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Tina Guo On The Beauty Between Cello and Heavy Metal (A Christmas Interview)

Musician Tina Guo has been incredibly prolific even during the pandemic, and both video game and movie fans know her from many of the recent cello pieces she performed or wrote. Here we talk about some of those works (including Endling, Journey, or the collabs with Hans Zimmer or System of a Down's Serj Tankian), but also about her upcoming projects.

Audio transcription

"Hi Gamereactor friends, today is very special as you know we were pursuing this interview for a while but you know Christmas is around the corner and we all get a bit more emotional and music is everywhere so I think it's the perfect timing, thank you so much for joining us Tina. Thank you so much for having me, I'm excited. You have your Christmas tree in the background that's pretty convenient. I've had it up since before Halloween, I'm a big Christmas fan."

"You've worked on many movies and games that we know and love and also your own compositions and your own music so the most recent example is probably Endling which is this environmental-friendly game about these fox cubs and you know every cub is linked to an instrument and if I'm correct one of the instruments is of course your cello. So what can you tell us about this project and about working again with Rusanda? Yes so Rusanda and I met you know performing with Hans Zimmer and she is one of my very very dearest friends so it's been wonderful performing with her and then being able to also collaborate remotely because she lives in Austria close to Vienna and I am here in Los Angeles but when I worked on the Endling I was actually living in Vegas because I moved there for a couple years during the pandemic so everything was done completely remotely but yeah it was really I think it's just wonderful to be able to collaborate musically and then actually see the final product because a lot of times when you're just working on your own little part you don't exactly know how it all fits together but the music for that is really really beautiful and I really loved working on that game. What can you tell us about your relation as both a colleague, a mentor, a friend as you just said? Please tell us a bit more. Oh okay well I met Hans back in 2000 I think it was 2009 or 10 so it's been a while 12 years and I put out a music video it's my very first music video on YouTube back in the early days when YouTube was still you know brand new called Queen Bee so it's a heavy metal version of the Flight of the Bumblebee if you sign in 18 and over it's rated I won't explain why but he saw the video and contacted me to work on Sherlock Holmes so Sherlock Holmes and Inception were the first projects that we worked on together back in 2009 2010 and we've been collaborating ever since. When when she grabs a cello it becomes a sword is that that you something that you feel yourself as well when you grab the cello it becomes like like a sword? Oh yeah that's what Hans likes to say I do I really do feel like I think so I think everybody kind of has that one one thing where they're the most in flow or they feel the most comfortable. I mean now I'm okay because over all the years I've practiced to like speak like I'm speaking now but actually naturally I'm extremely introverted and awkward like growing up in school I was so afraid to talk to people that even in the halls I would always hold a book in front of my face while I'm walking just so I don't have to look at people so I I was always very uncomfortable I think speaking but with the cello I think because I performed I've been performing for so long since I was maybe six years old even before the cello I was playing piano first I think playing an instrument for me is more comfortable than actually speaking to people now it's like okay I feel very comfortable speaking but I do feel like there is a deeper part of myself that is expressed most directly through the music and through the music you can express by performing the cello and also by composing the your own pieces of course and it's been if I'm correct it's more more than a year since Dies Irae I don't know if that's the correct pronunciation yes yeah so what can you tell us about that work looking back at its release and of course another collaboration which I found the video to be very impressive and amazing which was with Serge Tankin and his amazing voice yeah so that album it was about I think two or three years because in the works because I did Game On back in 2000 was it 2016 or 17 I think it was released was my first album on Sony Masterworks and the reason we were actually able to do the album finally is because of COVID so everything stopped the touring stopped so I worked with my my very good friend Steve Mazzaro who works for Hans he's also an incredible composer he did the Bond soundtrack with Hans Zimmer and a bunch of other stuff and actually later today I'm recording for something for Disney with him so he and I worked on the album together remotely and we finished it pretty quickly in like two or three months in 2020 and it was set Dies Irae means the day of wrath in Latin which I really like it's also a Requiem by Mozart and so the album is mostly classical crossover yes yeah for me my big passion in addition to cinematic music is industrial metal and I was trying to get Sony to let me release a metal album but that was that was always like a bit of a an issue you know and so we finally settled on a classical crossover with metal elements but they did connect me with Serge you know the singer from System of a Down and I've been a huge fan I think like everybody else since I was in maybe middle school was when you know they were they first came out on the scene so that was amazing working with him the piece that we collaborated on so I actually improvised it's a it's looping so it's like looping many layers of the electric cello and I improvised that it's called Moon Heart Moon Hearts and he heard that and he said he really liked it and he wanted to improvise on top of it and at the time he was actually in New Zealand with his family within a sheep on a farm because he has a home there it was during COVID and he did everything I think in like one take same thing as mine so it was completely improvised everything was like free he did his parts he sent it back you know we did a little bit of like editing like for me like production stuff on it and that was basically it and then I wanted to make a music video for it because it's set based in a space station after earth has already been destroyed rest in peace earth and Serge is a like a hologram because he's also how do I put this not with us anymore I mean weird concepts I have weird stuff going through my head and I'm supposed to be like a cyborg I don't know if that really came off that well but yeah so yeah like we shot that video in a couple days in Los Angeles using we used some augmented reality you know the same type of Mandalorian as we did that and we did my Moonlight Sonata it's a lot of space themed video on the same day and working with Serge was actually so smooth and so easy like there wasn't any type of literally I sent him the thing he's like amazing I'm gonna record sent it back in one day I heard it amazing great let's go wow almost like a jam like you meet on a like like a band jamming right it was it was a jam and you know sometimes like working with it's not you know anyone's fault but sometimes working on a project can be so complicated and so many edits and like