Tim Larkin is very much the picture of the modern-day studio multitasker. As the music and audio director for Cyan World in Spokane, Wash., the company behind the popular Myst videogame series, he's kept busy devising sonic worlds for Cyan's episodic Myst Online: Uru Live. And outside this life, Larkin always has several irons in the fire: sound design and/or music work for a host of videogame titles, including Half-Life 2 (Episode 1 and 2), The Incredibles, Prince of Persia, Splinter Cell 4 and the much-hyped Lair; sessions as a trumpeter, contributing to a variety of game, album and film/TV projects (he created the sound design for the 2002 Academy Award-winning best animated short film, The Chubbchubbs); and on the day in early June when we spoke, he's finishing up some Asian-themed music cues for a popular reality TV series.
Tim Larkin works at ease in his Spokane, Wash.–based studio.
“I have two studios that I work in,” Larkin says. “One is here at Cyan — it's a Pro Tools HD3, Mac-based system running Digital Performer. I also have a Pro Tools studio at home [in nearby Colbert], but instead of an HD system I have a MIX 3, also Mac-based. My setup at home is surround: I'm using the M-Audio BX8As for surrounds, a BX10s for the sub and the Blue Sky-based management system. Here [at Cyan] I have a stereo setup. These days, I mostly use soft synths: Spectrasonics' Atmosphere quite extensively, not only for music but sound design, [and] Stylus RMX, Sonic Implants' Symphonic Strings and various other GigaStudio libraries. I have a Korg Triton Extreme controller.
“I have an iso booth at Cyan that's probably about 10×8 [feet]; in my home studio, I'm in a rather large room — probably 25×30 — and I do all of my trumpet recording at home,” he continues. “There's no need for isolation or anything; I just stand in front of the computer, set up my microphone and I'm ready to go because I'm usually doing a single trumpet part. I work with a lot of other composers down in L.A. and other places, and sometimes they'll send me Digital Performer sessions and I just put the trumpet part down and send it back time-stamped and it works great. It allows me to work up here and still be connected.”
Larkin has been in Washington for about eight years now, after getting his start as a keyboardist and trumpeter in bands and orchestras in his native San Francisco Bay Area. Later, he says, “I started a music production company with a friend, and our main focus at the time was to do jingles. Then, around 1993, when the CD-ROM market started to heat up and games like Myst first came onto the scene, we decided to tap into that market, so we looked in the phone book and the first company we saw under ‘B’ was Broderbund. We called them out of the blue and we were both hired within three or four months. The industry was exploding at the time.”
Larkin worked on music for numerous games at Marin County-based Broderbund, including Carmen San Diego and the Playroom/Treehouse Series, but he soon latched onto Cyan's Riven game (which was distributed by Broderbund), and eventually went to work full-time for Cyan in Washington. Through the years, Larkin has also branched into sound design work, and today he relishes his ability to go back and forth between music and effects work. It helps that audio in games has taken on a more important role as new formats are developed.
“Before, we were starting out at 8-bit and we were always complaining that everything sounded bad,” he says. “I don't think we can complain about that anymore. I just worked on a title for PS3 called Lair, and I was fortunate that what I worked on was the cut scenes, which [were] full-blown 5.1 dedicated, which we did 24/48. It was a lot like working on a movie. That's where game audio has been going.”
And whereas in years past, many game sound designers relied heavily on library material, Larkin notes. “I record original material every chance I get. I have a little M-Audio MicroTrack handheld recorder that records at 24/96, and it's got a stereo mic on it and it's awesome. I had it next to my nightstand the other night and I got a recording of a screech owl at two in the morning. I used those recordings in Myst Online about two months ago for a creature, pitched down. I have a lot of original recordings and I end up going to those quite often. Sometimes I'll record something for a specific purpose, but often it's just a sound I want — like the owl or this sound [that] my truck's brakes make. I had my wife turn the truck engine off and then she coasted down the driveway [applying the brakes] and I was underneath it with the MicroTrack recording it. I ended up using some of that in Lair and Half-Life. You never know where you're going to find a cool sound!”
Blair Jackson is Mix's senior editor.
First Link/Feast of the Maker
Myst V soundtrack medley