The Natural Aristocrat spoke with Hexany Audio’s Lead Composer Matthew Carl Earl about his inspirations for Star Trek: Dark Remnant’s musical score.
Matthew Carl Earl may have started off only a Star Wars fan growing up but Michael Giacchino’s 2009 film score for Star Trek stole his heart. After being approached to compose the soundtrack for VRstudios and Dave & Buster’s featured VR attraction, Star Trek: Dark Remnant, he was soaring on cloud 9. Earl would fully immerse himself in anything and everything Star Trek, listening to piece after piece in his car… Imagining every corner of its universe.
Earl told The Natural Aristocrat about the differences of composing for a virtual reality-centric project, using Pro Tools to make the magic happen, and how it’s all in the details. Fun fact for those curious what the ‘Hexany’ in ‘Hexany Audio‘ means: “A Hexany is a contemporary six-note geometric musical structure.”
Interview with Matthew Carl Earl on Star Trek: Dark Remnant
The Natural Aristocrat [Nir Regev]: How much creative freedom were you given with the Star Trek license for the score?
Matthew Carl Earl: Yeah, I had a lot of freedom, for sure! When we first set off on the project we went through a lot of the Star Trek music and were looking at what we wanted to bring into the game that was just super iconic. Obviously, the Michael Giacchino soundtrack for the 2009 film, was like ‘Duh, we have to use that!’ I mean it’s just so iconic!
We obtained the license for much of that [Giacchino] soundtrack, and I wrote and cut the music within that style while employing those themes. But other than that, it was really about staying within the universe and staying true to the whole Star Trek kind of sound. I’d say I was pretty free.
What’s it like to compose for a VR project? Do you ever wear the headsets yourself while recording to test out the experience so-to-speak?
At our studio, Hexany Audio, we do a good amount of VR games and I’ll always play through the game before I start writing music. Just to get a feel for things and look around, see what the game really feels like. We get a video capture while I’m playing and then I’ll bring that back to my desk when I’m writing. So I’ll watch the video capture and write through it, almost like scoring a film. But even just going through and playing the game to get the experience does help tremendously.
As for the actual music, for me I feel VR music has to be more atmospheric and a little bit more mood setting. Instead of in your face wall to wall music. Definitely more immersive than just music on top of something, you know? So I do tend write VR music a little bit more underscored, and a little bit more ambient.
Do you need to have a lot more leniency in sound effects then because of the potential for jump scares?
Yes, I guess but sometimes those jump scares are the desired effect! (laughs) The sound guys also do take the fact that it’s VR heavily into account. For example, not in this one but in other games, you could pick up an object and hold it right up to your ear.
Let’s say you grab a torch and put it right beside your head, you want to hear the fire going crazy! But in a normal game you couldn’t really do that. So there’s a couple of extra things you take into account especially with the sound, but also with the music.
Were you inspired at all by ambient-focused material like the original Thief games by Eric Brosius? I notice you mentioned torch sounds.
Yeah, yeah definitely. But for this project not as much because this was a weird middle ground where yes, it’s VR so you want to make it immersive but it’s still Star Trek. The music in Star Trek is bombastic and huge, ridiculously orchestrated. So I was trying to find a middle ground where I was using only the orchestra but creating a lot of textural music.
How do you feel fans have reacted overall to the audio work? Do you ever frequent Dave & Busters just to see how people react?
Yeah, yeah! We’ve done a couple of projects with VRstudios and Dave & Busters that were similar to this project. It was really fun to actually go there and see people freaking out about it. It’s often people’s first experience with VR. And it’s also VR plus, motion based, and has a ride-based features like the wind blowing in your face and stuff. It’s pretty cool to see people’s reactions!
Were you a Star Trek fan growing up?
You know I actually wasn’t I was a big Star Wars fan! (laughs) But I knew the new Star Trek films and I was pretty familiar with the music already. When I heard we were going to be working on this project I was so excited I binged on everything for two weeks. I listened to Star Trek in the car so I could get fully immersed in the Star Trek mindset and the music would come more naturally.
Do you feel it can overly influence you creatively to hear other people’s work on such a level? Or that with a license-based game people have certain audio expectations you have to meet?
You know it depends. In other games if I’m trying to write something that’s a totally original style, yes, I’d definitely worry about listening too much to one composer or style. As I wouldn’t want it to sound only like one other thing. But since this is Star Trek, and you’re trying to sell that experience, I totally want it to be within the sound that’s already established by Michael Giacchino. We did have the license for a lot of the themes, so I obviously employed those.
