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

In Depth: It Follows

Involvement

David loved the music I made for FEZ and reached out to me via e-mail. Our initial discussions were straight-forward. We talked logistics and expressed our interest in working together. David touched base right before he started filming and then we fell out of touch for a year. When he came back to me, prepared to start scoring, I had a lot of work underway and did not have much time. I turned him down at first, but he could tell that I wanted to work on the film. After much discussion, I gave in to his persistence. I’m glad I did! We at first talked about exploring an aesthetic with guitars and other acoustic instruments. Over time, we realized that synths had the versatility we needed.

Early Process / Skepticism

I read a script early on and was on the fence at first. There is not much direction to a script. The acting, timing and cinematography all have to manifest in your brain. It can feel a bit flat. I was skeptical of my judgment too because I had not seen a screenplay come to life before. I wanted to dive in with David after I saw his last film, “The Myth of the American Sleepover”. I knew he was masterful at bringing out a sense of humanity in his characters. The first cut I saw was silent, but even so I knew right away that this was going to be something great. I found David’s deliberate style opened up a lot of space to explore as a composer. He later presented me with a version that featured a temp score. This tool gave me help with direction and compensated for a short turnaround schedule. The film got into the Cannes Film Festival, and we had weeks instead of months to finish.

For my first feature, I chose not to write much until I saw the film. The first thing I did was sit at my piano and try to come up with a theme. I wrote a piece I am proud of, but never found a spot for it in the film that made sense.

Collaboration with David

The score was an absolute collaboration. I think David heard something in my approach that he thought could be unique in a horror film. For me, I found his naturalistic style gave me room to play. David’s first impressions were strong and encouraging. He pushed hard to have themes and recurring melodies, and we did a bit of that in spots. I think the temp score and his love for FEZ gave me a well-rounded sense of what he wanted. We had some creative disagreements at times, but that’s a routine part of collaborating. I wanted the sounds to be warmer and rounder in certain spots. He sometimes yearned for brighter, more digital tones. I think we are both quite content with how things turned out, though. David was in the driver’s seat when it came to the musical direction for 'It Follows’. He had a very strong vision for the tone of the music and I was happy to defer to him in certain ways.

Dial it Back

The opening scene of It Follows is the first for which I wrote music. Earlier versions of the track had so much distortion in them that Christian suggested we were going to upset theater owners. I was pushing the clipping effect of tape saturation well past 11, to the point the sound began to deteriorate with a sonic characteristic not unlike that of a speaker slowly blowing up in your face. I distorted the low-end so harshly that he feared we were going to destroy peoples' subwoofers. In the end, we managed to find a comfortable balance that still has quite a lot of distortion, but never to point of complete and utter deterioration.

The Old Maid

There is a scene in It Follows, immediately after 'Hugh', Jay's conniving boyfriend, ties her to a wheelchair to present the unusual STD they share. Before Hugh unceremoniously ditches Jay on the street outside her house, her friends are playing the card game 'Old Maid' on the porch.

When David Robert Mitchell was testing out music cues for the film, he had a little piece of 'Spirit' from the FEZ soundtrack synced over the shot of the playing cards, which I found a bit curious. When I asked him about why he had placed music there, he did not have a particular reason. He placed it on instinct. It seemed to suggest a relationship between the 'Old Maid' and something else in the film. A few scenes later, Jay is at school and has her first encounter with 'It', an elderly woman in a robe, walking slowly but purposefully towards her across the courtyard. I instinctively made a connection between the woman and the card, the card implying a future encounter with the 'Old Maid'. When I told David about this, he laughed because he had never thought of that before, but he liked the subtle suggestion that it was hinting at something, and so we decided to run with it. This is why the music from the school scene is called 'The Old Maid.' I've never had anyone bring up this connection to me before, so I thought it would be interesting to share.

In talking to David, I learned that the game of Old Maid was analogous to the STD. It represents something we all want to pass on to someone else. It represents loneliness.

Alternate Detroit

There is an alternate version of Detroit in the film that is not on the soundtrack. It plays during an establishing shot at night of the kids at home, brushing teeth and clipping nails, waiting for dread to reach their door. Usually, people notice these sorts of details and demand their copy of the evidence, but I have not heard a peep. I think I'm used to video games. They bring out the OCD in people slightly more.

