Interview | Blake Robinson Talks Banjo-Kazooie Symphony, Synthetic Orchestra

By Jorge Ba-oh 09.06.2013 2

Interview | Blake Robinson Talks Banjo-Kazooie Symphony, Synthetic Orchestra on Nintendo gaming news, videos and discussion
The Blake Robinson Synthetic Orchestra recently released a stunning tribute to the Rare and Grant Kirkhope classic Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Kazooie Symphony. The new digital album is a thirty track, 72 minute collection of themes re-arranged through Robinson's orchestra samples and intricate musical touch.
Banjo-Kazooie Symphony is now available to purchase through Joypad Records on Loudr and iTunes.
We caught up with Blake to discuss the project, his approaches to arranging classic video-game themes plus plans for the future.
Image for Interview | Blake Robinson Talks Banjo-Kazooie Symphony, Synthetic Orchestra

Cubed3: Hi Blake, Please tell us about yourself and your musical History.
Blake Robinson: Hello! My name is Blake and I am a composer and software developer. I primarily spend the days developing orchestral virtual instruments that are used by many of the composers working on TV shows, movies and trailers. A few years ago I started to orchestrate my favourite video game music to test out the software I was developing, and it's slowly grown into hours and hours of YouTube videos. Recently I've had the opportunity to work with Joypad Records to create some full length albums and symphonies based on my favourite games.

I have worked on several indie games over the past few years and more recently I was responsible for the orchestral music in the XBOX/PS3 Terraria trailers. Outside of the games industry I regularly compose (slightly duller) music for commercials, trailers and corporate videos and things. If you're in the UK/EU/US and watch TV, you'll have probably unknowingly listened to some of my music at some point over the past couple of years.
Cubed3: What other game albums have you been involved in to date?
Blake Robinson: Super Metroid Symphony was the first big game album I released earlier this year. To celebrate Super Metroid's anniversary I orchestrated every piece of music from the original game (including beta tracks) as a 30 track, hour long album. The original game has one of my all-time favourite soundtracks so I wanted to stay very faithful to the source material. The album is something akin to Super Metroid HD, showing how the game's score would sound if created with today's technology. Recently I worked on the NUKEM : Duke 3D Remixes album with a ton of other talented video game musicians. Before Super Metroid Symphony I also released a couple of compilation albums that spanned various games and genres.

Image for Interview | Blake Robinson Talks Banjo-Kazooie Symphony, Synthetic Orchestra

Cubed3: Banjo-Kazooie is known for its diverse worlds and memorable score, what made you chose this Rare classic?
Blake Robinson: I'm a big fan of Grant Kirkhope and love his music, from his classic N64 soundtracks up to his modern console titles. After I'd released Super Metroid Symphony and found it to be doing surprisingly well, Joypad Records asked me what I'd be working on next. As one of my favourite soundtracks, I had really enjoyed orchestrating a couple of Banjo-Kazooie pieces before. I think the musical style is quite close to my own and so reached out to Grant and asked if he'd be okay with it. He was incredibly enthusiastic - he'd offered me beta music to orchestrate and we'd even discussed him collaborating on a track, but unfortunately we just ran out of time.

Cubed3: Which track on the Banjo-Kazooie Symphony would be your favourite?
Blake Robinson: I think it's a tie between "Bubblegloop Swamp" and "The Captain's Quarters". Bubblegloop is such a happy piece of music that you can't help but bounce along to it. It just feels like everything sits well together - the claps, the brass melodies, the string pizzicatos - it all translated to orchestra really well. The Captain's Quarters had some really interesting chord progressions that also worked well with an orchestra, and I think mixing in some more exotic instruments such as the Cimbalom (incidentally the same one used in the recent Sherlock Holmes movies!) and Accordion worked to great effect.

