[New Zealand-based Jeramiah 'Module' Ross talks to Gamasutra about the music he created for Sidhe's intrigung new PSN title Shatter.]
, the game designers at Sidhe
have taken the archetypes of the Arkanoid
bat-and-ball formula across the second and a half dimension.
Your character, a high tech plank capable of maneuvering vertically up and down while sucking and expelling air, has just escaped its cell in a futuristic prison-like battery farm.
Over the course of the game, the batís personality is reflected not only through the driving hopefulness of the background music but by your avatar's occasional inclination to break out into electronic song.
Lending the downloadable Playstation Network title its sound design and score is New Zealand-based musician Module (Jeramiah Ross)
. Already an accomplished live performer, the title marks his first solo game soundtrack for the Playstation 3.
Since the music from the game was made available, streaming free from the Bandcamp website
, it has had tens of thousands of plays online. In this interview with the composer and sound designer, Module discusses the one-and-a-half year development of the Shatter
The conversation offers an inside look into the evolution of the background music: from an oppressive industrial soundscape to a journey of liberation and discovery.
Module, thanks for joining us for this talk on the subject of your music for Shatter. Youíve mentioned online that the soundtrack took about a year to complete. What were some of the reasons for the extended length of production?
Module (Jeramiah Ross): I came on board early in the development of Shatter
, and as Shatter
evolved, so did the soundtrack. I worked very closely with Jos, the music producer from Sidhe, and it ended up becoming quite a collaborative process between me and the game studio. We tried lots of different things, and at some point in that process the aesthetic of the game became solid and it all made sense to us.
This soundtrack has gone through two separate iterations. What were some of the revisions that took place between the prototypical score that youíd worked out and what exists in the game today?
The biggest revisions were to the feel of the music. The initial feel of the soundtrack was quite machine-based. The soundtrack was focused more on the machines that the main character is fighting.
Later we realized it would be cooler to give the bat a bit of personality by basically creating the music from the batís perspective. It became less about these industrial-type soundscapes and more of an emotional journey. At that point it all just really fell into place.
If I were to mention a few of these tracks on the Shatter soundtrackís set list, would you be able to offer a description of it from your point of view?
Definitely. Thatís my favorite bit.
With ďKinetic Harvest,Ē what were you looking to accomplish for the soundtrack?
Following the storyline of Shatter
, the bat character has broken out and is escaping from this battery farm. Heís escaping from prison, really. I wanted it to have this feeling like youíre in a car, driving away from somewhere bad, where itís like, ďCool, Iím outta there!Ē Thatís there in the bass line of the guitar, the sense of escape and freedom.
Where in New Zealand are you based, by the way?
I live in Wellington, pretty much around the corner from where they filmed Lord of the Rings. We like to call it ďWellywood.Ē Itís a beautiful place, really. I live right by the ocean and have a studio here where I work.
Looking out my studio window, Iím overlooking rolling hills and a beautiful ocean, a vast sky. Itís an amazing landscape. You realize it if you go overseas and come back. Itís also a great country for its support of the arts.
What are your thoughts on the music for track 2, ďAuroraĒ?
In that part of the game, the bat is in a beautiful, peaceful environment, away from the machines. Itís like youíve driven down the road from the prison, and now youíre in a wide-open landscape with beautiful hills and blue sky.
Like what you might view looking out the window of your studio?
Yeah, pretty much. Sidhe is based in the same town where I live. Because theyíre local, I could go over to their studio and work really closely with them on a daily basis, which has helped Shatter
What is the meaning behind the studio name ďSidhe?Ē
The name comes from Irish folklore. A Sidhe is a magical fairylike creature. It has to do with ancient folklore and creating magic for people to enjoy, here down under.
I had done some music for them for a game called GripShift
for the Playstation 3. A lot of them had come to performances of mine, gigs of Module, and I had become really good friends with them. I went and had a meeting with them, and it developed from there.
What can you say about the next track on the set list, ďGranular ExtractorĒ?
