The following article is from Square Enix Music Online’s site, interviewing Petri Alanko about Alan Wake
“Chris: Petri Alanko, we really appreciate your time today. First of all, could you introduce yourself to readers and discuss your musical background, education, and influences? What uniquely defines you as a musician?
Petri Alanko: I have a classical background. Thankfully I had a lot of inspiring teachers, though every one of them probably agrees I was a bit on the lazy side when it came to practising my piano chops. Being in a conservatoire in Finland means that one has to take lessons in musical theory and ear training as well as study a bit of musicology. Also, I had to choose a secondary instrument as well, which turned out to be a great choice: church organ.
My first organ lecturer, Mr. Aimo Känkänen introduced me to his successor, Mr. Kalevi Kiviniemi (googling his name will reveal everything one has to know about this great person), who planted quite a few seeds with his magnificent personality and his choice of teaching material. However, being a lazy teen, I relied on my sheet reading, trying to see a couple of bars at a time and not spending all of my spare time practising. I managed to develop a good prima vista reading, which fortunately has helped me enormously in my “touring pop musician” phase from 1991 to 1997.
One of the first pieces to analyze and learn was a few organ preludes by Gabriel Pierné, and the romantic French organ registrations really blew me into a different reality back then. In addition to that, I was studying piano pieces by Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach… very much the usual choices, one would say. However, Baroque was never my thing. I did like the mathematic side of it, but it was the richer, crazier, more decadent tones that allured me back then. The more notes I could slam down, the more I loved it. I was quite a mellow and easygoing guy as a teenager, but in front of a piano I was a furious maniac. I let all my angst out in a right way, I’d say.
At the same time I was more and more interested in electronic music, dating back 1978 when I was eight, when I happened to hear Kraftwerk on the radio. “Robots” was one of my childhood shockwave songs, and my life literally changed after that. Along with them came the usual things, Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis… Michael Stearns, Dead Can Dance. Then much later I discovered Nine Inch Nails and other industrial groups.
As I had had a synthesizer (an old Roland SH-5 which was bought from a Polish restaurant schlager group as “broken” — my father just cleaned it up and changed a fuse and it was like new again) a long time since early 80’s, introducing myself to the technology of electronic music was easy and I learned things gradually, one by one. After a while, cutting enough grass, delivering the advertisement papers around the neighbourhood, washing the dishes, etc., I finally got enough pocket money to buy a Juno-6, which was a real workhorse for a young boy. Soon after that, my grandmother bought me a Fostex X-15 and a Soundmaster Stix drum machine. Wow, just wow. Incredible. I was making music.
Because there wasn’t much literature about electronic music, the technology and the methods used, at least not written in Finnish back then, I had to learn English word by word, using a dictionary. It wasn’t easy, but it surely helped in the long run. I was very tech-aware at around 13 years old, when MIDI was introduced. Somehow it all seemed so easy. Just plug in a DIN cord and that’s it.
Later I became interested in programming and I even spent a short time in the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, studying theoretical physics, programming (C, Pascal), and musicology — what a combination. All this together have probably lead me to this point: classical influences from strong teachers, romantic/expressionistic music, French organ music, synth groups, technology — and being a Finn. There’s something very, very unique in our country, a sort of an easy-going vibe all around us, an ability to concentrate on the bare essentials, to see through the surface. We’re sort of fire gazers, so to speak.
Chris: Before working on Alan Wake, you had an extensive career producing music and designing sound for bands, record labels, and mobile manufacturers, among others. Could you elaborate on some of the projects you were involved in? Aside Alan Wake, what do you consider your proudest achievements to date?
Petri Alanko: Well, I’d say I’m proudest when I see a customer wipe tears from their eyes! If that happens, I know I have touched something very valuable in their hearts. I’m really proud of the fact I’ve managed to offer my wife and my child their everyday food and a home to live in. But, to be honest, before Alan Wake I hadn’t had an opportunity to really do what I love. I stepped away from the classical camp in early 1990, to earn some money in the pop world, but I really wanted to go back, and to do music for films and games — but I wasn’t able to do so, due to the lack of contacts. The inside group of Finland is very, very small, and they don’t let new people in easily. That’s why most of the real talents quite rarely get their opportunity here.
Anyway, there were a lot of pop/rock projects, in which I had to sometimes deal with musicians whose sense of timing was slightly more than relaxed, and I time-corrected an incredible amount of drum takes before there was any Beat Detective or ProTools. We just tried to comp the drums resembling their final stage, then sample the whole thing section by section, chop the worst bits into pieces and reassemble. Repeat this if multiple channels (read: more than stereo) were needed. That was relatively easy compared to vocal correcting: before Auto-Tune, I had to tune vocals by sampling a vocal line into an Akai sampler, then cutting it into pieces, pitchbending the syllables one by one and reassembling the vocal take from those tiny snippets; sometimes I had to create a doubling take as well, from the same garbage. Throw in some random midi delays from then interfaces, and you’re facing a inter-syllable crossfade hell.
Also, if I remember correctly, I was involved with 492 radio commercials — all done during one year, sometimes with only one hour deadlines — so I’ve really come to appreciate longer time spans and longer projects. So, I must say the raw material wasn’t always top-notch, but I did my very best with the tools I had back then. Finally, the hard work paid off and I get to enjoy some modest success, although I always wanted to stay away from the limelights.
Also, some of the trance scene stuff was very interesting to do. I’m particularily proud of Orkidea’sMetaverse album and its high review scores; I really let myself loose on his album, adding some ambient stuff, drum programming, mixing… it was a nice collaboration, which I’d like to see continue one day. I find myself feeling very confident and natural in team projects, and his album was a prime example of a good team collaboration. I really like to build onto something; it’s almost as if someone’s built a sandbox and the sand castle’s basement is already done — just go and do your stuff! I like it that way, but I really have to dig the original piece. One cannot build onto bad foundations. There has to be something memorable, a chord progression, hook, melody. In trance scene it’s sometimes the breakdown that counts.
Songwriting-wise, one of my proud moments is from a songwriting camp a while ago. In two days, I had to hook up with total strangers, make two songs, arrangements and all. I managed to create melody, composition and lyrics for three; one of them is already “on hold” right now for a local X-Factor finalist. Team work at its best, definitely. A prime example of “It’s not the infinite assets, it’s the restrictions that feed creativity”, I think.
Chris: While you have worked extensively for companies in Finland in the past, Alan Wake was your first major game project to date. Could you reveal how you became assigned to this project and what it was like to work on such a high-profile game?
Petri Alanko: I had a part-time musician friend — well, I still have — at a company called Futuremark, whose roots can be traced to Remedy in some way (which are beyond my knowledge). We’d done some tracks together a few years back, so he knew me quite well and was aware of my classical background, as well as my other preferences. In some informal meeting, one of the Remedy representives happened to ask my friend, whether he knew anyone capable of creating orchestral music and memorable melodies, and so he gave them my name and number. A short while afterwards I got a phone call from Remedy and the guys asked me to visit them.
I didn’t know at all what to expect then, although I knew projects involving computer programming and landscape tool development could have a longer time span compared to “normal” cases. From the beginning, it was very clear the guys I was dealing with were true professionals. Very sharp, witty, funny, always on the spot, very able to discuss their thoughts. The style they were after was very well defined in the first meeting — and it was like that to the deadline. Although the plot changed a little during that five years I was involved with Alan Wake, the stylistic issues never did. I was assigned to a sandbox with clear edges and felt happy with it.
Chris: Tilman Sillescu recently stated that you used “small string orchestra to create a very intimate atmosphere, which is very suitable for the game” in order to build a sophisticated, sad, and thoughtful sound. Could you elaborate on how you were able to achieve this?
Petri Alanko: The smaller orchestra was used for many reasons, but one of them originally was my desire to hear individual instruments within a section — with full sections the sound begins to clutter and to unify, even though one can deal with vibrato and dynamics, of course, but in the smaller sections the sound of “human hands” became more prominent. With larger sections the difference between sample libraries and real thing isn’t that clear. Well, of course phrasing-wise and dynamically there’s a huge difference, but the sound itself doesn’t differ that much.
Besides, the divisi sections in sample libraries weren’t that advanced. It seems they became fashionable during 2009. I acquired the Los Angeles Scoring Strings library by Audiobro right before the final mixing and found that very, very pleasing. I’ve been using that library for strings ever since. The final result of AW is a combination of real strings and quite a huge number of samples as well as synthesis.
