Team Focus – Jafet Meza Aug 1 - Tosh
"To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time." -Leonard Bernstein
Hey there! As always what's your name, occupation, and social security number?
Hello there, my name is Jafet Meza, and I am the main composer for Installation 01. I am in charge of establishing the main sound of Installation 01 and tasking the other musicians in the team. So all the music you’ve listened to in our trailers and videos in the last year was made by me. You’re welcome.
Haha, thank you! So tell me, how did you get into this and at what point did you realize you wanted to be a composer?
Well I started playing Halo very early in my life when Combat Evolved was released, I was probably between 5 or 6 years old, and from the very 1st moment I listened to the Bungie intro I fell in love with it. Years passed until I was 12 and I decided it was time for me to learn how to play the Halo theme on a recorder, this, as expected, was a terrible idea, so I moved into a piano my sister didn’t use anymore. I started doing very crappy covers of Halo music and I failed every time but there was this random time I played some wrong chords, and I thought to myself “huh this sounds cool,” this was around 2011, and thus my first composition was born, and you can actually listen to it here. I continued making music and felt I needed more instruments than the crappy Yamaha had so I moved into FL Studio. Some time passed, and I started uploading my crappy music to YouTube, and people started liking it despite the low quality that my 3gp videos had. By 2013 I got my first movie contract for a French film called “James Kean the Mysteries of Dragopolis” You can listen to the main theme here.
I was incredibly lucky, but I still was delighted with how things were going. However, everyone in my family thought my destiny was some graphic design nonsense because I’ve drawn since I was 4 years old and haven’t stopped since so I was forced to get prepared for that career instead of following my musical passion. This made me very troubled with which path I should follow. Finishing that movie soundtrack took much longer than I would’ve liked, but after I finished it, I knew that was the real thing and what I had always looked for finally became clear. However, to this day, I haven’t take a single class of musical theory in my life.
Right after I finished that movie, Masterz1337 from the CMT Team contacted me because he really liked my awful 117 covers I did in 2013 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pORWMCuRiE) so I ended being in charge of doing the SPV3 Soundtrack which for those who don’t know what it is, it is a fan “re-master” of the Halo CE soundtrack. Although, I am not happy with how that turned out since I think I could have done some things much better but it was quite successful and widely accepted by the community, and that’s how Bean found about me. I like how our leader contacted me because it was a very random hello and he then proceeded to not talk to me for 2 weeks. That day I said Séamus, my collaborator on the SPv3 Soundtrack: “hey wanna bet I’ll be the composer of Installation 01?” and here I am breaking stuff to look cool.
That sounds like Bean. So you got an early start in all of this and have been around for quite some time now within the fan-game realm. So tell me, regarding composing, who inspires you and which scores do you love outside of Martin O'Donnell's work?
I love minimalist music, classical music (especially ballet music) and Mexican music. Some of the composers I enjoy are Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Phillip Glass, Johannes Johannson, Hans Zimmer because I’m a normie, Disasterpiece, Max Richter, Dave Brubeck, Nihls Fram and John Williams. These are the ones I listen to the most.
That's quite a list of composers, I see you have a broad and good taste. As everyone might be wondering, how does your taste in music and composers affect the music of i01 and it's direction?
After the SPV3 Soundtrack I was burned out of Halo so when Bean approached me I almost said no until I listened to the soundtrack created by Vincent, the previous composer. In my opinion, his stuff wasn’t precisely Halo since it had very unusual motifs and synths. Thanks to this I accepted to join the team as I saw in Installation 01 an opportunity to expand the Halo music and finally make some original music after 2 years of working in Halo music only. The composer that has inspired the i01 soundtrack the most is probably Johann Johannsson not only because of his music but because of this quote: “People are hungry for new sounds, and for the experience of listening to unfamiliar music that you don’t hear on commercials and in every TV show” so I want to do the same with Halo. I love Marty’s music but WE LIVE IN A SOCIETY of over-saturated media so shining among all the music our fans consume is super hard actually, and I think the best way to shine is not by trying to do the same thing the people before us did but by expanding and iterating over the stuff they did.
I was disappointed when Neil Davidge didn’t return to Halo 5 because you can feel how much work he put in Halo 4’s OST. People usually said all of that music sounds generic, but they also don’t know that most of the Halo CE music was stock presets from a bunch of synthesizers Marty had at the time and everything in Halo 4 was made specifically for it. My point is I think the Halo sound should evolve since we are in a different era and the people that will play our game have a very different musical culture with them. I understand why the fans felt alienated with the Halo 4 soundtrack so I designed a plan to get away with my evil plans by transforming the Installation 01 soundtrack with each track.
If you listen to the Installation 01 Main Theme you can feel that it’s entirely Halo, the instrumentation, the classic E Dorian structure, a lot of references to every Halo game, everything that fans associate with Halo is there, but it also has small glimpses of what the soundtrack would eventually become. With each new track, more synths were included, and the orchestra was gradually removed or had less protagonism. So when you listen to Abstract Ingenuity, which is our Forge theme, it’s more of a retro synthwave like track composed in a different key with only a small part having the strings on the very front telling you it is the end of a cycle.
