Thursday, August 18, 2011

Interview From The Euflorian Universe, Part 1

Recently, Rudolf and Alex, the minds behind Eufloria, sat down with me to ask me a few questions, in light of the upcoming Playstation Network release of the game. I asked them some questions back too, but that interview will follow in part 2.

1: You have been making music of all kinds for a long time now, and your ambient work far predates Eufloria’s soundtrack. How did you get involved in this kind of music?

You know, I can’t even remember how it happened. I think the earliest I can remember making ambient music was when I was 15 years old. I had just heard Selected Ambient Works II for the first time and it changed the way I heard music forever. It sounded like music that was from some alien place, and I remember sitting down with a Debussy LP on the record player, running the sound of that through a wah-wah pedal and a delay pedal and overdubbing AM radio static, and that was my first attempt at making this type of stuff. From there, I guess it’s just always been about exploration, improvising, experimenting…there’s kind of always a fascination there with all the freedom involved. I love working in a medium that is never the same way twice, so perhaps that’s one reason why I got involved.

2: Your Eufloria OST is universally loved by people who enjoy the game, Alex and I certainly are fans, but how do you feel about your own achievement? We always see flaws and issues in the games that we make, I wonder if you feel similarly about your own music.

There are most definitely always going to be flaws in my work – it’s totally inherent to my whole process. A few years ago I arrived at a point where I just came to terms with the fact that “perfection” was never going to happen, and instead of focusing on ideals and what COULD be there, I choose to focus on enhancing what IS there, and really making the most out of what is sometimes quite little. I think a lot of great musicians and artists think that way, because all those flaws and incidentals and overlooked things that you yourself may not notice while others do…that’s the stuff that makes your work sound like it’s yours. That’s the charm. In the end, I do feel quite proud of what I’ve done.

3. How do you feel about the rest of the audio design and how it gels with the music? As you know you provided raw sounds and musical snippets and Rudolf mashed and smashed them into something that is often quite different from the source files, but sits well within the Euflorian soundscape.

I think the incidental sounds work extremely well for the whole atmosphere of the game. There’s something very “alive” sounding about all these miniature parts growing, moving, doing things. It just adds to the overarching organicness of the place. I think the music complements the audio design in the same way the visuals complement the music. They’re all working pieces of the same whole, and a lot of the soundtrack is very burbly and almost swamplike at times…lots of foggy sounds and wet sounds and things that evolve over long runtimes. So I think having all the spritely sounds of trees growing and impacts happening just adds to the established “space organic” vibe immensely.

4. Having seen the game go the distance from small competition game to Playstation 3 release, do you feel enthused to do more games related work? It seems your own independent music approach gels well with the indie games scene.

I would absolutely love to do more audio for games. In the grand scheme of things, me sitting here in my studio and self-releasing most of the music I make, and directly getting it to the people who want to hear it, is very much like the indie game circuit. It’s all just a bunch of free thinkers sitting in a bedroom making something they love and cutting the middleman out of the equation as much as possible. I think I’d also be a good fit for game audio work because I already have a tendency to make loads of material and I try not to be bound by genre lines or expectations or whatever. I really love working along the lines of a big concept, as lots of my recordings are quite conceptual and visual, so it’s definitely a good fit.

5. Have you noticed any crossover in your audience where people discover your music via the game, or your existing fans discover the game through the OST release?

I have indeed notice a bit of both, though I have definitely experienced first-hand more people discovering my work via the game, which is a great thing. Just knowing someone picked up the game
because of the game’s merits and promise, then became impressed with my music and got into it enough to want to seek out more of it and buy it, instead of just hear it every time they turn the game on…well that’s just awesome to me. It’s at that point I can see the proof of the music being more than just an effective soundtrack in a utilitarian way – it’s also being enjoyed just as a regular record would.

6. Do you feel restricted at all by the creative limitations a game’s soundtrack puts on you? I can imagine it can be tricky to create so much music that must feel fresh and fit the game universe, yet is open and quiet enough to not disturb gameplay.

