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Dave Levison

Producer/Remixer, Musician, and Sound Designer
Dave L's career spans a decade and includes albums,
films, television, cartoons, live theater and an obscene amount
of LucasArts video games, including several Star Wars titles,
Indiana Jones, Escape from Monkey Island, and more

MT> Dave, you have been composing and playing music since the age of thirteen. How did you get your start in music, and what instruments have you mastered?
DL> Well, I studied classical and electronic music composition at the California Institute of the Arts, and during college I worked as an assistant to film composer and keyboardist Michael Boddicker. I played in many bands growing up in Los Angeles, and put together my own little home studio. After CalArts I moved to San Francisco to start a small music production studio with a friend. We got a business loan and worked our butts off to make connections and try to get our studio rolling. We were very broke for a while, but eventually started getting opportunities to do music and audio production in interactive media and games. At the same time, we were both performing in San
Francisco bands.

As for instruments I've mastered? I don't claim to be the master of any. I think that takes a lifetime of dedication to an instrument. I'm most skilled on the guitar. I decided at one point in college that I was more interested becoming a better composer and sound designer than a star instrumentalist, but I will say I do have some "chops," ha ha.

What musical styles have you performed and which do you prefer
most at this stage of your life and career?
DL> I've performed all kinds of rock, punk, funk, R&B, free improvisation, experimental, noise, electronic, and right now I'm really into doing a hybrid of electronic, rock and hip-hop.

MT> Tell us about or-if-is and ZONK.
DL> Or-if-is is an electronic project that is mostly me, sometimes collaborating with others. It's beat and groove-based with lots of sound design, funny samples and ambient elements. Two or-if-is tracks were featured in the movie "Groove" (Sony Pictures Classics, 2000), and in 2003, Harmony Machine released the first or-if-is CD, called "This Is". Last year Konami licensed one of the tracks for "Dance Dance Revolution Ultra Mix 2", and we've been doing some live or-if-is shows as well.

ZONK is a 4-member band that mixes rock, electronic, and hip-hop. I joined the band in 2002, began writing with them and producing, and Harmony Machine released an EP "Our Five Worst Songs" in 2004. In 2004 ZONK won the Music for America national download contest, toured the east coast opening for De La Soul in Boston, and toured the west coast opening for Concrete Blonde.

MT> What were your contributions to Konami's Dance Dance Revolution titles?
DL> We licensed "Eye Spy" by or-if-is and "Tittle Tattle" by ZONK for the U.S. release of DDR Ultra Mix 2. We're talking to Konami about also licensing the tracks for the European release.

MT> What was it like touring with hip hop pioneers De La Soul and rock legends Concrete Blonde? Any amusing backstage anecdotes you wish to share?
DL> It was a blast! We opened for De La Soul at the Middle East in Cambridge. The show was sold out, completely packed with really enthusiastic college kids wanting to have a good time, and we got a really good response. We had flown in the night before on a "red eye" flight from San Francisco. When we got to Cambridge early in the morning before the show, we all just slept for a while (or most of us did). We woke up to get ready for the show and found out Uncle Bergie's guitar was broken by the airline! We had to scramble and rent him a guitar for the show. That was a little nerve-racking. Playing with Concrete Blonde was also tons of fun. Johnette thanked us onstage a few times which was really nice, and it was good to spend a little time with her backstage at the Ventura show. A lot of Concrete Blonde fans are pretty straight-up rock fans who probably didn't want to like us because we have a DJ and laptops on stage and no drummer---not a typical rock and roll setup. However, we also got very good response from the crowd at those shows. I'm glad that ZONK can open for acts as diverse as De La Soul and Concrete Blonde and appeal to both audiences.

The funny thing is, in 2003 we went to see a show in Golden Gate Park where both De La Soul and Concrete Blonde were on the bill! We never imagined the next year we'd be playing with both of them!

MT> For which theatrical events have you created music and sound design?
DL> I've done music and sound design for 3 plays by The Cutting Ball Theater: "Mayakovsky: A Tragedy", "Hamlet Machine", and "Robert Zucco". Cutting Ball is an experimental theater group that does original plays and interpretations of classic and modern plays. The thing I like about them that's different than a lot of other modern theater groups is they don't take themselves and the material too seriously. Director Rob Melrose has a great sense of humor, and a great sense of design. He can deal with serious subjects in a way that is both entertaining and fun, but still deep and meaningful, without coming off as a pretentious high-art thing.

