Hi Curtis, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for us today! To get things started, can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Curtis Schweitzer: I'm a composer working out of Colorado, with most of my experience coming from smaller indie titles and short films. I’ve been composing most of my life, and also playing Halo for a good chunk of it, too, so the chance to put those two things together is something I’m very excited about.
Your portfolio looks incredibly diverse – how does one approach composing music for such wildly different projects across entirely different mediums?
Ultimately, I think it is about having fun! Among the games I’ve worked on, I’ve written music that’s small and intimate, electronic and upbeat, and even gotten the chance to try my hand at what “symphonic dieselpunk” might sound like. At every stage, it has really been about finding out what interests me about a genre or style and then “playing in that sandbox,” musically speaking. It is a privilege to get to write music for a living – something I never want to forget.
What is it about composing music for videogames specifically that has drawn you into this part of the industry?
I enjoy the fact that it is a sort of “conversational” medium. Being interactive, games give someone else a degree of control over how they experience what you write, and helping to put that musical puzzle together from the “other side” in development is a very rewarding challenge.
How did you come to work with the 343 team on Halo Infinite? Was there anything about Halo specifically that resonated with you?
Joel Yarger contacted me back in 2019 about coming onboard, and it was (of course) an immediate "yes" from me. I've played (almost) every Halo title, and the unique way that it can elicit deep feelings from an experience that is so tremendously fun has brought me back again and again.
Halo has a long, rich history of music that’s every bit as important to the experience as Master Chief or the Ring itself. What are your personal thoughts on the music of Halo? Do you have any favorite track(s)?
Music is such a critical part of understanding the success of the Halo franchise, and a big reason that the games have such a deep emotional impact. Personally, I've probably spent the most time in Halo 3 (let's just say it came out during a formative part of my life) and have to go with "Never Forget" as one of my all-time favorite tracks.
How you do approach balancing the legacy of Halo’s music with a desire to bring something new to players?
I think this goes back to understanding Halo's musical DNA well enough to make sure that everything is "at home" with the musical style established by earlier titles. This means understanding a lot of nuance about what makes Halo's scores unique – and it goes further than just monk chants, but instead involves an approach that doesn't try to "overdo it" too often, and gives special moments the room to be just that – special. Even bringing back old themes and melodies can be done in a way that both respects the core of the “Halo” sound and also gives those things a new spin – for example, we’ve already heard how Gareth’s Escharum theme sits comfortably right alongside the main Halo theme in Set a Fire in Your Heart.
In my own track, I tried to take the Halo theme – a theme that is often played monophonically, or simply with one part – and simplify that melody down to its essential “pieces” so that the harmonization can play a more prominent role, and to give some room to develop a few “fragments” of my own (for example, you can hear a little bit of the trumpet motif that played in the Discover Hope trailer in the piano part). In other words, my approach here was keeping the backbone of the piece rooted firmly in the Halo theme, but presenting it in a new way.
Last year we got our first taste of your Halo work with the “Discover Hope” trailer at E3. Can you speak a bit about what that process was like – how did you land on that particular composition and the emotions it evokes? And, what was it like the first time you saw the completed trailer married to your score?
The number of people who put tons of time and effort in making the notes I wrote for that trailer sound as good as they could is absolutely mind-boggling to me – starting with Joel Yarger, our music supervisor, who has been an invaluable resource in guiding how we should approach the music. Add to that the people (at 343 and otherwise) who helped orchestrate, mix, and edit it, (not to mention the musicians who performed it) and I am humbled by that opportunity.
The process of putting that score together was mostly a constant refining every single moment, my personal favorite being the “ring reveal” choir figure, which I am very proud of. I had never really seen a "complete" version of the visuals until I was sitting in the Xbox briefing at E3. It was pretty amazing to finally see what the pilot wiping away the frost to reveal what Master Chief looked like!
It’s not always common to have multiple composers collaborating together on a game, let alone three. What’s it been like working with Gareth and Joel? Are there unique challenges, or benefits, to having multiple composers contributing to the experience?
