To celebrate game-titan Ubisoft’s assembling such a renowned team of talented musicians, including Jesper Kyd, Sarah Schachner and Einar Selvik, we wanted to list five cool facts about the music!
Check out five facts below and listen to the soundtrack, released digitally worldwide by Lakeshore Records on Nov. 13, 2020!
#1 Although Jesper Kyd and Sarah Schachner have worked on other Ubisoft game soundtracks, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the first time they collaborated on a title together.
#2 The ACV composers come from all backgrounds but have an interest in the Viking culture from the Danish Kyd who stated he saw this project as an opportunity to connect with his Scandinavian roots to Schachner who grew up with a full-sized replica of a Viking ship in her backyard, and for which her mom wrote a children’s book about called Yo, Viking!
#3 For the ‘Assassin’s Creed Main Theme,’ Kyd devised the initial vibe and melodic motif. Schachner expanded on the melody and structure, producing it into a full arrangement and Einar Selvik lent his voice.
#4 Some of the instruments used on the soundtrack include a Carnyx (ancient Celtic war horn), horse-haired bowed, bass and alto tagelharpa, tagelharpa cello, crwth (bowed lyre), animal hide drums, rebec, and metal drums.
#5 In interviews, Kyd and Schachner stated they wanted the theme to transport the listener to another time and place, filled with mystery and uncertainty, evoking Eivor’s journey – the drive, the bond with family, and the character’s search to find something.
Jesper Kyd is a BAFTA award-winning Danish film, television and video game composer. He is known for his experimental approach to crafting iconic music for blockbuster video game franchises and pushing musical boundaries.
Kyd has received top honors from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Critics Choice Film Awards, Hollywood Music in Media Awards and Game Audio Network Guild. His music is regularly performed worldwide, such as the Danish National Symphony, Krakow Film Music Festival and WDR Symphony.
We reached out to Kyd to discuss all things music and his recent release for Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.
SSM: What or who inspired you to work as a composer?
JK: When I was 13, I got a Commodore 64 computer. The C64 has a built-in analog soundchip which enabled a whole new level of computer music to be created. It was so impactful it created a new music genre that’s still around today, called Chip Music (chiptune), 8bit music or SID music (named after the SID chip inside the C64). Listening to C64 music composers as well as artists like Mike Oldfield, Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre were early influences at the start of my music-making career.
The projects I work on have also been a huge inspiration. I write a lot of music for fantasy and sci-fi genres as well as historical-inspired scores so creating atmosphere, a place to travel to musically, is one of my favorite aspects. Finding ways to create unique and original scores is what I look for, whether it’s a film, a TV series or game. It’s important to work with great people in a creative, supportive and friendly environment so a maximum level of creativity can be achieved.
SSM: You have been scoring video games since your teens. What are some of the biggest changes you have noticed in gaming music from when you started and now?
JK: These days more bands and film/TV composers are scoring games, and writing music for games is much more desirable compared to when I started out. Back then composers often had total creative control on the music style and lots of input on the implementation of the music. These days there are audio departments responsible for implementing when and how the music should play and that makes it possible for composers who have never worked on game scores before to write music for games. But in general, things haven’t changed that much for me, since I work on projects where I’m hired to be creative and to bring something unusual or new to a project.
Other changes include bigger live budgets since AAA games often have music production budgets the size of AAA movies. For example, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was created by Ubisoft Montreal in conjunction with 16 other Ubisoft game studios creating content for the game.
SSM: Assassin’s Creed is such a successful franchise, spawning sequels, novels, action figures and a movie. Can you speak about how you began working on the initial project?
JK: Sure, the first Assassin’s Creed game was shown to me through concept art at a video game trade show behind closed doors. I could hardly believe what Ubisoft was trying to achieve and no-one had attempted anything like this before. Assassin’s Creed helped give birth to a whole new genre of open- world games, where you could climb any building and go anywhere in the world. The parkour aspect really made for a whole new experience; it was like a platforming game in a realistic detailed open-world.
The first Assassin’s Creed was a huge challenge and we had to invent and figure things out as we went along. The foundation of Assassin’s Creed was created here and that included the music style which to this day uses many of the same building blocks we came up with for AC1. The first Assassin’s Creed was a huge blockbuster and these days the series has sold over 155 million games making it one of the most successful video game franchises of all time.
