Article: ReMixer Interview: Mazedude (Christopher Getman)

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Mazedude Interview Logo

While OC ReMix is filled with so many talented musicians as to make the label "unique" a cliche, it truly sums up Christopher Getman (Mazedude), who wears the crown as OCR's most prolific veteran with over 45 ReMixes and counting (only outmatched in number by OCR founder djpretzel). Despite over 8 years at OCR and rarely arranging the same game more than once, his latest ReMix, Mega Man 2 "The Wily Malfunction", is his first arranging material from the popular Capcom series.

Relying on his trusty tracker and a creative process that's perplexing by admission, Mazedude draws from influences ranging from Steve Reich, Basil Poledouris and Edward Shearmur to Nine Inch Nails, Radix and Jeroen Tel. The end result has not only been a collection of strangely shaped homages to classic video game themes, but something that respectfully honors the music of film scores, postmodernism and the mainstream. Sifting through Mazedude's entire body of work demands an open mind and exemplifies a golden rule at OC ReMix: whether a ReMix is from Blaster Master, Klax or The 7th Guest, try every ReMix regardless of game and genre or you'll miss out on your next favorite piece of music.

Chris fielded questions from djpretzel on how he best fits in game music remixing projects, how much his formal education influences his work, his other creative disciplines, what direction he hopes the OCR community takes, and a lot more.

Mazedude profile
  • Real Name: Christopher Lee Getman
  • ReMixer Name: Mazedude
  • Date of Birth: 1980/10/26
  • Birthplace: Oswego, New York, USA
  • Websites: Mazedude Music / Mazedude Productions
  • Family: Julia Getman (wife), Audrey and Erich Seuhs (younger sister and brother-in-law), Heidi, Hannah, and William Seuhs (nieces and nephew, respectively)
  • Education: Valedictorian of Hannibal High School (class of 1998), Bachelor's of Music from SUNY Purchase (magna cum laude)
  • Tools: I use a rather odd combination of programs. I create and manipulate my samples in Sound Forge, sequence them with Schism Tracker (an Impulse Tracker clone), and do my post-processing and mastering - as well as any additional recording - in Pro Tools. I don't exactly recommend this method, but it took me so long to master it that I don't want to give it up. :) And I like that it gives my work a very unique overall sound, that is very hard to identify as being produced by one specific program.

Interview

Conducted May 27, 2009 by David "djpretzel" Lloyd:

djpretzel: While you've expressed appreciation for Japanese composers, and have certainly released some fantastic arrangements of their work, you've put equal if not greater emphasis on American game composers. How would you characterize the differences, if any, between Western and Eastern VGM?

Honestly, it all comes down to the individual composer, regardless of nationality. If I were to list my favorite VGM composers, the list includes American, British, Japanese, and much more. Outside of VGM, the list would also include Australian, Russian, Greek, and beyond... and personally I think that's a great thing. The fact that music can transcend a country of origin to create a language that is unidentifiable by source location is part of what makes it so fun.

djpretzel: On the same topic, you released The American Album focusing specifically on arrangements of American game composers. It seems like the very title of the album suggests that American composers don't get enough attention, which the website echoes with the phrase "After all, haven't there been enough tributes made to the Japanese guys?" What directly inspired this concept? Why do you think American composers get less attention than Japanese, or even European, video game composers?

It was certainly true at the time; remember, The American Album came about before Video Games Live was launched, and before most of the current American-composed VGM albums were released. Up until then, it seemed that every single concert, arranged album, or tribute was dedicated solely to Nobuo Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda, or another such Japanese composer. And the odd thing was that they were so unavailable; I remember speaking with Stephen Kennedy about the nightmare of a time he had getting Square on the phone to discuss Project Majestic Mix, and when he finally did get through it was very curt and not very appreciative. This seemed a little silly to me, when on the other hand it's fairly easy to get in touch with any of the American composers, who are flattered that their work is being given the attention, and who will actually take the time to answer your questions and get involved with your project.

Plus, I personally seem to fit the mold of the "All-American," so it seemed like being the first remixer to tackle such a project was a perfect fit.

djpretzel: Outside of OC ReMix, you've been active with a bunch of video game music projects, including contributing to albums by KFSS Studios, the Bad Dudes, and releasing your own American Album. How would you compare and contrast each of these creative outlets? Is there ever a conflict of interests or a point where it's all too much to manage?

Well, the trickiest part of being involved in a larger project is that I always tend to be the oddball of the group. The only tracker, the only one not using MIDI, and often doing genres that clash with the vibe of the rest of the project. I do like being unique, but when the project is supposed to have a cohesive sound or quality, that makes it difficult for me and sometimes not as much fun. Such was the case with Squaredance and Xenogears Light. But, sometimes being the oddball is perfect for projects that are open to weirdness, and I fit right in, like in the various Bad Dudes projects, or Joe Cam's Bound Together. Then with my own American Album, it was nice to have freedom to do whatever styles or genres I felt were appropriate, since the entire project was held together by a solid theme and a consistent method of production.

djpretzel: This year we caught up with you in person at MAGFest 7 - what was it like finally meeting so many "Internet people" you'd previously only talked to online? How was the overall event?

