Bully Retrospective: Part III

Culture, Feature, General, Music, Retro

Yesterday we talked with Gerry Rosenthal about voicing Jimmy Hopkins, and before that Jacob Krarup about his role as co-writer. While they both played key roles in the making of Bully no single component was more integral to achieving its overall tone than the score.

Performed almost single handed by multi-instrumentalist Shawn Lee, it as an impressive sprawling work that deserves all the praise heaped upon it. One would assume, “oh okay, well one guy sat there with laptop, a midi keyboard, and pro tools, and knocked it all out. Not that hard.” And one would be very, very wrong. At least 15 instruments were performed live, no midi, to create the songs of Bully.

Shawn has been involved in multiple musical projects including soundtrack work for The Getaway, Bully and Sleeping Dogs. La Musique Numerique, a new album he’s working on with the band AM, is set to release sometime in 2013. More info can be found at their Pledge Music project page here. You can also find Shawn at his website www.shawnlee.net and hear some of his stuff on his Facebook music page.

Shawn was kind enough to answer some of my questions regarding his process in making the score. Meanwhile, I tried my best not to fawn too much (you know, that journalistic objectivity stuff.)

GamersHavenNews: Your score is integral in giving the game its sense of whimsy and melancholy, and recalling the high school experience, did you reference any personal memories when writing?

Shawn Lee: I wanted to capture that innocent yet slightly twisted childhood essence in the Bully score. Light and dark at the same time!

GHN: How much free roam were you given to create, were you given specific instrumental instructions, or just a sense of scene/setting or mood?

SL:  I worked very closely with Ivan Pavlovich at Rockstar on the score. He gave me 2 ref. dvd’s of music that he felt captured various aspects of the game . From there I developed musical strategies and starting points. After that, it was just a case of writing and recording loads of music!

GHN: Bells and higher pitched percussion are used prominently in the score; what emotional symbolism do they hold for you?

SL: Well shortly before I started the score I was in Tokyo and I came across a Kawaii kids piano. I bought it as I felt this was going to be integral to the sound of Bully. It sounds somewhere between a celesta and a xylophone. It became one of the signature sounds of Bully. I added other things like glockenspiel and harpsichord around it and it really shaped the overall score

GHN: What piece did you begin with, did all of the pieces evolve from there?

SL: I started Bully by doing about 15 game defining musical cues. All the different aspects of the score were established in that first batch plus most of the important themes as well. After that it was filling in the gaps more than less!

GHN: Coming off your work from The Getaway score how did your approach differ for Bully, and overall how does your approach differ for game scores as opposed to film or television?

SL: On the Getaway I was brought in by composer Andrew Hale to put some music down.

I just did around 10 cues and left all the heavy lifting to Andrew. In terms of how I approach

Composing, it all has to do with the creative parameters of the individual project. I always try to be on the same musical page as the client from jump street and then just do “my thing” within that frame work.”

GHN: What was your instrumental setup like, and how many people were involved in making the music?

SL: Other than horns on a couple of tracks I am playing every note of the Bully score. My basic instrument set up was bass, piano, harpsichord, guitars, glockenspiel, organ, auto harp, percussion, Melodica, xylophone, harmonica, synths, drums and vibes; this kept me very busy overdubbing! All live audio- no midi.

GHN: Who were your band/composer influences while writing?

SL: For the more child like stuff Danny Elfman & Michael Andrews Donnie Darko score. I’m a big Morricone fan so he is a definite influence, other than that there are too many to mention.

GHN: Have you played the games you scored? If so, how did you feel about your work and how it was used?

SL: funnily enough I haven’t ever played the games!

GHN: Would you be interested in scoring a Bully seque?

SL: I am very interested in scoring more video games -so please hire me!

Bully Retrospective: Part I  Part II

 Bully Retrospective: Part III

David Willming

Amateur filmmaker, music junkie, and a gamer with a penchant for all things indie and/or weird

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