Interview with Tomáš Dvořák - Machinarium soundtrack composer
Interview with Tomáš Dvořák - Machinarium soundtrack composer
Tomáš Dvořák, progressive Czech electro-instrumentalist and also graphic artist and designer, has told Game-OST how the music for indie-blockbuster Machinarium was created. More details below.
When and why did you decide to write music? What groups / composers influenced you most? Maybe you can remember some of your childhood moments related to music in any way?
We had some old tape player and i could spend hours just by listening music and dancing around with table tennis rocket pretending it is guitar! We have been doing "concerts" with my brother like this but he got bored pritty soon. I didn't .-)
Later I wanted to learn some instruments and because I had some allergy my parents thought it could be good idea to choose some breath instrument. I wanted to learn saxophone but because i couldn't remember the instruments well I mistake it with clarinet so I started to learn clarinet which is my very important instrument until now. It maybe made my music less jazzy and more soundtrack like...
With music influences I would say the main influence comes from the electronic or electroacoustic scene. Lusine, Beaumont Hannant, Arve Henriksen, Apparat, Vladislav Delay, AGF, Fennesz, Clark, Jon Hopkins, Burial, Black Dog, Riyuichi Sakamoto.... but I am actually listening to many other sorts of music. More then anything other I have been always looking for the interesting individualities, doesn't matter what kind of music or even generally art it is. Miles Davis, Keith Jarret, Kayo Dot, Sonic Youth, Grizzly Bear, OTK, Deerhoof, Thom York, Mark Hollis, Bartok, Philip Glass, Steve Reich...
I would like to also mentioned Hans Zimmer. His soundtrack for the Thin Red Line really opened my eyes in the field of the music for the motion picture. I am getting back to this particular CD periodically.
Well, it’s foolish question of course, but… We are sure that you had full creative freedom for the soundtrack but what ideas and thoughts did you receive from Jakub Dvorsky on pre-production stage? How much his vision of soundtrack matched with your final result? Were there situations when you had to remake the tracks because Jakub asked you?
I was looking for the right "face" of the music especially in the beginning. There were some trials and errors. Mainly because I wanted something more musical. Something what would really people like not only in the context of the game but also simply as tunes.
Soundtrack music of course has to be more abstract to give space for the image and also to not to be annoying if it is repeating more times... so it was about trying to find balance between abstract and more melodic music...
With Jakub we agreed that the sound should be based on some more rusty and kind of dirtier aesthetic. Like synths which are obviously there for its connection to robot world, they are not very polished but often some old vintage and noisy. I have even landed some old synths from my friends like Roland SH01, or legendary Korg MS10. Jakub was giving always good ideas and reflection which was really important especially in the primal part of the soundtrack development. As far as I remember he was very much into radio noises for example .-D The first songs for the soundtrack were the hardest ones of course, because they were kind of defining the whole sound... some times it maybe not just easy to find the right atmosphere what fits for the scene. I remember I had big fight with the second level which may look somehow super-easy and I created more like 5 different songs before I found the right one...
Jakub refused only the one level and it was the one before the "game place". I wanted to use the song called "Gameboy Tune" but he found it too different, happy, dancy.
How much time did you spent on Machinarium soundtrack? What difficulties did you face during the work? Are there any tracks that not made into the game?
It was basically from the January 2009 until the release time. For sure I have never worked on such big collaborative project ever before.
Difficulties? Beside what I have already mentioned it was sometimes about finding the right atmosphere for the each scene. There were several tracks not used in the game. But many of these songs end up in the radio at least! I mean the puzzle where you look for the station with the musical code, there you can find several unused songs from the different levels including the above mentioned "Gameboy Tune".
Tell us about composition process of yours? How do you write music when beginning from scratch?
That's really not easy question to answer shortly. But generally speaking I think important aspect of it is imagination. To be able to deeply imagine what you want to do and how it should look like, how it should feel.The thing I am speaking about here is not connected with the concrete tune , it is more about how the music should look and feel. It is something what I am trying to have even before I touch any instrument or start with the notation. It is good way to start for me, because then I know where I am trying to go. Otherwise music itself, It is kind of strange flow, maybe unknown language with different qualities what has something to do with emotions and energy in you. From my experience once you are trying to catch it with some racional intensions things go wrong.
What hard ‘n soft do you use? What instruments can you handle? Did you search for a new VST or live instruments while developing the musical style for Machinarium?
Now I am on Apple Logic. My music is also often about experiments with sound so another important software I would mention is Max/Msp. It is object oriented language where you can write your own sound algorythms beside many other things. I learned it while I was studying at the Prague Academy Of Visual Arts . I used it for my interative installations and performances but later I just found out I am even able to write my own audio patches there. I wrote a few pluggo plugins which actually used in most of my songs, despite fighting with some bugs due to my very low programmer qualities. Anyway I am quite unhappy that Cycling74 decided to gave up the development of Pluggo...
Otherwise there is several important acoustical instruments in my studio. Piano, clarinet, kalimba, metalophones, accordion, melodica etc...
