Game-OST interviewed Petri Alanko about Alan Wake Soundtrack, sessions and possible future projects
“After 5 years of full time development we are ready for Alan Wake. It lost PC as a platform, changed many conceptions, became Xbox 360 exclusive and finally it is now cult for many people without being seen. Remedy, famous for its “when it’s done” adding last traits to game and plan to release it on May 21st. We were able to find Alan Wake’s composer Petri Alanko and ask him pretty intimate questions about AW. Check it out!
Hi! We don’t know anything about you, give us some words. What was your life before Alan Wake?
Well, I may be a newcomer amongst game composers, but I’ve actually done this more or less frequently since early nineties. I was a hired hand, doing pop production, composing pop/rock songs, all of which were probably too complicated and/or artsyfartsy to be hugely successful. I’ve had a few minor hit-ish songs with some local Finnish groups, though. The last seven years I’ve been closely involved with audio branding and sound design as well, among my clients there are Sulake Corporation (Habbo Hotel + other services provided by Sulake), a Certain Very Big Unnamed Finnish mobile device manufacturer (hah, my NDA says I shouldn’t mention the name anywhere) for which I did many things, quite a few record companies (the only missing is BMG I think), ad agencies… bits and pieces for everyone, it seems.
I’ve always been very interested in club scene as well, although my clubbing years are practically history right now – but my love to music still exists. I used to have a studio with one of the Europes leading trance DJs, Orkidea, with whom I had some great time doing music. His Metaverse album, for which I did production in cooperation with him as well as composing and programming stuff, is actually among my favorite productions. Also I’ve done some remixing plug other quite odd stuff under the moniker Lowland – check out Orkidea vs. Solarstone, “Slowmotion (Lowland remix)” and also the album “Classical Trancelations”, released by Armada in 2008 (available in Amazon or iTunes), on which I’m interpreting the trance classics in a slightly different way, a homage to heros, so to say. The last 5 tracks are actually quite good, imho. By the way, “Lowland” is my family name translated into English, given to me by my English teacher in… whaaaat? 1980? Goddammit, time flies.
In short, life has been easy and good, hopefully it’ll continue that way. I like peace and tranquility, being alone with my ideas, let them grow and evolve. I do have my social side as well, but it seems I’m more or less a typical Finnish Jekyll/Hyde.
If I find time and necessary motivation, I’d like to do an album combining that club scene thing and ambient stuff involving real instruments – not the most original idea, I’m afraid. Usually all the projects heading that way end up being just hideously bad and uncommercial in a way beyond one’s imagination. 🙂 In pro music world they have a special word for such records: “Crap”.
But: anything works as long as there’s a good melody and it moves something inside your head. Hopefully something else than just a toothbrush. 😀
Whom did you want to be when you were child? When did you start to study music?
It’s easy. I wanted to be a composer since – what, age five? My grandmother noticed I had musical tendencies and bought me a cheap electric organ, which soon was sold and we got a piano. I was four then. My parents took me to a local conservatoire in Lahti, Finland (the place I was born and lived in the first 18 years), which was horrendous as a first experience. I thought they were going to send me away! 😀 After the first lesson I didn’t want to leave, I wanted to suck it all in – so I cried coming in and going out. It began there and then: I knew I wanted to play music. The desire to compose songs came a few weeks later, although I was very aware of the patience needed. I probably did my first “composition” years after that, probably at the age of 11 or 12. It was a peppy and ridiculous song along the lines ofDepeche Mode á la 1981… oh dear, I’m blushing. It was a really bad song, I have to say, and I knew it already back then.
Do you have musical education? What instruments are you able to play and have in your collection right now?
I played piano for what seems ages now, it was an active part of my life from age 5 to 19, until my graduation from high school. I’ve let my technique rot, unfortunately. I’ve also studied classical organs (one of my teachers was Kalevi Kiviniemi, who’s a brilliant and innovative organist) – hey, if there’s ever going to be Alan Wake 2, I want to play some church organ stuff in!
(Having said that, the Remedy people probably ditch me from their buddy list. :-D)
I also studied Musicology at the University of Jyväskylä and got somehow lured to study theoretical physics, Pascal and C, but to be honest, that’s not my slice of bread. I dropped out when the allure of the pop world became too forceful to resist – In reality, I was broke, had no food in the fridge (I’ve lived with a can of beans and a rye bread for 5 days in the early nineties – now if that’s not bad then I don’t know what is) and had realised I’d be going straight towards the unemployment if I continued that path. One thing lead to another and there was I, recording, mixing, programming synths, doing studio stuff.
There were only a few guys doing that professionally back then, making samples and sounds for a living – add songwriting to that and you’ve got a few coins in your pocket. Coins, not notes, mind you. Back in the old days (pre-virtual instrument era) it was, for example, just a synth or a sampler plugged into a mixer with a dreadful delay or digital reverb in a send channel. You had to learn to be creative – restrictions have been my best teacher. Keyboards are my main instrument and I’ve got a decent collection of analog synths and instruments – all of which are used on a daily basis. I don’t like to keep things just because I want to own something.
My gear (mostly used in Alan Wake):
• Apple Mac Pro (with 16 GB RAM, 8 TB hard disk space) with MOTU 2408 mkIII + 24 i/o and RME FireFace 400 interfaces and CME UF80 keyboard and Logic Pro 8/9
• Clavia Nord Modular G2X (used as an external processor a lot)
• Roland JP-8000, JD-990, XV-5080 (well, not used in AW. Actually I don’t remember the last time I have had them switched on. I may have to delete a few sentences I wrote earlier… and sell these.)
