When it comes time to enumerate the great adventure game maestros, you can't do without certain names: Michael Land, Peter McConnell, Clint Bajakian, and Jared Emerson-Johnson. There's a new composer to add to that short list - Pedro Macedo Camacho, who has assumed the role of Bill Tiller's go-to man for Autumn Moon Entertainment's soundtracks. Anyone who's played A Vampyre Story or Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island came away with the impression that the music was one of the stronger aspects, and those two scores, a tiny slice of Pedro's growing oeuvre, alone justify Camacho as a talent to follow.
We caught up with Pedro to ask him about past, present and future projects, his background, his method, and what tossed him into the arena of video game soundtracks to begin with (a realm in which he dabbles when not, y'know, being commissioned to write full-fledged requiems honoring the queen of Portugal). His responses were informative, frank, and at times quite personal, and it's our pleasure to present them to you in the most Youtube clip-saturated interview this side of the Mississippi.
Hi, Pedro! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. First, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. When did you decide that your passion was music, and what was your learning process?
Hello Jason, It is my pleasure! Sorry I took so long!! Since childhood I always loved to sing by myself, loved to hear music with my father and to jam horrible things in a really crappy cheap synth keyboard from the 80's. By the time I got a Commodore 64, I got in love with music using "The Beatles Playalong Album"! It had an option on "F2" called "single key play" where I had to play the right key for the music to continue and I found that just amazing!
After hearing and playing I would go to the "crappy cheap synth keyboard" and play it there.
Even thought I felt I loved music, when I was under 10 years old I had a music teacher in preliminary school (an old catholic sister called Sister Benilde) who was a horrible mean person in every possible way and was able to turn myself into someone that HATED music for years and years.
Think of a bad mean LeChuck or Shrowdy teaching music.... :)
Some years later, the calling returned (after hearing inspiring soundtracks in Amiga like Shadows of the Beast, Flashback, Another World, Project X, Monkey Island, Elvira Mistress of Dark, Dragon's Breath (aka Dragon Lord), Speedball 2, North and South) and, in the early 90's with a Commodore Amiga, I started to explore a tracker called OctaMED Pro.
My father loved music and games a lot, in fact we played games together almost every day. I am not sure if it is directly linked but as soon as my father got extremely sick (brain cancer) I started composing music using OctaMED.
In the last months of his life I composed my first music ever and showed it to him. Even though I am sure it was crap music, he liked it a lot and praised it... that meant a lot to me. Some days later he got worse and eventually passed away so I was never able to show him any new music again.
I think it was around this time I completely realized music was my passion so I went to study classical composition with the Argentinean Maestro Roberto Perez for some years (1995-1997), side by side with Jazz Piano with the pianist Jorge Borges.
After that I went to Lisbon to have classes with the best composition teacher from Portugal: Eurico Carrapatoso, who happens to be as well one of the most important living composers in Portugal.
After learning with Eurico Carrapatoso for many years (1997 to 2001) I kept learning music, composition and orchestration by myself. From 2004-2006 I decided to learn more Jazz Piano in HotClube, one of the most famous Jazz Schools in my country.
And how did your professional career come about?
The year was 2006, I had been learning music since 1995 but I never considered myself as a composer, in my mind a composer is a title reserved for certain really skilled individuals.
I didn't speak with my master, Eurico Carrapatoso, since 2001 and, suddenly, he sent me an invitation to a public conference where he would be the main speaker.
This was a life changing event for me.
There was a big audience and, since he is very famous here, many of his old students were there too. Five minutes after he started speaking and greeting many of his former pupils, he said out loud:
"And I can see here in the front seats the composer Pedro Macedo Camacho"
I had a small panic attack. In mind I thought "Me?? A composer? What the hell... No ever called me 'composer' before!"
And then Carrapatoso continued: "For those who still don't know him, Pedro was the most talented student I ever had in 25 years teaching composition."
The small panic attack became a big panic attack, I never ever considered myself as someone with any special skills...
Still not satisfied Carrapatoso kept going: "I will show you the first piece he wrote when he was only 18 years old, in his first year of composition with me. He wrote a 5 voice renaissance counterpoint which is something that almost no one, even on the highest levels of composition education, like in master degree university, is able to do it without errors and musicality."
So he put a CD on the CD Player with a live recording of the Work. Something I almost forgot I did by then.
Here it is:
As a result I cried... It was impossible not to.
When the recording was over, the audience cheered and applauded and he said: "Someone that can write like this, is able to write anything he wants, no one can teach this kind of musicality."
So, for the first time in my life, I started believing in me. I began to write music again... Man, I was so rusty! I wanted to write for games, which was the passion I always had, it was the reason I started learning music in first place.