How big was your team? I know you’re the lead composer but I know there is a lot of other composers at Hexany Audio so I was curious, do you work primarily alone with just slight assistance here and there?
At our studio we have fifteen people and that consists of mostly sound designers and production people who help manage different things. Then we have our music team. For this project, on the music side of it, I was the sole composer until the very end.
Then another composer here, Obadiah Brown-Beach, I had him help me with the multiple branched endings. We went back and forth working on each other’s themes to make sure it’s seamless and reach deadlines. The fact we all work in the same building makes collaboration really easy.
What software do you use to record on digitally? Cubase?
Pro Tools actually.
Is that what you got used to when you were younger? Or is it a professional standard on the gaming audio side these days like Unreal Engine and Unity is on the visual side?
No, no Pro Tools was what I first started using when I was like 13 or 14, and I’ve used it ever since! I know it really well and it fits my needs, so I wouldn’t want to switch to something new. I’m totally 100% fine with it! (laughs)
We actually use Pro Tools almost exclusively in our studio because sometimes clients will actually ask for Pro Tools sessions. Especially on the sound side, not so much on the music side.
Using Pro Tools keeps everyone really synchronized, it’s still the industry standard for recording, sound engineering and stuff like that. For music, it’s not used as much but it has no drawback. So a developer wouldn’t really request to use different software in place of it.
Are you possibly going to work on a Star Trek sequel to this VR attraction?
I have no idea but more Star Trek please! This was honestly some of the most fun I’ve ever had writing music. I would 100% love to be working on more Star Trek stuff!
Find Matthew Carl Earl and Star Trek: Dark Remnant on social media
Read more about Hexany Audio and and VRstudios at their respective official websites. Pro Tools is available for purchase on their official store page and Amazon for those looking to begin their own scoring journeys.
Elham Ehsas spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about Homeland’s notorious Jalal Haqqani going from exile to reclaiming the Haqqani lineage with pride.
Peace in the rearview mirror, a son lives vicariously through a childhood, idolized vision of his father. An RPG replacing the traditional bejeweled crown for his inheritance. Homeland star Elham Ehsas discussed the complicated dynamic between Jalal Haqqani and his father Haissam with The Natural Aristocrat. One inadvertently leading to the death of Max Piotrowski in the crossfire of black market, political chess. The potential for global war lingering with one triumphant speech leak via cell phone recording. What it means to carry on the Haqqani name in a world that already accepted the title’s curtain call.
Victory always peeking through the looking glass… Only to be an unremovable ship in a bottle. “Just strong enough to never lose, just weak enough to never win.”
Interview with Elham Ehsas on Homeland’s Jalal Haqqani:
The Natural Aristocrat [Nir Regev]: Jalal Haqqani capitalizes on his father’s death by lionizing Haissam’s youthful aggression. Thus, maintaining the Haqqani lineage and right to be his natural successor. Is it a product of active adaption (‘never letting a good crisis go to waste’) or was it always his dream to follow in the footsteps of the man he once admired?
Elham Ehsas: I think Haissam was both Jalal’s biggest idol and biggest heartbreak. He grew up with a father who was the lion of Afghanistan, the one who stood up to what Jalal saw as an injustice and an attack on his country. Growing up with a father like that must have reinforced that zeal that was already growing in his chest.
Having been brought up in Afghanistan myself, my parents would often tell me that the first generation of Taliban were just the orphans of the martyrs who had lost their lives to the soviet invasion and they joined the war to avenge their fathers and drive the Russians away. They became a problem when their children grew up to take their father’s place in the Taliban and that is what I think has happened here.
Jalal is almost Haissam but version 2.0 even though he lacks the natural charm and charisma of his father, but his zeal for the war is double. He truly believes his father is wrong and is letting his land and country down with what he saw as cowardice by negotiating with the only enemy he has ever known.Elham Ehsas as Jalal in HOMELAND, “False Friends”. Photo Credit: Sifeddine Elamine/SHOWTIME.
In your opinion, did Balach choose to confront Jalal privately out of fear or respect for his father?
I think in my head, Balach and Jalal both grew up together, almost as brothers under Haissam’s roof and it can be argued that maybe Balach is the son that Jalal can never be. Supportive, understanding and always there for his father.
The confrontation was like a definite fork in the road, where Jalal gives him the choice to go with him or against him. But it’s different now. They aren’t the friends that I suspect they were growing up.Seear Kohi as Balach in HOMELAND, “False Friends”. Photo Credit: Sifeddine Elamine/SHOWTIME.
Why do you feel Jalal decided to shoot Max instead of keeping him for extended leverage with the Americans? Was the statement worth more than any trade or was it genuine payback for his father?
