Interview with ‘RAGE’ Composer Rod Abernethy

RAGE is the latest FPS game by id Software, the guys who brought us Doom and Quake. It was recently released and to celebrate, here’s‘s interview with Rod Abernethy, composer for Rage. He has worked on projects like Dead Space, Runescape, and TERA (an upcoming Action MMO game). Check out the video below to listen to his score for RAGE. How did you get into composing music?

Rod Abernethy: I started writing music in high school, then really got into composing during college.   Out of school I joined rock bands, wrote and performed, and was signed to major labels such as Warner Bros., Elektra, Atlantic, and MCA Records. I worked with some top record producers such as Paul Rothchild (The Doors), John Anthony (Queen) and David Lord (Tori Amos) and recorded at various prestigious recording studios in Europe as well as here in the States. There came a point when my studio-based work was more important to me than performing live and I started composing for video games, film and TV.  I’ve composed for over 60 video game titles to date.

It seems like a lot of video game composers have backgrounds in film and television. Do you think that it’s the video game companies that want their games to be more like a movie, or is it more film composers trying their hands on a new medium?

It’s both. Film has always been a lure for all visual media. Music is only one part of the game that is designed to enhance the gaming experience. It doesn’t matter if the music comes from a composer whose main gig is film or games or playing for the hat on the 3rd street Promenade in Santa Monica.   If the music works with gameplay that’s what’s important.

How does it feel to be working on RAGE?

Fantastic! id Software are such giants when it comes to making games; I am honored to be a part of RAGE. I loved meeting and working with the entire id team.

What’s the process like when working with id Software?

Christian Antkow contacted me about working on RAGE.  I visited the id studio to meet the team, that’s always a must on any game. Christian and I had almost daily talks about the direction, feel and emotion that he and the team were looking for with the music. They always allowed me to go head deep into the tracks and explore my ideas. Then we would revise and tweak the tracks until it felt just right in the game. We were fortunate to have the time in the production schedule to revise tracks and produce them the way we both wanted.

How do you begin to compose the score?

I first start with my morning cup of coffee! (laughs). It is about creating both the setting and the mood. First of all I look at my notes regarding what Christian and I have talked about while watching gameplay video. My approach to composing is pretty much the same as always, but the tools that I use nowadays have improved by leaps and bounds. I’m able to do more things musically and get my ideas in the can a lot quicker. My sample libraries have grown exponentially over the years, with more orchestral, electronic and acoustic options than I ever thought possible.

Can you tell us about the main music software and instruments you use?

Most of RAGE was created in the box except for me playing live guitars, electric and acoustic. I’m fortunate to have a great collection of vintage guitars.  I rarely record guitar amps anymore, I usually record electric guitar directly with guitar pedals into Digital Performer and mix them digitally with just about every guitar amp sim made. If it’s acoustic guitar, I use a couple of vintage API 512’s and compress and EQ it within Digital Performer. I’m using tons of software beside DP…Reason, Bidule, and Spectrasonics to name a few. I love Rob Papen’s virtual collection, incredibly intuitive. I use lots of Native Instruments, Project Sam Brass, Percussion and Symphobia. I love Sonokinetic’s abstract orchestral library, Tutti, and tons of East West Sample libraries including The Dark Side and Symphonic Orchestra Platinum.

Nowadays in a matter of minutes I can put down a guitar line using a wide array of guitar amp simulators…then immediately create an orchestra part that sounds and feels almost live…and then maybe lay in an industrial pulsing synth line from a vast collection of virtual synths. When I first got into composing for media, that routine of recording would have taken most of the afternoon.

Are there any musicians or composers you draw upon when composing?

I’m always listening to music outside the studio, new and old. Soundtracks, popular music…unpopular music (laughs)…just a ton of different styles and genres. My tastes are diverse.  I won’t go through the usual suspects of film composers that have influenced me over the years, there are so many. I’ve also been listening to a lot of electronic, industrial and even metal lately, new and old.

Are there enough moments in the game where you get to switch between ambience and action?

It’s a blast to work on a blockbuster first person shooter like RAGE, especially from the guys who pretty much invented and perfected the FPS genre. Our battle plan for the music in RAGE usually followed 3 types: exploration, low intensity and high intensity. Christian has placed my scores in the gameplay in such an effective way that it keeps the mood intensity just right, whether low or high.  That’s why music is key, to re-enforce the mood and enhance your overall experience.

Do you get to beat and finish the games you compose?

Absolutely! I play them all but I don’t always beat them! (laughs) It’s great to be able to relax and finally play a game I’ve been working on without having to stop playing and think about what music I’m going to compose for gameplay.

What’s your favorite track or theme so far in RAGE?

I really like the scores in Dead City, there are some real surprises in there. It’s a real frenetic mix of orchestra, guitar and synth.

You’re also working on TERA, the Action MMO, which isn’t out yet in the States. What’s your status on that?

I finished that project about two years ago, but it’s not yet released here in the U.S. The music I composed features fantasy and high combat action, lots of acoustic guitar, stringed instruments and big dynamic orchestra, similar to the scores I did for The Hobbit.  I recorded live with the Northwest Sinfonia in Seattle, the same orchestra we used for the first Dead Space live orchestral sessions. They sound fantastic.

I hope you enjoy RAGE. I’m very proud to have been a part of id’s latest blockbuster.  Thanks for your interest!


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