The Pool Fails the AB Test

The music during the big finale at the pool does not pass the AB test in comparison to its soundtrack version. We iterated over the sound for the pivotal scene of the film many times, and, in honor of chlorine-drenched appliances, threw everything AND the kitchen sink into that cue at the very last minute.

My Acting Debut

It was the eleventh hour, and I was at the film mix sessions with David and Christian, our engineer. We were scrambling to put the piece together, and David was especially stressed, trying to close out such a big undertaking. We realized we were missing some dialogue for minor background situations. There's a rotating shot in a school hallway that called for a loudspeaker announcement. While Jay contemplates her situation in the aboveground pool, there's a TV report about a wildfire in the background. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is wing it, and so we recorded these parts ourselves. I starred as 'High School Announcer', and 'News Chopper Reporter.' I also convinced David to be the News Anchor in that fire bit, despite his reservations. We pitchshifted our voices down. IMDB has not officially credited us for our profound contributions, and I know David is relieved about that. In light of official proof, you'll have to take my word for it.

Tight Timeline

In the three weeks I wrote the score, I tried to get up every day and have a somewhat chill morning so I wasn’t too stressed out. Once I got my morning routine out of the way (meditation, exercise, food, some reading), I would dive in to work, usually around noon and work til’ midnight or later. David and I had a lot of back and forth during that time and I think tensions were running a little high because we were up against the clock. It was tough and a little stressful at times but I think it worked out great. Finally getting to hear the film on a soundstage was incredibly satisfying.

Influence

David and his editors created a thorough temp score that became my bible for the film. John Carpenter, Penderecki, and John Cage were all present. Some of my tracks from FEZ were also part of the temp score. For scary scenes, I tried to make the music as dissonant and weird as possible. I pulled out as many stops as I could to one-up the temp cues in every way. For tracks like “Detroit”, I was channeling the ominous arpeggios of bands like Goblin.

I wasn’t thinking about video games when scoring the film. I rarely think about that. Games and their music are just an undeniable influence that I wear on my sleeve. I think that that relationship comes out in a subconscious way. David had a definite affinity for the music from FEZ. We took steps to honor that aesthetic but also bring something new to the film. We ended up using some of the music from that game as a template. David developed a serious case of ‘temp love’ for those pieces. It was difficult to steer him away from what he felt already worked well. At first it was strange to hear those tracks in the film, but I adapted to it. We referenced material from other composers as well, and I feel that I learned a lot. I love to get into the depths of other peoples’ music. Referencing music I wrote many years ago was one of the trickier parts of the project. That said, I am quite pleased with how everything turned out. Working with David was a satisfying experience.

Synth music was all around me growing up in the 80’s. By the time I was working on FEZ, I had a sense of what they could do and what I wanted them to do. I don’t think that came from any particular artist, but more from a high level of exposure. When people told me that FEZ sounded like Vangelis, I was not all too familiar with him. I had seen Blade Runner once and knew he wrote the “Chariots of Fire” theme, but I had to look him up. And yet, his style seems like such a staple now. For me to that he and music of that ilk did not influence me would be dishonest.

I’ve straight up avoided horror films until recently. But their culture is omnipresent. If I said I was not influenced by it I would be lying. I’ve been listening to Goblin for many years but was never big into horror. I think I can count the horror films I’ve seen on one hand!

Inspiration

My exposure to horror was minimal. I don’t think I could name more than five horror films that I’ve seen in my entire life. Despite that, I had a curiosity about the aesthetic and the form. I wanted to take part in the process.

Instrumentation

Pretty much everything is custom, except for some of the percussion. I made a lot of synth patches for this film; at least a hundred I would say. Making patches is one of the most effective ways for me to get the sounds I’m looking for.

Intensity Level

The temp score cues were scary and high energy. We talked about making them even more intense, and so we tried to push that level even higher. We hoped that having that attitude right from the first shot set up the film in a certain way. We wanted you as the moviegoer to always wonder when that scary moment is going to come again.

John Carpenter

His music is dark, simple and effective. We used some of his music in the temp score for the film. As a result I used a few of his pieces as direct reference. I am not well versed in the music of Mr. Carpenter, but I appreciate what he has done.

