Technique: Quantized Phasing

While working on The Floor is Jelly, I really pushed myself to try some new things. Mapping music to the geography of levels, using individual raindrops to generate music on the fly… Some of these ideas fell flat on their face, but one idea that managed to squeeze its way in is one I’d like to talk about. For lack of a better term, I’ll call it Quantized Phasing.

The idea at first was straightforward enough; I wanted to experiment with phase music, a musical form that appeared in the 1960s after tape experiments by folks like Terry Riley, Earle Brown, and Steve Reich. However it didn’t take me long to realize that using the gradual phasing style of that period was probably not going to serve the context that I was attempting to use it in. There was nothing particularly phasey about moving around in a watery level, so I started experimenting with ways to dial back the smeary nature of phase material and dial in the accessibility a bit. The solution I came up with was taking the phasing material and quantizing it, so that the material still phased in a way, but adhered to a more musical grid (namely, triplets and duplets). The result is similar to Steve Reich’s Clapping Music, where one overlaid pattern periodically shifts forward a beat.

'Clapping Music' by Steve Reich

The experiments for the water music proved to be too athletic and unusual for a peaceful, natural locale, so we ended up using them for the final world of The Floor is Jelly. A glitchy world.

Phase Structure

Level   Phase       Harmony
-----   --------    ---------------------
1       5.5 : 11    A Minor to C Major
2       6   : 11    F 6 no3 to E Minor b6
3       6.5 : 11    D Minor 9
4       7   : 11    C Major 6
5       7.5 : 11    Bb Major 6
6       8   : 11    A Minor 9 add6 no7
7       8.5 : 11    G Major 2 add6
8       9   : 11    B Minor 7 add11
9       9.5 : 11    C Major 2 add6
10      10  : 11    F Major add2
11      10.5: 11    E Lydian b7

Notes: FEZ

I occasionally thumb through my old notebooks, and thought it might be interesting to take a look at some of the sketches I took while formulating ideas for FEZ, back in 2011.

Notes

Structure

For the Industrial part of the FEZ world (‘Progress’ on the soundtrack), I was looking into the usage of one tonality per time of day, per level. Some of this idea came through in the final version, where the music does change tonalities in certain levels. However, changing tonalities for each time of day proved to be too difficult to do effectively, because our tech limited us mostly to crossfades. The system did have a clock in place for triggering stems after x number of bars, but it proved to be a little bit shaky in practice. If you listen carefully, you may be able to hear this imperfection on display in the game’s opening village music.

Here you can also see a visual map of the level connections for the industrial area, and some of the internal names for those levels. Also, lots of experimenting with specific chords as the basis for tonality per level, and thinking about time of day by way of little sun/moon icons.

Notes

Mine

This is a fairly close representation of how the structure of the music used in the cave/mine levels (‘Formations’ on the soundtrack), turned out. Each box is a level, and arrows show the traversal between them. The rows depict the various states of gameplay in those levels, which just happened to be fairly parallel to the height of these obstacles/checkpoints. The little bomb image signifies the section where you must plant a bomb and rotate the world continuously to keep the fuse lit.

Improve

Often times I would just get something, anything, into the game, and then play with it in there to get a sense for how the music was feeling. This was a very effective method and has always been my go to way to iterate on music, especially dynamic music.

Notes

Full Day / Levels

For the Industrial area, I started to think about how long each time of day roughly was in game time, and how large the levels were relative to each other, in hopes it would help me figure out how I wanted to structure the music changes. Also the phrase ‘volume triggered’ here actually refers to altitude. I was probably experimenting with the idea of altitude to trigger different musical layers in these levels.

The note to the far right seems like it was the basis of an idea to create really sparse music for the interiors of the initial village. This idea was likely inspired by the music treatment in Jasper’s Journeys by Lexaloffle, which I found to be very unique in its approach. I either thought better of this idea or forgot about it, because the final version of the interior music is the exterior music with the low pass filter that Renaud implemented for when Gomez is out of view.