Rare Musician Tepid Seat
Q: Hey guys, to start off I’d just like to say that the music in Rare games has always been the best around, it’s great stuff. My question to you Music Peeps in the Tepid Seat is: “Does it take a long time for you to come up with the different music tunes in any of your games, and which game’s music has taken you the longest to produce so far?” and also “Is it hard to find all the different sounds that you add to the music, especially in the Banjo-Kazooie games?”.
Grant: Hello Luke. The amount of time it takes to think up a piece of music can vary. When a designer first tells you what he wants I normally get an idea of the style straight away. The actual composing (for Banjo-Kazooie) probably took a couple of days per piece. Then we decided to add all the MIDI channel fading and I had to go back through them and add the various different versions, e.g the underwater fade for the levels with water. The instrument selection was mostly stuff I sampled from existing synth modules. Obviously I had pretty tough memory restrictions, so it was a case of making the best of what I could squeeze in!
Q: First off, Rare’s musical prowess leaves me speechless. The consistent quality of your audio department must make other developers jealous… the only other video game music that can compare, in my humble opinion, is Yuzo Koshiro’s Streets of Rage trilogy soundtrack. Obviously, you seem to be influenced by all genres of music, but who are your favorite artists (other than yourselves…)? I detect a stong influence by Eric Serra for a lot of your more mature, atmospheric music.
P.S. Major respect to the one behind the DJ Mummy in GbtG. So funny!
Dave C: I tend not to listen to much video game music (believe it or not!). The people who have had the most impact on me from a creative point of view have been Brian Wilson, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, and Grant Kirkhope. Not necessarily in that order though.
Robin: Here’s mine: Carl Stalling, Miles Davis, Danny Elfman, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, Christopher Young, Howard Shore (even before he did LOTR), Wynton Marsalis, Marc Shaiman, Frank Zappa, Steve Vai, It Bites (probably one of the greatest bands that ever were/are as they are reforming), Clark Terry, Mark Isham, Nicholas Payton, Roy Hargrove and Thomas Newman.
Q: The first thing I’m sort of interested in is what the shortest and longest development time each of you have had for a song, if you can remember. I know it varies depending on the person and/or the song. The most recent song I’ve made only took eight hours, when the longest I can recall took longer than two weeks. Although, I have some projects on my hard drive that have been sitting for a few months 😉
Secondly, what kind of nice toys do you have in your sound studio? 😉 Are there any preferences to how a song is made? For instance, how much of a song is manually clicked in with a mouse (if at all), played through a MIDI keyboard, or played live? I guess a combination of the first few would be likely — I kind of like the precision of using a mouse and clicking down notes. And mostly because I can’t keep a beat that well 😛
Robin: For me, the initial idea for a song is what usually takes the largest amount of time. It can take a few days to get an idea that I’m totally satisfied with. After that the rest is relatively quick, filling in the other parts takes a day or two. I generally play the music into Cubase using a MIDI keyboard. For faster parts I might do it at half speed then increase the tempo afterwards.
Steve: Depends on how complex and long the tune needs to be. If it is a big epic theme that lasts for about four mins, then I’d aim to get it finished within a week. Mostly I like to finish a tune in two to three days (by then I’ve usually got a backlog of sound effects to get done, so I can’t spend much longer).
An important part of my studio setup is the master keyboard (music, not QWERTY!), a Fatar SL880 which is weighted 88 note like a piano. I always use this to input the notes as I’m a pianist and find this the most musical method. I usually setup a click track and play along to the metronome sound, building up track by track with each instrument in Cubase. For the large scale tunes I use around 80 MIDI tracks to get a big sound. I’d often quantize the percussion, but the rest stay in as they’ve been played. This really helps make it sound more musical for orchestral stuff.
Dave C: 1. Shortest took about four minutes. The longest, about a month. Nobody liked the one that took a month.
2. We have a drum kit. That’s the best toy. You can bash it really hard and make good noises.
3. You cannot play music with a mouse. We like to use real instruments now, wherever possible; however even music that’s played on a MIDI keyboard is still live, if it’s played well!
Q: Hello Mr. Wise! How and when did you start working at Rare? I know you’ve been there since the early NES days, but when exactly? Few games had credits back then. And how did it come about? Was composing videogame music the job you wanted to do from the start?
Were you ever in a band? What “regular” bands do you listen to? Any that have touched you in a particular way? Any recommendations to someone who enjoys your work?
How does it feel to no longer be restrained by inferior hardware? Does it feel good or did you enjoy the challenge of working with the NES/SNES/etc.?
That should do it. And please know that rarely a day goes by without me listening to one of your soundtracks, mainly DKC2, DKR, DKC1 or Battletoads stuff. It touches me *that* much.
Dave W: When: 1985. How: I was working in a music shop demonstrating a Yamaha CX5 Music Computer to a couple of people, Tim & Chris Stamper. I’d written and programmed the music for the demonstration material. They offered me a job.
From the perspective of being at college, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do for a job. At that time I wanted to write and play music; it’s what I enjoy most. I liked playing in a band, but didn’t want to become a superstar, so to speak. At the same time I wanted my music to be listened to by as many people as possible. So composing videogame music fitted my predicament very well.
I still play in a band. I listento and enjoy literally all sorts of music. My favourite band were The Police. As for recommendations: anything that’s good!
I always enjoy a challenge. No longer being so restrained is also a challenge.
Q: How is it to make music on the Xbox? Is the different big between the N64 and the Xbox? And how close do you work together with the develop team, and do you get enough honor if a game turns out to be great? Anyway keep up the good job guys.
Robin: Xbox rules – we can concentrate on (live) performance as opposed to trying to fit it in memory
Q: Banjo’s music has to be some of the best for any game or movie ever. As we all know, a simple tune which was first introduced to us in the intro was repeated over and over level by level, but never ever got boring as it changed the instruments and tempo level to level. The same catchy tune was seen all over the place and each time had me singing the jingle even when I wasn’t playing the game. Whose idea was this? I salute you.