Musical Objectives

We wanted the music to play an active role, as if it was a character. The music serves as a hair-raiser in scarier moments. In calmer scenes, I think it helps engage the moviegoer by adding emotional weight. We often use melodic cues to underline character and plot development, as well as segues between larger sections of the film. We tried to pick our spots. We always took care to give the film and its dialogue the space it needed.

The music tries to build empathy for the characters. They seemed quite real to me already, but I tried to help how I could. In the scarier moments, I was more focused on creating a twisted landscape.I tried to be loud, wild, and unpredictable.

For a lot of the cues, I tried to use my synth chops to make weird, dark, obnoxious pieces of music. I find that thru-composing to picture feels natural. I enjoy the freedom it provides in making subtle, time-sensitive adjustments. The elephant in the room for me was the FEZ soundtrack. That music was a direct influence on many of the melodic pieces. I tried to honor those and make David happy while also doing something fresh. It was tough! I think I managed, for the most part.

Don’t be afraid to do weird, unorthodox things. Make unpleasant sounds. Timing and dynamics are crucial to the music but also in its correlation to the screen. At some point, the process became more about intuition than anything. I’d watch the same scene over and over and its connotation to me would change. The visceral reaction subsided, and it became more about the intellectual aspect. It becomes a matter of analysis. Why is this scary? What could push that emotion even further?

Preparation/Research

I’ve never been a fan of horror films. So maybe that lends some perspective to how unprepared I was. As a kid, I was a chicken. I wouldn’t even go on the Snow White ride at Disney World because of the witch. But working on It Follows has invigorated my appetite for scarier films.

Production

I designed most of the sounds in the score with Native Instruments Massive. Massive is a versatile synthesizer that I have used a lot over the years. It was a natural choice for creating a synth score on a short timeline.

Post-Production

After I completed the score, we spent a week mixing the film. Christian Dwiggins mixed the film at Tunnel Post in Santa Monica. Hearing the score on a surround system for the first time was fantastic. Christian pushed the film’s energy over the top, by suggesting we add more elements. He helped the music jump out of the screen. There are cues in the film that became downright obnoxious in the best way.

Postmortem

Working on such a tight deadline was stressful. Trying to reference my own material became an exercise in ego management. I can be ruthless about not treading old ground. At the end of the day, I had to make a few creative sacrifices. I think if we had more time, I could have written some better cues. I struggled with the similarity of some of the music to that of FEZ. I am a perfectionist though, and these are all minor issues in the grand scheme of things.I am proud of what we have accomplished as a whole. It was an intense period of work, and there was a lot of back and forth. We managed to do something unique and in not much time. I’m hoping to have more time in the future! Three weeks was tough.

The Beach Scene

In that particular scene, we didn’t think it’d be immediately apparent to everyone that the Yara walking up from the grass was not in fact Yara. So we waited an extra shot or two, when it’s quite clear that Yara is in fact in the ocean, before starting to bring in the music.

The Film’s Appeal

I think it approaches the genre in a fresh way. I think we tried to do something new while honoring great horror films of the past. The premise is horrifying without needing lots of gore and jumps. The characters are funny and easy to relate to. They’re young people written in a believable way, and I think that goes a long way.

Does it Scare You?

I feel the music works well, but I have to approach it from an almost academic perspective. I’ve watched the movie so many times at this point and first saw it with no music and no post FX. I saw the potential for it to be quite scary. But I think at this point, I’ve been too involved to experience it that way.

Not jarring per se, but when it was satisfying and gruesome, that’s when I knew it was ready to go. When you work on something like this, there is a tendency to become a bit desensitized to it. Even while mixing the film, we were unsure how people would react. We just had to go with our guts.

Critical Reception

The reception has been overwhelming! It feels great to have so many people say they appreciate my work. I also find the parallels folks are making to be a great education. I am learning a lot about the talented artists who have worked in horror over the years.

Soundtrack Mastering

My experience working with Christian on the film mix was stellar. He masters records too, so it was an easy choice to bring him back on to master the soundtrack. As a rule, I never master my own records. I find putting someone else’s ears on my music helps me to let go and move on.

Pool Setup Music

I think my favorite musical moment is the pool setup scene. That piece started as a pretty close reference to “Formations” from Fez, but I feel like we were able to bring it to a really cool place. I love how that one turned out.

