We Talk The Music Of For Honor With Composers Saunder Jurriaans and Danny Bensi

Recently we got speak with composers Saunder Jurriaans and Danny Bensi about their careers and their work on For Honor.

How did you get into composing and what are some of the past games and projects you have done?

We started scoring films about 7 years ago – our first film was Two Gates Of Sleep directed by Alistair Griffin. The same production company “Borderline Films” asked us to score Martha Marcy May Marlene and after that things started snowballing fairly quickly. For Honor is the first video game we’ve scored!

Other films and series include: Enemy, The OA, The One I Love, The Gift, and tons more!

How does scoring a game compare and differ with that of a movie or television show and which do you prefer?

Scoring a game is a pretty epic undertaking – not only are we dealing with a TON of music but we’re also having to keep everything organized and updated. There are so many different types of score going on (gameplay, menus, cutscenes…) it’s easy to lose the “flow” of the project. It’s hard to say which we prefer – every project is so different and unique.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced scoring the projects and what have been your greatest triumphs?

Probably the biggest challenge for us was the outdoor drum/horns recording. Anyone who works in music or recording knows that recording outside is a pretty difficult endeavor. First off – it’s very difficult to capture an “outdoor” sound. If you record in a field the sound dissipates and you can end up with very un-exciting sounds. The sound needs a service to reverberate against. So we had to find an area that was somewhat enclosed by surfaces. Our engineer, Jamie Siegel worked with us to find the perfect spot near a barn and some trees. After figuring out the best mic placements and such we then had to battle rainstorms, wind and crickets for a week! This was also the greatest triumph because what we ended up with was a truly unique drum sound. They sound huge and natural – we barely needed any additional reverb or effects because the ambiance was so successful. They are also unique and original – we really managed to stay away from any sort of canned Hollywood sound.

How many hours of music did you compose for the game and how much made it into the final build?

2hrs 17mins in the final build. Maybe we composed 30-40 mins that didn’t go in the game? Hard to say!

When scoring the games, how much lead time did you have and were graphics and animation made available early in the process?

In this case we started coming up with ideas about 8 months before we finished. We had some graphics – mostly concept art in the beginning. We were also able to go up to Ubisoft in Montreal and play a bit of the early version. Soon after that we had the E3 presentation which was the first real glimpse of the cinematics.

As a follow up, how much did the scores change if any as I am guessing the look and feel of the games continued to change and evolve during production.

We started by coming up with the sounds for the 3 factions – both the tonal instruments and the drum sounds. That process took a few months but once we found those worlds they more or less stuck. During the last 3 months or so things really started to click and there were some last minute additions that were key.

What can you tell us about where you drew your inspirations when scoring the game?

We agreed with the Ubisoft team about certain types of music we all thought might work. For example, the Russian Orthodox Choir…Japanese Taiko Drumming…Hurdy Gurdy…Shakuhachi. We all agreed that we wanted to draw upon these types of music – but in our own unique way.

With three distinct cultures being portrayed, how did this come into play with composing the score?

This was obviously also a major challenge and one of the most exciting aspects of the game. It took us a few months of composing without picture (mainly just having seen some concept art) to come up with the sounds for each faction.

The Knights were very inspired by choir and religious music – that sense of peaceful reverence. Very minimal solo cello or violin are also present. The drums we used were mostly western – huge bass drums, toms and snares.

For the samurai we used ended up using the Shakuhachi flute – and were obviously inspired by traditional Japanese music. We really wanted to avoid the music sounding too ethnically specific so we brought in a bit of Turkish Oud and a variety of dark synth pads. Both solo instruments were heavily distorted and processed in different ways. The drums were Taikos.

For the Vikings we had most of the melodies played on the Bazantar – a modified double bass with 24 sympathetic strings – created and played by Mark Deutsch. We also used a bit of Hurdy Gurdy and a guttural choir using the amazing voice of our friend Jesse Leach from The band Killswitch Engage.

How much leeway did you have with the creation of the score or did the games producers give you the framework that you had to work in or was it more of a collaboration?

It was very much a collaboration, they had some initial ideas for some of the sounds/instruments but from there it really grew organically. It wasn’t all very symbiotic. The music people at Ubisoft are amazing – communicative, creative and insightful – they really gave us the perfect balance of creative freedom and structure.

What else do you have coming up that the readers can look forward to?

Recently released films and series:
The Autopsy Of Jane Doe (film)
The OA (Netflix series )

The Discovery (film)
Ozark (Netflix series)
LA 92 (Nat Geo documentary)