• Roland SH-101 (red), SH-2, V-Synth XT (all of which got used a LOT in AW, I had V-Synth GT as well, but its USB midi clock sync was so bad it was beyond my sense of humour, so it had to go during the early stages.)
• Sequential Circuits Pro-One (with SynthWood modifications), serviced and fully functional, very prominent during the last 5 levels, doubling bass, adding depth, multitracked, doubled, quadrupled – I quite seldom use only one of something, I like layers.
• Oberheim Matrix-12 and Xpander (you can hear these in level 15, for example), my favorite analogue all-in-ones. Those two midied together = damn! It’s like with sex, if it’s a bit dirty, it’s right. 😀
• Access Music Virus TI Polar (if there’s distorted noise or dissonances, it’s this one)
• Open Labs Miko LXD (with Hartmann Neuron VS + Nuke controller, used as a substitute for my Neuron, which was malfunctioning badly at times and now it’s gone)
• Waldorf MicroQ Rack (mostly off all the time)
• UseAudio Plugiator with all plugs – Odyssey model gets used a lot, I’m searching for a nice Odyssey instead, by the way. Or the Creamware Prodyssey module with knobs.
• Unitor 8 mk2 and AMT8 MIDI interfaces
• Kenton Pro 4 MIDI/CV interface for the analog machines
• Line6 Pod XT Live
• Eurorack Modular (9 oscillators, 7 different VCFs, 8 ENV generators, 4 LFOs and loads of other modules… it’s a black hole, actually. Sucking all my time right now as I’m doing analogue noodlings to be used as building blocks for later use)
• Symbolic Sound Kyma/Paca with a TC Konnekt interface (ADAT pipe to 2408mkIII)
• Focusrite Liquid Mix and Liquid Channel
• Universal Audio UAD-2 with Neve and SSL plugins as well as Roland stuff and “the usual classic things”, Harrison EQ… a workhorse, this one.
• Yamaha D-85 Electone electric organ from late 70’s (also not used in AW)
• Yamaha VL-70m for some woodwind-ish things and esoteric breath instruments – I’d like to have a VL-1, though.
• Korg DSS-1 sampler (which has its fifth disk drive right now, it just eats them alive, I’m afraid)
• A brandless cello, a trombone and a nice acoustic guitar (Martin, if I remember correctly), which my father uses a lot – oh, and a beaten-up huge upright piano which sounds like a grand piano because of its tuning. A friend of mine tried his best to tune it and it just sounds great. Unfortunately I don’t have space for it in my studio, so I have to grab my mics, laptop and FireFace 400 everytime I need something real.
• Haken Audio Continuum (I sold this over a year ago, but I did some nice background pad things with it and Kyma’s Stinger/Atmospheric Machine which I created for this project)
How did you get this Alan Wake job? Did you have experience in creating game or movie soundtracks before the Alan Wake? Are you freelancer or Remedy in-house composer?
A mutual friend of mine & Remedy’s people introduced us to each other, I was and still am a freelancer. I had done quite a few classical-ish things during the years and Remedy asked this fellow if he knew someone who could deliver a catchy theme for an early teaser trailer. Well, obviously they liked my output, considering the current situation.
It’s actually quite flattering, because they could’ve chosen any other top name from their list, but these things are more of chemistry than of fancy titles and Curriculum Vitaes. It just “happened”, so to speak. The first clip I saw was so full of believable atmosphere that the theme practically wrote itself. When I saw the first picture of Alan Wake (with a gun in his hand, the other holding a flashlight), that was it. I sort of knew what it needed. Things come out easily with me, though, I’m not sure if this is the right way to put it in words, but it seems I’m sort of a synaesthetic as I “hear” what pictures are craving for.
Maybe I just wanted this job so bad they decided to surrender and let me do it. Maybe I had the right spark in my eyes.
What’s the very first thing you do while you are creating your music? Could you estimate an average time you spend for creating a single composition?
Considering AW and its cinematics, I set some dogmas for scoring, some sonic boundaries which I knowingly refused to cross. The boundaries were level-dependent and I never set the same rules twice. I carefully studied the environment, people involved, time of the day, weather… oh dear, people will probably think I’m just another seriously anal control freak knobhead. Which I probably am! 😀
Usually it begun by staring in awe at the raw cinematics cut byStobe Harju (if he ever makes a movie, I really, really, really want to score that – a nice fella with lots of attitude, vision and experience) and after the tears settle, I’ll start analyzing what moved me. I need to have an anchor around which the rest of the music is created. Usually it’s a very tiny thing, I’ll call that a trigger. It can be something as simple as Alice’s pose on a ferry in the beginning of the game, or the way the Remedy people had managed to create “sense of weather”. In that same scene (arriving Bright Falls) the whole setting is very believable, very tangible, every detail’s in its place.
Some things come out easily, such as the “Eight Alan Wake Notes”, which I heard in my head the moment I saw the first picture of him. Actually, that’s a variation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s B-A-C-H, for which I have a weak and soft spot in my heart. Bach is something I really enjoyed to play and listen to when I was young. Also, the same notes hold the illusion of suspense and thrill, them being quite dissonant when played together. Again, this 8-note thing has an echo from the 70’s and 80’s, as almost every TV action/thriller series had a “to be continued” at the end of an episode, and Alan Wake’s supposed to be an episode-based thriller game, so… of course I had to find something along those lines. And it just came out, by accident.
I sometimes used different tunings for those notes, to have them stand out from the wall of sound. I usually tune everything to 443 Hz, so I really had to vamp my tunings at times. I also managed to insert those eight notes to practically every cue in the game – sometimes all eight together, sometimes it comes out one note per bar… it’s like the whole score’s breathing those notes over and over again. Luckily, it doesn’t sound like I’d be repeating myself, heh! Note also, A L A N W A K E = eight letters… I even had an old keyboard which had letters A L N W K E written on every key starting from C1, then starting again at F#1. I wanted to see what I could get out of the sequence. Sheer lunacy.
