As the gaming industry continues to evolve and push the boundaries of what’s possible, the role of music in games has become more important than ever before. And when it comes to creating unforgettable soundscapes that truly immerse players in a game’s world, few composers are as talented as Ryan Amon.
With a career that spans over a decade, Amon has composed music for one of the most iconic game of recent years “Bloodborne”. Ryan’s work on “Bloodborne” has been widely praised for its haunting and immersive soundscapes that perfectly capture the game’s gothic and Victorian themes. The game’s score has become a fan favorite and is often cited as one of the most memorable aspects of the game.
In this interview, we sat down with Ryan Amon to discuss his journey as a composer, his creative process, and what it takes to create music that truly transports players to another world. From the challenges of working on video games soundtracks to the unique approach of religion that go into his music, Amon provides a fascinating insight into the world of video game music composition.
Thank you so much, Ryan, for accepting my interview request. Your work on the Bloodborne soundtrack has been a huge source of inspiration for me and countless other fans of the game. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to discuss your creative process and gain insights into how you approach composing music for such a unique and captivating world. I’m truly grateful for your time and expertise, and I can’t wait to share our conversation with others who share a love for your music.
What kind of music did you grow up listening to in Elkhorn, do you remember your earliest musical memory?
Growing up my family mostly listened to contemporary Christian music around the house or in the car. As I got older my brother started getting into collecting film scores and I joined in around the middle school years – a lot of Jerry Goldsmith and I really took an interest in Michael Kamen’s works. If I go way back to recall my earliest musical memory, it might be my mom playing a small organ we had in our living room…I don’t remember the brand but I used to play with the foot pedals. It was around the second grade, I believe, that I started traditional piano lessons, and I remember wishing I was outside playing sports after school instead of practicing scales. By fourth grade I had picked up the saxophone and was taking private lessons on the soprano and alto. We had a school concert band that began in 6th grade, and I continued piano and saxophone through high school, performing in classical competitions, pep band, marching band and jazz band.
and then you spent time living in Bolivia and formed your personal music project, City of the Fallen, while there. What drew you to Bolivia in the first place, and how did you end up staying there for so long? I’ve been to Bolivia myself and it was so hard to get used to the low oxygen.
My wife is from Bolivia, and after we were married I decided to leave LA and work on music from there, as she was still living in the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra at the time and I didn’t want her to have to leave her job and family. You mentioned the lack of oxygen at high altitudes, which is very true in cities like La Paz. Fortunately, Santa Cruz lies in the eastern lowlands and has a climate much closer to that of the Amazon basin. No high altitudes for me but a lot of heat and humidity! Bolivia is definitely a land of extremes. When I moved there, the technology at the time was just beginning to allow us composers to work from anywhere on the globe and upload/email files (if you had an internet connection). In the early months before we were able to get internet in our home, I would go to a local internet cafe with a usb drive to upload and send my tracks. I think it took around 15 minutes to upload a track back then. The idea for City of the Fallen was actually from a dream I had one night. I knew I was limited to my home studio set up and I had been wondering what I could produce with the gear that was available to me. I woke up after my dream and had the thought of writing production/trailer music in a bit of a different format and focusing on more colors from around the globe…instrumentation that I hadn’t heard in trailer music companies up to that point. But my studio set up wasn’t state of the art – it was going to have to be based around sample libraries and whatever live vocals I could record myself. I guess I was looking for a different approach and different musical voice…and I figured it was a good time to experiment. In the dream I had, the concept was based around the creation of the universe, and ultimately the war between good and evil. I was thinking the tracks could tell a story collectively.
What kind of research and preparation do you typically do before starting a new music project?
I love to do as much research as I can for projects. I’ll buy every book about a subject, especially if it is historical or biographical. I also love the study of ethnomusicology and try to research as much as I can about the origin of the musical culture of an area and the instruments from different regions. I often don’t use these instruments as they were intended in a traditional or folkloric sense – sometimes I do – but the colors and timbres of the instruments themselves is what catches my attention. I like to incorporate them much like a watercolor artist might blend colors on a canvas. I think more recently I have been searching for timelessness in music. Timelessness and truth.
I read in another interview that ”a fan had posted a Dark Souls video with some of my past music from City of the Fallen and the director Hidetaka Miyazaki had heard it”. Do you think the internet has helped to amplify the reach and impact of your work as a composer?