I think genuinely Jalal loves his father. Regardless of what he thinks of him, he was an idol to him. Max served no purpose and Jalal isn’t clever enough to use him as a leverage, he’s more head strong and uses his emotions. But I suspect he may be developing a little bit of tact, especially when he watches how Tasneem so expertly weaves webs in everything she does. Maybe he might be learning?(L-R): Maury Sterling as Max and Elham Ehsas as Jalal in HOMELAND, “Fucker Shot Me”. Photo Credit: Sifeddine Elamine/SHOWTIME.
Of the scenes worked with Numan Acar, Nimrat Kaur, and Seear Kohi on Showtime’s Homeland, what are some of your favorite behind-the-scenes memories?
I have watched Nimrat in a Bollywood film called Lunch Box, so I remember during lunch we would often talk about that film and what it was like shooting it (it’s an amazing film if you haven’t seen it). It was an absolute pleasure working with them all.Nimrat Kaur as Tasneem in HOMELAND, “Deception Indicated”. Photo Credit: Sifeddine Elamine/SHOWTIME.
Do you feel Jalal shares any remorse over the way he and his father left their relationship barren? Or was the public humiliation enough to leave a permanent mark of resentment for Jalal?
Yes, I do think there is always remorse because he did truly love his father and trying to get him assassinated was a form of that love. He didn’t want to watch his hero turn into the pathetic man he was clearly becoming in his eyes. But the public humiliation would have definitely burnt that bridge forever. But as with real life, we may burn bridges but we often think about the flames even years later.(L-R): Numan Acar as Haissam Haqqani and Damon Zolfaghari as the second guard in HOMELAND, ÒThrenody(s)Ó. Photo Credit: Sifeddine Elamine/SHOWTIME.
What was your daily routine to get into character as Jalal? Did you have any pre-filming military style training for handling the RPG?
Yes I did do some work with our great armourer, Thibault, who taught me different way to handle a gun and some basic military movements. I always prepared for the role a few month prior by hitting the gym because I knew Numan [Acar], my father, was very well built so I wanted Jalal to be able to hold his own with his father.(L-R): Numan Acar as Haissam Haqqani and Elham Ehsas as Jalal in HOMELAND, “False Friends”. Photo Credit: Sifeddine Elamine/SHOWTIME.
Do you feel Jalal has fully considered the consequences, to himself, his country, and globally through the revelation of taking down President Warner’s helicopter? Whether a lie or truth, he becomes public enemy #1.
I think what’s happened so far is everything that Jalal would have wanted to happen, in terms of elevating his position, taking the reigns from his father, and leading the war himself. But whether he’s ready for it, is something we need to wait and see.
Be sure to read Homeland: Would you have made President Hayes’ decision? and Homeland Season 8 Episode 4 Review: Must See TV, Groundbreaking for more in-depth analysis of Showtime’s jaw-dropping final season of Homeland.
Check out more coverage of Homeland Season 8 in The Natural Aristocrat’s Homeland category section.
Ellen Toland spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about Inside the Rain’s Emma Taylor and society’s inability to separate job title from human being leading to a culture of objectification.
Ellen Toland’s Emma Taylor in new film Inside the Rain is a quiet looking glass into the day-to-day treatment of commodified human beings. When the fantasy of body sushi and the gentlemen’s club ends and a person trying to resume their regular life off-the-clock begins. Yet, separating the person from their job title appears a distant hope, like spotting individual blades of grass outside. It’s for this reason, among many others, that Emma Taylor finds comfort in another person pre-judged by society. One born with bipolar disorder and treated as such at all times to personal detriment. Even scorned in suspicion for taking their medication due to repetitional bias.
Meet Ben Glass, Inside the Rain’s lead protagonist. Ben is largely defined by one act during Into the Rain, an attempted suicide via overdose. In turn, Ben is later accused of another such attempt when he’s spotted simply organizing his medicine for the week… Leading to an unjust arrest and potential exclusion from university. Thus, Ben Glass decides to make a film about all the events leading up to the arrest as a proactive visual defense. Better Call Saul’s Jimmy McGill once told Scholarship interviewee Kristy Esposito that, ‘You made a mistake and to them that’s all you’ll ever be,’ and it feels highly applicable to Inside the Rain’s plot. Much like Jimmy tried to drive Kristy to fighting forward even without the scholarship, Emma Taylor feels Ben can be advance forward in his life without going back to a University that preemptively shunned him.
This interview contains spoilers for Inside the Rain.