Also – what is your team’s overall favourite track? I have to say mine is Kameo’s Once Upon a Time – dear lord, the game’s worth buying just for that…
Grant: Hello Matthew. The designers on Banjo (or Dream as it started out) heard the music I’d done for GoldenEye and liked the way I’d used the Bond theme in different ways and asked me to do some stuff for Dream. I started writing music and gave each character a theme of their own (similar to the way it’s done in opera). Then the game got changed to Banjo and I had to start again. The MIDI channel fade thing sort of grew out of that. So I’m not sure whose idea it was… mine!
The Kameo tune’s not one of mine, you’ve got Steven to thank for that one!
Steve: Yip, that Once Upon a Time track is one of mine. Glad you liked it! I think that track was used as part of some Kameo demo a while ago. The theme pops up now and again throughout the game. It’s fun writing these type of tunes as it sounds a bit different from other game music out there. The music to Kameo is very diverse and I’ve tried to make the soundtrack as original as I can, so hopefully you’ll enjoy the end result.
Q: When it comes to making music for types levels done in games before I assume it’s pretty easy to do. (Such as underwater levels.) But how hard is it to do stages that haven’t done in a game before? An example would be the Hornet Hive stages of DKC2 fame. At that time, there hadn’t really been any levels of its kind yet the DKC2 musicians pulled off a track that fits the feeling of being in a beehive with dripping honey perfectly. Is it really easier said than done?
Dave W: I think matching up music to levels is where most of the skill is involved. If we’ve managed to make it sound as though it was easy, well that’s a job well done.
Sometimes, making something sound easy and obvious has been the hardest part of the process. I had no idea what the underwater level should sound like. How do you write something that sounds as though you’re struggling to stay afloat? Or a beehive dripping in honey? The experimentation is all part of the fun of writing music.
Q: When voices were used in Conker’s Bad Fur Day, was it the music team that was responsible for the work on that, or a different team like the sound effects people?
Robin: Music team? Yes, I suppose, if you count one person as a team…
Q: Why is/are Rare/the composers always referred to as ‘bods’ or something similar? We never get to hear from them as themselves, and we always have to have some sort of assumed knowledge to know who is talking about what. Musicians are people with names! Does Robin agree that more attention should be paid to the Rare soundtrack albums? Let’s get an insert with some info and the composer’s name on the cover for crying out loud.
Okay, and the Jet Force Gemini music is in my top three game music soundtracks ever. And pretty close to being some of my favourite music of all time. I know that wasn’t a question, but I have to express my pathetic nerdy-ness.
Robin: Yes I agree, I’m a big believer in credit where credit’s due, not just for the composer but for the musicians who perform on the pieces too.
Keep your eyes peeled for future CD inlays… say no more!
Q: How do you get your ideas for your music? Video games have been coming out now for a while, and all the possible themes that could be thought up have been used. Yet, music producers still find a way to create a new piece that sticks. What type of creative process goes into this? And also, what do you have to know to get into a profession such as the music team?
Steve: Hello Jeff. I usually start writing a piece of music for the game after seeing what the level is like, is it action/mysterious, etc. and from a few descriptive words from the designers as to what they had in mind. Then it’s a case of sketching out a theme with Cubase SX (music sequencer) to structure the music, and then orchestrating it with the instruments I think work best. After I’ve written the whole thing using samplers and sound modules in my room, I will often book the recording studio we have here at Rare and record musicians on top of the MIDI-based tracks. That’s the usual process. As for where I get my ideas, well, it’s usually trial and error and lots of coffee. Nothing beats the buzz you get as a piece comes together from starting with nothing at all.
As for getting into the game music profession, for me I came from classical music background. I got my Bachelor and Masters degrees in music composition, then worked for two years as an assistant to a film composer in London where I did lots of score preparation, orchestrating, setting up recording sessions, etc. It doesn’t really matter what musical background you have though, as long as you can write a good tune and in lots of styles (and quickly!). At Rare I split my time equally between composing music and creating sound effects.
Dave C: 1. Sometimes it’s hard to come up with original music, without creating something that’s so far out that nobody but another musician will want to hear it! The best way to keep fresh is to listen to lots of music that you wouldn’t normally listen to. You can often learn a lot that way. Think you hate country music? Get some Johnny Cash and think again!
2. You have to know a hell of a lot about music for starters. Music is a lifetime of hard study, and it can be one of the least financially rewarding professions there is. Now where did I park my Lamborghini?
Q: I’ve always enjoyed your magnificent works, and I’d like to ask, were there ever some music themes that you made but were cut for whatever reason? What comes to mind are the 16 original levels of B-K, and if any of the music made for them was merged or cut or even ported to another game.
Grant: Hello Cyberen, I’ve got quite a lot of pieces that didn’t make games for one reason or another. Some of the Dream stuff made it into Banjo-Kazooie and I think some of it made it into DK64 as well. But usually music is written for a very specific situation so on the whole it just gets dumped!
Q: Hey you guys! I’ve always been wondering… why do you have to use MIDIs in the video games instead of actual recordings of people playing the songs with instruments? Also, what type of MIDI program(s) do you use?
Dave W: I guess this is a question as to why we use MIDI in preference to streamed audio. With regard to Star Fox Adventures, it was purely a case of using available resources to best effect, bearing in mind these are shared with graphics and gameplay mechanics. In-game we used MIDI to keep the processing and disk access to a minimum. However, we mainly used streamed audio for the cutscenes.
Dave C: We use both. Incidentally, a keyboard can use MIDI, but it is still an instrument that requires someone to play it.
Jamie: I am a Game Boy musician so using MIDI is my only option. The reason for this is because MIDI files take up very little space in terms of memory on the game cartridge. An average MIDI file would be in the order of 15 kilobytes and the instrument samples will take up around 1Mb. One minute of uncompressed audio is about 5Mb (mono) which is more than the entire budget for audio on most GBA games! The programmers and artists wouldn’t be too happy if I used actual recordings as there would be no space left for the game!
