Interview With Matt Uelmen

The Mushroom recently conducted an interview with Matt Uelmen, composer of Blizzard's Diablo and Diablo II. In the course of the conversation, Uelmen revealed his influences, and a little bit about what is in store for Diablo II's expansion.

Q: What was your big break and how did you get it?

Matt Uelmen: My "big break" came from making a tape using the same technical specs as the Sega Genesis, and personally taking it to the offices of every publisher in the Bay Area mentioned in a Nintendo document, which somehow came into my possession. One of those companies was DTMC, which was employing Matt Householder at the time. Matt, currently working as a producer here, pointed me in the direction of what was Condor at the time, later to become Blizzard North. I knew instantly that Condor was where I wanted to work, and bugged them with dogged persistence for a solid four months before I was hired.

Q: Any specific composers that influenced you to become a composer?

MU: I had a steady exposure to orchestral music through my parents as a child, and was studying classical piano from the age of six, but I did not really make the connection between the piano lessons I had been taking and the popular music I was discovering until I was 13. Trying to plunk through arrangements of the rock stuff I loved, like the Police and Prince, was what really motivated me to think about the structure behind these tunes. Liszt and Debussy were some of my favorites in my high school years, while American giants like Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix and Tom Waits also figured largely as I grew to appreciate the depth and diversity of the music world. New Diablo II character class, The Assassin, in action.

Q: What kind of education do you have? If you went to college, did you go with the intention of studying music, or did you just someday decide that music making was your thing?

MU: From age 6 to 13, I took weekly piano lessons from a very patient and talented musical educator in Los Angeles named Lenee Bilski. She had the ideal approach to a student like myself, letting me discover things on my own while giving me a good basis in theory and technique. Though she never pushed me to the point of making music seem like a chore, she gave me a quality weekly workout of scales and theory which has provided the basis for my musicianship since. Most of the rest of my education has been though discovery on my own, with a few guitar and jazz piano lessons here and there. I would have liked to have taken a real counterpoint course in college, but the music department at my university was almost nonexistent. In my college years, spending hours in front of the "real book" playing through jazz standards taught me more than any other experience. Those Gershwin and Richard Rodgers classics are excellent studies in making a compact, effective melodic statement. Playing keyboards in a six-piece bar band also provided a good experience in arrangement, interaction and economy.

Q: Diablo II:The Lord of Destruction will take place in the Barbarian Highlands. Will the music have some type of barbarian influence, and if so where would you draw that style from?

MU: When the word "Barbarian" is mentioned, the obvious reference of Basil Pouledouris' amazing scores to the Conan movies has to come to mind. I recently recorded some tracks with Kirk Trevor and the Slovakian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Bratislava, and heard more Wagner than anything else in the influences, which seemed immediately apparent. If anything, I will be trying to do something closer to the Wagner/Orff traditional fantasy style than I have done in the past.

Q: Finally, what's the most important advice for young composers who want to get into the industry?

MU: Two things--One, what you are selling is a commodity like any other commodity, and should be thought of as such. Being treated fairly on a business level is important, and if you don't have this relationship clearly defined by all parties, the resentment which results can be worse than not having had a break in the first place. Second, if there is a gig you want, be persistent to the point of a getting a restraining order put on you. Wear them down. Good gigs are competitive by nature, and you don't get them by waiting by the phone.

Fans of Diablo II will get a chance to hear the music and play the game early this year. The full text of the interview is available here.

by Andrew Long
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