Oct 15, 2009

[music/tech] Video Games and Music: an Interview

This is a quick post since I have class and things to do, but I recently interviewed composer Thomas Dvorak who is working/just finished the music for a new game called Machinarium. It's music is very delicious, so I decided to shoot the composer an e-mail. I was surprised when he answered so I decided to put what he wrote on my blog.

Also check his website here: http://floex.cz/

First of all, what are you're musical influences? I know this question is generic, but I'm wondering more specifically what influenced influenced the music in the game, such as bands, composers, etc.

... my interest is mostly in experimental / electro acoustic electronic field...
some time ago i was putting together my heroes, and i wrote these people :)

Lusine, Beaumont Hannant, Arve Henriksen, Apparat, Vladislav Delay, AGF, Fennesz, Clark, Jon Hopkins, Burial, Plaid, James Holden, Boards Of Canada, Arovane, I'm Not A Gun, early Miles Davis, Keith Jarret, Kayo Dot, Sonic Youth, OTK, Deerhoof, Thom York, Sakamoto, Mark Hollis, Hans Zimmer, Bartok, Glass, Steve Reich, Vladimir Vaclavek...

Do you draw the ideas of the various themes/motifs in the game from the game itself or just from ideas you have in your head. How much of the music is influenced by the game?

Maybe it would be interesting to read this interview :) it will be soon published on gamasutra I think

Is the story something that provides direction for your compositions, for instance in the making of Samorost 2?

I would say not so much. The story is rather simple. For me what’s very important is the atmosphere of the scene. I am always surprised by the process of "trying to find right mood for the scene". Sometimes my approach to the scene will feel like too much of a cliché. What I’ve found out is that before I start to do some music, I should wait a bit: look at the scene, and try to get a sense of the atmosphere. Sometimes it’s better not to look at the scene, but to think about it. It can be best not to start immediately making something.

There are many elements which in the end can be inspiring to build the proper atmosphere. It can be the the instrumentation, sound and space design, the melodies and harmonies used, rhythmical structure... and it’s good for me to think about all of these things before I actually start to compose.

Was there anything in particular that you recall contributing to the atmosphere of Samorost 2?

For me, it’s a dreamy, surreal world. In the Czech Republic, everyday there is a small story for children on television called "Vecernicek". It’s a story for making children go to sleep. Samorost, I think, has also a bit of this childlike feeling.

I like very much the world of fantasy and an approach that comes from something unconscious. This is something that is very close to my view of art. I like crazy Japanese movies like those of Katuhito Ishii. I don’t know if you know “Funky Forest”? It’s a kind of fantasy which as a European I’m not used to. I’m astonished and surprised. It goes over all the barriers of what is imaginable.

You observe this kind of thing at Aminata?

Yes, there also, although still more in this European sense. They are very playful with what they do. I think that as long as it does not lose this playful approach, it will work.

Who chose the six tracks for the soundtrack preview?

I chose the tracks. I personally like to make songs that are more melancholy, full of deeper emotions. The music in the last part of the game is probably closest to this mood. It’s also more acoustical, including the piano. For that reason, I put a few songs from that part on the preview. Mostly in the soundtrack there are compositions, which are more playful. These two kinds of songs are on this preview.

“The Bottom” is situated in the narrative context of the very beginning of the game, where you are introduced to the robot. Was this plot element of concern to you at all?

Yes. It’s important because you’re starting. It’s an introduction, before the city. The music is very abstract and ambient, including elements of found sounds. The other Tomas Dvorak was sampling sounds a lot, especially the metallic ones... so sometimes I would take stuff from there and used it as musical elements. I also borrowed a analogue synthesizer from my friend Roland Sh01, with a sound that’s very dirty and unstable. It doesn’t hold a tune. You can hear it on “Black Cap Brotherhood Theme” and the background of “Glasshouse with the Butterfly.”

The robot falls down to “the bottom,” so for me it could be taken as the real start. The song contains some of my basic ideas about the soundtrack. I am using as sources instruments that have the feeling of metal. For example, steel strings, melodic gongs like those from Java. The Oriental feeling of the instruments I don’t see so much ethnically. It’s a feeling that’s not only not European, but out of this planet.

The soundtrack preview is a bit different than in the game. Usually I add some more rhythmic elements to the mp3s. In the game it’s more ambient, because it must work as background music.

Where does “Clockwise Operetta” appear in the game?

There’s a part where there are some bad guys in a central hall of a house, where there are these clocks, and the robot has to deal with them. If the robot sees through the binoculars, someone is attaching a bomb to the tower. The scene is not dramatic, on the first look, but something not very good is happening. The theme later appears when the robot has to deal with the bomb itself.

I made a song for the room right next to the one where “Clockwise Operetta” appears, which is a remix. There I put all the track globally through a Spectral Blurring effect. It’s like you are hearing the music in a dream or from a memory. The theme appears in different arrangements in some parts of the game.

Are there these kinds of musical variations for other tracks?

For some of them, but not so many. It’s an interesting problem in this game, because there are two sorts of arrangements. One is where the music appears later in a different context. For example, it’s connected to some character or development in the game. Second, there are some themes which are connected by location.
However, in the game it doesn’t happen so often. For each of the scenes there are different tunes. I was trying to do it more often, but sometimes then the arranged music would not work for the scene. In that case, I would prefer to make something totally different.

Were you ever considering having the various arrangements included in the soundtrack album?

I’ve really made a lot of music for this game. If I were to include all the music that I used, it might be two times bigger. What I wanted to do was make this soundtrack enjoyable to listen to, so the idea was to choose the songs which are working together somehow. They are the strongest musically, which makes it more fun to listen.

“The Castle" is also one of my favorites. It’s from the last part of the game and is a little sadder, because it’s in the house of the bad guys. The idea was to make music that would have a little bit of a castle feeling, but as dirty as everything else. You hear a harpsichord, a very typical instrument for this castle music, baroque music. There is double bass and violoncello, but dirtified and degraded with effects. The feeling is like you would hear it from some old record.

I wanted to make music that is a little bit surreal but still fit in with the general idea of this soundtrack. I like very much these kinds of compositions. Compositionally it’s minimalistic, because there is a phrase you are repeating, while also developing it into different chords. It’s still very abstract, because the phrases and chord development is longer, more horizontal - like if the melody would be coded into harmonic progression. The phrase is exposed in different interpretations through the sound. I like this kind of approach.

The song is in two parts. One is more rhythmical, with these concrete instruments, the pizzicato from the string instruments. Later, in the second part, the collapses into more ambient stuff, but you can still hear the melody from the original part through the granular effects. It’s derived from the original tune, like maybe if you went to sleep and heard it from a dream. They’re like different faces of the same tune.

If you would look at my arrangement in Logic, which is software I use to make music, the arrangement does not have so many tracks, maybe five or six. Yet the song has different colors. While it might sound acoustical, it’s actually made from MIDI and the change is being made by different effects applied on the tracks trough the time.

Did you go to school to study composition? Where did you go? What instrument(s) do you play?
Originally clarinet
I bought piano two years ago

What programs did you use to compose? What parts are synthesized and what is performed?
Now Logic, also last two years

It is combination of recorded acoustical instruments from my studio, midi based acoustical instrument (like samplebanks), and synths...
But very important aspect of all the sources is sound manipulation, sound design....

There you go. Good composers play clarinet. Win.

1 comment:

  1. Nice!

    Gamasutra is probably the best gaming website ever. They really do a lot of great articles about the industry and what goes into making games more than shallow reviews laced with slang.

    I found about about Ed Harrison who did the soundtrack for Neotokyo on there as well and I've been listening to that non-stop since almost.