An Interview with Video Game and Media Composer Eddie Marianukroh
Eddie Marianukroh is a self-taught composer and solo musician based in Dallas, Texas. He composes music that runs the gamut from ambient sounds to a fusion of orchestral and electronic music. I talked to Eddie about how he became a composer, about his creative process and how he recharges himself creatively.
Interview with Eddie Marianukroh
Karl Magi: How did you first become interested in making music?
Eddie Marianukroh: It’s somewhat of an odd route. I have always taken an interest in listening to music as a child, though I did not sincerely take up an instrument until I was pushed into it at the age of 15. My mother would listen to classical music (e.g, Bach, Chopin, Beethoven) and pop songs on the radio (e.g., Michael Jackson, George Michael), as she loves music. Apparently she had piano lessons as a child back in South Korea, though it was short-lived because she couldn’t handle the piano teacher hitting her fingers with a wooden ruler. She is probably the closest person to a musician on either side of my family.
I eventually had a year of learning the violin in elementary school during sixth grade, which I thoroughly enjoyed but did not keep up with (I still regret this to this day). It wasn’t until ninth grade that my friends started up a rock band and learned to play instruments. Though I did not originally start with them, some events occurred where they needed a guitarist, as the previous person ended up joining a different band. So, to fill that void, they ended up forcing me to pick up the guitar and really pushing me to learn fast. It was somewhat stressful but deep down I was quite happy, as I was fond of the guitar but did not believe I had any skill to really learn it.
A year later, I was introduced to my first DAW (FL Studios) and started making funny MIDI music alongside rock songs with the band. From there, I eventually began writing my own piano pieces and orchestral compositions. Because I was fairly ignorant of music theory and not formally trained, it was a matter of trial and error on learning what worked. I eventually picked up Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov’s Principles of Orchestration, which has helped me understand much more about orchestration. I’ve stuck with music ever since.
KM: Where did your passion for and interest in video game music start?
EM: I can confidently say that my interest in video game music stems from me watching my cousin play video games when we were children. I was probably around the age of three or four years old when he was playing Zelda: A Link to the Past. I loved watching him play video games which inspired me to play too. However, because I was so young and I never knew what I was doing, I would accidentally save over his game files. It eventually led to my parents buying me a Sega Genesis, as I was banned from playing my cousin’s SNES. So, at that point, I started off with Batman and Sonic the Hedgehog. I would play them so often that my parents realized they had made a huge mistake.
Eventually I would be introduced to more games by watching my cousin play (e.g., Final Fantasy, Megaman, Chrono Trigger). It was Terra’s Theme from Final Fantasy VI that had stuck with me musically. It is such a special song that’s so deeply embedded into my soul that upon hearing the original version, I am hit with such profound nostalgia that I can’t help but be transported back to my time as a child watching my cousin play the game. However, it wasn’t until I personally played Final Fantasy VII (the very first Final Fantasy game that I owned and my favorite of the series) that I really immersed myself into video game music. I view the Prelude in that game to be on an equally important level to me as Terra’s Theme.
After I picked up the guitar and spent time writing MIDI music in FL Studios and GarageBand, I eventually posted a Craigslist ad looking for musicians during my final years in college. At some point, I was contacted by Randy Buck of the Sound Department – Austin. He reached out, not necessarily as a musician but more to offer up words of encouragement, as he liked the music he heard. He also mentioned that he was an audio director in the video game industry. We eventually met but did not really do any work together until a year later. He was the first person to really give me a chance with video game music opportunities, as well as to teach me more about audio in general. I look at him as a mentor and I am deeply grateful for all the help he has given me, as well as viewing him as an incredible human being. He is definitely a very important person in my life.
After meeting Randy, it was at that point that I had really started trying to pursue music for video games and film. I had lived in New York for a couple of years, but during my time there I would go to game jams and try to attend video game meet ups, as well as looking for opportunities in film work. Eventually I moved back to Dallas, Texas and kept up writing for video games and film, finding opportunities either through the Sound Department – Austin or on my own through online avenues.
KM: Who are some of the artists who've inspired you and why?
