Interview with Darren Korb, Bastion composer
2011 was surely the year of Bastion. It was a breath of fresh air for game industry which showed us how small team can make a game with distinctive design, interesting gameplay, excellent narration and spectacular soundtrack. Narration and soundtrack - that the keys to success of Bastion. Game use this elements to make player believe in story, setting and characters.
Game-OST were able to talk with Darren Korb, who was composer and audio director for the game. So, enough of guff, let's go to serious discussion.
First of all, tell our readers a about yourself. Most of them know nothing about you :)
We are sure you didn’t plan to be musician while you were an infant. Or we are wrong? Tell us how and when this happened :)
I became interested in music probably when I was five-years-old. I started doing some musical theater and singing, and when I was twelve I started playing guitar. Pretty soon after that I started writing songs and learning other instruments. In high school I did my first recordings, and that's when I really knew I wanted to pursue music.
Your official site says you have long history in band performing. Looks like every composer have to go through this. What bands are you able to perform in? Did it help you to forge and improve your personal musical taste?
I've been in bands since I was about twelve years old. Through high school and most of college I had only played with a few different bands, but after college I started playing with more different projects and doing some hired musician gigs. Everything from classic rock type stuff to R&B and hip hop, and a bunch of stuff in between. I think more than helping me figure out my tastes, it helped me develop some musical skills.
Do you have musical education?
I took guitar lessons as a kid and I've had some piano and vocal lessons over the years, but nothing too intense. In college I studied music production and music business, so I learned a lot about production there.
Right now you have some pretty interesting projects like Audiofiction, Furly and Marry Me. Especially the last one. You should bring some light on them for us. People dying to know about rock musical where one guy married another for financial benefits :)
Yeah, so I wrote a musical with my brother that was part of the New York Musical Theater Festival this year. It was a lot of fun! We are hoping to put up a full production of it in the future. Audio Fiction is a band I played bass for and I produced their self-titled album. Furly is my personal project where I sing and play guitar (this is sort of what my old high school band turned into).
Tell us about your studio. What hard’n soft do you use in audio and music production.
I just work out of my apartment actually without much fancy equipment. I use Logic Pro, Digi002 audio interface, and a Sure KSM-32 mic for most of my recording. That's about it!
What instruments are you able to play on? Do you have favorite ones?
Guitar, bass, drums, some keys and ukulele and such. My favorite is probably the drums, since it's so much fun!
Now we are ready to dive in Bastion. That was a long intro but for now our readers know who you are and everything they need about your musical background. Well, how were you able to get into game industry and began your work on Bastion?
I sort of lucked into it. My childhood friend, Amir Rao, is one of the co-founders of Supergiant Games. When he started the company, he asked me to do all the audio for him, and I said "yes!"
Game has distinctive style and that goes to music too. It’s really cool mixture of pop, big-beat, western and ethnic guitars and some symphonic elements. Tell us, who were responsible for audio direction.
I was the audio director on Bastion. By talking with creative director Greg Kasavin and Amir about the tone we were trying to achieve, I did some experiments and came up with the style of music I used for Bastion, which I call "acoustic frontier trip-hop"
Soundtrack is really pumping, what were influences and inspirations for the music?
Everything from Led Zeppelin to old Southern spirituals and a ton of stuff in between! Radiohead and Jeff Buckley were on my mind a bit during the writing process as well.
There are huge amounts of instruments used in Bastion soundtrack. Some of them sampled and some of them surely live. Tell us more about this. Also, if you still remember, could you share with us information about what soft and sample libraries did you use for Bastion. We have amateur composers among our readers.
I used a combo of samples, MIDI, and live instruments on the soundtrack. The guitars, basses and ukuleles are live, pretty much everything else is either a loop or a sample. I actually just used the libraries and soft instruments that come with Logic 8 out of the box.
Unlike other soundtracks sometimes music of Bastion is heavy distorted. Why do you use this technique? Do you think music become to clean and impersonal in audio industry and distortion was used to give some personality and warmth to soundtrack?
Mostly I used distortion on the soundtrack to reinforce the sampled, trip-hop vibe I was going for. Instead of simply using samples, I always tried to dress them up a bit, and I really like what the distortion added in a lot of cases. I wanted to give a sort of "lo-fi" implication to some of the elements in the mix.
This also provokes our discussion to the next question: what do you think about Hollywood soundtracks? It’s huge industry with its own rules and laws which is now can be described by pair of phrases: Hans Zimmer and epic. Would you be able to work on Hollywood movie with strong music restrictions (no experimenting, no distortions, no suddenly turns in music)?
I think there are some really great movie scores being composed these days for sure. It's a little bit outside of my area of expertise, so I'm not sure that it's something I'd want to pursue, simply because I don't think I'd have the same knack for it as for games.
Some questions about the songs in soundtrack: whose it was idea, who were performing and who was the author of the lyrics?
I knew from the beginning that I wanted to write some songs with vocals for Bastion. My background is as a songwriter and performer, so it just felt like a natural approach. I wrote the lyrics, based on the vast backstory written by Greg Kasavin, and I perform the male vocal parts. Ashley Barrett is a friend of mine who performed the female parts.
Your soundtrack is on the first place on Bandcamp sales chart. What do you think about independent musical services? Predict the future of the good old Audio CD format, is he really dead?
Independent services are great. They allow people to sell music directly to their fans without a lot of overhead. Major record companies recently announced that they are going to stop producing CDs by the end of 2012, so I think that's a pretty clear sign that the industry is moving completely digital.
Another same kind question. You have option on your Bastion profile page at Bandcamp to receive soundtrack in Audio CD via post. What ratio between those who owned the digital copy and the ones who bought Audio CD?
It's actually pretty even. There are slightly more downloads than physical album sales, but they are very close.
Bastion has great voice over audio engine which enabled narrator to comment any player’s actions. Just for the statistics: how much monologue cues were recorded?
We recorded over 3000 lines of narration for Bastion.
To more general questions. Can we name you hardcore gamer? If yes what are your favorite games and what games did you play recently?
I've been playing games since I was a little kid, so probably "yes". I've been playing a ton of Skyrim recently. Before that I got through Arkham City. I played a bit of Dark Souls but it was too stressful for me! I've been fiddling around with Rocksmith, which is pretty fun. And I just recently picked up Superbrothers: Sword and Sorcery EP.
Same goes to the music? Favorite bands / groups and what album influenced you most recently?
Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Ozma, to name a few. The Belle Brigade's self titled debut album has been a recent favorite of mine.
Also, with whom of these people you would like to collaborate together?
I'd be happy to collaborate with any of them!
Do you have hobbies? We are almost 100% sure you are not living in your studio, are we? :)
I have hobbies, but they mostly either include music or games. I recorded the album in my apartment, so I actually DO live in my studio...
If it’s not top secret, what are you working on right now?
Too early to say!
Share some thoughts about future of musical industry. Big studios and small independents authors of maybe another scenario?
It's becoming easier to have some success as an independent artist. I think as there are more advances in digital distribution and rights management, I think it will become even easier to be indie.
And, a pair advices to amateur composers, so the Kid would be proud of you :)
Try to work on as many projects as you can, just for the experience! And if you learn multiple instruments, that can be really helpful in getting a piece from idea to completion all by yourself quickly, which is really valuable.
And, last but not least. Imagine you are standing on Red Square in Moscow which is full of people. They are looking at you as if you were Yuri Gagarin. They want you to say something positive, good and emotional. All of these stunningly beautiful women, crazy battle bears with balalaikas and red-nosed people with vodka compatible stomach, they just want some words. Let’s go! )
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