Image for Interview | Blake Robinson Talks Banjo-Kazooie Symphony, Synthetic Orchestra

Cubed3: Would you consider putting your musical touch to Banjo-Tooie?
Blake Robinson: I would love to tackle a Banjo-Tooie Symphony. There is so much more Kirkhope-gold (Glitter Gulch Mine, Hailfire Peaks, Atlantis!) on the second game's soundtrack that would be a shame not to orchestrate the same way I have with this album. I'm hoping that Banjo-Kazooie Symphony continues to do well so that it gives me the chance to dedicate some time and money to work on a Tooie follow up later this year.
Cubed3: Your original music shows a wide level of diversity. Do you prefer original material or covers?
Blake Robinson: I think both original and covers area really fun to work on. With the original music it gives me more of a chance to explore my own style and ideas as I'm not constrained to recreating specific themes or moods. Without any kind of existing material to adapt, it's much easier to get it sounding realistic as well as I can create music that works with my tools, rather than having to adapt my tools to work with the cover. I also feel like a lot more of the 'Blake Robinson' style comes across in my original work.

On the other side, it's great fun to take my favourite music and add my own twist to it. I've always enjoyed de-constructing music, working out what makes it work and trying to put it together again to sound better. I also find that adapting older music to an orchestra is already really good practice for composing. It gives me a chance to experiment with instrumentation and ideas and see how realistic I can get it to sound. With Banjo-Kazooie Symphony I hope that there's a good blend between the character and mood of Grant Kirkhope's original soundtrack and my own style. It's also an honour to hear that fans of the games (and sometimes the composers themselves) really enjoy your interpretations of the music, too.

Image for Interview | Blake Robinson Talks Banjo-Kazooie Symphony, Synthetic Orchestra

Cubed3: Moving onto your latest release, Link's Shadow, the composition really helped bring the scene to life. How did you go about working to a film score instead?
Blake Robinson: Working on Link's Shadow was great fun and a privilege to work with some talented guys on such a cool project. Corridor Digital had previously used my music in their videos but this was the first time I got to work and interact with them and make something completely original. The guys let me know what kind of mood they were looking for and what kind of pace they wanted the music to bring - I created some prototype scores and with some feedback as we went along, it came together relatively quick.

The biggest differences between working on my own music and working on Link's Shadow was that the Corridor Digital guys had some specific ideas on what kind of feel they wanted, so while I had quite a lot of freedom musically, it did have to work in certain themes and moods. The other challenge to film scoring that you don't get with albums is matching the picture on screen. Parts of the music have to hit certain cues and the timing has to fit with the film's cut.
Cubed3: Have you had any hurdles orchestrating midi classics like Super Metroid and Chrono Trigger?
Blake Robinson: There have been a few hurdles along the way. Classic game soundtracks were all written under the constraints of older hardware at the time. Some things work really well with old Nintendo/Sega soundsets that don't translate so well to orchestra, so sometimes it can be a challenge to orchestrate them while retaining the feel of the original. Along similar lines, many of these older soundtracks are held with such high regard and nostalgia by fans that it can sometimes be quite intimidating to recreate. Taking their favourite music and bringing it up to date without destroying what made it charming can sometimes be quite a challenge.

Another hurdle has been the legal aspect. Joypad Records have been fantastic in giving me a really easy way to legally license my orchestrations, but the copyright process still has a long way to go. For example, albums that have gone through all the correct legal channels can still disappear in an instant with little to no explanation. It's incredibly frustrating to have worked so hard on a project, and have gone out of your way to make sure it's legitimate only to have it wrongly taken down.

Image for Interview | Blake Robinson Talks Banjo-Kazooie Symphony, Synthetic Orchestra

Cubed3: Would you consider a limited-edition physical release for some of your albums?
Blake Robinson: I really would like to have physical copies that people can hold and stick on their shelves. It really does give you something that I think we're missing in the digital age. I always loved getting albums that had pull out booklets, or really interestingly designed boxes and cases.  It's something I'm investigating but just haven't had the opportunity (or budget) to do yet.