EM: There are two composers/musicians that are the most significant to me musically. They are Nobuo Uematsu and The Mars Volta (including the vast majority of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s solo work).
Nobuo Uematsu is understandably important to me because I had been listening to his music at such an early age. He’s a musical father figure to me. He composed for Final Fantasy VII and because I played that game countless times, I have the notes and sounds engrained deeply within me. He is the reason why I wanted to pursue music for video games. Despite not being a formally trained musician or going to some prestigious music school, he managed to write music that has deeply impacted generations of people. He is a real inspiration and evidence that anything is possible, so long as you pursue what you want with passion and a genuine sincerity.
In 2003, I was introduced to the music of The Mars Volta by a good friend of mine. When I first heard De-Loused in the Comatorium, I had it on repeat in my CD player for years until their next album came out and so forth. It is quite rare for any musical act to consistently release music that I continuously love but somehow anything they release, whether it be the full band or Omar’s solo work, I just consume it constantly. Before I really started to pursue video game music, I was writing rock music that was heavily guitar-oriented and inspired by them. They are still my favorite rock band and deeply influence how I approach music to this day.
Beyond my top two favorite musicians, there are a slew of composers that I have adored throughout my life. Classical composers such as Ravel, Debussy, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Chopin have played a role in my composing. Of course, there are video game composers that I deeply admire, like Masashi Hamauzu, Yasunori Mitsuda, Yoko Shimomura, Koji Kondo and Keiichi Okabe’s Monaca Studio. I also have a deep love for contemporary artists such as Radiohead, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Björk and Joe Hisaishi.
Lately, I have been listening to Caetano Veloso (I just recently discovered him but so far have really enjoyed his style), Steve Reich, Jeremy Soule, Yoko Kanno, as well as some current indie composers, such as Matthew Harnage who composed Nocturne of Steel, Clark Aboud whose Make Sail OST is brilliant and Taylor Ambrosio Wood who composed Balthazar’s Dream. Also, we must not forget the incredible soundtrack to Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Manaka Kataoka and her team did a brilliant job on that one.
KM: Tell me more about the approach you take when it comes to creating new music.
EM: Well, in terms of video game music, I generally ask the developer for anything pertaining to the story/lore of the theme, its purpose in the game, as well as artwork and references. Because this is a collaboration and I am contributing to a story, it is imperative that I create something that fits into that mold. From there, how a piece comes about is a matter of experimentation.
It all starts with building a foundation at the piano. I could come up with a chord progression and write over it. I could have a melody already in mind and try to build from that. I may even hear a random idea for music playing in my head and scramble to get it written before that moment of inspiration leaves me. It all depends on what the music is for and what kind of emotions it needs to convey. The music eventually dictates how everything will go, showing after some time whether what you are trying to create will come to fruition or not. Of course, I also check in with the developer with demos on how the music is coming along. Their feedback is helpful on the direction too, as they can listen to it with fresh ears, pointing out some aspects that either work or might need revision.
KM: What are some of the recent projects that you've worked on that have made you particularly proud?
EM: Currently, I have been working on Robot Farm, a life-sim farming RPG by Nokoriware for the past two years. This video game has been the most ambitious project I have ever taken on musically. There are so many aspects to this game that it has provided me the opportunity to write various themes that have allowed me to challenge myself musically. I have become friends with the lead developer, Brayden McKinney (a truly creative and imaginative soul), who has provided helpful criticism on my compositions all the while truly believing in my music and my skills as a composer, as well as just being an overall good person and talking to each other about our daily lives. The OST is about 80% done at this point and I really look forward to releasing the music alongside the game.
A second project that I recently have taken on is Chained Echoes. It’s an RPG heavily influenced by the classic JRPGs for SNES/PS1 and developed by Arkheiral (Matthias Linda). I came across an ad for it when he was looking for a composer. From viewing the gorgeous artwork and what kind of game he was going for, I automatically thought to myself, “I need to score this project!” I completely dropped everything I was doing at the moment and eagerly reached out to him through an email. He eventually responded the next day (twice) and I spent a week coming up with demos for him. Thankfully, he liked what I offered! From there, I composed the main theme and we have been working on his game since.