If anything, the limitations make the work much more of a challenge, which I usually like because it forces me to think and work in a way I don’t normally, and that keeps the music fresh, as opposed to me having total free reign to do what I like, and inevitably falling back on the little nuances and things that I do subconsciously in my music without really being aware. The format of scoring something requires that everything be completely deliberate and arranged, and it’s always a refreshing experience when you can simultaneously learn something new and create something you still really like. I think that definitely happened with Eufloria, and now because I’ve gone through those motions, there’s a very specific sound that Eufloria has, and it has hereafter become established, making it easier for me to make new things and “play in the sandbox” so to speak.

7. Have you received other offers for this kind of work?

After Eufloria was released on Steam, I was approached by the Discovery Channel to contribute original music to a program they were making for Animal Planet. That went really well, and wasn’t too dissimilar from my work on Eufloria in the context of…total atmosphere. Like Eufloria, they were after very organic ambient sounds and it ended up being a good bit darker than Eufloria’s sound in the end too. Beyond that, I have been asked numerous times to contribute music to online webisode” type shows, student films and things like that, but Eufloria and the AP job were by far the most involved scoring jobs I’ve ever done. As I said before, I’d love to do this type of work more often!

8. Can you describe the process involved in creating a game soundtrack? What are the typical steps you take that end up in a Eufloria music track? Has this stayed consistent throughout your work on the OST or have you been adapting your approach over time?

For Eufloria, the process began with me simply working with a couple demo tracks…I think Meander” was actually the very first one in fact. I had some ideas regarding sort of organic electronics…lots of playful melodies, open spaces in the composition, and a recurring melodic theme that could be revisited in different motifs throughout the entire game. Once those sort of ground rules were established, it was just a matter of creating what I felt were logical “mutations” on that sound. Perhaps some moments would be completely without rhythm, while others had a steady pulse. Sometimes I would focus on darker, more oppressive atmospheres, and others I’d emphasize this sort of playful naiveté in the melody. I wanted a lot of the melodies themselves to sound as if they were “grown” from a single source, like little variants of branches on a tree, almost procedurally generated.

There is/was a definitely consistent vibe throughout all of the Eufloria music, but I can’t deny that the sounds themselves have been mutating over time as well. For example, when I went back to the
soundtrack 2 years after the original tracks were laid down, to create more songs for the PSN version of the game, there was some difficulty, because in my mind, while all that time had passed, I still felt I had a great handle on what was the “Eufloria sound” and in truth, it had mutated in my subconscious to the point that it was pretty different. So I almost had to start all over again and blindly feel around for things that worked, but in the end it all worked out and Eufloria came back to me again. To look at it a different way, the original seeds I had planted were now fully grown into something much more graduated, and I had to go back to the original field and plant some new crops…

9. Do you have a favourite track and if so, which one?

I would say my favorite track is probably “Open”, mostly because it was the first track I did for the soundtrack that felt like I hit a big stride with the atmosphere. It was lengthy, but melodic…ambient, but rhythmic. Playful, textural, a little bit dark and unfamiliar. It was the most perfect balance of all the motifs I wanted present, and quite possibly became the definitive framework for the color of all subsequent pieces. “Pink Leaves” is probably a close second, because it’s a total Eufloria composition in every way, but buried somewhere in there is a pretty classic sounding Milieu track too. It has a special charm that I can still not quite put my finger on.

10. How do you yourself feel when you play the game and hear your own music?

It’s stunning! There’s inevitably always a disconnect when I play it and it’s so immersive and I forget that I was the guy who created these sounds. Also, because there’s so much other stuff going on in gameplay, and you’re not wholly focusing on every bar of the music, and so on, you start to lose your way in it a little bit, and that’s when it’s really like zooming out and hearing my own work for the first time again, and it’s lovely. It just makes me start grinning from ear to ear. I’m very proud of what we’ve all managed to create together, and I can’t wait to spend a few spaced out hours on my couch with a PS3 controller in my hand…

Check out the trailer for Eufloria on the PSN:

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