AWFC Membership Spotlight
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A Q&A with Australian Film & Game Composer Samantha van der Sluis
You’re so passionate about game music and your passion shines through in your projects! Do you have a favorite game soundtrack that you’ve done so far?
I have been an avid gamer my whole life and I decided to write music for one of the activities I love the most. I’m working on some phenomenal game projects now, and that’s like asking who your favourite child is! I really do love working on my current project, Cloudscape. There are so many styles of atmospheric and world music such as seasonal tracks, different maps, combat and boss battles, etc, that I love the variety of it all. One day I could be working on an adventurous jungle-themed track and the next day I could work on a more romantic, laidback cue! It’s nice jumping from different moods as it helps with motivating myself.
Do you have a favorite type of gameplay project that you would want to write for? What’s your dream game music project?
I absolutely adore games in the wholesome casual category — games that have a similar feel to “curling up with a book on a rainy day”. Some games in this style include Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing, and Untitled Goose Game. The projects I’m currently writing for (Cloudscape, Petit Island, and Love, Ghostie) are definitely in this category so I am over the moon about that! They recently were featured in this year’s Wholesome Games Direct, which usually showcases at E3! I remember receiving an email from the Cloudscape developer saying he wanted me to be the composer and that is a memory I’ll always cherish. (I still have the email!) It’s something I’m incredibly proud of — I showed up, put myself out there, went out of my comfort zone, and got the outcome I was hoping for.
I also love RPGs like Final Fantasy and Skyrim. It’s quite ambitious of me to say, but I’d be thrilled at the idea of scoring music for a game similar to Skyrim. I can be such a nerd about old fantasy ideas with magical elements set in a Medieval-esque world. Speaking of magic, I would also love to write music where the main character is a witch!
You scored FELIX, an award-winning short film and official selection at several renowned animation festivals. Can you guide us through your musical journey and narrative in that film?
When I was working on FELIX, the director, James Rogers III, and I shared a similar vision for the musical score. We are both inspired by the music of Studio Ghibli so Joe Hisaishi and Ryuchi Sakamoto were big influences for the soundtrack of FELIX. Joe Hiaishi’s whimsical orchestration and Sakamoto’s tender emotional melodies were a perfect blend of inspiration for the film music. Most of the score is entirely piano solo and it was incredibly fun to compose! I also had a couple of very talented musicians record on the soundtrack: Nick Maluf (alto saxophone), and Louisa Trewartha (trumpet) who I cannot thank enough!
You had a piece “Searching For Home” performed by the Dublin Philharmonic on their world tour! Can you tell us more about that piece and your inspiration for that project?
I wrote a piece for orchestra as a potential commission for the Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra to perform and couldn’t believe they picked out my piece to play over their world tour in 2016! It features an Uilleann pipes solo that was performed by Maitiú Ó Casaide and was conducted by Derek Gleeson. It was during a time when I had just moved away from my hometown in Australia and was seeing the world as a young adult. I was searching for a place I belong and in doing so learnt that home can always change and that you leave a country or town knowing a piece of that place is in your heart with you. I can feel at home anywhere in the world if my heart is in it! That was the motivation behind this piece. I like to envision some kind of story with music pieces I write. Being a media composer, I also envisioned the piece taking place in an airport when a countryman returns to his family after some time away spent traveling. I also re-scored the final scene in Crocodile Dundee where Michael and Sue are reunited in the subway station using this piece.
When you’re starting on a new project, what’s your creative process like from beginning to end?
It’s chaotic, but a sort of organised chaos. I usually start by playing around on the piano, but one method that has helped immensely with ideas is singing. I’m a terrible singer, but I love to improvise (especially big band jazz/barbershop-esque music) and sing whatever I come up with into my phone. It has helped a lot with getting what’s in my head into the score. I work on Cubase as my DAW and create a template for each project as opposed to one large orchestral template that I use for everything. Doing this allows me to “patch surf” at the start of every project and refresh my memory on how many cool plug-ins and samples there are. For now it works, but I am definitely considering making just one template for everything. I’m still experimenting with that side of the workflow to see what works best for me. I also use Notion to organise my projects, noting what track I’m currently working on, references, samples to purchase (if any), revision notes, editing notes, miscellaneous notes, and ideas for track names for when the soundtrack releases. Once I’ve sorted this out, I’m then ready to go into Cubase and start composing. It’s a mix and match of intentional and experimental choices, and I love the chaotic madness to this artform.
Is there anything you’ve learned over the years as a composer that you wish you could tell your younger self?
Soo many things! And I’ll continue to learn as I continue to compose. One thing is don’t be afraid of synthesizers! I was brought up classically trained and my main focus is orchestral music but synthesizers are so powerful. I simply refer to it as “ear candy”. It feels so good on the ears when done right. Also doubling a synth with a traditional instrument can really enhance the sound. I’ve also personally learnt that I am truly happiest when I compose music. I am hopelessly miserable without it, and it’s ok to compose for yourself sometimes. Not every piece has to be a masterpiece.
Check out the AWFC directory for Samantha
Interview by Kati Falk-Flores