"World of Warcraft Composer Neal Acree had a really strong year in 2016 and distinguished himself as one of those names that video game music afficionados should recognize and repeat. From his work on Overwatch (including its now-iconic Victory theme) to the World of Warcraft: Legion soundtrack to the incredibly moving main theme to Revelation Online Acree ends the year with several hits under his belt -- and now an award, too."
Varèse Sarabande released Neal Acree's score to Revelation Online digitally on April 29 and on CD May 27, 2016. Revelation, only the second game score to join Varèse' distinguished catalog of film soundtracks earned the Global Music Award (Game Music and Original Score), the Scorecast Genius Choice Vote Award, and was nominated for a Game Audio Network Guild Award as “Best Instrumental.”
Overwatch, Blizzard Entertainment's first new IP in 17 years was released today and with it the highly anticipated soundtrack by Derek Duke, Neal Acree, Sam Cardon and Cris Velasco.
The final chapter of Blizzard Entertainment's epic StarCraft II saga was recently nominated for two Hollywood Music In Media Awards (Best Score: Video Game and Best Song/Score, Trailer). These are Neal's 4th and 5th HMMA nominations with previous wins for the music from Diablo III and World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor. The awards ceremony will be held on November 11th, 2015 at the Fonda Theater in Hollywood, CA.
Seeing all of the James Horner music posts and tributes filling my FaceBook and Twitter feeds for the last couple days has been heartwarming but bittersweet. I think about all the passionate conversations I've had with friends and fellow composers about his music and his enormous influence on me over the years and it seems fitting that he be celebrated this way. I only wish it was under different circumstances. As I've said many times before, his music has been a huge influence on me over the years and he is one of the main reasons I decided to become a composer. Getting to meet him and watch him at work early in my career was a defining moment in my life and I am grateful for that. It's still hard to believe he's actually gone. While this and all of the tributes I've read from my colleagues are fitting and well deserved, they come much too early and with a finality that is heartbreaking. Most importantly, my thoughts are with his family and friends. He was first and foremost a father, husband and friend to those closest to him and for them, his enduring musical legacy is of little consolation right now.
If you'll permit me this semi-autobiographical telling, I wanted to share my own personal connection with Horner's music and it's enduring influence on me. I've been reminded these last few days how many of my colleagues had also been influenced in a big way by Horner and while I hoped I would never have to tell this story under these circumstances, I do so as a tribute to the legacy he has left all of us.
I don't remember the exact moment I became a fan of James Horner. His music permeated my childhood and was a huge part of the magic of movies that would eventually lead me to want to be a part of them myself. John Williams most likely first planted the first seeds for me with STAR WARS and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK but James Horner's prolific output at the time grew that early love of movie music into the passion it would eventually become. Was it STAR TREK II? STAR TREK III? They were some of my favorite movies at the time and their music remains for me among the best sci-fi scores ever written. Was it SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES? WILLOW? KRULL? It might have been ALIENS that I first noticed his name. When I was 12 I watched that movie 87 times on VHS with my friend Courtney and studied every detail of the production. He scored so many of my favorite childhood movies that it would be pointless to name every one.
By the late 80s/early 90s I saw just about every movie that came out in the theaters and never missed a Horner score. FIELD OF DREAMS, HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS, GLORY, THE ROCKETEER, SNEAKERS, SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER were some favorites at that time. Though I hadn't yet found my calling as a composer I was writing a lot of instrumental music and listening to a lot of soundtracks. Horner's always stood out to me for their colorful textures, sweeping melodies and emotionally charged dynamics. His sound was instantly recognizable and his musical vocabulary became synonymous with movie music. His music was simultaneously complex and accessible and his work with ethnic instruments both transported us and spoke directly to our primal emotions. He was a master at developing themes and bringing them all together for a deeply satisfying and emotional payoff at the end of the film. He could find his way to the emotional heart of the story like few others and was as gifted a storyteller as any of the great directors, even if his stories were told through music. Sure he had certain musical signatures that would pop up in a lot of his scores but try to imagine his work and the movies he scored without them.
Then, in the mid 90s, something happened. It was a perfect storm of sorts. I was in college studying art with a little bit of music on the side when LEGENDS OF THE FALL came out. It was and remains to me one of Horner's crowning achievements as a composer and it completely blew me away. Around this time, right as music was beginning to take over my life and my studies were shifting dramatically in that direction Horner released a series of career topping scores one after another. BRAVEHEART, APOLLO 13, COURAGE UNDER FIRE were just a few. It was impossible not to notice how much of an influence movie music had on my own music and at that time especially, Horner's seemed to resonate with me the most. It didn't hurt that I grew up listening to my dad's celtic music collection and hearing Horner's cinematic take on it with his score to BRAVEHEART was stirring on many levels.
