GAB Member Spotlight - September 2019 - Roselie Samter
Welcome to the GAB Member Spotlight, where you can learn more about the audio developers working right in your own back yard. This month, we’re chatting with local video game musician, and founder of the Videri String Quartet, Roselie Samter.
GAB: So how is it that you came to call Boston home?
RS: I grew up in Northern Idaho, Bonners Ferry to be exact. It’s a wonderful middle of nowhere spot. Pretty much the exact opposite of Boston! I grew up playing violin and switched to viola when I was 15. After getting my Bachelor’s in Viola performance, I spent a year at the Banff Centre, and while I was there I was able to take some lessons with Joel Smrinoff from the Juilliard Quartet. He told me I should study at the Boston Conservatory with Patricia McCarty for grad school. So I auditioned, and got in! And then fell in love with the city and have been here since!
GAB: So you studied classical performance? What led you to playing video game music and founding Videri?
RS: My last year at the Boston Conservatory, I was asked to play in the Video Game Orchestra. I didn’t grow up playing video games. I grew up riding horses and hiking. I had NO idea what I was getting myself into! But I quickly realised this music is really incredible. Not only is it exceptional music, but the attachment and memories it holds for people is pretty special. I truly feel like video game music is the folk music of our generation. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, or where you grew up, everyone can recognize music from their childhood games It was while playing with the Video Game Orchestra that I fell in love with video game music. I also realised that what I REALLy wanted to be doing was playing video game music in a quartet. I have never been much of an orchestral player! It was about 1 year after I was no longer playing in VGO that I had a reason to start Videri. I had just gotten back from a tour of Cyprus with Nikolas Metaxas. Jeff Williams, composer at Rooster Teeth, asked me to put together a video game string quartet to open for one of his shows, and well… I did and the rest is history!
GAB: What's the biggest difference between playing video game music and playing more traditional string quartet repertoire?
RS: I mean, one of the biggest differences is that we are playing music and the composers are still alive! And very often we know and talk too! And yes, I know that there are live classical composers as well, but so much of standard string quartet rep is written by composers who are no longer alive. It’s pretty great to be able to ask the composer what they meant! Instead of having long drawn out debates about what exactly a specific dynamic marking means. As with any arrangement, our video game music we are taking a bigger work and condensing it down to a string quartet. This is where arrangers become SO important! We aren’t really interested in playing exactly what you hear in the game. It needs to be adapted into a comprehensive performance piece, and it also needs to be adapted so that it works for string quartet! It’s a fun challenge, but we have definitely had to think outside our traditional training to be able to play this kind of music.
GAB: Game music spans a wide variety of genres. What are some of your favorite projects that you've worked on?
RS: For soundtracks, we have worked on Aragami (which is BEAUTIFUL and everyone should go check it out right now!), the Magic Circle, Beat Sports, and I’m sure I’m forgetting something! I do have to say, working on the Magic Circle was one of the most fun and bizarre experiences ever!! The whole point of the game is that it’s unfinished and you are the programmer and have to go in and “fix” the game. So for the soundtrack, Steve Pardo (the composer), would record himself rehearsing us and interrupting us! It was so much fun. At one point he stopped us and made us go back and play it again, but this time with mistakes! Super fun session. Not sure if we will ever play another one quite like that!
GAB: Do you work closely with development teams? Do you only record the music or have you ever had a hand in the implementation of the music in a game?
RS: For the games we have worked on, we have only worked with the composer -- and usually then, just when it is done. I think it would be incredible to work with the whole team! I think the end result would be so much more interesting since we would be able to share our expertise in music with the developers and I’m sure they would be able to get more closely what they wanted too.
GAB: And you also do live performances. Where has Videri performed?
RS: Oh wow..SO MANY PLACES!! We have performed at MAGFest, PAX East, PAX South, universities and conservatories in California and New England, middle schools and concert halls, even the Nintendo Store and Game Stops! That’s one of the wonderful things about video game music, it has an audience everywhere! We play classical music along with video game music. We have found that this interests a lot of people, and that everyone has really enjoyed both the vgm and the classical! It’s also really fun for us to get to play the music we grew up listening too, studying, and practicing. Right next to the music we grew up with in games!
GAB: What are some of the challenges you face performing in such varied events?
RS: I’d say one of the biggest challenges we face in performance is sound logistics. For a lot of our shows, we need to be mic’d. And that will never sound as good as acoustic. Even with the best sound engineer and the best mics, it is just not the same. But in order to make it sound even a little bit good...we really need to have top of the line mics that clip onto our instruments. The problem with that is they are expensive!! So we have been saving up for mics, and once we have our own it will be much easier to control that problem. But right now, it’s very much of a problem!
GAB: We have quite a few composers in the GAB community. What are the most common mistakes composers make?
RS: I think the biggest mistake we see with composing is not using each instrument to its full capacity. It’s so often we will see compositions where the 1st violin always gets the melody, and the cello always gets the bass. You have 4 incredible instruments that are able to play any part they need too! The most interesting compositions for string quartet are where the composer uses each instrument to its fullest. Not only is this interesting to the listener, but it also makes it more fun for the players. I would say the other main issue we see a lot is music readability. Almost always, we will be sight reading. It is SO important that the music is easy to read! That means barring things in a way that makes sense, using correct clefs for viola and cello, correct dynamics. Pretty much, the easier the music is to read, the better it will sound.
GAB: With really tight budgets, many indie games often use sampled orchestras. What are your strong feelings on the use of digital instruments?
RS: It has its time and place...but it will never be as good as live players. I have a hard time listening to a lot of video game soundtracks because they are not live musicians (digital stuff is different, I am talking about soundtracks with synthesized instruments).
GAB: So, when you're not working on games or music, how do you spend your time?
RS: So currently, games and music take up pretty much my entire life!! However, I absolutely love horses. I grew up riding as a kid. I don’t have a lot of time anymore, but I’m looking into volunteering at a stable so I can get back into riding again. I’ve also gotten into running recently. I’m not sure why I haven’t been doing this my entire life because I LOVE it! I also enjoy drawing, and quilting. My summer goal was to finish a quilt I started last year...but then I got busy! I feel like that’s the story of my life!
GAB: So, what's your favorite game soundtrack of all time?
RS: Ooooh, that’s a tough one!! I have two! Bioshock Infinite by Garry Schyman and Ori and the Blind Forest by Gareth Coker. I love them both!!
GAB: Are you playing anything right now?
RS: So, I’m pretty much ALWAYS playing Don’t Starve! I love that game. It’s so much fun! And I’ve been playing Sentinels of the Multiverse on my ipad.
GAB: What’s your game music “hot take”?
RS: Haha!! I’m not sure I have one!! I think game music is doing really well right now! As always, I wish there was more live music, but I think it’s headed in that direction anyway so I don’t want to complain too much!
See the Vider String Quartet at their upcoming performance at the WSHU Broadcast Center in Connecticut.
Sunday September 15, 2019
WSHU Broadcast Center
5151 Park Avenue, Fairfield, CT 06825
Tickets are $5-15, you can get them on Eventbrite.