I use Cubase, a midi sequencing program to compose the tunes which is linked to a software sampler called Gigastudio. I use Soundforge to process the samples to be used in-game.
Q: The question that kept haunting me for ages is why wasn’t David Wise the one who composed the music for DK64??? I know he was the creator of the WONDERFUL DKC trilogy music… so exotic, so atmospheric… DK64 was spoiled with the cheesy cartoonish music of Mr. Kirkhope. I’m not saying he’s not a great musician, in fact he did a great job with the Banjo series. But I really missed David’s taste on the N64. What happened there!?
Dave W: I really don’t know. But thanks for your kind comments.
Grant: I’m just going outside to jump in the pond.
Q: What exactly are the procedures you’ve gone through to redo the N64 sound effects, voices and music of Conker’s Bad Fur Day for the Xbox? And how can I expect it to sound on a surround sound system?
Robin: All the tunes have been redone, in most cases with the addition of live instruments and vocals/choir. All the single player sound effects are at a high sample rate (high quality) as I was dead clever and kept the original recordings on the off chance I might need them again for a day when they would fit on a console that would be able to accommodate them.
Q: I found it pretty nifty that you Rare folks used VSL for GBTG. Did you use this library for SFA as well? Out of curiosity, what do you guys use for your harpsichord sounds? If you wanna be really nice and satisfy my curiosity, you could tell me all of the major libraries you use, but of course, you don’t have to.
Dave W: For Star Fox Adventures, I used the Advanced Orchestra Library as the VSL was not available at this time. We have the advantage of being able to use many great sample libraries, so we draw our samples from many sources.
Q: To Grant Kirkhope: are you self taught or are you schooled in music? What has been the hardest task you’ve has to accomplish as a composer at Rare? When you applied at Rare, did they care at all about the High School grades or did they just listen to your demo tapes?
How are musicians picked for a game, are they assigned a team and stick with that team or are your names drawn out of a hat? (P.S. The perfect games musician would be Grobin D. Kirkland! A conglomeration of Robin, David, and Grant!)
Grant: Hello Justin, I obtained a degree from the Royal Northern College of Music in classical trumpet, but I’m a self-taught guitar player and very poor pianist!
Hardest task, hmmm… probably trying to get all the audio to fit into GoldenEye. It certainly caused myself and Graeme Norgate a few headaches! The MIDI files were the worst as we had to work out if any bars of music that any instrument played were repeated, then only have them in the piece once with the number of times to be repeated written into them (if you get my drift). This meant that if you came back to the piece for any reason it was a right pain trying to work out what was going on!
Rare just listened to the music when I applied (mind you, I did send in five tapes over the course of a year before I got a reply!). We still work this way today. It doesn’t matter how well you are educated in music… if you can’t write a good tune, all the degrees in the world ain’t gonna make a difference.
Generally musicians stick to the same team. When I first started I was given DK2 on the Game Boy to do, then GoldenEye, then I was kidnapped by the Banjo mob and I’ve been there ever since.
Q: Nobuo Uematsu (Square-Enix) and Koji Kondo (Nintendo) are regarded highly as the two greatest composers in video game music. What are your thoughts on that?
What do you think about game companies bringing in outside sources (i.e. rock and R&B groups) to record music for games? I find that today’s game composers are taking a backseat to the hottest bands in the music industry and all I see from that is good, original talent, going to waste. Does something like that pose a threat to your job?
Dave W: The two you mention are both great musicians who have obviously been very influential in defining video game music. As for your other question, I look on this in the same light as film soundtracks. The music is there to support the story. If a piece of music from a band supports the action perfectly, great, use it. However, it’s probably not going to work too well supporting something that requires a little more subtlety, such as progressing the story. Many films use both.
Jamie: I’m a fan of both composers, particularly Koji Kondo. His music is so simple yet memorable and always suits the game style perfectly. I thought the Wind Waker soundtrack was great, especially the Dragon Roost Island theme!
As for bands in games… I think it’s OK to feature artists that suit that a particular genre, e.g. rock/punk/rap in snowboarding games, but for story-based games the music helps define the characters and immerse the player in the game world. Here at Rare we have a musician per game which enables us to write music and customise it to match the game perfectly. I don’t think this would be possible using well-known bands.
Dave C: Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis are highly regarded as the two greatest boxers of all time. What are your thoughts on that?
Q: I too am a musician and I hope one day to become a professional composer for whoever may need my services. The only tool I have that enables me to put my talents to use is a little sequencing software program for my PC called Fruity Loops. I was wondering what programs do you use and what it involves. I don’t doubt that you have access to a high end, state of the art studio, or pretty close to it, but whatever it is, I know it’s better than what I have at my fingertips. If there are computer software programs that you use often that you would recommend that are excellent, by all means, help a brotha out!!
Dave W: I personally use Steinberg Cubase SX. It records audio, plays back virtual instruments and has loads of great audio effects to enhance your production. They have different versions such as SL for a more limited budget, but essentially the technology is the same. Digidesign Pro tools is also a very good product, with many versions to suit different budgets.
Q: I am a huge Banjo/Conker fan, and would like to know the following things.
1a) How on earth did you guys do the Boss Music for Banjo-Tooie?
1b) Is the ‘Hag-1’ tune a Bossed-up version of the Cauldron Keep tune?
2) What techniques do you lot use to create Boss tunes from Start Menu themes? A good example of this is the ‘Baron 2’ tune.
Thank you for answering these questions and keep up the excellent work!
Grant: 1a) Erm… I sat in a darkened room and waited for a blinding light of inspiration to descend from the heavens… not really. I like to write big melodramatic tunes that are a bit tongue-in-cheek and Bosses are always a good opportunity to do this.
1b) Not really, it’s a standalone piece.
