Interview - DisasterpeacePlatforms: Android
Rich Vreeland (also known as Disasterpeace) is an award winning freelance composer / sound designer based in Berkeley, CA, with a focus in producing and directing dynamic sound treatments for games. He grew up in New York clacking rhythms on his teeth and writing guitar licks, eventually graduating from Berklee College of Music with a B.Mus degree in Music Synthesis. Along the way he's interned with the MIT Game Lab, written original music for classic franchises like Bomberman, and developed a critically acclaimed generative music tool. He performs his music regularly at big events like PAX and Indiecade, and has been a speaker at events around the globe. Most recently, he wrote the music for the 2012 IGF Seamus McNally Grand Prize winner Fez, which also took home numerous awards for best game and soundtrack of 2012.
Hi Rich, how are you?
You actually came to music quite late in the game, switching your degree in college - was this an off-the-cuff decision, or more of a dawning realisation you wanted to compose?
It was definitely an impulsive notion, but I thought about it a bit, and saw it as a make or break sort of opportunity. I decided to go for it while I was still young.
How much theory do you know now? Do you have a process for composing or is it still very instinctual?
More than most, but any run of-the-mill jazz musician would mop the floor with me. I tend not to rely on theory too much for the initial process of writing. I use it more in the refinement/tweaking stage, and to analyse music by other people in hopes of picking up some neat new ideas and tricks.
What’s your setup? Do you have any favourite gear or software?
My gear-related setup is very simple. I've got only the essentials: a computer, a display, studio monitors, a pair of headphones, an audio interface, and a midi keyboard. That's it. I do have some instruments too, though. I've got two guitars and an upright piano. The piano is my favourite.
You work on your own material a lot as well as game soundtracks - do you have a preference? How much free reign do you have when tailoring your music for a game? Have you ever had anything knocked back for being not suitable?
I'd love to work on my own material more. It's been quite a while since my last brand new LP (two and a half years). Every project has a different level of free reign, but I like to have some back and forth. So long as I feel like I'm getting my vision across, and the other party is happy, then I am happy. Having things rejected from time to time is an unavoidable part of making things for other people.
Game composers such as yourself are starting to come to the fore a bit more now, with great interest in the soundtracks outside of the games themselves. Where do you think they are heading? Is there a ‘dream project’ you’d like to land?
Music is taking an increasing role, for sure. You're beginning to see more variety in both the aesthetics of game music, but also in its implementation, and that's exciting. My dream project would be if someone hired me to write an original suite for orchestra, free of any aesthetic requirements (i.e. we need this to sound like Mario on a pirate ship).
OK, let’s talk Fez! How did you get that gig?
I played a show in Montreal in the fall of 2010, and there I met Renaud, the programmer on Fez. I suggested I write all the music for the game, and that's how it started.
Tell us about the new FZ remix albums. Was it your idea or did people approach you with their reworkings?
I think someone else had the idea, but I can't remember who. People started approaching me with remixes after some word got out that there was a remix album in the works. I only asked a handful of people, but got some really great remixes from people I didn't ask or know, and they ended up making it into the project because of their quality level. I initially intended to do a single remix album, but due to the number of remixes I split it into two parts.
You’ve used a number of analogue-style effects like tape delay and flutter to give the whole Fez soundtrack a very organic, dreamlike feel despite the 8-bit sound palette. Was this intentional from the outset?
Some people may not know the soundtrack evolves as you play as some of it is influenced by progress in the game and random events. How hard is this to balance?
Not too hard, because there isn't that much in the game musically that is influenced by progress. Most of the music in the game is influenced by the state of the level instead. For instance, how high you are in the air, or whether it's daytime or nighttime, etc. The only progress-related change I can think of is actually "Reflection", which plays when you first leave your village, but will never play again.
Fez has a distinct chilled electronic style, but you've also done rockin' bluesy sounds for Shoot Many Robots, and a sparkly piano and bell-laden score for Drawn To Life. Do you have a preferred genre to work in?
Nope! I like to try different things. I will say that recording makes things harder.
You’ve strayed into game design with your lovely generative music player January. Is this something you’ll be doing more of?
I hope so! I have some other ideas in the works.
Do you have any favourite soundtracks by other composers?
Machinarium by Tomas Dvorak, Chrono Cross and Chrono Trigger by Yasunori Mitsuda, Jet Set Radio Future, and Katamari Damacy, to name a few.
Do you, or would you ever consider playing your music live?
I've been playing a handful of live shows every year since 2007. Last year I played at PAX East, Indiecade, XOXO Fest, and did a mini tour through Mexico.
Any tips for aspiring composers?
Don't aspire, write!
Anything you're working on right now you can tell us about?
I'm working on a couple of games, and some moving picture type things. I'm pretty excited about them, hopefully you will be too!
Finally, how much of Fez have you completed?
All of it. Except for the soundtrack puzzle.
So endeth the interview! Thanks to Rich for answering our probing questions!