The sadness probably comes from orchestration, chord progression and phrasing, most likely the latter. The choice of instrumentation wasn’t always clear from the beginning as I like to go with the flow and I’m always adding details until the very last seconds, but I asked the orchestra conductor to trust me. “Just one note?” “Yep. Even though it sounds stupid.” Thankfully, both Dynamedion and their conductor did trust me.
Every melody has two sides: there’s the immediate sense, the “hooks”, then the layers that spent longer in the making — not layers as such, more like characteristic layers, or phrases and motives. Some of the motives were based on action, some of them on character’s own motivation, goal, means, tools… I was always making notes, both mental and on paper.
Perhaps some of the fragility comes from the fact I’d once interpreted Alan Wake as a sad love story — which it actually is, a classic tear-jerker set in the world of paranormal incidents. If you diminish the scale — bring it into “our world”, so to speak — you’ll have your hands on a romantic plot. Dark force becomes the odd lady of neighbourhood, takens are the small town telltale ladies, for instance. I’ve used to scaling as I like to use it as a mental tool to find out details often hidden behind the surroundings, environment, clutter, whatever is the right word. It’s the same with the actors: sometimes exaggerating an action brings out something fundamental.
I have to reveal an old trick which always works. If I have to do ominous or intimidating stuff, I always imagine Hannibal Lecter standing behind the 2 inch plexiglass. Or him stepping into the light in the latter scenes of The Silence of the Lambs. Sir Anthony Hopkins has reached something profoundly evil there, always turning me into one huge piece of cold turkey.
The “thoughtful” bit is probably due to the fact I like to be by myself. I feel confident being in a role of the observer. I like to sit in a cafe, watching people pass by, talking to their cell phones.
Chris: In order to achieve this sound, you must have been inspired by a range of texts, visuals, and people. Could you discuss what were your major inspirations when deciding what direction to take your music for the game? Were the cinematic sequences especially inspiring when you were underscoring?
Petri Alanko: Yes they were, and thanks to the cinematic team and their leader Stobe Harju, they did excellent work dramatically. The pacing and flow was there from the beginning, even though the first clips handed over to me were merely stills and wireframe — if I was lucky. Sometimes I got mo-cap raw material, sometimes pre-renders. It all helped, as I’ve got a vivid imagination, so it was easy to “put clothes” onto the unfinished scenes.
I didn’t know the ending of the game until the third quarter of 2009, so I was literally flying blind, trying to trust my instincts. There were many clues around, though, so I managed to develop the style of the scoring little by little towards the right direction — by happy accidents. Nevertheless, quite a lot of the cues were cut quite heavily, because they accompanied the picture and not vice versa. A lot of material ended up on the imaginary cutting room floor.
One of the key moments was the day I saw the final cinematic: people amidst confetti, moonshine and partying, old chaps shaking hands, sunshine… after seeing Alice resurface from the depths of the lake it was literally heartbreaking. Stobe Harju (the cinematic team leader) had chosen one of the most touching themes to accompany the final scene and I couldn’t help but cry. That really hit me. It was as if I’d done music to picture, but it was Stobe’s choice. The music had been done earlier, as a “fill-in” cue, in case they needed such thing, but it was shelved for a long time, because it had too much “positive fragility” in it. But it just clicked in the final scene.
There were multiple versions of manuscript I kept on referring to. Every single one of them was written in lively, fluent English, so the essential task of “getting inside” was relatively easy using the tools I’ve gotten. Also, after a lengthy slideshow containing at least hundreds of their pictures from Remedy’s field trip to NW USA, I felt very confident about the overall sound — those pictures made me think about the overall spaciousness, the space in which all musical instruments reside. Wet forest sounds and smells very distinct, so I wanted to bring in some of that, somehow. We’ve got a plenty of forests here, so I know something about it.
If all of my jobs had been decorated with a similar background work, I’d been a happier fellow a very long time. I’ve spent a healthy amount of time in the offices of different advertising agencies, but even if I put together all the info gotten from them, the total amount of background info seems microscopically minuscule compared to the Remedy’s database handed over to me. It was like they’d done a military intel trip to find out the base vegetation in a molecular level. After exposed to such enormous amount of info, my job was amongst the easiest. I think I put it correctly in the album liner notes: “This was the easiest tough job ever.”
The same amount of details concerned also the characters, thanks to Sam Lake and Saku Lehtinen. I know now what to require with my next assignments with different companies.
Chris: During the development of Alan Wake, you worked closely with Sillescu’s Dynamedion to orchestrate and record the music. Could you elaborate on what it was like to work with this team? What do you think the chamber orchestra brought to your compositions?
Petri Alanko: The orchestra brought the music alive, literally. Besides, their orchestrator, David Christiansen, did magnificent “old skool” job by notating by ear, not by looking at the prescores (which I didn’t have time to provide). Sometimes I had wanted to use phrasing not available in any sample library, so the original demos were often suffering from multiple overlapping sections — you just can’t do some things with samples, at least not very easily. Sound-wise, I got those “hand movements” and “fingers on the strings” I wanted.
I sent them stems (orch, perc, keys, ambience, click), which were combined if needed during the recording and I sat there in the back bench making memos and notes on the score pages, for reminders used in the mixing stage. The whole process was so streamlined I felt like I was in heaven. I have never used an assistant before (well, I’ve had two short-term, the other one resigned after realising I never name any tracks), so it was an eye-opener to me.
I didn’t even have to bother with the phrasing of the orchestra. I just pointed out only a few things “this could be more legato” or “longer, portato!”, but Tilman really, really, took care of the overall process. It seemed he’d really listened to my demos, knowing them inside out, which was a true compliment. Tilman and David were very cool guys, by the way. I really enjoyed those two days in Germany.
Chris: The Alan Wake score is noted for combining licensed music with orchestral recordings. What do you think this hybridised approach offers to the overall experience? Were you involved at all in the licensed side of the music and did any of the licensed music influence your own approach to the score?
Petri Alanko: Unfortunately I wasn’t involved with the licensing side and didn’t really know about the tracks until the very end, except for David Bowie and Roy Orbison. I was thinking “this is probably the closest I’ll ever be to Bowie”. In my opinion, the licenced tracks bring the real world much closer. It really feels like watching a TV series. It sort of tells people “they have put some time, effort and money into developing this”, a bit like Miami Vice and its licensed tracks, although in Bright Falls there’s not that much bright sunshine. Or fake breasts, for that matter.
I didn’t really care about the licensed tracks and had to only once transpose a cue, because of the seams between my music and someone else’s. It involved transposing the orchestra recordings by three semitones, but I’m sure nobody ever points that cue out.
Chris: Alan Wake had an unusually long development time of around five years. Were you involved in the project from its conception and were there any significant changes of direction for the game’s music during your involvement? What effect do you think the long development time had on the music overall?
Petri Alanko: I guess the seeds were planted well before I got involved. They set me some stylistic borders, though: I couldn’t use brass instruments, I had to avoid too overly Hollywoodian clichés, and, for instance, try to avoid choirs until the very last minutes. To be honest, I wasn’t too keen on either myself, brass and choir. They’re quite okay in Angels And Demons — or Return of the King — but I felt they didn’t belong to Alan Wake‘s environment. In the beginning they wanted to have John Ottman-ish stuff along the lines of The Usual Suspects, but that rather introvert and sometimes even impressionistic scale expanded somewhat quite quickly, resulting to what it is now.
There are only good sides in longer development time: I had enough time to “taste” the melodies and get to knowing the characters thoroughly. I think the score would’ve been slightly less melancholy and romantic if we’d have less time. Also, some of the themes could have been more decorated, since we stripped quite a few cues to their bare bones just because we had so much time. “I think we can let the viola go”, “the timpani has to be muted, I’m sure”.
In the action scenes in was the contrary. I like to use synths to augment the lower end, so I really could put in another extra layer of analogue stuff, just because the game scene wasn’t ready yet.
Chris: You wrote approximately four hours of music for Alan Wake, which is certainly quite exceptional for a game soundtrack. Why was so much music necessary for the game?
Petri Alanko: Well, I think the amount of music is due to the fact they didn’t want to recycle the action music used in the in-game sections. Even though there are elements shared, there are no two similar in-game action music cues. I was carefully trying to build a database of building blocks, each divided into components, each component fitting to any other in that same tempo and intensity level — we’d have almost an infinite amount of action cue combinations from those components, if I’d managed to keep it that way.
Unfortunately the pacing of the final levels was getting more and more faster, more stressed, so we had to break the rules and start doing >160 bpm cues. I hate short loops, so I created a myriad of 3-5 minute loops, all divided into components (ambient, percussion, orchestra, whatever we needed) — some of it works only in-game, some of it were real cues cut and sliced into pieces. For instance, “Water Pressure” works by itself pretty well.
