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True to Halo

Interview: Composer Tom Salta
 

Tom Salta, one of the most versatile and prolific music artists/producers working in film, television, advertising and video games, provides the original score for 343 Industries' first mobile title "Halo: Spartan Assault," an epic "Halo" experience for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 launching today. Released simultaneously with the game, the "Halo: Spartan Assault Original Soundtrack" features 27 tracks from Salta's original score and is available worldwide on Amazon, iTunes, Xbox Music and other digital music services through Microsoft Studios Music.

He creates an authentic "Halo" original score for "Spartan Assault," blending ethereal choral arrangements, piano motifs, rock guitars, synth ambience and sweeping sci-fi orchestral compositions that are distinctly representative of the franchise. Salta also expands the "Halo" universe with original sounds to complement the musical blueprint of the first trilogy and beyond, combined with a full modern sound production to create a contemporary and classic "Halo" soundtrack.

 

Halo: Spartan Assault
 

 

Interview by Richard Buxton


RB - Prior to working on the HALO franchise, perhaps the most notable projects of your career so far have come from the GHOST RECON series. How did you find yourself moving into the Halo franchise with COMBAT EVOLVED ANNIVERSARY and now SPARTAN ASSAULT?


I was fortunate to be asked to join the team that recreated the original Halo CE score for Halo Anniversary by my good friend and colleague Paul Lipson who I have known for over ten years. Both of us are huge Halo fans and he felt I would be a good choice to help craft a note-for-note re-creation of the original score. It was truly a labor of love for all of us involved.  Later, when Paul became music director at Microsoft, it was his job to find the composer to create the original score for Halo: Spartan Assault.  Having already worked together on Anniversary, he knew how passionate I was about Halo and trusted me with the job.


RB - How does the musical process differ when working with 343 Industries and Vanguard Entertainment compared to the likes of Ubisoft?

The general process is the same regardless of what company I'm working for but can differ from project to project. In the case of Halo SA, I was fortunate to have access to some early video captures of the game so I had a very good idea of the overall aesthetic and the role the music would play. Paul was a great partner in communicating what he wanted and was able to give me valuable guidance along the way. Since Paul was also the person personally involved in creating all the sound effects, he could ensure that all the music and sound effects would blend together seamlessly. 
 

RB - The music of HALO is some of the most celebrated music to come from the video game industry. Did you feel a certain amount of expectation when joining the Halo universe, and how aware of the HALO music were you beforehand?

Let me start by saying that the original Halo CE is one of my favorite games of all time and was my primary inspiration for getting involved in scoring video games. Prior to that, I had spent fifteen years making records and producing artists. After playing Halo in 2001, I had an epiphany that this was where I wanted to focus my career.  (Believe it or not, I actually wrote a letter in 2001 to Marty O'Donnell, the composer of Halo, telling him how much I admired his work and how I would love to work with him!)

So with that as a backdrop leading up to this opportunity, you can probably imagine that no one could have set a higher expectation for this score than I set for myself.  Having the chance to score a new Halo game twelve years later was literally a dream come true for me. 


RB - While retaining the occasional theme and tone of the series, the music of HALO 4 for the most part can be easily separated from the original trilogy and offshoots. SPARTAN ASSAULT is instantly recognisable as a HALO score whilst still managing to express its own voice. Was it a conscious decision to lean more towards the scores of MARTIN O’DONNELL and MICHAEL SALVATORI?

It was definitely a conscious decision to bring back the feeling of the original Halo trilogy and offshoots. These games had the iconic music that made Halo so famous and we felt it was important to bring that sensibility back in Halo: Spartan Assault.  I wrote this score not just as a composer, but as a true fan... I took this responsibility very seriously and created the kind of music that I would want to hear as a Halo fan playing the game. 

 
RB - Did you take any inspiration from the various other mediums HALO has expanded into? For example, the recent series FORWARD UNTO DAWN, or the anime collection LEGENDS?

We made a conscious decision to stay true to the original Halo sound rather than some of the most recent releases. I'm a Halo purist and I feel that the work of Marty O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori is what helped Halo become a legendary franchise.  I wanted to continue in that tradition and was thrilled that Microsoft shared my passion for paying homage to the legacy of the original Halo games.  


RB - SPARTAN ASSAULT is set between the events of HALO 3 and HALO 4. Did this affect the score in any way?

The timeline of the game wasn't really a factor other than the fact it was meant to sound like a natural progression from the original trilogy.  The gameplay style and individual missions are what most shaped the direction of the score.
 

RB - There are occasional moments throughout the score that are strongly reminiscent of some of the original HALO themes. How much of an emphasis did you put on echoing these themes?

The sound of Halo is like sacred ground for me. I put a great deal of effort into creating a score that completely respects the legacy of what constitutes the Halo sound, while at the same time creating something fresh and new that the fans would enjoy.

 

Halo: Spartan Assault Screenshot


RB - What did your preparation for composing SPARTAN ASSAULT consist of?

