Bob Dunn | Game On: The man behind the (video game) music

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Since the launch of Destiny 2 nearly two years ago, players have spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours of game time immersed in music Michael Feingold helped create, but still have no idea who he is.

That's OK, he said. His feelings aren't hurt.

Feingold, a 38-year-old resident of Lenox, is one of the orchestrators who helped craft the score for not only Destiny 2 and its expansions, but much of the music for the latter half of the original Destiny's run.

Video games, as we've previously discussed here, are a unique amalgam of different artistic disciplines including storytelling, theater, graphic design, computer science and, of course, music.

In gaming's early days, if a game had music at all, it was composed of little more than whatever electronic sounds could be eked out of the hardware of the day.

But, even with that limited set of tools, artists could create magic.

The theme music from the original Super Mario Bros. for the NES, composed by Koji Kondo, for example, has become an instantly recognizable, indelible earworm and an integral part of the experience of playing that game.

The end result of Feingold's contributions are no different, except, instead of being limited to old electronic hardware, the capabilities of which are dwarfed by even the most basic of modern cell phones, he works with a team  of composers on orchestrations. 

Feingold doesn't compose the music, nor conduct it. In simple terms, his role as orchestrator, he said, is to translate the music created by the composers into something that can be played by an orchestra.

"In a broad sense, you're giving the orchestra notes to play," he said.

"For me, that's my video game. The alchemy of it all, all of the sounds combining, there's just so much you can do with it," he said, during a recent interview at his Lenox home and studio. "I have a blast.

"My job as it is, is not to make this stuff sound like me, but make it sound like (the composer) and what they want the music to sound like," he said.

Much like iconic film scores, video game music has broken free from the confines of its original medium and in recent years, has been performed live in orchestral presentations across the country.

"It's interesting to see so many people excited to listen to video game music," Feingold said.

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Feingold was a professional touring musician for years, playing guitar for artists including Jay-Z, Erykah Badu and Queen Latifah before being tapped by Bungie, the studio that developed both the Destiny and Halo games, to orchestrate music for The Taken King, the first large-scale update to the original Destiny.

The Taken King not only represented a new phase for the game, but also for Feingold, who had never before worked on music for a video game.

Feingold admits to not being a gamer himself and said he never has any idea where or how the music on which he works will be used in the final product.

Nor, does he get any advance notice of details about the game or expansion for which he's orchestrating (I asked).

In fact, Feingold said he'd recently finished an orchestration for upcoming Destiny 2 content, but has no idea when that content will be released, but said the music for this project is very different than music that's come previously.

Based on the timing, it may be music for the just-announced Shadowkeep expansion, due out in September.

Feingold, a Swampscott native, visited the Berkshires often when he was younger and his uncle used to own a bed and breakfast in Lenox.

He moved to Lenox in 2014 after about 10 years of living in Los Angeles.

"I took a risk moving here, all my friends thought I was nuts," he said, because Berkshire County seemed far too removed from L.A. and the hub of the entertainment industry.

"I sort of moved here for a purpose after living in L.A.," he said. "I just wanted to do exactly what I'm doing, kind of live in a Norman Rockwell painting and be able to work on really fun music in peace and quiet ... and do it in a beautiful place."

From that beautiful place, Feingold said he takes great care and attention to detail when crafting his orchestrations, knowing whatever he crafts still has to be read and performed by live musicians.

"It's like a love letter to the orchestra, when you're really putting a lot of idiomatic things into the instruments," he said. "You're letting them know, `I know what went into your training.'"

Feingold said it's always fun to finally hear the end result of his efforts in crafting a composer's vision into something that an orchestra can not just bring to life, but to make it something more than just background fodder while playing.

"I try and be a maximalist in everything that I do and just squeeze as much juice out as possible," he said. "I just sleep well at night knowing that I just did the best that I could with whatever I was given."


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