I am Ilan Eshkeri - composer for Ghost of Tsushima, Stardust, Layer Cake, Shaun the Sheep, The Sims 4, and many, many more... AMA!
Hello, everyone! I'm Ilan Eshkeri - award-winning composer, artist, songwriter, producer, and creator. You may have recently heard my narrative score in the hit PS4 exclusive video game Ghost of Tsushima, and I previously worked on The Sims 4 (which was great fun!). I'm currently creating music for BBC's Perfect Planet, my fourth collaboration with the legendary naturalist David Attenborough, and I also worked with astronaut Tim Peake and the European Space Agency on Space Station Earth - a film documenting his mission to the International Space Station. Amongst my extensive catalogue of film ＆ television credits are multiple Oscar, BAFTA, and other award-winning films such as Still Alice, Stardust, The Young Victoria, and Shaun The Sheep, as well as composed scores for Layer Cake, Hannibal Rising, 47 Ronin, Kick-Ass, and lots more. I've also worked with artists such as Annie Lennox, David Gilmour, Sinead O’Connor, KT Tunstall, Tom Odell, Ash, and The Cinematic Orchestra. Check out my website: https://www.ilaneshkeri.com/ and ASK ME ANYTHING!
It's so hard to choose I love all the tracks equally! The heart of the Jito opens with an instrument that samurai used to play called the Biwa. I had never heard of it before and I fell in love with it. In that track the performer Junko Ueda performs the start of a famous piece and then I do an arrangement of it in the orchestra. There's something about including that ancient piece and instrument in the soundtrack that I love.
It's always a great pleasure to work with Tom, he's a great talent and has become a lovely friend and I'm sure we'll do more stuff together in the future
How did you become involved in composing for Space Station Earth, and what's it like to collaborate with a real life astronaut?
Hanging out with real life astronauts is the coolest thing ever.... I mean really, I can't tell you how lucky I feel. Space Station happened because Tim Peake (The British astronaut) git in touch with me as he was a fan of my work. He asked me to do music for the film he was going to make on the international space station. I went to meet him at Nasa in Houston and was so inspired I said "lets make a show" And so I created the the whole show and the music. I can't wait to get back on the road with it when the pandemic calms down.
Out of all the traditional Japanese instruments you used for the soundtrack in Ghost of Tsushima which was your favourite?
I enjoyed learning about the instruments so much, but it must be the Biwa, it's such special instrument. Check out Junko Ueda performing it. It's ancient but also so rock n roll. Check out the huge plectrum you play it with and pick slides... I think it's super cool
Who do you look up to?
I admire so many people for so many reasons there is something to be learnt from everybody if you take the time to listen
I just want to say that Ghost of Tsushima had some incredible music. Whenever I came upon a Mongol camp that had someone playing a frame drum and throat singing, I always waited and listened to him sing (and tried not to kill him.)
I loved the idea of having different musical motifs for certain places and things on the map. I loved when the shimasen(?) notes twanged whenever I came upon a pillar of honor, or hearing the music of the Inari shrine that, I couldn't see, but could find due to the theme.
The game has such an aesthetic, and I believe that you were a large part of that.
Some of the elements you speak of there are by Ume (Shigeru Umebayashi) He is a brilliant composer and I'm proud to share a credit with him on the game. Anyway thank you very much for your kind words, I'm so glad the game connects with you.
What is the funniest/most exciting reuse of one of your music that you've come accross ? For instance i've heard music from the sims in a baking show
Sims is on a baking show???? no way that's so cool! I've started baking with my 5 years old, she might actually be impressed by me :) What's the show?
The Dog Whisperer uses a lot of my music 🤷♂️
How did you originally get into music production? When you're not making music for work, do you make any music just for yourself in your free time? What is your studio setup like? I'm trying to learn music production so any details would be super helpful!
I always made music from when I was a kid. I was in a band with school friends and got interested in sequencing in my late teens. The software is so readily available now days, it's easier to get started. Just make music, find shot films to work on, do fringe theatre, make an album... I think you just have ti start doing stuff. Whats in your studio doesn't matter. YOU can make music with a pen and paper, you can make music with a smart phone... so just get going and the rest will come. Good Luck!