back and forth for like months and with him it was literally one day that's it it was like completely smooth and amazing is that something that you want to to to to try again with him that you've talked about or yeah it would be amazing like he's he's doing a lot of his own stuff including uh composing as well uh and it was funny because like when Sony I think first reached out to him he was like oh I know Tina I use her sample library because I have a couple of software programs um so he's been I guess using my fake my robot Tina um for his composition so it was very full circle uh and I think I had a fangirl moment because I'm like oh my god he knows who I am he uses my sample library so uh yeah it's really really awesome great great so uh what can you say about what you've been doing as of late I've seen something about a collaboration with Camelot which of course should be metal-ish as well so but but other than that perhaps about new games that we can learn about or movies yes yes so um I recorded on Tomb uh Tomb Raider Reloaded which I'm not sure if it's out yet I don't think so uh and recently I've been recording for Minecraft Legends which is coming out next year yeah um and then for um movie wise so Dune and Top Gun obviously already came out we're starting Wonder Woman 3 next year um other movies I just finished recording on were Shazam uh Fury of the Gods coming out next year and The Flash so a lot of like superhero stuff um as well as some tv uh tv things I just finished working this was a couple weeks ago um on a new Hulu movie about the Boston Strangler and I am the sound of the murderer of course the Strangler um I said thank you why of course and then uh what else did I oh uh for Seal Team which is about Navy Seals it's a show on Paramount Plus and CBS uh here in the U.S. um so I've been working on that and I just did episode 609 so I've done a couple episodes for that um but yeah those are those are the things that I'm currently working on and um the next show with Hans like the next touring starts again in January um so we're going to Dubai our very first performance in Dubai at the Copacola and then three months in Europe starting from April a lot of stuff a lot of stuff a lot of stuff looking forward to learning about the the dates in Europe um you've mentioned several genres of course lots of superheroes how would you you know compare uh performing for video games and performing for movie soundtracks even though most of them can be really similar cinematic nowadays oh gosh okay that's hard so um yeah I mean as far as like the creative musical process it is very similar I think I think the biggest thing is that there's a lot of like variations that you record because like each time you know a certain thing happens or you know the fox I don't does something if you listen even if the notes are very similar it's a little bit different each time because you don't want it when you're playing a game I think eventually you notice if every time you make you know an action if the sound is exactly the same it can get like a little bit so there's little little tiny variations um and usually you don't do that for tv or movie soundtracks so I think only I I remember doing like I mean a lot maybe 20 30 variations of everything so if you go back and listen there's tiny little uh little differences each time like the theme or the melody comes back in um so I think on a technical level that's the only thing but in general everything is uh very very similar which I think is a good thing there's a lot of creative musical freedom uh for whatever serves you know the picture as far as games I think I think journey you know I've known Austin since we were 18 years old you know in college it was the very first project that I was able to you know be like a featured performer on in like a major project uh although at the time we both didn't realize it was going to be a major project it was a small project um and I think it's just because we're so oh that's something I uh I don't know if you hear the siren yes we can yeah I hope everything is fine I think it's okay uh you know I think it was just because it was so like guerrilla style organic uh we were so young um and and full of full of hopes and dreams which we still are so I think just the memory of doing that together yeah really incredible and the kind of legacy I think that it's uh left of course and it's music is a big part of it and it's a very different to blockbusters and action it's more you know contemplative and reflective and it's a different kind of thing that is unique still to this date so so yeah um then you found your way and your your own style and your trademark which uh happens to be you know using cello for metal music for those of us who are not in the know what's which are the main differences between the cello like not not the electric cello but the classical cello and the air who because you also perform with the air who yes uh so the air who is an ancient chinese instrument uh it's made with um snakeskin uh and uh and rosewood um and then the strings are actually suspended in the air so there's no fretboard it's it's literally it's only two strings tuned and it's just uh uh very very conveniently for me it's the same as the top two strings on the cello because i am self-taught on the air who and i do not play it the proper way if you listen to a real chinese air who player and then you compare it to me you're like oh okay that doesn't sound right um i feel like the way i play it has more of like a middle eastern kind of tonality i'm not sure why um i do love middle eastern music i maybe in a past life or something and i'm very drawn to that um but i am working on a new project right now called the water phoenix because i i actually am in the process right now but i'm leaving stony on very good terms we're still everything's good but i wanted to do um experimental music i wanted to do metal of course and also weird tribal um like ethnic music which is what i'm working on now and for them which i totally understand they're like oh that's a little bit you know yeah not mainstream enough for them um and for me uh so we talked about it for a very long time and finally i just said i can i'm capable of releasing things myself um and i would rather have the creative freedom so in my new project it's a uh it's a combination of viking music so nordic mixed with ancient chinese music um or at least what i imagine in my head tribal like pre-china so uh tribal asian music sounds like from that region um and so it's i'm actually not using the cello at all because that's not historically accurate there is no cello um i'll be playing the air who i'll be playing i don't know if you can see it it's behind my electric cello but i have that custom made um it's actually uh made out of animal bones and wood of course so it's a liar so it's like a viking um harp um and then i also got all these other animal skin drums and shakers i mean i'm just going i went from ds eray which is set in the future in a space station all the way to all the way to the back yeah to the past yeah fantasy like prehistoric tribal tribal human uh stuff so i'm really really excited about that wow yeah okay i think that's enough uh thank you so much for your time tina it's been amazing and we're uh really looking forward to learning more about your many different press that you just mentioned including the european dates uh when those are available uh thank you so much for your time tina take care thank you thank you"

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