Raleigh composer Jason Graves was seeking exotic noisemakers to add to his soundtrack for “Tomb Raider,” the new Lara Croft computer game. It turned out he only had to go right down the street, to the workshop of industrial sculptor Matt McConnell, which is in the same Raleigh neighborhood as Graves’ home studio.
“The first time he called, he didn’t know I was a block away,” McConnell says with a laugh. “‘I think I can see your front door from my house,’ he said. So he’d come down here and grab metal, tools, pipes, glass, carry it all back up to his studio and play around with it.”
Over time, they became collaborators as McConnell designed and built a one-of-a-kind musical sculpture to fit the game’s rough edges visually as well as aurally. It took a year for McConnell to perfect the “Tomb Raider” instrument, an eight-foot-high sculpture that looks like a ceremonial artifact.
“It was an amazing process, putting together something that fit the look and feel of the game and also worked musically,” says McConnell, a 1994 graduate of the College of Design. “One of our first considerations was whether or not to have the sculpture reflect Lara Croft physically. But her character is so iconic that I decided it should focus more on the environment and other characters.”
The instrument’s off-kilter pings and tones are all over the soundtrack, adding layers of nuanced tension to Graves’ orchestration. Having done its work, the piece is now on permanent display in the lobby of Crystal Dynamics, the California-based game developer behind “Tomb Raider.”
“This was a challenge that really pushed me to a new language,” says McConnell. “Most of my work tends to be very clean and systematic, but the environment of this game was determined by scavengers using scraps to construct shantytowns. It was very different from anything I’ve ever done. The whole experience was eye-opening.”
— David Menconi