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CoLD SToRAGE, moniker of the welsh Tim Wright, has associated his name as composer to the WipEout franchise. But his professional experience with the legendary company Psygnosis is not confined to WipEout, and it would be unfair not to mention that, among other many, he composed the soundtrack of Lemmings, Shadow of the Beast II & III, Colony Wars, Leander, Krazy Ivan, Codename: Tenka or Music, the game / music creation of PSX.
In recent times he has done the soundtrack of Gravity Crash for PSN, began to perform live and has a very prolific musical creation. He’s a rara avis composer, with an attitude that reminds me of Grant Kirkhope, putting almost all his work available for free in his website. It also maintains an account on Bandcamp, where he regularly upload his work. There are new versions of Amiga themes, Gravity Crash’s OST, rehearsals from his live debut, his song Onyx for WipEout Pure, or his solo career since the debut album to the last single.
His words are especially interesting not only because he is a great composer, but also he has seen the evolution of video game music from the limitations of C-64 to the possibilities of today. He is quite outspoken too, and worth reading him.
Can you tell us something about your musical training, tastes, and influences as a composer?
I was trained in classical piano from the age of 7 to around 15yrs old. Other than this I’m pretty much self-taught in terms of musical performance and composition. I can play anything keyboard based and I play the guitar a little too… I’ve always wanted to learn to play saxophone, but not had the chance yet! My musical tastes are quite wide; pop, classical, electronica, rock, ethnic. I basically enjoy anything I feel has a good melody, great percussion or is well produced. In terms of influence I grew up in the 70s/80s so a lot of that music is at the back of my brain and comes out in many of the songs I write. I find it a struggle to compose music that’s sparse and devoid of melody. Many of my tracks are laden with countermelodies all layered up on top of one another, which is also the way I tend to write.
You are very focused in electronic music, what equipment do you use to make it?
I guess I am. I don’t think it was a conscious choice as I do love playing piano, guitar and any other kind of acoustic instrument. I think I’ve adopted electronic styles because I started out writing music on home computers like the Commodore Vic20, C64 and Amgia. After writing on these limited platforms for so many years you pick up certain tricks and habits and learn to appreciate what can be accomplished using a limited system with very little polyphony.
These days I use Propellerhead Reason 6.0 as my main musical ‘weapon’. I also use Sonar too, but that’s mainly for audio post production on videos, films and so on. It’s just so portable and flexible to have everything in one place, or indeed on multiple PCs, which means I can compose anywhere. It’s also way quicker than using lots of separate bits of hardware, and a lot less expensive if things go wrong… replacing a PC or laptop is much cheaper than having to repair or purchase a new synthesizer just to complete a piece of music. Finally there’s the space issue… a laptop is massively smaller than 20 synths, a mixer and loads of effects – and it uses a lot less electricity!
How is your usual composition process to make music for a game?
My usual process is to agree a style or approach. This is usually accomplished with reference to other music that’s already ‘out there’. Either the client will send me examples of the type of music they want, or I’ll suggest tracks by other artists, or tracks I composed for other games. If they really have no idea and just want me to go with the flow then I’m happy to do that too. Once I know the style I’ll start by creating the first 4ot 8 bars of a track and layer up all the percussion, bass, melody, fx and so on.
Once it sounds absolutely full, and there’s no way I can add any more parts without it sounding muddy or distorted I then copy out those few bars over says 3-4 minutes and then start chiselling away, removing parts, building an intro, outro and drops and builds. Sometimes it’s as easy as this to get the body of the song to work, other times almost all of what I originally composed gets thrown away as I come up with better ideas once the song is pared down in this way. I have composed differently to this, but this is generally the way I get started… either with a bassline or maybe a melody or sometimes a really neat drum pattern.
You have worked in game music since more than 20 years, from Amiga to PS3, 8bit to HD quality. Do you think the game music has changed beyond the technological improvement?
That’s a tough question. Has music improved at a faster rate than the technology? I’d have to say that in some ways I think some of the music composed way back on the Commodore 64 is better than some of the music on games today. Back then you HAD to create a great song with a cracking melody and you had to develop your own sounds to make it work. The Amiga was similar in some respects, because even though you had the benefit of samples you still had to work within memory limits because the songs had to be played ‘live’ by the hardware, note by note and you only had 4 ( or 3 in some cases ) channels to play with.
Today we have no limits with high end hardware such as PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. This has in some cases meant that we have existing music licensed into games from the music industry. This works on some occasions, but really it’s always better to have a score composed specifically for a game unless there are places in the game that are bolstered by using a well know track that happens to fit a specific twist in the game.
With the CD quality in game music, many videogames (like GTA, all sports games, Gran Turismo, Blur, WipeOut…) includes licensed songs not created for the game. Sometimes, the real game composer only make music for the menu, pause, and maybe the trailer theme. Its just a fad, or do you think we are losing the traditional game composers to substitute for licensed music?