Jay's Theme

Jay’s theme is probably the closest thing to a Fez track on the score, and that was a late edit. I had written a different theme for Jay that was warmer and more melancholy, but David thought we needed something a bit brighter and retro, so we switched it up to make it more like a reference track from Fez. That was a bit tough for me at the time but I had to go with David’s gut and we didn’t really have a whole lot of time to try a bunch of different things.

Title Theme

it's kind of a Morricone-type of thing. That's what I was thinking of when I wrote it. What if Morricone did an evil western or something?

In Depth: FEZ

Origin Story

I met game's programmer Renaud Bedard at a concert I performed in Montreal. They were looking for musicians to work on the game, with the intention of treating the soundtrack as a compilation, and he asked me if I was interested in contributing. I thought it would work better to have a single composer, and so I suggested I might write all of the music. I’m guessing this meeting happened with Phil’s blessing. I started working on the soundtrack right away, in the fall of 2010.

Collaboration

It wasn't too difficult. There was also a lot of dialogue between the entire team, more or less everyday, which I think was very beneficial for all of us. I think I was eagerly anticipating Fez before I even joined the team, so that maybe made my job a little easier. Also, working with the Polytron guys has been a breeze, Renaud (the programmer) has had my back all the way, and we were fortunate enough to work with Brandon (sound effects), who helped lend a second set of ears to everything we ended up doing. Phil and I have been on the same musical wavelength since the start. We actually haven’t had to work too close, for the most part. I was given free reign to work on and add music to the game at my own discretion, and there have been very few times over the last year or two that we’ve had to work through musical disagreements. For the most part, we’ve shared a similar musical vision for the game, and that’s really made things work out great, I think.

Failed Ideas

During the idea process we definitely had some more ambitious ideas that turned out not to make much sense. One of the ideas was to have the music change depending on what side of a level you’re facing … of course, the player rotates so frequently, that this ended up not being a very practical thing to do, musically. Though, on second thought, perhaps it could have worked in certain, more jittery places…

Implementation

Most of the music in the game is influenced by the state of the level. For instance, how high you are in the air, or whether it's daytime or nighttime, etc. The only progress-related change I can think of is actually "Reflection", which plays when you first leave your village, but will never play again.

Lessons Learned from Retro Game Music

I would say the usage of limited voices.. using voice stealing to come up with clever parts, and an emphasis on using linear passages (arpeggios, ostinatos), to take the place of chords. Those things have had a profound impact on my writing style.

Musical Influences (circa 2012)

Over the last couple of years I’ve really gotten into Debussy, Ravel, and listening to lots of piano. There’s an album called Solo Piano by Gonzales that has been in my regular rotation for some time, and I’ve got some Erroll Garner vinyl records that I love. One of the oddities of writing lots of music is that you can’t listen to other stuff while you’re writing, or at least I can’t. I get less face-time with music than I used to, and it’s a shame. But I do my best to make time for listening. Going further back, bands like Yes and King Crimson, composers like Steve Reich and Stravinsky have always been inspirations to me.

On Capturing the Feeling of Exploration

Writing music in itself is often an exploration, so it’s almost hard not to capture it. I think having strong musical ideas that evolve and go places tends to capture the feeling. Throughout the process I just tried to settle into a particular area of the game that I was writing music for, and sort of feel it out. I’d just think about that particular place, and have that in the back of my head while I wrote. There’s a certain loneliness about the game. I tried to capture a sense of wonder that a character like Gomez might have, given the fact that he was leaving his 2D village for the 3D world for the first time in his life. I think the decision to write a lot of melancholy music came from Gomez' isolation. He is all alone, traveling through a huge abandoned world.

On the Soundtrack Puzzle

The spectogram puzzle was my idea. The nature of the puzzle however was completely Phil’s work. I have no idea how to solve the spectogram puzzle, and as far as I know noone has solved it. I implemented Phil's images into the music in a way that I thought might be subtle, but in a matter of days people thought to listen to the soundtrack using a spectrogram.

On the Process

Every project has its own unique challenges and requirements. (Puzzle Agent and Drawn to Life are two examples of projects that had a very different process to Fez, because on those games I was asked to write music based on screenshots and cutscene footage.) For Fez, I was totally involved in the process from the start, testing the game on a regular basis, editing level files and placing music and ambiences in the game directly. Also, I think that in a lot of ways, Fez was a dream project for me, because while I tried to create a very specific aesthetic, I was at the same time exploring my own sort of sound. Sometimes you work on games where the guidelines may be more outside of your comfort zone (for instance, writing jazz/noirish music for Puzzle Agent was a new experience and a great challenge for me at the time).