2) The Grabbed by the Ghoulies main theme was a bit of a joke melody myself and a couple of the artists used to sing. When I was trying to come up with a melody that could be used throughout the whole game I thought I’d give a go and it worked! The Baron2 tune is loosely based on 633 Squadron, since the Baron was in a plane I thought it would be fun to parody a classic World War II film piece.
Q: This is to all of the excellent musicians at Rare: have you guys ever considered releasing unused tunes on, say, a personal website? I know that you might have to get permission from the company, but would you do it… please?
Steve: You’re right, I doubt we’d get permission to do this as the music belongs to Rare. There is good chance at least some would go on the company website.
Q: I’m intrigued about sound quality some of the earlier N64 titles you’ve composed tracks for. Downloading the MP3s from the website, the music sounds to be of a slightly higher quality than in the games themselves? Is this the case or are my TV speakers just worse than those on my PC?
Also, even if they do match up, when you compose the music, does it sound just like the final product or do the various compression and tracking compatibility issues mean that you can’t go for the exact sound you start with?
Robin: I think it’s your TV speakers!
In the ‘old’ days you started out with something completely different to what you ended up with, now there’s “no no no no no no no no no no no no there’s no limits”… except for disc space and memory, that is.
Q: Hello, this is my first time ever writing Rare, although I have been browsing the site and playing the games since 1994. I was wondering – what is David Wise working on nowadays?
I loved the Donkey Kong Country music, but after those games, I basically stopped reading up on current events. Also, who currently leads the music team, if there is one particular leader?
Thanks for your time. Oh yeah, one last question; has Mr. Pants ever been a respected member of society? Seems to me that if he wore just a bit more, he’d be quite the man.
Dave W: I’m now working on a game for Xbox and a revamped version of DKC3 for Game Boy Advance.
Robin Beanland heads up the music department.
Q: Is it true that Grant uses Eddie Van Halen’s own guitar to do his guitar tracks?
Grant: Hello John, it is true. I used to play trumpet for a band called Little Angels many years ago (cough!). We were the opening act for quite a few of the big rock bands of the time. We toured with Van Halen and became friendly with them, especially Eddie Van Halen (Eddie is one of the nicest people you could wish to meet). One day he took me to one side and said here’s a guitar… I nearly fell through the floor! Needless to say it’s my pride and joy and I use it for all the guitar tracks I do.
Q: For those of you that put the tracks up on the website, there’s one thing I don’t get. I was wondering why you prefer the ‘fade out’ rather than the ‘stop dead at looping point’ trend. I know the latter can be more annoying in playback, but when the MP3s are looped – as the tunes were originally intended in the games – it works a lot better than a fade out, particularly if the file goes through the track twice before cutting off at the end. Just curious about your motives for that one.
For Robin Beanland – I’d love to know what you call the track in CBFD (without spoiling anything) after Conker says he “doesn’t have a daughter”, and also during the… cough… ‘incubation’ scene. I’d love to have that track! Also, I wanted to ask about the Going Down track. See, back when GoldenEye came out and G. Norgate made those two elevator themes, I couldn’t believe how popular and widespread a piece of elevator music could become. People even now display it on their Winamp playlists with pride. Not bad considering you never released MP3s of it! Which brings me to my question – you used better instruments, and a more elevatory theme too… but why didn’t you make it long enough to loop? You didn’t think it would solely prevent players from progressing past the lift, did you?
“It’s great – but we need the big picture – please make it so for Reloaded!”
Robin: Fades sound nicer!
I think the track you’re referring to is the Professor’s Theme, listen out for it in the Live portion of Reloaded.
I may go back and embellish the elevator tune… if I get time!
Q: Hello music folks, my question is this: would you ever consider releasing an actual accompaniment music book from the Banjo-Kazooie or Diddy Kong Racing soundtracks? It takes me hours of countless minutes to compose/transcribe the notes to guitar, and I will continue to do so, but if you did have that in the works, how glorious it would be.
Dave W: A very quick look on the internet using the words: Diddy Kong Racing Music MIDI. Many others have also taken the time to transcribe these too.
Dave C: Transcribing is good. Keep it up!
Q: The biggest thing I always look forward to in a Rare game is the music. Arse-kissing aside, perhaps my personal favorite, Mr. Kirkhope, could answer these?
What was the transfer over to Xbox like in terms of how easy it is to produce music (as opposed to N64)? Who does all the work of making all your MIDI sequences and samples ready to use on the console? At what point in a project do you start composing music? How much time are you generaly given to finish all the music and sound in a game? And, finally, what are your favorite kinds of music to listen to in your spare time?
Grant: Hi Kenneth. The Xbox is much easier than the N64, as we now stream music and don’t have to try to sample instruments and get them to loop in as little memory as possible. I pretty much prepare all the music and SFX and then the whole project is handed over to the team audio programmer, who makes it work in the game. The audio programmer on my team had also written some really good stuff for me, and does have to put up with my constant moaning…!
I usually start composing music when the project starts. I’m usually adding music and SFX right up ’til the end as there’s always something that pops up that needs sound.
I suppose I have to confess to being a bit of a rock fan… I do listen to classical stuff as well (Elgar, Vaughan Williams to mention a couple). I also like people like Danny Elfman and John Williams.
Q: As for the oddest question I could think up… In the Killer Cuts soundtrack, track 7 aka “Full-bore”, listen to it for about 50 seconds. You hear the strangest thing: A GOAT. Why is there a goat (sound effect) on Fulgore’s level? Is there something we should know about Fulgore? And Kudos, for having the grandest musical scores I’ve ever heard in my many years of gaming! BAAAHH!
Robin: That’s not a goat, that’s a hip 90s studio technique called gating. Or, according to Mr. Norgate, it’s a patch on the Yamaha SY77 called ‘Lost Surf’
Q: As someone who has dreams of writing music for video games, I’ve always wondered one thing; do the game programmers create a level (scene, world, environment, etc.) and then have the score writer write a song around it, or is it vice versa? Or do they each just make something individually and mesh them together in the end?