Yes, I heard this while we were first recording the original theme for Bloodborne at Sony outside of San Francisco. On a lunch break one of the producers asked me if I knew where the director heard my music and why they reached out to me. It was the first time I had heard how it all happened. It wasn’t the first time this has happened, strangely enough, as Neill Blomkamp had also discovered my music this way when he called me to discuss scoring ‘Elysium’. In a business that has become all about self-promotion, I found it very interesting that a lot of my opportunities have come through ‘fan-promotion’. I’m personally not a big fan of making videos of myself or my music and uploading them for people to see. My writing process is very personal and it can be an intimate thing, so recording video while I’m at the piano feels a bit intrusive to me and my process. Maybe I’m just weird. The internet has definitely been a whole new platform for artists to get their music heard – you never know who is listening or who stumbles across your music and if something captivates or resonates with them. Almost all of my projects have come from YouTube videos that other people have posted.
Bloodborne’s lore is a complex and deep topic, but there are definitely themes of faith and religion that run throughout the game’s story. Did you take any inspiration from the game’s world and lore when creating the music?
When the project was first presented to me and I was asked to submit a theme, most of my ideas were based on imagery than lore, as the nuances of the story hadn’t been revealed to me yet. I was told of the disease sweeping the land, and the main character’s journey of survival and revelation. I think I created a short film of this in my head and scored it that way, as the opening of a film would be – the main titles that used to lay the story and background before the film actually begins. I would say it’s impossible for me to write music that isn’t spiritually charged in some way – I’m not really aware of a way to create art without tapping into the source of where it comes from. As more of the game’s story, setting, and characters were revealed to me, I was able to dig deeper into motivation and what was lurking beneath the surface. Religious rituals were definitely part of Bloodborne, and working on the church hymn was a bit unsettling but fun to explore a style of writing with harmonic colors that normally I wouldn’t be allowed to experiment with. Also, the idea of scoring the construct of fear is quite interesting, as fear often comes from a feeling of not having control, a psychologically fascinating world to explore through music. To create a subtle imbalance that you feel more than you hear – an unsteadiness. I would still say that on any project the determining factor of what I write begins and ends with the visuals though. I think I’m more impacted by this than other elements, which is why for me it is more difficult to write music from a script. In film, the actors’ performances tell you what is missing or needed in the scene…the lighting, camera angles/positioning, editing, pacing….all of it tells you part of the story that you can either enhance or filled with color…sometimes silence speaks the loudest. Games are quite different in that the musical approach feels a bit like wearing a blindfold. These other cues, like the facial expression of an actor (which we are very attuned to as humans) aren’t there to give us information, so it has to be drawn from other elements, and for me it is the visual atmosphere above all else. And to be honest, I’m never quite sure if I find it – it’s a constant quest – much like the character.
How did you approach capturing the game’s themes of horror and despair through the music?
Despair is a good word. There is a melancholy to the game – a loneliness that does lead to despair I think. I guess I tried to put myself in the character’s mind more than the audience’s. How would I feel in an environment that is both expansive and suffocating at the same time? I personally don’t like horror films, and I have a very hard time watching them. Thankfully the game’s images weren’t as visceral as a film would portray them, and I tried to write music that was a struggle within the mind rather than physically. The choral moments were yes, traditional in one facet, but the reason I included them was to represent more of a collective lamentation of humanity as a whole….one facet is a ceremonial choir that seems to encourage the hunter during battle….the other facet a religious battle over the soul of the hunter….another facet the female soloist representing the frailty and loneliness of the mission while at the same time having the duality of peace and calm, that will ultimately come either with death or victory or both. The register of the strings during the calm moments are meant to have an uncertainty and coldness to them – I was going for an orchestral color that invites rest but also doesn’t allow your muscles to relax, if that makes any sense. I enjoy trying these things – music can be so much more expressive than words.
What do you hope players will take away from the music of Bloodborne, both within the context of the game and as a standalone piece of art?
I hope that the players feel immersed in the world that was created by the entire team. The visuals were beautiful and haunting to me and I only wanted to do the game justice by helping people feel the environment instead of just seeing it. There were so many people that worked on the game, and many other composers as well contributing their beautiful interpretations of the story. In most music that I write, I do think about if the ideas can stand separate from the film/game and be enjoyed outside of that context. The first goal is to serve the story and the narrative, but I think that if I do my job well there is room to enjoy the music on it’s own as well. At least that is what I try to incorporate.
