Laurence Manning is a classically trained video game pianist who recently released her album, ‘Game Music’, and performed at Otakuthon 2019. She graduated with a doctorate in piano interpretation at the Université de Montréal. Laurence Manning is also the pianist and arranger of the video game trio Trifantasy.
This interview was recorded on August 18, 2019. Laurence agreed to speak to us in English, even though her first language is French, for the benefit of our anglophone readers. The audio recording has been transcribed below, and has been edited slightly for readability.
Matt Ferguson 0:02
I’m sitting here with Laurence Manning, who is a video game pianist, and has been performing this weekend at Otakuthon, with a concert on Friday. I unfortunately, coming from Ottawa was a little bit late getting into the conference and missed you. But luckily, we can catch all of your astronomical performances on your YouTube channel and everywhere else, which is just great. So I have to ask first, as a classically trained pianist, what made you decide that you wanted to start recording compositions based around video game soundtracks?
Laurence Manning 0:36
I have always been a gamer, and I began starting to play piano at three years old. And at the same age, I started to play video games. Since my childhood, I really enjoyed video game music, and I loved to play games too. And I really loved piano. I did all my formation; I began with my mother who is a piano teacher. And after I went to the Conservatory and University of Montreal. Then I completed a PhD in piano interpretation and classical music at University of Montreal.
Two years ago, I began to play video game music and to start to make my own arrangements and composing them. My first experience was with OVMF and OJV; Orchestre à Vents de Musiques de Films and Orchestre de Jeux Video. And when I played with orchestra video game music, I said, I want to do this in my life. I want to play video game music.
Matt Ferguson 1:43
That is inspiring.
Laurence Manning 1:45
Yeah, it’s really a great emotion. And I decided that I wanted to do that.
Matt Ferguson 1:49
I can just tell when you talk about it, that you just you really love it. It’s awesome to see.
Laurence Manning 1:52
And I remember when I was with the OJV, I was the pianist for a while, and people saw that I really enjoyed the music. It was really evident that I was really having fun playing.
Matt Ferguson 2:12
I think OJV is a good example. I was just speaking with Jonathan Dagenais and was saying the same thing to him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a composer dance. You were dancing, and it’s so obvious that he loves it, and everyone up there.
Laurence Manning 2:28
And for now I’m really, I make a lot of arrangements from Castlevania. And I really love Michiru Yamane is one of my best composers ever. She composed music from Symphony of the Night, so, now she is my friend on Facebook and we chat together. She told me that she enjoyed my version. So, Yes. It’s like Mozart.
Matt Ferguson 2:57
Oh my gosh, that’s super cool. I’m getting excited just listening to this! You said you’ve been playing piano since you were three, and you have a doctorate in piano interpretation?
Laurence Manning 3:05
Matt Ferguson 3:07
Genuinely very curious. What is a doctorate in piano interpretation?
Laurence Manning 3:13
A lot of concerts. Yeah. It’s a thesis too. I made a thesis on a great composer, female composer, Fanny Mendelssohn, the sister of Felix Mendelssohn, so nobody knows. But she was a great composer, great pianist, and the music is so passionate. So it was really fun for me to make all of this research. I went to Germany to write my thesis. And so after this, I had to make a lot of concerts, five or six, great recitals. And the last one was a concert, just of Fanny Mendelssohn some music.
Matt Ferguson 3:53
So you arranged the concerts? Or did you play them yourself?
Laurence Manning 4:00
It’s in interpretation. So I just play the music like it’s written. I do it with my heart and my artistic vision of the piece, and a lot of practice, because it’s really difficult to play.
Matt Ferguson 4:12
When I read that you had a doctorate in piano interpretation, my first thought was to Google it, but then I really wanted I really want to ask you personally. I didn’t know that that doctorate existed in this subject, and it sounds like it was a lot of fun.
Laurence Manning 4:32
It was fun. A lot of work that I think it’s inspiring to me, and also to what I am doing right now, because I did research on female composer it was important to me as a woman. Now I play mostly female composer music too, because Mishiru Yamane, Yoko Shinomura and Manami Matsumae, because there are a lot of great women in video game music. Video game music is not as restrictive as classical music is, which is like a square, and video game music is like a circle.
Matt Ferguson 5:25
I like that analogy. So for you personally, because I know, the method is different for everybody, what goes from taking a specific song from an original soundtrack, and turning into one of your own arrangements? Because you’re not just playing the tracks; there’s typically a composition element to it. And it’s important to know that it’s not just you playing the tracks on piano.
Laurence Manning 5:56
It’s much more than that. I listen a lot to the piece before I arrange it, and I play through the game. It’s really important to know what is the game and how we feel when we play to the game. I have to give structure to the piece; it’s really important to compose a good end to the piece because they are a lot of loops. Sometimes I have to compose some parts, like in Castlevania, there are a lot of old pieces from the old games that are really, really short; like 40 seconds, and I want to make a piece of three or four minutes with this. So I have to compose something that fits with the song.