Jamie: I personally like to look at what the level looks like, whether it be in game or concept art. This gives me an idea of the music that is needed. Playing the game also helps in deciding what tempo the music should be.
Dave W: On the whole we take a look at the environment and gameplay mechanic and hopefully write something to complement it.
Dave C: In an ideal world, the first one is what would happen. However game development doesn’t exist in an ideal world. What happens is that the level is not ready for a long time, and when it is, it’s not really playable anyway. So the composer often tries to create the music from descriptions that the designer has given him. Then, when the level is finished and playable, it is nothing like the description, so the music doesn’t work. The composer then rewrites and re-records the music, and everything is going great, but wait – the designers have decided to change the level so that it’s set in Hong Kong instead of Mexico. Guess what? New music, that’s what!
Q: Gameshark hackers (I’m sure you hate them :P) have uncovered several missing tracks in some of your N64 games, such as, ‘Advent’ and ‘Mumbo’s Raindance’ in Banjo-Kazooie. Were these for levels that remained unfinished; or tracks that you didn’t deem worthy of the soundtrack? Thanks a lot, and may you continue to bless us!
Grant: Hello Fishonthecarpet, I think ‘Advent’ was a tune that was supposed to be played on a map page in Dream but never got used in Banjo. ‘Mumbo’s Raindance’ was to be used when Mumbo did a raindance, but I don’t think we ever got as far as actually putting it together. I think the artist did animate it but I don’t remember seeing it.
Q: Is the team or composer that worked on the music for Perfect Dark going to be working on the Xenon launch title Perfect Dark Zero? I REALLY enjoyed the music on said stellar title and would love to see the folks responsible for it take another swing in the same direction.
Dave C: There were two composers working on the original game, and one of them is also working on the follow-up.
Q: I thought that there was one particular cut-scene in Star Fox Adventures that had such a great little score which made that particular cut-scene in the game so enjoyable to watch. The part I’m talking about is when Fox encounters Krystal for the first time at the Krazoa Palace. The sax is what makes this part work and it creates all the emotion that is intended for the scene.
Now my question is who came up with that music? I’d also like to know what your thoughts are on the music in this particular cut-scene? Plus that little glance back that Fox does at the end of that part is awesome haha!
Dave W: I have to put my hands up and admit that the sax music was a satirical tongue-in-cheek reference, pastiche, and respectful nod to the Love Theme from Blade Runner, as composed by Vangelis.
Krystal’s theme was derived from my original Dinosaur Planet theme. I just sexed it up as best I could by playing the melody on my sax in as laid back a manner as possible. As for the glance back, credit has to go to the animator Mike, who matched it up to the music brilliantly..
Q: My question is how did you get into designing and playing music for games? I am currently doing GCSE music and it would be great if you gave me some ideas to help me along as it would be my dream job to make music for video games. I have always enjoyed composing and playing music, and designing tunes for a Rare game would be excellent!
Jamie: I started learning music from an early age, starting piano lessons at six then trumpet lessons at eight. I got my first games console when I was about 13 (a Sega MegaDrive) and playing games actually inspired me to write my own music. I often found myself listening to the soundtrack rather than playing the game and used to learn to play the melodies on my own keyboard. From there, I started to write my own tunes and dreamed of one day writing music for games. I carried on with music throughout school, performing in many bands and ensembles and afterwards did a degree in music and music technology.
My advice would be to play and listen to as many styles of music as you can, being able to write original music in different styles is essential when composing music for games. A degree for me was useful, I learned a lot about sound recording and MIDI, but I don’t think it is essential. If you want to be the best, and you want to beat the rest, dedication’s what you need!
Q: Please, to the almighty Jebus himself, tell me that ‘Rock Solid’ and ‘Enter the Vertex’ have been remastered in Dolby Digital. I beg of you make it happen Mr. Beanland. Please. Every Rareware song is a masterpiece. Especially those two.
Gabe W. from “The States”
JRobin:Yes… kind of.
Q: I would love to know some of your favorite composers (both VG and non-VG), how you got in to the business, where your backgrounds are, what will make you stick with video games, and any advice for someone that definitely finds himself joining beside you in making true art. Thank you for being part of what I have grown up obsessing over.
Dave C: My background in music goes like this: father was a jazz saxophonist and we always had lots of instruments lying around the house. As a child, I had a guitar with one string on it that I used to play little songs on. Learnt to play the piano too, but just couldn’t quit that one string guitar! Played in lots of experimental rock bands as I grew up. Spent my early twenties traveling up and down the M1 and M6 in the back of a smoke-filled Transit van. Almost got signed to a major label in 1995, but the deal fell through. Wrong place, wrong time etc. Spent the next five years being very poor, living in a squat, and writing music for skateboarding videos. Sent out lots of cassettes (hey, remember those?) to TV production and video game companies with a note that said “SAVE MY LIFE!”. I think Rare was the only company that listened to the tape. Thanks guys!
Q: Hey Musical Magicians, getting straight to the point. Grabbed by the Ghoulies and big old Banjo share the same music (or at least edited scores). Why did you choose to do this? Save ya some time (you cheapskates) or just because it suits the game?
Oh, and well done for the great music on Perfect Dark and keep the squeaking, humming and general throaty noises from Banjo and Grabbed by the Ghoulies coming as they are a trademark for you guys.
Sam The Man
Grant: Hello Sam the Man, I think you need your ears cleaned out… the music on those games is completely different!
I’ll do my best to keep the noises coming!
Q: I’d like to ask if the music for Kameo has now been changed in any way when the visuals/models were altered to be more ‘mature’? If so, why? If not, why not? (Lovely stuff, by the way, let’s get some more ‘Journey Begins’-quality choonz uploaded. :))
Oh, and who’re your favourite movie composers?
