ReMix: Crush "Electrotherapy"
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Oh hey, that's right, I make mixes too... Sometimes it's hard to remember when site design, coding, administration, funding, and logistics are all taking their (extensive) toll on my time. This mix is my contribution to the Indie Music Cancer Drive's album Songs for the Cure '11, which should release TOMORROW and features originals & mixes from the likes of Alexander Brandon, Mattias Häggström Gerdt, virt, Big Giant Circles, Danny B, Stemage, bustatunez, Alec Holowka, A_Rival, Joshua Morse, prophetik, SoulEye, ktriton, and STILL MORE... as if that weren't enough, right? I'm honored to be included with such names, and wanna thank Josh Whelchel, the album's creator & an amazing contributor as well, for the invitation!
I'm afraid my arrangement of this lesser-known PSP-exclusive puzzler might be the most obscure source material arranged on the album, but while it's both short and relatively simple, I'm still happy with it. I suppose part of me is just glad that SOMEONE ReMixed this game, and in this case that person happens to be me. Crush is probably my favorite puzzler of all time, my second favorite PSP game (Jeanne D'Arc gets the nod), and has an amazing, unique, and utterly awesome soundtrack by Matt Coldrick. Critically acclaimed and criminally undersold, the central mechanic of flattening ("crushing") a 3D world into 2D from any of five camera angles is genius and makes for some truly diabolical puzzles, the storyboard + dialogue intermissions actually create a very engrossing narrative (which most puzzle games lack), and the overall aesthetic is so distinct & memorable... you have to play it for yourselves, and I encourage you to do so, because it's one of those games I'd hold up as wonderful evidence in any "Are Games Art?"-type conversation.
I'll get to the mix, but I actually conducted a brief email interview with Matt Coldrick back in October of 2009, before I even started the track:
Q: You've got a long history of independent and group releases of original music in a variety of genres - how did you get involved with Sega on the Crush soundtrack? Had you worked on game soundtracks at all, previously?
Crush was the third soundtrack I'd worked on for Zoe Mode - I'd been introduced to the Audio Director who was already familiar with my album releases and previous work. The two games I'd worked on prior to Crush were more classic "playtime" soundtracks but Crush has a narrative theme and visual style to it that really lent itself to my production approach.
Q: How much of a gamer would you say you are? In composing the soundtrack to Crush, were you inspired by any previous game soundtracks you've heard? What other sources of inspiration did you draw on?
I'm not a full time gamer for sure. My interest has tended to be in in first person shooter games. I was a huge fan of the first version of Ghost Recon. As much for its tactical slant as anything. I used to play car racing games - Gordon Macrae? - with a bunch of mates after the pub on a friday - the usual behaviour.
The brief for Crush was inspired - dubby, twisted, nightmarish, trip hopy, Danny Elfman-esque. It was the best brief I've ever been given, TV, games, ads ...fullstop. It's natural territory for me so it was a dream to work on.
Q: For a handheld puzzle game, Crush has a surprisingly deep plot, tied together by cut scenes with some great voice acting. Your music really captures the nightmarish qualities of both the narrative and the distinct environments - city, seaside, funfair, and nursery - the player visits. How much of the game were you exposed to as you were composing? Did you have a finished game to score, a rough beta, or just storyboard art/ideas?
It was a process of being gradually fed visual; refs. I was given some great animatics from the designers. An indication of plot and character and a beta testing machine. As the game was developed I was given newer versions although to be honest I used the static images more than anything else. The key to getting the dynamics right lay, again, in the brief and by having a good dialogue with Zoe Mode's Audio Director, Ciaran. He has a musician's vocabulary so it was very easy taking direction from him.
Q: As some critics noted, the game gets pretty damn hard in its later levels, which I'm still working on myself. Have you beaten the game? Did the high difficulty level make you worry that some lesser-skilled folks wouldn't get to hear ALL the music?
Ha ha.. no the music is supportive not the main event, and although I have a healthy artist's ego I wanted to do the job well and really didn't think about the last few tracks not being heard. I think games should have increasing degrees of difficulty - the frustration of not completing is what keeps you hooked.
Q: You've mentioned that you worked with about ten other musicians in recording the score to Crush - can you tell us more about the process of scoring and recording the game's soundtrack? What instruments were live vs. sequenced? How long did the whole process take?
