Laura Intravia: Profile of a Video Game Musician, Composer, and Arranger
Laura Intravia is one of the most in-demand arrangers and instrumentalists in the growing world of video game music. She’s worked with Materia Collective, OCRemix and composers like Austin Wintory to produce dynamic, energetic arrangements of video game music. She’s also played flute for Video Games Live and on a whole host of different albums. In an email interview, I asked her about her musical background, inspirations and where she might go with music in the future.
KM: How did you first become interested in making music?
LI: I've loved singing ever since I can remember, and my mother enrolled me in piano lessons when I was about 6 or 7. I can't remember having expressed a desire to play when I was a kid, so I'm very glad my mom took matters into her own hands and got me started! Just a few years after that, my dad set up a program on our computer called PowerTracks Pro Audio, which was a Garageband-type application. It was really intended for recording music, but it did have a simple notation system with General MIDI sounds. My whole family knew I adored reading, and writing stories, so my dad realized I might enjoy writing music as well. He was right!
KM: What fueled your interest in and passion for video game music?
LI: Around the time my dad set me up with the notation program, I started really noticing video game music soundtracks for the first time; I had always enjoyed them, but I was discovering I really wanted to be able to listen to the music without having to play the game. Soundtrack album releases weren't really a thing at the time, so I figured maybe I could write the music out by ear on the notation program, and listen to it that way. It was through the transcription of the soundtracks that I started really noticing and thinking about how the music worked.
KM: How do you approach arranging video game music?
LI: Usually it starts from some sort of parameter being “set” for me; either I'm interested in (or asked to) arrange for a certain ensemble, or for a certain type of genre, a number of minutes or movements, etc. Then I transcribe the music as best as I can, do some analysis (harmony, chords, texture, etc) and from there the arrangement starts taking shape for me. I do some braindumping at first, just putting down random ideas on paper, and then I sort of sit back and take a look at everything and start piecing together a form. The form is super important to me; the order of ideas, the pacing, the “climax” of the story, and so on. I work much faster when I have a form in mind, rather than just winging it and hoping it comes together.
KM: What are the challenges you've faced in your musical career?
LI: There have been certain pieces I've had to sing or play that have been intensely difficult; for example, singing “Snake Eater” with Video Games Live took a lot of practice to explore and strengthen that part of my voice; there have also been certain pieces of music that took a while to break down into an arrangement. Touring can be exhausting, depending on how long I'm on the road; the biggest performance challenges I've faced have definitely been times when we're on the road for a few weeks and I come down with a cold or food poisoning or something; not fun times! But in a more general sense, the biggest challenge has been trying not to spread too thin. I love wearing lots of different hats and I love being challenged to learn new things, but I can sometimes take on too many things at once and certain skills of mine get neglected because I'm focusing on another set of skills for a while, etc.
KM: How does one put to rest people's stereotypes about video game music as a legitimate art form?
LI: I think it depends on each person's idea of what “legitimate” music is; at this point, the way video game music has developed, I don't think anyone could argue that it's any less powerful or integral to the game experience than a film score is to a film (excluding of course films/games that don't use music at all). As “legitimate” stand-alone concert music—the way famous scores such as Star Wars and West Side Story and such are performed in concert-- I do think it can depend on the type of arrangement, especially when it comes to the older video game scores that were operating on limited hardware.
I can think of some retro soundtracks that are better suited to rock or metal arrangements, whereas some are better suited to symphonic or classical orientations; in that case, I personally define “legitimate” as simply being “well-executed.” But I don't think “can this be performed in a concert” is a good measure of legitimacy, when there are plenty of chiptune or synthesized soundtracks that aren't necessarily suited for live performance; look at Shovel Kight or Hyper Light Drifter, intensely electronic scores. They can be arranged and performed live somehow, but that doesn't mean it's better or more “legitimate” than the original.
So I guess the answer to this question is that people who stereotype video game music as being illegitimate probably just haven't found the kind of video game music they're into yet—with the huge variety of genres of scores out there, I really do believe there is something for everyone to enjoy and find well-executed (or “legitimate”).
KM: Talk about some of your favourite experiences in your career as a musician/arranger?
LI: Traveling the world with shows like Video Games Live and Pokemon: Symphonic Evolutions has definitely been amazing. I've enjoyed working on my own piano arrangement albums as well, and collaborating with my good friend Brendon Shapiro to record them. I also really love working with composers and recording for their games; the back-and-forth conversation about what they're looking for in the performance and how I can go about achieving that is really fun and exhilarating. I love collaborating with others more than anything.
KM: Who are the composers that inspire you of late and what do you find inspiring in their work?
LI: Kris Maddigan and his score to Cuphead; what an amazing debut for him in the game industry, and I just can't get enough of that big band sound. Disasterpeace is also my new obsession; I had not heard his music until playing Hyper Light Drifter last year and now I'm hooked on his impressionistic, electronic sound.
KM: How do you keep your creative batteries recharged?
LI: Playing games always helps! I love playing with friends. I also have some other hobbies that help me get away from music a bit, but still help me feel productive—swimming, baking, reading, cross-stitch. I can be a bit of a workaholic, so my “relaxation” time is usually spent doing something that engages me physically or mentally. It can be hard for me to relax and recharge; spending time with others is the best way to get out of my own head for a bit.