Yeah, like it’s Baroque rock, which works well for Castlevania, so it’s really fun. The creative aspect of making these arrangements are I made a medley of Zelda: A Link to the Past and that’s the reason I am in cosplay. I did a video clip with my medley of 10 minutes of the music from the game. I have to compose good transitions, because there are like 13 songs in the medley, and it’s like a story. We have the song of the beginning, and the battles, and saving the princess and at the end, Ganon and then epilogue.
Matt Ferguson 7:25
So your music actually flows narratively?
Laurence Manning 7:29
Yes, so it takes me a lot of time to make the arrangements. And sometimes I correct something or, and at the end, I’m really happy, and it’s just really fun.
Matt Ferguson 7:41
I was going to ask; I can’t imagine you release anything unless you are 100% happy with it?
Laurence Manning 7:44
I really am a perfectionist, but I know that we have to make the music alive. And life is not perfect. So you have to make the best you can, and after you grow with the piece.
Matt Ferguson 7:59
I really love that perspective; that’s really cool. So your first two singles, were both inspired by A Link to the Past?
Laurence Manning 8:06
Matt Ferguson 8:08
Having just come from OJV (Orchestre de Jeux Video) who did their performance on A Link to the Past, I’m curious to know specifically what drew you to Zelda? Was that one of those games you were playing when you were young, while you were playing piano?
Laurence Manning 8:17
It was my first Zelda; maybe it was my second because I played Zelda II. But it was my first favorite Zelda. A Link to the Past I was really young, and I remember how I felt when I fought Ganon for the first time. I was really moved by the music of the staff roll at the end. And I knew that it was a masterpiece even though I was really young, I knew that it was more than just a video games. It was really a great piece of art.
Matt Ferguson 8:52
That is a really, really good reason for having picked A Link to the Past as your first single. I was wondering when you spoke earlier about having started playing piano and gaming at the same time, if maybe that Zelda had been one of your first games.
So in addition to having your own solo project, you’re also a founder of the group Trifantasy, along with Karine Bouchard and Jean Despax?
Laurence Manning 9:17
Matt Ferguson 8:52
And you compose video game arrangements as well with them as well. So what’s different about working with a group composition versus your solo work?
Laurence Manning 9:34
It’s really interesting, because the instruments bring something else, like other colors, and some music is really difficult to play just on piano because it’s orchestral music. I think to the theme from Halo¸ for example, it’s not really easy to play just on the piano, but with the violin, and the cello, it’s great. It’s really fun to have the energy together, and when I began to play video game music, it was clear that I wanted to make solo music and with other musicians, video game music. So that’s why I formed the tribe.
Matt Ferguson 10:12
What types of projects have you been working on lately? I know you don’t just do solo performances and work with Trifantasy, you also have your YouTube channel. You’re busy when it comes to arranging video game music.
Is there anything I’m missing? Do you have any other projects that you are working on?
Laurence Manning 10:33
I don’t know if you knew that I released my first video game solo album?
Matt Ferguson 10:36
I did know that; you just released that on June 4th, right?
Laurence Manning 10:40
Yes, and I want to give it to you.
Matt Ferguson 10:42
Oh my gosh, really? Yeah, I was just going to I was just coming to the Exhibition Hall to pick up a copy. Okay, I’m not supposed to get emotional during this interview. That’s not the plan. Thank you so much for this. I cannot wait. I know what I’m listening to you on my drive back to Ottawa today.
Laurence Manning 11:07
I’m really happy because to have this album I made a Kickstarter campaign, in February, and I wanted to have at least $3,500 to make a CD of my music. But I knew that it was a basic album with this amount. Because I needed more than that to make really the best album ever. And I ended up with 300% of my goal, so I raised like $10,500. So I put all of the money in the album. So I went to a very great studio in Montreal, Piccolo Studio. And the mastering is really great, like the lab mastering. It was not the first choice because it was too expensive, but now I was able to make it.
Matt Ferguson 12:09
That’s really one of the most amazing parts of Kickstarter crowdfunding, because it allows extremely talented people like yourself to really give us what you’re capable of.
Laurence Manning 12:20
And, and since that, it’s just like it increased, like my page gets more views on Facebook and everything grows, the audience grows. And it’s really, really nice to have this contact with my audience, with my fans. Because when I was just in classical music, it was difficult to see that people loved my music, just in the concerts, and I didn’t have a lot of concerts. It was not a thing that was really open. And now, everyday fans send me tons of messages and comments on Facebook, on YouTube, on Instagram, Twitter. I’m really active, and they really show love.
