Interview...Me talking about writing music

So, after the 1 year anniversary of the release of Carrier assault in Eve Valkyrie they interviewed me about the priocess and also relased a sound track version of the in game music....see below :)

As part of the celebrations for 1 year since the release of Carrier assault, CCP have published part of EVE: Valkyrie’s soundtrack on Soundcloud for your listening pleasure. It’s titled Tempest and it's pretty darn cool, so put your headphones on and give your ears a treat. You can find the track here.

That’s not all. We spoke to Rich McCoull, producer and engineer at the UK-based Post Production Studio The East Wing, to find out how someone gets into making music for games and what the process was with EVE: Valkyrie.

First off, can you tell our readers a little about yourself.

Like most people, I started playing in a band and studied music at college and uni. All the way through school and college, I was what I called 'clinically unemployable'. I'd go for jobs in bars with friends where they'd get something and I wouldn't. I tried shops when they needed extra staff at Christmas... nothing. So, when I applied for an assistant engineer’s job at a little recording studio where my band rehearsed, I didn't expect in any way to get the job. The competition for those things is insane, but that's how it started. I just seemed to keep getting jobs in sound when I applied for them. From then on, I produced bands, worked as a broadcast engineer and began writing more and more. I found a way into the world of advertising and writing music for TV commercials, which is when I set up The East Wing in 2012. My background as a composer started in advertising, film and television and has only moved into games in the last couple of years.

How did you get involved in this project?

I was asked to come down for a chat early 2016 by Andrew Willans, who I'd worked with previously. We share a lot of similar ideas musically and we'd talked a lot over the years about working together on something. The right project had just never come up.

What are the specific challenges of writing a piece of music for a game?

Challenges change project to project. I think the most important barrier to break early on is trying to develop a common language with the developers, so I can clearly understand what their requirements are. On Valkyrie, I came in really late in the day with a group of guys who had been working religiously with this game for, like, two years.

As creative types, they had each developed really specific opinions about how the game should sound. The interesting part was that these ideas didn’t necessarily match everyone else’s ideas.

Luckily, in this case, the team at CCP were all pretty open to a discussion and I really enjoyed that part of the process where we worked out exactly how this project was meant to be scored. One of the descriptions or buzz words that kept coming up was ‘dark’ and I asked everyone what they thought 'dark' meant in the context of music. I think there were about four different interpretations of what that could mean as a description of music or musical style.

But, as with most situations, this is resolved when you start writing. Jon and Ash (EVE: Valkyrie sound team) provided some great stylistic ideas, so once I had some initial demos to listen to, then everyone involved had something to comment on.

Clearly the main inspiration for the music comes from the game, but are there other sources of inspiration for your work? Movies, sci-fi, other composers?

I love sci-fi films. Even some of the really bad ones. I frequently argue the merits of Alien 3 being a seriously underrated work… which might not be true, but the sound track is awesome.

There are composers I love listening to, like James Newton Howard, Trent Reznor, Harry Greggson-Williams or Hans Zimmer, that have influenced the way I have developed as a composer. I love for a soundtrack to feel cinematic.

There’s loads of bands I’ve grown up on that undoubtedly will have had an effect, like The Prodigy, Rage Against the Machine or Crystal Method.

I even think what sort of music I’m into at the time I start a project will influence what I’m writing, even if not in a conscious way. So, the playlist I have on in the car on the way to the studio could impact what I write.

What’s the process? You start with a blank sheet… take us through the steps.

Sometimes it’s not really a step by step process, I’ll just get an idea from the brief, or playing the game, and it’s almost a race against time to get it out of my head before I forget it… which is problematic if I’m driving or on the bus.

But, assuming there isn’t that spontaneous combustion moment, I’ll start by playing the game, or watching the visuals I’m working to. Then, I really try to establish what the narrative of the piece is. The music needs to tell the story, or support, say, an increased threat level. It needs to feel seamless.

Next, passing round YouTube links with developers and others involved in the project helps it to become a more collaborative process. I think it’s important to try to get into other mind-sets in relation to the project. Without this stage I could completely miss a really interesting angle on the sound that hadn’t occurred to me.

Then it’s about creating a palette of sounds, followed by looking for feedback to make sure it is in right ballpark. The beauty of Valkyrie has been the relationship with Jon and Ash at CCP. They have been amazingly concise with feedback and also introduced me to some soundtrack references I hadn’t come across before.

Once that direction is signed off, then it’s about writing as much music as possible to fit the requirements. It's way easier to remove layers later if there are too many than to not have enough. Finally, sometimes there’ll be some specific tweaks once the music is in situ.

A big thanks to Rich. That’s a fascinating insight into creating killer game music.

 

Eve Valkyrie Soundtrack - Under the Gun

Eve Valkyrie soundtrack

Over the last year I have talked lots of times with the guys at CCP about doing a soundtrack album for Valkyrie. We decided that rather than doing a one off release it would be nice to try and do something like 1 a month until all of the music had been used. but more than that, rather than just putting out music that was as it appeared in the game. We wanted to try and make the interactive music work better as tracks in their own right. I find in some cases (not all) when listening to game soundtracks that without the game to follow the music can feel a little directionless, so I wanted to try at least not to let that happen with the EVE Valkyrie soundtrack.