It was a 3 month project. I'd write a 1-2 minute sketch for each piece on Logic audio and get the yay or nay from Ciaran as to its suitability for the section concerned. Then after I'd got the main body of ideas together and reacted to any style or mood changes coming back I'd start to get real players involved. I used Neil Cowley, a good friend I've been working with in many guises for quite a few years. He's a great pianist and he added a lot of the lyrical flow, mood and excited cartoonish runs. We share a similar sense of humour and finding the right nuances in his parts was a real laugh. I'd give him ludicrous directions like "Play this as if you were walking through a mud bath and couldn't move your feet." or "Imagine you're playing a marimba whilst falling down an escalator."
I used sax player Healleanor Webb - "H" to her friends. H did a good party trick playing her sax mouthpiece like a duck caller. She also came up with the melody that ran over the first City piece - by accident as I gave her the wrong chord/key pattern to work from and what came out was a happy accident.
I needed something special for the seaside shanty vibe and managed to find a group of folk musicians in Lewes, a fishing town not fa from home. They provided authenticity and some humour. With them I recorded parts without a click track so that anything they did was displaced from the rigid time of the beats I was using. It knocked it off center in a nice way.
Q: Crush seems like it's very different from the rest of the games that Zoë Mode has developed; was there a sense during the game's development that they were trying to go in a different direction, maybe "experimenting" a bit?
I wasn't really privy to the internal dialogue at Zoe Mode - but I would say that they have a very clear sense of direction and identity as a company and a young and happening management team. How much of a risk this game represented I don't know but from a composer's point of view it was a very rich brief to be given.
Q: The Crush soundtrack has more than a few elements that are fairly unique in game soundtracks; use of dissonance and the dreamlike, almost dub-style pacing and echo/reverb come to mind. Were you given carte blanche when it came to composition and production, or were there some ideas that were too extreme, or that the developers thought didn't work as well?
I was given some ref tracks for tempo and style - ranging from Portishead to Nightmare on Elm Street. But Ciaran knew of my production approach from making experimental dance records in the 90's - so he let me run far and wide with the ball. Nothing was too daring when I submitted ideas. It was more a case of getting the texture and detail right so that it supported the game's playability, not hindered it. That usually meant getting the dynamics right - getting the piece to layer and build in the right way.
Q: Of your original work, what would fans of Crush probably enjoy the most, in terms of a similar style/approach?
Hmmm - well if you like dance music then anything from the Green Nuns would probably pump your nads :) I've just re-worked some of the nuns tracks in a dubby chilled style and that would be as close to Crush as anything. It's out in Jan this year. If you like a more internal trippy world then probably the last album "About Time " with Ishq. I work mostly under the artist's name Pan Electric now.
Q: What are you working on currently? Any more VGM work on the horizon?
I've just finished "Green Nuns on Ice - The Pan Electric Variations " which is out on my own label in Jan. I'm also finishing a collab with Russian DJ Alexander Daf - no games on the horizon I'm afraid. Would love to do another one - but maybe next year - the diary is pretty full :)
HUGE thanks to Matt for the interview; it was fascinating hearing about how this unique soundtrack came into being, in particular the interaction with live musicians and the ad hoc inspiration that affected the final product. If this is the type of score that happens when composers have more creative freedom & a great working relationship with audio directors (or related development & production staff), then I think it should be the de facto formula whenever possible.
Now, I should explain that while the name might suggest otherwise, this mix probably isn't particularly "electro," and I might not even realize if it were; it just made complete sense as a title based on the game's plot. The game's soundtrack is a wonderful blend of ambient, dub, carnival music, Elfman-esque orchestral cues, and the kitchen sink; in arranging it, I wanted to impose more of a structure & allow for a more minimalist synth-funk vibe while retaining many of those core components. I had to keep it short since it was already on the liberal side, but I enjoyed working in a theremin solo, courtesy Omnisphere, and some 'Love Hurts'-style shamisen parts. I usually really shy away from the idea of using voice samples, especially of an extended nature, but I really liked the idea of introducing the mix AND the game itself (to many) with the brief little exposition, plus there was a natural segue/cutoff point. Hope you dig the mix; it's certainly not an epic opus, just a fun track that tackles a difficult but awesome source. Check it out, but most of all please check out Crush & its soundtrack/composer, and put your money towards a great cause - and great music - when Songs for the Cure '11 is released tomorrow!
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