Interview with Solar Fields leader Magnus Birgersson
Swedish electronic artist Magnus Birgersson is known by mortals for his stage name Solar Fields. The band is highly profilic and recently release 10-th stduio ablum. But the major success came to Magnus after release of Mirror's Edge video game for which he composed about 150 minutes of music.
What started you on the musical path? Do you have a musical education? Did you play in a band when you were younger?
My very first live performance was in the 70, i played drums. During the years i learned to play a lot of instruments.
My admiration for your work started when I firs heard titling track, named 6.7, of your debut album. For a very long time this track stayed in my playlist, and I couldn’t put myself to study some other works of yours.
First of all, readers of our portal would like to know how did you decide to become a solo artist. What inspired you the most on creating Solar Fields project? Are there any special artistic concepts in your work? Why do you prefer ambient, and how do you feel about other music styles?
I don't really know, i guess it has been with me since the first day I got a connection with synthesizers. The endless possibility with machines has always been a source of inspiration.
I guess also from travelling and meeting new people and cultures has a reflection in one of the inspiration corners.
I always been doing my solo things under different kind of ways, I like the freedom when I'm alone when it comes to compositions.
I guess that the Solar Fields project has been with me since I started with synthesizers and computers, it just took some years to find a good name on the project :) I do allot of other things so I'm not just into ambient, but for the Solar Fields thing it is mostly ambient stuff. I listen to all kind of music, i guess ambient is the genre i listen the less to at the moment since when I'm closing the studio I like to hear other things than pads and atmospheres.
There’s an imposing amount of instruments you work with, but we’ve noticed a balalaika. So why balalaika then? And how important live instruments are for your work?
Well I'm collecting a lot of instruments and the balalaika is one of them, I like the sounds from it somehow, it has a really special character in it. For the solar fields project i play all synthesizers and other instrument "live" I don’t use midi for recording, so I press the rec button and record everything as audio files directly. If I need to sequence something I mostly use analog types of sequencers or arpeggios.
Apart from Solar Fields, you have a side-project H.U.V.A Network. The wonderful, melancholic and „space“ sound of it have been instantly loved by fans. What is the part of H.U.V.A Network in your work?
I guess I`m the captain of the machines since I have all the knowledge about that.
You’ve already released two H.U.V.A Network albums. What are your future plans?
Actually it is 3 albums :) When we both have the time to get back to this project things will happen quite fast i guess.
So we are getting to the most, I’ll say, important part of our interview. The main theme of our portal is music in games or game music. And, of course, our readers would be glad to know more about your music debut in game industry.
A remarkable soundtrack for Mirror’s Edge creating fully a half of an atmosphere of the game. Why did you decide to work on game music? How did you get to know about this particular project?
It was the Audio Director for Mirror’s Edge at Dice who phoned me and asking if I was Magnus Birgersson, the man behind Solar Fields. He sent some concept art, I still didn’t know what the game was about or anything and they asked me to audiolize the concept art to see if I ‘heard’ the same things he did while looking at the images. He said it was a perfect match and after some months I got invited to the DICE office in Stockholm and I got a short briefing on the project. In September 2007 I started to work full time on the music for Mirror’s Edge.
Writing solo music and making ordered soundtracks are very different things. There are terms, requirements, and there are some misunderstandings between customer and composer too. How did the Mirror’s Edge working process go? Were there any significant artistic and technical differences from your usual solo work? What were the terms and requirements have you got from EA and DICE? Were there any inspiring materials that developers provided you with?
I got the complete manuscript, concept art and play through videos. DICE provided me with a lot of detailed information about each level, the characters and the story. Since I wrote the music in my studio in Gothenburg I had to travel to Stockholm a couple of times to see how everything was coming together and make sure the music and the game worked as well as possible together. I’ve seen Mirror’s Edge in action from the very early stages up to the final version.
If I compare to writing music for my own albums it’s like night and day. I had to rethink my way of composing since I didn’t have the same linear structure to rely on compared to when I am composing for Solar Fields.
Me and the Audio Director were in touch almost every day during the music production and on my visits to DICE in Stockholm I met the level designers and we played through the levels and we talked about how the music should feel, we were testing the music with the game, trying out each level to feel if we should trigger calmer music, more intense music, or maybe complete silence.
It was also a huge challenge for me. The time for production, it was a lot of music that had to be created during a short period of time. How to capture the feeling of Faith and the story and reflect that in the music was quite challenging. Another challenge was to get the music to play seamlessly in the game and get the music to interact with the player. The idea for the music was that there should be no gaps while playing, which meant I had to compose all parts for each level so they worked together even if there was a tempo change or a different chord structures. Since there is so many different sounding parts on each level that reflect Faith’s mood is was a big effort to get it to work smoothly together. The goal was that the player shouldn’t hear the changes between the different parts, rather feel the musical changes. The result is fantastic but it was quite tricky to get it to work as we wanted.
I wrote around 150 minutes of music in total. The main scoring took 4-5 months, after that some polishing and edits to align with changes in the game. Each level has its own theme and feeling that reflects the mood of Faith and the game play.
I got 100 % creative freedom to do what I wanted, I’m very happy to say. Of course there was a structure I had to follow; like that we had different categories for each level, ambiences/puzzle/chases/combats. Other than that I had total freedom, and form the response i got up till today I think I added a lot of identity to the score and the game.
For now, there is only one soundtrack made in this field. Do you plan to continue working with games? For example? When I was playing Portal and Portal 2, I felt like your music, your ideas, would be perfect for its universe. Maybe you have some other game project you are working on? Would you mind sharing?
Right now I been busy finishing my 11 Solar Fields album called Random Friday that was released in April, after that some touring and then we see ;) Due to NDA I cant talk about any projects but you will definitely hear more music in games from me.
What other musicians have had a strong influence on you? Who would you want to work with in the future?
The early Kraut-Rock has been having a huge part as an influence when it becomes to the freedom thinking and composing without any borders or rules. And this is what Solar Fields is all about. I don't follow any patterns of what is popular at the moment or trying to re-create something that I already done, Solar Fields goes way deeper than that. Everyday is a new day and every sound should be a new sound.
Do you get any free time with all the work? If so, what do you do then? Do you like to travel? Have you ever been in Russia, Baltic countries? If yes - what are your impressions?
When I'm finished with a project or album release I usual take some time off, I am really a hard core worker when I'm working on something, it is my only focus, and when I have the inspiration I need to let it all flow.
I been in Russia and Ukraine a couple of times to perform live shows, it has been really fantastic. The audiences is really connected to the music and it is a pure joy to come and perform in this countries. My last visit was in April, I had a show in Moscow.
What is your biggest funny moment in your musical life?
Ooh that’s a hard one, a lot I think so at the moment I can’t really answer :)
Finally, can you give any advice to musicians who are just starting out?
Stay unique and do what you really like to do and do not try to copy someone else. Take your time to learn how things really works, if you do that you will have so much in return in the future. Be creative, instead of using a sample from a library that hundreds of people has been using before create the sounds yourself.
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