Listen to Quantum Break's Soundtrack Early
Time for sound.
Quantum Break may still be a few weeks away from its official release, but you don't have to wait that long to listen to the game's soundtrack, which was composed by Petri Alanko (who also wrote Alan Wake's impressive score). Check out the soundtrack below, and then read on to see GameSpot's exclusive interview with Alanko about the creation of the music for Quantum Break. We also chatted with composer John Kaefer, who primarily worked on creating the music for Quantum Break's extensive live-action sequences.
GameSpot: At what stage of development were you officially on board for Quantum Break?
Petri Alanko: I got involved very early on, right from the very beginning, when they merely had only a few presentations and a few tech demos. One of the first scenes I scored for the project was an open field action sequence, in which Serene is about to blow up the library, and the scale inside that little demo piece--ranging from subtle, even minuscule to total inferno--left me gagging for air. It surely felt like "oh wow, these cinematic scenes are going to be a breeze to compose on."
Both the early brainstorms and the early cinematic clips were already very Remedy; full of ideas, details and entwining plot arcs. And those early talks provided really good tools for my foundational work. I’d done some occasional things for Quantum Break already in 2011, but those didn’t survive to the final product, and were used for pitching purposes only. I started my main production in early 2012 by rebuilding my sound libraries, renovating my whole mindset.
I've actually been involved with Remedy since 2005, over 10 years. It feels like it all begun only yesterday, really. No two days are alike, there’s always something new and positive going on, and their office is more or less like my second home.
What were your inspirations for the score for Quantum Break?
Most of the inspirations came from the story and the inner arcs of the early screenplay and synopsis, and a series of talks with the people involved. Also, discussing with the writers and the storyline people as well as the cinematics team people felt like pictures popping inside my head. I wanted to know the background of the characters, how they evolve throughout the events, all that, plus the stylistic sources for audio--which, back then, were more like "something like this would be cool, but done from an inner perspective instead of just observing it outside." It sounds gibberish, but to me it really has a meaning.
Since I’ve been an avid fan of Tangerine Dream’s early recordings and the conceptual electronic music of the 1970s and '80s, I immediately felt some of TD's early Moog system arpeggios were almost mirroring some of the emotions inside the storyline. I’m sure that we wouldn’t have modern day Clint Mansell or Cliff Martinez without Tangerine Dream, Peter Baumann, Chris Franke and other German artists. Also, I’ve listened to a lot of glitch hop and artists such as Hecq, whose Steedtongued album was one of my favorites. There must be some flavors of Michael Stearns' works, too, as well as Aphex Twin, and latter-day Reznorian flavors.
I was hoping I would’ve been able to arrange a few orchestral sessions, but I think it was Microsoft’s decision to leave orchestras out almost totally. I managed to squeeze in some, however, but they’re there to give some flavors and tones, and actually mixed quite far in the back, to spread the overall sound. Leaving orchestra further away didn’t really affect my work at all: I happen to like sandboxes and given limits. If you give a kid a Sahara, he’ll get lost in a snap. Put him into a sandbox, and he’ll build a kingdom. Since we felt we should head elsewhere from Alan Wake’s sonic environment, it felt natural: let's go electronic, and I enjoyed the whole trip greatly.
Were you always aware of the multimedia aspect of Quantum Break? Did the fact that a live action series was being made alongside the game affect your work?
Yes, I was. Right from the beginning. I’m willing to guess I was among the very first ones outside the inner circle to learn about that feature. It felt exciting, but also extensively exhausting, just knowing the different possible endings and their iterations… phew. However, the main difference back then was: ok, the game's dynamic, the show’s linear, easy peasy. Nothing else was separating them then.
Thanks to the audiovisual style guides created very early on, I composed about a dozen tracks in 2012, which stayed there until the end, only their "clothing" was altered towards the end, quite drastically, actually, but the heart of those tracks stayed unchanged. They had a clear analogue quality to them--the independent tracks and sounds, that is--and that defined the path towards the end. Some of those songs are on the soundtrack; Beth's storyline is represented in four of the tracks.
The further into production we went, the more the game departed from the plans of the TV show. At times I felt the show planning couldn't really keep up the pace, but maybe that was just my imagination. However, now that I've seen the final versions of both the game and the show, it's clear the products belong to the same universe, but they're slightly in different locations. The game's a really, really refined, very coherent product, and the feel of it is very unique and original--actually, there’s nothing like it, never has been, in my opinion.
Soundtrack duties for the live-action component of Quantum Break fell to John Kaefer. Is there a reason why you didn't do both soundtracks?
Well, schedules were ruthless, to start with. Since the TV show production was made by an external company outside Remedy and Microsoft, their schedules were rather independent from the main product, and although we discussed the possibilities to the very end, it was inevitable that both were impossible to score. The show was finalized well before our own deadline, with my final musical stretch beginning in October 2015. Also, since the show production was happening on the West Coast in North America and I wasn't able to relocate myself or even travel back and forth due to the game's scheduling, it didn’t make the plans any easier. Pretty far from it.