(By now it should be obvious I’m interested in layers, riddles and numerology.)
Then there were action cues, which require a horrendous amount of data. Just doing the percussion tracks could easily take a day. The song itself is seldom very complicated in an action scene, but just the sheer number of control data and notes… oh dear. Luckily, the string library I’m using enables me to do some complex things quite easily.
Alice’s theme cue was five minutes, by the way. Five minutes and I’d done the whole piano track. There’s also a character which I’d like to call only as “Diver”. After hearing the character’s history it was like, what, half an hour? As I said before, I need a mental trigger to get things done. Diver’s a really tragic character, by the way. Odd and tragic.
Maybe we forgot somebody else like sessions musicians? Name those guys!
When I did AW score, I worked alone. I tried to get people involved with ambient cues etc., but the prices they were asking for was stupendous, “Ahha, they got rich with Max Payne, I want 10000 euros for a guitar track”. That was probably the best I heard.
I always heard a slide guitar – or a dobro, or a lap steel – blended in with the more ambient stuff, á la Daniel Lanois, but never managed to find the right guy to work with. Well, maybe one day. (sigh) Hmm, I wonder if Remedy would like to do an Extended Edition: Alan Wake The Redux -Complete Re-imagined Experience… nooot.
Again I hear them erasing my name from their notebooks. 😀
You wrote in your Twitter you had orchestral sessions in Leipzig. So, were all symphonic parts “live” made? Or we are wrong and old good samples were used here too.
Not all were done with the orchestra, unfortunately, only something like 45 minutes, perhaps. Most of the time there’s a lot of stuff underneath the orchestra, among them a serious amount of samples, some of them done by myself, some of them from different libraries. I really love Audiobro’s LASS (Los Angeles Scoring Strings) library, by the way – no, this is not an advertisement, I’ve paid dearly for the library. During January 2010, when I did the mixing, I replaced some of the more synthetic stuff with Novachord samples or Nord Modular G2X model, in order to increase the eerie vibe needed for the unique atmosphere in the game. You can almost feel the autumn chill in the picture. The guys at Remedy are frighteningly good in details, especially Mr. Saku Lehtinen, who was my main contact at Remedy. I miss the analyzing and the discussions, if we only were able to enjoy a bottle of decent wine whilst discussing, it no longer would have been work. 😉 His verbal input was one of the key elements on my scoring: telling stories, opening the backgrounds of the characters, etc. It all helped me a lot.
The sessions in Leipzig were about as smooth as one can imagine. No glitches, no hickups, nothing, just sheer professionality and quality output. I can recommend both the orchestra and the fellows arranging the sessions. As I mentioned earlier, the time was an issue, so we had to choose which cues to record with the orchestra and which had to survive with samples. I think we ended up with right choices.
Tell us how orchestral sessions were going. Maybe you can remember name some funny moments from there?
It was a really fast-paced session. One especially funny moment happened the day before the sessions: my back practically stuck after sitting still a few days, I was unable to move and it hurt like nothing before – I was forced to visit the local health center to get an injection just to be able to sit, yet alone fly to Germany. Ok, there was me laying on the operation bed, with my pants down, on my stomach, in full agony – I was almost crying because of the pain – and an older nurse opened the door before dragging the curtains in between myself and the waiting lobby… “nice ass, mister” was heard from behind, with some whistling. Thank you, audience…
The doctor gave me five painkiller and relaxant injections before I could move again, and in addition to that I also got a healthy (well, not really) dose of prescription medication to be taken with me to Germany. A real party pack, so to speak. I’m not a fan of pills or medical substances, but that just had to be done.
Anyway, the next morning I was supposed to be at the airport at 5 AM in order to catch the plane – which, eventually, took off 90 minutes late. I thus missed my next leg, so I had to spend the time at the Frankfurt airport with my sore back. I couldn’t take any of the pills, as they made me feel a bit… well, so not me. And of course there was an unhealthy amount of bumpy air from Frankfurt to Leipzig. More pain and agony.
I’ve never stopped wondering how painless the whole string session was. The orchestrator, David Christiansen, had done a beautiful job listening to my stem tracks and interpreting them in the most incredible resolution. I had no time to prepare my pre-scores, so we had to use only mp3 files – which turned out to be a killer solution. We also shared one indulgement: we both happen to like quality marzipan, which was found out by accident. 😀 After the first day we all had a dinner and a lengthy discussion with some gulasch and fish. I really enjoyed that day.
After the sessions the next day I was hurried back to Leipzig airport and the chauffeur who drove me there literally stepped on it. 185 km/h just before the curve, then pedal to the metal, braking and full throttle ahead again. I almost shat my pants during those few minutes it took to drive from Halle to Leipzig. I’m not a slow driver myself, but that guy was easily the fastest cab driver on this side of Earth. He even had Recaro seats in his car – and I still don’t know whether this was a practical joke or not. I mean, I should’ve known this if a cab driver has driving gloves on.
It was <THIS> close I didn’t puke then. Because of fear. Damn, Jeremy Clarkson would’ve been jealous for that driving.
The pain wasn’t over yet, though. The leg from Leipzig to München was made with a propeller plane, which trembled so heavily that it was practically an impossibility to drink orange juice. You see, it didn’t stay in a cup. It probably wouldn’t have stayed in a bottle either. Also, I almost ended up with a loose tooth filling after trying to take a nap and resting my head against the plane’s body.