Martin “Alf-Life” Badowsky
Steve: Hi there Martin. Yes, quite a lot of the Kameo music has changed since the game became more mature. Why? Well, the music was never particularly cutesy or cartoon-like, but it has certainly become a lot more epic in some areas and I hope the more fantasy/magical-sounding tunes will really complement what you’ll be seeing in the game. I’ve always had to strike a balance with the quirkiness of the music alongside the dramatic stuff, but I feel strongly that it does need both and there will be lots of catchy little tunes throughout the game. Anyway, I like writing music, and it doesn’t take much prodding to get me down the studio recording the guys from the music department singing like an angelic choir on the latest set of cutscenes.
Glad you like the stuff I’m doing. I’ll see if I can get some more ‘choonz’ up on the website for you.
P.S. My favourite movie composers are John Williams, Hans Zimmer and Bernard Herrmann.
Q: Right, from what I hear, using music on the GB and GBA takes up a large chunk of processing power. And yet, you guys still manage to manage some stellar music on the little portable. Whether it be the old-school GB in titles such as Donkey Kong Land (which had its own original soundtrack, not just ports of the SNES tunes), Conker’s Pocket Tales (with the excellent Krow Keep theme and the obscenely catchy mini-game theme that snuck its way into Bad Fur Day), or — more recently, the whole of the Sabre Wulf soundtrack, which is so good that it’s a crime that it won’t get a CD run so that it doesn’t have that GBA distortion. Distressingly, the theme from the upcoming It’s Mr. Pants is also stuck in my head, and that’s from merely watching a video of it once or twice. How do you manage such great music on the Game Boy systems, and what portable music would the music team be most proud of?
Jamie: I am most proud of Grunty’s Revenge because it was my first game for Rare and I did pretty much all the music and sound effects for it myself. I am also proud of DKC 1 & 2 for Game Boy as it was a huge challenge for me to recreate Dave W’s music from the original!
Robin: Depends on the game as to how many channels you’ll get: Sabre Wulf was eight, Pants was eight (I think) and Banjo Pilot was four. As for which one’s my favourite, I’ll have to go for working on the Xbox as there’s no bloody voice limit on the tunes!
Q: Hi, these questions are directed to David Wise. What, in your opinion is the greatest song you ever composed? And second, the DKC series’ music is considered some of the best gaming music ever composed. What was your inspiration for the songs, and how did you manage to squeeze so much quality out of the SNES’s skimpy little SPC700 chip, which is known for its programming difficulty? It’s truly a work of art. Also, what is your favorite work from the DKC series? My favorites would be DKC2’s Mining Melancholy & Disco Train.
Dave W: I personally like the Water level from the first SNES DKC game. Both from an emotional and technical perspective.
The inspiration for the DKC SNES music: at the time there was a synthesizer called the Korg Wavestation. I wanted the SNES to sound similar to this synthesizer. It used a method of playing back waveforms in a pre-defined sequence. Very much like many drum loops are broken down and replayed, but in a more melodic way. It was also a good way getting around the fact that the SPC700 didn’t have a dynamic filter per voice. I could therefore use many very small single cycle waveforms, which sounded much better combined than if played individually.
Q: Well I’d like to ask…
1. What music software does the Rare music team use (Sound Forge?), and what live recordings are used?
2. Does Rare pride itself with a proper sound studio (obvious really), and what equipment is there?
Dave C: Well I’d like to tell you that we use Apple Macs, but that would be inappropriate for someone who now works for Microsoft, so I won’t!
Dave W: 1. I use Steinberg Cubase SX and Wavelab. Native Instruments Virtual Synthesizers.
2. Pro tools HD with a Pro-Control. A few good microphones.
Q: How much collaborating is done between cutscene animators and the music makers? Is it like a movie where all composing must take place after the scene creation, or are there ever times when the music is penned along with the scene design?
Does the music department ever take a hand in the programming at times when music is more crucial to the events of the game? Probably the best example I can think of would be the battle against The Great Mighty Poo in Conker’s Bad Fur Day, where the music pretty much had to be ready to change at any moment, no matter where in the measure the music currently was. How are problems like that tackled?
Robin: Cut scene first, music last, unless it needs to be in time to the music.
The Poo boss was down to a culmination of the three disciplines: ‘good’ design, music and software. Chris Seavor designed the task, I had to try and make musical sense of it and Mike the programmer had to make it all work.
Watch out for the Live and Reloaded version of this piece of gameplay in all its 5.1 glory!
Q: So, how many people work on the music in your games? You have a team, I know, but approximately how many people does it take to deliver the awesome video game music to the public? What kind of instruments do you guys play to get all the neat sound effects in your music, in particular, the End Credits of Perfect Dark? By the way, is there any way you guys could put Perfect Dark MIDI files onto your website?
Well, thus ends my questions. I’m looking forward to your future work. Later on!
Grant: Hi Bill, let’s see… I did all music and SFX on Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie, just music on GoldenEye (SFX and more tunes by Graeme), just music on DK64 (SFX by Eveline), just music on Perfect Dark (more music by Dave C. and SFX by Martin) and all music and SFX on Grabbed by the Ghoulies. I hope that gives you some idea of numbers per game.
Most people play more than one instrument here. Piano, guitar, trumpet, trombone, banjo, bass, drums etc. etc.
The end credits piece in Perfect Dark is pretty much guitar-based. It was tight on memory (as usual) so I had to find a few guitar phrases that I could sample and reuse. There are three or four lead lines and three or four rhythm lines (played on my Van Halen guitar of course)!
I don’t think MIDI files would be any good as they’re pretty unrecognisable…
Q: BSo from listening to all the soundtracks from Wizards & Warriors to Perfect Dark I see a long range of influences. Who would you compare yourselves to? The Monkees? Nine Inch Nails?
If you ever want some touring buddies, I front a nice American Punk band always looking to branch out. Props on great music over the years.
