Dev Diary#2 COMPOSING THE SCORE
Our next Dev Diary explores the process behind composing the score for CYGNI. Our Music Composer and Orchestrator, Vatche Kalenderian, gives us his insight into how he creates music and what inspired his choices for CYGNI. Enjoy!
How did you begin composing the main theme for CYGNI? How did the game’s narrative, themes and characters influence the composition?
At the beginning it was a different concept, the game was intended to be a fully-fledged action game with no or little emphasis on character and storytelling. This was in the early phase, but later things changed. As Ava evolved, CYGNI became a character-based action game with a storyline. This revamped our approach to the style of music we had in mind at the beginning. The music of CYGNI is more like a cinematic film score with character themes that are used as leitmotifs throughout the game.
What were the big challenges (or what will the anticipated challenges be) when composing the game score for CYGNI?
Each level has one piece of music from start to finish. The fact that CYGNI’s game stages have a fixed play time helps us accomplish this. The idea is to have a large musical composition more like an orchestral suite for the whole game. But at the end, it is a game, and a lot of variables change according to what the player accomplishes in that particular moment, be it a battle or whatever the situation, and the music has to mirror that whilst keeping the main flow of the piece as intended. We needed to figure out all the different possibilities and calculate every variation that happens, so various small transitional link passages are being created to be switched by the software according to all possible scenarios viable at that particular moment. It’s like doing a small musical diversion and getting back to the highway which is the main music. The challenge is to do it in a way not to effect the unity of the music, so this is CYGNI’s focal music score challenge, but I think we figured it out and are able to manage it.
How did your past experiences influence the composition process?
My background is classical music, and I believe the music of the great composers of the Romantic and early to mid-twentieth century periods have influenced me the most, rather than my own personal experiences as a composer.
Any composers in particular that you would source as inspiration?
There are many great composers who inspire me, Like Brahms, Mahler, Debussy, Mussorgsky, Stravinsky and the list goes on…
Were there any existing games – or other forms of media – that inspired the music of CYGNI?
I don’t know, it’s hard to say that there is one particular piece from an existing game or movie that did. The inspirations are more accumulative. In time, with all the music that you like and you listen to, they all add up and you have this big “additive inspiration” thing sitting in your subconscious, and it has a big impact of what you are and what you create.
You use very traditional methods when creating music rather than composing on a computer. Do you find that that process has a bigger benefit to the end result?
Not exactly. The computer is my main “instrument” for producing mock-ups and even final compositions. I remember the first computer I used for music was an Atari ST and the technology has come a long way. It’s amazing, the amount of power that we have in our hands with modern computers. All said, the only traditional method that I still use in the process is pencil and paper. Yes, I still write music and even large orchestral scores in the traditional way. I don’t know exactly what’s behind it, maybe it’s a hard-rooted habit. Of course, it doesn’t affect the end result in any way, it’s just a personal preference.
CYGNI’s music has a typical orchestral set up of woodwinds, brass, percussion and strings. In some sections, synths are added too. Although current technology allows us to use a large number of tracks, I am not fond of layering hundreds of them. In this sense I try to be as minimalistic as possible without compromising the end result. Using key switches for articulations helps a lot. But again, a lot of times you have to bring in other layers and use some gimmickry and manipulative methods to add realism to sampled libraries. So even with a minimalistic approach my typical scores end up having more than a hundred tracks, sometimes much more.
If you were to start completely from scratch tomorrow, would you change anything about your composition approach?
Well, the approach probably not, but the music probably yes. If I go back to the music that I composed a month ago, maybe even a week ago, believe me I will always find something to change. It never ends.
But people are different. For example, we know that Beethoven did a lot of revisions. They say at times he even went to the print house to do some last-minute changes. Whereas Mozart never did, he just wrote it down once and that was it. For me the urge is always there, but we have deadlines and when they chime, you’re done. There is no way you can go back and fiddle around, and it actually helps.
What would you say are the standout tracks or moments on the soundtrack?
There are many melodic themes which are continuously used as leitmotifs throughout the game that could equally stand out on their own. It’s a bit hard for me to answer this question. People will like this or that track or section, maybe nothing at all, only time will tell.
For any aspiring video game musicians reading, where would you say is a great place to start becoming a composer?
If it’s about how to be successful as a game, film or media composer, there is tons of advice, articles and books about the subject. I believe there is no one magical formula, things work differently to different people. On the other hand, if it’s about the art of composition and craftsmanship, there is one formula that truly works and that is to learn from the great masters. Get the scores, study them thoroughly. It’s an open university and it’s free.