The Fat Man: Quoting at Length
In "Fat Music" in this week's Escapist, Allen Varney interviews game audio legend George "The Fat Man" Sanger. Allen says he could have filled the entire article with choice bits from Sanger's compulsively quotable writings. -Ed.
In Jack Wall's March 2003 Game Developer article "Using Living, Breathing Musicians in Game Music" (quoted by Matt Barton in Armchair Arcade's "The Rise and Fall of Game Audio") The Fat Man listed the "Golden Six" acceptable styles of modern computer and game audio:
- Orchestral imitations of John Williams' or Danny Elfman's film scores.
- Techno/repetitive beat dance music.
- Atmospheric Beatless Music. That's Beatles with an extra "s."
- Whatever was currently on the radio, but not composed by a game musician. Rather, this music is to be licensed from big artists for a small amount of money or licensed from small artists for nothing.
- Music made by a friend of theirs.
- And I'm sure there was a sixth.
Then there's this anecdote from "Risk and Trivial Pursuit," a chapter in Sanger's 2003 treatise The Fat Man on Game Audio: Tasty Morsels of Sonic Goodness:
Once, I asked my friend Michael Land how it was going, and he was sad. For the seemingly endless series of LucasArts Star Wars games, Mike had been analyzing and editing John Williams' actual Star Wars scores into tiny bits, dissecting them, rearranging them, composing little bits of filler, and recreating the most amazing John Williams Hamburger Helper Casserole you'd ever heard. He would have rather been doing what he termed a "creative project" which would call for original music, such as the (great) Monkey Island and The Dig scores he'd done. But, nonetheless, it was one job for which you would be hard pressed to argue a case against John Williams Star Wars-style music, and Mike had turned the sights of his Mighty Creative Battering Ram toward that wall. In the end, the music he made was indistinguishable from that created by the Johnmeister.
So I says, "Hey, Mike, you choppin' John?" And he says, "Yep. I'm choppin' John."
And I says, "I think you're gonna be choppin' John till you're jammin' with Jimi."
But the absolute best extract appears earlier in that chapter:
On one game to which I had been assigned, I was asked to do "normal game music" (which, for this kind of game, meant Techno) and when I suggested some different approaches, I met with a brick wall. The developer actually wanted not to do something that was unlike other games. I was asked, "George, did it ever occur to you that there is a reason that all movies use the same kind of sound for certain types of scenes?"
Extreme close up: The Fat Man's face remains polite.
Zoom in, fade to flashback of The Fat Man at USC Film School, sweating his nuts off studying film and music with every bit of devotion he can muster. Split screen. The game developer who asked the question is gargling beer at a frat party, and he's still wearing diapers. He shouts out drunkenly that he wishes he could be just exactly like John Travolta, then he passes out in the punchbowl. Fade back to The Fat Man's face, and zoom out. Reality begins again.
The Fat Man speaks: "Yes, friend, but which among those is a great movie soundtrack? They're all imitating Star Wars, which was pretty much the first movie to use that sound. Star Wars itself, the leader, is a great soundtrack - loved, admired, and imitated. In order to achieve that, wouldn't you think that you would have to innovate?"
He paused for a long time, then said, sincerely, "How does one go about innovating?"
It was another Star Trek moment. "What is this 'Love', Captain?" "Brain and Brain. What is Brain?" "Kiss? Tell me more about this... 'Kiss.'" I'm sure I could have explained every bit of it to him quite well, and changed the course of his life, and probably given him religion, too, by simply saying, "You have to take RISKS," but right then I had to use the john.
Great quotes! In both movies and games, background music has gotten so trite, that it has become almost intolerable. I don't know how many times I have seen an emotional scene with good acting ruined by that telltale sound of the same old crappy background music.