Service of the Gods: An Interview With Composer Ramin Djawadi
As composer for Game of Thrones and Westworld, Ramin Djawadi will satiate your wait between seasons by touring his most famous compositions.
No show's absence is felt more keenly by fans than Game of Thrones; it's the reason that countless podcasts, YouTube accounts, and fan sites have sprung up to try and fill the void. Luckily for Game of Thrones diehards sweating through the next few months before Season Seven, composer Ramin Djawadi is unveiling something that is not just a stopgap, but likely the closest thing to a trip to Westeros most people will ever get.
The Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience will be unleashed in February 2017, bringing not only the iconic score that Djawadi has helmed since back when Bran Stark could still walk, but a massive, multi-stage experience complete with an orchestra, a choir, and gorgeous projections, all with Djawadi at the helm.
"Most of the time I'll be conducting the orchestra, but there will be some pieces that I'll be playing an instrument as well, just because I love playing," said Djawadi in speaking with PopMatters. "There's pieces where I want to grab an instrument and play with the rest of the group, like 'The Light of the Seven' for example, I would love to play the piano for that."
For Djawadi, the process of putting the music together has been daunting, a macro-sized version of the kind of test he faces each season.
"It's been difficult every season even just compiling a soundtrack and breaking it down and then already having to leave out a lot of pieces. Now to do an entire concert for six seasons obviously is even harder, so to go in and pick favorites and hopefully fan favorites has been very difficult," Djawadi explained. "You obviously want to touch upon pieces that remind the audience of key scenes from the show. When you start selecting those pieces like 'The Red Wedding' or 'The Light of the Seven' and these big moments, you realize how many great big moments the show has, and that the concert can't be six hours long."
Djawadi does have some experience distilling his greatest Thrones hits, as he crafted a suite for the Krakow Film Music Festival in 2015. But even that soaring performance pales in comparison to the scale of the concert experience, and Djawadi is eager to expand on some of his compositions he could only on briefly during the Poland show.
"Now I'm actually able to perform some of the pieces that in the suite I maybe only touched on for a minute," he said. "What's so nice about Game of Thrones is that there's so many different aspects of the show and therefore so many different themes and motifs and the way we built the stage was for this immersive experience. That was always the plan, that we are able to take the audience from being in King's Landing to north of the Wall to being in Meereen with Daenerys."
That effect is achieved not only through the contrasting themes and tonality of Djawadi's compositions -- from the sense of intrigue and lurking menace he cultivates for the Lannisters to the stoic, minimalist orchestration that accompanies the Night's Watch -- but through the stages themselves, the two largest being the King's Landing stage and the Winterfell stage, setting up a quintessential Stark-Lannister contrast. Mammoth LED screens will feature visuals associated with some of the show's iconic landscapes.
While some compositions will remain largely untouched from how they were originally heard, Djawadi is taking full advantage of not having to compete with monologues from Tyrion and Petyr Baelish for audio real estate.
"Some of the pieces I'm reworking just because now we are live, and I'm not bound to stepping behind the dialogue or being limited to what I have to score in the pictures so I'm more free to let the music flow," Djawadi explained. "And then also we'll be having some great soloists that I want to utilize and showcase, so I'm now able to go in and for example have a solo vocalist sing one of the themes that we might not have had on the soundtrack before."
For Djawadi, who's versatility and innate understanding of how to match a musical palette to a show or movie's themes has allowed him to provide backdrops as varied as the eerie piano covers of "Paint it Black" and "Fake Plastic Trees" from Westworld to the Kaiju-sized, guitar-heavy sonic sledgehammer in Pacific Rim, the season-to-season task of adapting his score to fit Game of Thrones' many character arcs is a particularly fulfilling challenge.
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"With Daenerys and her dragons, in Season One they were eggs and then they were these little dragons, and they grow. And so with that the score has to grow, the dragons' powers grow, and so I've been able to expand the epic-ness," Djawadi said. "You look at Aria and how her journey has taken her to different places and the development of her character; it's been great fun to take the characters' themes and develop them alongside that."
"It was so powerful, it was really exciting to see the show with my music in it and I'm very fortunate to just kind of paint my music to what George has created with the story and what David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] have turned it into with the show," he said.
Throughout all of Game of Thrones' twists, globe-spanning locations, and ever-climbing body count, Djawadi's score has always adapted to fit whatever was needed -- he's practically a Faceless Man -- but now the veteran composer has the opportunity to make his music the star.
The concert is sure to be a transcendent experience for the millions who've made Game of Thrones one of the most successful shows in the world, just make sure that you know how to get to the exits when they launch into "The Rains of Castamere".