Cubed3: A difficult question, but what would be your album or project to date?
Blake Robinson: My favourite project to date has been Super Metroid Symphony. As such as fan of the original game it was a great experience to orchestrate, and the feedback from other fans has been incredible. I hope that I did Kenji Yamamoto and Minako Hamano's original soundtrack justice and that I preserved the eerie ambience from the original. Banjo-Kazooie Symphony was definitely a close second - it's so happy and bouncy and the original music is so iconic and memorable.

Both albums were written over the course of 3-4 weeks, composing 15+ hours a day, 7 days a week. When I've done this before, I've sometimes become burnt out or found that I need a short break from composing to recover, but with both these albums, I just wanted to keep going after it was done. With Super Metroid I literally ran out of music to orchestrate, but with Banjo-Kazooie I have plans to release a few more tracks on my YouTube channel over the next couple of months that will compliment the album and fill in the small gaps I'd left.

Image for Interview | Blake Robinson Talks Banjo-Kazooie Symphony, Synthetic Orchestra

Cubed3: Which composers in the industry do you look to for inspiration?
Blake Robinson: Growing up in the era of (what's now considered) retro gaming, I have massive amounts of respect for some of the more old school composers. Looking back at how limiting the hardware of the time was, the music that musicians such as Yamamoto, Kondo, Nakamura, Uematsu and others created is incredible. With lot of games now having mediocre or cliche 'epic orchestra' music, it's refreshing to go back and listen to older, simpler, well written melodies that people still hum and whistle today.

That's not to say there aren't some fantastic modern composers that inspire me. Grant Kirkhope's work is obviously some of my favourite and I really enjoy his style of writing. I love the music that Joris De Man composed for the Killzone series. The original game's music captured a really nice Star Wars-esque, sci-fi, epic feel while injecting some of its own character (and I'm a sucker for great brass). I'm also a big fan of Kevin Riepl and his Gears of War soundtrack; again, his brass is fantastic and it really sounds similar to some of the old classic 80s movies soundtracks I enjoyed listening to as a kid.

Outside of games, two of my biggest inspirations are Danny Elfman, and the late Basil Poledouris. I basically taught myself how to compose for orchestra by listening to their work I think a lot of my bouncy, whimsical style mixed with my use of brass was inspired by both.

Cubed3: Are there any other Nintendo titles you'll be orchestrating on the pipeline?
Blake Robinson: I think it's safe to say there will be more symphonies based on some of the classic Nintendo titles. I have plans for a follow up for Super Metroid Symphony and I'm also playing with ideas for several other Nintendo games. Whilst The Legend of Zelda is a bit of a tricky franchise to license, I'd also love to take a stab at a Wind Waker Symphony at some point.

Image for Interview | Blake Robinson Talks Banjo-Kazooie Symphony, Synthetic Orchestra

Cubed3: What is your favourite Nintendo franchise to play?
Blake Robinson: I think it would be hard to nail down a favourite, but I think Metroid is still my all time favourite Nintendo Franchise to play. I particularly enjoy Super Metroid, but the later ones are great fun as well. Close runner-ups are Zelda (for the stories and music) and Banjo-Kazooie for its charming style and music.

Cubed3: If you could work on any official Nintendo soundtrack - which franchise would you pick?
Blake Robinson: It may seem predictable, but I would have to say Metroid again. I would love to have the chance to work alongside Yamamoto and Minako on a full symphonic score for a new game that had the same sinister feel as Super Metroid. I don't think I'd be able to turn down an opportunity to work with Koji Kondo on a Zelda soundtrack, either!

Image for Interview | Blake Robinson Talks Banjo-Kazooie Symphony, Synthetic Orchestra


What are your thoughts on the Banjo-Kazooie Symphony?

Listen to a preview of the album and purchase on Loudr.

Box art for Banjo-Kazooie





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C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10 (18 Votes)

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So far I love what I've heard of him. He has some gorgeous versions of Zelda music. The only bad thing is that you can still kind of hear that it's synthesized and not a real orchestra. Smilie

I do agree though sometimes they do fool me almost all the way through!

On the plus side they sound a lot less synthesized than the originals he is covering and I have not heard anything as realistic as his work by any other musicians online

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