I had the opportunity to speak with acclaimed composer Yeakun Yoo, delving into the intricacies of his transition from classical training in Korea to becoming a prominent figure in the realms of film, TV, and game scoring in Los Angeles. From the allure of hybrid orchestral genres to a pivotal role as the composer for the highly successful game “Lies of P,” Yoo shares insights into the challenges, triumphs, and his unique approach to crafting emotive and immersive musical experiences. In this exclusive interview, discover the profound impact of Yoo’s diverse musical background, his instrumental proficiency, and his unwavering confidence in shaping the sonic landscapes of the entertainment industry.
Could you share more about your journey from being a classically trained composer in Korea to studying film scoring at the University of Southern California (USC) and becoming a composer in Los Angeles? How did this transition influence your approach to composing for film, TV, and games?
I’ve loved music since I was young and explored various genres while playing different instruments. Among the music I experienced, I particularly loved fusion music, where one genre blends with another. I was drawn to hybrid orchestral genres like combining orchestra with electric guitar or orchestra with synthesizer, and I thought that as a professional composer, I’d like to create such music. Despite that, I believed having a foundation in classical music was essential to becoming a professional composer. While studying classical music, I always had a fascination with hybrid orchestras. After graduating from Seoul National University, I studied DAW to become a media composer, delving into various music genres and taking steps toward that career path. Initially seeking advice to become a media composer, most reactions were negative. People often mentioned that there were already too many media composers in the world, making it challenging to catch up with those who had already succeeded. However, I believed I had unique abilities and decided to trust myself, diving into a career as a media composer. That choice turned out to be right, and I’ve been enjoying my life as a composer. Throughout my career, having confidence in my choices and, above all, believing in myself without doubt has been crucial.
Could you tell us about a specific project of yours that was particularly challenging or memorable, and what valuable experiences you gained from it as a composer?
Lies of P” was the most memorable project in my life. It stands out not only because it was one of the most successful games I’ve worked on but also because while creating the game’s music, I had the opportunity to explore various creative avenues to express the musical ideas I envisioned. These endeavors led to successful outcomes, ultimately resulting in music that satisfied both the client and the game players. Remarkably, “Lies of P” adopted all the music I initially composed without a single revision. The fact that my initial music was adopted without a single revision, aligning perfectly with both my envisioned musical ideas and the client’s, held immense personal significance for me. Embracing an actively communicative approach and deeply contemplating what the client desired was never a wasted effort, and it ultimately led to successful outcomes.
Being a multi-instrumentalist with proficiency in various instruments, how does your ability to play piano, trumpet, percussion, violin, and guitar impact your composing process? Do you find yourself drawn to certain instruments when creating specific moods or atmospheres?
Personally, I prefer the violin among the instruments I can play. This preference is not only personal but also includes practical considerations. Instruments like the guitar, trumpet, percussion, and piano have seen a significant improvement in the quality of virtual instruments, making it challenging to distinguish their sounds from actual performances. While the violin has also benefited from this, I still believe there are numerous challenges in replicating the subtle and delicate emotions of a live violin solo using virtual instruments. Beyond these practical challenges, I have a genuine appreciation for the timbre of the violin. With just a bow, it can create a romantic and beautiful atmosphere, evoke lively and cheerful moods, and even express the most delicate emotions.
What drew you to “Lies of P,” and how did you become involved in composing the game’s music?
I first experienced the game ‘Lies of P’ at G-star 2022, which is the biggest Game Expo event in Korea. At the very moment when I was thinking about how exceptional the artistic quality of that game was and how I’d love to work with the Lies of P team, an email arrived from the Neowiz team. The email was from the audio director, expressing that despite having numerous in-house composers at Neowiz, they still required more collaboration from external composers due to the substantial musical needs for Lies of P. They found my portfolio impressive and reached out, proposing collaboration together. They hadn’t worked with me before, so they wanted to start with a test. They asked me to create the Menu Music for Lies of P as a test track and provided various explanations to begin the work. They accompanied this with a few Menu Screen images and detailed descriptions, leaving the rest up to my voluntary creativity. The Menu Screen featured a ticking clock and a serene rainy night background. To capture this, I used gentle piano and violin solos, and ultimately, that choice proved to be highly successful. Incredibly luckily, they adopted my very first music submission without a single edit, and it continues to be used as Lies of P’s Menu Music to this day. I’m truly grateful that the Menu Music is still cherished by many gamers.
How would you describe the musical style of the game?
The music in ‘Lies of P’ might give off an old-fashioned vibe, and that’s because of the game’s setting in the Belle Époque era. As a composer, I had limited sonic tools at my disposal to represent this historical backdrop, hence the reliance on a more traditional orchestral palette for the music.
When communicating with the Lies of P team, there was a recurring discussion about the importance of using instruments and sounds that best represent the era to effectively immerse players in the setting through music. Therefore, they requested a more confined use of traditional orchestral instruments from me to authentically reflect that era in the music.
So, instrumentally, I utilized traditional orchestral instruments, but by employing chord progressions and orchestrations that could effectively convey P’s emotions, I crafted music using these limited materials to ensure that players experience as much vibrancy and realism as possible while playing the game.
How do you collaborate with directors, producers, or game developers to ensure your music aligns with their vision while also incorporating your artistic style and creativity?
When I communicate with developers about a project, I always ask a lot of questions. Many composers make mistakes in assuming that if their skills are exceptional, they’ll eventually become successful composers. However, that’s not entirely true. Once a composer reaches a certain level of skill, the most important thing for success is the ability to communicate and empathize with clients. I ask as many questions as possible to understand the musical feel the client desires. For instance, I inquire if there are reference images for the music, gameplay videos, similar games for reference, or any specific music they have in mind. After receiving the materials, I discuss the impressions I get from them. If the client resonates strongly with the musical feel I describe, I start creating music based on that. Sometimes, with luck, the music is confirmed without many revisions. If the created music doesn’t align with the client’s envisioned feel, I ask more questions to capture what they’re looking for. By actively engaging and communicating with clients in this way, I’m able to deliver results that satisfy them and ultimately successfully conclude the project.
Looking ahead, do you have any exciting upcoming projects or goals that you’d like to share or discuss?
The game I’m working on, called ‘Project Relic,’ is scheduled for release on consoles. Due to an NDA with the development team, I can’t disclose detailed information yet. In a nutshell, it involves an adventure where a hero emerges from a dark and stagnant village, traversing villages with diverse themes and battling various boss monsters. There are trailers and videos on YouTube, receiving positive global feedback. I’ll do my best in this game and hopefully, I will bring good news for you.
Thanks for reading! To keep up with Yoo, check out his IMDb Page!
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