David Arkenstone

An interview with instrumental composer David Arkenstone
by Max Ink Writer List
October 2010

David Arkenstone

David Arkenstone

David Arkenstone has been creating contemporary-instrumental music for well over 20 years. He combines electronic samples with acoustic instruments. His albums are are often fantasy themed and usually come packaged creatively with literature and art. Arkenstone has gained three Grammy nominations over the years. Through he mainly plays keyboards, he impressively plays a wide variety of instruments including, mandolin, guitar, bass, harp, cello, flute, piano, Turkish Saz, pennywhistle, pan pipes, drums, melodica, and bouzouki. His work has graced computer games like World of Warcraft - Cataclysm, Lands of Lore (2 & 3), Emperor: Battle for Dune, and Blade Runner. He has composed music for television for NBC Sports, The History Channel, and the Discovery Channel in addition to writing the original score for the independent film PRISM.

Maximum Ink: Can you tell us a little about your background growing up? What first led you to pursue a career in music?
David Arkenstone: I distinctly remember being 4 or 5 years old and being fascinated by the Nutcracker music by Tchaikovsky. I desired to know how those sounds were made, and why they made me feel the way it did. Also, my parents were both musicians, so there was a lot of music and a piano in our home all the time. I took piano lessons as a child, then as I became more proficient, I started to compose my own music.

MI: You list J.R.R Tolkien as one of your influences. Why do you think it is so important that we all have a little fantasy in our lives? Have you
ever considered trying to write any of your own?
DA: A little fantasy is wonderful for expanding the mind. Any activity that sparks our imagination is healthy, I think. It also helps during periods that we perhaps aren’t doing exactly what we want to be doing. As for me, I’ve written a few thing to accompany some of my recordings, and I’m also working on some new things.

MI: A lot of your albums come with literature and art. How do you think they compliment music? Why do you feel they are so literature and art are
so..powerful?
DA: I think it expands our thinking, and they can touch us emotionally, which gets at the core of who we are. It encourages imagination and self-discovery. It can be very mentally stimulating, which is always good.

MI: Do you have any favorite artists when it comes to fantasy/mythical art?
DA: A very talented gentleman is my current favorite, I worked with him on my Myths and Legends release. Karem Gogus

MI: What musicians influenced you early on and why?
DA: Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Beethoven were early influences, mostly I suppose for their wonderful sense of melody. Then The Beatles, Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, The Cheftains, Peter Gabriel. All these artists explored areas I enjoyed and was drawn to, whether it was a certain combination of instruments, or emotional lyrics, or epic arrangements. I always enjoyed Jethro Tull and Fairport Convention for blending rock and folk styles. When I discovered the Chieftains, it all became clear to me. I realized I could successfully blend the kinds of music I liked into a cohesive and exciting sound. And then I also learned to play the pennywhistle! Emotionally, Celtic music speaks to me as if from long ago. It has a heartfelt, wistful quality that I relate to very much.

MI: When you began your career 20 years ago did you think it would have lasted as long as it has? What do you attribute you continued success to?
DA: Luckily for me, I struck an emotional chord in a lot of people with my music. And I work hard at it to make it something I can be proud of. I believe listeners have responded to the sense of adventure I put into my music. They appreciate the little journeys I put out there.

MI: How many different instruments exactly can you play? Which did you learn first? And which do you enjoy playing most?
DA: I can play almost any stringed instrument, also flutes and percussion. I started with piano lessons, then moved to the guitar and flute and drums. I recently got a Xylosynth, like an electronic marimba, which allows me to play any sound in my computer using mallets. I still enjoy the piano and guitar the most, but I also play a lot of drums and other percussion instruments. I use the ProTools program to record and mix my music, and it helps me a lot with my ‘painting.’ I enjoy being able to play many different instruments, as it gives me a chance to experiment with sounds on my own. I can sort of ‘test run’ different musical combinations to find the best path for the piece I’m working on. Also, emotionally, I get different musical experiences from each instrument. That always leads me down interesting roads. And recently, my music for the World of Warcraft has reached a whole new audience. For that music, I’ve used Celtic and orchestral ensembles.

MI:  Do you enjoy making music for computer games? How does composing music for games differ from your work on albums?
DA: I think it gets a little more epic and textural at the same time. I’ve been fortunate to recently be able to work on the World of Warcraft game, with a handful of very talented composers. The game is so vast, it is a wonderful opportunity to create powerful moods and exciting musical pieces that fit with the world. In general, composing for video games is like painting a mood - filled environment for the player, like a movie score, but not so literal. There is a lot of freedom, while at the same time, it has to underscore the players’ experience.

MI: You have been nominated for three Grammys. What does it feel like to first learn you have been nominated?
DA: It is quite thrilling, as you realize your peers have voted for you and you have done significant work that is noticed.

MI: Do you have any advice to the future generations of musicians to come?
DA: As far as budding artists go, I would counsel to concentrate on music you are passionate about. It can be a difficult road, but if you focus on your passion, it will be a shorter one..! And treat people and teachers with respect.

MI: What projects are you currently working on?
DA: I have started a group, Mandala. We will have a release at the beginning of next year. It is sort of a trance, tribal, light show experience. Quite fun! I’m also working on a musical, and two pieces for orchestra.

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David Arkenstone
CD: Myths & Legends (Bonus Dvd) (Dig) Record Label: Domo Records
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