As my studies shifted fully into music Horner's prolific and increasingly masterful output continued to fuel my enthusiasm for orchestral and cinematic music. My college friends Jason, Robert and I formed an unofficial James Horner fan club of sorts and even wrote articles for a French James Horner fanzine called "Dreams to Dreams". While interning at the Paramount music library one summer I got to study some of Horner's scores and even used the ones from Braveheart to practice conducting.
At some point in there I decided I wanted to be a composer myself. I hadn't quite figured out how but I knew that I wouldn't be happy unless I was spending all of my time writing music and I wanted more than anything to write for orchestra. That summer as I finished school and found myself in need of a job, I took a chance opportunity to do some cartage which involved delivering instruments to and from studios and setting up equipment at scoring sessions. Though I didn't know it at the time, that job was the best things that ever happened to me and opened me up to a world of opportunities.
One of the first sessions I did cartage on was TITANIC. We were delivering and setting up a synth rig at the infamous Todd-AO scoring stage and you can imagine my complete and utter shock when James Horner walked in. Considering how much I had studied his music up until that point I couldn't have been more star struck. I don't remember exactly when it happened but at one point I gathered up the courage to introduce myself and tell him not only was I a big fan, but that he had inspired me to become a composer myself. I was probably supposed to leave him alone but to my surprise he was extremely warm and gracious. I had heard stories all kinds of conflicting stories about him but he was nothing but kind to me and always gave me a smile when he saw me.
Thanks to cartage clients like Ian Underwood (Horner's main synth programmer) and Nick Vidar (Jerry Goldsmith and Marc Shaiman's synth programmer) I got to attend the Titanic sessions and many others. Getting to watch Horner and most of my all time favorite composers at work in the studio was an incredible experience and the best real world education I could possibly have hoped for. It was through these experiences and through meeting these people who all seemed to love their job so much that I began to see a career in composing as a real and tangible thing, regardless of how far off it may have seemed.
It was incredibly eye opening to see how much time and detail went into the recording of a Horner score from the ethnic soloists, synth and percussion overdubs to the full orchestra session. I was always amazed that he would record these epically long cues in single takes. Amazed not only by the writing and his ability to make changes on the fly but by the skill of LA's finest musicians who would play each take perfectly. I vividly remember watching him conduct the climactic cue of MIGHTY JOE YOUNG. So many shifts of emotion, tempo and dynamics in that 10+ minute cue from the huge orchestra to Tony Hinnegan's delicate quena solo which was recorded right there in the room. Getting to watch it unfold live beneath the big screen was unforgettable.
After Horner won the Oscars for TITANIC I got to congratulate him at one of the sessions. I'm sure I was the millionth person to do so but he thanked me with the same warmth and humility. At some point after that I got to help deliver a writing table to his house. I remember that the walls of one of the two large rooms that comprised his studio were lined with shelves covered with thousands of wooden toys. I've never seen anything like it. The other room, where we put the table, was filled with books, most notably full size leather bound copies (or most likely original sketches) of what I assume was every score he had written to that point. I was practically salivating at the thought of going through and studying each of them. In the corner of the first room was an unassuming little keyboard setup that didn't give the impression of being used very much. It was clear by the massive stainless steel top writing table that we had delivered that he did and would continue to do his writing with a pencil and paper and save his synth work for the scoring stage.
I continued to follow his music as I began my own composing career, often visiting his early sci-fi work while I was working with the late Joel Goldsmith on the Stargate series. As Horner's music and dramatic sensibilities matured, so did mine, learning valuable lessons in subtlety and subtext from his work on A BEAUTIFUL MIND and the dramatic scores that followed. Speaking of Joel, he was a big Horner fan himself and had supposedly even mixed one of his first films. Joel knew I was a huge Horner fan and decided to bring him up to his father Jerry Goldsmith one time when we were at his house which led to a very interesting conversation about their supposed rivalry. Jerry had mentored Horner early on and while there may have been some issues along the way, he couldn't deny his talent. My friend Nick Vidar put it best when he said "Jerry didn't waste his time with no-talents".
12 or so years after I helped deliver that table to his house, I got to say hello to James Horner one last time at the Society of Composers and Lyricists Oscar reception where he was being honored for his score to AVATAR. I was amazed that he not only remembered me but was as warm and gracious as he had ever been. I told him again that he had inspired me to be a composer and had continued to be a huge influence on me over the years. I'm grateful to have had that opportunity to tell him that and deeply saddened by knowing that it was the last time I would be able to do so. It might have been his music that helped inspire me to be a composer, but it was getting to meet him and watch him at work that helped turn that dream into a real and tangible thing.