SSM: For Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, was there a specific tone you wanted to convey to gamers?
JK: It was important that the score felt atmospheric and authentic to the time period. The vast open spaces in nature, from fjords to snow-covered mountain tops, from forests to rolling hillsides, it needed an open, epic and vast music style that gave a sense of scale. There was no comfort of city living, like many prior Assassin’s Creed games, this game takes place outdoors in rugged nature and at times hostile environments.
I recorded live instruments with a lot of air and used vintage equipment to help simulate instruments being recorded outside. Also, the Animus influences the music with a futuristic tone, meaning the live recordings are run through a lot of effects and filters to help remind us the game is played in a simulator.
SSM: What’s coming up next for you?
JK: Right now I’m scoring a feature animation fantasy film which is a lot of fun to work on. So much work goes into a single frame of animation, which takes hours to render. It’s a totally different way to compose music compared to video games.
Check out the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla soundtrack below and follow Kyd on Instagram @kyd.jesper!
Einar Selvik is a Norwegian composer and founder of Wardruna, a project renowned for its innovative and genre-creating renditions of old Nordic songs.
Selvik merges the scholarly with pop culture by integrating old Nordic instruments, poetry and poetic meters in a contemporary soundscape. He lectures about his work with historical music at universities, such as Oxford, Denver, Reykjavik and Bergen. Selvik’s work is used by top Old Norse scholars to exemplify how music might have sounded in early Scandinavia.
Selvik and Wardruna contributed on History Channel’s Vikingssoundtrack, in which Selvik also appeared as a singer on two episodes of the television series. He was awarded the Egil Storbekken’s Music Prize, which is a national award given to those who have made extraordinary efforts in Norwegian folk music, especially with older folk instruments.
SSM: How did you get involved with the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla project?
ES: I was first approached by the musical team of Ubisoft through my publisher BMG in 2018. They were familiar with my work with Norse and Nordic music and had already been using a lot of my Wardruna compositions as temporary music in the game ad was interested in discussing a possible cooperation. I made an initial pitch with my musical ideas and we had some discussion over the phone before we decided to meet up in person.
A delegation from the AC music team came over to Bergen, Norway where I happen to be holding an acoustic “skaldic” concert in the royal medieval feasting hall “Håkonshallen”. This format of performance is in many ways very close to parts of the musical expression they wanted me to work on, so it was quite an appropriate occasion and backdrop to start planning our further collaboration on ACV!
SSM: The track ‘Vígahugr – Lust For Battle – Skaldic Version’ is awesome! Can you speak about your process with creating this track and the instruments you used?
ES: Thank you! It is in fact one of my favorite pieces from this whole material and also one of the songs I would consider as reflecting most authenticity in terms of the composition as a whole. The Norse culture was predominantly an oral society and so we clearly see that in the oldest song traditions we have here in the north, rhythms and melody are often guided by the (often) complex poetic structures.
The Vígahugr song gives good example of just that and also clearly reflect the tonality of ancient Scandinavian music. The lyrics is an excerpt of a poem composed by one of the most interesting Viking age skalds there was, Egill Skallagrimsson from the saga Egill´s Saga. They rather vividly express the rousing and build up before a battle, and if people think that Metal lyrics are brutal in nature, then they haven’t read much Viking age poetic battle descriptions, ha ha!
The backbone of the song is vocals and a seven stringed Lyre. Based on the historical sources we have; Lyres were the most common string instrument in Northern Europe in this time period and that is naturally also reflected in my work on the game. I also use bowed lyre (AKA Taglharpa, Haargigje, Jouhikko etc.) which is the earliest bowed instrument we have in the Nordic region.
The sources are conflicted on whether or not the instrument bow was used in the Viking age, but archelogy from both Ireland and Denmark suggest it was. Further, I have used bone flute as well as various percussion and animal-hide framedrum.
SSM: You have been involved with so many projects, from playing in the metal band Gorgoroth, fronting the Nordic folk project Wardruna to working on music for History Channel’s Vikings. What do you find is the most challenging part of the creative process for you?
ES: Yes, I´ve been very fortunate to get the chance to gain experience from many different types of musical formats and concepts. I guess one of the main challenges is to find the balance between being patient and working with deadlines. I like to let the songs take me where they want to take me rather than squeeze them into a predetermined shape or structure.
