With his credits reaching from video games like Prince of Persia, Dragon Age, Fallout, Warhammer 40.000, to Crysis, EverQuest, Fantasia and the Syberia series Inon Zur is one of the biggest names in the video game industry. So when I got the opportunity to interview him about his new album Age of Sirens it’s not hard to tell how excited I was. Since I grew up with his music, it was a great honour to not only receive the album in advance but to also get the chance to meet him on Skype.
When you think of sirens in the classical way not only their beautiful voices come to mind but also the deadly bewitchment that came with the sirens’ voices and which was why Odysseus told his men on-board his ship to bind him to a mast so that he doesn’t run into danger or lead the ship into ruin on his way back from Troy.
Coming back to Inon it is important to say as we begin, that for him “everything is connected: Music is connected to reality. Music is a language that connects people.” So it is no wonder that also the title itself doesn’t come by accident and that it has a deeper meaning behind it:
[Sirens] are these legendary creatures who sang beautifully – but Sirens are also what you hear when you have to run to a bomb shelter. It’s a sign of warning. My album has both sides: It has the beauty, but it also has the warning. And if you’re not going to learn to appreciate the beauty then you’ll just remain with the warning.
Age of Sirens therefore is a very diverse album. You can listen to the preview below while we dive deeper into the creation of the album:
Bomb shelters and the Wild Wild East: The political background of Age of Sirens
The interview turned out to be the most political one we’ve done so far. Only five minutes into the interview, we were deep into the politics of the Middle East due to Inon’s Israeli origin and because he is very emotional about everything that is still going on in his home country where most of his family lives. Inon grew up in Tel Aviv and served four years in the Israeli army before he attended the local Music Academy. In Israel, civil service is mandatory for men as well as for women. As all of these experiences have an impact on him as an artist, Inon told me more about the situation in the Middle East – or how he called it; the “Wild Wild East”:
Unfortunately we [Israelis] are just at the heat of things. In the past, people tended to see the whole Middle East crisis as having to do directly with Israel, but today we see more and more that it has nothing to do with Israel. It’s not because of the borders, it’s not even because of the nature of the people that live in the Middle East, it’s more to do with the leaders. The leaders in most of the Arab countries are just not getting along very nicely with each other. They are basically in constant conflict against each other, and Israel is basically – like in the last 60 years – being caught inside of this. Every time they are tired of attacking each other, they are attacking Israel. It’s a very messy situation.
You see all the atrocities, all the injustice, all the dark and bleak things that we are ready to accept in video games, but it’s not fair in real life. And I think that my writing is definitely influenced by this notion that the world is so unfair for so many children, women and just people who live in this area, who right now need to go all the time to bomb shelters instead of going to school.[Nowadays because of internet and media we] know everything and still the world is looking away. It is sad.
But growing up in this environment of permanent insecurity didn’t turn Inon into a pessimistic person who sees only the worst in other human beings and the world in general. Quite the contrary, with his compilation album Age of Sirens he wants to share a very strong positive message with the listener:
The whole album is a lot of introspection, of looking into myself and trying to tell a story about what I feel about the world; the way I see what the world could become and also the way I want the world to become.
Syberia and Sword Coast Legends: Current projects Inon Zur is working on
Inon just came back from France to meet with the team behind the video game series Syberia, as he is working on part three with them. Syberia for Inon was always one of his favourite projects to work on, which he calls “a real piece of art,” and game designer and script writer Benoît Sokal a “wizard.” Additionally you will be able to see Inon live in Cologne on August 7th at the Video Games Live Concert during the Gamescom, where he will conduct the exclusive World Premiere of Syberia, because he feels “that this is one of the things connecting me to the audience. I have to be there.”
But he also just visited Prague to conduct the recording session for Sword Coast Legends with The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (you can watch the official E3 Trailer of the SCL featuring his music here). For Sword Coast Legends he told me he was “reflecting on music that was written for games like Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Icewind Dale 1 and 2 etc. Some of this music I wrote myself. And I’m looking at this and trying to understand what was so significant about this music, and what made an impact 17 years ago. It’s trying to understand how it works. How can we make the same impact with the tools that we have right now, with the styles that we have right now. How can we do the same thing, but without repeating ourselves? It was a huge challenge that I had in Sword Coast Legends and I think that I can’t really be the judge if I succeeded or not. Only when the game is out will people be able to tell me.” Inon “composed a very, very melodic score. This is one of the notions that I understood and tried to transcend from the previous work that we all did, like myself, Jeremy Soule, and other people, and bring it back with some new twist.” A video interview about his scoring process behind Sword Coast Legends you can watch here.
A tribute to the fans and the world we live in: The story behind Age of Sirens
So although he must be insanely busy, due to all the projects he’s been working on over the past few years, leaving alone the ones he can’t talk about yet, Inon spent months on picking 18 tracks from a couple of hundred he went through for Age of Sirens. Additionally he developed new ideas which he then recorded and produced especially for the album.
Importantly for him, this album is an album for his fans, who were always there for him over the years, and who also helped him in getting to the point he is at right now:
Throughout the last almost eight years I composed music that for many reasons did not end up in projects: Maybe it didn’t fit, maybe the project got cancelled, maybe it was a demo that didn’t go well, many, many things – and I felt sorry that I can not really share some of this music with the fans. But I was so busy doing other things that I couldn’t get to it. [But] eventually I decided to put it as a priority for me. So I’ve chosen 18 pieces of music that I’ve written over the last five to eight years.