Through their art and music those who have touched us with their creative gift live forever in our hearts and minds. For all the joy and inspiration your music has brought us over the years, I thank you, Maestro and bid you a fond farewell.
On June 3rd, 2015 Neal Acree conducted music from Revelation Online live at the Water Cube in Beijing, China as part of a special event to announce that the game will begin open beta on June 19th. Also on hand was Chinese celebrity actress Angelababy who helped make the announcement to the swarm of photographers and eager fans. During the event and after briefly addressing the audience in Chinese, Neal was presented with an award of appreciation for his Revelation Online music by the vice president of Netease.
On June 9th Neal spoke to the students of Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China about composing for film, games and blending Eastern and Western music in his score for Revelation Online.
On April 2-4th, 2015 Neal Acree joined fellow composers Russell Brower, Christopher Tin, Eimear Noone, Craig Stuart Garfinkle, Jillian Aversa, Andrew Aversa and Tommy Tallarico for the first annual Dublin International Game Music Festival in Ireland. The iDIG Music Festival featured seminars by each of the composers, unique video game inspired performances by a wide variety of musicians and a special Video Games Live concert featuring the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland.
Neal joined the medley of World of Warcraft performances by conducting the 140+ musicians in a performance of "Xaxas", the opening cinematic for World of Warcraft: Cataclysm.
2014 proved to be one of Neal Acree's busiest years to date with work on 7 games including 3 for Chinese game giant Netease. The first of these games to be announced is Revelation Online aka Tianyu, an Asian themed fantasy MMORPG set in a beautiful open world that players can experience through free flight. The game begins open beta in China on 1/15/15 with eventual plans for worldwide distribution.
Neal's melodic and evocative Asian themed score for Revelation features performances by Karen Han (who played erhu for John Williams on Memoirs of a Geisha), Tina Guo (cello), Bei Bei (guzheng), Jie Ma (pipa) and the Northwest Sinfonia. The music was engineered by Jorge Velasco and recorded and mixed by the legendary John Kurlander.
A full soundtrack will be available later this year but in the mean time, please check out this sneak peek of the main theme:
Classic FM's Howard Goodall called the score to World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor the "most popular request" for his year end episode of Saturday Night at the Movies honoring the "Best Video Game Music of 2014". Click here to listen to the episode.
Warlords of Draenor also made the "Best Video Game Music of 2014" lists of Kotaku, City Lights Film Music Radio Show, and several others.
At BlizzCon on Nov 7, 2014 Blizzard Entertainment unveiled an epic new 6 minute cinematic short film to announce "Overwatch", their first new IP in 17 years. Neal Acree scored the cinematic along with project music director Derek Duke and composers Cris Velasco and Sam Cardon. Overwatch is a highly stylized, team based, first person shooter set in a futuristic world with unique and colorful heroes.
"In a time of global crisis, an international task force of soldiers, scientists, adventurers, and oddities known as Overwatch had come together to restore peace to a war-torn world. After many years, the group's influence waned, and it was eventually disbanded. Overwatch might be gone now...but the world still needs heroes."
For more info or and to sign up the Overwatch beta please visit playoverwatch.com!
On Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 Neal Acree won Hollywood Music in Media Award for "Best Score: Video Game - World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor" alongside Blizzard audio director Russell Brower and fellow composers Clint Bajakian, Sam Cardon, Craig Stuart Garfinkle, Edo Guidotti and Eimear Noone. Neal and Russell were also nominated for "Best Song/Score: Trailer" for the Warlords of Draenor cinematic intro. Neal was on hand to accept the HMMA with fellow Warlords composers Eimear Noone and Craig Stuart Garfinkle. This is Neal's second Hollywood Music in Media Award and 4th nomination having won for the score to Diablo III in 2012.
"Tina Guo & Composers for Charity" is now available for purchase through various digital outlets. 100% of the proceeds will go directly to The Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation which helps keep music alive in our schools by helping under funded music programs.
The album features unique compositions by a distinguished group of film, television and video game composers including Neal Acree's "Oceans of Time" featuring cello by Tina Guo and vocals by Laurie Ann Haus. Please check it out and help us spread the word!
On September 26th, 2014 internationally renowned flautist Sara Andon will premiere Neal Acree's new concert arrangement of "The Golden Lotus" from World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria along with a chamber ensemble featuring the Airis String Quartet and Amadrums Trio at a special video game music concert at the Krakow Film Music Festival.