I also have Korg Z1, which is very organic, you can tweak it and find really interesting moments. At the same time it is little bit cheesy so I always look for the ways how to destroy or dirtify the sound...
As for the plugins I really like to keep eye on what is new in the field, I really like for example free plug-ins scene, like Smartelectronix - I think they have been so influential for the whole electronic music. .
After the Machinarium Soundtrack was released people often ask me about the concrete synth and the software I use. But for me it is really not what it is about, mostly it is about combination of the things, like chains of plugins, or out of the computer or out of the DAW experiments which after are reedited and reprocessed in DAW. There can be really simple source like sinusoid, which is by the way my very favourite sound source, and it can go trough some plugin like eg. Frohmage and you get completely new colours.
What music did you listen during your work on Machinarium? What kind of influences did you have while working on Machinarium? Films, art, maybe something else? Were there any musical references (from Jakub Dvorsky) like particular tracks or albums?
I don't think I had some particular influence which would directly affect the face of the soundtrack. Probably because Machinarium world is quite different and Jakub gave me complete freedom with my creative approach, for sure he didn't need to send me some track references as we both knew we don' t work on the advertisement :-D
When i was solving compilation of songs for the soundtrack, i found out that i can't put all the music there. Not only because the soundtrack would be too long but mainly because i had feeling that some songs disturb flow of the music... for me it was important to put together such selection of songs and in such order that you could really enjoy to listen to the soundtrack from the beginning to the end. That the soundtrack is well balanced...
These songs just didn't fit, they put different mood, or destroyed the "flow" of the listening, in a way they could be similar to the others, then it was better for me to omit them.
The important thing to mention is that we have already released free bonus soundtrack EP where you can get most of the important songs which have not been included in the official OST.
Why the main theme from the first Machinarium trailer that also was used in BBC’s Questionaut wasn’t included into the game?
It was just because at that time we didn't have any song from Machinarium OST really :D
What are your favorite compositions from Machinarium?
I really like more these moody, maybe more melancholic ones... Like "Glasshouse With The Butterfly", "Elevator", "Castle" or "Clockwise Operetta".
We noticed that track sequence on soundtrack CD is different from what we are hearing in the game. Why did you change order of compositions?
Well I tried to think about the soundtrack on its own.
Do you play videogames? Of course, not only by Amanita Design. Could you please tell us about some games that influenced you most because of interesting music / sound implementation?
I am sorry but I don't play games very often.
It is mainly because of time and also screens. I even don't have television for the same reason, because I am often in the studio and after looking into the computer screen whole day I am not that much interested to look into another to have fun. But due to Machinarium game and Jakub I have been recently happy to see some interesting projects, like the ones from Keita Takahashi - Noby Noby Boy. Or art games like Blueberry Garden, trough its author Eric Swedang who we met on the festival in Bradford.... I also like very much PS3 project Little Big Planet for its creative approach to gaming.
Would you accept offer to write music for a game developed not by Amanita Design?
If it is interesting project for sure.
THIS IS COMPLETE MISSUNDERSTANDING, i haven't released any track on Warp or Ninja Tune. Of course it would be super cool :D
By the way, your first (and the only) album was released almost 10 years ago. How the things going with the new album? You still thinking about the concept or you’ve already began to write tracks? Tell us about the style of your new album, please!
Yes it is crazy with my own stuff. There are many reasons why it takes so long but definitely not because I wouldn't be happy to released it earlier. Anyway with the album - it is in process. You can hear a few older songs considered for the album on my website www.floex.cz. It is my main focus now and also hopefully for the next year. It was good that some interesting musicians contacted me due to Machinarium OST. I've just sent one song to one italian group from Milano who offered me cooperation. I really like what they do so I am curious if it works out.
The new album will be electro acoustic. Maybe more deep, more experimental, but also a bit more minimal. There are two instruments important for the album - clarinet and piano.
With which composers, musicians or performers you’d like to work together?
Hmm... That's really interesting question. More I am older for me it is really important the personal level. I had luck that I met some really nice people especially recently. Otherwise I have a few above mentioned heroes and of course it would be super cool to make something with any of them. Or at least have a nice conversation.
Lusine, one of my very favorite musicians, was just playing in Brno few days ago. Unfortunately I had concert on the other side of the Czech rep. and couldn't see him, it was pretty upsetting. I was hoping to have beer with him :D
What exactly from the music impressed you the most recently?
With music I am quite choosy, but once I found something interesting I can get crazy about it. I have been listening recently a lot to Grizzly Bear actually. I heard the short concert in Pitchofork.tv from the Cemetery Gates and it totally put magic on me. Maybe because of the interaction of the space and music, it has beautiful sound. Trough this I find the way to their studio album.
Arve Henrisken one of my big music heroes was playing in Prague recently. It was concert with Jan Bang. I have to mention this because it was definitely one of the most touching concert experience in my life. He is extraordinary person for me - so original, deep, spiritual music.
Thanks for your time and good luck in your creativity process!
Thank you too!
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