Memorial Lecture at 137th: Marty O’Donnell / The Ear Doesn’t Blink: Creating Culture With Adaptive Audio

AES 137th Convention
Los Angeles Convention Center, Los Angeles, CA, USA
October 9–12, 2014

Legendary game audio director and composer, Marty O’Donnell is to present the Richard C. Heyser Memorial lecture at the AES 137th Convention in Los Angeles. Marty is the famed audio director behind the award-winning Halo game series, and is responsible for the biggest selling game soundtrack of all time. In his talk entitled “The Ear Doesn’t Blink: Creating Culture With Adaptive Audio”, O’Donnell will draw on his unique perspective from games, film and jingle-writing to share the creative challenges of working in non-linear media such as games.


Marty O’Donnell received a Bachelor of Music Composition from Wheaton College Conservatory and a Masters of Music Composition from USC in the early 80’s. He started an original music and audio production company with Michael Salvatori. From their studio in Chicago O’Donnell/Salvatori wrote and produced music and audio for hundreds of TV and radio commercials, as well as movie scores. In 1997 they began working on games and did the audio design for Cyan’s Riven: The Sequel to Myst, and all the music and audio for Bungie’s Myth: The Fallen Lords. Marty joined Bungie as full time Audio Director in May of 2000 ten days before they were purchased by Microsoft and subsequently wrote and produced award winning music and audio for the Halo series. In 2007 he helped establish Bungie as an independent game company and built an audio team to work on the upcoming game Destiny. Recently, in collaboration with Salvatori and Sir Paul McCartney he completed an orchestral/choral suite titled Music of the Spheres scheduled to be released this August. In April of 2014 he started his own company Marty O’Donnell Music.

Further notes from the speaker

Adaptive Audio: Sound and music that reacts and adapts by design to real-time input from an audience.

Culture: The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.

Most of us understand how music and sound in traditional forms of entertainment contribute to our culture, but what is unique (if anything) about how audio in a game contributes to culture?

Here is a paraphrase of a quote from Dr. Ian Malcolm: Creativity will not be contained. Creativity breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously. I’m simply saying that creativity finds a way.

I will share the story of how, over the past forty years, technical advancements collided with my creativity. I believe this collision has led to what could be considered a contribution to culture. Each technical achievement inspires changes in how I approach music and audio creation. Most of this story will be anecdotal: from choosing the right PA for my band in the 70s to my most recent collaboration with Paul McCartney on new adaptive music for Destiny and Music of the Spheres. I’ll also explain what I mean by the ear doesn’t blink.

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