Chris: Your music has been featured on two soundtrack releases — a collector’s edition bonus disc and an impending full commercial release. Could you elaborate on how you selected the cues for these releases? Were you satisfied with the results?
Petri Alanko: I think the selection of the cues on the main soundtrack is a fine example of “the best ofAlan Wake“, honestly. I think the selection and the order of the cues is perfect. It has a sense of drama, so to say, and it delivers the right emotions at the right time. As for omissions, there are just too many tracks that couldn’t survive without picture; we all know the burden of some movie soundtrack albums — just battle drums and jarring string staccatos. I’m relieved, actually!
What really works in context and in musically is “Well-lit Room” where Barry says his goodbyes to an old friend. His theme was a happy accident and seeing the final result broke my heart. Barry needs a hug! I’d choose that one if I had to. It is very innocent, pure and unstained. Its close sibling is “Departure” in which Alice resurfaces and finds out she’s all alone, surrounded by cold waters.
I think the Limited Collector’s Edition bonus disc had only the essential tracks, but I the softest spots are reserved to the other titles. I like “Taken by the Night”, although bowed cymbals aren’t my game. But there’s that immediate sense of something really, really bad, something suspended or frozen in something horrible — just when you think it’s over, yet another nightmare follows, and it’s much worse than the previous one. Nevertheless, what I had hoped was that they should’ve included more material on this bonus disc, both licensed tracks and my score. It’s a good thing to include some of the lesser known groups, but I think people really want a total experience. A good meal has always starters, main course and desserts. And some wine.
Some of the fine moments of the original cues were left in the to-do folder and we never even demoed them, mainly because we forgot them. I, for instance didn’t remember one theme at all until I heard it in the background of a presentation in the launch party, as an early demo-demo version. It was probably the only “damn!” moment I’ve had during the making of Alan Wake. Well, maybe later we’ll hone that into a finalized piece, but it needs a very spacey aerial view.
Chris: Now that you have completed Alan Wake, listeners are curious to learn what lies ahead for you. Do you intend to work on further game soundtracks in the future or do you wish to return to your routes working in pop and rock music?
Petri Alanko: Never say never, but I’d like to steer clear from pop production. There are just too many issues involved, which I’d like to avoid. I have quite a strong stress resistance, so I can manage the tight schedules pretty easily, but it’s the categorization I’m not a friend of (“this cannot be rock ‘cos it’s got THAT snare sound”).
That and the fact that one promo/marketing dude can destroy a work of two dozen people by just “not digging the stuff” and pushing his funny bearded friend’s band instead of the product he was supposed to present. These are two main reasons to avoid being in a producer’s chair. Instead, I’m happy to write songs, to compose and write lyrics. I’m having a summer holiday soon and right afterwards I was planning to participate a few songwriting camps again. I’ve learned to like that stuff, but I’ve yet to find my “own” people or a group to which I belong. Searching continues.
I’m currently working on a custom-built commercial sound library, in addition to Alan Wake‘s DLC 1 & 2 add-ons. I’d definitely like to work in gaming business as I feel I have quite a lot to give dramatically and melodically — hopefully I’m not the only one thinking that way. I haven’t done my best job yet (giving your 100% is a different thing from developing yourself, but they’re related) and neither am I willing to retire, if I ever retire, at all. This isn’t a day job, this is a way of life.
I know there’s a lot of competition and most of it is rather uneven (and unfair at times, according to some fellow colleagues). Some of the hotshot people have myriads of assistants, management agencies and agents, and I’m all alone. But, I like to believe that if one’s good enough, the right job will land at the right time. It happened once, why shouldn’t it happen again?
Chris: Many thanks for your time today, Petri Alanko. Is there anything you’d like to say to fans of Alan Wake‘s score around the world and is there any last words you’d like to readers. Best wishes for the future.
Petri Alanko: Thanks a million for letting me share my thoughts! My not-so-wise last words here are probably these: Feed your local game composer, buy the soundtrack, and spam the forums with good reviews! If you feel I deserve it, just go ahead. If I don’t, well, please keep it to yourself. Thanks!”
Alan Wake Soundtrack album review by Soundtrackgeek.com
“Welcome to the world of Alan Wake, a dark and mysterious world, a nightmare. The latest game from Microsoft will put you inside the head of this washed out writer who travels to a small town with his wife to find himself. Instead he finds himself inside a nightmare when his wife goes missing and strange things starts happening. The story is written as you go along in the game and you find the pages which all seem to come true. The dark forces in this game are disguised as the city locals, but is it all inside Alan Wake’s head? This composer of this fascinating story is Petri Alanko.
Let me just say that Alan Wake is brilliant on many levels, maybe most of all the execution of a fantastic story. If this was a TV show I would religiously watch it every week. I can’t shake off the feeling that this might have been a great Stephen King story back when he was really great. The story is so fascinating, and the music written and composed by Petri Alanko leaves nothing to be desired.
If you have seen the trailers, then you have heard some of the music within the game. One theme that stuck in my head was the one where Alan wakes up and they drive into the small and beautiful town of Bright Falls. It’s featured here as ‘Welcome To Bright Falls’ and is a wonderful theme that unlike the story as a whole, feels very optimistic and positive.
Yes, we are in for a ride here and it’s a dark one. The title track ‘Alan Wake’ is all you need to hear to understand that this score is a very dark one. The score is a creepy one, and simple, yet it sounds complex. The darker tones and ambients is the main part of the score, while the strings and piano play the slightly smaller, yet just as important role in the story.
Psychological thriller scores can be quite a nightmare to get through, but I have no problem with Alan Wake and it’s in fact excellent music to write to. I will be using the music of Alan Wake for my next novel. What I love most about this score is that it makes you think, it makes you feel. The haunting music doesn’t feel like it’s overpowering you, but you feel totally engulfed by it. The album is packed to the brim, but doesn’t feel too long.
Get it if you like minimalistic orchestral scores with lots of haunting melodies with ambients, strings and piano. It could easily be music for any great TV show or movie, and you will not feel cheated in any way that this is music made for a video game. It is a better listen outside of the game as you can truly soak in the excellent details which just seem to get better every time I listen to it. A truly great score and I hope that Petri Alanko will be flooded with offers from now on.
Alan Wake Soundtrack album review by Tracksounds.com (Marius Masalar)
“While film buffs enjoyed INCEPTION as a late-summer exploration of dreams, gamers have already had some time to delve into ALAN WAKE, a remarkably story-driven affair developed by Remedy Entertainment and published by Microsoft Games on the Xbox 360. In a nutshell, Alan Wake is a thriller that follows an author struggling with writer’s block as he copes with the disappearance of his wife and other bizarre happenings while on vacation in the small, isolated town of Bright Falls. The setting is extremely reminiscent of Silent Hill, and the story’s episodic narrative is just as deeply involved with psychological twists and turns. It is a distinctive game, full of cinematic and complex situations, and its musical score follows suit. PETRI ALANKO, the little-known Finnish composer for the title, describes this first foray into game scoring as “the easiest tough job ever.”
“Alan Wake” (1) begins with a dreamy atmosphere, lulling us into the sleepy world of Bright Falls and the story ahead in an unassuming and modest manner. The music demonstrates a sense of patient sophistication; it waits, it introduces, and then it delivers. By the time the plaintive piano and cello come in late in the track, you are already being absorbed by the mood. “A Writer’s Dream” (2) forgoes the electronics in favor of the string section that will play a huge role in the musical landscape of the game. A magnificent crescendo tapers off into electronics before giving way to the piano again at the opening of “Welcome to Bright Falls” (3). The stunningly majestic theme that is introduced during this cinematic cue is sadly not reprised in such a powerful manner ever again, but it makes enough of an impact to stay with you.
Having brought us into the world of ALAN WAKE, the composer now settles into a comfortable ambient cue, “Vacation” (4); a final vestige of untroubled peace before the plot begins to thicken. The solo cello and quiet piano once again reprise their roles as harbingers of themes and beauty in the score. As the electronics re-enter in “Cross That River” (5), there is a definite sense that something is unraveling quickly. A thudding rhythm and uneasy strings twist into a tense textural middle before regaining momentum and throwing us into “Waking Up to a Nightmare” (6). Another gorgeous cello solo soars over the piano and string ensemble, replacing tension with drama. One of the standout cues on the album is “The Clicker” (7), a scintillating cue where the piano and strings develop the main thematic material a bit further. “Deerfest” (8) is a comparatively unremarkable track that drops the energy back down and then, almost cautiously, builds to a surprisingly wrenching solo cello statement of the main theme.
