Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Infinite/Undefined - an interview with Eurico Coelho

Seldom - if ever - was I given the pleasure of interviewing a fellow Portuguese personality whose efforts played a role of any relevance in the history of digital arts. Even if the subject of the present article is not diametrically associated with its genuinely interactive domains, there exists an unequivocal nexus binding this film to its contemporary game production. An object of quiet cult following such as the one revisited here today pairs with the most notable offspring of that same age of digital experiments in the quality of a film where every element is, invariably, composed from that common and celebrated basic unit we call pixel.

Incited by the author's long held fascination for cinema and photography, the birth of Apeiron benefited sufficiently from a series of favorable conditions that graced Portugal during the mid and late nineties - a period during which the illusion of economic, cultural and technological development remained particularly convincing. From its very first exhibition at the Lisbon's Expo '98, namely in the Sony plaza’s striking Jumbotron screen, the film managed to conquer the attention of numerous guests of an event defined by pervasive grandeur and innovation. Following its subsequent exhibition at the VideoLisboa festival, whose atmosphere was far more suitable for its proper appreciation, Apeiron embarked on a final European tour.


Of all the many venerable attributes it encloses, Coelho’s cult animation finds its greatest achievement in the combination of a technically challenging process – built, essentially, with the use of domestic tools – with an intellectual heritage that is of added significance to those best acquainted with Portuguese culture and its primary references. It is nevertheless evident that the director imprinted his work with the distinct signature of themes from Classical Antiquity, aptly weaved together with a fondness for sci-fi dystopias, surrealism and an array of popular culture allusions.

The interview that follows was conducted two years ago as a part of my own private research: the fact that it was not meant to be published should account for the terseness of some of its questions. It is my aim to shed some light on this otherwise obscure animation work and its author; while at the same time closing this chapter named CoreGamers.


- Where does the desire to create a film using the computer originate from? Might it have been in some manner influenced by similar initiatives, namely from the international community of Amiga computer users?

I was already involved in the making of "films" and animated photographic sequences using a HI-8 Sony camera - incipient experiences. The computer allowed me to improve and discover other technical and expressive possibilities so that I could manage my interest for moving pictures. I knew nothing about computers before purchasing the Amiga 4000, suggested to me by a friend that, knowing of my work, indicated me this machine for being more adequate to that I intended to explore. I also had access to the demos that were being divulged in my friend's game disks and found them rather curious due to their psychedelic nature and music interactions but those didn't constitute a decisive influence on my work.

- Apeiron was exhibited internationally in different festivals and other events, namely Lisbon Expo 98. In what circumstances did an amateur film production become a part of such a momentous event?

The animation department from Expo98 solicited some plastic artists and directors for original contents that could be shown during intermissions of spectacles scheduled to occur at the Sony plaza. I learned about this possibility and presented, like many others, some works to director Rui Simões who interested himself for Apeiron, granting a wage that allowed me to edit and produce the film in a professional studio.

The video was exhibited several times throughout the event. I took the opportunity and sent the film to VideoLisboa, having been selected once again. The exhibition in this international festival opened other doors and I received more invitations that allowed an interesting divulgation of this work in exhibits that took place in several cities of Europe (Barcelona, Madrid, Pisa, Strasburg, Paris and Berlin).

- Apart from its use and manipulation of computer graphics, Apeiron also employs photography and video. Which were the tools you used in order to create them - what were the most pressing limitations felt at the time?

Photography and video were technologies that I knew best, the computer allowed me to organize them and expand them. I especially used the DeLuxePaint software and sporadically other photographic image capture applications that, in sequence, formed the small animated clips. I also tried rudimentary 3D graphics applications, morphing and audio, compiling these experiences in numerous archives. The volume of tests grew and at a given point I had the majority of the pieces necessary to the creation of a possible narrative. The film grew by itself, without an predetermined intention, the group of loose parts started to connect and that was my game: to find the connection gaps and fabricate the pieces there were missing for a coherent narrative.

Technical difficulties were just the expected for a machine with a 120mb hard drive and a 4MB RAM memory that I expanded to the enormity of 8MB for the astronomical quantity of 40.000 escudos (200 euros) in 1996 - but these were not limitative to the creative development. I was dazzled by the operative possibilities and I had no near reference points, knew no one else doing this kind of approach, which led me to be carried away by the minuscule format in which I was allowed to work, without an exact technical notion of those limitations.

- Observing the film today, there are evident similitudes in the manipulation of graphics with the visual standards of certain videogames. The background and bitmap characters dynamics evoke the point-and-click adventure genre; the sequences in which the protagonist drives his car on the way to the metropolis also remind the scaling techniques used in many a driving games. Are these but casual similarities or was there, in fact, some influence from videogames you might have played at the time?