Ah yes, well remember I was at the first MAGFest as well, which was truly the first time I met many of the "Internet people" in person, and it was a blast. It's a shame I had to miss MAGFests 2 through 6, and I give major props to Brendan [Becker] for keeping it going all this time. This latest event, like the first one, was great because there is an immediate kinship and respect amongst fellow remixers. There's no need for small talk or "getting to know you," rather based on the appreciation that exists for our respective works, we're able to just jump into the meat of deep conversations. The best part is that these are the sorts of discussions that it's very hard to have anywhere else. When I'm visiting family or friends, the topic never goes into such realms of "composition vs. arranging" and so on, so finally getting to sit and go into depth about such topics with my colleagues at events such as MAGFest is a truly enriching experience. When I first met Mustin and Dale North at MAGFest 1, we jumped right into discussing "the rules of music" as laid down by college professors, and the subsequent effect that has on the creation process, when to break the rules or ignore them completely, and so on. It was one of many great conversations, the likes of which I can't have with just anyone.

djpretzel: I'm sure this has been covered somewhere, at some point, but I'm drawing a blank: what's the background on the name "Mazedude"?

Well, I've always been creative, ever since I can remember. At a young age, I drew monsters, then got into writing short stories, and then branched onward to making puzzles. And by puzzles, I mean word searches, crosswords, and the like, but the main focus was mazes. I would draw them in class if I finished a test early, or during study hall... then I'd make copies and give them away to fellow students, the teachers, friends and family, you name it. I became quite famous in my class for them. As that phase ended, I got into music, computers, and the online world. Now at that time the only online access was local BBSs, accessible via phone line. It was there that I discovered the world of tracking - which was quite new - and where I first downloaded Scream Tracker 3 and started tinkering with the possibilities. Now on the BBS, you had to create a handle, and I took the name Mazeman, given my previous interest. Later on, when my family got AOL, the name Mazeman was taken (by a guy who actually created real life mazes), so I took the nickname of my nickname, Mazedude. And it stuck. I'm particularly fond of it even today; it's simple, unique, and I'm the only one in the world.

djpretzel: As a fellow band geek, but also having studied music more formally in college, do you find yourself thinking in theory when you arrange, or is it more intuitive or "by ear"? How much of what you learned do you think you've applied to ReMixing? Do you feel like you would have been able to make most of your mixes without having studied composition and production?

I try to be very careful to have the rules of theory in mind, but not to be bound by them. I find if I get caught up worrying about the inversion of a specific chord, or stress over doubled octaves, then it interupts the creative flow. So it's more intuitive than anything. Really, the most that I got out of college was by doing live concerts of my work. The time that went into preparing the content for the performers, arranging the rehearsals, conducting, all that helped me grow as a musician moreso than any of the theory or history classes I took. I was also exposed to music across all eras, genres, and ethnicities, which opened my mind and got me brainstorming on new ways to mix it all up, which also helped me grow. So I imagine that all that really made an impact on my creations from then on, but did I become a better composer by what I learned in composition class? Not really.

That's it for the composition side of things, but production, now that was something that I needed a lot of help in, and did get that help in class. It's at the University that I learned about Pro Tools, proper mastering techniques, how best to use various effects, and so on. Granted I still have a hard time mastering a lot of my pieces, considering I use a completely different sample set for everything I make, but still those classes did benefit me a great deal, beyond what I would have been able to figure out on my own.

djpretzel: In addition to music, you do web design and capoeira. How much creative overlap is there with these essentially different creative disciplines? Do you find them to be relatively discrete, or can thinking of one in terms of the other - say, approaching an arrangement the way you would a visual design - influence or benefit the creative process?

Actually, I approach the art forms quite differently. Web design, I see more as a craft, as a job to pay the bills. Music is a hobby, capoeira is a hobby. My main differentiation there is that if I'm not having fun with a hobby, then I change it up. For example, if I'm working on a remix, and I'm getting no joy out of the experience, I drop it and start something else. And that's fine, because I'm not getting paid for the remix, and ultimately want to keep it fun. If a hobby stops being fun and starts being "work," then you need to reconsider it. That's why I never seriously pursued professional composition. I dabbled in it; I worked on a couple film scores while I was in Los Angeles, and really didn't like it all that much. On the other hand, web design I can just do regardless of my personal feelings. I still try to have fun with it, but it's still work, so I don't let it slow me down or stop me if it becomes difficult or tiresome. I enjoy it, but I'm not passionate about it like I am about music.