What would you say are your favorite film scores of the past 10-15 years?
Or at least those you find yourself going back to over and over?
I'm ashamed to admit that the work of my contemporaries isn't something that I go back to much. Not for lack of respect or admiration of their work, but my inspirations and references come either from further in the past or from more left-field places.
Do you have tabs or sheet music for The Sims 4?
This is something that is being increasingly asked for, so please follow me on instagram, twitter and or Facebook and with a bit of luck there may be an up date soon
- What was your inspiration for the Sims 4 theme?
- How do you describe the soundtrack of Chrono Trigger?
- Which is your favorite music genre?
BTW, I really admire your works. Thank you!
It was really hard to write the Sims 4 theme, I made up some very simple lyrics which are still a secret and started writing with that in mind.... I sketched out many things and at first I thought what is now the theme wasn't any good, but I played it in passing to my friend and rock star musician Andy Burrows and he loved it so I stuck with it
I'd never heard the music for Chrono Trigger but I'm listening to it right and WOW! I love it, its dead cool... don't know how I missed this, thanks for introducing it to me.
My musical experiences are so eclectic I can't pick a favourite genre... Classical, pop, rap, rack, EDM, all played a huge part in the world I grew up in.
Love your work!
1) Are we able to source tracks you made for films that don’t end up on soundtracks? Layer Cake for example I’d love to get some of the music not on the OST.
2) Do you now only work with big films or do you still dabble in supporting new filmmakers?
When you score a film the recorded music belongs to the film company... so I can't share the actual recordings for the film, sorry.
It's never been about the scale of the project for me. I want to create work that means something to me. If I'm collaborating with someone, a game developer, a choreographer, a playwright, or a film maker it's all about there being a creative affinity as well as being inspired by the project. That's what I look for when choosing where to work and who to collaborate with.
Thank you so much for replying, that means a lot and all the best for the future. “Drive to Boatyard” remains an all time classic. 📈👍🏽
We’ll hopefully hear you score the next James Bond film after No Time To Die!
Thank you! And I'd love to do Bond... just once to work with those John Barry Themes 🤞🙏
Do you get to work directly with David Attenborough? And if so, what's the most interesting thing you've learned about him?
On my first project with him, Natural History Museum Alive, he came to the recording session at Abbey Road, it was a great pleasure to have him there. An interesting thing I've learnt about him is that he plays the Piano very well
Thanks for your contribution to The Sims 4! TS4 is amazing in every way, but unfortunately crashes my laptop so I tend to stick to TS3- at least it crashes a little less.
Don't really have any questions, I just wanted to show my appreciation! Well, maybe one... Do you play the Sims? (Or two..) Where did your inspiration for TS4 come from/how much from previous Sims?
It's shame you can't enjoy Sims 4 much, but I hear that there are some really great things about Sims 3 in particular. I have played Sims 4, and I check in from time to time so I know what's happening, but I don't play regularly.
It's hard to explain the inspiration for Sims 4 music. Firstly I didn't look at the previous games at all. I wanted to bring my own individual voice to it. When I discussed it with the the folks at Sims we described it as a contemporary aesthetic where things from many different places come together, they may not initially seem like they go together but somehow these very different things combine to make an interesting new whole, so the music influences are very diverse.
Perhaps more importantly I always approach Sims with with a sense of joy and fun. Me and the musicians laugh a lot when we make the music and I really hope that comes across
Did you write the score to The Young Victoria specifically to balance with/complement the super restrained emotionality of that era and the royal characters?
That was definitely a consideration, but really I wrote it because I was in love at the time and I poured my heart into that music. It feels a bit strange because it's an incredibly personal work for me and I never imagined it would be so popular. I often get emails from brides who want to walk down the aisle to it. I'm very humbled by that.
If pushed, what piece of music would you say you are most proud?
