Video game score earns historic Grammy nominationWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The “Grammy-nominated Austin Wintory.” For a young composer, it still takes some getting used to.
“It’s … not real,” Wintory said in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star. “I keep hearing people say it and it still has this vague sound, like we’re talking about someone else. It hardly feels like an affirmation of years of hard work or anything like that. Just this dream that I keep trying to accept is reality.”
Wintory’s surprise is understandable. When the National Academy for Recording Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for its Feb. 10 ceremony, Wintory was among the honorees for “Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media.” The nomination, his first, came for his work on the video game “Journey” — the first time a game score was ever nominated for the award.
For Wintory, the nomination comes 10 years into his career as a composer, a career path that began almost randomly at age 10 when he began taking piano lessons.
“I had zero interest in music before that. I was into video games, films, comics, etc. I owned a few soundtracks, but only because I loved those films,” Wintory said.
“But that perception instantly changed when, at 10 quite randomly, I started piano lessons and my teacher started evangelizing for the film scores of Jerry Goldsmith. I instantly became hooked and from that moment forward I wanted to be a composer.”
Goldsmith’s scores inspired the young Wintory to compose for his high school orchestra, then to study at New York University and University of Southern California before making strides in film and interactive media scoring in recent years. But while he’s written music for a variety of movies and games, it has been his work with Los Angeles-based developer thatgamecompany (TGC) that has brought Wintory the most recognition.
“I got started with TGC by chance and tremendous luck,” Wintory said. “I was at USC at the same time as [TGC co-founders] Kellee Santiago and Jenova Chen, and we met through a mutual friend who recommended me to Jenova who was at the time looking for a composer for ‘flOw’ [his master’s thesis, before the PS3 version]. We connected and off we went. It was pretty remarkable, especially in hindsight.”
Wintory has been a gamer for as long as he can remember, but the titles produced by TGC are far from typical gaming fare. From the original “flOw,” where the player guides a creature through an oceanic environment, to pseudo-sequel “Flower,” where a cluster of flower petals glide through an interactive pasture, TGC’s titles aim to evoke emotions not touched by most other games.
Many consider “Journey” to be TGC’s masterpiece, an evocative adventure where the player guides a robed figure through a barren landscape. Anyone who has played the game would cite Wintory’s evocative score as a major reason behind its impact.
“It was a long and arduous process, three years in the making,” Wintory said. “Maybe arduous isn’t the right word, because it was pure joy from day one. But it was a ton of work, for sure. I was very aware of the importance the score would have, because I was closely watching the gameplay develop that entire time. And so I was in a constant state of fear and anxiety the whole time, knowing that if the game was awful it was likely going to be my fault. So much rested on the shoulders of the music.
“Funny enough though, I don’t consider its success to be a confirmation that I wrote a brilliant score. I think it more shows that I somehow managed to integrate into the game, and simply not ruin it. The game is so wonderful, that it working and connecting with people merely demonstrates that the music was able to interweave itself into the game overall.”
Many would argue that Wintory is being too modest — including, clearly, the Academy members who nominated his work. Wintory said he hoped the recognition for his “Journey” score would inspire more accolades for his fellow gaming composers.
“My greatest hope for this is that it would cast a light on all the great work that’s been going on for the last 10-20 years in games by my various colleagues and friends. So much wonderful and inspiring work has already been happening, so if anything I hope it merely makes people aware. As lucky as I feel to have been the first, I don’t think ‘Journey’ was the first worthy of this (if it even is!). Many have come before so hopefully non-gamers will come to really appreciate it, even if in small increments.”
And what will Wintory’s reaction be if he goes home with the statue on Feb. 10?
“Silence. Either way, or simply waking up in a hospital bed sometime the next day and discovering that I’d blacked out and caused a big ruckus at the awards show.”