Composer Daniel Licht Talks Silent Hill: Downpour, Dexter, and More

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The Silent Hill series is one of the few game franchises that is known as much for its music and sound design as it is for its gameplay. Akira Yamaoka’s haunting score is legendary in the gaming world. Fans of the series know the main theme immediately upon hearing the first notes strummed on the mandolin.

Composer Daniel LichtWhen word came down that Silent Hill‘s 8th entry, Downpour, would feature a new composer, long-time fans of the series were more than a little nervous. Konami handed over musical duties to veteran composer Daniel Licht, known best for his work on the “Dexter” series. His experimental use of…uncommon percussion on “Dexter” (where real bones were used for some pieces for example) and overall strength of the compositions used there calmed many nerves about Silent Hill‘s musical future.

Dread Central recently got the chance to ask Licht a few questions about his work on Silent Hill, “Dexter”, and beyond.

Mr. Dark: Downpour is the first game you’ve worked on, and it’s the first game Vatra has developed in the Silent Hill series. How involved was Konami in selecting you for the music vs. Vatra, and how involved have they been in guiding the creation of the music?

Daniel Licht: Konami first approached me, but I’m sure Vatra was involved in the decision as well. I have been talking with both creatively in terms of the direction of the music I have been writing.

MD: Vatra is a Czech developer. How closely have you been working with them, and what challenges have you faced working with an overseas company?

DL: I have been working closely with the people at Vatra. Even though they are overseas, we communicate regularly over the phone or internet.

MD: Silent Hill has been all over the map when it comes to tone and level of emotion over the series. Some entries, like Silent Hill 2, are extremely dark and emotional journeys, while others, such as Silent Hill: Homecoming, are mostly exercises in horror and combat. What kind of emotional tone does Downpour take, and how did you help that come through in your score?

DL: It seems to me that the sound of the game has always been a mixture of dark emotional music mixed with horror. Downpour follows in that tradition, and I am in the process of writing music with a range of emotions, highlighting a sense of loss as well as a sense of fear and impending horror.

Click here to listen to a snippet of Licht’s Silent Hill: Downpour score.

First Screenshots - Silent Hill: Downpour

MD: I know you’ve said you’re mindful of taking up Akira Yamaoka’s mantle as composer for the series. Are you using any of his themes or incidental music from previous games, or is the new score 100% original?

DL: I’m writing a 100% new score for Downpour, but I am sensitive to the history of the game and trying to make my score feel like a further development of the sound of Silent Hill.

MD: Yamaoka’s scores were often heavily ‘industrial’ in nature, with portions composed almost entirely out of machine noises and percussion. Is Downpour‘s score in that same vein, and if so, was it a challenge to compose in a less-than-melodic form?

DL: I am incorporating industrial elements into the score. I have worked in that vein before, and yes, it does present a challenge. I like to bring out hidden melody when I work with industrial sounds. It might be that a scrape sound follows a smash and a sweep, but they combine to form a musical thought. That is always what I appreciate in ambient and industrial music, the themes that you just might be hearing, but you’re not sure if you’re imagining them. If I am sitting near a machine, I will always listen for melodies and rhythms inside the sound. This is a technique that I incorporate in composing the Showtime series “Dexter” as well as incorporating both industrial sounds and melody into my musical palate.

MD: You’ve spent quite a lot of your career working in horror. You’ve got entries in the Amityville, Hellraiser, Children of the Corn, and of course “Dexter” series in your past. Has that been a conscious decision? What brings you back to the horror genre time and again?

DL: I’ve always liked the range of music you can write for horror: stirring emotional music, light weird washes of sound, pounding aggressive percussion. There is more room for acoustic exploration than other forms. Dark music speaks to me more than light happy music.

First Screenshots - Silent Hill: Downpour

MD: Tell us about some of your musical tastes outside of theatrical scores. What’s spinning on your MP3 player? How much does popular music inform your compositions for theater and now, Silent Hill?

DL: I am very eclectic in my music tastes. That’s what brought me to film scoring originally. I listen to world music, ambient music, electronica, 70’s and 90’s rock. (I’m not a big fan of 80’s music). On my MP3 player you’ll find Mahler, Radiohead, African music, and so on.

MD: Silent Hill games usually have a J-Pop song that plays during an animation or the credits. Frequent Yamaoka performer Mary Elizabeth McGlynn has said she isn’t returning for this game. Will we see either the pop song tradition or a composition with vocals in Downpour?

DL: I have not been asked to work on any songs for Silent Hill. I don’t know what they have in mind as far as that is concerned.

MD: My traditional final question: What’s your favorite horror movie?

DL: It would have to be The Omen Trilogy.

Silent Hill: Downpour is scheduled to be released in October by Konami. Watch DC for all your Silent Hill news!

Silent Hill: Downpour will bring a completely original storyline and all-new haunting soundtrack as players find themselves stranded in the foggy, malevolent world of Silent Hill. In the highly detailed environments of the new Silent Hill, seedy pasts and uncertain futures unify to create a terrifying present.

Silent Hill: Downpour starts as Murphy Pendleton, the game’s main character, finds himself lost and alone in the woods after his prison transport bus crashes near the town of Silent Hill. What happens after is up to the player as they traverse an all-new Silent Hill environment that is expansive, yet claustrophobic. And though this sleepy town may feel desolate, the player is never truly alone.

Silent Hill 8 – E3 2010 Announcement Trailer
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Mr. Dark

A man of mystery. An enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a low-carb whole grain tortilla. A guy who writes about spooky stuff.