Eímear Noone talks about her passion for composing and conducting, her sources of musical inspiration, and her upcoming tour "Video Games in Concert"
Eímear Noone is a composer and conductor, renowned for her award-winning video game compositions which have reached over 100 million people. She has worked on hit video games like World of Warcraft, Diablo III and Overwatch, and films such as The Canterville Ghost. In 2020 she conducted at the Academy Awards—she was the first female conductor to ever do so.
In May Eímear is touring the UK with the "Video Games in Concert" tour, where she will lead the Heritage Orchestra in performing beloved (and exclusive) video game scores. Eímear talks to us about how her passions for composing and conducting originated, her sources of inspiration for different kinds of music within video games, and what she's looking forward to in her "Video Games in Concert" tour.
Where did your passion for music originate?
I think it’s a completely intrinsic thing for each one of us. For me, it's a very visceral thing: it's how music makes me feel on a very physical level, like when you get goosebumps on your arms, and you're feeling before you're thinking. That has always fascinated me.
Very early on as a kid, I wanted to know: “Why am I feeling this? How does it work? How can I share this feeling with others? What is this sorcery?”. After that, I just wanted to study music and learn as much as I could about it.
Was that desire to share music with others what led you into composing and conducting?
Yes! Composing is me wanting to know how on earth music works, but it's also about sharing. I wanted to be able to create things that could help people feel what I was feeling. I've had audience members contact me and ask me about the deeper meanings of certain pieces, because they were feeling something and they didn't know where it was coming from. That's really special. The more I learn about music, the more in love with it and the more fascinated I become.
I’d always wanted to be a conductor from when I was seven. I didn't grow up in a professional musical family or anything like that; I was just the oddest little girl ever because at seven, I saw a conductor on TV and the passion of the musicians, and I thought, “yeah, I'm doing that!”. It just stuck in my head: “this is who I am”.
I saw myself as somebody who could be a bridge between the orchestra, the music and the audience; I'm there as an interpreter, to help the audience receive the music. That's what I always wanted to be. I didn't all of a sudden start conducting—I went to music college, we all start with our instruments—but I always was completely fascinated by the conductor and what it feels like to be in the middle of all this swirling energy that's happening around you from these incredible artists.
This is what I'm really passionate about. I serve my community by saying, “leave all the problems of the day aside for two hours, and let's just go somewhere together”. I feel that's a great privilege, to be there to help people slough off the stress and the pressures of modern life. I never ever take it for granted.
Where do you find inspiration in your compositions?
A lot of the inspiration will come from the game itself. There are so many different types of musical puzzles inside a game, depending on what the music is meant to do, how it's meant to function, and what its purpose is. This is very much in the classical tradition, which people don't realise; if Mozart were alive today, he’d love writing video game music because he loved a puzzle.
Inside the game, first of all, we have the cinematic music—we score that like a film because it's picture-locked. Then we have the inlay music on the landing page, which is often the theme that is the sonic identity of the game. We'll spin that out throughout the game, and we'll develop it like you would develop any kind of thematic material.
"Mozart would love writing video game music because he loved puzzles"
Different worlds in different areas inside the game will often have different sonic identities. Part of what we do is figure out what kind of world we want to create for the audience. We want to bring you into this realm of the imagination. So, we have to figure out not what that realm sounds like, but what does it feel like?
You also have situations where implementation is based on what the characters are doing. We record in stems so that each stem in the orchestra or piece works by itself or in combination. So, in this way, the puzzle happens. How they fit together matters, of course, and how they are separately matters. Musically, it has to work on all these levels.
The other fun one is diegetic music, and this is where I sometimes get to fully bring in my classical background. So, for instance, you walk into a room and there's a radio or jukebox playing; we’ll usually write and record that music. But the style can range from heavy metal to classical, which is really fun to do. It's really up to your imagination.
What are you looking forward to about the tour?
The fans that come are the greatest audience. It’s such a privilege to get to serve this audience and I really feel that. We can get friends coming together from all over the world for a concert, which is one of my favourite things. My other favourite thing is when grandparents want to share this symphony orchestra with their grandkids and then the mums and dads come along as well, and you have three generations of one family feeling the power of the live orchestra.
"We can get three generations feeling the power of the live orchestra"
I’m going to be working with Aisling McGlynn, one of my favourite young artists who I’ve worked with before—she’s done a lot of work with the fantastic composer Yasunori Mitsuda, and she’s literally performed to hundreds of millions of people on his video game scores. She’s very special and I’m very excited to be on tour with her.
And the Heritage Orchestra! I can’t wait to be on tour with them, they’re just the coolest. They’re so innovative, they’re so interesting, they’re so vibrant and full of life—it’s going to be so much fun.
Which pieces are you looking forward to conducting and hearing on tour?
I really love the stuff from Ragnarok, and, I'm not saying I love my and my husband’s music more than any other music, but it's so personal when you're conducting your own music. That's a whole totally different space. When you're conducting your own music, you feel so naked, it's unbelievable —everybody is really seeing who you are from the inside.
Most of the composers on the programme are dear friends of mine, and getting to know them from inside their music is a whole different level of knowing somebody. It's really wonderful, beautiful and strange at the same time, but performing their music gives me endless joy, and it's a privilege.
There's just so much on the programme. I programme for the audience: I always have something new and unique for the super gamers that they won't get somewhere else. Then I look at families, the mums and dads who want that nostalgia factor and to share things with their kids that are nostalgic, but still in the pop culture domain—especially some of the classic games that are being reimagined. I also look at what my kids are really into right now and I make sure that I'm catering to that as well.
What projects are on the horizon for you in 2024?
Oh, I absolutely can’t tell you! I do have an AAA game (blockbuster game by a major publisher) that’s coming in about May, so hopefully I’ll be able to tell the audience about that while we’re on tour. I can’t wait to share it. There’s a game and two films, but I can’t tell you the movies either!
"I've been working on an AAA game that people have been waiting for"
One film is coming out at Easter, which is a really fun one, and then another film coming out next Christmas that’s being done at the moment. The game is one that people have been waiting for, and we haven’t been announced on it yet! But we absolutely love it, and we’re so excited for people to see it, play it and hear it.
But lots of concerts all around the world, which are very fun, and I love being in the recording studio with the orchestras as well, there’s a lot of that going on next month. There’s a lot happening; a lot of Irish film projects this year as well as international ones, but I can’t even tell you about them. Oh my gosh, I’m tired just talking about it!
The "Video Games in Concert" UK Tour with Eímear Noone will run throughout May. Tickets are available here
Banner photo: Eímear Noone discusses composing and conducting and her upcoming UK tour, "Video Games in Concert" (credit: Steve Humphreys)
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