Interview with Ellen Toland on Inside the Rain’s Emma Taylor:Ellen Toland as Emma Taylor in film, Inside the Rain – Photo Credit: Art 13
Nir Regev [The Natural Aristocrat]: A good portion of TV & Film audiences are unable to disconnect the character they see on-screen from an actor in real life. During Inside the Rain, these fraternity looking, rich jocks bother Emma Taylor outside of the strip club she works at. Unable to separate the fantasy of body sushi from a regular person having a smoke after work. I was wondering how you feel about that?
Ellen Toland: Oh, that’s a really, really good question. I think that’s a feminine issue especially and it’s pretty ingrained in masculine culture. To objectify women, having a hard time separating the fact that they are not an object and something to toy with. I feel that’s what that scene really plays upon because those guys definitely don’t see a difference between a human being and their sushi tray.
And I think that’s a real issue with our culture in general.
It’s something that people really need to assess within themselves. I think that happens with people and titles of their jobs in the first place too. We don’t see past the title of what people do, and we make that their entire identity… And then treat them with that sense.
Do you feel Emma’s openness lends itself to accept a bipolar person intimately into her life despite his involuntarily asylum stay? There’s many that would have second thoughts after seeing someone forcibly institutionalized but you decide to donate Ben $5,000 dollars for his student film.
Yeah, I feel Emma’s seen a lot of different types of people and has a deep well of empathy & understanding for people. She kind of sees that with Ben but I also think it’s matched with Ben’s acceptance of her and building her up. Which I don’t think she’s had a lot of in her own life. It’s the perfect combination of both of them meeting each other exactly where they’re at, building each other up, and ultimately eventually move on in their own lives.Ellen Toland as Emma Taylor, Aaron Fisher as Ben Glass in film, Inside the Rain – Photo Credit: Art 13
What was it like shooting the scene where Emma’s having dinner with Ben’s parents and mentions she works at a strip club?
I think my choice going into the dinner was that Emma hadn’t been introduced to a lot of parents and treated normally. She’s meeting their possible judgment by just really owning it and trying to almost test them out too and see how they’re going to react. When it’s met with genuine acceptance as well, she’s pleasantly surprised. Shooting that scene was really fun and the restaurant was very sweet to us as well, we ate a huge meal! [laughs] That was great, never bad to get to eat on set, you know?Catherine Curtin as Emma Glass and Paul Schulze as David Glass in film, Inside the Rain – Photo Credit: Art 13
I saw an interview with you and Aaron Fisher where he said, ‘During auditions it just kept going back to Ellen, Ellen, Ellen!’ What do you think was that X-Factor won you the role?
Ultimately, I feel Aaron and I had a pretty natural chemistry. One that you can’t really manipulate with actors necessarily. All the pieces fell together. We really had a good energy together and you really need that in a romance. (laughs)
Inside the Rain left things a little bit open ended for the ending. Why do you feel the choice was made not to send the audience home feeling ‘warm and fuzzy’ with a full happy ending?
I mean I think it was also being realistic to what really would happen in real life. Aaron was also basing the film off of his own life. He wanted to play to the truth of that. And I think they both needed to go and own themselves. They’d been given that confidence, and that’s what’s so good about the flash forward at the end.
It showed that that’s why Ben made that choice, that he really could move forward and ended up with the person he was meant to be with. We have people in our life all the time that are just chapters that are meant to lead us to end of our own story, it doesn’t make those chapters any less important.Ellen Toland as Emma Taylor, Aaron Fisher as Ben Glass in film, Inside the Rain – Photo Credit: Art 13
Inside the Rain feels so much like art imitating life. I have to ask… Is Emma Taylor the real name of the girl portrayed in the film?
Oh, no it’s not her real name! (laughs) It’s loosely based off of someone but it’s definitely not the same name! There’s elements of Aaron’s life in the film, I’d say 60/40 but the film is loosely biographical. Like the last ten years all stirred around into one movie.
Do you feel being aware that Aaron knew this person impacted your interpretation in any way? Or did you still approach the role in the same way you would any other?
You think about it for sure but you also want to create your own vision of it and own that. Aaron and I definitely talked a ton about Emma but he gave him lots of room to make my own decisions. Aaron’s an actor’s director!
There was kind of a frugal moment toward the end at the fast food joint where Emma is adding everything up on her head. It seemed based on those sexually fueled videos she was making outside of her main job and the $5,000 donation that she’d be rich. How do you feel about that scene?
That scene is trying to say that she’s working really hard to get where she is, and knows the worth of a dollar. Feeling at the same time that Ben hasen’t had that kind of struggle. I think you can be making a lot of money and still be frugal. You remember how hard it was to get there.