I think for the most part, the freedom I had made this one of the easiest and most fun things I’ve ever gotten to do. I also gave myself free reign to do a lot of improvisation, and I repurposed a lot of older ideas that never got used… They seemed to me that they would fit well in Fez, and that made it somewhat easier to work on. I definitely spent a lot of time tweaking sound design on a couple of tracks though, and I think that’s where I spent the most time. “Beyond” comes to mind, which you’ll be able to check out in the game, or on 4/20 when the album comes out.

Scoring a game like Fez, there's some pressure, but for the most part we were taking our time and giving it the time that it needed, and I had a year to score that game. I felt really comfortable with that amount of time. Everyday I would load up the latest version of the game and play it, and then I could go in myself, because the developer and I designed a tool for me to do all kinds of dynamic music stuff with it. So everyday I would go into the game and I'd say, "I want to do this today, or I want to do that, I want to make music that reacts to thunder in this area where there's thunder, or I want to create some music that's always slightly different — you know, it's made up of forty different little pieces of music that weave in and out of each other randomly — or music that changes based on time of day, or music that changes based on the altitude, or whatever." I could do all of these things on my own once the tool was created. I could just go in and do those things and edit the levels myself, and then the rest of the team would wake up the next day and play the game and suddenly hear the stuff that I did, and say, "Wow this is so cool; I've been in this level like 600 times over the last three years, and this is the first time I've heard music here."

Production Effects

Everything in game is 44.1KHz, 16-bit. All of the lo-fidelity effects were created using bitcrushers and other effects processors, as opposed to actual file limitations. This gave us a whole lot more freedom to capture the exact sound we wanted. I used the Logic Pro bitcrusher almost exclusively … it’s a very powerful plug, and the ability to mix dry/wet signals together makes for lots of combinations. I experimented with bitcrushing just about everything in a track (including reverb), and at varying amounts, to get interesting sounds. I used the built in reverb in Massive quite a lot, especially to create some of the more paddy sounds, as well as Space Designer. We established a sort of cinematic approach to chipmusic, taking those sounds and giving them a more contemporary and comfortable plot, with lots of reverb and attention to space, and also a focus on making it sound deteriorated. I did that using lots and lots of bitcrushing, and tape warping effects.

Using Musical Modes

There is a lot of modal music in the FEZ score. The Puzzle music is deliberately split up into different modes to accentuate the different times of day.

Instruments

This is probably the single question I’ve been asked more than all the others put together. Here are the synthesizers I used on FEZ, ranked by usage:

Native Instruments Massive. Massive is littered all across the soundtrack, and appears more than any other synthesizer. During the course of FEZ it became my new go-to synth, and I learned to create new sounds with it relatively quickly. You can hear the sound of Massive on tracks like ‘Beacon’, 'Compass’, and 'Legend’. I also managed to squeeze some pretty cool percussion sounds out of Massive. My favorite example is the big drums on 'Majesty’.

Native Instruments FM8. One of my favorite synths, an excellent FM Synthesizer which can load up patches from pretty much any hardware FM synth ever made. All of the instruments in 'Nocturne’ were designed using FM8, and the synth also features prominently on 'Nature’.

Native Instruments Absynth. All of the instruments (save the drums) in 'Adventure’ are patches I made in Absynth. I also reused and modified these instruments for use in some other tracks, like 'Home’.

Sonic Charge Synplant. This is a pretty unusual synthesizer, not so much sound wise, but its user interface is unlike anything else you’re likely to find. I used Synplant almost exclusively on a couple of the cues in FEZ, namely “Puzzle” and “Knowledge.”. There’s a more traditional set of parameters that can be adjusted under the hood, but the primary interface revolves around experimentation and moving tangentially from one sound to another. You have a seed that can grow in any number of directions, and each direction represents a different sound. You sort of mess with this to come up with new and interesting sounds, and you can theoretically generate a bunch of new patches in a very short time this way.