My references relate to animation cinema and musical videoclips, as the games failed to interest me, seen that the audiovisual experimentation constituted itself as my formal and semantic game/amusement. The Amiga computers were the most adequate machines to play and for that reason they offered improved operative possibilities for audiovisual creations - that was my interest. The formal similarity between my films and the interactive games is merely circumstantial, although I admit that the sequences and narrative model do have strong connections with that universe, seen that my working process is similar to a game, with puzzle pieces that might formulate or solve enigmas.

- Do you recall any particular comments or reactions about the film from all of its national and international exhibitions?

I never obtained an enthusiastic reaction to the public to this work, it is not a format or story with the conditions to please the great public; however, I got very positive and respectable opinions from some foreign directors of which I underline two that collaborated with artists that, for me, are very important as David Cronenberg (The Fly, eXistenZ, Crash) or Marc Caro (Delicatessen). I've also obtain some negative reactions that considered Apeiron to be cold, disenchanted and unpleasant for an animation movie.

- In spite of its short duration, Apeiron alludes to a plethora of different themes: what are the roots of its narrative and to what extent was it determined by the tools you employed during the creation of the film?

The film began as a mere group of experimental sequences of cyclic movements or loops. As these pieces (anim-brushes/movie clips) multiplied, an imaginary began to emerge, demanding other pieces and details. The primary sense that began sketching itself pointed to a voyage, throughout which a little tin man (a sterilized action man) would be confronted with places and situations that would demand him to make decisions. Little by little, I felt the need to improve on his initial context, the group of obstacles and objectives to conquer. Thus I built him a house, gave him a wife (a real woman), a screen in front of him, a vehicle and a bird pet. In this trivial portrayal, I thought that the television in front of him could feed his dissatisfaction and beckon a group of trials that would provide importance to his self and to his ego, weakened by the commonplace quotidian.

The voyage made him go through different stages of an initiation, cities filled with beings just like him (anonymous), labyrinths, ascetic temples, social gears, contests and finally the conquest of success - the confirmation of his place in History. The Empty that he found on the other side of success allowed him to grasp this sterile world in colors, where he came to see a primordial and feminine ocean in which he dove in the search for a place in the memory of times.

The Well where he dove even further took him to the genetic and cultural roots of his dissatisfaction. His thousands of ancestors, trapped in an ENCYCLOPEDIA closed in Earth's archives revealed his destiny and the irrelevance of his quest. It was then that I found a similitude between his course and Plato's "The Allegory of the Cavern" and, therefore, I decided that he would return home but by doing it he could no longer occupy the place he had left - for that would be filled with the little color-blind man that saw television - a role to which he could not return to anymore. He had definitely entered the televised fiction with his example, to seduce the incomplete egos of others, like him, to search in life more than life has to offer.

This ended up consolidating itself as a story of the defeat of primal wishes of all those who seek success and reach it, imposing ther example on others. Far from a pleasant story, or an easy one to tell, it was the one that was born from the process that I initiated and I accepted it for its accuracy and naturalism. The means that I used were decisive to characterize, through smaller cycles of movement, the great cycle of which Apeiron is constituted. The film ends where it had began and can repeat itself as a looping metaphor, a race without origin nor purpose, like the small cycles that form it and made it grow.

It was never my intention to over impose or over illustrate that which the spectators ought to read from this film: this was my version because I thought for a long time and that constituted my safeguard interpretation; but I would like to leave others with the liberty and responsibility of interpreting it, according to their own sensibilities and subjective life experiences.

- Bearing in mind the revivalism we observe today, as well as the internet phenomenon and its divulging potentialities, works like Apeiron were brought new life among the members of the nostalgic Amiga community and multimedia design or digital art aficionados. In Portugal, Apeiron still holds an almost unique status, which makes it the more rare and precious. How do you remember this your work in the light of the context in which it originated?

Apeiron was, without doubt, my first great exploratory work. I dedicated it almost three years and learned much from it, but others followed with equal involvement: the L'Egoland process that followed it took me nearly two years of my time and never got to e concluded because the machine crashed and the technical assistance went broke. The standardized technology that succeeded the Amiga computers never matched the plasticity, performance and economy of resources that it possessed. I have nurtured the conviction that the technological progress is operated at the level of the immediacy and the speculative business and not the technical quality and design.