My first preparation (unbeknownst to me) was working on the score to Halo CE Anniversary. Having participated in the monumental task of recreating the original Halo score note-for-note gave me the unprecedented opportunity to truly understand the DNA of the 'Halo sound'. This helped a great deal when I started preparing for the Halo SA score because I already had a mental checklist of what I felt was required for the score to be received by fans as a true Halo score. In addition to this, over the years, I would often come up with ideas while working on other projects that I felt sounded Halo-like. I often dreamed I'd have the opportunity to use them one day but never imagined how it would actually come to fruition!


RB - SPARTAN ASSAULT is a top-down third-person shooter, as opposed to the first-person perspective that the majority of the HALO games are famed for. Did this shift in perspective change the way you approached the score at all?

Absolutely. My only slight disappointment before beginning the score was realizing that there wouldn't be as many opportunities as in previous Halo games for exploration and quiet moments. Halo SA is constant action from beginning to end, but fortunately we still were able to enhance the experience by adding a wider range of intensities and emotions instead of just using action music all the time.


RB - Due for release on Windows 8 and Windows Phone, SPARTAN ASSAULT is the first HALO game to not appear on an Xbox platform. Despite this, the first and lasting impressions of the score are are strong enough to suggest that it could easily be a score composed for a major HALO console release. How important was it to continue the strong HALO musical legacy in such a way?

Thank you for saying that.  I told the audio director from day one that regardless of the platform and despite the smaller music budget we had to work with, I was committed to delivering a score that would be worthy of a triple A major console Halo release.  It is my hope that some of these new themes live on in future Halo titles just like some of the original Halo themes did for over a decade.


RB - Currently SPARTAN consists of 25 single-player missions, with more content to be released in the future. Will you be composing additional music for this content?

I don't believe that's been decided yet. I've already composed over an hour of music for a game that you can play through in 2.5 hours, which is a lot music for a short game. But I would certainly love to expand on the score if given the opportunity. 


RB - Can we expect to hear more of your work in future HALO releases?

I hope that my work on Halo SA is just the beginning of my involvement in the Halo universe, but that's ultimately up to Microsoft, 343 and to all the Halo fans.  If the music is received well by the fans, there's likely a much better chance that I'll be asked back on future Halo titles... which would be amazing. So if you like what you hear in Halo: Spartan Assault, please... let your voice be heard on the Halo forums!
 

 

*Special thanks to Greg O'Connor-Read at Top Dollar PR

Composer Tom Salta

Biography

MTV VMA nominated composer Tom Salta is one of the most versatile and prolific music artists/producers working in film, television, advertising and video games. Renowned for crafting emotionally engaging soundtracks for multimedia, In addition to these scoring assignments, Salta produces music for commercials, Hollywood film trailers and the world’s #1 dance game series Just Dance.Prior to his composing career, Salta toured with and worked on releases by a diverse array of popular artists such as Peter Gabriel, Everything But The Girl, Deep Forest, Junior Vasquez, Mary J. Blige, and Sinead O’Connor. After several years of touring, Salta became increasingly immersed in studio work, producing, remixing and songwriting.


Follow Tom Salta (Twitter)

Official Web Site


Compositions (Video Games)

Halo: Spartan Assault
Galactic Reign
Halo CE Anniversary Edition
Tom Clancy’s: Ghost Recon Future Soldier
Prince of Persia The Forgotten
Tom Clancy’s: Ghost Recon Advanced Warfigher 1 & 2
Tom Clancy’s: HAWX (Ubisoft)
Tom Clancy’s: HAWX 2 (Ubisoft)
R.U.S.E. (Ubisoft)
Red Steel (Ubisoft/Nintendo)
Red Steel 2 (Ubisoft)
Apocalypse Max (Sourcebits)
Crackdown (Microsoft)
Full Auto 2: Battlelines (Sega)
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (Namco)
Kim Possible (A2M)
Cold Fear (Ubisoft)
Project Gotham Racing 3
Need for Speed Underground 2
MLB 2006 (Sony)
Theme to Ghost Recon 2(co-writer)



Compositions (TV & Film)

“Moving Together” (Worldwide Video for Coca Cola)
The DaVinci Code – Featurette: Making of and Promos (Sony)
2006 Winter Olympics (NBC)
Making of Spiderman 2 (HBO)
Making of Anaconda 2 (Cinemax)
All Music Branding for KTLA (The WB Television Network affiliate)
Joan of Arkadia (CBS)
Third Watch (NBC)
Shrediquette (Indie)
US Open Commercials (ESPN)
Volvo (S40 World-Wide TV Commercial)
Bertolli National Commercial Johnny Zero (Warner Brothers)
America’s Next Top Model (UPN)
Punk’d (MTV)
Verticle Zoo 2004 (Indie)
1-800 Missing (Lifetime)
The Discovery Channel (Wild Discovery Main Theme)
Latin Access (NBC)
Infinity (Q45 National TV/Radio Commercial)
GMC (National TV/Radio Commercial)
CFDA Awards (Committee of the Fashion Designers of America) (CFDA Awards Show Theme – Televised)

 


 

 

 

 

 

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Jeff Russo (2014)
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Sean Callery (2014)
Trevor Morris (2014)
Oscar Araujo(2014)
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Jesper Kyd (2012)
Robert Duncan (2012)
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