Native Instruments Kontakt. Kontakt is king among software samplers, and has an incredibly robust feature set and an amazing community of third-party content creators. On 'Spirit’, I created a peculiar instrument using two SNES soundfonts, and a really neat Kontakt script by SonicCouture called 'Pentagonal Pyramid’, self-styled as a 'Black Key Harmonizer’. I also used Okedo Daiko samples on 'Fear’ to make the big chords more thunderous, and Double Bass and Tom samples on 'Loom’ (Available on FZ: Side Z).

Native Instruments Reaktor. I used the Reaktor Ensembles SteamPipe and SteamPipe 2 on 'Flow’. These Ensembles are great for flute and other airy sounds.

Lennar Digital Sylenth. This synth has a cool arpeggiator function. I think I only used it thrice though, in 'Continuum’, 'Love’, and for the creepy arpeggiator sounds at the beginning of 'Fear’.

Native Instruments Battery. Used pretty much only for the TR-808 style drum sounds in 'Home’ and 'Adventure’.

Propellerheads THOR. This synth is an old go-to favorite of mine. THOR has fantastic routing capabilities, so I ended up using it to create the arpeggiated 'rain’ in the second half of 'Fear’. This is the only instance on the soundtrack where I used an external application / sound source, rather than working purely within Logic Pro. THOR is a featured synthesizer in Reason.

Track Descriptions

Adventure. This track is an anomaly; it’s the first track I wrote for the game, and I had experimented early on with running it through tape. I initially wanted to run everything through tape, but this turned out to be too impractical, because of the way we were syncing audio to things in the game (recordings on tape tend to fluctuate in tempo ever so gradually). Within a few days of meeting Renaud (FEZ evil genius programmer) in Montreal, I wrote this track. It represents my first feeling about how I thought the music in the game might sound. this was before any deliberation with Phil about the music direction, and it was inspired by some of the music concepts associated with FEZ pre-2010. Despite the majority of the music in the game being atmospheric, there are still a few spots where you will find some more upbeat, percussive tracks. If you look.

Puzzle. this track evolved out of messing around with a new instrument I picked up at the time, called Synplant by Sonic Charge. It’s got a real unusual but ingenious interface... if you’re into synths I highly recommend checking it out. this song is a mockup of how the music behaves in the game. In game, this song is broken up into 27 individual assets, and plays phrases periodically, and moves through different keys depending on the time of day in FEZ.

Beyond. I tried with this song to create the notion of a massive pulsating structure that controls and manipulates rather indifferently. Despite that, there is an upswing in the mood, because contextually, Gomez has really happened upon something special. The beginning sound, which is the sound of Gomez entering a special portal for the first time, is an attempt to capture a sound similar to that of the THX logo. That sound always gave me goosebumps. I feel lucky that creating that sort of effect these days does not require thousands of lines of code.

Progress. the seed of this song is actually an idea for a piece of music that starts in a center location and expands out into 8 or 9 different directions. Each level would have its own key and as you move around this area the music would move with you. For the soundtrack edit, I tried to convey this same idea, where you’re surrounded by these machines that are in repetitive motion that evolves slowly over time.

Beacon. this song started as two chords played while drinking a bit too much while trying to pronounce words in a Cantonese dictionary. there is a second version of this song that only plays at night, and you can only hear it in the game.

Flow. I’ve always loved the idea of a track that starts as a single note, builds all the way up, and then crumbles back down to nothing. that was the idea here. I tried to make everything wet and airy to match the context in game. this is one of the few places where I use some more complex instruments, like synthetic flutes and tube percussion.

Formations. I wanted to mimic the sound of water dropping from stalactites and other things happening in distant underground places.

Legend. this track started as me messing with chords continuously moving up major 3rds, which is a sound I like. I tried to do something almost flute like with the melody. I think I was probably inspired a little by the Shire theme from Lord of the Rings.

Compass. there was something about “Distant Worlds” by Sam Hulick (the map music from Mass Effect) that I always liked, and for some reason, I kept envisioning Shepard standing at that map screen in his ship when I was writing this track. It has a stability to it, like “Love on a Real train” by tangerine Dream, that I wanted. I also wanted it to feel really warm and sunny, and somewhat important.

Forgotten. During the game, the music from this track takes on a different form, depending on where you are and what time of day it is. this version is edited down to incorporate portions of each. the “shaky” distortion present here is a result of modulating the amplitude of various parts with a noise signal.