It was important for me to share it with the fans. For me more than anything, this album is a tribute to fans, music fans, computer games fans and score fans, to share with them some pieces that were never played before, never heard before and that I felt that if they like my music they can enjoy it, and I can thank them for being with me and being there for me throughout all these years.
So he took his time and picked the pieces that told the story he wanted to tell the world with this release:
[Age of Sirens] has a journey to it. Usually [in the beginning] you’d expect something like a fanfare or something positive, and here we have a dark cue and it has a lot of sorrow. [It’s] dark and solemn. This is again a tribute to the world we live in today. The album is definitely connected. “Alone“ is almost a eulogy on a lot of good things that are being lost. It’s a tragic cue. “Long Time Ago“ is going back and looking at the past from a musical point of view. But it’s also quite dark. Cues like “Remember“ and “Dooms Day“ are almost talking about a post-apocalyptic reality that is very, very dark and it’s talking about what the reality is maybe going to be in a post-apocalyptic world.
But there are some optimistic points also. Cues like the Epilogue are actually more positive with a bright outlook for the future and finishing the journey with a positive feeling. “True Life“ is a cue that shows – not what true life for many people is – but what a wished true life will be for the world. Because it’s positive, it’s emotional. And more than anything it’s warm. It’s really contradicting cues like “Remember“ and “Dooms Day“. There are also cues that show my admiration for nature [like] “Underwood“ and “Bird’s Eye View“ that basically show how much I love nature; the green, the forest. And this is my tribute to this.
A tribute to collaboration: The artists featured on Age of Sirens
Here again Inon proved how much he sees everything in the world to be connected, from the green of a forest and birds to the meaning of life and his way of writing music. Also on Age of Sirens he took the opportunity to do a tribute album, not only to the fans but also to his collaborators of the past years as well as the female voice:
I always believed in collaboration and I believe in mutual understanding. I believe that there is something that we can call the greater good and it starts from understanding, accepting and collaborating.
Aubrey Ashburn, Aeralie Brighton and the The Lyris Quartet were very, very important partners and collaborators throughout the many years that I’ve been working. So it was not an accident why I have chosen the tracks where they are featured on. [Also in this regard] it’s not an accident that the album’s name is Age of Sirens: I love the female voice, I love the solo and I think it’s a great thing to celebrate it. This album is definitely celebrating it.
Also of note is that Inon’s son Ori Zur, who is a very talented young cellist and pianist is featured on the album.
The more influences the better: Inon Zur on inspiration
Almost everything he said seemed to be based on the thought that together we can turn this world into a better place. That collaboration and cooperation is the key to a brighter future. So it was no wonder that he not only spoke about his musical collaborators in the highest way possible but also about collaborators like Dan Tudge, director of Sword Coast Legends and Dragon Age: Origins, and Bethesda’s game designer Todd Howard who he described as “visionaries” and “geniuses” who are “the Bill Gates’, the Marc Zuckerbergs of games” and that it is an honour for him to work with them.
It was no big surprise then when he said how important it is for him to be influenced by the many different elements in music:
I have a pretty basic classical background and I’m totally influenced by the legendary composers that lived many years ago like Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Dvorák, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, but also I’m influenced by Film Composers like [John] Williams, [Jerry] Goldsmith, James Horner and current TV and Film composers like John Powell, Harry Gregson-Williams – [and]Thomas Newman is a big influence. I’m influenced by so many things. I’m influenced from the Beatles, I’m influenced from Guns N’ Roses [and many more].
I like to be influenced by great composers and musicians that can inspire me to do my own music. I’m not afraid to be swept in by a certain composer and then to be influenced by him or her. Because I think that my handwriting by now – I’m already 50 years old – is strong enough that I’m not afraid to write like somebody. I’m not ashamed, I’m proud to listen to other people, recognize their greatness and try to learn from them.
This also lead to one of his most well-known tracks in the gaming industry: “I’m Not Calling You A Liar” by Florence + The Machine where he did the arrangement for the Dragon Age 2 Soundtrack and which was nominated for Best Song In A Game at the Spike TV VGAs. Additionally other collaborators on the soundtrack for Dragon Age 2, like the Israeli artist Idan Raichel (“really great!”) “contributed tremendously to the score.”
The human race is one: The essence of Age of Sirens
Coming to an end, it can be summed up that the whole process behind Age Of Sirens has been very personal one for Inon. For him, it is important that we should never look away from all the bad things happening in the world but instead help each other to turn this world into a better place; that we always have the choice between good and bad. Speaking about the track “Dooms Day” he summed up the whole album:
Dooms Day is protesting against the path that many leaders are taking us to. [It’s] like a warning. It’s not happening yet but it definitely can happen if we’re not going to be mindful and if we are not going to look out for each other and understand that we are all brothers and sisters.
The human race is one! And no matter to what religion we are affiliating ourselves, we all have the same aspiration of growing healthy, being happy with our families, and living in peace. This is what we are all looking for.
Concluding I would like to thank Inon Zur for taking the time to dive so deeply into the creative process behind Age of Sirens. Not only is it an album that many people should have a listen to but also Inon is a person more people should hear about. We will do our best to keep you updated about his upcoming projects, including one that is majorly anticipated and which will also be presented at next week’s Gamescom. At this point we unfortunately could not talk with him about it at all.