What was your general concept for The Graveyard? What feeling were you going for with the sounds?
I was after a believable and naturalistic feel for The Graveyard, but one that was not regionally specific. The sound is isolated and lonely. Initially you hear sounds from the outside world but they fade quickly and you are completely alone inside the graveyard. Your companions are birds and insects and the sound of grandmas hobbling.
There is a change in climate but not time. The sun becomes hotter with cicadas but the time of day does not change. This is a design choice, and probably because Grandma has come to the graveyard for one simple task so the game doesn't really need to go into the evening. If it had, I would change the soundscape.
When the music plays it completely disrupts the world and breaks the narrative. But so might dying, therefore it is symbolically effective.
Do you play games? If so, how do you feel about the use of sound in games? Are there any games in particular of which you admire (or detest) the sound design?
I tend to like comic and playful titles and mini games such as Electroplankton, Wario Ware, Hot Pixel, Katamari, Destroy all Humans, Rampage, etc... The sillier the better. The sound isn't generally the main focus in these titles but they are the ones I enjoy playing.
I think the sound is fantastic in flOw for PS3, and Audiosurf. Some of the better sound I've heard in games can be found in the fantasy, horror and war titles. Some that come to mind are Metal Gear Solid, Quake, BioShock, Mass Effect, Assassin's Creed... can you tell I live with a teenage boy? I am exposed to a lot of games whether I play them or not.
Do you have a large library of sound recordings? Do you make your own recordings? In a studio with your feet in a sandbox? Or do you go out and capture sounds in the field?
All of the above... I do whatever is necessary to get the sound I want and then I save it in my ever-growing library. Sometimes it is easy and you can find something perfect or something that would require only minor tweaking in a library. Sometimes there is not a match and you have to create it or capture it or find a clever substitute in the library.
Substituting sounds can support the narrative for example, I worked on a film where the lead character was mentally ill, so whenever he saw other people walking and talking, hooves and pig oinks and squeals were subtly mixed in. You have to stretch your imagination and think outside of scale. You are referring to Foley with the footsteps in a sandbox. It's Jack Foley: the first "sound designer" in Hollywood in the 1920s. I have done that too. I have made sound effects in the studio and gathered them in the field.
You are also a musician. Can you talk a bit about that aspect of your career?
I stay very busy musically. I have created works under the moniker Amber Asylum since 1996. I am currently working on the sixth full length CD, due to be released in early 2009 on the doom label Profound Lore based in Canada. Still Point, AA's 5th CD released in May 2007 was voted one of Terrorizer magazine's top 40 albums of 2007. There is an accurate description of this project on Wikipedia. My primary collaborator in Amber Asylum is Leila Abdul Rauf. Our fundamental agreement is not to limit ourselves. We also play with Eric Wood from Bastard Noise, Sigrid Shei from Hammers of Misfortune, Chiyo Nukago and others.
A project that is still in Development that is quite exciting is AEAEA. AEAEA is a collaboration between Jarboe, myself, Anni Hogan and Julia Kent. Julia Kent is a fantastic cellist who has played with David Tibet and Anthony and the Johnsons. Anni Hogan has composed many of our most beloved songs performed by Marc Almond. She is a pianist, songwriter, producer and DJ. And then there is Jarboe as the primary vocalist. We have done a few tracks already. It should be fantastic.
I have contributed to many CD's as a guest. This is actually how I met Jarboe [who is composing the soundtrack for The Path -- note by ToT]. I performed on the Swans CDs, Soundtracks for the Blind and Swans are Dead. I was also invited to guest live for the Swans last San Francisco show. It was a great honor. I played on six Neuosis CD's and Steve Von Till's solo project. I've played on a lot of CDs. I can't really remember them all.
Most recently I cameo on the upcoming Saros and Giant Squid releases. I am also on Jarboe's Mahakali CD, out October 14th. There is an extremely indulgent four minute electric violin solo on Jarboe's Mahakali album called Violence which I think is very cool ;). I work quite a bit with Jarboe. We have very similar aesthetics.
In addition to all of wacky experimental and dark music I perform classical works as a soprano. I have a growing repertoire of art songs and arias. I like the concept of stripping things down to the bare minimum. There is nothing that really compares to standing and singing with no amplification.
How does you impressive activity as a musician combine with sound design for games?
I take a very musical approach to all of my sound design. Although largely intuitive, especially in UI design, imaging or logo design I will employ music theory to create a feeling of leading, discord or resolve... whatever the context calls for. The Graveyard was an ambient score so I wasn't able to flex this muscle entirely but it is always there looming. I may pitch things to relate to one another in the world... For example in The Graveyard, ravens may be pitched relative to meadowlarks, etc... I made the footsteps lower and slower to compensate for grandma's body weight and gestures. Even minor details like these become musical.
What's up for you next, musically?
My immediate musical challenge is plotting revenge against my new and very young neighbors who play dance music until 3 AM on weeknights. They have no idea of what I am capable of. I once used a recording by the Japanese extreme noise artist, Hanatarash, at full volume to banish a rodent from under my house. Maybe it would work on my neighbors.