I was a bit anxious to hear the tracks as they were sent to me one day later. My fear was wiped away after hearing the first recordings: Incredible work. Just 100% pro stuff. A big thank you to them.
There’s a lot of stuff going on in the cues: most of them had well over 100 tracks of audio or virtual instruments, the record being 172 discrete tracks going to 12 summing buses, if I remember correctly. The longer cue, the more tracks.
If it is not a work top secret then, could you tell us about music from a professional point of view: which sample libraries and VST plugins did you use in your work? What software and hardware did you use?
Hollow Sun Novachord library (it’s the most definitive one, easily), Audiobro’s LASS string library was the main thing, with a very little Vienna and EastWest Quantum Leap Orchestra thrown in – the latter two are a bit too much in the “laminated teeth” or “rubber boobs” department, a bit unreal. There’s one cue which was done only with EWQL and I regret I didn’t have time to replace the strings with either LASS or Vienna. Project Sam Symphobia was in there as soon as it came out, it’s used much in conjuction with real strings and in action cues. Also, some Omnisphere “unreal” string patches were used. I really like the granular engine in it. Ivory’s Italian Grand and the main package saved my ass many times. I also used PianoTeq3 – or misused. A few sounds have nothing in common with pianos, but were still great. Percussion stuff is almost 100% Tonehammer, their range of products is just unbelievable and the playability of the libraries is beyond words. I don’t have endorsement deals (hint, hint, hint, damn you), everything is bought, so I think it’s safe to announce my favorites without guilt. 🙂
Soniccouture’s Glassworks provide some eerie whistling here and there, and I love their bowed piano as well, layered with pretty much everything.
The Audio Damage plugin stuff is great, very unique and of highest quality. Their EOS took care of the longer reverbs in the ambient cues, with multiple instances. I think I’ve bought every single plugin they’ve ever made. Just absolutely fabulous stuff. And their customer support really works, unlike many others’. Unfortunately, during the scoring I ran into some problems, contacted a few customer support addresses and I’m still waiting for their answers – after almost two years. I’d like to name the two companies, but I think everyone knows the leading library manufacturers… 😉
Fabfilter plugins were also used, especially in level 5 and 13. Arturia’s soft synths are my soft spot, I have to admit – and without Native Instruments’ Kontakt 4 the whole project would have been an impossibility. Logic Pro eats your RAM alive, so Kontakt’s memory server function (which allows one to use the RAM memory outside Logic) really came to rescue. I’d like to buy a nice bottle of Single Malt for the guy who invented that. Oh god, how I wish Apple made a similar memory server plugin for all AU plugins used inside Logic… that ridiculous 4 GB limit is used up a bit too soon with Logic 9.1. UAD-2 and Neve 1073 and 1081 EQ were used all over the place, I really love their high end. Also, Izotope Alloy and Ozone 4 are used in every cue.
I mentioned earlier EastWest. I use their EWQLSO Pro XP, but with Kontakt 4. Their Play plugin is virtually unusable due to constant bugging and memory issues. If that’s not the real case, sorry, but that’s what I’ve been told.
Oh! Audiofile Engineering’s Sample Manager, Loop Editor and Wave Editor… a trinity no sound designer with a Mac cannot live without. I like to do a lot of atmospheric stuff, so looping comes handy – and Loop Editor really saves time.
Celemony Melodyne was used a lot in some of the musical stingers. I resampled several stinger samples, combined them, then used Melodyne Editor to tune the components and harmonics, then I redrew them totally into a new shape. A cool trick, a very musical one. Or, you could tune everything to octaves or unison, then loop the whole thing and – voila – you have an organic pad, with orchestral quality.
Reaktor, Kyma, Neuron VS… the usual shit. I did create a stinger/atmospheric machine for Kyma, which cross-vocodes etc. all sorts of strange samples. I later ported it to Reaktor, using its granular engine, which eventually allowed me to “bow” things back and forth with Haken Audio Continuum or midi controllers. I also made a grain cloud based subtle doubling effect for Reaktor, as I miss my Eventide… it turned out to be really nice and smooth sounding widening effect, and later on a friend of mine has used it on every vocal track he’s mixed ever since.
Oh, one thing one cannot miss: Expert Sleepers did a really nice plugin for connecting and controlling your old synths’ CV ins and outs via an audio interface, the Silent Way. Actually, there are much similarities with MOTU’s Volta, but this one is much cheaper and their customer support’s just fabulous. Also, the development cycle seems to be shorter as they’re a smaller and therefore more agile company. It’s not as much eye candy as Volta, but hey, sexiness comes from the inside. 😀
We saw something like guitar processor PODXT Live on your Twitter photos. Does it mean we can hear guitars in soundtrack? Bring up the light on this dark things!
Unfortunately, no guitar. It’s used in conjuction with my Mörkö (the modular synth). I used several tape delays and cabinet models with eerie stuff, utilising Pod Farm. I really enjoy destroying sounds, tearing them into pieces, I have to admit. There was one theme which was in 7/8, 143 BPM in the beginning, the melody played by a dobro and there was a Norwegian fiddle playing the haunting melody. The theme eventually became a bye-bye ballad, in 4/4, about 65 BPM.
Sometimes I chain things in a really complicated way. Everything is patched into my interfaces, so I can use Logic as a patcher and feed signal into Kyma/Paca, send it to Mörkö, add some diffusion or delay with PodXT and then have everything chopped up by Audio Damage’s more esoteric plugins (Replicant, Automaton, Dr. Device). Or Reaktor. I’m quite interested in programming my own things, but I’m still much more into composing and playing instead of coding.
