Composers: H. Kingsley Thurber

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Who?  H. Kingsley Thurber is an example of a composer lurking in the backgrounds of the video game industry.  His output was not prolific, his music was… well, you’ll see – but he did exist and he did produce quite a few soundtracks.  I bet you’ve never heard of him!  This guy has rubbed elbows with many famous composers over the years.  Let’s find out who!

I now present for your evaluation the next focus of this entry into my Composers series:  H. Kingsley Thurber.

H. Kingsley Thurber (Aliases:  Kingsley Thurber)

Born:  Unknown (though his birthplace is listed as Salt Lake City here)

Main Instrument(s):  Keyboards it would seem

Years Active:  1976 to 2000 (last date I could find attributed to his name)

Official Website: N/A

So as you can see, not much is known about H. Kingsley Thurber.  In fact, I don’t even know what the “H” stands for.  It certainly could be “Horace” but I’m pretty sure this isn’t him unless he’s some kind of necromancer/wizard/ghost/god:

Unless he’s making soundtracks from beyond the grave, this is not him. (credit:  www.findagrave.com )

Early Works

The name “H. Kinglsey Thurber” first appears on the soundtrack to Frank Roach’s 1975 film “Frozen Scream”, a low budget horror movie featuring a mad scientist who turns people into frozen zombies, and, as IMDB states, the zombies wreak havoc and kill people.  Simple premise.  Also not a video game but there’s a point to all this.  You’ll see.

Want to hear the soundtrack?  Sure, why not.  Here’s the theme to this movie.  You’ll also get a peek at what you missed by not seeing this movie!  (Hint:  blood and stuff):

This movie, by the way, is so popular that it hasn’t even been reviewed for Rotten Tomatoes, if that’s any indication of quality.  I’m glad I could share that mayhem with you and the cool-jazz-horror vibe of whatever the heck he’s doing there.  I mean, the music fits and I can’t be harsh on D- movie from 1975.

Thurber then appears again as the composer for “Don’t Go In The Woods“, a 1981 horror film by James Bryan.  This seems to be more of a cult classic at least.  If you’ve seen the movie, then you’ve actually HEARD Thurber speak/sing/whatever this is.  Here’s H. Kingsley Thurber’s performance of the theme to “Don’t Go In The Woods”:

Yep.  That’s actually Thurber on keys(?) ,singing the theme.  You’ll notice the time doesn’t necessarily stay even tempo-wise, which seems to be one of the trademarks of Thurber’s compositions.  Thurber is also not that great of a singer, though I believe he’s attempting to stylize the approach to his vocals in order to create a creepier atmosphere.  Overall, I believe this is very effective, especially for a low-budget 80s horror flick.

After this, there’s a 10 year gap in Thurber’s work.  Perhaps he composed under an alias, I’m not sure.  Thurber then reappears as a composer for Sculptured Software in 1992.  Here’s some of his output as a game composer.

Video Game Work (as a primary composer)

There are quite a few games that credit Thurber as the primary composer.  The most infamous of these is Captain Novolin, a game developed by Sculptured Software in league with Raya Systems and Novo Nordisk (yes, the pharma company) designed to teach children about managing their diabetes.  The amusing part of all of this is well, “Novolin” is a type of insulin made by Novo Nordisk… so it’s game telling you how to use their product, I guess?  At any rate, this game’s soundtrack is quite… well… let’s listen:

I have to say… the title screen reminds me of Thurber’s theme to “Don’t Go In The Woods” in the weirdest way.  I’m also not sure that anyone, let alone a child being marketed to by a giant pharm-tech company, was truly ready for a nearly quarter-tone based melody here.  It’s “ear-curdling” at parts.  Geez.

Some highlights of this soundtrack include this knockoff Jeopardy theme that can’t stop/won’t stop modulating:

And this strange reggae-step/ska thing:

In addition to Captain Novolin, Thurber is listed as the main composer for Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon, another game developed to teach children about things that can kill them.  This time, the game deals with tobacco and you’re a surgeon that needs to remove tar and nicotine or something.  I don’t know really, I lost interest in the Wiki article pretty quickly.  Here’s the OST, in typical Thurber hard-rockin’, nearly atonal, mercurial-metered flair:

I love the arbitrary mixed meter.  Actually, I really don’t.  It’s very confusing to me.  More time signatures does not always equal better or cooler or… well… a song.  Ouch.

When Thurber wasn’t composing music for educational games, he was composing music for various sports games, such as NCAA Basketball:

Reminiscent of almost a knockoff NBA Jam title screen, right?