In what concerns the rarity of that small movie, I feel naturally surprised and flattered. But I understand the curiosity that constitutes the existence of a film built throughout a period of three years by a lone madman who worked in absurd technical conditions in comparison to actual standards - only to obtain 15 minutes of animation that don't exceed 70 MB, that ended up premiering on the Jumbotron of the largest event in Portugal at the time, before an international crowd of thousands of spectators. Seems like a fairy-tale. On the other hand, the pixelization effect also grants it a vintage look, that today acquires a special statute on account of its genuinity, that adding to its archaeological interest.

However I'm not one to indulge in remembrances or revivalisms since I keep on working in this sort of things with other challenges and limitations. I keep participating in festivals and shows and collaborating with other artists like the Teatro do Mar, the electronic publisher Thisco or the music band Moonspell in the animations projected during their shows. I also had the honor to participate in the presentation of the European Culture Capital 2012 in Guimarães with film projections mapped in architecture and my films have been shown across Europe and America, not to mention my activity as a multimedia professor in a high school. Apeiron marked the beginning of this course and the reason why I don't feel entirely realized with all this is because I find many faults in everything that I've done and I consider that I still have much to learn.

[ Watch APEIRON ]

Thursday, April 8, 2010

My 2009 OST Selection - Interview with Tomáš "Floex" Dvořák

Videogame historians and researchers will look back to 2009 not as a year of emergence but as a year of consecration of the independent game movement. As the market of commercial game becomes increasingly bland in its infinite recurrence of what has already been reiterated for too long, the need for autonomous and liberating interactive designs has risen precipitously. And while the larger productions have moved the cogs of technical excellence forward another quarter of a measure, ultimately it was raw creativity that ushered in the images and sounds for which the turn of the decade shall be remembered.

Regarding musical compositions, a feature present in most games that is seldom given due appraisal, 2009 was a year dominated by abrupt contrasts between the outsized investments that allowed for orchestras to gather and play some of the most sounding videogame soundtrack themes, as in the outstanding participation of the top-class Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer scoring a multi-million dollar war game design; and between the undersized amateur or semi-professional studio work led by lone music composers that have adorned the small budget enterprises with their suggestive themes. Such was the case of Tomáš "Floex" Dvořák's musical accompaniment for the most triumphant adventure game of recent memory, Machinarium.

One of the most appealing environmental puzzles within Machinarium consists of returning these depressed street musicians their missing instruments so they can carry on enjoying their jam.

Using science fiction motives as a cloak to disguise irony and sporadic existential reflections, Machinarium speaks openly about human condition and technological progress without the use of a single word. Deriving from the minds of painters, designers and animators, its expressive qualities rely mostly on the universally interpretable gestures as depicted in each carefully crafted animation. Given the deliberate absence of voice, the metal cityscape of the game warranted a powerful aural milieu enabling a rare aesthetic balance between visuals and music.

The most desirable quality about Floex’s music derives from the intense personality he bestowed to his reverberating tune, each very distinct from the next: the rhythmic plurality is strikingly noticeable in between the themes The Black Cap Brotherhood or Clockwise Operetta and The Bottom, where the percussion instruments are most evident; contrariwise, Dvořák (pronounced DVOR-zhack) also reduces the use of drumming to the point of nullity as can be verified in themes like The Sea and The Glasshouse with Butterflies. Bearing the clear sound signature of digital instruments, Machinarium’s soundtrack reveals erratic patterns of analog instruments that are underhandedly used throughout the game, as if an audible supplement waiting to be unveiled.

Excerpt from the theme "The Sea" that plays for the first time in the game when the first open venue of the city's interior is revealed.

Conscious of the quality of their work, Amanita Design has released this soundtrack to the public on several occasions, initially providing a selection of themes to customers who pre-ordered the game, later releasing it in Compact Disk quality together with the boxed version – released in only a few European countries. Recently, Minority Records has issued a limited edition of Floex’s defining work in the form of an autographed and hand-numbered LP (only 555 copies produced) that came both in classic black and transparent yellow vinyl. By no means an extravagance, this release was intended to be a celebration of Amanita’s crowning work, the spiritual successor to the SAMOROST series who had earned the studio a grand new status in the field of videogame creation.

As a celebration of my own to one of the most intrepid videogame experiences I’ve ever witnessed, I’ve invited Floex for a brief interview where, I hoped, he could help me understand the trials he faced during the composition of a soundtrack designed specifically for an independent game: this was, after all, one of the most electable musical moments of last year in my humble opinion.


- Due to a large majority of English or North-American games that founded and supported point and click adventure genre through the years, it becomes very hard to evade those references when creating game outside those countries. One of the factors that seem distinguish Machinarium relate to references of its own, well outside the usual domains of adventure – almost as if the fact of being a Czech game design, not to undervalue the studio’s unbelievable talent, was at the root of its originality. How has your own cultural references influenced the composition of the music for Machinarium?