There are a LOT of feedback samples, though. Most of them were recorded by yours truly with guitars or bass and amps, but several more unorthodox methods were also used: two iPhones feeding each other, recorded by an Edirol R-09 and a pair of OKM in-ear microphones. Cheap stuff, great results! Also, I recorded a few megaphones feedbacking, then lowering them by several octaves, processing, cleaning, processing again…
We suppose Alan Wake has much music. How much time did it take to write all cues and what difficulties did you face while working on this soundtrack? How much music was written and what part of it will appear in the game?
Time needed for writing? Five years. Nooot… Actually, if everything would have been ready when handed over to me, I’d done the whole thing in 3-4 months, but I’m VERY thankful of having that much time. It really helped to see what’s rotten and what’s not. I had to “kill many darlings” during the process. There were no fights nor there were any rows between myself, Saku and Stobe, but some of the things just hurt a bit. My main philosophy is comparable to a coder’s job: if your customer wants to have something changed, there usually is something that bothers them. If there’s a bug it’ll have to be fixed.
Most difficult part was easily Mr. Wake’s “inner development” during the progress of the events. How do you manifest primal fear and denial of factual happenings with music so that it’s understood by most players? I’ve feared for losing my life several times, so I’ve got quite an insight, one could say. Some of the cues are trying to reflect and emphasize the cycle of thoughts leading towards what we recognize as fear, just provoking the player’s thoughts and feeding something existing inside your head, not on the screen or the shiny disc the game comes on. I tried to steer away from the most obvious – and at first we thought we’d need only 70 minutes of music, but somehow we ended up having 243 minutes of music…
I had a lot of time to think about the characters and did my best to avoid the usual traps. Mr. Wake, for instance, could have easily been considered as an action hero, whereas according to my judgement, he’s a reluctant anti-hero, guilt being his main instrument.
Having said all that and having faced all the difficulties, I seriously do hope every single minute gets used. If that’s not the case I’m going to break a few bones around here. 😀
In short, I enjoyed this project very much. After having to “enjoy” regular music scene for quite some time, it was a breeze and a rare treat to encounter a company which was a) able to communicate accurately their ideas, b) had same personnel in every meeting, c) had a clear vision, d) always returned my calls, e) had loads of great folk working and finally f) determined to give 100% output. Oh, and g) had created a flawless plot for the manuscript and a huge amount of believable characters, that’s the key. Everyone I spoke to at Remedy had a spark in their eyes, no matter how tired they were towards the end. You just cannot have quality output without that spark: intensity and passion produce best results.
(sigh) I have to mourn alone in the darkness now that it’s done. I really, really miss the development stage.
Does the game have interactive music? If yes, tell us how music is tied to game locations, events, action-moments. Can player actions affect the soundtrack? Also, is there any cut-scene music and special themes for each of game character? Well, many questions, but this is interesting thing, you know. And, final one about interactive music: will change of daytime affect the soundtrack? More darker on street – more darker the music.
Most of the action scenes are more or less dependent of player’s actions, but no interactive music as such was done. Almost every action cue was stripped into components (percussion, fx, instruments) and practically every component fits in with other components. Of course there are harmonical issues, but I’d say almost 50% of the material is more or less “modular”, fitting in with the others.
I wasn’t closely involved with audio engine development (although I wanted to have time for that and had a lot of ideas), so unfortunately I’m not much of a help here. I’d love to have my say if there ever will be a second round.
All of the cues were “daytime/nighttime” categorized, this was a must since the earliest stages. The instrumentation changed from medium-sized group of strings and a grand piano to pretty much everything else and their ugly neighbour as well, heh! At one time I had small contact microphones taped and glued to my studio chair and the mouse pad when I needed low-end thuds for the night scenes.
During the daytime I very rarely used doublebasses, the lowest was probably cello, but in the nighttime ambient scenes the highest violins were used only as an effect. The action scenes were an exception, of course. Also, grand piano was doubled with all kinds of strange things in the night scenes, and a good dose of dissonant and feedbacking samples were lurking in there all the time.
I created a set of stingers using only a piano and bowing its strings with a guitar string, treating them with Mörkö and Kyma… although I really don’t know whether they were used at all. 😀
There are some rumors about the ingame car, in which we can travel from location to location. So, somebody says there will be radio which we can listen to. Is that right?
Er, I think someone else at Remedy could give you a much more precise answer to this… I had no connections with in-game devices and functionality and whatnot – I was merely a monkey watching gameplay and cinematics, composing to them. I’ve heard a rumour, according which they have a selection of licenced music tracks, so they must be used somewhere in the game, I think. Maybe in the cinematics? 😉
Generally, how can you describe the soundtrack? Can you tell us about key compositions and what tracks are your favorite?
It’s a sad, moving, dramatic, very, very touching soundtrack to unfortunate and unbelievable incidents experienced by a writer, who lately has had some rough time and is now looking for a new direction. It could be described as a “romantic score for a psycho-thriller game”. A bit unusual choice, I’d say.
Because the game or a movie is usually tied to a certain present moment, the observer/player doesn’t have any idea in which way the main protagonist will evolve – and thus the composer must emphasis both the current time and the repercussions and reflections without giving out too much information. And THAT is the hardest thing.
To select a favorite is a choice which ones to love and which ones to reject. A tough one, this question. My favorites are the first cinematic scene, a flashback in the middle – and probably the most sentimentally moving cinematic in the whole game scene ever: the ending. Stobe Harju and his team made me cry a lot during the making, not because they’re rough (ha!), but because the output was so touching. I’m not willing to spoil anything, but if there are no tears seen on the players’ chins, I’ve failed. Mr. Wake’s agent, Barry (who’s my favorite in this game), has also a very memorable theme when the time comes. If I had to choose one, that would be it.
