We all have places that we would like to explore. When posed with this question, most people’s lists would be topped by destinations like Paris, New York or Tokyo; all great bastions of tourism and culture in our modern world. But what about Mainz? A little city in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, home to Johannes Gutenberg and his little invention called the printing press. However, that was then; now, Mainz is home to one of the major players creating music for today’s media industry. Not only that, they also develop their own Sample Libraries and even created a one of a kind live recording service for composers from all over the world.
The company behind all this is Dynamedion and as we’ll see, the people behind it really moved dynamically from one project to another and from one business idea to the next. I recently got the chance to talk to one of the brains behind Dynamedion; Composer, Co-Founder and Creative Director – Tilman Sillescu.
From Schumann to Morricone to Pierre Langer: How it all began
Like many other composers, especially those from Germany, Tilman was raised in a home where classical music was omnipresent. Whether he wanted to or not, Schumann, Brahms and Beethoven ushered him into the world of symphonic music. Luckily for us, when the time came for him to choose what he wanted to do for the rest of his life, he chose music. I say ‘luckily’ because we wouldn’t otherwise be able to enjoy tracks like the Main Theme of Anno 1701, which is by far one of the most successful games ever produced – and one of Tilman’s favourite scores from Dynamedion.
Tilman got interested in film music by a pretty well-known movie by Sergio Leone:
My first thought back then was that I really wanted to compose music for films. That was around the time I heard [Ennio] Morricone’s score in “Once Upon A Time In The West.” It hit me so much that I thought to myself, you should do this; that would be fantastic. (You can listen here to a piece from the score)
But that was 30 years ago, and back then, just really far away. At the time I didn’t have any friends or relatives that worked in this metier and all the courses at university always featured improvisation on the piano, which felt completely alien to me, especially since I was a guitarist.
So on his own, he began recording on a four-lane tape recorder before moving on to an eight-lane cassette deck to somehow get into recording at home. Already as a child he knew that he wanted to record and produce entire multilane arrangements. So even though his work wasn’t “top-notch,” he found the practice great fun. Before he delved deeper into the nuances of production, arrangement and composition, he began to teach guitar. But even though he soon realized that he wasn’t interested in teaching music, he still went on to study classical music in Mainz. And after receiving a certificate in Jazz and Popular Music at Frankfort University of Music and Performing Arts, he once again found himself teaching, this time as a lecturer of “Composition on the Computer” in Mainz; it took a friend to once again make him realize that teaching wasn’t his calling in life.
My old dream of creating film music was still deep inside of me. Then I got to know Pierre Langer who inspired me by recommending that we do something that was truly creative.”That can’t be our lives; only teaching.” He said. And it was true.
From Teaching Students to Live Recordings: The Early Years
Then suddenly they got their first job, a small one. And then they got another job, a bigger job.
We always talked about it during breaks, and at one point a friend of Pierre’s needed some music for a video game that he had developed. So from there we got started and the music was born. We then began to pitch around our work and that’s how we ended up working on Spellforce with [EA] Phenomic, which at the time was the largest game studio there was in Germany. And because of its long development time we were able to learn the ropes while working on that game.
While Tilman only worked on the game part-time, Pierre jumped into the deep end and gave it all he had. It was around this time that Tilman told himself that he couldn’t achieve what he wanted without taking a few risks, for him it was now or never. So he quit his job as a lecturer and left all the bands he played with, even Jazz ensembles that he had been with for many years.
At a point I realized that you really have to commit yourself. That you have to invest all the time you have to make it happen. Some people can do two things and somehow it all works for them, but for me, I knew I had to risk something to get my head in the game.
Dynamedion was born in 2001 and after Spellforce everything else came quickly after that: Some years later Spellforce 2 became the first videogame soundtrack in Germany to be recorded by a live orchestra; A feat that without Pierre speaking to the developers using, as Tilman puts it, a “silver tongue”, would have never been possible. Reflecting upon it today, Tilman himself never thought that it would be possible. But it was possible, and in 2006 Tilman and Pierre were able to enjoy their music being performed live at the opening concert for Gamescom.
Spellforce 2 for me was very important on a personal level. It was the first time I had ever heard my music brought to life by a live orchestra. My eyes welled up on the first take during the recording session for the main theme; they just played it so beautifully…that was a great experience.
That was a milestone for the European game score industry as a whole. It made it easier to get live recordings green-lit for games that followed. Today Tilman can proudly say that impressively, by Dynamedion alone, between six and ten live recordings are being made possible every year within the industry.
Sonuscore, the Boom Library and Open Orchestra Recording Sessions: Developing New Ideas
While he is a huge fan of live recordings, Tilman is also glad that sample libraries exist; this even led to a creation of an entire new branch within Dynamedion: The sample library sub-label Sonuscore.
I always wanted to produce music and to make compositions and arrangements a reality. But you could never get it to sound right in the old days. You wouldn’t waste your time even trying to. That was why, 20 or 25 years ago you would even avoid playing nice legatos because you knew that it wouldn’t sound good. Some could afford to do live recordings, but even then it was difficult to send clients a layout and have them try to image what it would sound like at the end. There were just too many hurdles to jump.
Nowadays though, there are libraries out there that you can use to play a legato really well, even with brass. You could play horn melodies in legato in a mock-up and then use that to convince a client. This all leads us closer to exhausting all possibilities.
Starting Sonuscore with the Action Strings sample library, Dynamedion then got in touch with Berlin based sample producer and publisher, Native Instruments.