At the midway point, we find the oddball cue of the score. Clocking in at nearly eleven minutes, “Taken by the Night” (9) seems like it ought to be a show-stopping tour-de-force track. But while it is certainly competent and in keeping with the mood of the rest of the material, it is actually nothing but an extended section of gameplay ambience, with occasional deep rhythms fading in and out amongst the tinkling piano in the distance and the synth textures swirling around it. For the listener, it is an overly long and uninteresting lull in the experience of the score. Luckily, “On the Run” (10) brings some tension and interest back over its own sizable six-minute length. Vicious string figures and groaning synths lead to an unleashing of dissonance throwing us into the album’s second, more active, half.
“Mirror Peak” (11) is a spacious action track with a sense of grandeur built into its sparse instrumentation and percussion. It yields to one of the score’s more memorable themes, “Tom the Diver” (12), a track that has a decidedly more classical feel to it for the most part and wouldn’t sound terribly out of place in one of BioShock’s more dramatic moments. It is an undeniably lovely piece of music either way. As important aspects of the story reveal themselves, “The Night It All Began” (13) once more revisits the main theme in a poignant manner, with unsettling slides and runs creeping menacingly beneath. “Bright Falls Light & Power” (14) continues expanding the mood into what is by now a truly rich and cinematic texture: one that combines a tasteful ambient element with beautiful thematic instrumental portions, often all the more moving for their restrained nature.
On the tail of things, “Hunters” (15) brings the score’s action material up a notch, though — as is true for the whole game experience — the element of action is never really the focus of the experience. Which is why “The Well-Lit Room” (16), with its significant nod at the material introduced in “The Clicker” (7) and other thematic cues, feels so satisfying. “Water Pressure” (17) is unfortunately placed since it interrupts the soft ending created by the two tracks around it; nevertheless, it is a strong piece and a solid climax for the album’s action material. “Departure” (18), the closing cue, is where ALANKO really lets loose with the thematic elements. It is a fitting end for a story much more sophisticated than most games can boast, and more than that, it is a sweeping piece of music.
If there is an aspect of ALAN WAKE that is difficult to fault, it is the music. Even the licensed tracks in the game are spectacularly chosen and fitting for the context, which is fairly uncommon. PETRI ALANKO’s score falters only occasionally, and never enough to ruin what is undoubtedly one of the better game music experiences of the year. While its restraint and patience may bother those who are unused to subtlety in game scoring, ALAN WAKE is one of the most tasteful and stirring offerings in recent memory and merits every bit of the attention it’s been getting.”
An interview concerning Alan Wake Soundtrack by G4TV.com (Rick Damigella)
The Feed recently caught up with composer Petri Alanko to talk about his soundtrack for Alan Wake. This being Alanko’s first foray into the videogame music realm, we wanted to find out what his music background is and what inspired him in the creation of the aural atmosphere of Alan Wake. While The Feed wasn’t suffering from writer’s block like Alan Wake, we didn’t want to spend time alone around Cauldron Lake either, so The Feed abducted a few readers to help with interviewing Alanko. Click and come inside to see if your question made the cut.
The Feed: For your new listeners, please tell us a bit about yourself and some of the other projects beyond Alan Wake which you have scored for?
Petri Alanko: Well, due to my background as a hired gun and specializing in combining electronics with orchestral colours, I’ve done quite a few one-off gigs for advertising agencies – but nothing very specific, though. Alan Wake is probably the only one heard all over the world, whilst the others have been territorial, or local (Finnish). There have been sound library projects, music bank stuff, literally everything one can imagine. Alan Wake was the first from the gaming field, and I enjoyed the experience very much. I’d hate to see that remain my only game score gig.
The markets in my country are very, very small and the TV/movie sector has been badly oversaturated for years now, so I decided I’d rather try my very best in expanding outwards, to see whether I’ve got the guts for that stuff. We’ll see, I hope for the best.
The Feed: Tell us about what went into composing the score for Alan Wake. Were there inspirations or preconceived ideas you started from or did you let the muse of the game speak to you?
Alanko: Heh, sort of allowing the muse to recite, I’d say. It’s been natural for me to “dive into a picture”, to feel and to dissect things from it, analyzing the minor details in order to build a big picture. I always link a picture to a sound or a theme, melody, atmospheric background etc. I do believe everyone has some of that in them, in different amounts and flavors, there’s nothing extraordinary and it’s just a matter of practicing.
In the beginning we did have a discussion of possible styles, but the end result was a bit different. A lot of the score depended on the raw material, as I felt the long trees needed some scale of distance, length, air, space, and everything around the Bright Falls was more or less surrounded by mountains, bathing in sunlight. That’s an easy view to compose to.
The Feed: What was the most challenging thing about creating Alan Wake’s music?
Alanko: The sheer amount of work – I did it all by myself, composing, arranging, some sound libraries, programming, mixing, recording a few quite esoteric instruments. Thankfully, I didn’t have to deal with setting up the orchestra microphones and recording stuff, as we had only 2.5 weeks to deadline when the orchestra sessions started.
I love facing the challenges, though. I’ve got a pretty high stress threshold, I can take a _lot_ before I stress. Having been a touring musician with analogue synths and fragile computers before the age of laptops has taught me quite a lot!
Composing-wise, the most difficult thing was to keep it believable (as in “real life scale”) and touching, at the same time maintaining the suspense and desperation. It would’ve been easy to just Hollywood it to the max – don’t get me wrong, there are a multiple Hollywood-esque colours, but I’m willing to insist we did it with a northern twist – which was also the reason to minimize the size of the orchestra as well. The smaller section doesn’t necessarily make a smaller sound, instead you can hear the individual instruments more thoroughly, the individual vibratos, the bows, everything. Even though there was a lot of stuff going on underneath, the sound of vibrant sections was on top of it all. There were many “how am I going to fit THIS in” moments, most of them I managed to solve with carving some space to electronics with an EQ – I never touched the orchestra.
The Feed: Our reader Andrew would like to know how you decided to balance the line between emotional and mysterious/spooky themes and sounds when writing the score?
Alanko: I trusted my guts, literally. I kept a numbers chart (an OSX application), which had all the themes chronologically, so I always had a clear picture what was put where. I did a lot of “music bank” stuff, i.e. generic themes that were meant to be put inside the action scenes as loops, and those had certain qualities as flags (“dark”, “forest”, “city”, “day”, and levels 1 to 5, marking the amount of action). Also, I had made a lot of memos about the relationships and tensions within levels – and I’m pretty sure nobody else really understands those markings, as they were just symbols and quite abstract words.
Even though I had those magnificent charts and sheets and memos, I still reviewed everything about a million times and went with the flow. I listened to everything all over again, adding and subtracting things, replacing instruments up until the last minute. I knew how to stop, though: every time I had the “now THAT’S the right one” moment, I knew I’d gotten to a point where a theme was done.
Of course, a lot of the decisions were reviewed by (Alan Wake developer) Remedy as well and we’d discuss a lot of the motivations behind the scenes.
The Feed: Our reader Ray is curious to know what difficulties or challenges there were in matching the mood of the game play action in a game such as this.
Alanko: The only problem was to find the right levels of suspense and action, people tend to overact and put too much into too little a bit too soon, so we kept the aforementioned action levels 1-5 quite separated from each other, action-wise. Levels 1 and 2 being quite easy and more on the subjective side, a “discovering mode”, whereas levels 3-5 were emphasizing the action, all the way to the Rambo territory.
As the game was literally a subjective trip into something dark, we had to keep everything quite close, only releasing the full scale when it was needed – for instance, during a multi-Taken attack.
The Feed: Readers Marlon and Christian point out the game was in development for nearly five years and wanted to know how much time you had to put the music together for it.
Alanko: Actually, only a few themes were done before the last year in production. Most of the subjective, moody ambient tracks were created in the first year, but I was constantly concentrating on the stronger themes the last 12-14 months. I didn’t work all the time, though, there was an odd month here, another there when I was just experimenting, building some of the sounds. We could’ve done the whole score in a much shorter time – in less than one tenth, if needed – but I did enjoy the longer production time. It’s a rare treat nowadays.
I didn’t actually count the hours spent working on Alan Wake, as it was more or less prominent in my life all that time. Sometimes I’d open a rusty, squeaky metal gate somewhere and go “Hmm, this could make a nice pad sound if I record it in 192 kHz and slow it down…” – which I did, very, very often. Then I’d transfer the file onto my laptop and start processing the hell out of it. I’ve got a huge library of such sounds now.
