After joining moddb mainly to aquire and consume as many mods as I possibly could, I was very happy to be taken up on my offer to provide music for one of the excellent portal mods in development here;
Once the soundtrack was released into the community, I received a number of question regarding inspiration and development and thought it would be a good idea to describe a few of these elements as part of my first feature.
I'm going to attempt to pick apart my own work, track-by-track, to give a better understanding of how the music came about and how original music can help add further depth to a mod/game.
This was the first track i set out making, I already had a list of possible track names. (mostly inspired by what I had seen from Portal 2)
One of my main rules was to try and keep from placing so much emphasis on standard rhythm techniques (drum beats and adhearing to BPM - beats per minute) and to let the music flow as more of an ambient stream of information. Obviously with there being a heavy machine/computer theme to Portal it is hard to get out of the thinking of pure mathematics and calculation.
Kelly Bailey's original score for Portal was a huge inspiration for this and I attempted to keep it as a semi-bible on what to do while trying to add my own tack on things.
This track is mostly composed of the same synthesized cymbal sound in various pitches played over one another. I believe it is a preset of the Dominator .vst instrument.
The main theme acts as a constant throughout the track giving the lower, bass elements chance to take the lead, this bass is also allowed to flow freely as the higher ring provides some semblance of rhythm. The high ring has a highpass filter attached to it which gains and squeezes the sample as the track progresses to add a sense of urgency to what is ostensibly a calm mood.
Added to this the switch in bass melody in the last 16 bars,I had intended to an ominous ending to what would be an standard ambient drone.
2. Special envoy
In another attempt to rhythm purging to opening sound to this track is a basic organ sample and two notes played one after another as fast as i could manage on a midi keyboard (I use a rather old M.audio oxygen 8 v2)
With a little bit of added reverb (shorter delay the better to give added metallic sound) and a light phaser the warbling provides another underlying constant for this very slow paced track to roll over.
Writing a song for soundtrack is very different from writing a regular track, you have to understand that your input as a musician is only one facet to the whole experience for a gamer.
With a standard track it is important to keep your listener interested and invested as (one would hope) their sole attention is laid on listening to your music, and so it is important you change this and add interest almost every 8 bars.
With a soundtrack piece you are an additional almost subconscious contributor and the music must run deep but also provide ambient more than interest as not to overshadow the attentions of the player. I feel this track is a good example of that, to sit and listen to it can become monotonous, there are moments of ear candy - created by using a female breath sample as point of interest but mostly it is intended to give a sense of space and movement.
3. We're a lot alike
In the music I have been producing outside of commissioned soundtracks I had been trying to add more organic sounds and add more played (as opposed to programmed) elements, my goal has always been to create more organic electronica, keep the use of synths and computers but adding the natural and improvisational themes of played instruments from the rock background that i grew up with.
After getting a midi-keyboard this became much easier to do and I consciously set to create piano based tracks, and wanting to add my own style to this mod as opposed to mimicking Kelly Baileys soundtrack I decided to add a piano based song to the mod entitled 'We're a lot alike'
In the world of Portal that phrase said a lot to me about how co-dependant GLADoS is with the test subjects and I wanted to write an eerie, sullen piece to reflect that.
I mostly use Plugsound for my piano part as its very versatile and, with the correct time spent on refining the reverb, very realistic.
Once again, sticking to idea of the music being a subconscious contribution and attempting not to be too complex in melody, this is a rather simple piano melody which progresses by expanding on the themes of the main chord progression while letting the upper registers add interest.
Please feel free to ask any additional questions in the comments below.
Part 2 coming soon...