I don’t think we’re losing game composers, but with the inclusion of more and more licensed music they have less work without a doubt. Licensing famous tracks can actually be a lot more expensive than getting a fantastic brand new score written, but marketing people love hooks and handles or USPs ( Unique Selling Points ) and if they have a track from U2 or Lady GaGa in the game then there’s more cross promotional opportunity. I don’t think it’s a fad either, because the music industry isn’t going away any time soon, and all games need marketing.
In twenty years, you are made a lot of music for videogames. Of all your works in game music, do you have a theme or OST you are particularly proud of?
I’m fond of many of my Amiga tracks, and because I’m more of a song person than an album person I’d have to pick individual tracks rather than a whole game soundtrack. It’s been said that songs are like a musician’s children and I kinda agree with that… you love them all in some way or other, even the ugly ones, LOL! Unlike with children I can confess to having favourites; Aquaventura Title Theme, Shadow of the Beast 3 Game Over, Leander Shop Theme, some of the Lemmings themes and probably one or two of the WipEout tracks.
Looking back I’ve written so many it can be a bit tough to single ones out. The ones that do stand out have one thing in common… memorable melodies, and for me, special memories too.
WipeOut seems like the Psygnosys answer to F-Zero. Did you have in mind that OST while compose the music for the first WipeOut?
To be honest I hadn’t even heard of or played F-Zero when I began work on WipEout. In fact as far as I knew the whole concept was brand new and completely fresh! In terms of the OST, as soon as I was assigned the task I met with the designer and the team. They had clear ideas of where they wanted to go with the OST. They played me lots of Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and other acts that were mainstream in the dance music arena at the time.
I hadn’t written music in that style ever before, and truth be known I wasn’t overly fond of it either, LOL! That soon changed after I’d been dragged to a few night clubs and spent many hours absorbing the vibe of the club and how people interacted with the music. It opened my eyes to a new way of writing and appreciating music. What followed was a frenetic few weeks of writing as much music as I could, day and night. I have vague recollections of that period in time, but most of it went past in a blur due to the late nights and far too much Red Bull.
You were not included on the first or second WipEout Compilation CDs. Do you think this was a short-sighted money making approach to WipEout OST releases?
I’d have to agree. In the first instance they would not even consider allowing me to appear on the compilation album. I was a complete unknown and they just wanted to sell some CDs and vinyl off the back of the brand. What’s worse is that there were only three licensed tracks in the first game, so the album was padded out with cheap tracks that bore no relevance to the game, for example Blue Monday by New Order.
With the second CD I made a definite point of speaking with the company that was compiling the CD. This time there were a lot more licensed tracks, but I requested that I have at least one of my tracks on the CD. They agreed that it was a good idea and that they would liaise with Psygnosis to make it happen. When the time came, they did not. The CD came out and I was not on there, even though I’d sent in the masters to the record label for inclusion.
I was quite upset at the time, so I phoned my contact at the label and I asked why I’d not been included. He said, “Sorry Tim, there just wasn’t room on the CD.” I loaded the CD up and there was plenty of room for my track so I said, “… sorry to contradict you, but there’s more than enough room”. The guy was a bit flustered but made up some other excuse which really wasn’t worth listening to, so I said a polite goodbye. When it came to WipEout Pure I was really surprised that the record label actually contacted me to see if I was OK with inclusion, so it finally worked out for me. Better late than never I guess?
I’ve heard the Cold Storage HD album, and its really good. It would fit very well in Wipeout HD, why was not included in the game?
The CoLD SToRAGE HD Album was something I composed in response to my fans being sorely disappointed that I wasn’t featuring in the game, so it was composed ‘after the fact’ really. I still have a great relationship with Sony and many of the developers who create the WipEout games, but the producers change a lot and I don’t really know them well enough to ‘schmooze’ my way in. This leaves me almost at square one, presenting my wares and previous history in an attempt to be considered for future products.
At the end of the day, I think releasing the album was a good way to go… Sony get extra publicity for their games at no cost to them, and I get to produce an album that people enjoy. Yes, it would be better to actually be in the game, but I’m not bitter or upset to be overlooked from time to time, so long as there are people who love what I do and support me. If that ever stopped then I’d probably still compose for my own benefit.
As you have worked in many games of the WipeOut series, have SCEE contacted you to work in the next coming WipeOut 2048 for PSP Vita?
They’ve not contacted me directly or indirectly. I have contacted them through SCEE Liverpool and through a friend working on the game. So far I’ve had no replies whatsoever which is a bit disheartening… they could at least say no thanks. Then again, I guess they’re really busy putting the game together so maybe they’ll be in touch in one way or another at some stage. From what I’ve heard it looks like the game is coming out in February 2012, so that leaves a small amount of time for them to get me on board.
Some of my fans have even created a petition page on Facebook, which is really nice of them. I’m not sure it’ll sway them either way, depending on their plans… but if it falls through and there’s enough support, I’d be willing to compose some tracks outside the game to keep my fans happy.
Sometimes companies are obsessed thinking about numbers, marketing, and merchandising and seems to forget that there are people who deserve recognition. And some people, like CoLD SToRAGE, can get profits for the game. In deference to the series, himself and his music, CoLD SToRAGE deserves to be in WipEout 2048.
More interviews with game composers HERE