“Even if you’re not watching the video, you can put the music on, and it takes you there. If the music does that, then I think we’ve done our job.”
Music Is Coming. It was a simple statement spelled out on a theater marquee a good number of months ago, but the rabid fanbase or HBO’s top-rated series Game of Thrones knew exactly what it meant: The show was going on the road, quite literally.
That is, the music of the show was going to be coming to life onstage via the
Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience tour, with a full orchestra in tow as directed by the show’s celebrated composer, Ramin Djawadi (Westworld, The Strain, Prison Break). The GoT LCE tour will be sharing many songs of fire and ice in 28 cities starting on February 20, and Djawadi is beyond excited to bring six seasons’ worth of his Emmy-nominated GoT compositions to life onstage, to say the least.
“We want to make the concert a special experience for people, and do things that have never been done before,” Djawadi confirmed with Digital Trends. “We want to tell the journeys of the main characters and how far they’ve come by the time we got to the end of season 6. What’s also going to be fun about the concert is that you’ll actually see the music as it’s being played, which will take it to a whole other level.”
Not long before the tour got underway, Djawadi called Digital Trends to discuss how the live concert has been structured, why the show’s music is best listened to in surround sound, and how The Rains of Castamere might be recast in the live setting. And now the rains weep o’er the live halls …
Digital Trends: As the conductor of this whole thing, what’s been the main goal for how you’ve put the live show together?
Ramin Djawadi: The overall goal is that the audience will relive seasons 1 through 6. Obviously, we have a lot of music from those seasons to choose from, and I had to really condense it down. I have to cover a lot of ground and sometimes move quickly through a lot of music from each season, so I have to go with the highlights. Hopefully, I’ve picked the “right” moments that the audience will enjoy, and that will help them relive their favorite scenes from their favorite episodes of the show.
What’s exciting about the concert is that there’s a lot of ground and a lot of thematic elements I want to cover. There are so many different characters and so many different themes, and so many different arrangements of the themes. It’s been exciting to go through all of the music and go, “Oh, we want to play this, and do that.”
I’ve also reworked some of the pieces to give the audience a theme that they’ve never heard on a certain instrument or with that kind of instrumentation. There are some definite changes in some of the pieces, which is something I’ve been having fun with.
Is there one specific example you can give us about those changes?
Well, there are some ideas where I’ll have a vocalist sing the theme, something we’ve not necessarily had within the show itself. And I might be using some percussion instruments that have not been in the show but that lend themselves really nicely to being used live.
I also want it to be a fun visual experience — not only what we see onscreen, but also what the musicians are playing on all the different instruments, which we now have the ability to do in this live setting.
It’s been such a big task. I’ll listen back from the top to the changes I’ve made, but I still go, “OK, what improvements and changes can I still make here?” It’s been a lot of fun to prepare this show.
I like how you said you’re taking us on a journey — which, in essence, is one of the main themes of the show anyway. Will the live set be presented chronologically in order from seasons 1 through 6?
The thing is, you find that, on the show, while Theon is doing this, Arya is doing this, and meanwhile, Daenerys is doing that. The show is really good with threading all that together with all the different shots and different locations going on. So, musically, I found out quickly early on that if I tried to stay too close to being chronologically “correct,” I couldn’t do it.
In a clever way, I’ve tried to stay sort of chronological since you really do want to start with the beginning and see the characters grow, because that’s what the themes do as well. The themes grow along with the characters as we follow along with their plots and storylines, so that’s what I wanted to do naturally with the show.
So it’s a bit of both. There will be a chronological order, but sometimes it’s not always taken quite literally because you can’t cram it all into a two-hour live show. It’s not possible — there’s just too much plot! (laughs)
When the music is being recorded for the show, are you doing it in 96kHz/24-bit high-resolution?
I think we’re actually at 48k when we record, but it’s definitely 24-bit.
Listening to the music in surround sound puts you in a room where you can close your eyes and relive the scenes.
The score you create for the TV show is such a rich and broad experience on its own — especially listening to it in surround sound. As the composer, would you agree that the 5.1 format is the best way to hear what you’re doing?
Oh, probably. What’s great about the 5.1 is that it puts you right in the middle of it. And if you just listen to the music, it puts you in the room to the point where you can just close your eyes and relive the scenes, and think about them.
For a show that’s scored in the way you do it, I feel like the stereo field only gives half, or even less than half, of the audio story.