Here’s Thurber’s work for Roger Clemens’ MVP Baseball for SNES:

I believe it shows a large amount of growth from his other soundtracks… though it’s still almost detuned and out of sync.  I don’t get the style, to be honest.  Also, Clemens looks downright maniacal on the cover.  Wow.  Thanks for the nightmares LJN/Sculptured Software.

The last thing I could find on Thurber was in 2000.  He is credited as the composer for Rocky Mountain: Trophy Hunter – the Game Boy Color port.  Here’s the only video on the internet about this game:

How very… exciting?  This game looks like a nightmare.  And what’s with the mooing cows and howling and monkey noises?  WHAT IS GOING ON?

Video Game Work (as a secondary composer)

Thurber also appeared many times as a secondary composer for Sculptured Software.  Here’s a game where he’s listed after lead(?) composer Paul Webb, also of Sculptured Software.  Let’s listen!

Whether it was because you were stuck at your cousins’ house and the only games they had to play were wrestling games or you actually enjoyed these heavy-handed masher type games, you probably played this game or a game like this at some point.  Don’t be embarrassed!  Though you can find most wrestling games in the “VALUE BIN” at your local vintage games store, they were all really fun/infuriating.

I can’t really attribute the composition to Thurber directly but Webb/Thurber does appear on many other games such as WWF Royal Rumble and Looney Tunes B-Ball, both far from classics.

Many other Sculptured Software titles appear with the combination of Mark Ganus and Kingsley Thurber.  Mark.  Ganus.  Yes, Call of Duty‘s MARK GANUS.  Ganus joined the Sculptured Software in 1991, after leaving a job as an audio technician with NASA . For more info on Ganus, check vgmpf.com.

Anyhow, together with Thurber, Ganus created such gems as:

And…

… the latter of which is actually kind of interesting.  I don’t know what it is with stuff that Thurber works on… but it’s always a bit sloppy in terms of metering.  Like, “in the pocket”, but too far in the pocket.  It feels like disorganized chaos at times.  Layered with weak lead instruments, it makes the perfect storm of “what did I just listen to?”

Okay, probably the most surprising thing Thurber worked on (and due to his horror movie background, maybe not THAT surprising) – Mortal Kombat.  Yep, Thurber is listed as one of the composers for the game along with lead composer Dan “Toasty” Forden, Mark Ganus, and Sam Powell.  How the hell did that happen?  Well, turns out Sculptured Software was in charge of porting many arcade games to console.  They worked with Acclaim almost exclusively to the point where they were outright acquired by Acclaim in 1995.

Now, we all know this was written mostly by Forden… but maybe there’s some Thurber-isms hidden in there?

Maybe.  The way the original arcade game music is ported is quite lackluster, missing many key tonal lines song by song.  That isn’t necessarily Thurber’s fault.  I imagine Acclaim/Midway wanted to slam these titles out as fast as possible.  Sloppy work all around, really.

Conclusion

The amount of information we DON’T know about H. Kingsley Thurber is nearly as intriguing as the information we do know.  I’d love to find out more about this guy, especially since his career spans nearly 30 years.  I’m sure he’s written scores for other movies that have yet to be discovered and I’m willing to bet guys like Dan Forden and Mark Ganus would be able to answer many of the questions posed here.  At any rate, for better or worse, I present to you this research on H. Kingsley Thurber.  I hope it was informative and entertaining!  Feel free to leave comments below and thanks for reading.

[DISCLAIMER (as usual):  The best I can do, in terms of looking into who is the composer for what, is play the game, read the technical sheets, and look at the names listed.  If these older composers are not going to reveal what games they worked on, it really is the only thing we can go with.  It’s wholly nonacademic but it is the best we can do.  If any of this information is incorrect, then, quite simply, the information from the games themselves is incorrect.  I also use and trust VGMPF.com to do fairly diligent research on their articles and I know that VGMPF.com draws their sources from the listed credits of games.  So, sorry for any inaccuracies!  This is not meant to be an academic source!  This is everything I could gather by searching and scouring the web.  If anything IS inaccurate, PLEASE let me know as I’d love to fix it!  We ultimately want to know the truth.  Thanks!]

About Classical Gaming

Steve Lakawicz holds an MM in Music Performance from Temple University as well as a BM in Tuba Performance from Rutgers University . His teachers include Paul Scott, Scott Mendoker, and Jay Krush. His love of video game music has lead him to form a blog, Classical Gaming, to promote discussion both casual and academic about the music of video games. He is the co-founder of the video game/nerd music chamber ensemble, Beta Test Music and regularly composes/performs chiptune music as Ap0c. He currently resides in Philadelphia where he teaches college statistics at Temple University. View all posts by Classical Gaming

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