Not pushing it too much but still being pro-active. I generally like to take my time with my writing so when I started working the soundtrack on Vikings I really had to learn how to work faster without compromising the art itself. More instinctively and really tuning into my artistic impulses and intuition. I think that whole process helped me further develop my skills as a composer.
SSM: As someone who travels the world holding lectures and workshops about life in the Nordic region, what do you find is a common misconception about Vikings?
ES: Well, there are quite a few both positive and negative stereotypes and misconceptions out there. I guess the most common one is that the whole of ancient Scandinavian history has been named and defined by what a small number of people in the Nordic population did for a short amount of time. The word Viking is first and foremost a verb defining what some people did when they went off to sea, trading, raiding and warfare – which by the way wasn´t exclusive traits to the Norsemen.
They were, however, the best at it back then and dominated the period with their superior ships and fearless mentality – which again makes it very understandable why these Vikings have dominated the views on Norse history as a whole as well. Still, I would say that the old Norse culture has far more interesting things to offer than just warriors and warfare.
SSM: What’s coming up next for you?
ES: These days I am still doing musical work for AC Valhalla and also focusing on the new Wardruna album Kvitravn set for release in January 2021. The plan and hope are of course to start doing concerts again but with the current situation we have to plan for all sorts of scenarios depending on when the world goes back to some form of “normality”. If the concert restrictions are continued I will focus my time on writing music and studio work.
Kris Bowers is a Grammy-nominated, Emmy Award-winning, and Juilliard-educated pianist and composer who creates genre-defying music that pays homage to his jazz roots with inflections of alternative and R&B influences.
Bowers’ work as a film and television composer is a testament to his versatility as an artist. He established himself at the forefront of Hollywood’s emerging generation of composers and consistently champions the art guided by multidisciplinary collaborations.
Bower’s recent work includes Showtime’s Kobe Bryant’s Muse, Netflix’s Dear White People, Showtime’s Black Monday, Netflix’s When They See Us, FX’s Mrs. America and 2019’s Academy Award-winner for Best Picture, Green Book.
We reached out to Bowers to discuss his recent horror score for Bad Hair with music by Kelly Rowland and director Justin Simien, released on Lakeshore Records with the film streaming on Hulu – just in time for Halloween!
SSM: What inspired you to transition into composing for film and television?
KB: It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I actually told my parents when I was 11 or 12 that I wanted to start off as a performer in the jazz space and find a way to transition into scoring. Somehow, I’ve stuck to that plan haha.
SSM: Bad Hair is a horror satire set in 1989 about terror striking when a woman’s new hair weave takes a life on its own. This is also your second time working with director/ writer Justin Simien. How did your approach to this project differ or resemble the Dear White People television series with Simien?
KB: With this, it was really amazing to work on a full feature with Justin and see how our process of establishing and working with thematic material in the score can be applied to a feature. Justin is so incredible with not only his selection of temp music, but his trust in allowing me to interpret that in whatever way I want to musically. That it’s much more about the feeling than the sound, and because of the amount of time we’ve been working on Dear White People together, Justin and I have a trust that allows for a lot of freedom in the creative process.
SSM: With horror films, the score is so vital in creating the mood and tone for the audience. Can you speak about some of the instruments and choices you made when scoring Bad Hair?
KB: We were really inspired by the horror movies from the 60s and 70s, so a lot of the score is very traditional in its instrumentation: strings, brass, lots of percussion, and choir. In addition to that, I went about adding a lot of analogue synths to the orchestral cues to give it an eerie/ambient texture. A lot of the sound-design elements you hear in the score itself are artifacts from tape delays and insanely long reverb tails.
SSM: What is the worst hair cut/style you ever received?
KB: I had a couple of instances of texturizing my hair when I was in middle school. Not the most fun process haha
SSM: What’s coming up next for you?
KB: I’ve just finished a biopic about Aretha Franklin starring Jennifer Hudson and directed by Liesl Tommy, as well as a new TV show for Netflix called Bridgerton. I’m also currently working on the next Space Jam movie with director Malcolm D. Lee.
Check out the Bad Hair (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) and find Kris on Instagram @krisbowersmusic!
