Artist Spotlight: Jesper Kyd

Jesper Kyd is a video game composer and as a result, this post will inevitably contain a large amount of nerdiness. Coming out of Denmark, Kyd’s probably most known recently for his work on Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series, though I know him most strongly from his output as the composer of IO’s Hitman series. IO is the company that Kyd has worked with the most and his best works come from their titles, though his other works need not be discounted.

Video game music is distinct from virtually every other type of music particularly because it has to occupy two or distinct modes–usually one relaxed and one for action–that have to be able to switch seamlessly. It also has to be atmospheric enough to withstand a large amount of playtime without becoming overbearing.

Hitman: Codename 47 (2000)

While Kyd had done several soundtracks prior, his first notable contribution was the Hitman: Codename 47 soundtrack. The series would eventually become AA, but it certainly had humble beginnings. Kyd’s work on the first Hitman is strongly electronic but still distinctly atmospheric, a trait he would expand out in his later works. The soundtrack is created entirely out of electronics and as a result tends not to do well against active listening. It’s notable as a starting point for Kyd, who captures a tone that carries through to the next inclusion in the Hitman series, Silent Assassin.

Main Title (from Hitman: Codename 47) {download}

Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (2002)

Hitman 2: Silent Assassin is the game that really brought Kyd’s work to my attention. Certain tracks were distinctly memorable and wouldn’t be out of place in any number of movies. My favorite tracks are those inspired by the Italian beginnings of the game. Because the game takes part in several different parts of the world–from St. Petersburg to the Arabian desert–there’s several different world sounds, but the soundtrack maintains a cohesive feel throughout. Strings dance below most tracks while horns blow memorable melodies over them. It’s a soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place as an actual score to a Hollywood movie.

Hitman 2 Main Title {download}

Performed in part by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra and Hungarian Radio Choir, Hitman 2’s soundtrack benefits from a realism of sound that the original Hitman lacked. Had a simple string and horn driven song like “The Setup” been done by electronics, I doubt it would have lasted past the first few seconds (though he does drop electronic stylings in the mix). As it stands however, it’s one of Kyd’s best tracks, capturing a tense, grand feeling through very simple means.

The Setup {download}



Freedom Fighters (2003)

While it might have been the soundtrack before this that originally caught my attention, it was IO’s Freedom Fighters that made me a fan. I consider it to this day one of the most criminally underrated video game soundtracks. I’m a huge fan of the game itself, so it’s hard for me to approach this one unbiasedly. The game, based around an alternate history where the Soviets got the bomb before we did, is about a plumber who, instead of saving a princess, fights off a communist invasion of New York.

The soundtrack is an interesting mix of electronic beats, a Russian choir and a traditional orchestra. This mix is most strongly represented in the soundtracks opening songs, the game’s main title and “Invasion/March of the Empire.” Russians have a reputation from audacious grandiosity and it’s one that Kyd takes to heart–enlisting the help of the Hungarian Radio Choir yet again for the giant vocal parts.


Main Title from Freedom Fighters {download}

That isn’t to say Freedom Fighters is made up entirely of big moments, both “Flag of Freedom” and “Rebel Base” are surprisingly gorgeous ambient tracks. The latter in particular has a calm and peace to it that’s very unlike anything else Kyd has done. It is perhaps the only thing “light” that he’s done and it’s a relieving force to say the least.

Rebel Base {download}

The only character with a song got a beautiful one in “Isabella – Leader of the Resistance.” Starting off with an elegant piano line, the song has a slow, militaristic build, with the gradual addition of marching snares and electronic beats. I don’t know if I could properly emphasize why I like this track so much to someone who hasn’t played the game, but I do hope it translates.

Isabella – Leader of the Resistance {download}

Freedom Fighters is Kyd’s best work, in my opinion, and the game itself stands as one of my most wanted sequels. The Japanese usually get the strongest rap for video game scores, but Kyd’s simple, effective soundtrack is proof that the Western composers are good enough to stand on their own.

Hitman: Blood Money (2006)

Kyd returned to the Hitman series in its fourth installment, Blood Money, when it came out in 2006. While he did some work for Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, as well as Dance Dance Revolution and some concept music for Gears of War during the between years, it wasn’t until he came back to his homestead at IO that he was truly back in form.

For Hitman: Blood Money, Kyd re-enlisted the help of the Budapest Symphony Orchestra and the Hungarian Radio Choir to assist his dark, brooding sound. While the first Hitman was primarily electronic and the second orchestral, the fourth (I’m ignoring the forgettable Contracts) held an even mix between the two, though it erred towards the electronic. Curiously, the strongest piece of music from the game was not Kyd’s at all, but rather Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” which played over the opening menu.

While there are several notable tracks from Blood Money, “Vegas” is surprisingly the most memorable. Built over a relaxing electronic loop, the song serves its role as atmospheric piece perfectly.

Vegas {download}

The Assassin's Creed series

The only work of Kyd’s that I’ll highlight not from an IO game, Assassin’s Creed and its sequels occupy a strange territory for me. While I played about halfway through the first game, the two others in the canon I am virtually entirely unfamiliar with.

The goal for this series, according to interviews, was to capture a medieval sense of warfare in the music and intermix it with contemporary styles of music. The medieval influence is strong throughout the first game, with vocals written in a brooding Latin and monkish chants. That said, the series seems to slightly forgo Kyd’s traditional mix of electronically-infused music and settle for more natural acoustics. The result sounds very unlike Kyd as I know him, but is still interesting in its own right.

Jerusalem (from Assassin’s Creed)

Ezio’s Family (from Assassin’s Creed 2)

I recognize that Kyd’s music isn’t the most fitting for the rest of this site, but I am a big fan of his work and he’s in a very underrepresented area of music. So if you made it through all of that, or even skipped around a bit but still looked at it, you have my humble thanks. And pick up one of his soundtracks while you’re at it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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One Response to Artist Spotlight: Jesper Kyd

  1. arvyj says:

    lol do work cnp

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