Interviewing the legendary composer, Martin O’Donnell

Martin (Marty) O’Donnell is one of the men behind the legendary soundtracks of the Halo and Destiny franchises, among others. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview him and ask some questions. Here they are, enjoy!

Pedro: Welcome Marty, it’s a pleasure for me to ask these questions to you today.

Tell us about your current work at Highwire Games. How’s working at the studio?

Highwire Games has over thirty employees, and we’re all working on a new game that should be announced soon. I enjoy working on a small team where everyone has input and impact on the final product. We released Golem for PSVR a year ago and hope to have it out for PC also. The full soundtrack to Golem should be available online in the next few weeks.

Talking about that, what are the plans for the future? In musical terms: What will come after Golem? Which genres or styles would you like to explore?

I’m looking forward to announcing our next game. It will be quite different from Golem and be for multiple platforms – not VR. I enjoy working on games with strong emotional stories.

Golem, the studio’s latest release

What about the YouTube channel? Will we be able to enjoy some more unreleased music from past games?

I put things up on my YouTube channel as I find them or as I become interested in something I created in the past. I’m certain that there will be more unreleased music from my past showing up there.

Asking about halo

Eventually, we had to talk about Halo. Recently, there were some controversy on Twitter regarding the Halo Infinite soundtrack, and how some melodies were inspired by previous scores from the Bungie-era days. Do you want to extend something on this subject? Why is it important to give credit to the original composers when doing arrangements or versions inspired by previous work?

I didn’t think there was anything controversial about expecting proper credit for music we’ve written and had published in the past. That’s just how it works. It doesn’t mean we control anything, but every composer and publisher knows that you always give composer credit to the original composers when new arrangements are created. I think in this case, it wasn’t the fault of the new composers, but an oversight by the publisher, Microsoft.

Is it possible to find the original arrangement or music sheets for the Halo: CE theme? There are several adaptations out there on the internet, nevertheless, we wondered whether it would be possible to have the closest to the original!

Yes, I have them here in my collection of sheet music. I’ll release them to the public when Microsoft gives permission.

When it comes to the current Halo Universe and its music, and leaving this controversy behind. Do you like the music in the trailers by 343 Industries we’ve seen so far?

Sure. The new folks are doing nice work.

Tell us about the Dorian mode. Which songs in your work (Halo, Destiny, etc) use it?

The Dorian mode is simply a slightly older key signature than simple major/minor keys that are part of common practice tonal music. It comes from older church modes used in Gregorian chants and therefore I knew it would help the chant melody, and other melodies in Halo, sound a bit more “ancient” when heard by a modern audience.

The halo universe had strong inspiration in religious events and characters

Is there any undiscovered easter-egg (musical or not) in the Bungie Halo games that has not been yet found or even noticed by the players? If so, would you give us a hint?

I’m pretty sure that all the musical Easter eggs have been discovered.

Do you often play videogames?

Yes, I have all the consoles and play a lot.

From all the music you have composed for Halo, is there any score that is special for you? A “favourite” one?

The score closest to my heart is the original Halo score. We showed it too the world in July of 1999 with Steve Jobs. It contained 3 minutes of music along with visuals from the game that no one had seen or heard before. From that point on we were off and running. So many subsequent pieces of music were based off of themes written for that moment. Those themes are still being used to this day in Halo Infinite.

Halo CE beta renders

In some previous collaborations with Halo Youtubers, you have mentioned you would like to work composing again for the Halo franchise. Is this still true?

I try not to close the door on anything.

What are your thoughts on Joe Staten joining 343 Industries? Has there been any attempt on their side to contact you?

Joe is still my friend and we communicate all the time. I’m really happy that he is working on something I know he loves.

Marty O’Donnell

Composer/Audio Director

Have you enjoyed this interview? What are your feelings about the iconic Halo soundtracks? Stay tuned and don’t forget to check out other incredible content!

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