Chris shows off the influence of another hobby, capoeira, within a reel of Activision motion capture footage used for Spider-Man 3, Call of Duty: World at War and 007: Quantum of Solace

djpretzel: You've been part of the community since 2001, have (at the moment) forty-five ReMixes, have seen artists come and go, the website itself evolve over time, drama crest and subside, and have witnessed most of the important events in the history of OverClocked ReMix. In other words, it seems fair to call you a "veteran"; based on this experience, what observations do you have about OverClocked ReMix as a whole: where the site's been, where it is, where it could/should be headed?

All in all I think it's a wonderful site, and have ever since I joined. I've seen the posted creations inspire new generations of musicians, and that alone makes it all worth it. I've even had other remixers come up to me and let me know that it was one of my pieces that inspired them to get into music in the first place, and that meant the world to me. The fact that it's still going strong after so long is great, and I thought it was incredible that OC ReMix was able to sit side by side with the original VGM composers at the last MAGFest. That, combined with the recent Street Fighter project [Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix], is a testament to where the site is going.

However, I have noticed some odd things happening on a musical and personal level that I'd like to comment on. What strikes me most is that for many, remix projects are overpowering nostalgia. I myself am guilty of this phenomenon. Consider this: when I first got into remixing, my first several creations were all from games that I loved, games that I grew up playing, arrangements of themes that were special to me, and truly nostalgic. To remix them was to give them new life, and touch a part of my past that I held dear, and to recall the memories of going through those games. Then later on, I took on a few requests to remix pieces from games that I had not played. Given the spirit of making music, I agreed, and in some cases made some very nice work... but the nostalgia wasn't there, so it wasn't nearly as much fun. This grew to be the case more and more, where I even joined in some major projects to make a bunch of remixes of themes that meant nothing to me. I had some fun on a musical level, but that was it. And I've seen this happen more and more over the years, and not with just me. Several remixers I've talked to agree. The funny thing is that we get so caught up in these projects, that there's very little free time left for anything else, and we completely stop making remixes of themes we truly love. I find this to be very sad, and ironically it negates the purpose of why we got into this in the first place. If these themes we're now taking on have no nostalgic value, then why be in such a specialized field as video game music? It might as well be obscure film scores or classical favorites, for all we're concerned. This is something I would like to see remedied. I'd like for all of us veterans who are bogged down to somehow get in touch with our roots, and get back to arranging themes that we can relate to and identify with, from games we actually played and loved. Maybe take on less remix projects just for the sake of "being in the project," and make more music just for fun. That's where I'd like to see the future of OC ReMix, in regards to the choice of source music. Back to where we started. :)

Survey

The following are standard questions asked of all interviewed ReMixers:

History

What was the first video game you remember playing?

That would have to be one of the early Atari games, either Asteroids or Space Invaders.

Did you have any formal musical training or education prior to becoming a video game music ReMixer?

I grew up playing trombone, and was a band geek in high school. I performed in every possible group, including band, jazz, Dixieland, orchestra, marching band, All-County and All-State events, as well as solo competitions. So there was a great deal of training there in regards to learning about music and various ensembles. Concurrently, I taught myself the art of "tracking" as a teenager, and got really into composing as result. As graduation loomed closer, I couldn't decide whether to go to college for music or computers, since I was gifted in both, so ultimately decided to merge them and focus on computer music. At the University, I studied both classical and studio composition side by side, learning as much as possible of both aspects of the work as I could... which was rather unique. Most of my peers focused on either one or the other, enhancing their skills in either orchestration on one hand, or Pro Tools on the other... but I did both. It was challenging, but well worth it.

How did you first get involved with ReMixing video game music? Did a particular game soundtrack or artist hook you?

It actually wasn't my idea to get into remixing; originally, I was interested only in composing new works. But at one point in my second year of college, a good friend requested that I take a listen to a track from Chrono Trigger, and see if I could make an arrangement of the theme Mazedude-style. And thus, "Island of Zeal" was born. Nearing completion of my first remix, I decided to check the web and see if anyone else was doing this sort of stuff, and found OC ReMix through our mutual friend Jake Kaufman. After seeing that my mix was accepted, complete with subsequent positive reviews, I decided to revisit some of my favorite themes from childhood, make some more remixes, and the rest is history.

In addition, I found after a while that I had a much better knack for arranging than composing. I still consider myself a composer, but it seems that I'm better at creating new genres and fusions rather than creating clever themes and melodies. Funny.

It doesn't get much closer than that in Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix as Eggo (Dhalsim) and Havikoro (T. Hawk) tussle to the in-game edit of Mazedude's classic ReMix, "Sagat's Moonbike"

Have you collaborated with other ReMixers on mixes, and if so, what was it like?