TD: Yes I think reference is more local based and it is not in the game context. That's probably the source of the originality. I see it more in the Czech animation tradition context, which is believed to be taken as pretty strong here in Czech republic. Trnka, Bojar and so on... and in a way Machinarium could be taken more as kind of interactive animation movie also considering the fact how it was made.

As for the music my influence is very wide. Most of the music comes from the electronic or electroacoustic scene and here I don't see any geographical reference. Lusine, Beaumont Hannant, Arve Henriksen, Apparat, Vladislav Delay, Fennesz, Clark, Jon Hopkins, Riyuichi Sakamoto, Grizzly Bear, OTK, Vladimir Vaclavek, Deerhoof, Thom York, Mark Hollis, Steve Reich, Portico Quartet, Hakon Kornstad. This is sort of music which for sure formed my own musical language beside endless chats with my musician friends.

The main character, Josef, was named for the sake of Josef Čapek (brother to Karel Čapek, creator of the play Rossum's Universal Robots) the original inventor of the word Robot.

- The soundtrack provides the listener several contrasts between lively and playful themes and others whose nature is certainly more stark and austere, made to match some of the greyer areas of the machine city. To what extent was the composition of the music affected by the design of the game and its visual expression?

TD: I think I was just trying to catch the mood of the image. On the other hand it is true I don't like too straight emotions in the music I think I am looking for the certain level of the deepness.

- The Machinarium gameplay experience is based, among many different aspects, on puzzle solving. It seemed to me that whenever those hard abstract puzzles were presented, the music choice would fall on a theme that was less compelling and moody; somehow much more distant in space than when the game presented context puzzles involving character interaction, where the music themes are more poignant and discernible. Was this a conscious decision from your end?

TD: Yes, we have been discussing several levels and the need to give space for the player's thoughts. But often it is compromise between the other aspects of the each particular game level - the meaning of the level in the whole, the mood, the action what takes place there.

- I was particularly enthralled by one of your compositions: the theme «The Sea», whose appearance in the game is a perfect complement to one of the first open venues from within the robot city, introducing the element of water. Please tell me more about the composition process and origins of this particular theme.

TD: Before Josef comes into the "Sea level", story takes place underground and scenes are scarier. I was trying to give more melancholic and moody feeling to the music in these scenes. In contrast to this Sea was considered as kind of bright and caressing music. Like when you see sun after long time and you are happy for the beautiful day. I was trying to make the music floating like waves. It is based on the orchestral motives which are processed through some of my favorite effect patches - I was looking for this ambient electro-acoustic feel.

Picture of Floex's humble but extremely tidy studio.

- It is customary for the adventure game genre to reduce the importance of musical composition given the fact that most of those games rely on massive dialogues, often voiced, that supersede the music playing on the background. How has the absence of any voices or text in Machinarium increased your responsibility in the process of composition and design of the game?

TD: This is for sure positive aspect for me because every new layer in the user perception takes some space for your own expression - image, music, sounds, speech, and interactivity. So I was freer with the music I could focus more on detail. Still trying to be more abstract and minimalist of course as the music doesn't stand on its own in the game. I have been carefully looking for the border to not to overcharge the image.

As illustrated by this picture, Dvořák went to lengths in order to acquire the distinct sonorities that made his work exceptional and worthy of such universal praise.

- It is often said that musicians, of all participants in the creative process, tend to take a passive stance during design – often given materials they can use to compose on their own time, desynchronized from the rest of the team. Your relation to Amanita and its team appears to be much tighter, and your participation much closer to the core of the game creation than usual. Please tell about your method of work during production.

TD: Yes we have little bit different approach. On one hand we all work from our places, we don't share some office. Everything is solved by ICQ plus meetings which are more friendly-based. I mean we don't purely solve the gaming issues when we see each other. I am really thankful for the people who are in Amanita, they are simply cool, very interesting personalities. I guess that just describes Jakub's character and his sensitivity for the people, he has been putting us together for quite time...

As for the workflow on the daily basis: Jakub gave me freedom and his notices well mostly more like suggestions, he just believed to what I do and I have been trying to listen to his opinions carefully. I know it might sound like fairy tale but it really is like this in Amanita.

- In the field of videogames, visuals often take the lead in comparison with other basilar aspects of the game such as narrative, controls, gameplay and even soundtrack. In the case of Machinarium, the game comes with a very powerful visual component due to its exquisite backgrounds and animations: to what extent was that an additional responsibility to you – to create music that would live up to the visible spectacle of the game?

TD: Well I didn't definitely feel any pressure. I suppose all of this is just more inspiring and it stimulates my musical creativity.

The yellow-tinted version of Machinarium's LP soundtack edtion.