MT> What was your experience working on a Disney project? When I worked for Disney, they were extremely particular and demanding.
DL> My client was Fluid Entertainment who's client was Disney, so I didn't deal directly with Disney. I did get a sense of their restrictions, but my music was actually approved pretty quickly with virtually no revisions. Not dealing directly with a client has it's pluses and minuses, however. On the one hand, you are shielded from a lot, on the other hand you kind of have to go through two layers of approval of your work. More cooks in the kitchen.

MT> How did you become involved with Cartoon Network's Hamtaro cartoon?
DL> I was contacted by The Orphanage, a San Francisco film and post production company founded by some former Industrial Light and Magic people. They contacted me because they needed a techno remix, and knew that I had a lot of experience with both electronic music production and remixes. It was fun to remix the Ham-Hams!

MT> In 1999 you did sound design for Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine for LucasArts by director Hal Barwood and received Eurogamer's Gaming Globe Awards nomination for best sound effects and use of sound within a game. What was so distinctive about this project that garnered such praise?
DL> I think it was the richness of the sound ambiences, which we spent a lot of time and resources on. Games have done even a lot more with ambience since then, but I guess it was impressive for 1999.

MT> Tell us about your work in 3D sound technology?
DL> I've been told that Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II was the first use of 3D sound technology in a game in 1997. We did a lot of experimentation, and it was very important to me for the game to have rich ambience. We did a lot of work with stereo loops, mono directional loops and scripted one-shot sounds, both directional and non-directional. I think this helped make the game feel more real and immersive. Brian Schmidt of Microsoft told me he loved playing that game on headphones, and others have told me so. We worked pretty closely with Aureal on their 3D sound processing as well. With each project after Jedi Knight, we tried to go further with 3D immersiveness, and then the Xbox gave us lots of hardware acceleration to have fun with, including 5.1 surround processing. During "mix" phase and audio testing, we started comparing our game mixes to DVD movies, because we could play them both in 5.1 surround, and like everyone else, we were trying to push the game soundtrack quality closer to film.

MT> Holy Cow! The list is HUGE: Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter, Star Wars: Racer Revenge, Star Wars: Obi-Wan, Star Wars: Starfighter, Star Wars: Demolition, Star Wars: Force Commander, Star Wars: Episode I Insider's Guide, Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith, Star Wars: Behind the Magic, Star Wars: Rebellion, Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, and Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi. You have contributed to a full dozen soundtracks. Are you a Star Wars fanatic?
DL> Not any more, ha ha! I was obsessed with Star Wars as a kid. At about age 12, I discovered the guitar and started playing less video games and being less obsessed with Star Wars. I never thought I consciously sought out to work on Star Wars games, but maybe I did subconsciously! I feel lucky to have worked on so many. I was a little burned out on Star Wars for a while, but I've had some distance from it, so it would be fun to work on another game again.

MT> Which of the many Star Wars compositions are you most proud of creating and why?
DL> Most of them I did sound design and not music composition. I'm pretty proud of Jedi Knight for what I was able to achieve sonically with the technology at the time, and my second choice would be Force Commander, because Peter McConnell and I were able to do something really different and a little controversial with John Williams' music.

MT> I have the RTX: Red Rock soundtrack and it is amazing. I'm particular fond of your tune "Flying the Scout Ship." It has a real theatrical feel to it. Obviously LucasArts was impressed with the compositions, as they released the soundtrack on CD. Are any of your other LucasArts projects also available on compact disc?
DL> I'm glad you like it! I'm proud of that project because it was the first project for LucasArts where I wrote all the music. Other LucasArts projects had been either editing and programming John Williams' music from the movies, or doing adaptations and remixes of John Williams, which were also fun. Since RTX Red Rock was the only LucasArts project for which I wrote all the music, that's the only one that has a separate soundtrack available. However, for Star Wars: Demolition, I did electronic adaptations and remixes of John Williams. It was developed for Playstation, but the audio tracks on the Playstation disc I believe are standard CD audio tracks, so if you have that game you can put it in your CD player and listen to the music---just don't listen to track 1! It would be a data track and cause a bunch of noise to come out your speakers!

MT> Oh... really.... I actually liked track number one more than any of the others (snicker)

Good Deal Games recognizes the importance of audio as a strong contributor to the trade.
We salute Dave for helping making our gaming experiences seem more complete.

Visit Dave Levison's websites:

Harmony Machine
San Francisco



e-mail Dave


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