Late in 2006 I heard about a game hiring 2D Artists, "A Vampyre Story". I googled them and when I saw the website I immediately said "WOW this looks like Monkey Island art!!!!". I searched more about it and I read Bill Tiller was CEO and I was even more amazed.
I phoned them and I spoke to Amy Tiller who was super nice but at the same time so cruel :) She said:
"We already have a composer lined up but you can make a demo. But, I will be honest, it will be an uphill battle for you, we just need to sign contract with him to finish the deal."
I said I didn't mind and I worked day and night for the best demo I could think of for a theme for A Vampyre Story. In two days I showed them the music that would become AVS's Main theme:
Some weeks later I got a reply from Bill Tiller saying he almost cried hearing my track. I was in heaven...
A Vampyre Story was also Bill Tiller's life dream so I had to still wait almost 3 months for him to make a final decision on the soundtrack.
This was the moment I actually became a professional composer! Thank you Bill and Amy! I have an endless debt to you.
Subjective though this sort of thing tends to be, I'd say that “cinematic” would be an appropriate word to describe the scores you’ve been responsible for. Is this a function of the projects you’ve been involved with (Autumn Moon’s games very much have the presentation of animated feature films), or would you say that's a quality inherent to your style?
It is indeed very subjective. When I compose, I don't think about it as "cinematic" or anything. I just do what I feel I should do to help the project. In films and high profile games, most composers don't orchestrate properly and end up hiring an orchestrator. Since I also have many years of education on orchestration, I compose all my stuff with an "orchestrator mind". I think when music becomes well orchestrated it tends to have a "cinematic" feeling.
(Note: Orchestration, is the skill to make a real orchestra sound balanced, fluent and taking advantages of all its power, color palette, timbres, effects, etc. You can make great music on a computer but then take it to a real orchestra and sound like crap. If you compose thinking about the real thing, it will sound much more realistic, authentic and "cinematic".)
I really don't know what is my style, but often I am compared to amazing people like John Williams (on this Harry Potter writting style) and Danny Elfman.
I love the orchestration quality of John Williams on Harry Potter and Danny Elfman's crazy orchestral color choices, "nonsense"-ness (in a good way, if you get what I mean) and extreme good taste in using "alien" musical elements to the orchestral sound (synths, wierd instruments, strange combinations).
Who are your influences in general and in the case of your adventure game work?
I tend to follow as guidelines composers like Hans Zimmer - who is getting better and better each year - Danny Elfman, John Powell, John Williams, Bach, Debussy, Beethoven, Messiaen, Carrapatoso, Fauré, Ravel, Stravinsky but, above all, I feel have my own voice, my own way of seeing music.
References like traditional music in Asia or Africa or old movies music is always a reference to me, as well!
Have you had a chance to meet anyone involved with Autumn Moon outside of a business context?
Yes!! Gene Mocsy, one of Autumn Moon's writers and his wife came to Madeira Island, in Portugal to visit me!!! He came to meet me, show me his awesome new game, (which has some art done by Bill Tiller too!!) and check if I could score it!
Just like "A Vampyre Story" Soundtrack had, for the first time in video game history, a real fugue written with all the counterpoint rules applied in one of its tracks, just like "Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island" had a very cool pirate song as Main Theme, this new adventure game is the first video game in history with an original Jazz Standard.
Here is an excerpt of a very initial version of the Main Theme for this game. Sorry I can't go into any details about it right now.
It’s my understanding that in its earliest days, A Vampyre Story had a sort of “temp soundtrack” composed by Zachary Quarles (his demo track is here). Out of curiosity, was this music referenced at all when you came on board?
Zach is a very talented individual and he would have done a kick-ass job on A Vampyre Story. In fact, he got an awesome contract back then to another company and had no time for Vampyre Story so that was the reason why Autumn Moon ended up delaying the hiring of a new composer. That delay was quite large (since early 2006 to early 2007), enough time for me to attend to Carrapatoso's speaking, gain more self-confidence and skill to make a good demo track for Bill in late 2006.
However, when I scored the game's Main Theme as pitch demo, I had no idea about this. Since the soundtrack is completely dependent of this main theme the and since it was quite different from Zach's style, I ended up never hearing his music during the whole composition process. Bill told me I should score the game with my own artistic view about it.
A soundtrack album for A Vampyre Story was produced, but unfortunately only as part of a Collector’s Edition version of the game exclusive to Germany. Are there any plans to release the soundtrack separately, either on CD or digitally? How about an official release for Ghost Pirates?
Well I have been asked a lot of times about this and I have no power about that. However my music appears in youtube in many versions. Sometimes I go there to check them out. Unfortunately most of the time the quality is bad.
I do feel there is a version which has good quality. Vampyre Story:
Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island:
Both are not complete, though.