They guys at CCP wanted to get a track out in time for the fan fest that has just happened over in Iceland. So we decided to use the music from the Team Death match level. This became the track 'Under the Gun' 

If you have no idea what team death match is about...then here's a bit of background

Each of the two teams involved in a Deathmatch has a pool of available pilot clones. Each time you or a teammate dies and respawns, a clone

is removed from the remaining total.

If you manage to wipe out the opposing team’s clone pool or have more clones left when the timer runs out you claim victory.

 

I was keen to get some input from CCP, the developers there are so heavily invested in the game that they always have some really insightful points of view on the music, so Sound designer Ash Reid worked on the new arrangement with me.

We brought in some extra musicians as well to again bring something new to the table from the in game version.

Tom Bacon, Drummer. Tom works for D’Darrio http://www.daddario.com/DaddarioSplash.Page?ActiveID=1740 and having worked with me before was more than happy to perform on the track

Eliza Lawson, Vocalist.

Last year I tried an experiment with Eliza where she lefther comfort zone where you’d usually find her singing on soul, RnB and funk tracks and they experimented with some soundtrack music…the results were…really cool https://soundcloud.com/rich-mccoull/afterlife . So this was the perfect opportunity to try it again.

So, here's the first track 'Under the Gun' If all goes to plan, there'll be another in a months time :)

New Track - Afterlife

This was a track I wrote last year and finally finished it in December. It was written shortly after a family member died. the bulk of the ideas were composed in an afternoon, I guess in some kind of cathartic temper tantrum. Then more added on a numbner of dates later in the year. The vocalist is Eliza Lawson.

I spent some time over the year refining it, and recorded a fantastic string quartet to really bring it to life. But I think due to the subject matter of the track I procrastinated about finshing it, but have finslly put it to bed now!

Music composed for the 'Hub' EVE: Valkyrie

The next life pt1 Is based around the theme tune for EVE : Valkrie. The Hub is where you can pick your weapons of choice, navigate thorgh the different levels or just look out of the clear skylight into the most incredible VR space scene.

So the music had to feel expansive whist carrying some story from the game. The Hub is futuristic, post apocalyptic and otherworldly, so the percussion is dark and grinding whilst the melody has an element of sadness.....this is not the next life for no reason!

There also needed to be a feeling of awe and cinema - this is the focal point of the game. So although this music is meant to be in the background I felt it needed to remind the player why they were in there.

Pt 2 was to fill in the time that a player might be simply looking at the vast 'eye candy' that surrounds you in the hub. I liked the idea that it could feel very ethereal - this was me staring into space if you like :)

I left alyer of synthetic voices in the background...or they started that way and gradually became a bit more warped, but I felt it almost had a feeling of some sort of clone trying to talk or sing in the background. The Opera style vocal was a great juxtaposition to the industrial percussion, reminding me that there were people before the clones!

 

 

In game music Eve : Valkyrie - She's Gone

So, finally some of the in game music has been released online.

The first is from the prologue of the game...

I was keen to at first capture the space...in space...if that makes any sense :) the great part of the narrative behind this part of the game was that is builds very slowly so I had plenty of time with each little motif and could add layer after layer to build the drama as the story unfolds.

The vocals were performed by Ruth Lackenby-Jones. And I think the performance helped  produce a more human and emotional feel over the synthetic backdrop. In some ways the vocal melody mirrors the emotional experience of Ran (Katee Sachoff), the leader of a team of fighter pilots throughout out the prologue.


I think I managed to get a nice juxtaposition of the dreamy / ethereal piano and the ominous bass line that grows in intensity throughout the whole track. Although the opening is very 'safe' in nature I always felt there should be something sinister bubbling in the background.

The percussion that grows in the send half of the piece is obviously the 'alert' ....a call to war if you like! And it's not just a small problem, we're talking problems of epic proportions. So the scale of the orchestral drums needed to represent that.

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Carrier Assault - Eve Valkyrie trailer Composer

Following on from my work composing the soundtrack for Valkyrie I as asked back to work with the CCP games guys on the trailer for their first content drop. 

The  content drop was announced at the Eve Onllne fan fest last week, this mission is 'carrier assault.'

This needed to be far less like the in game music - in fact it didn't need to have any resemblance. So although I do like the idea of giving trailers a similar feel to the in game music it gave me a chance to experiment a little and use some more organic sounds. Cue big guitar sounds.... :)

I hope to add some of the in game music once it is released publicly.

 

EVE: Valkyrie. Composer

Over the last couple of months I've been lucky enough to work on EVE: Valkyrie as sound track composer. EVE: Valkyrie is part of the the EVE Online world but what makes this a very special game is that it is one of the launch games for Occulus rift. 

Over the next few weeks I hope to post more music for the game as it is released publicly.

In the mean time here's the trailer, which was actually the last piece I wrote for the game....

https://www.evevalkyrie.com/

 

The East Wing promo

This is a piece of music I wrote for a promo video that was directed by James Cook. The idea being to do a Geiger meets Tolkien fantasy piece.

Featuring the vocals of Ruth Lakenby-Jones and String players Ed Cross, Josephine Montgomery, Laura Newton, Ele Leckie.