Dave W: The influence for Wizards & Warriors: this was more an exercise in trying to suggest a chord progression whilst only having one monophonic channel to use. Hence the arpeggio. This was originally written when I was at school. Synthesizers or keyboards that could play more than one note at a time cost an absolute fortune. Fortunately Casio had just brought out a smallish gray keyboard that was relatively inexpensive. It only had a few types of sound, one of which reminded me of a harpsichord. And this is how the theme for Wizards & Warriors was conceived.
Q: I am well up on music production now as I have been doing a course at Point Blank in London, I have learnt about mastering and just wondered if you do the mastering there yourself or get it done at a mastering suite.
Also, I just wanted to know how often you write music for the game you’re working on (also how quickly) and, if it’s you the musician judging if the music is going onto the game or someone else.
Are you still working with Cubase on your tracks? It was because of your company that I decided to learn the music package Cubase in light that I may get a job there one day.
Dave C: 1. We tend to do our own mastering in general. Waves mastering plug-ins are highly recommended!
2. I write and record music every day, because that’s my job. The lead designer has the final say on what makes it into the game, but they do tend to trust the composer’s instincts (mostly!).
3. Some of us swear by Cubase. One of us hates it with a vengeance, and has burned his copy! It’s not really important what tools you use, it’s your musical ideas and skills that count. The best software is the one that doesn’t interfere with your creative flow, and that’s different for everyone. It’s really best to have some knowledge of all the major packages, as they each have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Q: First of all, I’d like to say that I was very impressed at the boss music used in BT and DK64. It did a great job of creating the feeling that you’re actually fighting for something important for once in your stinkin’ life. That added to the fact that each individual boss’s music was remixed from the world you were in. I was very disappointed when I played Grunty’s Revenge, however. The same boss music was played for every boss… including the final one. I can understand how the GBA has limited capacity, so I suppose I’ll let it pass. I’d like to know if we can expect to see more of this excellent boss music in future Rare titles. It really brightens my spirits when I listen to it.
Grant: Hello Blue Boo, I really enjoyed writing the Boss music for DK64 and the Banjo games. I hope we continue to brighten your spirits!
Q: Who sorts out the musical pieces? Is it one guy, or a collective of people (like yourselves)? I loved the music from the Donkey Kong games, and Perfect Dark (probably Rareware’s best ever game, next to Conker’s Bad Fur Day). So who decides which bit of music goes?
Arran J Middleton a.k.a FinalGamer
Dave W: The game producer makes the final decision.
Robin: It depends which team you work on and which game designer you work with, some leave you to it (these are the best ones), some have bizarre opinions about music. Here are some of my favourites:
“Don’t use shakers, they confuse children.”
“Make it sound like Firestarter.”
“Use one of those French pianos.”
“Make the drums bigger.”
I suppose it’s a joint effort between the musician and designer/project lead, people can’t always describe what it is they’re after but they know what it is when they hear it!
Q: My question to Grant Kirkhope: I’m curious to know if you also listen to other game music and what your favorite game music and game music composers are and:
–Are you influenced by those composers?
–What are your favourite game music compositions (and why?)
–Or are you actually more influenced by movie scores/composers?
(I always kinda consider you the Danny Elfman of game music, since your music sometimes has that same feel as his older scores: very melodic, but with a dark edge! The ‘Banjo Overture’ is a good example of this.)
Grant: Hi Kevin. I like quite a few of the older game soundtracks really: Zelda on the SNES, Secret of Mana, Shadowrun to name a few. I thought Fable on Xbox was great.
It’s good to take a look and see what everyone else is up to, but I like to try and come up with stuff from my own head!
I take the comparison to Mr. Elfman as a great compliment… he’s great at that Batmanesque darkness. When I was trying to think of a way to get some darkness into Banjo-Kazooie whilst retaining the humour, I found his score to Beetlejuice a great source of inspiration.
Q: I’m a huge fan of your music! I love every single piece. But… I am very sad that it never came to soundtracks for Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini and Star Fox Adventures. I’m just wondering if there’s still a chance of making one for SFA? Mr. Wise did an excellent job on that one. And I’m also wondering if you’re planning to release soundtracks for Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Kameo: Elements of Power and Conker: Live & Reloaded?
Dave W: The licence for Star Fox Adventures is owned by Nintendo, and it is ultimately their decision about a soundtrack release.
Steve: I think there is (hopefully) a good chance that a Kameo soundtrack will be released, filled with as many tunes as I can cram onto it. I’ll try and pop some of the music to the many cutscenes I’ve scored onto the soundtrack as well (they are the most fun tunes to write as they don’t have to loop).
Q: This question goes out to the guy who’s been my all-time favorite music composer (both for video games and non) for around a decade now: David Wise. Have you released anything not related to video games, or at least not under Rare? What is your musical background? And, if you haven’t already done so, do you have any plans or desires to extend your work beyond merely the video game medium (not to say that it’s not a legitimate medium, it’s just that I feel that much of your music deserves to reach more ears than it has)?
Stephen A. Barrow
Dave W: My parents had a piano which I initially learned to play by ear, until they felt compelled to send me for piano lessons. I then wanted a trumpet, and played in a couple of brass bands. Then, being a predictable teenager, I ditched the piano and trumpet for something far louder, drums. I really enjoy writing music for video games.
As for writing for any other medium: no plans at the moment, but who knows?
Q: Morning, you lot, I was just wondering something about the way you make music… do you ever get the urge to just do something really wacky? For example, inserting “BLART!” in the middle of a boss track for no apparent reason, or remixing an entire soundtrack for bagpipe music?
Your actual music is great, by the way (especially the BFD tunes). Keep it up!
Robin: Listen out for the phrase “stick it up” in Conker: Live and Reloaded.
