MusFan Interview: Inon Zur
August 23, 2019
INON ZUR: Part 1: Fantasy & Supernatural Scores
By Randall D. Larson
Classically trained with a flair for powerful, melodic orchestral writing, Inon Zur’s rich portfolio spans epic action/adventure genres and ethereal fantasy scores for blockbuster entertainment properties including multiple entries in the PRINCE OF PERSIA series, THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE WAR IN THE NORTH (Classical MPR Best Video Game Soundtrack), DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS (Forbes’ “Top Video Game Soundtracks of All Time”), and DRAGON AGE II (“Best Original Video Game Score” at the Movie Music Awards UK). He also scored Ubisoft’s first virtual reality game, EAGLE FLIGHT (Classic FM‘s Top Ten Video Game Soundtracks of 2016), a breathtaking flight simulation experience set in the skies of Paris, and the beloved adventure game series SYBERIA 2 & 3 written and directed by visionary French artist Benoît Sokal.
Inon has also been providing critically acclaimed scores for film and television, including the EMMY winning documentary SABER ROCK as featured on CNN and the suspense-thriller RECLAIM for Lionsgate starring John Cusack.
– bio via http://www.inonzur.com
“Music serves the same purpose in all media. Music is the 4th dimension which is the emotional dimension. You can’t see it but you can definitely hear it and feel it and this is what music needs to do; it needs to enhance the emotion.” –Inon Zur
Q: What brought you into scoring video games – and what kind of musical technology was available to you to use in the late ‘90s and early 2000s?
Inon Zur: I was introduced to music for video games almost accidentally. In 1996 I was contacted by an agent who proposed that I consider scoring for the medium. Initially it was not such an appealing idea but when I learned that games offered the opportunity to record with live orchestra I was excited about it. The technology back then, around the end of the PS1 era, and beginning of the PS2, the capacity and capabilities of consoles, even PCs, in those days, was limited. All that was available for the music was one stereo stream. So all we could do was write music that would loop, stop, and start again. The interactivity was almost non-existent in most cases, so we had to be very creative in order to compose a score that would serve all the needs of the game taking into consideration these limited resources.
Q: What have you found to be among the main differences in approach or technique between scoring films/TV and video games – especially in that the latter requires a need to accommodate the interactive threads of gameplay?
Inon Zur: Music serves the same purpose in all media. Music is the 4th dimension which is the emotional dimension. You can’t see it but you can definitely hear it and feel it and this is what music needs to do; it needs to enhance the emotion. In this respect there is no difference between music in games and other media. However, since games can vary in so many ways, music cannot be locked to any picture at any time except for the cinematics, which are usually short vignettes which are presented to drive the story. But the way in which a composer scores games is not the same. We are trying to capture more than anything the emotions of the player. We cannot really predict what the player will do so we score to the mindset of the player in context rather what is actually happening on the screen. It’s more challenging than music for film and TV as you’re not locked to any picture which serves as a hard guideline. So you really have to anticipate the different directions of the player and use your imagination a lot more.
Q: Among your earliest fantasy scores was the American release of the Japanese TV series ESCAFLOWNE on the Fox Kids Network. What changes were needed in music from the original Japanese-scored series and how would you describe the music you provided for the show?
Inon Zur: Great question! I remember when we first saw the original series from Japan. The Japanese culture is so different from Western culture. Music that they perceive as enhancing the picture often does not work for us aesthetically. The original score didn’t usually support a musical theme and more often than not the music did not respond to what was happening on screen. It’s just a different way of thinking, a different way of scoring. So when we watched the series we realized that we needed to replace all the music in order to appeal to a western audience. The music that I wrote was a soundscape combination of east and west with a lot of Japanese influences but the way I treated it was more westernized. The music responded right away to changes in the plot, changes in the script. It was very much locked to the picture unlike the original version.
Q: How did the music for the 2000 ESCAFLOWNE: THE MOVIE expand what you had done for the series?
Inon Zur: Essentially the same idea, but the scope was much larger. The themes were much more prominent and more dramatic. The development of the music was slower-paced. Again, some of the themes were the same but the approach was more cinematic.
Q: What musical opportunities did scoring Saban’s cartoon series MYSTIC KNIGHTS OF TIR NA NOG provide for you?
Inon Zur: This series actually prepared me the most for scoring fantasy games later—and it was probably the most important TV series in terms of what prepared me to compose for video games. Before MYSTIC KNIGHTS OF TIR NA NOG I was not familiar with the Irish, Nordic, and Celtic styles of music. When I was introduced to this style I fell in love with it right away. So scoring games like ICEWIND DALE, BALDUR’S GATE, EVERQUEST, and other Tolkienian-inspired fantasy titles it felt like a continuation of what I learned composing on the TV show, because I had already gained knowledge of how to write for the tin whistle, uilleann pipes, the bodhrán, and other instruments—and how to write for female vocals in the Celtic style. That all originated from my experience writing for MYSTIC KNIGHTS OF TIR NA NOG.
Q: You and Assaf Rinde co-composed THE GHOST WHISPERER: THE OTHER SIDE web series. Were you asked to draw on the music or its style from the original TV series or did you have a free hand on scoring the webisodes?
Inon Zur: I had a free hand. Mark Snow did the main series and I was actually asked not to draw from his score. I took it to a darker, more electronic style, so it was very different.
Q: What was your thematic structure for this webseries?
Inon Zur: I wouldn’t say there was a thematic structure per say. It was more traditional on-the-point TV scoring. Here the plot was the main the driver for the score. Of course, there were some reoccurring themes here and there but it was not the main target or focus.
Q: How did you become involved in the latest iteration of the ELDER SCROLLS game series with BLADES, and how would you describe your take on scoring this version of the game?
Inon Zur: I’ve been working with Bethesda Games Studios for the last 15 years + and they really thought that I could contribute some of my own personal style to this franchise. Initially they invited me to write the theme for the game to see if my style could coexist with the franchise and once they were happy I was asked to write the full score.
Q: What instrumental palettes have you chosen or needed to utilize on your more recent game scores?
Inon Zur: Ultimately it’s whatever each game needs. My music for THE ELDER SCROLLS: BLADES is influenced by the established style carried over from previous games in the series combined with my own style that I’ve developed over the years. For BLADES, we recorded with the Budapest Film Orchestra.
Q: After nearly 20 years scoring films, TV, and games, what prompted the production of your original music album INTO THE STORM, and what inspired the concept of the album?
Inon Zur: The main inspiration for the album were the songs I created for DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS and DRAGON AGE 2. I really wanted to expand upon this sonic world… The album represents more of a diverse world of what started as the songs for DRAGON AGE – from a very Irish-inspired Celtic style to more orchestral and even pop, each one of the songs has a different flavor.
Q: Do you anticipate this third component of your musical career to eclipse that of the game and film/TV scores you’re doing? Which do you hope to continue focusing on in the coming years?
Inon Zur: All of the above. I’m continuing to write music for media projects and looking forward to future collaborations with Sony Masterworks; I’m thankful for all these opportunities and hope that the fans will join me on this next chapter of my musical journey.
Special thanks to Greg O’Connor-Read for his assistance in facilitating this interview, and Inon Zur for taking the time to share his perspectives.
For more details on the composer, see http://www.inonzur.com
Stand by for Part 2: Science Fiction Scores coming up in another month or two.