This is also one of the reasons it’s such a nostalgic piece because it has been hard for me, after years of making Halo music, to turn away from the classic Halo sound. But as I said we need to move forward, so it ends in a very ambiguous chord because we aren’t sure how the music will evolve after that. And that’s when Songheili (Red Team) enters. Songheili is a fully hybrid synthwave track that has minimal relation to the first tracks of the game, but it also has at the same time that Halo feel everyone loves. It has been the hardest track I’ve done for I01, and everyone in the music team ran from it, but I am proud of the final result.
I agree, we must always move forward, never settle. My favorite part of your music is it tells a story and slowly turns into something new from the old like a phoenix, but a big question our readers may have throughout this entire interview is, why so much music for a multiplayer only game - isn't it all just menu music?
Firstly, the reason I’ve made so much music for i01 is because I love the project and our team. It has been a very refreshing experience for me after all these years of making Halo music, so I enjoy a lot composing music for it. Second Installation 01 may not have a campaign, but I have my own personal narrative going on with the music, and it will pay out in the long term. I didn’t want to throw away everything Vincent had done before me and the team liked what he did so I decided to do a 2nd motif for the Installation 01 Main Theme, so Vincent’s became the Red Team/Covenant Motif and mine is the Blue Team/UNSC Motif. Installation 01 will have the option to turn on dynamic music during matches, so this will help to change the tune according to which team is winning and which game mode and map they are playing. Every track you’ve listened so far will return in some of the in-game music later down the road. Do not worry, though. This will be an entirely optional feature in case you don’t want to get distracted.
We have also planned different stuff for Installation 01 in the future like an 8-bit soundtrack, The Piano Works which will consist of beautiful piano arrangements made by Daniel, an extended soundtrack to bring even more variety to it and hopefully we’ll have more guests to collab with us as we did with Jonathan Churchill. I also have an extra special fan remix contest so more people can bring their ideas to the team, but I’ll talk more about that after the Alpha. The soundtrack is also being remastered to match the quality of the new tracks we’ve been working on.
Hopefully that clears up the confusion for everyone! Would you mind giving us a little more insight into how you compose – i.e., methods you use, how things come to you – perhaps something on the nuts and bolts you use to compose such as equipment, etc.
Well I can’t exactly talk about the technical aspects of the compositions because I have no formal musical education. But what I usually do is to think of the main motif first and then move on from there. I also watch a lot of soundtrack analysis videos and transcribe different soundtracks to study them. When I’m not near my laptop, I record me singing on my phone and then arrange it when I get home. For the Installation 01 Main Theme, I had to do a 3rd motif, the one from Sacred Rings, to transition from one motif to another and then dissected the Main Theme into small parts to compose the other tracks.
I don’t have any external hardware besides my laptop but what I’ve used in the i01 soundtrack so far is my laptop, 2 external hard drives, and a Sennheiser Pro HD headset. My main DAW is FL Studio, and Kontakt as my primary source of orchestral sounds with libraries like Apocalypse Percussion, NI Symphony Strings, CineBrass, Voxos and Spitfire’s Percussion ReDux. For Synths, I use Alchemy, SQ8L, Massive, TAL-U-No-LX and I’m considering adding some Arturia software to my collection to get dem analog feeling.
It's incredible how much you can do with so little. You mention you're not professionally taught, do you feel that has hindered your career/progress or do you feel It's not needed at all to pursue composing music - and what's some advice you'd give to people just starting out that may have to make this decision?
Oh absolutely. Not having a musical formation has stopped me from doing a lot of stuff and taking some job opportunities because I’m not prepared or don’t have the time due to me studying something else. I think that for a lot of creative stuff it’s not necessary to have a degree or study all your life for it, and I’m not doing less the people that have done that, I have massive respect for them, but some people just have it easier you know? Some people have that creative spark, and the only thing they sometimes need is the basic theory of whatever they are doing. I’ve met amazing visual artists that never put a foot at school and yet they are at the top of their careers.
But for something as complex as music I do think is almost necessary to study more than the basics of it especially for composition because it’s an enormous amount of knowledge to cover and apply. If I studied music I’d probably be already working in more projects or at least have it easier when composing for a new game or movie so for anyone out there that wants to be a composer I heavily recommend to do anything within your possibilities to get some music classes and not only that because if you wanna get into the video game industry there’s even more stuff to learn. How the different audio engines work, the best format, mixing, mastering, or even a bit of programming depending on how much you want to be involved.
Excellent answer, I agree entirely, anything creative can be done without formal education, but It only ever helps you if you can get it. So tell me, what is your favorite song you've composed thus far?
I think Abstract Ingenuity and Songheili because of how fun they’ve been to work on but also because of how hard was for me to finish them. I think both tracks mark a before and after in the Installation 01 soundtrack and I’m very excited to see how far we can get with this.
I think we're all excited for that, those are good choices! You've been here for quite a while and seen the ups and downs of this project, how would you describe working on Installation 01 in one sentence so far?
Installation 01 looks off.
It does, doesn't it? Let's end this like we always do, what is your ultimate Halo match?
I always loved doing Forge marathons in Halo 3 and Halo: Reach.
Well, that's that, thank you for joining us this week, Jafet, and sharing some of your insight and knowledge of composing, it was an absolute pleasure. If you'd like to follow Jafet and his work you can find him on Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. Also, don’t forget you can listen to the entire Installation 01 soundtrack on SoundCloud. Alas, this marks the end of our focus on the sound team here at Installation 01, but we look towards new beginnings. I’ll leave you all with a question, which team would you like to hear from next? I look forward to your answers, and I'll see you all soon™.