Brittany Allen is a composer, producer, songwriter and Emmy-winning actor. Her 2018 debut film score, South by Southwest®’s breakout hit What Keeps You Alive, was named ‘one of the ten best horror films of 2018’ by Rolling Stone Magazine and recently landed in Netflix’s Top Ten. Allen not only composed the score but stars in the film – the third she has made with her partner, filmmaker Colin Minihan.
Her second feature score, Z, premiered on AMC’s Shudder and became one of the top films streamed on the service. More recently, Allen scored the 2020 SXSW short Selfie, which is now in development at Netflix to be turned into a feature. She is set to score the third season of the Netflix and CW show Two Sentence Horror Stories.
Along with her work as a composer, Allen is known for her roles in the horror genre. Most notably, she starred in Lionsgates’ Jigsaw, MGM-owned Orion Pictures’ The Prodigy and Dark Sky Films’ It Stains the Sands Red, which was written and directed by Minihan. In television, she left her mark as Popclaw in Season 1 of Amazon’s hit The Boys, produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg through their Point Grey Pictures company.
Allen also writes and produces dark pop music under the name Britt.
We reached out to Allen to talk about her new score for Z , released on Lakeshore Records yesterday, her role on Season 1 of The Boys and what’s coming up next for this multitalented artist.
SSM: Z is an awesome horror film about a couple whose 8-year-old son begins seeing an entity in the home. Can you speak a bit about how you created the score?
BA: With ‘Z’, it was important to balance the family drama/ tragedy with the horror. The film deals a lot with very real trauma coming back to haunt a person, and it also looks at the isolation of a mother as she tries to do what’s best for her son, even as he slips further and further away from her. So, firstly my job as a composer is to understand the heart of the story and find a way to connect to it on a personal level. And then it’s about connecting with the director, Brandon Christensen, and getting a feel for the soundscape that he hears the film existing in and having a dialogue where we hopefully find a middle ground between his vision and mine.
Brandon gave me a lot of room to play creatively. He liked the idea of bringing in a classic orchestral sound and I wanted to combine that with dark and distorted and twisted electronic sounds. To bridge the two, I bought a used violin at a flea market and recorded a bunch of takes where I played the ugliest/ most grating sounds I could make, and then those sounds became the basis for a lot of the horror themes.
I work primarily in Ableton, and it gives you a lot of freedom to really rip apart a sound and build something unique, so there was a lot of experimentation to layer and shift and distort the organic violin and have it be the connecting tissue between the strings in the sweeping orchestral movements and the more heavy affected percussive and atmospheric horror.
When I’m building the main themes for the characters and arc of the film, I start with the piano. I approach the material in a similar way that I do as an actor – I lead with my heart and I try to empathize with the characters’ needs and fears and desires, put myself in their shoes, and when I feel like I have a good connection to that deep within, I’ll sit down at the piano and I’ll let my hands guide me. They know where to take me, rhythmically, tempo-wise, and melodically. I’ll put my phone on record and see what I come up with. It’s a pretty magical process, that part of it, and a very exciting moment when you find the notes that properly convey the feeling you’re after.
SSM: I read that ‘Imagination’ was the first track you wrote for Z. Can you speak about your process with creating such a soft track that builds to convey the creative mind of an 8 year old?
BA: I actually wrote ‘Imagination’ as part of a pitch that I built for Brandon prior to getting the job. I made a five minute piece, that started with an early version of ‘Imagination’, then devolved into one of the driving horror themes, and then returned to a more epic and dramatic and dark version of ‘Imagination’ – which eventually became ‘All Is Gone’, the climactic piece at a dark moment in the film.
With ‘Imagination’, I wanted to seduce the audience into feeling safe. The whole crux of the horror is that a child’s imagination can be contorted to something sinister, so my goal was to build some beautiful melodies that captured the innocence of childhood, and that could then be warped and orchestrated differently as the film progressed and the innocence was lost and hijacked by this evil force. That’s something I get a real kick out of, transforming/ deepening the meaning behind a theme throughout the course of a film.
So, you might hear a theme once and feel one way, but then later hear that exact same theme, but there’s a new element to it that gives you a completely different feeling, or points to the loss of that initial feeling. Imagination book ends the film, but by the end, it’s sparse and slow, and resigned and sad, vs at the beginning when it’s full of movement and hope.
