Today I’m here to share a small (but interesting) interview I did with Darren Korb, via e-mail, about his music in Bastion and his composition process.
For those who doesn’t know, Darren is the audio director for Supergiant Games, the studio behind games like Bastion and Transistor. I haven’t played Transistor yet, but Bastion has one of the greatest game soundtracks I have ever seen (along with the fact that the game is super fun!). And a big part of this is due Darren’s different approach to what we expect “game music” to be. If you have’t listened to it yet, let me share so you can understand what I’m talking about before the interview:
Well, Bastion was the first soundtrack Darren made for games. He’s a friend with the co-founder of Supergiant Games, Amir Rao, since he was a kid, and that prompted the invite for him to be the sound person for Bastion. He accepted right away, and the rest is history.
You have already said that Bastion was your first experience composing for games. Do you think this fact influenced on how Bastion’s soundtrack doesn’t sound like a “typical” game music, and more like songs from a band?
Since Bastion was the first game I’d worked on, I had to use the skills I already had going into it. I think the main influence on my approach to Bastion was my background as a songwriter and producer.
We were making Bastion on a small budget, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to pay other musicians or anything like that, so I had to find a solution that I could fully execute by myself. I was able to apply the same approach I’d used as a songwriter to structuring the pieces in the game, and I used my production background to find a way to make the pieces sound as good as I could without a lot of resources.
What do you feel is the biggest difference between composing for a film and for a game? How does the interactive part influences your composition?
I think the main difference between films and games is that films are linear. There is a set timing to the events of a film, and they happen in a particular order, and a film composer will usually compose to an already-edited picture where the timing is already in place. The interactive aspect of games is what produces a unique set of challenges for a composer.
One consideration for games that would not be a factor for a film: making pieces that can loop! Just this consideration alone totally changes the way I would approach a composition. A player will hear a piece of music in a game for much longer than they would in a movie, generally speaking, so making something that actively avoids becoming grating on repeated listens is a certainly a factor.
You are friends with Amir Rao, co-founder os Supergiant Games, since you were kids; and because of that, he invited and involved you since very early in the process of making Bastion. How much do you think this was important for achieving such a high end sounding soundtrack with such few resources? And how this early involvement of yours influenced in other parts of the game (such as game design, art, etc.)?
Being involved early was the only way I could have executed the soundtrack to Bastion, in my view. The early involvement not only allowed me to play the game regularly as it was being developed, and allow that to influence the music I was working on, it also gave me time to figure out what I was doing, since this was the first game I’d worked on. I think my early involvement helped most with my understanding of the desired tone for the project, and it gave me a chance to really push on that as much as possible.
Aside from being able to provide feedback on the game as I was playing it, I was able able to see concept art and allow that to influence the music, and the artist and designers were able to hear the music and allow that to influence their work as well.
Your influences (like blues, Beatles, Led Zeppelin…) are very noticeable on some tracks. But how do they drive you? In a more referencing, direct way (using a specific song as a reference); or is it something more “by heart”, an influence that comes naturally when composing?
For Bastion, my influences were certainly more tonal than specific. I drew stylistic inspiration from a wide range of things. Everything from some of Led Zeppelin’s more acoustic music to old southern spirituals and a bunch of stuff in between!
How is your composition process? Do you usually have a picture in your head of what you’re trying achieve (like an idea of the song); or is it more like a “building blocks” approach, where you start with a foundation and stack up sounds to see where it goes?
I’d say it’s a bit of both. I’ll almost always start a piece with a tonal objective. I answer a few basic questions for myself about the piece before I get started: How do I want the piece to feel? What emotions should it convey? How would it be used in the game? Depending on the answers to those questions, sometimes I’ll start with a particular tempo/groove, sometimes I’ll have a riff in mind, sometimes it’s a lyrical idea, etc.
The Bastion’s soundtrack have some unusual mixtures os loops, samples and instruments, and that makes it great. How do you choose them? Is it more like trial and error or do you know what kind of different things you can combine to sound good?
I think the mixing of various textures is equal parts intentional and out of necessity. Loops and samples are an easy method of incorporating exotic sounds, as well as achieving sounds I don’t have the means to record/perform. It provides access to a huge palate of instruments I can’t play and don’t own! So it serves both the constraint of a small budget, and the creative goal of making something intentionally eclectic.
You have recorded, mixed and mastered the whole soundtrack, with little resources. Do you have any tips for people trying to achieve a high end sound with few resources? Any special techniques or advice?
I spent a decent amount of time interning in a recording studio and doing my best to gain an understanding of sound engineering. I think that is a really important part of being able to make a good sounding mix. I would suggest that people pick up any tips they can from audio engineers, and spend a lot of time just experimenting with recording software. Learn how compressors and eqs work. These days there are TONS of incredible YouTube tutorials on different recording and mixing techniques. Learn as much as you can and just keep experimenting and practicing!
If you wanna know more about Darren Korb’s work on the Bastion, you can watch this amazing video from GDC 2012:
Well, I hope you enjoyed this as much I did! I would like to thank Darren for being so nice and available.
See you all soon! 🙂
Mauricio Ruiz – www.mauricioruiz.me