The Feed: Andrew asks if you were inspired by other horror/thrillers for the melodies of the pieces in Alan Wake.
Alanko: Heh, nobody’s going to believe me, but as a small kid the Finnish television broadcasted a lot of old back and white horror movies during the summertime in the 70’s and 80’s and there were a lot of really cool tunes in them – such as The House Of Ushers, for instance, a prime example of grade B horror quality – and they also had a good spree of Angelica movies broadcasted as well… among others, European films etc.
I’m afraid I cannot point out any real titles, though. I’ve got a lengthy list of soundtracks in my iTunes, and I like to listen to stuff usually without knowing where the particular piece of music was from.
One thing that’s going to haunt me forever is the theme of The Exorcist. It’s a prime example of something relatively innocent put into a sinister surrounding, a highly effective theme. The odd meter and the simple percussive notes combined with dark scenes of that film seen by a kid a bit too young – and a month’s worth of nightmares were the result.
The Feed: What is your reaction to have your work from Alan Wake get the full CD release and digital download treatment?
Alanko: I’m very, very delighted for the opportunity, although I realize the sales figures might not be overwhelming – I’ve got a Google Alert setup sending me stuff daily, and the amount of torrent sites advertising “The Complete ALan WAke SOunDTraCk” is astounding.
It’s a good selection, a sort of “the best of the best”, which creates a solid album. No fillers, I think, as the tracks were selected based on the composition.
The Feed: What is your take on traditional orchestration in soundtracks versus using primarily electronic instrumentation?
Alanko: They augment each other, rather than distract. Used together wisely they create something previously unheard, but doing that takes some effort. If you just put in some synth stuff, you’ll end up having a track of, well, just that. Just some synths added to strings. If they’re processed and treated similarly, they start to merge and glue together in a new way, creating more than what their sum could be aesthetically. At times I felt like an alchemist.
I like to do FFT-based stuff, but I’m also a fan of analogue processing. I do similar things with both the contemporary instruments and virtual instruments, just to maintain the integrity – and nothing’s done because it has to be done per sé, it’s done because I hear a sound in my head that cannot be created in any other way. It’s got nothing to do with cost, effectiveness or having the string players play their violins with electric toothbrushes in the name of eccentricity… no ego-tripping, here, so to speak. Just hunting for a right sound.
If we’re talking about doing a synth-only score versus an orchestral score, instead of orchestral libraries versus orchestral, I’d say they both have their pros and cons. However, due to the recent development in virtual instrument area, one’s willing to think that a synth-only score belongs to the 80’s and is more or less Jan Hammer-esque a la Miami Vice. Or more TV stuff than game/movie material, X-Files comes first to my mind. I saw a movie called “Sorcerer” as a younger fellow, and was thrilled due to the fact the score was done by Tangerine Dream – and it worked like one well-greased engine.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case with synth scores. Sometimes they’re so filled with preset sounds and off-the-shelf material that even calling them “cheap” would be an overstatement.
Recording real instruments requires certain decades old techniques that almost constantly provides a certain contemporary sound, and sometimes it just doesn’t fit in with the picture. For instance, the brilliant remake of Solaris has a score by Cliff Martinez, which I simply adore. It just works and boy, does it sound good! Anything else put into the orbit of a star helping dead people born again would sound… inadequate?
On the other hand, The Last Samurai would’ve suffered from overwhelming synths. 😀
It’s all about taste and structure, about bringing something extra to life, creating a true audio entity speaking in believable sentences, that’s the beauty of a functioning score. That entity must have a similar direction with a visual entity, or otherwise they’ll start arguing and both would probably collapse. If they’re not communicating to each other, they both will be forgotten and perish.
The Feed: What would be a dream soundtrack project for you? It can be any genre from Film, to TV or Games.
Alanko: This is always a tough question. I’d LOVE to do anything with Chris Nolan, but he’s already got Hans Zimmer in his phone book, heh.
Oliver Stone has touched my heart more than once as well. Robert Rodriquez manages to create unique, very believable worlds and his movies have that strong sense of character to sonically build onto – also, his way to interpret stories is more “real” than “bubble gum”, which I prefer. Also, I’d love to score Alan Wake 2 if there ever will be one, as I feel I could bring it forward sonically. I’ve got a _LOT_ of ideas for Alan Wake 2, but I’m waiting for their phone call. If it happens, great!
Also, I’ve noticed I’ve enjoyed the works that George Clooney’s been involved with as a producer – a man with a lotta style – so that’s been a surprise addition to my list lately. A pleasant surprise, I must add.
I feel I’d be very confident with all subjects dealing with psychological aspects, be that movie, TV or games. Something based on action only would be less interesting to me. No fighting games, so to speak.
Back to the question: My dream? A psycho thriller, definitely. With some epic flavors. Real characters, love, desperation, resolutions, decisions that turn your world upside down… Yes, that would be it.
By the way, I’d also like to do a collaboration with some other composer as well, a bit like “this is my idea, build onto that, then send me some of your stuff”. I wonder if I’ll ever have the chance to do that, though.
The Feed: Is there anything upcoming you are working on now that you can share with us?
Alanko: I’ve got a meeting next week. 😉 Also, I’ve managed to find a good candidate for an agent as well, so hopefully he’ll help me forward outside of Finland.
After Alan Wake I did the two DLC soundtracks as well, so they kept me on their list, thankfully. 😀
In addition to that, I’ve been building my sound library and tools, done a few remixes, wrote quite a few pop songs and had a vacation, a real one, first in a long time. We’ve done a track with Slusnik Luna as well, “The Sun 2010″, soon to be released through a major European trance label. Also, as a father of one (soon two), I’ve had a lot of interesting moments with my son, you know – worms, bees, plants, birds, cars… it’s a world of surprises. My son is, by the way, really good at finding interesting sounds, so I’ve been following him literally to every gate, stone, fence, flower pot and whatnot with a handheld recorder. Also, before my son showed me, I didn’t have the faintest idea how hard one can punch a toy piano _without_ breaking it. He’d make a good one man test field for just about any manufacturer.”
Alan Wake Soundtrack review by Square Enix Music (9/10)
“The first tracks that I would like to point out are a selection of semi-licensed additions. In game music, when licensed music is involved, it’s too often they are thrown together to create non-descriptive and disappointing mash-up soundtracks. In Alan Wake, though, you’ll find that the contributions from the semi-licensed artists are especially well-selected, and different to what you would expect to hear in any other game. The first featured are a couple of neo-psychedelic tracks from The Black Angels and Anomie Belle. “Young Men Dead” from The Black Angels is a fantastic example of a mind warping track. Dominated by Alex Maas’s dry vocals and a bizarre guitar riff, it excels through its simplicity. Less rock-centred, Anomie Belle’s politically inspired “How Can I Be Sure” rather takes upon a hypnotic downtempo style, concentrating on a trippy electronica beat and provocative vocals.
With these two tracks setting up a nice taster of what to expect from the rest of the licensed artists, you won’t be surprised to hear the similarly hallucinogenic and jazzy “The Beaten Side of Town” from Barry Adamson. With a walking double bass sequence, warm jazz vocals, and steady drum and hi-hat accompaniment, the track is the most prominent easy listening track on the album. The best contribution from the semi-licensed artists though comes in the form of “The Poet and The Muse,” from Poets of the Fall. The intricate guitar accompaniment, soaring vocals, and gentle flute accompaniment all combine to create a fantastic image, highlighted by a beautiful, harmonious chorus, first presented at 0:54. In all, the licensed music featured on this album is very impressive and exemplifies how licensed soundtracks should be done.
Although some of the credit can be attributed to the outside contributing artists, the main success of this soundtrack comes down to the touching and inspiring orchestral original score from Petri Alanko. Orchestrated by Tilman Sillescu’s Dynamedion and performed by the Staatskapelle Halle alongside a gorgeous piano backdrop, the four tracks from the original score featured on this disc are stunning. The first track, “A Writer’s Dream” starts off sweetly and delicately with a clear and crisp piano introduction and yearning strings. The dramatic and explosive transition into a fully orchestrated section at 0:30 brings about so much power in the theme, but only for a short moment, since it soon dies down and turns into an ominous, foreboding section.
The same sense of power touched upon at 0:30 in the first track is revisited in the more elaborate “Welcome to Bright Falls.” The orchestra yields a fantastic melody in the opening stages, and soon we are greeted with a rousing flute part and suspense-filled piano segment. What really makes this track is the gracious piano section from 3:26, which leads out to its end; reverberating, resonating, and delicately breaking (and working with) the silence, Alanko creates a remarkable atmosphere here. Similarly, the piano is just as inviting in the similarly melancholy “The Clicker”. However, its emotive power is shared among the accompanying string sections which it accompanies, which are beautifully performed by Staatskapelle Halle. Few orchestral pieces in a video game are as intimate as this one and the crystal clear recording quality only enhances the effect.