Here, the bat has left this beautiful environment and come across another machine world. You can hear industrial-type bass lines, while thereís still quite a vibrant trance aspect to it. The Granular Extractor is basically this big machine, and I wanted to create a mechanical sound that still hints at the bat characterís feelings in experiencing this world.
What was the thinking behind the track for ďKrypton GardenĒ?
On this part of the soundtrack, heís come into an environment thatís very surreal. Really, his journey is beginning now in a completely unknown environment, so I wanted to create a sense of exploration. The electric guitars and this space rock vibe start coming in, giving it that sense of adventure.
On ďFreon World
,Ē that is where he comes across this frozen wasteland that used to be his home. I wanted to create this feeling of longing and sadness, like what you would see in some of those sci fi movies in the Ď80s, where they would go back to what used to be their home and it would be all old and broken. I did that with a lot of emotional lead guitar solos.
Emotionally, track five is one of my favorites because of whatís going on with the electric guitars. Itís also a reference to adventure arcade games like Golden Axe
You have been acquainted with games for some time?
Yeah, Iíve loved games for years and years. From a creative angle, I can look at a game project and really appreciate the amount of time and energy spent on it. In my downtime, when Iím not making music, Iíll play the odd game here and there. I like checking out games and seeing whatís going on in terms of the audio production.
Are there any memories of games from your youth that you can recall?
. I used to play that religiously. Almost every day after school I would come home and play Xenon 2
. In particular I remember when you got to the boss level at the end and you went to the shop to upgrade your ship. I played the game the other day for a laugh and I ended up playing it for just as long as I did when I was a kid. Even after 15 years I still remember those tunes. Itís a really good game and it stands up to the test of time. If there were a remake for the Playstation 3, I reckon it would be awesome.
shares aspects with lots of different games. I didnít really contribute to the design outside of the sound, but playing Shatter brought to mind the games I loved to play when I myself was a kid. Thatís my driving force in approaching the soundtrack, to create music that gave you that feeling.
Is the Ď80s a special time to you, as far as influences for Shatter are concerned?
The 1980ís in terms of technology and music was the age of discovery. Itís when people were experimenting with digital synthesizers and computer systems. Itís when computer games entered everybodyís lounge. I just wanted to capture a bit of that and have it on the soundtrack.
How would you describe track six, ďAmethyst CavernsĒ?
We were already hinting at this being an emotional journey of this bat traveling through these worlds, so I thought it would be awesome if he started singing away to himself. Here the bat has entered this beautiful environment and heís singing. Thatís generated by a free VST plugin, written by a Japanese programmer, that I found on the internet. It was perfect for the sound that I imagined for the bat character.
Seven is ďNeon Mines
.Ē This one is almost ďGranular Extractor, Part Two.Ē Itís quite a machine-type environment and has a driving, gritty baseline. Again, itís a mixture of the industrial machine world and the feelings the bat is going through. Heís traveled through all these worlds now, so heís got more of an attitude and feeling a bit more rock Ďn roll.
Was it useful to you as a structural component to have motifs that emerge early on in the game return in later tracks?
I do that a lot through the whole soundtrack. If you listen to ďThe Dark Side of the MoonĒ by Pink Floyd, they have a commonality of recurring sounds and structures that makes it a whole.
Ē continues in the same vibe as track 3 and track 7, while moving further away from what the batís feeling. Heís intimidated because things are getting a bit crazy now. It has a strong repeating melody, as heís going deeper and deeper into the machine empire. Itís kind of like approaching the Death Star.
This is to set you up for the next track, ďThe Xenon Homeworld
,Ē which is really quite dark. Track 10
is the batís final push through the heart of the machine world. I suppose I wonít go too much further into it for spoilers.
Youíve mentioned that Ableton Live was one music software program utilized for the score. What ways did you feel the software was useful?
In terms of audio software, thereís nothing better on the market. Iíve used just about everything there is out there, but Ableton Live is almost transparent in terms of the ways it interacts with the computer. Any idea I have musically I can achieve.
