proud of the work I did for Driver: San Francisco. The team, and team camaraderie, was superb and this makes a huge difference to creativity. There were some great audio peeps working on that project too and, without them, it would not be what it is today. It’s about the only project I can still play after working on without cringing, lol.
Thank you Peter Connelly for taking the time to let me interview you!