SSM: I read in a previous interview that you were terrified to expose yourself in the truest way while shooting What Keeps You Alive, which you also scored. What was the process like with scoring and starring in a film? And how did that play into the development of the score?
BA: “What Keeps You Alive” was the first film I scored, so it was helpful that I had acted in it as well. It gave me a very thorough understanding of the story and the characters, well before scoring – my body had lived through it, so it came fairly naturally to then express what I had experienced, into the score. It took some stepping back when I had to build the music for Jackie (the villain in the film). Because her themes and her rhythms needed to be entirely their own thing, derived from Hannah Emily Anderson’s performance.
To have approached that from the perspective of Jules (the character I played) in the music would have been wrong. So then I had to get into her head. And find her needs, her desires, her feelings – or lack thereof. But again, coming from an acting background, I was able to use the skills I’ve built in that area to sink into Jackie’s essence, really taking all the cues from Anderson, but ultimately with the goal of embodying her mindset so that I could translate that into music. That film is very dear to me since I was with it for so long.
SSM: You won an Emmy Award and more recently starred as Popclaw in Season 1 of Amazon’s The Boys. Can you speak about your transition into working as a composer?
BA: I’ve been a working actor since I was a kid up in Canada. I love acting, and I’ve been fortunate as an actor, but I’ve always felt pulled and inspired by other forms of expression too. It’s pretty rare that a project like “The Boys” or “What Keeps You Alive” comes along, where the thesis of the project speaks to me on a deep level, and where the final outcome is something I really stand behind.
An actor is a pivotal but relatively small piece of the bigger puzzle of filmmaking, and I oftentimes felt hindered by the lack of control over the final product. I studied musical theatre for most of my childhood and during college, so I was trained to understand story through music. And, funnily I see all of that now as the building blocks to me becoming a composer. In musicals, the characters break into song when they are so overcome with emotion that they can’t just speak it. So, I get that. Scoring is the same.
When the emotions get so heightened in a film that music organically has to come in to support that. And as in musicals, characters have themes or melodic voices that are unique depending on who they are and what they’re trying to express. I grew up in love with [Stephen] Sondheim, who is a master at articulating the human experience through music. So I think all of that really forms the basis for how I approach scoring, and why it’s been such a natural transition for me.
SSM: Speaking of The Boys, your death scene was pretty iconic! How was it taking on such an amazing character?
BA: I loved working on “The Boys”. Popclaw is one of the most fun characters I’ve had the chance to play. It was truly an honour to be a part of a project that had so much to say and was not afraid to take a shit on some of the major institutions of society and challenge the status quo in a badass way. I keep hoping that Popclaw has just been cryogenically frozen and will be revived in an upcoming season to take down The Seven. She’s a mess but she’s a killer!
SSM: From singer/songwriter, composer to award-winning actress – what advice can you offer to others with a multiplicity of talents such as yourself?
BA: Don’t be afraid to try new things. And if you are afraid, do it anyway. YouTube tutorials will be your best friend. (Just don’t get sucked into their algorithm and go down an extremist hole). But for real, I’ve taught myself everything so far with music production and scoring, and a lot of what I’ve learned has been from YouTube. The learning curve can be daunting, but if you keep at it, day after day, you will get over the hump. And then you’ll seek out the next hump to get over. And then you’ll realize that’s where the fun is – that the learning never stops and there are so many ways to make music / listen to music / understand music, and it’s just this never-ending adventure.
Also, finish your work. As a creative person who is always bouncing from one idea to another, it’s really important to pick one thing and see it through. Then jump to the next. Sometimes if you try to do it all at once, you end up with a bunch of half-finished projects. But also, different kinds of art can inform each other. I used to think I had to quit acting to become a composer, and though there will be times where I will have to prioritize one over the other, I’ve come to realize that both can complement and inspire each other, and there is no need to put yourself in a box.
SSM: What’s coming up next for you?
BA: I’m about to jump into scoring my first TV show. It’s a great horror anthology originally created by Vera Miao, for CW/Netflix. It’s called “Two Sentence Horror Stories”. I also have an EP under my pop alias “Britt” coming out on vinyl through Burning Witches Records. It’s called Khamai Lion and it will be out before the end of the year.