The two most powerful tracks on the album, however, come in the form of “Tom The Diver,” and the collector’s edition remix of the theme. Something about these two tracks is just so tragic and mournful. Though the original version features a larger array of instruments, “Tom The Diver (Collector’s Edition Exclusive Mix” is the most touching of the two; a spurring affair between piano and violin, it is amongst the most simple yet elegant tracks in game music.
Recently, we have seen the release of a large number of beautiful scores from both the Eastern and Western game music worlds. Amongst these, the music from Alan Wake falls into the realm of soundtracks which I find truly captivating on a stand-alone basis, both because of its licensed tracks and its original orchestrations. In addition, it absolutely complements the game play and takes the whole experience to the next level. While this collector’s edition soundtrack is not a complete one, it is nevertheless a fulfilling and cohesive listen that provides a stunning testament to the game’s overall score.
Overall score: 9/10″
Alan Wake Soundtrack review by originalsoundversion.com (Gideon Dabi)
[NOTE: This review deals solely with the original score of Alan Wake written by Petri Alanko, not the licensed tracks.]
Nearly five years in production, Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake has already been put at the forefront of the fabled video-games-as-art debate as an example of a truly gripping and interesting game narrative equal to any on the silver screen. Though it’s considered an action game, everything about Alan Wake oozes atmosphere and drama – from the shooting mechanic itself to the mini television episodes that randomly appear.
The story begins with the protagonist, a best-selling author named Alan Wake (what else?), beginning a vacation with his wife in the wooded town of Bright Falls. Clearly modeled after Stephen King’s idyllic Maine setting, we gather fairly quickly that there is more here than meets the eye. Alan begins to realize quite quickly that, somehow, his work – a book he has no recollection of ever writing – might be coming to life.
Finnish composer, Petri Alanko, scores this moody, story-driven game, and does so with much fervor. Does Alanko hit the mark or – like the town of Bright Falls – did he leave us in the dark? Click the jump to find out!
My initial impression of a score is generally the one that stays with me throughout my listening/gaming experience. Recently, the scores of Dante’s Inferno, Bioshock 2, and Red Dead Redemption, had an immediate visceral response that barely wavered throughout the duration of the soundtrack/game. In short, seldom can I say that a game score has “grown on me.” However, such is the case with Petri Alanko’s fantastic score for Alan Wake. The score grew on me not in its musical aptitude, but in its contextual purpose.
“A Writer’s Dream” opens with a high, sweet and slightly melancholic piano ostinato. Complimented shortly by light strings, Alanko has a subtle, percussive, low cymbal/gong on the downbeat – deliberately dissonant to the melodic theme introduced. Just after expanding on the warm theme, a jarring and frightening modulation takes over. Before our ears can recenter themselves on the new tonality, the theme brilliantly returns to its original key. Much like a dream, somehow there is a cohesion but there are no rules. Had Mr. Alanko kept the theme in its original theme, the resulting piece may have been a bit easier to completely absorb, but it is obvious the intentions here were to keep the drama just a but unsettled, much like Alan’s dream.
Strangely enough, the most jarring response I had was the use of the piano; a most unexpected lead instrument in an action-horror-survival-like game. Though capable of being dark, the piano is a bright and warm instrument that usually evokes a certain emotional sensibility, not one of horror or action. Wisely, I gave it a chance and I never looked back.
“The Clicker”, a piece which comes much later in the experience is a two-minute marvel. It is largely piano, strings, and high, soft percussion. Coming at a reflective moment in the game, Mr. Alanko turns what might be scored by others to be heroic or even ordinary, and turns the moment into something far more introspective and emotionally deep. It is, once again, the use of the piano in a situation that one might never expect it that makes it so effective.
The action cues of Alan Wake are much more musical and lyrical in nature than one might expect an action thriller in the woods to have. In particular, “Mirror Peak” is a percussive gem but never falls short recapitulating similar themes to the slower, more emotional tracks. Thus, we never feel that the action scenes are disconnected from the plot-heavy or moving scenes because the voice of the score remains constant and intact. There are moments where Mr. Alanko flirts with schmaltz, but he always steers comfortably clear of it simply by never allowing the style or the emotion of the moment to detract from its musical integrity.
Lastly, there is “Welcome to Bright Falls”, which would probably be considered the main theme of Alan Wake. It is a simplistic, full, and satisfying string-heavy piece with piano and oboe. It is not a dark, scary or unsettling theme. I might even go so far as to say that this piece is beautiful and full of yearning – as though it were an entity trying its best to free itself from the story’s dark and brooding atmosphere. It is here that Mr. Alanko shows his artistically magnanimous nature by focusing on the beautifully noble cause of creating light wherever there is darkness. Alan Wake is a love story and an honorable battle within its dark and often frightening setting, and Petri Alanko’s score fearlessly defies this setting….just as Alan Wake must.
I had incredibly high expectations for this score as Alan Wake’s subject matter and genre are right up my alley. Mr. Alanko managed to change what I wanted out of the score. Essentially, he went so far in his own direction with what he wanted to achieve dramatically and musically using the tools he wanted – whether conventional for the genre and/or drama being played out on the screen or not – and managed to convince me that this was the better way.
Every artist makes choices within his own works or performances. It is imperative that the artist back up these choices no matter how insignificant they may seem. It is obvious that Mr. Alanko has made these choices with striking clarity and purpose. It is not often that a composer is able to reshape the listener’s esoteric view of a story and with an unabashed, beautiful clarity using simple but staggering melodies. Remedy Entertainment better know how lucky they are to have made this choice because Petri Alanko has certainly backed them up.
Square Enix Music published Alan Wake post mortem essay by Petri Alanko
It’s quite rare to come across a gig with which you’ve got plenty of time to “grow” into and with the characters and locations. Furthermore just as rare is the chance to test things and let everything evolve, teem inside one’s mind, grow stuff, so to speak. I had that chance with Alan Wake, and it turned out to be a rather educating journey into character development and theme composition. I’d say it was my high school, university and thesis. No, two theses, both in marketing and development. I’ve had formal studies, but unfortunately none of it all ever prepared me to this, neither did any of my previous gigs. I found it very valuable and would like to share it, now that I’ve had enough time to dissect some of it.
It all started about five years ago, when Remedy was looking for a guy who would be capable of composing orchestral music and memorable themes — and didn’t fear electronics, either. I’m known to be “a bit” on the geeky side, due to my university studies in the early nineties: I’d studied theoretical physics, musicology and computation science (or just “programming” nowadays). Also I’d studied in a conservatoire in Finland, classical piano among others, so I sort of had all the necessary features. No updates needed.
I’ve been in this business for quite some time, seeing better and worse times, and a mutual friend of mine and Remedy’s actually introduced us to each other. Shortly after his tip, I got a call from a Remedy representative, out of the blue, and was shown the first pictures and a pre-rendered movie — and asked whether I was interested at all. I tried my very best to hide my excitement, but I think the fellows on the other side of the table saw right through me. I could hardly sit still, my skin was going goosebumps all over; I wanted that gig badly, more than anyone else. We agreed to do a test before signing anything else besides the imperative NDA. I was given a rather healthy time span, two weeks, to score a video in which the surroundings of Bright Falls — the locale — were demonstrated, seeing through a flying cam. In the end of the video, the camera lands right next to our protagonist, Mr. Wake.
I kept doing notes whilst watching the video, right there on the spot, in the dark meeting room: just words, graphic shapes, a curve representing the form of a valley. Light, sun. Just words. I think I was quite quiet the rest of that day. I let the movie clip be that day; the next day I got up early and watched the clip again, browsed through my notes, wondering whether I could catch the same feelings, the same themes, the same other reality. I did. I remembered what each graphic symbol represented, understood, each blindly written word. It probably sounds a good leap towards the synaesthesia, but I’ve found it very easy to write onto the picture. Writing onto a movie clip is even easier. Somehow, it just clicks easily. After a short while I had a theme and motifs to at least three others. One of them began ringing in my head when the camera first landed next to Wake.
