Saturday, March 2, 2013

Interview with Julia Okrusko

While I usually interview game designers, a new kickstarter by Julia Okrusko offering violin melodies for fantasy gaming caught my attention. Music is something I like to incorporate into my game sessions, so I decided to have a chat with Julia about her project.

Julia is a professional violinist. She is classically trained and currently performs as first violinist with the New England String Quartet. To learn more about her kickstarter, Legends: Fantasy Violin CD, visit the following webpage:
For her other projects visit: (Julia’s official website) (the New England String Quartet’s website)

Brendan Davis (BD): You were inspired to start writing fantasy music in 2011 after years of classical training and performance. What was it about the sound of fantasy game music you found so compelling?
Julia Okrusko (JO): Imagination: beauty and power with lots of space for imagination. I felt that I was creating the music I was reading and that may be the most precious feeling for a performer. There is so much wonderful music in the world, as a classical musician I am very lucky to have a chance to explore it, but fantasy was a real revelation to me. It was a level of inspiration and involvement I never experienced on stage before.  I guess I discovered my path as a musician.

BD: In your opinion is the fantasy music in games like Final Fantasy VII something that deserves more serious attention?
Oh absolutely! I would love to also hear it performed live more often. This music is a huge part of today's culture and it is incredibly beautiful.
BD: How is composing and performing fantasy music different from performing and composing classical?
JO: The technical aspects are the same to me (just one more thing I love about fantasy music): rich orchestration, form possibilities and expressive performance, which are also present in classical music.  To me, the difference is in inspiration and desire to create.

BD: This looks like a pretty substantial project. There is a splendid demo video on the website and the cover art is nicely done. How many people are involved in the development of Legends: Fantasy Violin?
JO: Thank you. I actually made the video and cover art myself using the Durian Open Movie Project files to create the video and some Photoshop magic on the cover art. But since the project launched, I am working with professional artists on album graphics and pictures, and I welcome everyone who would like to contribute to the CD artistically.

BD: Can you tell us a bit about the concept behind the CD and what listeners can expect to hear when it’s released?
JO: I want to share with my listeners the same power of imagination I experience when writing and hearing fantasy music. I see this CD as a window to a whole world full of stories, emotions, and memories, scenes of past and future life... Fantasy music is a wonderful opportunity to convey my stories and connect with listeners’ imagination at the same time.

BD: How do you normally record violin for release on CD? Are the tracks for Legends: Fantasy Violin currently being recorded?
The recording process for "Legends" hasn't started yet as I would need the Kickstarter resources to actually move forward with the project. Normally I record violin in the studio, and the professional equipment and audio services would be made possible with everyone's support.

BD: You are a professional violinist, have won several awards and performed globally; tell us about your history with the violin.
JO: I was born into a musical family and started playing at the age of 6. From the very start I was blessed with the best teachers who raised and inspired me, and yes, I got to travel all around Europe and USA and won several competitions as a classical soloist. I’ve lived in Boston for 7 years now and perform as a member of the New England String Quartet, a group we founded in 2007.

BD: How do you usually compose music? For those who don’t know about the process and about musical notation, can you explain writing music for a violin?
JO: Composing is a complex process, and as I got to talk with many composers — both classical and video game/movie music—it’s slightly different for everyone. I combine the old-fashioned music notation with sampling and improvisation, and when I write for violin I start off by writing down on paper the melody I hear in my mind. I sing it to myself and play it, and usually the harmony appears almost instantly. From there, I work on voicing and instrumentation— I combine real instruments with electronic until the music is there exactly the way I hear it in my mind.

BD: How long did it take to compose the pieces for Legends: Fantasy Violin?
I started working on the pieces in 2011 but it didn't take two years to write, of course. Musical sketches were being set aside, sometimes for months, in the absence of a solid plan for release, until I finally just realized there is so much material that I ought to share it (and I am very fortunate to find so much support so far).

BD: Why do you think the violin is a good choice for fantasy music?
JO: Violin is so expressive. I may be biased here but I feel that violin and human voice are the closest expressions of the soul.

BD: What is fantasy music? In terms of things like scales, chords and time signatures, what separates this style of music from traditional classical music?
JO: Fantasy music uses a variety of scales, chords, and time signatures that are also used in classical music. The difference, in my opinion, would be approach to melody and harmony progressions which in fantasy music often rely on Medieval and Renaissance structures, even when some of the fantasy pieces sound very modern.

BD: How do Medieval and Renaissance structures differ from Baroque, Classical and Romantic Structures?
JO: With regard to melody and harmony structures, Medieval and Renaissance music could be characterized as modal (and consonant), whereas towards the end of Renaissance, Baroque and later styles developed more defining characteristics of tonal structures and became increasingly focused on dissonance. Fantasy music does employ techniques and progressions of later styles as well, but in my mind, consonance and modality remain imperative at a core of each composition.

BD: Can you explain what modal and consonant music sounds like compared to music readers may be more familiar with?
Some may be familiar with a beautiful piece of Renaissance music: The Song of Songs by Palestrina. And a very popular example of modal elements applied in modern music could be Carmina Burana by Carl Orff.

BD: Why do you think gamers in particular will like this CD?
JO: As a collection of nine instrumental fantasy tracks, this CD may be used as an “orchestration” or musical background for the game. I think the gamers will enjoy the combination of expression and flow of the music.

BD: What is the projected release date of Legends: Fantasy Violin?
JO: The projected release date is September 22nd, 2013!


1 comment:

  1. Thanks Brendan for a worthile read wrt this interview and the kickstart...I'll be checking this Kickstarter out