- First with the major success of the download-version of your soundtrack; and now with this special edition version in LP, it is safe to say that many people have not only taken notice of your work, they’ve also praised it with the highest remarks. How has this particular work influenced your career?

TD: I would say it was invisibly super important for me. I am actually person who is quite critical to my and the others work too. It is good feature only to some extent. On one hand it can stimulate you for the best results - you have to see what can be improved but on the other hand it can destroy your playfulness and the enjoyment trough the creative process.

Anyway as I sometimes doubt about my musical qualities and for sure the Machinarium gave me more self-confidence to continue my musical journey. I was also happy for the personal people responses and linkage with the other musicians who wrote me.

[ Read Also: Machinarium Preview article @ Adventure Classic Gaming / Machinarium LP & Machinarium Collector's Edition Pictures / Unreleased Jakub Dvorský & Adolf Lachman Machinarium Artwork / My 2009 OST Selection: Interview with Vasily Kashnikov ]

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The beginning of a beautiful friendship: Des Pixels a Hollywood

In the premature days of console and arcade game entertainment, the greatest entrepreneurs of the newfound industry sought the support of the motion picture industry in an attempt to promote their products. During the late 1970's, Atari was one of the fastest growing companies in the world on account of their pioneering home entertainment products. One of the most crucial factors originating this synergy between film and electronic games came from Atari's decision to accept the famed Warner Communications deal - said to have generated around 30 million dollars at the time, a shocking figure considering the company had been founded not ten years before with less than 1500 dollars.

As Warner eventually took over the company, firing the original founder Nolan Bushnell, the Atari VCS - then the most successful console world over - was used as a launch pad for the release of numerous movie to home videogame adaptations. With the success of coin operated games like STAR WARS ARCADE, the tie-in between Warner group movies and Atari console games implied no further investment as all was originating from the one and all-encompassing corporation. Often deriving from particular scenes from the original film, these game adaptations were greatly successful during the 1980s up until today. And while they've earned their reputation as minor games, generally created only for the purpose of feeding the commercial machine, such adaptations exist today in larger and more profitable figures than ever anticipated.

In his debut book entitled Des Pixels a Hollywood, scheduled for release next month, Alexis Blanchet discusses this long lasting and thriving partnership between the Cinema and interactive digital media with admirable depth. In his examination of common inspirations, Blanchet produces a comprehensive academic study concerning the different interpretations of similar themes from contemporaneous fiction. Apart from the historical background of how the two industries came to be jovial companions, the author also retraces some of the most enlightening examples of how videogames, regardless of its country of origin, possess such an umbilical bond to Hollywood film and its inescapable references. At a time when technology appears to be opening a new road where both will be able to converge like never before,
Des Pixels a Hollywood comes as an essential reading - perhaps regrettably, at the risk of denouncing the frail creative structures upon which the majority of popular videogames are based.

Purchase this book from the Pix'N Love online store.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My 2009 OST Selection - Interview with Wasily Kashnikov

Few videogames, if any, ever felt as lugubrious and inauspicious as Ice-Pick Lodge’s THE VOID. Upon its original release in Russia in 2008, when and where it was known as Тургор (Turgor, meaning Tension) this subjective journey of anguish was released on selected European countries before finally becoming available for download at Steam - the single most popular content delivery platform in the world. Moving from its initial obscurity into the limelight of independent computer game press, the game was well-received to the point of earning some of the most favorable reviews in the whole of 2009. The game was also praised for its bold new tone, gameplay mechanics and its themes - seldom featured in popular videogame titles - as the German television channel 3Sat so brilliantly indicated. Yet, to a large extent, THE VOID still retains its cult game status notwithstanding of the short-lived exposure in the media.

I’ve made it a habit to emphasize one single work among the several propositions presented each year in the field of music created as a complement to videogames. Far from an award or the proclamation of a superior example among the many, this is essentially an attempt to draw some attention towards compositions that, in spite of their intrinsic quality and importance, have been overlooked for various motives. This year I’ve had the rare chance to contact the author of the soundtrack of my selection, as well as exchanging various impressions about his work, while questioning him about the thousand things. In his debut as a videogame score composer, Wasily Kashnikov (a.k.a.
Mushroomer) has teamed with Andriesh – a fellow Moskvitch DJ who had participated in the making of PATHOLOGIC.

In The Void, the player must explore different locations in search for Lympha, a natural source for the production of color.

This partnership has resulted in a very substantial soundtrack album, first released in 2008 together with the game, subsequently re-edited with additional themes and re-mastered versions. If THE VOID is an erudite reflection on the complexities of life and death, Kashnikov’s fascinating personality and musical talent are are a valuable contribution to this achievement: enigmatic and brooding, his soundscapes and montages are highly reminiscent of the work of some of the British electronic music pioneers like the early Aphex Twin's Ambient Works or FSOL's Lifeforms and ISDN period.