I couldn't possibly say. Different works mean different things to me for different reasons
When creating music for BBC's Perfect Planet do you try to create match the music to the species on screen (e.g., bird-like quality) or just the overall atmosphere?
The kind of animal is a consideration as is the location, but most importantly it's the story... is it a hunt? is it an escape? is it a love story? It's all about what the animal is feeling and I want the audience to connect with it's emotional journey. Of course we can't actually know what they are feeling, but I speak at length with the wildlife expert film makers about this so that I can try and express it as honestly as possible.
What creative freedom did they give you at EA for The Sims 4? Were there general moods or themes you had to stick to?
We developed the ideas together... it's a team effort. Of course the game had a creative direction before I joined the team and it's my job to tap into that, but my contribution is also a big part of the feel of the game and I'm proud that my creativity is a part of that. I only do projects where I feel that there is a strong affinity between all the creative minds and so that way we are all creating together. As a result I have the best fun writing the Sims, we don't have to discuss it much because we are all on the same page. In any case the team at EA / Sims are a joy to collaborate with and we have become great friends over the years.
Hello Mr Eshkeri. Could you use your influence at Suckerpunch productions to convince them to release a PC port of Ghosts of Tsushima please?
I wish I had that kind of power! 😂
What goes into your creative process when composing for a certain genre?
This is a huge question which I could write pages about.. I like to approach everything with an idea, an angle... it helps to hold the art together, to give it all meaning and direction. The idea often comes from research, but not always.
How did you get started making music? What softwares did you use and what were things you got stuck on? What are some things people don't know you for but you're proud of?
I always made music, I learnt violin from 4 years old, but I can remember bashing the piano keys when my head was the height of the pian keyboard and being fascinated by the sounds and how they made me feel, that was the start of the journey...
I've used most software over the years, its a tool, like a pen and paper. Whatever you gave me, computer, or an instrument or a pen... I'd make the same music, but coming up with a tune is the thing I think we all get stuck on... how to turn a random group of notes into something that makes you feel.... that is always a terrifying challenge.
Things people don't know me for? probably most of my work outside film, TV and Games. They are not as widely appreciated possibly because the genres are more niche, but I've written ballets and am in the middle of a new one now, I did a great show with Christopher Bailey for Burberry and show called Space Station earth with the European Space Agency, various concert works, collaborations with artists like Annie Lenox and Amon Tobin and a bunch of song writing which I really love to do too... its hard to pinpoint one thing!
Whose music is better? Ghost of Tsushima or Sekiro? Sekiro has a real Japanese musician to do the Japanese music.
Wow! Yuka Kitamura's music is incredibly powerful and beautiful. Thank you for introducing me to her work. I couldn't say who's music is better, I don't think music is a competition, we are all trying make art and any person's expression of their feelings is equal to any other's in my opinion. In any case I'm grateful to you for showing me a brilliant fellow composer, I'm listening to her work right now.
Do you usually write music from storyboards and concepts or to the finished product itself?
I write from my heart and my soul. When I collaborate I use whatever materials they have from the project to get me in the right place, but mostly its about speaking nd connecting with your collaborators.
Does inspiration actually plays a major role or is more the effort of actually doing that gets the thing started?
I don't believe those things are mutually exclusive. Just because you feel inspired doesn't mean that you don't need to apply effort... and sometimes when you don't feel inspired you apply effort and the inspiration comes. So I think you always need both.
Hi, I am currently still in Highschool composing just for fun, but music for film and videogames has always fascinated me. What was your career path to working for such prestigious companies as a composer? How does one even gain a foot in the industry?
I started doing short films when I was at college and I interned with some composers. I got my first break writing the titles for a late night low budget TV show called Young Gifted and Broke 😂. I heard about the job from a friend in her early 20s who was runner on the show... it took 10 years before I had any real success, I just did every little thing that came my way, whilst working in a bar and interning for other composers. I think it's even harder now because more people want to do it. You need equal amounts of perseverance, hard work, luck and talent. Good luck!
