Interview with Sarah Schachner

Assassin's Creed Unity has surely been a controversial game but there is one aspect on which all the fans always seem to agree, and that is the soundtrack of the various chapters. From the arabic tones to the Renaissance melodies up to the recent piratical notes, the soundtrack has always been important both to contextualize the historical background and to highlight the pivotal moments of the Assassin's Creed franchise. The same can be said about the last chapter of the franchise and that is why we are so happy to share with all the fans this written interview that we had with Sarah Shachner, one of the composers of the Assassin's Creed Unity soundtrack.

Without further ado, let's start!

Interview with Sarah Schachner

Q: So, first of all, a quite standard question! Surely you had some key figures in your life during your education, right? Which artists inspired you and keep being a source of inspiration for you nowadays?

A: My parents introduced me to The Beatles when I was just a few years old and Iíve been drawn to melodic music ever since. In terms of film composers, Thomas Newman, Ennio Morricone, Clint Mansell, and early Hans Zimmer had a big impact on me growing up but I draw inspiration from all kinds of music. I love electronic music so Iím always listening to whatís going on in that world as well.

Q: What does studying music and composition mean to you? You come from a family of musicians, right? Has it been a ďnaturalĒ path for you?

A: I started piano and violin very young and played in a family band with my dad and sister, so music has always been a big part of my life. Itís one of those things where I donít really feel like there was a specific moment where I chose this path. I couldnít fathom doing anything other than creating music, so in my mind, there was no other option.

Q: From your YouTube channel itís clear that you have a fair passion for videogames. Are you a gamer? Do you think that, currently, video games may be considered an art form?

A: I donít think Iíd enjoy working on them if I didnít consider them an art form. Itís pretty incredible how far theyíve come in just the past 10 years. I grew up playing Sega and Nintendo 64, but Iíve never really considered myself a gamer, though I definitely enjoy them.

Q: In your rťsumť, as previously mentioned, we can see how you worked both on movie and videogame productions. Which are the differences, if there are any, between composing music for a movie and for a videogame?

A: They are definitely different. Film and TV are similar in that you are scoring a linear story but games are interactive and unpredictable. Music must be able to loop and stop and start at any point, controlled by computer software that reacts to what the player does. Thereís a lot of jumping around within a piece. Unpredictable movement like that is not very musical. With games, while you do gain musical freedom scoring mostly away from picture, you have to find creative ways to work within the unusual constraints of the interactive software.

Q: The Assassin's Creed Unity soundtrack is really an impressive work, there are more than 50 tracks split up into two albums. For this work you collaborated with another composer, Chris Tilton. Can you explain us how do you manage a collaboration between two composers working on the same soundtrack?

A: We actually didnít collaborate musically. Ubisoft had specific areas of the game they wanted us to focus on. Chris was mostly covering the single player narrative storyline and I handled most of the systemic combat and co-op missions.

Chris Tilton
Q: In your work for the OST of Unity, which was shared with Chris Tilton, did you also share with him some leitmotiv or particular musical theme that in some way connected your works?"

A: Neither of us used any themes from the other. They wanted us to do our own thing. However, Ubisoft did ask us both to incorporate the Ezioís Family theme in some subtle manner (it makes a brief cameo in Dark Slayer off of my volume 2 soundtrack).

Q: In which ways are your work and Chris Tiltonís different?

A: While our soundtracks are quite different, I think they compliment each other nicely. Chrisí work is mainly telling Arnoís personal narrative and speaks to the broader cinematic story. Most of my soundtrack has specific, systemic function - a lot of action and combat with more of an emphasis on the French musical influences and time period to create that historic atmosphere for the player.

Q: A specific track really made an impression on us. ďRather death than slaveryĒ gets to the ear of the listener like a reinterpretation of ďLa MarseillaiseĒ. This is an example of how the soundtrack focuses on darker tones, compared with the previous ones. Whatís the reason behind this choice? Did you want to shift the attention mainly on the atrocity of the guillotine and the Terror?

A: Yeah, exactly. This track speaks more to the heart of the revolution than Arnoís specific journey. Itís for historical context. ďLa Marseillaise,Ē in its original form is a super patriotic anthem, almost masking the pain and struggle the lyrics speak to. Putting that melody in a totally different musical context created an interesting contrast.

Q: Your work strikes the ear of nostalgia and of the old fans of the franchise because you alternate between a type of polished, orchestral and historically refined music and tones more steered towards electronic music. Why did you choose this style? Did you want to get back to the atmospheres of the first chapters?

A: In some ways yes, itís more in line with the earlier games of the franchise. Black Flag was a bit of a different animal because of the subject matter. A Caribbean pirate adventure just naturally lended itself to a lighter more bombastic mood than any of the previous Assassinís Creeds. With the French Revolution, we were able to get back to that darker, more serious place; and this time period is defined by its precise and embellished orchestrations. The electronic hybrid element is always part of the Assassinís Creed sound, but it was not as much of a focus in Black Flag. It was nice to bring that back.

Q: Did you enjoy working on the AC Unity soundtrack and did Ubisoft give you complete freedom while working on it?

A: Absolutely! It was an exciting unique challenge to incorporate Classical/Baroque music into a video game. Getting to immerse yourself in any time period and make it your own is so much fun. Ubisoft is great to work with because they allow enough freedom for you to do that. They are always clear on what function they need out of the music, but they leave it up to you to figure out how to achieve that musically.

Q: Lastly, can we hope to see you again working on a future Assassinís Creed installment?

A: Youíll have to ask Ubisoft about that.

This last question ends our interview. We would like to thank Sarah Schachner for her kindness and, having listened to her work, we hope to hear again another of her scores!

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