To match the diversity of abstruse contexts presented throughout the game, the young musician applied different instruments and sonorities from the soft chords of a resonating piano to the sharp-sounding wooden flute and guitar, blending them together using VST software generated effects and using the KORG Electribe EM-1 to produce the different drum beats. Self-portrayed as a do it yourself musician, Mushroomer has adorned THE VOID with a plethora of organic sounds that expand the depth to an already intricate and challenging experience. In spite of the limited tools and resources available to Kashnikov, his work has raised the standards for indie game music production and is thus worthy of all my praise and admiration.

- There seems to be no doubt that the worldwide release of The Void has contributed immensely in divulging of your music. Was this your first experience in the field and how did you acquaint yourself with the Ice-Pick Lodge studio founders?

WK : My first experience with the game development industry was long before I met Dybowskiy and the Ice-pick Lodge studio. We had a team of enthusiasts called Temporal Games, in which I took part in the development of a fantasy RPG, as a coordinator, sound producer and game designer. You know, the kind of teams, where each member does everything he can. in However, the project was never finished, as it often happens.

But my participation in the project allowed me to visit the KRI Conference (Russian analog of GDC) and meet a lot of wonderful people, who later helped me a lot. So, by the time I began discussing with Nikolay the possibility of working on the new Ice-Pick Lodge studio project, I was already well acquainted with the process of creating games. Nikolay then game me a test task, explained the concept of music and sound and in a few months, having successfully passed the test, I began to work in the studio. Now I can say without exaggerating, that this was the most comfortable, interesting work in my life so far. We’ll see, if something beats the record.

Girls and Hunters can be considered to be the hallmark of the soundtrack and, according to Kashnikov himself, the most laborious theme of all.

- Apart from your work, the soundtrack also features several themes from Andriesh, who had already collaborated with the studio on the production of Pathologic. How was the work assigned to both?

WK : When I began working, the first thing I did was listen to all the material, that Andriesh has written. Then I asked Nikolay to select the tracks that fit the Void conception best, and started to look for the sound that would work well with what was already written; that wouldn’t contrast with it too much. Besides that, I immediately took most of the sound design and special effect work. We didn’t work together in the traditional sense – I wrote music while sitting at the Ice-pick office, and he worked from home.

There isn’t a single track in the Void which we would’ve written together, though I think it would have been an interesting experience, but alas it never happened. Speaking of Andriesh’s music, I’d like to note, that I was very impressed by his Pathologic soundtrack, but I don’t like his solo projects as much. I’m not much of a dance music fan, I guess.

Mushroomer during a live performance.

- Tallying up the themes from all the different versions, the soundtrack spans over an impressive four disc collection. Tell me about the greatest challenges and difficulties related to the process of creating this vast enterprise.

WK : The greatest difficulty in writing the music was to find the right sound: the types of instruments, harmony of how everything sounds. It was hard to achieve the integrity of the entire soundtrack. When I finally found the right sound – everything became a lot easier. More than half of the tracks were written in mere months – 2 or 3 to be precise. And finally, when mentioning the large volume of the final product, don’t forget, that the 3rd disk simply contains poems, and the 4th disk contains not only new tracks written for the English release, but also re-mastered original tracks. And writing and re-mastering music – are definitely not the same in terms of time spent.

So, the main result of work on the Void is the first disk. The second disk is more like an alternative version of the soundtrack – what it might have been, and half of the tracks from disk 2 are unreleased material written by Andriesh. It was also difficult to remake tracks, the sound of which seemed almost perfect, but that didn’t suit Nikolay for some reason. For example, the main menu theme exists in 3 or 4 variations. “Strange Creatures” from disk 2 – is one of the unapproved variations of the main menu theme.

Regardless of its independent roots, the team has worked to exhaustion in the creation of large and splendorous and veritably exquisite locations.

- The Void is an unconventional game by design. Its unique environment creates a sensation of emptiness and oppression that is impossible to evade. Every location is a mystery in itself; and even characters are mystifying and ambiguous. What is your interpretation of the game and how has that influenced your work?

WK : That’s a good question. I based my view on the description Nikolay gave me way back at the first test task – this was a dying world, this was the wait for the birth of something new, the theme of famine, and finally the theme of being able to create something seemed to be the stem of the entire game. Anyhow – for me the Void was a metaphor of art, as a battle of the dying old with the upcoming to change it new, and the realization of a dream. I guess it sounds confusing – but there aren’t enough words to describe it – personally, I think that all of us realized a dream in this game. At least, I did.