As I recall, you’re not a gamer, never were. Do you think it helped you creatively to give an unexpected sound element to the games you participated in?
Yes, you are right. I’ve always been much more of an outdoorsman and nature enthusiast. Before I really dove into studying music at a university, I was working towards becoming a wildlife and nature photographer. I suppose not playing video games gives me a different approach to writing music for them. I was always a huge film fanatic and I still draw my greatest emotions from the narrative of film, so I guess I look at storytelling this way. My traditional background probably has an effect on how I approach game music too, as the history of game music is much more electronic based as it came to popularity in the 80’s and 90’s. I do like to experiment though, and I like to study ethnomusicology, so I’ve found that certain colors make their way into my music because I like the way certain instruments make me feel. There are sounds that grate my ears from my childhood and I’ve noticed that I’ll avoid these instruments like the plague, solely based on my past experience with them. It’s pretty ridiculous actually. But I guess this is how composers find their sound, through their past experiences and using colors that they themselves enjoy listening to and combining.
How does your faith in Jesus Christ influence your creative process when composing music?
Ever since I was young, I would ponder what the source of creativity is. I spent a lot of time outside in nature and found loads of inspiration there, discovering later on that the first musical instruments (including the human voice) were used to imitate the sounds of nature, not only as a means of communication, but of artistic expression as well. We all have our own beliefs and search for truth, and mine led me to feel an extremely strong presence of a loving God that created the world in which we live, and that this Creator also gave us the freedom and joy to create as well. I’ve had personal experiences in my life that have strengthened my faith in God and the teachings of Jesus (which really focuses on love). I’m well aware that not everyone sees God in the same way that I do…we have all had different experiences in our lives, some extremely painful and we carry these with us. Composing music has always been a way to tap into something greater than myself….a place of mystery and wonder…and a place without an ego if you can let it go. It has been a personal way for me to express my emotions in a way that words can’t. I try to keep journals of my thoughts as well, but there are so many emotions between the lines that sometimes just sitting at a piano is a better therapy. I also think that creating art is a way of saying ‘thank you’ for all the blessings we have.
When did you first realize the importance of your Christian faith in your life and work and can it be celebrated and respected in a world that often seems divided by faith?
Faith is interesting because we all have it, we just put it into different things. Religion itself has divided so many people because it is at it’s core an institution created by humans. I think what should be celebrated is love. Even that word gets confusing for people because we might define it differently. But I’m thinking more about the love that is sacrificial – that places other people above ourselves and chooses to love the people that hate and slander us. That’s the kind that sets people free to live the life I believe we were meant to. I’ll be the first to say I’m not great at this – at all. But it’s an everyday challenge that I’m up to. Music is something beautiful because it can bridge the divide between cultures, ideals, beliefs, and go straight to the heart of people. I always grew up feeling the presence of a divine love and wonder, so it’s alway been the driving force behind any music I write. I try to get out of the way of the music, if that makes any sense, but usually my ego blocks it and I tries to manipulate the ‘language’ too much. I find that I rarely ever write what I’m really trying to say because the analytical voice in my head starts to dictate where the music is going. I’m working on this!
Finally, what can fans expect from your future projects and which project do you think is more likely to come to fruition – composing for a Bloodborne 2 or City of the Fallen?
Well, future projects are always unpredictable, which makes life interesting. Currently I have a strong interest in helping to tell stories that are historically biographical in nature. I’ve always been attracted to these kinds of films, and if I get an opportunity to work on them it would be wonderful. My music has shifted from simply trying to deliver what production companies want in order to make a living, to a deeper study and sense of what makes music feel timeless and authentic and honest. I haven’t heard any whisperings of a Bloodborne 2, as I think the original is quite captivating. In a day and age where we get sequels for everything (and much more than just sequels too), I’m a big fan of creating new stories and paths to go down, and I hope the major studios focus more on new material. City of the Fallen came about during an interesting time in my life, being a younger composer experimenting a bit but also knowing there were boundaries and formats that needed to be adhered to. I honestly don’t see myself returning to that genre as I’ve moved on to new experiences. If i did return to personal music again that is in a style/format for advertising purposes, I would most likely form a new company with a different approach. On one hand I’m still really enjoying experimenting with orchestral and synthetic colors, and on the other I long for the memorable melodic orchestral music of the 90’s to make it’s return. I miss these scores and have been advocating for them. Hopefully one day they will soar again and bring the magic and wonder back to the screen.