Sync. this one sort of just came out randomly. I was working on another track, and one of the ideas that I started vamping on was this riff. I held onto it and came back a year later to make it into a song. towards the end of the song you’ll hear some pulsing parts. I like to label those “Reich” in my song session (for Steve Reich).

Glitch. this song is made entirely out of elements from other songs in the game. How many can you spot?

Fear. this song is actually three separate cues in the game. I wanted to mimic the sound of a bunch of bats, and then I wanted to mimic the sound of rain and thunder. In game, the “thunder” strikes are programmed to trigger at a random time, to keep the player on his or her toes.

Spirit. this song is composed almost entirely of black keys, which when playing by themselves, created a major pentatonic scale. the entire song is an improvisation, making sure to only play one note at a time. the other notes you hear are also black keys, but were added as a MIDI effect.

Nature. this song uses a single instrument. During the day, critters scurry here and there, going about their business. But come nightfall, they come out to dance. the first section is a bunch of overdubbed improvisations, without tempo.

Knowledge. this song is made up of a bunch of short parts in different time signatures. try counting them!

Death. I originally came up with this melody on my Aunt’s upright piano during Christmas. then I recreated it with basic chord accompaniment using the keys on my laptop, while on a bus, headed from Boston to Hartford. I definitely tried to tap into the 80s horror mystique of bands like Goblin with this arrangement.

Memory. this track is a foreshadowing, but it also has to do with something that already happened, so I was planning on calling it “Aftshadow”. But that sounds dumb. the game plays these phrases based on a random time scale, to help convey a sense of vague memory... something like saudade.

Pressure. this is one of the more literal musical treatments. Do you feel hot? Don’t listen to this song if you’re in an oven. Don’t be in an oven.

Nocturne. I’ve been sitting on this nugget for about 6 years. It started as the second half of a piano improv, where the first half sounded a bit too much like Beauty and the Beast. But I finally found a good place for it. the dungeon music from Legend of Zelda was always a favorite of mine as a kid. In an odd way this is sort of a tribute to that.

Age. I wrote this song at a local game jam (tIGJam) for my friend Randy who was making a game about Sarajevo. But secretly I was experimenting with some early sonic ideas for what the game might sound like. I later revisited it, improved the structure a bit and added some lovely bitcrushing effects. It has this slow molasses feel to it, that to me felt like a really old, really abandoned and forgotten place.

Majesty. the motif this song is based around was something I wrote down in a Reason file 5 years ago. I never expanded on it until I made this song. I really wanted to try to make acoustic sounding taiko-ish percussion using synths, and I think, relatively speaking, it worked out. If you’re wondering what memory “Memory” is about, this here might be it.

Continuum. Phil had this idea to end the game with Moonlight Sonata, but I decided to go with my man Chopin instead, because I liked the movement of this song better. I worked from a MIDI file I found somewhere on the internet and spent a lot of time getting the pacing how I wanted. the arrangement does a lot to mimic what’s happening on-screen.

Home. this track was heavily inspired by a certain strand of music from the demoscene, and a game called “Jasper’s Journeys”, which both use tracker software. In these instances, each note falls onto its own channel, and you are limited in how many channels are available. If you listen closely, you’ll notice that the arpeggio instrument that runs through the entire song, never overlaps itself too much, because it only ever allows 4 notes to play at once. this helps to keep things clear.

Reflection. I wanted the moments after Gomez leaves his village to be reflective, so I continued with the Home idea, but stretched it out and tried to make it sound more solitary and inward. Ironically, this happens to be one of the longest songs in the game, but it only plays the first time you leave the village, and if you’re not totally horrible at platform- ing, you can get to the next area of the game way before the song is over.

Love. I was messing with a minimoog one day and wrote this randomly. It was probably the most complete piece of music I had ever written entirely to be performed in one go at a piano or keyboard. (Also might be the shortest, haha)

FZ: The Remix Albums

I think someone else had the idea, but I can't remember who. People started approaching me with remixes after some word got out that there was a remix album in the works. I only asked a handful of people, but got some really great remixes from people I didn't ask or know, and they ended up making it into the project because of their quality level. I initially intended to do a single remix album, but due to the number of remixes I split it into two parts.