Declamation in Russian of the poem "Mudam-se os tempos, mudam-se as vontades" by Luís Vaz de Camões concerning the passage of time, memory and evolution.

- Because I'm Portugese, I was very surprised to see how the game opened with a feminine voice’s declamation of a poem by Luís de Camões. Do you know how did this idea come about?

WK : To be honest – I don’t have a clue. I didn’t take part in selecting the poems for the game, but I can assume, that this poem was meant to fully describe, what should be happening in the consciousness of the player during the game, and it’s a great way to introduce the players with the poetry, they otherwise might have never heard

- The game’s soundtrack – your themes in particular – reflect a great passion for different styles of electronic and IDM music. What where the greatest influences and inspirations when you were creating the music?

WK : If you’re asking about what I was listening at the time, then… From electronic music it’s Boards of Canada, Bonobo and Carbon Based Lifeforms. From others I enjoyed Tom Waits, the Dresden Dolls, Nervous Cabaret – either way, its mastery and beauty in case of electronic tracks, and emotions in case of the ones with voice. And the result of this insane mix is what you have to “tolerate” the entire game -if you don’t choose to turn off the music, of course.

- Did you feel, somehow, restricted by the fact that you were creating music for an interactive game?

Speaking of the technical side of my work – I always kept in mind that I’m not just writing music, but an addition to an experience. My task was, beside all, to merge music and game play so that there’s no dissonance that would concentrate the player’s attention on either parts of the experience risking to damage several elements of the game. For example, the battle with the Triumphator brother is interactive – all his actions are reflected in the music themes, which sound during combat. Literally, you’re fighting the music that you hear! It’s a human orchestra after all!

Music from the battle against one of the brothers, the Triumphator: different variations were created in order to accord with the different stages of the conflict.

- There seems to be an interesting anecdote behind the choice of your artistic name "Mushroomer"? Why are mushrooms so fascinating to you?

WK : I have a degree in biology, an agronomist, to be precise; and mushrooms are a very interesting life form even if not consumed. ;o) They are neither plants nor animals – they exist on their own, and nevertheless, have a great influence on our everyday. For example, alcohol (and even the Bible notes Jesus Christ turned water into wine) – is the result of work of yeast fungus – a form of mushrooms; many diseases that plagued humanity are the result of proximity to mould, and last but not least – mushrooms are tasty. So, I haven’t chosen this nickname for nothing – it’s best to be friends with such a mighty power of nature, rather than ignore it or be enemies.

It was my dream - mixing of live and synthetic voices... - Wasily Kashnikov

- With only two games released, Ice-Pick Lodge has won different prizes as well as the recognition from players. How have reactions to your work been, so far?

WK : Generally, the reactions are quite positive. Well, of course, I’ve met reactions like “where the hell did Andriesh go, and who the hell is this Mushroomer dude?”, I’ve seen people who think that there’s no actual artist named Mushroomer and all the music was written by Andriesh. But these are rare. Mostly people agreed that I did a wonderful job, and that’s twice as pleasant since I think so, too!

- Will you be working with the Ice-Pick Lodge studio in other projects? (Are there any plans for future collaborations?)

WK : Personally, I’m not working on anything now, when it comes to working on the new studio projects. But I suppose, as soon as it comes to sound – I’ll start working immediately.

(All the sound clips and and excerpts from The Void OST are used on this page with the permission of its authors).

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Q&A with Koji Ueno - Resonances of Gadget

Since the beginning of his career in 1978, Koji Ueno has been composing music that encompasses multiple styles and genres from pop to new age, from orchestral to electronic and dance oriented. Having achieved a reputation as one of Japan’s most promising musicians after joining the Guernica ensemble, he has worked with some of the best musicians in his country such as Ryuichi Sakamoto, with whom he authored the soundtracks for the major motion pictures Oneamise no Tsubasa and The Last Emperor.

In one of his most singular musical moments, Ueno participated with Haruhiko Shono and the Synergy studio for the creation of the music score for the best-selling CD-ROM experience GADGET: INVENTION, TRAVEL & ADVENTURE. As an addendum to the results of my research, already presented in last year's interview with Haruhiko Shono, I now publish a brief interview where this gifted and erudite musician discusses a few interesting subjects regarding his valuable contribution to the game - later resulting in that rare album entitled Resonances of Gadget: Quasisymphonic Movements and Noise Montages.
I was also surprised to learn that some of his influences when composing this soundtrack were musical masterpieces of my own personal predilection.

CG: As a composer, you have a reputation of someone who is constantly looking for new challenges. In what circumstances did you enter the project of creating this soundtrack?