Hey, I really appreciate the reply! I guess it's just all about the grind, so I'll just try to do everything I can to get my stuff out there. Thanks and congratulations on getting where you are now!
You totally got it! Work hard and it might all come together for you :)
Can you go into detail about your workflow? Instruments, DAW, Software, thanks!
Forgive me for not answering this question directly, but all those elements are tools and in my opinion the wrong focus. If you gave me Kieth Richard's guitar I would still be a bad guitarist and if you gave him my rubbish guitar he would still make it sing... or think about it like this, if you could go back in time and ask Beethoven a question would you ask him what tools he worked with? I bet he had a favourite kind of ink and paper, who wouldn't if you used that tool every day, but that question would be far down my list.
I get asked your question a lot and it makes me feel like its a terrible shame that the conversation became focussed on the tools and not the music.
I'll work happily in any software, with any samples, or with a piano and an iPhone or even a pen and paper... What matters is what you do with what you have in front of you. Good samples don't make good music or demos. Good music and attitude or vibe in your production / programming is what makes good music. It's what you do with the tool, not the tool itself.
So my work flow isn't shaped by my tools it's shaped by my ideas, my commitment, my artistic integrity, my honesty and putting every bit of my heart and soul into it.
I hope this is helpful
hey don't feel so terrible you've helped me greatly!!
I understand what you mean about focusing on what's important. Being a composing musician myself, I know how much noise there is on the technological, quality, bitrate etc. side of things instead of the musicianship/composition. So I appreciate the honesty and I definitely agree with your sentiment about what makes good music good, which turns out is being a good musician. It's a kick in the right direction I think as someone who feels they have a knack for writing songs.
My question should have focused specifically on your process of discovery as an artist instead of the technical side of things.
Thanks again for the time and the input!
I'm always looking for meaning. When I begin the notes sound random, but then there is a moment when they aren't random anymore, suddenly there is meaning. At this point the notes are greater than the sum of their parts.. they are no longer just notes. I think this discovery is true for all art, the colours and paint strokes on the canvas whether abstract or figurative become great art when they are more than just pigment on canvas... it's when they have meaning and are therefore greater than their basic function.
When the piece is complete I often wonder if it was always there and I just discovered it, or if I breathed life into it... maybe a bit of both... but in this way I think music and all art is the search for meaning. The rest of it, arrangement, production, making it fit a scene, mixing, these are all crafts that can be learnt.
The blank canvas is a very hard place to start from. 88 black and white notes is our canvas. I try to have a concept, some sort of rule, musical or emotional, it creates focus and meaning or restriction which you can push against.. it focusses the mind or narrows the options which makes it easier to begin.
Perhaps a bit philosophical and not practical, so again, I hope this helps
For the record I use Digital Performer for midi, and protools for audio.
What software do you use to make music? Like the background score for these games?
Please see my answer above to dontlie2020
Any software you find ergonomic will do fine, but lets talk about music not tools
Did you write this song? It’s my favorite right after the :50 minute mark https://youtu.be/bHfAlKuG4yc
Oh I love that one too! We had fun singing it! I did write it :)
What can you advice someone who wants to find his own sound?
It's hard enough to make music at all, so stop thinking about it, go on the journey and the rest will come.
What is Sir David like in person?
I only got to meet him briefly and was very focussed on recording the orchestra so I didn't have much time to speak with him, but as you might imagine he was fascinated in what was happening around him and was generous with his time.
What are your favourite tools to use for composition and what's your process behind all of it?
I think I've answered this question is several of the replies above already. Sorry not answer directly, but I hope you can find all you need if you had through the page, if not please send me a more specific question
Besides your own, what are your favorite videogame soundtracks and why?
My own soundtracks are certainly not my favourite! I only hear the problems in my work...
I grew up loving the music to Outrun and also later Sonic the Hedgehog!
Congrats on Ghost Of Tsushima!! Absolutely amazing soundtrack. I have 2 questions:
Of all the soundtracks in GOTsushima, which one would u say ure most proud of and why?
I’m a fan of Tom Odell. What was it like working with him?
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