Soundtrack Cologne 2016 - Highlights!
Last week, I travelled to Germany to attend the annual Soundtrack_Cologne Conference. It was a fantastic week of learning and networking, and I wanted to share some of my experiences with you!
Despite a few hiccups with my hotel, my Soundtrack experience started well with a lively talk by composer Christophe Héral (Rayman Origins, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn). It was nice to see how passionate and enthusiastic he is about video game music; his enthusiasm was infectious!
He talked in detail about the music for the Rayman games, and discussed how important the relationship between music and game design is. One piece of advice he offered to new video game composers is to visit the game designers you will be working with; talk to them about the game and what they are implementing. You may be able to give them an insight into how music can work effectively with their ideas.
I thoroughly enjoyed Héral's talk, he was very passionate, and he was supportive of new video game composers trying to break into the industry.
My personal highlight of the conference was the talk by BAFTA award-winning composer Jessica Curry. This had been the talk I was most looking forward to, and I wasn't disappointed. We were treated to an interesting presentation discussing the beautifully-composed music for the video game Everybody's Gone to the Rapture.
Curry detailed her various approaches to the music of the game to ensure the score sounded fluid and adaptive.
Adaptive music has always fascinated me in video games.
It's a complex and intricate approach to composition, which requires the composer to plan for various situations the player may find themselves in and write music that could fit any of those possible scenarios when they are triggered.
Curry explained how her score for Rapture had four different types of music: unique, travelling, arc, and procedural. The unique and arc music cues would be the same every time, like in a film or television show. However, the travelling and procedural music cues were adaptive, meaning that the player would influence the music depending on their in-game actions: this music would be different every play-through. This is something I find so fascinating about the music of video games; music plays a much deeper and more meaningful role in the player's experience, because it can be linked to them and their actions.
"The genre and pace of Dear Esther and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture allowed music to take a more central role."
Curry also discussed the role of music in her games Dear Esther and Rapture: games which have been labeled 'walking simulators' or 'first-person adventure art games'. This is a fairly new genre emerging on the video game scene, and, as Curry states, it is opening up new opportunities for music to play a bigger part in the game.
"Music and sound design are not separate. They dance together."
One thing Curry said that was particularly meaningful to me was about the relationship between music and sound design. This is something I have always inherently believed, but have been questioned about numerous times. Hearing this was quite poignant for me, because I am actually planning to return to the University of Edinburgh (in just a few weeks time!) to begin a second Masters degree in Sound Design. This is quite a big step for me. Composition is something that comes naturally to me, but the sound design/production side of things has always been more difficult. I expect this coming academic year to be very challenging, but doing this is going to open up a great deal more opportunities for me in video game audio. It's becoming more and more commonplace for video game developers to hire just one audio person who does both the sound and music: so I know this is a good career choice for me. I'm also very excited to learn about sound design! In the next couple of weeks I will begin learning about live recording techniques, interactive sound, foley, audio middleware, voice over recording... I can't wait!
Anyway, going back to Jessica Curry's talk...
"Have the courage to reject your bad decisions."
In addition to her presentation on the music for Rapture, Curry offered us advice on making music for video games, and spoke frankly about her own experiences as a female composer in a still largely male-dominated industry. She also spoke about acknowledging mistakes, and having the strength to reject an idea if you realise it isn't working. She finished with a discussion on the role of the composer: what is our role, and what do we want the score to do?
"How best do you [the composer] support the player's journey?"
This brought us back to the idea of music taking a more central role in video games, and having it's own function in the gameplay. I have a couple of projects coming up soon that I will ask myself these questions about, so that I can ensure the music is doing as much as it can for the game and the player.
It really was a brilliant talk, and everyone left feeling motivated and inspired. I was lucky enough to get to talk with Jessica Curry after her talk, and she was extremely lovely!
On the second day of the conference I attended a talk by Helge Borgarts on adaptive music in video games. As I mentioned earlier, I've always been fascinated by the idea of adaptive music because it requires the composer to write in a totally different way than we would for static music.
This talk was a great introduction to writing adaptive music, and gave a quick overview of how to begin.
"Video game composers are expected to write music that could feasibly be used in different scenes to allow the production team to play around with the music."
This was an interesting point for me; that the music you write for one scene might eventually end up being used by the production team in an entirely different scene. This is different to composing for film or TV where your music fits one scene alone.
Much like Jessica Curry, Borgarts encouraged us to consider what we want our music to do - what is its primary function? Is it there to create an atmosphere? Or perhaps the music helps establish a time and place? The function of the music can have a big impact on how it will sound, and how it will be utilised in the game, so this is a vital consideration to make.
Borgarts also highlighted the distinct difference between films and video games, and why it is so crucial for composers to remember this.
"For the composer, there is no chronology. No beginning or end. Think in actions."
With a film, the story is linear; there are no deviations. There is a beginning and an end. In video games this isn't always the case, and the composer needs to adapt to the new possibilities offered by this 'non-linearity'.
I thoroughly enjoyed this talk! It got me thinking about composition in a totally different way, and I'm keen to experiment with these new ideas. It really inspired me to try writing an adaptive piece of music that is influenced and changed by a specific parameter, so watch this space!
Women in Music Panel
This was such an interesting panel, consisting of composers Jessica Curry, Miriam Cutler and Jasmin Reuter, and Francine Raveney of the Women's Audiovisual Network.
They discussed the issues currently facing women composers for media, and what we can do to tackle this issue. It was empowering to hear these talented female composers striving to improve the current situation so that hopeful composers like myself might have an easier chance of making it into the industry; and, more importantly, staying in it.
"We [women] have to be strong together."- Jessica Curry
I've always known that there's been a gender gap in the media composing industry, but it was still a shock to hear how bad things are for us! It was, however, a great comfort to know that these strong women are already fighting to change this situation.
Overall, I had a really wonderful time in Cologne! I learned so much from my short time there, and I met so many lovely people (not just Jessica Curry!). I met people in exactly the same boat as me - trying to make music for games - and it was so nice to compare notes with them and share ideas. I plan to stay in touch with all of them, and I am already planning my trip to Soundtrack Cologne next year, where I hope to see them all again!