Getting to write and record with the Gareth Coker was a pleasantly surreal experience, and I am so excited to see reactions to his absolutely stellar work on this project. I’ve always found his work utterly transcendent, and he and Halo are a match made in heaven.
Likewise, Joel Corelitz has written some music for Infinite that I know Halo fans are going to love, and I can’t wait for them to hear it. Having someone with his level of experience on the project has been fantastic, and I have really enjoyed working with him and hearing his contributions to the score.
Having multiple composers on the project really benefits us as a team, as we can play to our unique strengths, in addition to having more hands on deck to help write the frankly huge amount of music that a game like Infinite demands. As Gareth mentioned in his interview, Joel Yarger, our music supervisor, has done a really great job making sure all of us are on the same page(s) musically, aesthetically, and in every other way we need to be.
What was your reaction to the Halo Infinite Campaign demo reveal? Had you previously heard those musical pieces coming together like that before?
Seeing the living, breathing world that 343 has been building was quite moving. I’ve obviously had an inkling of what Infinite was going to look like having been on the project for awhile, but the gameplay reveal was a new level of “wow” for me.
Part of the fun on working on this project has been seeing how different tracks have been used in different ways, and that gameplay was no different. Gareth’s amazing “Set a Fire in Your Heart” cue took my breath away when I first heard it, and to see it during Escharum’s speech was quite an experience!
The track I've selected to be featured is one of our “exploration” cues, which can be heard during Chief’s elevator ride in the gameplay reveal. I still remember when we recorded that section being blown away at the musicianship of the singers, who breathed – literally – so much life into something that ultimately is only a few notes in length:
Going back to the “aesthetic DNA” concept, there is nothing that is as integral to Halo’s DNA as that monk chant. It shows up in so many different ways throughout all the Halo scores, and I consider it a great privilege to be a caretaker of that iconic melody.
What can you tell us about this track, "Reverie," that we heard as part of the Halo Infinite Campaign demo? Were there specific moods or motifs you were aiming for? Was this written more generally for the game overall or was this created for a specific purpose/moment?
The overall goal of this track is to provide the ring itself with a musical identity, using the main Halo chant as a base. We are hoping that it helps the player get a sense of awe, wonder, and mystery when looking at the ring, and when exploring it – obviously no better way to portray those feelings than with Halo theme itself! The piece was composed as a standalone work, but in such a way as to give our audio team a lot of choices in how they can "pull it apart" – much of the musical "chunks" that make it up are written so that they can stand alone as small gestures or in the context of something more layered and textural. You can hear this in the way that it breaks a lot of the melodic content into little musical shapes comprised of only a few notes, which form a kind of musical constellation that can be triggered in a lot of varied ways. As the piece evolves, the music coalesces into bigger, more layered statements before fading back into more ambient, ethereal synths that evaporate into nothing as the track concludes. Basically we want this to be a very flexible set of musical ideas that can be used in different places on the ring as the player is exploring it – always trying to portray that sense of wonder and mystery that is so core to the Halo sound.
With this track in particular, what is your general creative process? Can you walk us through high level of how this music ultimately came to be in the game?
I was given a brief by our music supervisor Joel Yarger to write some music for the ring itself, using the Halo theme as a base – after all, we of course need music that hits those important Halo feelings of ancient, epic, and mysterious pioneered back in the very first games. We spent a long time searching for an approach that would feel at once new and familiar, and after a few revisions realized that we could use harmony to undergird a new approach on the classic monk melody, which I ended up simplifying down to what I felt were its most core elements. Continuing to revise, I worked on something that could be easily used in small fragments around the ring, giving our music team a whole series of ideas that could be isolated and used on their own, while still being part of a larger, complete work.
Any final thoughts or insights you’d like to share with the Halo Community?
I think, ultimately, just that I am one of you! I’ve put in a lot of time on almost every Halo title, and it is a dream come true to have the chance to participate in the creation of a new world to explore. I am incredibly grateful to have been given this opportunity.