Exactly. It’s always kind of underwhelming whenever I have to remix the soundtrack from surround sound down to stereo. Maybe it’s a similar experience of going from stereo down to mono, where you feel like you’re “missing” something.
How will you translate all of that compositional depth to the live stage experience?
It’s on our radar to make sure the audience really does get placed in the middle, but I don’t want to say exactly what that means in terms of speaker placement, and things like that. You’ll have to come to the show and see. But I can tell you we had lots and lots of discussion about it, because we want to create the best sonic quality possible.
I can’t wait to see how you do that. Besides the overall theme of the show that we hear over the opening credits, The Rains of Castamere was a song that was obviously important to a certain sequence, The Red Wedding [season 3, episode 9], so I’m looking forward to see how you deal with it.
What’s great about that one is that it’s basically a song with lyrics, so the stage gives us the perfect setting to perform that one. Maybe we’ll even have guest artists come in to do it with us. That opens it up to a lot of interesting opportunities.
So you might have a different singer in each city, members of the bands who performed the song on the show, or…?
I’m open to the idea of having a different singer each time, because different things might happen with the interpretation. As you know, in the past, we’ve had different artists perform this piece on the show (such as The National and Sigur Ros). It’ll be interesting to see what we can now do with it onstage.
One of the main pieces in season 6 was Light of the Seven (especially in episode 10). Will we also be getting that one?
Absolutely. Most of the night I’ll be conducting the orchestra, but that’s a piece where I’ll actually play the piano on it myself. It’s an interesting arrangement with piano, strings, and organ too.
It’s a piece that lends itself quite nicely to live performance and how the different layers come in, because it’s a piece that has such a long, slow build. It starts with the piano, and then we have these voices and a violin solo, then the cello and the organ, and then the orchestra comes in. I think it will be beautiful live. I’m really excited about this one.
How do you feel about people streaming your music? I feel like I’d be missing the breadth of your compositions with a standard MP3.
I do think it’s great that streaming reaches people out there and that they enjoy this music that much. It’s nice that people like my music, and I’m very thankful for that. But I do see what you mean — it’s too compressed in a regular download.
“It’s great that streaming reaches people out there and that they enjoy this music that much.”
I have great speakers in my studio and I have the best sound possible while I’m working in that kind of environment, but sometimes, I have to put the quality of the music aside. For example, if we’re with our kids and I want them to hear something, I will just play it for them over my phone. Quality aside, I’m just happy I can pull up any kind of music on the phone.
So, I’ve gotten used to it over the years. You might play something in the kitchen, but you know it may not be so great.
Do you have one particular benchmark recording you continue to refer back to as a listener?
Hmm, that’s hard to say, because I do jump around a bit. I literally go from the Romantic period of classical music and everything from Brahms, Beethoven, and Mahler, all the way to contemporary artists like Radiohead and Adele.
That’s not a bad playlist right there. The score for the original The Magnificent Seven by Elmer Bernstein (1960) had a lot of impact on you as a composer.
Correct, yes. Now that you bring that one up, that was sort of a turning point for me. That made me decide that that’s what I wanted to do for a career. That score had such as impact on me that I literally said to myself, “This is what I want to do.” And then I set out to do it.
Scoring TV in this modern golden era in is an art form unto itself. And you’ve created a very specific aural tone for this show.
I agree. It’s a separate identity to the show that really gives it a voice on its own. Even if you’re not watching the video, you can put the music on, and it takes you there. If the music does that, then I think we’ve done our job.
It’s very encouraging that we’re able to write music that supports the visual content. Sometimes you have to write music for a show that does a different type of job instead of supporting the project. But with both Game of Thrones and Westworld, music plays such a big part of it all that I feel really lucky to have been able to write music that matches the intent of the show.
Westworld has had such a cultural impact, and you created a very individual sound identity for it.
And that’s what I love about my job. Every show is different. Before I start, I think about the instrumentation to figure out what can be special for the show. What can I do different to separate it from my other projects? It’s always a challenge, but that’s what I love so much about doing this.
Last thought about the Thrones tour: Who knows, you could turn this touring group into the Trans-Westeros Orchestra, and travel around every year when winter is coming.
(laughs heartily) If there is enough interest, I would definitely love to bring this to as many people as possible. That’s definitely my goal.
What’s also exciting is that Game of Thrones is a show that hasn’t ended yet, so we’ll have to see where season 7 [airing this summer on HBO] will lead us — and what that will do musically for us. It’ll be exciting to modify the live show in the future with that in mind.