Flying above the mountains and valleys bathing in an autumn sun is one of the easiest tasks, I’d say — and the nice Remedy folks liked the output, obviously. After a short while they gave me that gig. There were not enough chances in Finland to do things in that magnitude and I knew nobody outside Finland in the entertainment business other than pop music, so it was pretty clear I’d beat the shit out of myself if I didn’t give the project my 100%. Heck, the last three most successful movies in Finland had a budget of about 80% of Alan Wake‘s marketing budget, I suppose. That’s those three combined, mind you, which quite easily tells the story of the Finnish entertainment business in so-called traditional area, so no wonder they are increasingly using catalogue music. A sad truth, and unfortunately I’ve lately found the new colleagues abroad complaining the same. It’s always a nice touch to have a track in a movie that’s also cut into a laxative advertisement — and into a bathroom cleaner product ad as well. Go, producers, go… product placement gone bad, so to speak. Karma becomes true: you get what you deserve.
Shortly afterwards, the first leg began. I was given a rough manuscript, even some facial pictures of the people casted for the roles — the casting was still going on, so some of the faces kept on changing. Even the plot was changing constantly, and I had to adapt to changes quickly. Thankfully, what was originally Mr. Wake, was Wake to the end. The looks, the serious face, the rough style, even the stubble. Also, Bright Falls never changed, at least I never saw it changing, whatever’s the truth. It almost felt like every other character kept on evolving, growing, one might say, whilst the location stood still; as if decades went by fast-forwarding, leaving their marks on the characters, while the guys were honing the twists and turns.
The first stages of the score development were pretty rough to do. There was a lot of trial and error involved, but thankfully that phase of chaos lasted only for about one or two months and I concentrated on the stronger themes, knowing that the rest would follow once I’ve set the direction. Also, I never played these first cues to anyone. During that time I managed to compose quite a few strong themes — one of them being what’s now called the “Welcome to Bright Falls” theme. It was very clear from the beginning that it was exactly the right theme for coloring the arrival to Bright Falls just the way we see it in the game: Lots of early autumn air, sunshine, cool air on your face, smell of water and the shores, it was all there.
The other “old” themes were, of course, the eight notes of an Alan Wake theme, the ones that keep on surfacing every now and then, which I composed for an early game show concept trailer. It even got orchestrated, but back then it was far too furious (even baroque to some extent) to be used as Wake’s personal theme. Every time something essential or fundamental happens to Wake, those eight notes are there, even though Wake himself wouldn’t be present. Eventually, the Alan Wake theme evolved into a theme that can be heard in the “previously in Alan Wake” scenes. Actually, there’s virtually nothing in common with that original orchestral, “baroque” theme, but the same eerie sense of mystery is still all over the theme. Remedy wanted the “previously” cue to resemble a similar cue from, say, a TV series. After playing the game, I must say it really works. I do miss those other notes. Whereas the first eight notes represented Wake’s determination, search (of himself and the truth), current state of mind and an ongoing mission, the rest of the theme was bringing up his motives and tools, i.e. ways to overcome the situation in which he was involved with in the game. To grow and to conquer, so to speak.
Also, some of the more sinister ambient tracks were also created during that period. At that time there were no plans about using an orchestra, so I did my best to mock things as well as I could, with different commercial sample libraries and other techniques, in addition to some things done by myself over the years. I was prepared to do quick movements if orchestra was ever needed, so I kept my sequences quite clean, just in case I had to print out a rough score. Keeping clean and naming sequences are two different things, mind you. I never do the latter. Miraculously, I always find what I need. Also, that might be the reason why the only two assistant candidates I’ve ever had didn’t last that long.
Every time I was shown yet another movie or a pre-rendered cinematic, I always had to write something down whilst driving back home. Most of the melodies were actually created on the road. Sometimes the score I was writing into my ragged notebook was so complex that I had to stop the car. Sometimes I was just drawing those cryptic graphic symbols representing an ambient thing I kept hearing in my head whilst watching the pre-rendered clip for the first time. That actually tells quite a lot of Remedy’s standards: most of the ideas were so refined from the beginning, that there was an incredible amount of emotion involved on the screen. On the other hand, it also tells something about my way to work: I like to focus on the first impression, to avoid the so-called “advertisement agency downward spiral” because eventually it all comes back down to its roots — the first impression. No need for versions B to Z, A is all you need. But that requires some confidence, and is actually an antithesis to my other rules: go deeper. Let grow. Don’t believe the appearance. Find out what keeps them going.
I really like to go deeper than that first impression, because otherwise you’d end up with a “normal” score, something shallow. I was moved by the computer graphics, but I knew the score would be too thin if I just “decorate” it with underlining that was happening on the screen. I did two things: I sequenced a rough and dirty demo with the ideas I had gotten from the first glimpse, and then inspected the scene a much longer time with something combining the character motives and tools. I kept referring this as “peeling the character”, or onion method, according to a term used in our meetings. Sometimes peeling was harder as I wasn’t told everything about the plot and the people, and I had to literally run with my eyes closed. There were multiple “trust your feelings, Luke” moments along the way, I must say.
In the end, most of the themes were created this way to their final form. For instance, Mr. Wake was originally pictured as a victim, an epicenter of events and it wasn’t until the car crash in the forest moment when he became “a man on a mission”, but without a motive. The motive itself became clear a bit later, whereas Mr. Wake’s tool changed from emergency, a will to survive, to guilt, very, very strong guilt. And THAT’S when the scoring became the best job in the world. Just lean back and watch the cinematics or the storyboards and let the music flow.
Sometimes what I’d done reflected the final cinematic output because the cinematic team was proceeding at a similar pace, making finished clips along the way, doing tiny changes according to music. The boss of the cineteam really loved to make me cry, sometimes to an extent I started thinking it was a challenge, but the cinematics were just so damn good dramatically from the beginning. There were many “oh god, now I know what to do” moments.
Most the themes involving Alice were done by just looking at her/the actor’s casting picture and reading the few pieces of manuscript I had gotten — how much more Alan Wakeish could scoring be, by the way? Her theme had to be fragile, cozy, willowish (a.k.a. “bending, not breaking”) and a bit hazy, yet warm. Originally I imagined Alice watching Wake drawing further away from a cozy cottage in the countryside, “man’s gotta do what man’s gotta do” tears in her eyes. Quite an innocent scene, but I had nothing else back then. When I finally saw the cinematic involving Alice and Wake in their New York apartment’s coach, it clicked. Clicked, indeed — especially when the “Clicker” theme was combined to Alice’s.
There were multiple moments such as this during the game, I had a lot of fun combining the characters’ themes — sometimes the results were stunning, sometimes I kept them just to myself. Thankfully Remedy never wanted to hear a combination of AW/Barry theme. It was… different. What really brought Barry’s theme, “The Well-Lit Room” alive was one sentence I got into my head from one memoir, “There are always tears in a clown’s eyes.” Even though he’d been a comic relief throughout the game, I had to emphasize his softer side in the scene where Wake takes the Sheriff’s gun and says goodbye to his old pal, Barry. Barry’s reaction — he hugs Wake — was something deeper than just a New Yorker saying goodbye. It was probably the last time the two ever saw one another. Barry has obviously issues, with his shorter form yet somewhat larger waist, and his face isn’t a heartbreaker either, so he’s got a lot to compensate for and a lot to hide behind the jokes and easygoingness. After that realization, it was very, very, easy to go for that string melody line after the piano intro. The intro was originally “The Andersons” but we gave it up. Banjos, dobros, lap steel… well, let’s say it seriously had to go.
“Alice’s Theme” or rather “The Clicker” was actually much longer than what we hear now in the game or on the Limited Collector’s Edition CD, with happier sections which had to be removed due to the plot and what’s happening in the game. I still mourn the absence of her whole theme. The other rather tragic character was Tom Zane, the Diver. He’d gone through similar occurrences compared to Wake’s and was left to the “other side”. At the same time he’d lost his love, so I had the chance of composing to something heart-crushing. I’ve had my fair share of bad luck, so it sort of came naturally — the peak of the theme symbolizing his past, the settling ending representing his current motive. He’s actually the only one really helping Wake, in the end, putting himself in the line of fire, even sacrificing everything, including his own “life”. In a way I was composing a theme for a redeemer, a character paying with his own blood, and I had to use a viola for that. No other instrument can really describe flowing tears (and blood) better.
The orchestra question was brought on the table during October 2009, if I remember correctly. By then I was having a five-lane scoring highway in front of me, quite a monster task, that one — especially when taking into account that over 200 minutes of the music was composed during summer 2009 to January 2010. As I like to work by myself — composing, arranging, recording, mixing — I have become quite an ace to create timetables. There were at least six levels without music at all, and some character and location themes had appeared on the to-do list as well. The last weeks were on a tight schedule: up at seven, work from eight to noon, one-hour break, then continue from 1 PM to 6 PM, dinner, do orchestra stems and ambient tracks from 7 to 9 PM, have a cup of chamomile tea, try to sleep. It’s embarrassing I have to emphasize that I really liked such a military diary, but it was… invigorating? I really miss that time. However, I don’t miss the sitting still as I like to exercise, to run etc.
