Top Score: Dragon Age II Composer Inon Zur

by Emily Reese, Minnesota Public Radio
April 12, 2011
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St. Paul, Minn. — A few weeks ago, I was blessed with the good fortune to talk with award-winning composer Inon Zur.

Aside from being one of the kindest souls, Zur writes beautiful music for video games.

His newest score is for a game called Dragon Age II (released March 8, 2011), developed by BioWare. DA II is the much-anticipated successor to Dragon Age: Origins. Both Dragon Age games are role-playing games (RPGs) set in a beautifully lush and colorful fantasy world.

RPGs allow players to control numerous aspects of the game through their choices, including the pacing of the story, the types of friends or enemies the player finds along the way, questions of morality, armor, weapons - sometimes even the food the player-character eats or the clothes they wear. As a result, it might take one person a total of 30 hours to finish the game, or another person 100 or more.

Whether one spends 30 hours or 100 hours in a game like Dragon Age, one thing is certain: there is music playing the entire time. My first experience hearing Inon Zur's music was for a game called Fallout 3 (released October 28, 2008), developed by Bethesda Softworks. Unlike the Dragon Age games, Fallout 3 and its successor, Fallout: New Vegas (October 19, 2010) are set in a post-apocalyptic United States.

The Fallout world is the complete opposite of the Dragon Age environment; Fallout is bleak, colorless, deserted, haunted and, at many times, hopeless. Zur worked on Fallout: New Vegas and DA: II simultaneously.

When I asked Zur what it was like to write music for two incredibly diverse worlds, he said, "It depends on my wife. If she is really making me mad in the morning, I was like, 'All right, I am writing Fallout today.'"

Zur grew up in Israel and graduated from the Music Academy of Tel Aviv. Following his service in the Israeli army commanding a tank unit, he moved to Los Angeles to study the art of film music at the Dick Grove School of Music and UCLA.

"It was scary, it was loud, it was anything but music," Zur says of his time in the army. "It was quite traumatic for me so after I was released from army I definitely ran back to the warm arms of music."

Zur speaks of growing up with classical music, but that his dream was to be a jazz pianist.

"But I wasn't a good pianist at all," he says. "Didn't deter me though." When he got to school in Los Angeles, Zur reconnected with his classical roots, finding inspiration in the dramatic works of Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Debussy and Ravel.

"I think the Romantic-slash-early 20th century, late 1900 is the most influential," says Zur. "Their music was so cinematic."

Zur wanted to write classical music, so he began scoring student films. He wrote the score for Yellow Lotus (Tony Bui, 1995), which won awards at both film festivals in Telluride and Sundance. This opened doors for Zur to score television episodes for the Fox Family Channel, and later, video games.

Zur's first video game soundtrack was for Star Trek: Klingon Academy in 2000. Since that time, he's written scores for the Dragon Age games, the Fallout games, Prince of Persia, EverQuest, Crysis and many more.

Top Score™ with Emily Reese

To hear the full conversation with composer Inon Zur, download the first episode of Top Score™ from Classical Minnesota Public Radio.

For Dragon Age: Origins, Zur won awards for Best Original Song at the 2009 Hollywood Music In Media Awards. The score for DA: Origins was also nominated for Best Original Score at the HMMAs. Zur won Best Video Game Score at the Movie Music UK Awards and received nominations for Music of the Year, Best Original Vocal - Pop, and Best Soundtrack Album at the 2010 G.A.N.G. Awards. The soundtrack hit #1 on the Amazon UK MP3 Soundtracks Chart in December 2009.

Playlist

  • INTRO - Dragon Age II - "Dragon Age 2 Main Theme"
  • Dragon Age: Origins - "Dragon Age: Origins"
  • Fallout 3 - "Desert Exploration"
  • Dragon Age II - "Kirkwall Nights"
  • Dragon Age II - "Tavern Music"
  • Igor Stravinsky, "The Firebird"
  • Fallout: New Vegas - Main Theme
  • Dragon Age II - "Love Scene"
  • CREDITS - Dragon Age II - "Templars"

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