An Interview with Alex Otterlei Feature - The Next Level

An Interview with Alex Otterlei

Hear from the man behind Xyanide's haunting soundtrack.

Article by Aaron Drewniak (Email)
November 24th 2005, 04:10AM
 

That was cool, but it was actually just the start. You see, a little while earlier, I had created the music for a short film Killing time, by a young, very talented artist called Koen Van Mierlo, and he had been very happy with the result. What I didn't know, was that he got hired as graphic artist at Playlogic, and when they needed a composer, he showed the press page of the World Soundtrack Awards to the project manager.

And so, not much later, I was working for them on the score of Xyanide.

Now we're back to the genesis of this whole conversation. Considering your past experiences, what was it like making music for Xyanide?

Alex: Xyanide was a very interesting experience, because they actually wanted a drum 'n bass score (although I wrote an orchestral opening at first, and no one told me, haha). Which is something I had absolutely no experience in. But I told the art director: give me a few D&B tracks that you'd think would suit the game, and give me two weeks. If by then I can't come up with something convincing, I'll guess you'll have to hire someone else. Needless to say: I wanted to do this score very much, but it wouldn't be professional to make them believe I was a D&B specialist. Far from that!

I guess I listened to some Speedy J for a day or so, and then I decided to find my own voice in this music style. About two weeks later, I came up with my first song (Enter the Witch) and thumbs went up unanimously. Phew.

Xyanide is also a good example of the art director's influence. He (Kim Goossens, extremely talented guy, the Belgian George Lucas as far as I'm concerned) had a strong conviction that the music should be D&B-related, and rather sounding like "rough oil" instead of "refined petrol" (his exact briefing). So I went for a raw, industrial, at times quite distorted sound with heavy filtered synths sounding like grease, oil, fat and mean. This I combined with industrial and organic sounds, depending the level of the game. And I added the treated opera vocals as the reoccurring "Aguirra" element, the witch you are hunting in the game, and who reappears in various forms. I wanted her presence to be "haunting" almost every track. Now, if it's really D&B, I wouldn't know, but I went for "fast complex rhythms" that give a more floating, flying feel than a steady two-beat.

Without the art director's briefing, I probably would've come up with something entirely different. And that's how these kind of cooperations can drive an artist in a direction where he never would have ventured on his own. And that's why I like working like this a lot! Needless to say, the art director does not control each and every note. Once he's convinced you got the "feel" right, (and this is done by sending short "tests", little mp3's of only 10-20 sec to give an idea of sound and feel) I am usually entirely free to compose the full track at my own judgment.

And the result is in your hands, hope you like it.

I've listened to nothing else since it's taken up residence in my CD player. So now that you've had this experience, what's it like composing for videogames?

Alex: It's a dream come true! I've started playing computer games around the time that Tomb Raider appeared, and I got hooked to those kind of games immediately. My biggest favourites are still Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, and Final Fantasy. Already early on I figured: to walk around in a virtual forest, hearing the character's footsteps, the birds chirping in the trees, the wind rustling through the leaves while the music blends in and sets the mood for an adventurous journey ahead...knowing that each and every sound was made by you, and now you can actually play the game, that must be really thrilling. And indeed it is!


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