[Editor's Note: Japanator Guest Editor Jayson Napolitano conducted this awesome interview with the composer of Speed Racer: The Videogame, Winifred Phillips. Check it out!]
With the recent revival of the classic Speed Racer series both in film and in gaming, I was driven by nostalgia to watch, play, and relive the greatest moments from the 1960s cartoon. My inner-nerd couldn’t help but be giddy about the prospect of racing alongside the totally awesome Racer X.
After playing SPEED RACER: THE VIDEOGAME, I immediately took notice of the catchy, futuristic electro-Hollywood soundscape that dominates the game. Composed by game audio veteran Winifred Phillips (God of War, DaVinci Code), the score effectively conveys the speed and excitement of the fast-paced racer, and Japanator was recently able to sit down with her to discuss the project. Join us as we discuss her inspiration for the music in SPEED RACER: THE VIDEOGAME, including the meshing of different genres and the use of her signature vocal manipulations in the game.
Japanator: The Speed Racer franchise has a long history behind it, and with the film coming out this week, there’s a lot of pressure for the film and the game to live up to our fondest memories of the classic cartoon. Given this history, what was your approach to the music?
Winifred Phillips: When I was hired by Warner Bros. Interactive and Sidhe Interactive to write the original music for SPEED RACER: THE VIDEOGAME, I was very much aware of the enthusiasm and nostalgia that people felt about the original cartoon. Growing up, I’d seen the cartoon, and I was familiar with the aesthetic and energy of the animation. The Speed Racer television show had a unique pacing and momentum unlike anything else on TV. I wanted to capture the essence of the 1960s cartoon, while at the same time I wanted to introduce a contemporary spin to the music that would bring Speed Racer into the modern world. In doing research for the video game project, I went back to the original manga by Tatsuo Yoshida, and I also did a little digging on what his inspirations had been.
SPEED RACER: THE VIDEOGAME was a great opportunity for me to blend different musical genres into unusual combinations. The orchestral palette gave me access to the kind of cinematic effects, surges and swells which could create tension in the races. However, it wouldn’t have made sense to take a purely orchestral approach with the score for this videogame. While Speed Racer has a long aesthetic tradition, so does the genre of racing games in general. Gamers have high expectations for the music in their racing games. A strong tempo and rhythm are absolute requirements, along with synth textures and effects that give the music a very contemporary vibe. Also, the Speed Racer film is loaded with retro influences in its art design, so that became another element to incorporate into the music for the videogame. To achieve all these goals, I threw very dissimilar musical genres together and experimented with ways in which they could interact. I crossed electronica with ragtime, mixed speed metal with symphonic, merged old-school funk with grunge rock. It was an incredible experience for me, and a lot of fun.
It did. I overdubbed my own singing voice into a full choir (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), as I’ve done before on previous projects. I sing each of the vocal parts over and over again, until I have recorded all the members of each vocal section. For the male parts I sing three semitones higher than the parts as written, and then I pitch shift the recordings three semitones down, so that I can reach the lowest notes.
How much freedom were you given on this project? Again, as a game that’s being released alongside a feature film, I imagine they were aiming for consistency between the game and the film.
Yes, you would think that the video game tie-in to a feature film would want to maintain consistency with the movie score. It’s logical. But in the projects I’ve worked on, it’s been impossible to do that. I’ve worked on four movie tie-in games now – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Da Vinci Code, Shrek the Third and SPEED RACER: THE VIDEOGAME, and my experience has always been the same with regard to this issue. For all my tie-in projects, the music for the game was written well before the music for the movie was written. So in my experience the movie company isn’t really involved in the game music, other than in the approvals process. I’ve had my music personally approved by Tim Burton himself, which was a real thrill! But that came after all the music for the game was pretty much finished, and the recording process for the movie music hadn’t even begun. I think it’s just the nature of video game development that the game music has to be complete much earlier than the film music. I’ve never had any way of knowing what the film composers would do with their movie scores, which meant that I’ve had a wide latitude to create my own musical soundscapes for the tie-in games. It was a privilege to create music for a world as rich and vibrant as the one created by the Wachowski brothers for the Speed Racer film. I really enjoyed my work.
I know that Andy Satterthwaite, the producer of SPEED RACER: THE VIDEOGAME, has a distinguished track record when it comes to futuristic racing games, including Wipeout XL, Quantum Redshift, and Gripshift. There are quite a few members of the development team at Sidhe Interactive who have worked on great racing games before, including the Wipeout franchise. I personally haven’t played any of the F-Zero games, but yes, I’ve heard the comparisons that have been made to F-Zero’s gameplay.
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