Why do you feel that despite ‘red flags’ being present, Emma decides to donate the money for Ben’s film? Did Ben’s dream become Emma’s dream and intertwined at that point?
Yeah it all becomes mixed up. I think it also becomes her dream. Emma sees this person that she cares about and understands how important it is to him. There was no too big of a feat to make that dream come true.
Would you like to reprise the character of Emma Taylor potentially in another film?
I love Emma! She’s so brave and strong, I really adore her. If there is an Inside the Rain: Part 2, sure. I mean Aaron and I are really good buds, I love working with him. I’d love to work with him again, of course!
How much of yourself do you see in Emma as a character?
I think that any person you play, you bring an element of yourself. There’s things that are different, there’s things that are the same but I don’t think it’s necessarily conscious. You just bring as much of your research on their perspective of the world as you can. Whether that’s the way you move or even read things. Maybe there’s pieces of yourself in that. It’s a weird little mixed up bag.Ellen Toland as Emma Taylor, Aaron Fisher as Ben Glass in film, Inside the Rain – Photo Credit: Art 13
I saw you studied over in RADA, one of the best acting schools in the world. How do you feel it established your foundations as an actress?
It was amazing! I loved it, some of the best professors I ever had were there. It was something I’d always dreamt of doing and I loved London. It was a really important step in developing my craft. Everything that people say about it… It’s all true! It did not disappoint.
Read more Film and Television interviews in The Natural Aristocrat’s Interview category section. Be sure to watch The Natural Aristocrat TV with Host Nir Regev interviewing leading talent in the entertainment and sports industry on-camera!
Charlotte Nicdao spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about Poppy’s endearing and eccentric personality quirks like a fascination with dinner parties and shovels on Apple TV+’s Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet.
Charlotte Nicdao took a Myers-Briggs personality test in-character as Poppy to get into the role’s psyche on Apple TV+’s Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet. Nicdao believes Poppy is the type of personality that can become a “mastermind” at any individual specific thing by being hyper-focused on it… But be terrible at everything else in the process. Hence, Poppy’s insistence on making her early season ideas of in-game dinner parties and a seemingly throwaway item like a shovel work.
During a roundtable press interview in New York City, The Natural Aristocrat discussed the makeup of Poppy’s personality with Charlotte Nicdao and why sometimes ‘a shovel’ is more than a shovel.
This interview contains minor spoilers for Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet.
Interview with Charlotte Nicdao on Poppy:
The Natural Aristocrat [Nir Regev]: Poppy has these unique personality quirks about her like being exceptionally keen on dinner parties or even shovels. I think that says a lot about her character’s backstory. Do you feel it’s true that Poppy has never been to a dinner party before?
Charlotte Nicdao: We did have this idea that she’s incredibly intelligent but just can’t get her head around how to connect people. That’s the thing that Ian, Rob’s character, is really, really good at. And maybe part of the reason that Poppy isn’t able to get credit that she deserves. But Poppy just doesn’t really understand how other people function. I did this thing before we started shooting called a Myers-Briggs test for the character. You know those personality tests? I answered it the way that I thought that Poppy would answer it and it was fascinating what came out.
Poppy has a personality type, and I think this is really accurate to the character, who would become focused on one specific thing and become a mastermind at it. And it could be anything! So, this kind of person could choose to be social and be brilliant at it… But be terrible at everything else. And I think that’s who she is. Poppy’s the most brilliant coder in the world! Everything else is just a mess. (laughs)
Was the use of a shovel supposed to be a symbolic metaphor for always trying to kind of dig yourself out of Ian’s plans?
I didn’t think of it like that but I like that analogy! I think it was a really cool idea for me that Poppy is someone who’s basically been with the game since its inception… And is in charge of creating all these ideas that Ian has, turning them into something that’s playable. The thing that she holds dearest to her in the expansion, her beloved idea, is a tool that allows the players to do what she’s done: create something that’s lasting, that then other players can interact with. I thought that that was quite beautiful, which is not something that you would usually think of in association with a shovel.
There’s a part in Mythic Quest: Raven’s Quest where Poppy tells her boss David [David Hornsby], ‘you know that’s why your wife left you.’ That was pretty brutal! How did it make you feel to say those words?
Megan Ganz (Series Co-Creator/Writer/Executive Producer) came up with that on-set. She came up to me and was like, “When she says this, throw that in!” I love it when Megan is on-set, she gives me really good jokes!
Charlotte Nicdao on Social Media:
The Natural Aristocrat recently interviewed Charlotte Nicdao’s Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet co-star F. Murray Abraham (C.W. Longbottom) on his role and backstory on the series.