Mound of Sound

updated 02/07/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/07/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

A TOP CANDIDATE FOR THE MOST PROLIFIC—and obscure—living American composer is one George Sanger, who works in his Austin, Texas, living room wearing pajamas and bunny slippers. Sanger is by no means plump, nor does he smoke, but to the 20 million fans of his computer-game soundtracks, the mild-mannered music man is better known as his on-screen alter ego, the Fat Man, an overbearing loudmouth who chomps cigars, wears rhinestone cowboy suits and makes cameo appearances in some Sanger-scored games. For example, in the best-selling CD-ROM romp of all, The 7th Guest, a murder mystery set in a haunted mansion, Fat Man appears in a framed portrait.

"Clearly," says Sanger, 36, assuming his braggart Fat Man guise, "the hottest thing in business today is multimedia. The hottest thing in multimedia is games. The biggest thing in games is The 7th Guest. And, arguably, the biggest thing in 7th Guest is me."

While in reality Sanger works quietly, Fat Man's boasting is not all hot air. With more than 80 computer-game soundtracks to his credit, including four of the current Top 5 CD-ROM games, Sanger is, according to Computer Gaming World magazine, "a megastar among gamesters."

Composing on keyboards and a maze of computer equipment set up in the suburban brick house he shares with his wife and project manager, Linda, 35, and their two children, Glen, 3, and Sandy, 2 months, Sanger works from outlines provided by game creators. "The music should enhance the emotional direction of the game," he says. "We want to make you sweat like crazy when it's time to be afraid and make you very elated when things go well."

Elation came late for Sanger, the second of seven children born to Coronado, Calif., gynecologist George Sr. and his anesthesiologist wife, Blossom. A guitarist in a rock band in high school, Sanger earned a music degree at California's Occidental College before he got into waiting commercial jingles and instrumental tracks "at 849.95 a pop." He first scored in games in 1983, when he was paid $1,000 to write a 10-second tune called "Carnival of the Penguins" for the Thin Ice computer game. Today, he and three musical collaborators—dubbed Team Fat—make about $12,000 for 30 to 45 minutes of music, plus a 1-to 2-percent share of each game's wholesale price. The team grossed $250,000 last year. "Each game has a life span of one year, four at the outside," Sanger says. "Yet we pour our heart and soul into each one. Everything has to be a masterpiece."

That's heavy pressure for any maestro. But even Mozart would envy Sanger's antidote to composer's block. "In the shower, I watch the music in my mind," he says. "That's why I come out half clean."

STEVE DOUGHERTY
STEVE LEVINE in Austin

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