Every character in this game having some issues, so there was a lot to write onto, so to speak. I thought of Alice being a willowy, bending-not-breaking type of a character, so her theme is a fragile twine of her strength and will to love. Her love is obviously a choice, Mr. Wake being such a typical artist, a writer with issues. Of course, seeing her face for the first time signed the whole thing. She’s not your usual size-DD-breasted chick heroine with pointy ears, daring clothing and a sword that shines and plays meandering flute melodies whenever hobos are around – instead, for once in the gaming history, a protagonist’s wife is a believable human being, believably cute and nice-looking. I’m sure the guys at Remedy were so in love with Alice’s “face and body”, the original actress/model. At least I was and I haven’t even met her in person, so how are the other guys surviving, don’t know. Poor fellas. Rumour has it the photographer had to lay down on her lap, I was told. I’m sure it was the only way… 😀
It is obvious that Alan Wake was created under cultural phenomenon named Twin Peaks. We won’t ask you anything about Angelo Badalamenti. But, what other music, movie or even book inspirations did you have?
Well, being an European, I lived my childhood watching Finnish TV broadcasting everything it could afford in the Saturday evening – which was French, Italian, Swedish, Finnish and Russian films. And the usual early black-and-white and Technicolor U.S. films as well – there were no Grease nor Saturday Night Fever on our telly back then. In the early 80’s everything started to change and all of a sudden American TV series weren’t anymore 7 years late. The change continued throughout the 80’s and 90’s. Twin Peaks was an eye opener for me, I have to admit.
I’ve always admired the guys who did The Perfume soundtrack (Tykwer/Klimek/Heil). It’s a brilliant work, so tied in with the picture, full of secondary layers I’m so fond of – secondary layers being the motives behind action, not the actions itself. Also Cliff Martinez could be mentioned among the minimalist geniuses, his Solaris score was unbelievable and otherworldy, it’s been on my iPod/iPhone playlist since its release. During the last season of Galactica re-make I had to swallow tears a few times, thanks to Bear McCreary (”Gaeta’s Lament” almost killed me). I had never been a fan of James Horner, until I saw Avatar. And all of a sudden I had to buy a few soundtracks.
One could mention Hans Zimmer as well – but who could NOT mention him: his Gladiator score is a masterpiece. Everyone always speaks of his epic score (well, him being Mr. Epic, heh), but there are lots of brilliant, more subtle cues in the movies (Angels & Demons/Da Vinci Code: “503”/”Chevaliers de Sangreal”, if I could create such an uplifting halo around any piece of music, I’d be thankful; another prime example from the Angels & Demons is “Election by adoration”). His writing style has adapted a certain eerie vibe lately, which I happen to like very, very much.
Among other references there are Nine Inch Nails and all the side projects (Mr. Reznor is a bright fella, I’d say), Depeche Mode during the 1983-1995 era, Ultravox, Swedish thriller books by Lapidus and Larsson, two shelves of rock biographies, Rammstein, Daniel Lanois (Acadie’s been on my playlist for ages as well), Johnny Cash, Top Gear (the car show on BBC), Brian Eno, Recoil, Peter Gabriel’s “Last Temptation of Christ” score – and a Finnish metal group Kotiteollisuus. Wow, now that I see all that written down it’s a miracle I’ve managed to write anything at all. 😀
What references did the Remedy give you just before the start?
Not too much Hollywood, no woodwinds, no brass, reduced string section. Be close, be believable, represent the subjective fear, don’t step over the fear/horror line. That was it in a nutshell, I felt I had free hands afterwards, there were only a few second calls or retractions, about 5-7 minutes worth in total. Some electronic/orchestra combinations were ditched totally, though. I stopped experimenting quite quick, somehow. 🙂 The electronic side lived on, though, and were used in the action scenery.
They also showed me a _lot_ of pictures taken from their ground trip to Northwestern USA, with pictures of the ground, woods, trees, moss, weather, cities and tiny towns, buildings, everything. I’ve got a strong connection between my output and what I see, so that practically casted the foundation of the score. There was a similarity between the woods here on our latitude and over there, so reflecting the fundamentals became easy.
I had seen almost every cinematic in its early storyboard phase, so I was also given the opportunity to enjoy seeing the development of them as well. And what development it was! The pace of the cinematics was there already in the beginning (so, obviously, Stobe had thought of it all thoroughly from the start), they lived and breathed, they were only “decorated” later with mo-cap and graphics, but the pace was there.
I did one piece involving a “travel piano” (Saku’s fitting term for an ostinato motive) in the very early stages of development and it stuck there as is to the end. That became later the Bright Falls theme. To be able to find something like that in the beginning defined most of my path, made it all easier.
I would like to say this whole project has been among the easiest, if not THE easiest ever. It took a long time to accomplish this, but there was never a sense of “ohshitohshitohshit ohfucketyfucketyFUCK”. Not even close. I have quite a strong stress resistance and I’m not stressed easily, if at all, but my Worry-O-Meter really didn’t show a sign during the making. I like things to be built on a no-bullshitting-and-merry-talks-then-backstabbing idea, so I wanted them to tell me immediately with their own primary words if something wasn’t satisfying. Either they were easy on me or didn’t use their “down the drain” card often, I don’t know. I hope they’re as satisfied with the score as I am.
The song «War», which would be available in March on new Poets of the Fall‘s album “Twilight Theater”, was used in game. Where will the song be used (main or end titles)? Will there be some reflections of it in the game? Like it was in Max Payne 2 where some characters hummed “Late Goodbye” and one of gangsters played main theme on piano.
I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s going to be a hilarious and very uplifting moment. It really is, believe me. 😀 No cuddling and kisses, though.
Alan Wake will receive DLCs in the future. Will they use existing music or you will write new cues for them?