Having a piece of software that Iím comfortable with and that I know inside and out really speeds up the process. Itís great to walk into the studio with a clear mindset, knowing what youíre going to do, because having to spend time messing around with too many software settings can really kill the creative process.
You perform music live. Was this a relevant experience to the creation of the music for Shatter?
Iím playing everything on the soundtrack, from lots of electric guitars to lots of synthesizers and drum programming.
Do you find it a very different process to be on tour compared with writing music at your studio for a videogame like Shatter?
Yeah, theyíre almost opposite ends of the spectrum. When youíre performing live, what you really need to do is engage people. The energy of the music has to be high impact to get people out there to dance. Maybe it doesnít have to be as detailed as a videogame soundtrack would be. As long as it has a good beat, you can almost get away with anything.
In a game soundtrack the experience is deeper. You need to flesh out all those subtle details that you wouldnít really need in a live gig. Youíre taking the player into an audio world of your creation. Itís completely different.
Do you improvise on stage?
Constantly. Iím quite known for it. The way I have my Ableton Live set up, if I want to stretch out a song for thirty minutes, I can. I write the songs for the live environment to allow for that improvisation to happen, to play around with the crowd and get everyone clapping and making noises. Thatís something Iíve been doing for a number of years, but lately Iíve moved more back into the studio.
On Shatter you were responsible for the sound effects as well as the music. Is it a consideration that the effects not clash with the background music and diminish the emotional impact of the audio?
That very fact was a main reason for taking on the sound effects job. Because I had spent so long on the sonic frequencies of the music, I knew exactly where the sound effects needed to be.
I worked really closely with Antony, the programmer at Sidhe, and we went through all the events in the game looking for sounds for the world of Shatter
. All the sounds of the ball being hit by the bat were generated with various software and synthesizer plugins. That was to give the bat a bit of a character, so that when he is hit and reacts to things he has his own voice. Each of the individual brick sounds had to be different in type. It was a very intensive project to take on straight out of doing the music.
I felt my working relationship with the game company was good enough to do it. In making music I want to take people on a journey, and Sidhe are very much the same. Working with a company that shares the same creative aspirations, you couldnít really ask for anything better.
Has planning the release of the soundtrack online been in the works for awhile?
Thatís something that really evolved after Shatter
was finished as a whole. We used Bandcamp, which is an online service for putting your music online. Within the space of three days weíve had 30,000 plays. Itís pretty crazy, really. Itís a lot of attention for the soundtrack. On most reviews websites, weíre getting 9ís and 10ís for sound, along with lots of highly positive comments.
Was the soundtrack for GripShift made available on Bandcamp as well?
Yes, the tracks I wrote and a couple of remixes are also available on Bandcamp
. We decided to stream it for free, and itís really nice that people want to listen to it. People can purchase it as well, directly from Bandcamp.
Do you foresee the possibility of other digital or physical media for the Shatter soundtrack?
Iíve talked to Sidhe, and itís definitely going up on iTunes within the next month. Then there is talk of it being released as a proper compact disc, with extended artwork and things like that.
How long ago was the live party to celebrate the release of Shatter?
That was just under twelve hours ago. It was awesome. We had Antony, the programmer on the game, sitting in a chair, playing the game. I had the soundtrack playing through Ableton Live alongside each level, and I played guitars and keyboards.
A couple years back I was doing shows all over New Zealand, so that prepared me for working long hours on Shatter
and making commitments that I had to meet. And at the end of the day, what else would you rather be doing? For good stuff you have to put in long hours. After a year and a half of hard work that we all put in, itís a good feeling. And I also had a baby girl the day the game was released.
Thatís good planning. How'd you manage to time that?
I didnít. It was just random.
It must be especially rewarding to have completed the game project because this release was such a long time coming.
Itís a really satisfying feeling creatively to release this project and have a worldwide audience. Just knowing that itís tied in with a really good videogame, you couldnít ask for a better dream-come-true job, really.
[Images courtesy of Sidhe.]