“I was taught that composers were dead white men – I didn't realise someone like me could earn money writing music.”
Meet Jessica Curry: award-winning composer. She won a BAFTA for her music to PlayStation game Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture in 2015; it’s since had 12 million plays on Spotify.
James Morgan, who conducted the original sound track recording, says Curry’s music stands out in a market dominated by violent games.
“Her sound is pretty much unique, certainly among the video games I’ve experienced. No drums, no thudding beats – it’s pastoral, melancholy and uplifting. For Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, where rural Shropshire meets something quite twisted, think Vaughan Williams pastoral apocalypse.”
Better still, hear it for yourself when Curry presents a concert of her music, as well as other hugely popular original PlayStation games soundtracks including The Last of Us, Little Big Planet and Horizon Zero Dawn, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, in partnership with Classic FM, on Wednesday 30 May.
“I’ve been to countless Proms and told my mum the RPO concert is a dream come true,” says Curry who, when she’s not composing, presents High Score, a video games music show on Classic FM. It has been credited with helping to boost the station’s audience of younger listeners and those new to classical music (her orchestral score to Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture has been voted into the station’s popular Hall of Fame two years in a row). She’s sure it will do the same for live classical music.
“I’ve just completed a sell-out UK tour of my music to Dear Esther [nominated for a BAFTA in 2012] where the game was played in real-time accompanied by musicians on stage. The concerts attracted many people new to a live classical concert setting, just as I am sure PlayStation in Concert will attract an audience new, not only to the Royal Albert Hall, but also to the RPO.”
It’s an astonishing achievement for someone whose journey into music was far from conventional. Curry graduated from University College London in 1994 with a degree in English Literature and Language but a conversation with her late stepfather shortly after inspired her to embark on a course in soundtrack composition. She graduated with a postgraduate diploma in screen music from the National Film and Television School three years later.
“I’d always been obsessed with film, and had played the piano and the cello, and sung in choirs,” she says. “My English degree taught me how to tell stories, but my playing and singing gave me a feel for music. The two were a natural fit.”
Curry believes her lack of classical training has been a distinct advantage.
“Because I didn't have a formal training, I don't know when I’m breaking the ‘rules’, but that gives me the freedom I need and it’s why my music is different. As Jim Fowler, my orchestrator, sometimes says, ‘Your chord progressions are unconventional – but they’re brilliant!’.”
Armed with her screen writing diploma, Curry became a freelance composer, working on short films and sound installations, and projects with the Royal Opera House and Welsh National Opera. There were some tough times.
“My music was unfashionable for a really long time and I had many knocks but I never sold out – I never wrote just for money. Behind the jokes I’m a very earnest person. I always strived for authenticity and to write music from the heart. People have a very emotional reaction to my music, and I love that.”
Her leap into games music came when her husband, Dr. Dan Pinchbeck, a games developer, asked her to compose the music for his experimental video game, Dear Esther. The project was a huge success and triggered the launch, in 2012, of the couple’s games studio, The Chinese Room. They have collaborated on three further games since, racking up sales of over four million – and all without a single shot being fired.
“We’re not interested in violent or fantasy games; we tell stories about real people and our games have found a really committed audience,” says Curry.
Many of them are sure to be present at PlayStation in Concert to hear the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra perform not only her gentle and heartfelt music but also great music by her fellow games composers, among them Gustavo Santaolalla (The Last of Us) and Takeshi Furukawa (The Last Guardian). Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture may be the title of Jessica Curry’s soundtrack but as a name for the RPO’s concert on 30 May, it couldn't be more accurate.