Matt Ferguson 13:05
I could even see from how you were interacting with people in the Exhibition Hall yesterday that again, going back to earlier, you really love this, and it’s really awesome to see that like every aspect of it, you really enjoy.
Laurence Manning 13:20
Yes and I love people, and we all love video game music, so it’s really nice to chat together.
Matt Ferguson 13:25
Again, that’s really inspiring, and which actually is perfect for the next question. If you had any advice to give to a beginning pianist, or maybe even just to a content creator in general, because a lot of the elements can kind of ring true, what would your key piece of advice be?
Laurence Manning 13:42
For musician for example, I know that it can be difficult to practice a lot and to learn an instrument. But it’s really important to keep in mind why you play this instrument: because you love to play, because it’s really fun to play piano, violin, or any instruments. And even if it’s difficult to practice, don’t put away the love and the fun. And the fun it’s not just to be perfect. And it can be very stressful too, to just want to be perfect and to play in public. It can be stressful, but it can be really fun. If you really play what you love.
I saw a lot of great pianists that went to the Master PhD in piano. And now they are not even musicians because it was too difficult to live by the music and they lost the passion to play. It’s like to play video games. It should be fun.
Matt Ferguson 14:53
And you want to be having fun with it.
Laurence Manning 13:55
Matt Ferguson 14:57
It’s interesting you say this because for someone like myself, I actually grew up playing under the Ontario Royal Conservatory, and had some of those experiences because I was one of the children who always had the combination of ‘I’m passionate, but also it’s something that I’m being forced to do.’ And I think it’s really great that you speak to that. I had a hard time keeping in mind that I really loved piano. And I think it’s really important that you really need to remember if it’s piano, if it’s gaming, whatever it is, that you keep that passion there.
Laurence Manning 15: 35
Yes, for sure.
Matt Ferguson 15:37
So, finally, I’ve got to know, what’s next for Laurence Manning?
Laurence Manning 15:42
I have a new concert planned in Montreal, on October 27.
Matt Ferguson 15:46
Where is it?
Laurence Manning 15:48
Chalet Du Mont Royal. I will announce it soon on my pages.
Matt Ferguson 15:54
And we will be able to come and grab tickets?
Laurence Manning 15:58
Matt Ferguson 15:59
Awesome. Well, I’ll make sure to share that around, because I’m sure it will be great. (You can see details for Laurence’s concert here.)
And for my solo project, I’m working on a new album, and a lot of fans asked me to make a new album.
Matt Ferguson 16:09
And you just put this one out not even three months ago?
Laurence Manning 16:12
Yeah, so I’m working to make my album more known in the world. So yeah, I’m sending it around the world. Each week I’m posting in the mail. Some of my fans live in America, and also in France, and Germany. England, sometimes in Japan, and in Mexico.
Matt Ferguson 16:26
Really? Well, by next year, you’re going to be a star!
Laurence Manning 16:29
Matt Ferguson 16:31
You know, again, I think it really comes back to what you said: you love what you do. You haven’t lost that you’re passionate. And the most important thing is you put that time and dedication into not just your music, but to your fans and every aspect of it.
Laurence Manning 16:50
It’s an ensemble. A lot of different things to do, but I really enjoy it. I like to practice to make interpretation, creation, and composition, and to be on social media. I really like that; to make videos.
Matt Ferguson 17:09
I definitely am going to look forward to sharing your YouTube channel with people because it is it is really one of the best ways to see everything that you’re capable of. I have to ask just quickly, your medley that you made of Zelda. Is that on your YouTube channel?
Laurence Manning 17:37
Yes, the video clip. I have two video clips of A Link to the Past with the two singles. And I just released recently, two new video clips of Castlevania. So ‘Lament of Innocence’, which is on my CD. And just recently, like last week, ‘Dance of Pales’ from Symphony of the Night, and I eleased a single also on Spotify.
Matt Ferguson 17:58
That’s really cool. Well, congratulations on all your success. It’s really awesome to see as a content creator, that’s really just taken what they love to do, and kicked butt at it. So like that’s really, really awesome.
Laurence Manning 18:15
Matt Ferguson 18:17
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today! And I really look forward to everything that you’re going to you’re going to do in the future. I’m sure it’s gonna be great.
Laurence Manning 18:27
Thank you very much.
Matt Ferguson 18:30
Bon Journée, et a la prochain!
Laurence Manning 18:33
Huge thanks again to Laurence Manning for sitting down with us and chatting about her experiences as a video game pianist. You can purchase Laurence’s debut album ‘Game Music’ here on Bandcamp, and find her on YouTube, Twitch, and social media at the links below.
For information on Laurence’s upcoming concert at Chalet du Mont-Royal, you can see all of the details here on her Facebook page. Admission to the concert is free, so arrive early if you want to ensure good seating.
Official Website: http://laurencemanning.ca