From what I have learned about Matthias and this project, he is very intelligent and knows what he wants and how to go for it, as well as being an overall incredibly talented artist with a seemingly unending flow of creativity and a deep gift for storytelling. Most importantly, he has proven himself to be a genuinely nice person, so I really look forward to working further with him and seeing this video game come to life.
KM: Where does video game music fit into the broader tapestry of contemporary composition?
EM: I view video game music to be another evolution of music with its own unique parameters (e.g., the need to be loopable or interactive) that can freely cross across all genres of music. Despite video game music being around for decades now, I feel it has finally become much more accepted by other areas of the music world. An example is Classic FM’s video game music segment, High Score, presented by the amazingly talented Jessica Curry who composed the music for Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.
Additionally, many orchestras are now playing video game music live, rather than sticking solely to music of the masters or film music. This is definitely a good step in the right direction. Though I do feel video game music is still somewhat of a niche market, it has definitely grown within the music industry, with labels such as Materia Collective championing the music while remaining protective of the artists who made it. In the end, video game music, regardless of whether it is being played by an orchestra or with 8-bit sounds on a computer, has always been great (in my humble opinion). It is the notes that really matter, how it fits into a game and whether it elicits an emotional response from the listener.
Beyond the music itself, I view video games in general to be currently the highest form of art. The combination of storytelling, visuals, music, soundscapes, voice acting and the ability of the players to dictate the direction of the game makes to be an incredibly moving experience. It is the culmination of some of the most popular art forms humanity treasures, presenting itself all in one to the player and taking them somewhere far away from reality.
KM: Where would you like to see your career go in the future?
EM: Well, I would first off love to see if I could release the original soundtrack for Robot Farm through Materia Collective. Sebastian Wolff really does his homework and seems very knowledgeable about the video game music industry and musician’s rights. Materia Collective also comes off as a genuine organization that really cares about video game music and the respective composers. Having my work featured there would be a true accomplishment for me.
I would like to continue working on games with deep storytelling and amazing visuals. I hope one day to land a project with artwork similar to Final Fantasy Tactics (Hiroshi Minagawa), Octopath Traveler (Naoki Ikushima), Granblue Fantasy (Hideo Minaba), The Last Story (Kimihiko Fujisawa) or Final Fantasy VI (Yoshitaka Amano). There is something deeply moving about their artwork from those games that really set a tone. I would be beyond thrilled to work on a game with artwork in that style.
I would like to eventually branch out to games beyond RPGs and score something lighthearted, similar to Super Mario or the polar opposite, such as a horror title like, The Evil Within. I am very happy with the sound I currently create but trying something new would be a nice change with some welcomed challenges.
I also really want to score an anime. Shiro Sagisu is a master of music and one of my greatest influences. I love his work for Neon Genesis Evangelion and view his music on that anime to be as important to me as the music from Final Fantasy. Additionally, I really liked Nomi Yuuji’s score to Nichijou. His music is on that show is phenomenal. It really helps contribute to the comedy, as well as provides these pockets of music that are just beautifully moving.
Finally, I would like to simply improve as a composer, as well as work with other composers and musicians, hopefully making my way up to one day recording an orchestra for a score. At the moment, I would love to just even meet a singer or violinist to feature on a track. I think that would be a great step in learning more about music.
KM: How do you recharge your creative batteries?
EM: I tend to replenish my creative flow through activities that generally involve me stepping away from my home studio. I spend time with family and friends, whether it be eating lunch/dinner with my parents, catching up with friends or going on a walk with my wife, Casey, and our dog, Linus. I’ll play a video game to really immerse myself in the craft. I’m currently playing Octopath Traveler with its astounding score by Yasunori Nishiki.
I’ll watch a new anime or try to catch up on reading the backlog of books I have amassed. A good source of inspiration that I find is reading interviews on people and how they came to be where they are in life, overcoming the obstacles that they faced.
Most importantly, I try to pay attention to the news and stay aware of the current events happening around the world. As vital as music is to me, I strive not to box myself solely into that realm. The world is a big place with many things to experience and learn. I firmly believe that to grow, not only as a composer but as a well-rounded individual, it is important to get out and explore the life that is constantly taking place around you.