Ueno: I was the first composer choice of Mr. Shono and his office. They knew about my admiration for the art of the pre-war/war time, Russian avant-garde and machine age which were also of special reference to that locomotive he designed for the game.

When Mr. Shono was a university student he was a fan of my band Guernica, whose concept was the combination of pre-war avant-garde and pre-war popular music.

One of his university friends who was also a Guernica fan asked me to make music for his graduation art work and introduced him to me around 1983 or 1984.

CG: Some years after the original release of GADGET, Synergy produced a renewed version. Was the same soundtrack used or did you create new themes for "Past as Future"?

Ueno: I can’t remember exactly. During the production of that project I handed my works to Mr. Shono directly who later edited and overdubbed them – a process in which I had no participation. I do remember, however, that in "Gadget Trips/Mindscapes" I made a lot of new material.

CG: What did you base your music on - were you given game materials or simply Images, sketches, ideas?

Firstly I was asked to made music for the trailer of Gadget for its promotion. That trailer already had many designed materials such as the locomotive, some of the characters and locations. I selected suitable digital sampling data as several timbres of that trailer music and then I constructed music to fit into the timing of the scene changes of the video.

Eventually, that material became the theme "Overture: Invention, Travel and Adventure". Many materials later used in the game and the movie were reductions of that. The following variations were made using a method similar to film scoring techniques, based on scene images and the story itself. I remember that the tracks Overture, Tranquility, Contradictions and A Recollection of the Future, from the soundtrack album, were the first themes I composed.

CG: What motivated you to create the music? You focused heavily on the industrial and engineering part of that universe; but also on the deep psychological trance with eerie noise montages: what did you intend to make the players feel by listening to the music?

Ueno: I think "Gadget" has something like a feeling of oppression throughout the whole game.

And has what we may call industrial mysticism, as well as the feeling of destin sans issue. Maybe those themes were the most inspiring.
Anyway Mr. Shono's designs were of great artistic beauty, so I was keeping those in mind when I was composing. I’ve also tried to make music that wouldn’t weary the player.

What are your thoughts on GADGET and your interpretation of it?

Ueno: Nightmare of 20th Century?
Do the retro-chic machines dream of autocratic brainwashing?

CG: The train theme is possibly the most emblematic of all: its beat pattern being so contagious. Tell me more about the conception of this theme in particular.

Ueno: When I saw the train sequences for the first time I felt that they required some like constant beat and that it needed to suit the tempo of the scene – while not evoking any memory of a dance music or techno beat!
So I selected sampling material by classical percussion instruments bearing in mind that the time of the music should be cross rhythm, not just a simple 4/4 or 3/4.

, I tried to play some of samplings on keyboard. There, sampling material can be played slow to fast combining different rhythm (tempo) by playing more than a single note. This is how I found the exact material and tempo.

Anyway it's important to read the exact tempo of the scenes.
Maybe that is also one of film music techniques.

CG: Finally: in terms of musical composition, what were your references to the creation of this soundtrack?

My greatest influences were: Edgard Varèse
, Arthur Honegger’s Pacific 231, Sergei Prokofiev (Symphony No.2), Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith’s The Planet of Apes, Béla Bartók, John Cage, Louis and Bebe Baron’s Forbidden Planet, Charles Ives, Leoš Janaček’s Glagolitic Mass, Frank Martin’s Petite Symphonie Concertante, Pauline Oliveros’ Deep Listening and Aaron Copland.

Given its extreme rarity, I converted the soundtrack to a suitable MP3 quality that is now available for download.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A digital Carpe Diem

Tale of Tale's new iPhone and iPod touch application was officially released today and while the Apple platforms are surely not to my personal liking I couldn't miss the opportunity to mention this strange new form of interaction that they have prepared. As tiresome as the last year might have been for the studio, Michaël Samyn and Auriea Harvey keep working with determination in search for new grounds. VANITAS was commissioned by John Sharp and Ian Bogost as a part of the Art History of Games symposium taking place in Atlanta, which includes games from other known independent authors such as Jason Rohrer.

Priced at one single dollar, VANITAS evokes the concept of mortality by arranging loose objects inside a wooden box, not unlike the use of deliberate symbols and icons in pre-modern Flemish art. Inspired by the famous biblical passage vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas (vanity of vanities, all is vanity, from the book of Ecclesiastes) Tale of Tales has conceived a meditative space without rules or concise objectives - highly reminiscent of the same philosophy which is present, although in an entirely different format, in Japanese garden models. The deep soul-searching experience about the futility of materialism is enhanced by the cello moods of this project's invited artist, none other than the talented Zoe Keating.

More information can be found at the official website.