The could be edits coming at my way, but I’m afraid that 243 minutes will hold some stuff for DLC as well.
Me, being now AW-deprived, I’d LOVE to do more music, but it all depends on the schedules and so forth. Remedy does know that if they need me, they just call and I stop everything I’m doing at the moment, immediately. No matter if I’m in the toilet or having my lunch – or anything more intimate than that – I’ll stop and that’s it. You could say I’m loyal. 😉
But what does a poor man have if not his pride and loyality?
What plans (especially on games) do you have after release of Alan Wake?
I really don’t know. Right now I’m having a home vacation after a Thailand vacation and just sleeping a jet lag (and a production lag) off, jogging, taking care of my health right now. No issues, just slowing down aging and trying to lose five kilos.
Unfortunately, during the making (such a long time, after all), I had to say “no” to so many calls – a few of them were quite interesting cases – that eventually they probably have thought I’ve already begun my retirement or just am a shithead. Well, I haven’t, I’m not. If you need a game score or a strange club mix – just let me know.
What composers, musicians or vocalists do you want to work with?
I’d like to find someone like Lisa Gerrard, but with an even wider style asset… Also, I don’t know too many good solo string players, they all seem to be a bit limited to one style or are so keen on plain classical music and score sheets that their ability to improvise has degraded somewhat.
I’ve noticed I work best and most effortlessly in a group where everyone has their strict roles, which overlap only if asked to. I enjoy exchanging views and ideas, brainstorming. I’ve got a vivid imagination and lots of experiences in my past, so I’ve got my guns full.
I would say the Tykwer posse would be one of the me-like groups. McCreary does it all by himself, so he cannot be on my list… hmm, it has to be someone not unfamiliar with electronics. This one’s probably the toughest questions ever. There are only so few composers giving me chills that I’m running out of names. There are no Finnish names at all on my list, though. Unfortunately I’ve yet to see and hear a really good score in a local film, it’s all so unimportant and plain. Very Finnish. 😀 Hmm, Alexandre Desplat did a wonderful score for the “Girl With A Pearl Earring”… Oh, one thing. If phone rings, and it’s Zimmer, Remedy goes to second place, but just barely. 😉
That, however, is going to be the most unlikely thing since the Big Bang. I realize there are thousands of people trying to get their foot in the Hollywood door – and I’m not even sure whether I want to be involved with all the backstabbing and yes men (having encountered such posse enough already in my life) – but it’s a case-dependent thing. I’d say the AW score’s done in my own style, that’s my card. If someone likes it and things click, I’ll go and do my very best. I’m known to work my ass off – not one missed deadline so far, none. Since 1989. 🙂
Wow, I’ve forgotten one person who’s really been important to me all my teen years and beyond: Alan Wilder (from Depeche Mode). I owe him big time and he doesn’t even know that. I would LOVE to do an ambient score with him. His influence on European pop music is probably greater than anyone’s willing to admit. I’d like to be the first on the barricades, though.
So, the big name list? Not in any order:
Zimmer, Desplat, Tykwer, Wilder, Reznor, Horner.
The no-big-name list? Their secretaries in the same order. 😀
We are pretty sure you’ll become rock-start after Alan Wake! Do you plan to work on solo album after that maybe?
To be honest, I’d be flattered, yes – but unfortunately the fame or fortune always bring their bad cousins in as well and I’ve done a lot of work to be this modest and humble human being that I am right now. I could use a steady income happily, though, as living is pretty expensive in the capital area here in Finland. Just the size of my electric bill is, well, astounding (thanks to analog equipment). They aren’t using golden envelopes yet, but that will happen next, I’m sure. 🙂
I’d like to work with interesting scores (that’s as much “solo material” to me as I can imagine, at least it is that right now), it really doesn’t make difference whether it has to be up, close and personal or Epic With A Capital Letter, as long as the story and the characters are believable.
Hmm, rock star. They usually get the occasional model chick and mon?y, don’t they? Hmm. I wonder if my wife would let me have rockstardom as a hobby? 😀 She’s probably the most understanding person on the face of the planet, but I don’t think even she would be that flexible.
Here we usually ask something like “do you plan to commercially release game soundtrack” but, if you don’t mind, we will change our text a little bit. So, we are sure some game industry people are reading us and, guys!, we want send this thoughts to you. Dear American and European publishers! Please, publish game music! Publish it all on 2-3 CDs or in digital form. Not that small 10 track promos, please! Don’t be greed. Even if there are small music cues gamers will be happy to hear them. Publish music commercially or release it for free! No releases means music fans will rip tracks from the favorite games and you will lose money. With iTunes and other digital distribution stores it is more easy to publish soundtracks. Also, many labels are glad to release music from modern games, just look on the Japan! And look at your colleagues! Ubisoft released cool 2-CD set for Assassin’s Creed II, EA released 2-CD for Mass Effect 2. THQ brought 3 (!) CD set for Red Faction: Guerilla. That are very good examples. In other words, make your music more available for listeners, it’s very important. Spread these words of truth everywhere! Ok then, so now you can answer our favorite question: what fate awaits Alan Wake soundtrack? Will it be released separately from the game?
First, I have to agree with you 100%, I’m thinking exactly the same, being a gamer myself. Publishers sit on their scores gratuitously, with no real reason. I’ve signed an agreement with Remedy concerning a possible release of the game soundtrack (which, could be heavily expanded, imho), so they’re really considering something. I’ll be the first to know, though.
