Electric Music Man – Nintendo Nation chats to The Synthetic Orchestra

You may think you’re well versed in your YouTube video-game music arrangers but have you heard of a certain Blake Robinson? No? Yes? Either way Nintendo Nation caught up with the chap and asked him all the questions that are likely to come up should you choose YouTube video-game music arrangers as your specialist subject on Mastermind. Imagine the intense glares you’d have got from the Humphrys if we weren’t here for you…

Blake Robinson is better known on YouTube as The Synthetic Orchestra, or Dummeh, and rolls out both arrangements and original compositions with alarming regularity, but always of astounding quality. But enough of our blather, Blake is a man with a lot to say so we’ll cease our blather and just let this musical genius tell his tale…

Nintendo Network: Give us the ‘low down’, who is Blake Robinson? Where do you come from, where have you been, and where are you now?
Blake Robinson: I’m a games developer turned composer from London. I’ve worked for a few high profile video games developers over the years as a tools programmer and web developer. Recently I’ve become freelance to concentrate on my music and I now spend my time developing professional sample libraries, working on my indie game, “Multivaders” and composing music for games and films.

NN: So how did you first catch the musical bug and what caused you to start composing?
BR: I listened to tons of movie/game soundtracks growing up and tinkered making my own (awful) music and remixes. It was hearing Danny Elfman’s music and wanting to emulate it that made me keen to try composing my own music. It hasn’t been until the past seven or eight years though, that I’ve began taking it seriously as a career. I always wanted to develop games and so had focused on that most of my working life, working my way up through Electronic Arts as a programmer. It wasn’t till I left EA that music became a bigger interest.

NN: What about arranging/orchestrating in particular? What’s the lure towards that?
BR: There’s something about the orchestra that really appeals to me. It can convey a lot of different themes and feelings depending on which instruments you use, and how you use them. I think there’s a couple things that lure me towards orchestrating and arranging existing music in particular. I like the idea of taking my favourite music and adding my own personality to them. I also like bringing older pieces of music up to date that were limited by technology at the time.

NN: How do you typically start an arrangement? Is it an ideas brainstorm first or just attack the bones of a piece and build it up in your own unique way?
BR: I tend to start with the body of the piece. Sometimes I’ll key in the melody and figure out exactly what accompaniment I can build around it. A lot of the time my arrangements are on a whim and I’m composing from memory, so I tend to try to work out the basic melodies and chord progressions first. A lot of the time I try not to listen to the original (or remixes) so that I’m not just transcribing them note-for-note. Once I have the body of the piece composed, I’ll add decoration, change parts to make them more unique and add counter melodies that fit.

NN: Which of your arrangements are you most proud of?
BR: I think the work I’m most proud of are arrangements where the original composer has contacted me to let me know what they thought. Some of these composers are my childhood heroes and so it’s humbling to hear that they enjoyed and approved of my interpretations of their work. Personally, I’m most proud of the realism in some of my more recent work. With the Synthetic Orchestra, my aim has always been to create orchestrations that are as realistic as possible. I’m still quite a heavy critic of my own work, but I think that I am getting more and more realistic with each orchestration.


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