Interview: Daniel Licht on Scoring Silent Hill: Downpour

With over twenty years of scoring hit horror franchises like Children of the Corn, Amityville, and Hellraiser, composer Daniel Licht knows a thing or two about scary sounds, and is perhaps best known for his work on Showtime’s award-winning serial killer drama Dexter. And now he’s turning his ghoulish gifts to another medium – videogames – with his original score for Konami’s Silent Hill: Downpour, snatching the bloody reigns from series regular Akira Yamaoka for the first time in the long-running survival-horror series’ history.

Lucky for Silent Hill and genre fans, Licht was kind enough to answer a few questions on the creative differences between crafting scores for film and videogames, working on Dexter, his surprising favorite videogame themes, and making the latest Silent Hill soundtracks uniquely his own.

How did you get involved with composing music for Silent Hill: Downpour?

Konami, the game’s developer, approached my agent. They were interested in finding a composer who understood the dark elements of the game and who had a built in horror audience. With my previous work on Dexter, Thinner, and Children of the Corn, horror is my area of expertise.

Since it was your first time creating music for a video game, how did your experience differ from that of films?

Fundamentally they are very different approaches. For a film, you are hired for a certain amount of time, ranging from two weeks to six months. You create a particular sound for the film- creating themes, sound design and orchestration. For television, you create a theme that gets manipulated throughout the seasons, starting with a basic sound and building it. You are continually scoring each episode, trying to create familiarity with your audience as well as create new sounds that are exciting and thrilling.

Video games are entirely different. The sound design is the creation part. You’re not actually scoring a picture; you’re scoring what the players will encounter. You create different themes so that when there is a lull, for example when the player is deciding their next move, a new theme is integrated. It is constantly changing, therefore you’re really scoring anything that can happen.

As you’re aware, Downpour is the first game without the influence of [series regular composer] Akira Yamaoka. What was your approach when creating the score and did his previous scores influence you?

I familiarized myself with the style and history of the previous Silent Hill themes and musical cues. It was important for me to understand where the music was coming from, the overall story, and the use of the musical themes throughout the game. It was then that I was able to create new themes that were consistent with the game that had my own signature sound.

Are there any recurring themes found in the earlier Silent Hill scores, such as the use of dark electronic motifs and mandolins that you’re drawing inspiration from?

I studied Akira’s music from previous games, but there are no direct themes from previous games in the Silent Hill: Downpour game. I definitely drew inspiration from his previous scores. I wanted Downpour to have the same vibe and energy as previous games, but I wanted to create my own signature for the game – create my own sound.

Are you a video game fan? Are there any scores or favorite composers from the realm of gaming that you’re fond of?

I am a video game fan. I particularly am partial to Garry Schyman’s score for BioShock. I found that score particularly good. I enjoy the theme for Halo. I like a lot of the music found in Assassin’s Creed.

Your work with Dexter was iconic in that it took on a life of its own. Do you look for most of your pieces to do that- especially in your work with horror films/series?

One would hope that music would take on its own persona depending on the function of the piece of music. Sometimes you do not want music to be conscious, you want it to be subconscious so that people are influenced by it but don’t know they are. In Dexter, especially, I created themes earlier in Season 1 and 2 that happen around specific events so when he has recurring memories of these events, the viewer recognizes the music. You can do that with a television series because of the recurrence of characters and situations; a film it is much tougher to do so.

What kind of direction are you going to be taking the score for Silent Hill: Book of Memories?

For Silent Hill Book of Memories, I wanted this album to sound like a tribute CD to the franchise rather than a soundtrack. The blend of music is more present than just background music to a video game. From my point of view, the music will mix more with the video game as individual songs. Each song is a component to the different areas of the game, making an impression on the player.

My goal with the album overall was to touch upon different colorful areas that I explored musically. Each area has its own unique, colorful sound.

What types of scenes (in films or other media) do you prefer scoring? Tense, dramatic, etc.

I like a variety of scenes to score. Most of my work is in the horror genre, but I enjoy all genres. Emotional scenes are always fun; it’s nice to come up with a good heartfelt theme. I like doing all mediums- films, television, video games, etc.- all the above is fun. I recently did the documentary Dumbstruck, which had a different vibe about the music which was fun to score.

With each scene, each project, each genre, I do my best to convey what the directors want and create a piece of music that works well in the scene and can stand on its own.

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