I wouldn’t want to think this way, but obviously, some game studio bosses don’t seem to consider game music as real music, compositions that have value and weight by themselves. Instead, the music seems to be dead weight to them, something that they couldn’t avoid adding. Luckily, it seems (I emphasize: according to what I’m told and seen), that people at the Microsoft Game Studios are thinking different now. Music is not a separate product, but an independent co-product, it’s a promotion tool tied to the original product, a tool which can have an even longer life span than the game itself – which leads to the fact that the game itself could prolong its life by means of nostalgy reasons given by music. I’d like to think a good score could sell a few games as well. Plus, you can take the score with you when you go out.
If ripping a soundtrack is the only choice given to gamers, it’ll soon lead to a problem: the compositions are rarely in their original form and are heavily edited, usually mastered/limited/eq’d to death, thus being a bad ad for the composer.
I know that in Japan there are huge amounts of game soundtracks for sale in the dept. stores and music stores – I really do welcome that trend over here. That and the clothing style. It would be cool to have the score out in the stores over there.
Is there anything you could advise to rookie composers and amateurs?
Well, a lot. But it would be safer to go case by case. There are multiple issues, though:
Are you being paid by the compositions only or is there a “physical work” fee, i.e. production expenses included as well? Make sure every imaginable expense is solved in the contract before you start working on it. If in doubt, don’t sign. You don’t sign if you don’t trust. If anyone tells you “hey, you can trust me, we don’t have to sign anything, we’ve got a spoken thing here”, don’t go there. Agreements and contracts are done on paper because people trust each other. Even though making paper kills trees.
Basics: Know your libraries and tools to and thru, be them PC or Mac based, it really doesn’t matter. One cannot pay too much for a good acoustic job, quality interface and great monitors. And a decent chair. Also, buy a tea kettle or a coffee machine. If you stall, make a cup of coffee. Eventually it becomes your second nature, and your brain gets accustomed to tea/coffee breaks – and start solving problems without thinking. A prime example of Pavlov’s dogs.
Usually what you hear first in your head is what you’ll return to. Don’t let it fool you, let it grow – if you remember something after, say, two weeks, it’s worth doing. I’ve done enough cases years ago with practically every advertisement company to trust my first gut feeling. Sometimes it’s a tough job trying to pursue your client to do the same (to trust YOUR vision) – but hell, if they’re willing to pay for versions a, b and c thru z, then return to a, then go and earn a fortune. 😀
Don’t go for the obvious. This seems to attack #3, but works in conjunction with it. Try to dig deep into the character. What’s driving him/her, what’s the motivation? What are the reasons behind the motivation? Suddenly you have at least three different ways to think about the whole cue.
If possible, use electronics and computers to _augment_ your music, just having great production only leaves everything empty. Don’t let the production style come between you and your song, preventing the music from coming out.
A good tune is something you can whistle or hum, and which you can remember whilst taking a shower. It’s not easy to hum a drum’n’bass beat, I’ve tried that. I’ve seen a certain movie now four times and I still don’t remember one melody. But there are good DnB loops in there. Oh wow.
If you get stuck, take a break and after the break do something else. You could take the original idea apart, mute every second track, etc., listen to effect returns only – one could write a book on “how to survive the writer’s block”. Been there, done that. No block lasts forever, the most important thing to do is give time to it. If you don’t have time, do the tricks I mentioned. Make tea or coffee, see #2.
Don’t fall into the Movie/Game Trailer Syndrome, which most of the game music people are suffering from. In that disease every cue has to sound like Star Trek’s trailer: so full of everything and their cousin also. And a choir. And stingers. And loads of bass rumbles. And everything’s limited beyond death, rebirth and redeath.
Support the boutique plug & library manufacturers: Tonehammer, Soniccouture, Audiobro, Hollow sun, Audio Damage, Sonalksis, Fabfilter… ok, Kontakt 4 is the leader, even though NI is no longer a boutique company.
Do not, I repeat: DO NOT update your computer in the middle of a production. I had to do it three times and almost ended up selling every piece of crap I had and shooting my leg. Ten times. Stupid moves, those things. Just don’t go there.
You’re now having a unique opportunity to say “hello” to all russian people and Russia in the whole! Yeah, yeah! 🙂 Bears, KGB agents and hard-drinking red-nosed brutal men with Russian doll in one hand and bottle of pure vodka in the other are among them as well?
Heh… that’s one hell of a stereotype chosen, I must say as a representer of a nation who spends most of its time either in a sauna or in a forest drinking, driving old Toyotas to death whilst drunk, trying to woo ladies resembling a genetic hybrid between a cow and a tractor… (I think I’m going to get pretty badly beaten if I ever visit the Forest Finland again.) 🙂 To be honest, I love my country and all the quirky stuff in here. There aren’t dolls here in Finland, but I know what you mean.
I haven’t actually addressed a crowd as huge as your readers before, I’m afraid, but… Well, hello, y’all! Hopefully something moves inside when you finally have a chance to play Alan Wake, I really hope so – otherwise I did one hell of a lousy job. I put a lot of heart and brain into AW’s music and right now I’m a bit afraid what you’ll find. So far my only experiences of Russia have been several flights over your enormous country – and an old Etyde piano (my first) plus a hefty load of music sheets arranged for piano and composed by Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Kabalevsky, goddammit, you name it, I’ve probably played it! No matter what you’re expecting from Alan Wake, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the plot and the gameplay, there’s just so much going on in the game. Life is way too short not to invigorate it a little bit with a good game. Recharge your controllers, AW’s coming.
Talking about vodka: among my favorite drinks is Russki Standart, a friend of mine introduced me to that whilst visiting a local Russian restaurant here in Helsinki and we had a blast… and not any hangover the next day – it must be either the food or right choice of booze. As I said: invigorating, the meaning of life. 😀
Thanks for your time!
Thanks to you. 🙂