Do you prefer working alone?
How does collaborating change your creative process?

I think the fact that I've been doing this for several years and have not yet had a successful collaboration answers both questions. Yes, I prefer working alone, but am open to collaboration... the only problem is I have such an unusual method of making music, that it doesn't fuse with most other artists. I detest working with MIDI; that's another factor. And plus, I'm extremely detail-oriented and specific about what I do, so it's not easy for me to trust another with something that I started. But I have spoken with a few other remixer pals interested in collaborating at some point, so it can still happen.

What was the last musical project or track you worked on? Are you working on anything currently?

I've actually had a very slow 2009, musically speaking, since I've been so busy with my web design business. That, and I'm in the middle of buying my first house, which has been monstrously difficult given this economy and the fact that I'm self employed, so that's taken up a great deal of time. But in 2008, I did a lot of original composing for an exclusive music library, I'm currently involved in a few OC ReMix projects, I've been a part of all the projects by the Bad Dudes, and I'm eager to complete my mix for Larry's Tim Follin project.

Based on your experience as an OverClocked ReMixer, what advice would you give those trying to get something they submit posted on the site?

Well this is advice I've already given several times over to aspiring remixers who have contacted me individually, but I'll try to remember everything I've said. :) The most important thing is not to submit anything unless YOU are 100% satisfied with it. Never go into a submission with the attitude of "eh, it's okay, could be cooler, but maybe they'll like it," or "man, the second half could really some more work, but I'm so sick of working on this that I'll just call it 'good enough' and submit it". Those are not the attitudes to have, and ultimately result in regret. The fundamental truth behind any creative project, whether it be a novel or a song, is that "the more energy you put into it, the better the result is." So take the time to polish your work. Don't rush through the mastering process. Often you need to take a few days away from a piece and then come back in order to hear it fresh, in order to give it even more refinement. Then when you can listen to the track over and over without a single moment of hesitation about any of the elements of your work, then it's ready.

Personal

Who/what are your inspirations in terms of ReMixing video game music?

Inspiration comes from several sources. Sometimes it comes from hearing a video game tune and imagining in my head how it would sound in a completely different genre. Sometimes it comes from hearing a non-video game tune and my desire to mimic that style, and then hearing a video game tune that would fit that sound perfectly. It's always different.

Of the ReMixes you've made, which is your favorite? Why?

My favorite works are the ones that happened really quickly. The ones where I got in a zone and cranked out an entire piece in one or two days. Those experiences are always a crazy rush, and leave me both exhausted and energized at the same time when it's over. Then the next day I listen to it and can barely remember writing it. I love it when that happens. And that was the strongest case with "Space Station of the Ancients", which I also love because of the fun blending of old school 8-bit sounds and high quality modern sounds... which tends to be a trademark or my work in general.

How do you approach ReMixing video game music? Is there a particular sequence of events you find yourself following more often, or an initial process you always seem to use?

It's always different; sometimes I have a specific idea in my head, sit down, and crank out that idea. But, sometimes the piece morphs into something completely different after I start, which I quite enjoy. I'm a big fan of the "happy accident", where you mistakenly hit a wrong note or plug in the wrong sample and LIKE it. Then you're at the mercy of the creative flow, and let the piece create itself. The best part is there's no way to predict when that will happen, so when you actually find yourself in the midst of that actual flow, it's a wonderful experience.

OCR's most notable instance of a Mazedude "happy accident" resulted in the experimental A Boy and His Blob ReMix, "Cyborg Blobby"

Which game composers and soundtracks do you admire the most?

I have the most respect for composers who are constantly trying new things (much like myself, hehe), and can release several different works that all sound different. That would be true in the case of Jack Wall, Tim Follin, Kazuo Sawa, Peter McConnell, and - I gotta give it to the guy - Jake Kaufman.

What's one of your best or most enjoyable memories from working on a ReMix?

The best times I've had are remixing pieces that are nostalgic for me, from games that I adored growing up. Such would be the case with "Trippin' on Snails" from Rygar. I loved that cavern theme so much, and I can't explain why... but redoing it in acid jazz was SO much fun.

Worst?

There have been a few times where I answered a request, and sat down to remix a theme that someone else really wanted done, but it was far from my first choice. A couple times I've done that with no real inspiration, but forced it out... and got sick of it long before I was finished. And yet I finished it. I won't say which mixes specifically apply, as I wouldn't want to lessen the enjoyment for those who actually like those pieces.

What's the most challenging aspect of ReMixing video game music?

The biggest challenge arises when I want to tackle an arrangement that is already unbelievably awesome in its original form. Ideally a remix takes a piece and improves it, enhances it... but when the original is already great, that sets the bar crazy high, and makes the process very difficult indeed.