In the beginning we wanted to publish Action Strings on our own. However, we decided to play it to Native Instruments at the Musikmesse in Frankfurt. It was just a prototype with a few phrases; and so we could introduce them to Action Strings, we had come up with a system where you have key switches which could be used to change phrases on the fly. When we presented it, they were really excited and said they wanted to work with us. But they also said they had more experience than us in some fields and that they wanted to check out a few things first.
From there I started working closely with Frank Elting [lead product designer at Native Instruments] and til today the User Interface and graphic design for Action Strings comes from Native Instruments. However, the concept in its entirety comes from us.
Sonuscore isn’t the only branch of Dynamedion that is worth mentioning, on the contrary, branches like the Boom Library and the Open Scoring Sessions are both integral arms that were developed from within the company and help make it what it is today.
Let’s start off with Dynamedion’s sound effect library, the “Boom Library”:
The idea [for the Boom Library] came about because with Axel Rohrbach and Michael Schwendler we had such powerful and versatile duo. They had done several field recordings and had created a plethora of sounds for games. So we got to thinking about how we could make this profitable. Since we had already created our own sound libraries, the thought of publishing one wasn’t too far off. We were always fond of the sound effects and just really liked the name Boom Library from the get go, which was why we decided just to open up a shop, market it a bit and from there it was able to make a big echo.
And then there is the great idea that is the Opening Scoring Sessions. The basic concept is rather simple: A composer can get a full score of his/hers recorded by a live orchestra, but not only that, they can also just submit individual pieces. All of the costs are calculated on Dynamedion’s website and are then recorded by 1 of the 11 orchestras within Dynamedion’s recording network and while the prices for each of the orchestras are largely the same (except for the London Symphony Orchestra), their sounds and styles of play differ.
For example, sometimes we have to decide when some pieces are rhythmically complex and have to be played perfectly to the last click; to choose a specific orchestra in lieu of the others because that one excels the most in that regard. It’s these small nuances sometimes.
But see for yourself:
Bilbo, John Travolta and Hans Zimmer: The Recent Years
Dynamedion really has achieved a lot over the last 14 years, not only in Europe but on an increasingly international scale. One example of such is a track from their music library Klangfreiheit/Sonic Liberty which appeared on the sneak preview trailer for 2013’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
Sonic Liberty was born from the idea of how one could find useful ways to use rejected and/or general tracks that don’t find their way into a project. Additionally with Sonic Liberty, it was possible to simply compose a few cues when there wasn’t much to be done; and thus was how one of Tilman’s Bossanova tracks (“I do that as a hobby to compose something different”) wound up in a restaurant scene in the movie “Old Dogs,” starring John Travolta. After seeing how the music spread around the world, and how everyone really enjoyed it, they soon began composing music for trailers for films like The Hobbit:
We really liked the idea of scattering our music around the world. So we started doing epic trailer music which wound up on a few Hollywood trailers.
The Hobbit was especially neat. We went back and re-produced it a bit so that it would fit the visuals better, and we also went back and did a live rerecording of the choir, as opposed to the original which was based on samples. By then we had the budget to think: We could do real good now. We had gotten so far already, that we wanted it to really rock.
Even though there are many other stories to be told (including how much the gaming industry has changed since Dynamedion began), I will come to an end with one of Tilman’s latest collaborations:
We pitched for Crytek to do Crysis 2, but Bobby [NB: Borislav Slavov] the studio’s in-house composer had already written a few pieces for the game. However Campbell Askew – the Audio Director at Crytek, had liked our pieces to the point where he’d rather risk putting us together and making the score a collaborative effort, than choosing one party over the other. So Borislav and I got in contact and met one another. We became good friends who Skype on a regular basis; we also worked together on Ryse: Son of Rome (you can listen to a piece from the score that won Dynamedion the German Game Developer Award for the category of “Best Sound” in 2014 here).Bobby is just a complete nut job and a brilliant composer. l hope to collaborate with him many more times in the years to come.
At a point, Hans Zimmer also joined in on the project. I think Crytek wanted a really big name for the main theme. Of course that was really exciting for us, but it wasn’t like we got to sit together with Hans and develop the score. It was more like this: There was a visit to Los Angeles – which I was unfortunately unable to attend – but Bobby, Campbell and Cevat Yerli [NB: CEO of Crytek] were able to visit his studio. Hans then listened to the entire score to get a feel for its sound. In the end we mixed and mastered the tracks and recorded them in Budapest.
In his calm but friendly way, Tilman then mentioned almost as a sideline that since then it was easier for them to get new projects.
Listen to Classical Music: Parting Words
Unfortunately, Tilman couldn’t disclose any information about Dynamedion’s upcoming projects, but he still had a message with which to close the interview with:
Listen to classical music folks! Don’t limit yourselves to just game music or film scores. There are so many beautiful things out there to discover, it doesn’t have to be Mozart – whose work emotion-wise can be regarded as a tad dated – a lot of magnificent orchestral music was written in the previous century. I’ll only say this – Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. There is simply so much out there to discover that would appeal to those who enjoy film scores or game music. Just type in a few composer names on YouTube and give them a listen. I bet that you’ll have a great experience. (You can listen to one of Tilman’s favourite classical pieces here)
With these closing words, I’d like to end this article on Dynamedion. It was a real pleasure to speak with Tilman about what an incredible company that he, Pierre and everyone else around him have spent these last few years building, a company which is responsible for some of my all-time favourite scores for games like Anno 1701, that saw me through my child- and teenhood. The cheerful and confident way that Tilman talks about his company leads me to believe that the world has much more to expect from Dynamedion and who knows, maybe in 600 years people won’t remember Mainz as the place where Johannes Gutenberg invented his printing press, but as the place where Tilman Sillescu and Pierre Langer gave the world Dynamedion.