Borderlands 3 Interview - Composer Finishing Move Discuss Musicality, Creativeness, and Bringing Personal Experience Into Their Score
Finishing Move composers Brian Trifon and Brian Lee White talk about their experience with the Borderlands franchise and how they brought their own flavor into the composition of Borderlands 3.
The Borderlands franchise is known for having subtle, yet grasping music. While destruction is all around you and explosions to the eyes galore, the music is always prevalent. For Borderlands 3 there are numerous different composers who worked on the upcoming title’s score including Finishing Move Inc. Finishing Move is a production company that creates music for video games, television, film and more.
Brian Trifon and Brian Lee White are the principal composers where their goal is to “create the best content possible and build something greater than the individuals involved.” We got to ask them some questions about the creative process of Borderlands 3‘s music, their past experience with the franchise, and what they can do to improve upon it.
Cameron Hawkins: In Borderlands the music in Pandora is reminiscent of something you would hear in a western. Now that players will be traveling to different planets, is there any genre of music that was used as an inspiration?
Finishing Move: Borderlands has always had an eclectic sound, and we think fans will find that to be even more so in Borderlands 3 as players experience new characters and new destinations within the world. Without spoiling anything, each planet seeks to have a unique musical fingerprint that embodies the visual esthetic of the world, so players will hear various ethnic instruments blended with hybrid/electronic elements, and even EDM style beats when the battles heat up. It’s a massive soundtrack that packs a lot of sonic punch, everyone is gonna have their favorite cues.
CH: Do you think the music of Borderlands needs to be synonymous with the game’s overall comedic tone? If so, is that something you’ve aimed for with the composition?
FM: For the most part, no. While there are moments where the music clearly intends to be comical, it was a specific goal laid out by the music director Raison Varner that the bulk of the score was not overtly comedic in nature. When you think about Borderlands, yes you have all of the comedy, but you also have tons of visceral action too. We all felt that the comedy elements could be well carried by the dialog and the story, so the music itself should feel pretty cool and badass. In the case of combat, we wanted the music to support the intense action and mayhem of blasting bandits and hunting down loot, and make you feel excited and inspired while doing that. Likewise, in the more ambient moments, we wanted to support the world’s visuals and envelop the player in these alien landscapes.
“The [Borderlands] franchise is one of the catalysts that led us to pivot into game music as a composition team.”
CH: Were you able to put your own creative spin with the score or was there a general direction you were told to aim for going in?
FM: There were general guidelines and sonic pillars laid out by Gearbox as we, of course, wanted to honor and expand on the established “musical DNA” of the franchise. That said, we are pretty good at sounding like ourselves no matter what project we are working on and have experience coming into existing franchises and respectfully adding our own sonic signature to the canon. We make a lot of our own instruments and sounds from scratch, whether it’s recording and processing an existing instrument like guitar or bass in a non-traditional way or building entirely new instruments from sounds we record.
Whenever we work on a new project we like to take some time to R&D new sounds specific to the world or characters we are trying to capture. We try to ask ourselves, “how can we elevate this or brand this with a unique sonic texture that no one has ever heard before, yet still sounds appropriate and familiar within the existing framework?”
CH: Were you fans of the series before being brought on to compose the music for Borderlands 3?
FM: Absolutely! Trifon actually worked on the Borderlands and Borderlands 2 scores as a session guitarist and synth programmer, so in a way, the franchise is one of the catalysts that led us to pivot into game music as a composition team.
CH: Do you have any personal favorite tracks from the series?
FM: The boss music we did was an absolute blast to write, it is so high energy, you could straight up play a lot of it at a dance club and people would lose their minds.
CH: With Borderlands being a franchise full of mayhem and explosions happening most of the time, it is sometimes hard to hear the music while shooting down enemies. Have you ever thought about that while composing and did it affect the way you approached the composition?
FM: This is something we think about constantly. A lot of this comes down to how a game is mixed, and mixing dense combat is a real challenge. Unlike a film, we aren’t working to a linear timeline so you can’t mix the music up here or mix up the explosion sound there, precisely how you want to fall to picture, the same way every time. The interactive nature of games means you don’t know exactly how dense the sound design is going to get at any given moment and thus compete for space with the music. Of course, there are tons of tricks we use to deal with this, and yes, we can compose around the density by being mindful of frequency ranges that different arrangement elements take up.
A lot of it comes down to playtesting the music in-game, listening for major conflicts against sound design or dialog and then accommodating for those conflicts appropriately. This can cut both ways too, it’s quite common to work with the sound designers to make sure the right space is carved out for everything to work. That said, a little trick we like to do when we’re playing games on our own time is to go into the settings, boost the music mix way up and turn the sound design mix down. We’re composers, so we are obviously biased and want to hear the music! So if you are a big music fan, it’s easy enough to do this yourself, as pretty much every modern game has that control in the audio settings.
CH: With there being three other composers that worked on the game as well did you collaborate with them throughout or did you have your own focus separate from them?
FM: We were each given different maps and sections of the game to work on, so there wasn’t any overt collaboration there. Raison Varner, the musical director and Gearbox’s in-house composer, did an excellent job of wrangling the team and keeping us all aligned towards the same goal. The composing team on Borderlands 3 is such a great group of dudes, a real “dream team” if you will. Jesper Kyd, Michael McCann, and Raison are such talented composers, it was truly an honor for us to work on this game with them.
CH: What’s the most unique instrument that you used for the score of Borderlands 3?
FM: We used a number of unique instruments; mostly simple things like scraping a shovel on the ground to get some cool textures or bowing an oud and processing it into a grainy sound mass. That being said, the instrument that we got some unexpectedly wild and unique sounds out of is the Hartmann Neuron synth. It was a short-lived, but it’s an innovative synthesizer from 2003 that allows you to load in a sound sample and create a virtual physical model of the sound. From there you can use different methods to excite or trigger the sound model as well as adjust the acoustic properties of the model, such as its resonant body size and other resonant characteristics. Bottom line, we were able to make a model of an already gnarly synth sound and manipulate it to sound like space and time are being ripped apart!
For more on Finishing Move Inc., you can visit their official website. Borderlands 3 is set to release on September 13 for Xbox One, PS4, and the Epic Games Store. The title will also release on Google Stadia later this year, and you can can pre-order the game on Amazon.