Thankfully, I got some extra hands from Germany for the orchestration. Dynamedion’s orchestrator David Christiansen did a really nice job. The conductor was well-managed to get the string section to sound like it should be, and phrasing was very important here as some of the orchestral nuances were tied to hand movements on the early cinematics, for instance. All of the orchestra tracks were mixed in five days, just before my deadlines. I had to combine a hefty load of electronics with the delicate orchestral tracks I had received from Germany, and in some of the cases I had to re-work everything underneath to lift up some of the more intimate stuff and to give way to the orchestra. In some of the cues there were 200+ tracks of ambient stuff, percussion, synth layers from analog gear, tiny effected sounds emphasizing what’s happening on the screen and bounced effect returns (which were again re-effected). I even created about two dozen reverb convolution samples for some of the more esoteric cues, raking snow, ripping paper, dropping ball bearings into a water glass… Due to my background, I had also created a special Ambient Machine for Symbolic Sound Pacarana’s processor just to help me create evolving musical drones, controlled by a keyboard and a multiple controllers. I ported that to Native Instruments’ Reaktor 5 later. It’s very prominent in the level 15, by the way.
In some of the cues there are only sampled strings, in some of them there are only real ones, but almost certainly there’s always something doubling the original string recordings, be that either Novachord or Mellotron or a single Tuvan monk doubling the contrabass section. In the middle of all that electronic mumbo-jumbo, it was always very important to keep the original immediate emotional strike just above the waterline: whatever happens in the background, no matter how much dark waters are swelling, there has to be a melody that someone could hum. You can’t really hum battle drum rolls, can you? With that melody, I tried to keep the character’s ultimate motif up and close. And it also helps to bring a character or a situation much closer to the gamer, the end user who’d paid his/her money for the game. In a way, putting your time and effort to the melodies is a marketing tool; it’s an effective way to engage the end user to the product. Engage their feelings and their ass will follow, as Gordon Gekko would say. To put the greedy sounding topic aside, I have to emphasize the importance of ethics: you’re only as true as your output is. Once you’re in it only for the money, your output starts degrading.
The first lesson I ever learned during the project was “never underestimate the power of a good melody”, even though using methods of scoring of a romantic movie didn’t seem to fit in the thriller environment. How wrong was I? That quote was a long time on my wall, as a reminder. It was only replaced by “a warrior is no less a warrior if he’s crying” right before the deadline. I wanted to keep myself on the tracks that way. Every morning I listened to some cues I’d mixed the day before to see whether they needed fixes and to see whether they moved me in any way. I remember fixing only a few out of what seems like a hundred. Probably the most important lesson was to learn how important it really is to keep increasing the output quality, to keep on learning, to understand that a composer is never graduated or “ready”. He’s always on the edge, leaning towards the wind.”
Alan Wake reviewed by Whenspamattacks.com
“It’s amazing what a little bit of hype, a few commercials, and word-of-mouth can do for a game. I remember the debut trailer for Alan Wake back at E3 2005 and then it was completely off my radar…until about a week ago. I remember seeing the promotional display at my local GameStop. It caught my eye but that was about it. I mentioned it to a friend behind the cash wrap and he said it was getting some good reviews early on. Most games do so I thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until later that night while I was browsing the CheapAssGamer forums (which I frequent often) that I saw all of the hype from my fellow peers.
“OMG this” and “OMG that”. People were talking about everything from the graphics to the story and it was all positive. Considering Silent Hill: Homecoming left a bad taste in my mouth, my interest in a potentially GOOD story-driven horror/survival game was extremely high. Fast forward a few days and I bit the bullet, twice actually. I ordered Alan Wake on Walmart.com only to see Amazon put the game up for the same price the next morning, though with my Prime shipping, I would have it in two days instead of a week. Walmart, by some chance happening, arrived the day of release. I couldn’t believe it. And that’s where this review begins…
The game is broken up into episodes, six to be exact. Episode 1 is a great introduction to the game; the mechanics, combat, characters, it’s all there. The player is treated to some great cinematics early on, you can tell Remedy took their time (about five years) with this. The atmosphere is especially well done, providing a great sense of uncertainty while not relying (too heavily) on cheap scares. Without giving anything away, do NOT skip the ending of each chapter. This game has a GREAT soundtrack. Props to Petri Alanko, the soundtrack composer, for providing some of the best music in a game since Fallout 3. At the heart of all of this is the story. While a bit clichéd (though what game isn’t these days), Alan Wake is paced perfectly, minus a slight hiccup in the form of episode 3 which feels like it dragged on a bit too long.
I would like to make a special note that the AI in Alan Wake is some of the best I’ve seen. Unlike most games where enemies come at you one at a time, Alan Wake proves that AI can actually be smart (no pun intended). The player will often be attacked by 3-4 enemies at once, from all sides, with 4 or 5 more enemies coming out of the shadows a short distance away. This can make things quite frantic, but it is extremely fun and rewarding at the same time. Assassin’s Creed, I hope you’re paying attention…
Graphically, Alan Wake is very hit or miss. Some scenes look great, others, not so much. Remedy definitely nailed the atmosphere though; a perfect blend of darkness with just the right touch of light here-and-there. The inky mists that start to form before enemies take on their full shapes is excellent. There are a few graphical glitches, such as the occasional texture pop-in, but nothing major. I noticed a lot of jagged edges and blurry textures on the characters throughout the game. It wasn’t all that distracting but it was noticeable. Overall, the game looks good and you’ll likely be too busy taking in the scenery to nitpick.
When it comes to bringing the characters to life, the voice-acting is great…for the most part. There are a few characters that lack emotion, but the main characters do a pretty damn good job. I would have liked to of seen some better lip syncing but beggars can’t be choosers as they say. It’s something I’m sure they will improve with the inevitable sequel. The sound effects are equally good, though I did come across a small glitch where the sound cut out during a scene (lasted about 2-3 minutes). Nothing to worry about and if anything, the silence made the game even creepier since there were enemies all around.
Overall, I really enjoyed Alan Wake. I did experience a few moments of frustration, but they were [mostly] my own doing more than anything else. I must admit that every time I came across a TV, no matter what was going on around me or outside, I HAD to watch each and every episode of ‘Night Springs’. Fans of The Twilight Zone will instantly recognize the similarities between the two. Each episode lasts a good two and a half to three minutes and are scattered throughout the game. Definitely well worth a moment of your time.
When all is said and done though, I can’t help but feel slightly cheated out of my $60. The game, while fun, is a bit on the short side. I sped through the game on Normal difficulty in about 6-7 hours. That included some minor exploration every now-and-then. You could probably beat this in 5-6 hours if you don’t explore at all. With that in mind, if this is how ‘episodic’ content is going to be done, I approve. I would have preferred one more episode (roughly another hour or 2), but I’m extremely happy that Remedy didn’t tack on a half-assed multiplayer like many games have done in the past (or vice versa with the singleplayer). If you want to experience a good story, some great gameplay, and some excellent atmosphere, definitely pick this up. If you’re still not quite sure, wait for this to drop to around about $40. I will note that anyone who picked the game up at launch will see a code inside the game case, redeemable for DLC slated to be released sometime ‘this summer’. So perhaps that is the extra episode I was hoping for. We’ll find out in a couple of months.
- Gameplay: The combination of flashlights, flares, and guns are a treat to play with. Practice definitely pays off but you don’t need first-person shooter precision to do well. Actual intelligent AI pays huge dividends when it comes to combat.
- Graphics: The game looks good, though you will notice the occasional hiccup every once-in-a-while. The backdrops are amazing and some scenes will leave you just standing there starring. There are some moments where the framerate drops and textures get a little…not-so-pretty, but those happen infrequently and shouldn’t distract most people.
- Sound: Hands-down some of the best atmosphere you will hear in a game. The voice-acting is good, though a few of the characters could have done better.
- Multiplayer: There is none, though with three difficulties to play through, and plenty of extras to try and obtain, you should get a good 10-15 hours out of the game should you choose to find everything.
Final Score: 8.7 out of 10.”
Alan Wake Soundtrack review by Gamepeople.co.uk
“Alan Wake has a soundtrack that mixes alt-rock, psychedelia and pulp-twang with Petri Alanko’s haunting orchestral landscapes. Although more noticeably uneven when out of the game, the mix manages to create a pleasurable and less earnest listen.