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James Hannigan @ St Mary’s Church

GameCity 5: Award-winning composer James Hannigan and the Pinewood orchestra held a special performance at St Mary’s Church.

James Hannigan, film and video game composer, most famous for creating the soundtrack to the Harry Potter games, made a guest appearance at St Mary’s Church last Thursday evening, bringing with him a small orchestra of around 18 people from Pinewood Studios in London.

Owls could be held and petted towards the back of the pews, fitting in with the Harry Potter world, and candles placed on tall stands could be seen flickering away, setting a magical scene.

“What you’re hearing tonight, is a fly-on-the-wall view of a recording studio,” introduced the conductor, Allan Wilson, as they beautifully pieced together music scored for Red Alert 3, Evil Genius, Harry Potter and Command & Conquer 4.

Standing in between the towering church pillars, at the flick of the conductor’s hand a layer of instruments and singers would start up, projecting their melodies and voices powerfully.

“Imagine each instrument was represented by a colour, and you mix and match them together until you’ve created the shade your after. Then the choir come in, acting as the icing on the top,” explained Wilson.

When working with video games “it’s best to get involved as early as possible,” said James Hannigan, the man behind the music. “We usually use orchestras of 70 or 80 people.”

“You usually have to keep the music as flexible as possible, because you don’t know when it will be heard by the players,” continued Hannigan. For example, players will complete a level, die, or take an alternative route at different times.

To get around this, Hannigan aims to make the transition from one song to another as seamless as possible, so that no matter which route the player takes, or whether they die close to a checkpoint or not, the background music sounds as though it was meant to flow on from the previous track.

“We’re always looking for ways of changing music for video games, without making it obvious that it’s stopping and starting,” because music usually takes linear time to develop, but games are not linear like films.

“On the computer, I can reconstruct the track in real time… this process of choreography happened in film first, so we’re just adapting it to a new medium” said Hannigan.

The highlight of the performance was saved until the end, when the world premier of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 was played for the audience.

The conductor, using a wooden wand to express his hand gestures, controlled several tracks that ranged from sombre to dramatic and exciting. Magical elements, created by twinkling, high pitched instruments played over the top of the choirs’ voices, which built up and up – they could hold their breath for an impressive amount of time.

You could imagine where these tracks would be placed within the films or the games and, based on the mood they created, the type of scene that would be commencing.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 will be released in UK cinemas on the November 19, with the video game expected to hit stores on the same day.

Georgina Stokes

Photo: Thom Dinsdale, GameCity

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