Oh Mellotron, oh Mellotron how I love thee. The pavlovian bell to my drooling mouth. It’s in so many great albums, I must admit that I have indeed been conditioned strongly to this sound: so naturally I sought out samples of this instrument some time ago (just a little weird that we sample samplers now). Just adding two abstract chords with the ‘string ensemble’ tape gives the piece just the right feeling I was going for. Ultimately though, the piece receives the greatest boon from the player. Acting as ‘arranger’: by picking up powerups and slipping in and out of first place—the player has a huge impact on the music s/he hears.
Here we have a drum loop I made and processed. I found some delay processing that evoked fond memories of Yokko Kanno’s ‘Piano Black’ from the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack (if you’ve never heard that soundtrack, put it on your list). Anyways, I needed a loop that was interesting enough to be able to loop for the entire duration of the piece. We were allowed two 2-bar loops to alternate between for each lap to sync with the boost animations. To preserve the time-based processing that actually makes the loop interesting, I cheated the 2 bar loop by recording the delay tail down, chopping it off, and then layered into the actual 2 bar loop so the rhythms still interact. I picked a very simple pad to go on top, I wanted this to be the foundation for anything else I added from here. To break up monotony I made some beat aware ‘stingers’ out of IDM style synths that randomly play on beat. Notice also when I pick up a boost or take the lead I have triggers in place to change the music, more on that in lap 2.
So with lap 2 I add some more moving texture with a bell-like synth. It’s amazing how much time a simple broken chord or arpeggiation can buy compared to their blocked counterparts (Tubular Bells anyone?). Then I added some reverberant and mellow cymbals to start subliminally baking that zen atmosphere into the piece. I designed the boost and first place elements to help ease the “loopiness” that comes from hearing the same 4 bars over and over. The boost is the original loop smashed, crunched, and swept through with all layers not percussion dropping out for a tiny 2 bar ‘break’. When the player takes the lead they activate a latin percussion loop. The first place loop is meant to grab attention away from the rest of the loops and provide a completely novel texture. To make the latin percussion cohesive with the sci-fi sheen of the rest of the music I ran it through the same processing as the initial drum loop (and applied the same delay slicing technique to collapse it to 2 bars). However, there was still one element missing from my original vision for the level…
Before I loaded a single instrument into my DAW I took a good look at the general look of the racing level. Robots whizzing about on hovercraft in what appears to be the post apocalypse (reminds me of certain minigame in Chrono Trigger). Then I did what I always do when composing—just waited for my brain to start filling in the silence with it’s own musical gestalt. I heard a chill electronic vibe juxtaposed with driving electronic percussion to create a background that supports high speed action without distracting from it. I immediately heard a wealth of pads and one of my personal favorites, the mellotron, leading the way—so I hit Logic’s Ultrabeat and Kontakt’s Absynth 5 to start chasing my mental image. I used a vertical approach to arrangement. By layering sounds in slowly, the piece could gain a sense of evolution which was absolutely vital considering it had to consistently hinge on 4 bars at 140 bpm to seemlessly coordinate with the game's boost mechanaic. Without layers, this could get old very fast. Let’s look at the most basic state of the music heard during lap 1:
This is an interactive music prototype for a racing game; I originally did this as an assignment when learning the Unreal Engine. I decided to paste some of my comments from the assignment up here with the videos so you can get a taste for the enthusiasm I have for doing this.
The comments short version: it's very important to utilize interactivity in your composing in video games--to neglect to do so would waste the medium's potential.