The concert, called "Game on!" is being produced by legendary Varese Sarabande record producer Robert Townson (his debut video game music concert) and will feature music from some of game music's most distinguished composers including Russell Brower, Jason Hayes, Jeff Kurtenacker and Garry Schyman.
On August 14th, 2014 the opening cinematic for World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor, featuring music by Neal Acree premiered at launch events around the world. The Los Angeles premiere took place at the historic Ace Theater in Downtown with thousands of fans wrapped around the block, some camping out for as many as two days for a chance to be the first to see the cinematic. Since then, the video has been viewed nearly 12 million times on YouTube in it's first 2 weeks. Also announced at the event was the release date for Warlords which is 11.13.14.
Warlords of Draenor is the fifth World of Warcraft opening cinematic scored by Neal Acree, the first being The Burning Crusade in 2006 and was performed by the Northwest Sinfonia and Chorus.
"Falcon Rising" starring Michael Jai White and featuring music by Neal Acree is set for a theatrical release date on September 5. Directed by Assassination Games director Ernie Barbarash, "Falcon Rising" is the first installment in the "Codename: Falcon" franchise of movies that will also start White.
The Moonstone Entertainment produced franchise revolves around a former marine named John "Falcon" Chapman, described as a "dark anti-hero driven by guilt, who will destroy himself unless given something else to destroy," making him "a useful weapon-of-last-resort for the foreign ministry."
In the first film in the franchise, our man Chapman travels to Brazil to hunt down his sister's killers, and, in the process, discovers an underground world of drugs, prostitution, and police corruption ruled by the Japanese mafia.
As one might expect from the films locales, Neal's music features a blend of brazilian instruments and rhythms and Japanese colors and plenty of action.
White himself previously shared that the Falcon movies are the type of projects he's "waited to do" his "entire career," adding, "Get ready folks cause this [is the] first of what's to come."
With the film's release announcement comes its first trailer:
Remembering Jerry Goldsmith today on this, the 10th anniversary of his passing. He was 75 and left us way too soon. For anyone that doesn't know, Jerry was one of the most influential and prolific composers ever to work in film and television. His work included the Twilight Zone, Patton, Star Trek the Motion Picture, Planet of the Apes, Rudy, Gremlins, Total Recall, First Knight, Air Force One, the Universal Pictures logo and way too many others to list and earned him 18 Oscar nominations and one win for the Omen.
I had the honor of knowing Jerry just a little through his son Joel (who we also lost to cancer a couple years ago). When Jerry died, Joel gave me his dad's Walter Piston orchestration book (pictured). I keep it as well as this photo of the two of them at the one session we all worked on together in the corner of my studio as a tribute to the influence both of them had and continue to have on me as a composer and a person.
As a composer Jerry was a genius and a craftsman making his music both sophisticated and accessible. Every great composer develops a musical language of their own making their music identifiable within a few notes and Jerry's was one that many now famous composers "spoke" early in their careers before finding their own sound.
There was something about his practical approach to scoring and orchestration that I, as a young composer was able to wrap my head around. I once heard him say that "there's no room for subtlety in film music". He didn't mean it in as broad of a sense as it might sound, in fact he was talking about an unnecessary alto flute line that an orchestrator had added to a big, loud orchestra piece but it stuck with me. I used to believe that subtlety was everything and I still believe it has it's place but now I'm more inclined to boldness than I used to be.
I was lucky enough to see Jerry conduct many sessions at the hallowed grounds of the now defunct Paramount Pictures Stage M and Todd AO as well as the Sony and Fox Stages. Watching him work with orchestras and directors was like watching a magician or a master craftsman at work. He had such confidence and familiarity with the orchestra and the process, that it seemed effortless (and this can be a very stressful and terrifying experience under the best of conditions). He may have been a bit gruff but the orchestra respected and loved him and he knew better than anyone how to work with a director. It was the most invaluable experience I've ever had and I'm grateful that I was there at just the right time to have been able to see it.
Now, my daughter sings the Universal pictures theme every time it comes on and will on occasion attempt to play the Gremlins theme on the piano. Makes me happy to see his music live on and make it's way into the hearts of the next generation. Music is immortal and through it, some of us who make it are lucky enough to live forever.
Miss you Jerry.
March was a busy month for StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, picking up awards for Best Cinematic Audio at both the 61st Annual Golden Reel Awards in Los Angeles and the Game Audio Network Guild Awards in San Francisco! Supervising sound editor, Paul Menichini was on hand to accept the awards on behalf of Blizzard Entertainment. This is Neal's first Golden Reel win (4th nomination) and 5th G.A.N.G. Award win.