Steve: I get all kinds of urges, some are even musical. It is often during recording sessions when there are a bunch of people singing their merry little heads off that I suggest certain lyrics to keep them entertained (nothing rude, mind you!). There is a boss tune that (very subtly weaved into the mix) contains phrases such as “We want pizza, pizza, pizza!”. Don’t worry, we’re not advertising a particular brand of pizza here. It was nearly lunch time and we thought it was pizza day. Maybe I should end this answer about here
Dave C: I do this kind of thing all the time. Then the lead designer hears it and says, “It’s great Dave, but could you take out the bit where it goes ‘BLART!’?” Bloody philistine!
Q: To begin with, thank you for all the splendid music that has made your outstanding games some of the greatest ever produced. Even today, with all the industries recent advancements in technology, few artists can match the jazzy brilliance of the Donkey Kong Country soundtracks, the cinematic intensity of Jet Force Gemini, the synthesized techno of Perfect Dark, or the dream-like mystery of the Banjo series. With Kameo and Conker sounding very exciting, I can’t wait to hear how far the musical bar can be raised.
Influences and inspirations? I can certainly hear a little Debussy in Banjo, and some Vangelis and Fiedel in Perfect Dark. Who else is there and what do you find appealing in their work?
P.S. The attached clip mixes Debussy’s Gigues with Kirkhope’s Cheato theme. The similarities are certainly more than mere coincidence, but I’m not complaining as it suits the mystery surrounding Cheato perfectly. Good stuff!
Grant: Hello Patrick. Erm… I can honestly say I wasn’t thinking of any of these composers when I wrote those pieces of music, I’m afraid. With Banjo I was trying to find something quirky that would match the nature of the characters and in Perfect Dark I was trying to get that kind of electronic feel mixed with orchestra. I think the composers I most admire are Danny Elfman for his great-sounding dark music in Batman, also John Williams is unbeatable when it comes to a memorable theme.
Actually the reason Cheato’s piece sounds so like the Debussy piece is because they are both based on whole tone scales. Yet again any similarity is coincidental I’m afraid. Whole tone scales are so distinctive I don’t think you can hear them without thinking of something else.
Q: Ahoy, ye musical scallywags.
If a tree fell in the woods, and nobody was around to hear it, what note would it be?
I’m looking for a good MIDI sequencer and some good samples. What would you recommend I do?
Which one of you would win in a mudwrestling contest? I’d place my bet on Kirkhope, but I’m not sure.
Jamie: a) Depends on the height, width and density of the tree.
b) Go to a music shop.
c) My money’s on Novakovic.
Q: For the upcoming Conker: Live and Reloaded Xbox title, are you going to re-record all of the music from the N64 version for the remake and add some additional tracks not included in the original, or will you complete a brand-new soundtrack that more suits the Xbox rendition and in particular, the Live component? I also wish to know – do Rare currently have any plans to release a CD containing music from their classic titles – such as the excellent CBFD, Jet Force Gemini or PD? Perhaps as a freebie with Kameo or Conker? Thanks a lot for your time.
Robin: Every note of the single player has been revisited with the addition of a couple of new tracks. As far as Live goes everything is completely new, swanky and (let’s not forget) interactive.
There are no current plans to do a CD of the N64 music (keep checking the Downloads page), but keep an eye open for up-and-coming soundtracks from our current list of games, there may even be a few surprises within the discs.
Q: Probably my favourite soundtrack for any game EVER is DKC2: Diddy’s Kong Quest. The big question I wanted to ask the ‘Music Peeps’ is this: after hearing consistent quality for over a decade now, I have to wonder how you guys DO it! Do you think you could give some insight into how you make your music come to life? How you take steps to make sure it doesn’t become bland and repetitive, or run off the track and into aimless chaos, or get crowded with neat audio effects that end up bringing down the piece rather than enhancing it? I understand it’s from talent, skill and experience, but are there any useful guidelines you follow – and are probably second-nature – to help you produce the solid and powerful music I enjoy so much?
Lastly, give my thanks to Mr. Wise. I honestly think his music is soul-stirring.
Dave W: Talent, skill and experience, hard work, determination and arrogance are all required, and many more I’m sure. Listening to and deciding what you think is the very best.
Also, working for a good company that has the foresight to realise how important music is to the presentation of a product. And working with a talented and committed team. The music really does benefit from working with a great team of professionals: programmers, producers, artists and designers working together to create something special. We’re all part of the process.
The best compositions are those that happen naturally, the ones that come from within.
And thank you all for your kind comments.
Q: A couple of questions for the Banjo/PD/DK64 tune-maker Mr Kirkhope, if you don’t mind boring him stupid with them.
Firstly, I’ve always wondered how you feel about the countless MIDIs of your work that pop up online. I think the Banjo games and DK64 have had more fan MIDIs made for them than any other N64 games, and I’ve made a fair few myself (to varying degrees of appallingness). Is this a matter of pride, embarrassment or complete indifference?
Secondly I wonder what you consider to be your best work. You see, I consider the original Banjo-Kazooie soundtrack, and parts of the Perfect Dark one, to be your best stuff, but how do you feel about them? Of which games/tracks are you most proud?
A friend of mine recently told me you used to perform with ZZ Top. This seems to me to be, well, particularly unlikely. Would you confirm or deny this for me? Go on, be a sport.
Mike, Chaff City
Grant: Hi Mike. I take the MIDIs of my stuff as a compliment, people have got to like it to want to make new versions of it… I hope! I’m very proud of all my stuff. The Banjo music was my first big game (after GoldenEye, but I used the Bond theme for that game) of original music so I really enjoyed doing that. It was nice to do PD as it was a chance to do something that was darker and not comedic.
I’m very proud of Grabbed by the Ghoulies as that was my first game using streamed music. I used the Vienna Symphonic Library for the music and it sounded so real it was great, even got nominated for a couple of awards for music… they must be deaf!
Actually, your friend is nearly right. When I was with Little Angels we played with ZZ Top at Milton Keynes Bowl (Bryan Adams was also on the bill)… Rock ‘n’ Roll!