Since my main job was to hone the existing Quantum Break music into its final form for the finalized cinematics and gameplay, the show was a no-go for me, as the final phase of the game's development was very intense. However, there's a scene or two or three that feature my music, but it was very clear during those preparation rounds, that the basic mindset and emotional anchor was going to be hugely different from the game's, despite the existing audiovisual style guides prepared by Remedy.
I wanted to keep my sights set on the AAA main product, Quantum Break the game. After seeing and hearing the results, I felt the decision was right for all parties. The TV show has a different feel to it, not only because you’re just observing the events, not participating them in first person, but because it’s not actively interactive the way game is.
John, how closely did you work with Petri in the creation of your soundtrack? At what stage did you become involved in the process?
John Kaefer: I was hired by Lifeboat Productions to create the score for the live-action series in 2015 (I worked with them previously on the Crackle Network's original series “Sequestered”). I was thrilled to join the team! The show was already filmed and locked by the time I came on board. I did not work directly with Petri, however I’m familiar with his work. Before writing I discussed all aspects of the game/show's direction with the director Ben Ketai and the production and creative teams. I’m very pleased with how well the live-action score pairs with the game music. It feels seamless.
Sticking with John, how much of the score for the live-action series will be familiar to the game? Are they completely different, retaining only thematic echoes? Or are they complementary yet different?
John Kaefer: The live-action score and game music are complementary, but each also has its own distinct sound and thematic ideas. My work embraces a hybrid electronic/acoustic palette, incorporating elements of minimalism and cinematic scoring, while supporting and enhancing the story and action onscreen. Music for film/tv and games can have great depth and diversity--it’s an exciting time to be a composer. While I have classical training, I love the freedom and inspiration that work in film/tv and games offers. I very much enjoyed crafting the sound of the series and I’m looking forward to its release on April 5.
Petri, with Quantum Break being a much more high-stakes action game, can we expect the score for the game to much more bombastic?
Actually, no. The rather elaborate playback system in the game is really intelligent and adjusts to the action on screen--no hocus pocus, just WWise doing its best, prepared by the brilliant Remedy audio team. During the soundtrack preparation I considered more than twice including some action sequences and fast-paced music, but since the playback system alters the playback, none of those tracks would've been presented the way they were supposed to; too many stems were either thrown away by WWise, or the "flow" of the music would’ve been odd to my ear. It works in the game really, really well (actually, much better than in anything else I’ve played lately), but without the picture… not so much. So, instead, I wanted to concentrate on the emotional storylines. The main flaw with action music is, when you've heard one, you’ve heard it all, no matter how good the game or the movie or the music itself is.
In Alan Wake, the protagonist had only one leverage: his will to save the dearest he has, his wife, Alice. Driven by guilt, he finally exchanged places with his beloved and saved the innocent. However, with Quantum Break, the storyline has so many anchors in it: there's not only Jack losing his brother Will, but also an old friend-becoming-a-lost-friend-becoming-something-else--and on top of that he’s got the weight of saving the world as we know it on his shoulders. Now, if THAT wouldn't give seeds for a good emotional soundtrack, I sure as hell don’t know what would!
So, the foundation was laid there. Some of the tracks are directly from the cinematics, some of them are "origins" of the tracks that were used in several tracks--in stem form--but it’s all there. One would say (with a smirk) it’s a modern-day action emotional drama with quite a load of action thrown in.
You've said before that for Quantum Break, a "huge amount of custom sound libraries had to be created even before the main composing could commence." Can you elaborate on that?
I’ve already got quite a multi-dozen terabyte sound library I've built myself over the years. For instance, some samples that play the deep, distorted growling bass sounds were originally sampled into my Ensoniq Mirage in 1987, you can recognize them wherever a BRAAAAHM appears, the Mirage Cello is there, providing the distorted body. My then girlfriend played a cello, and she was literally mortified to hear the mangled and almost unrecognizable results then, the converters of my then sampler weren't actually worth a dime, really. These sounds weren’t used ever before in a commercial product until Quantum Break, so one can say some parts of the Quantum Break soundtrack have been in the making since the late '80s! Also, my trusty old Linn Drum got mangled thoroughly, and since it was malfunctioning constantly, it also provided some very odd glitching, which I sampled and time corrected later in the production.
Most of the sound library for certain atmospheric instruments had to be made from scratch, and that involved a heavy dose of door hinges, rusty metal equipment, metal gates, car parts, guitar feedback in various forms and sizes (I even made some acoustic "feedbacking guitar" pads with a vibrator instrument and a guitalele), and from those the sample sets and the instruments were gathered, and only then was I able to start composing what were to become Quantum Break's core tracks.
I had a piano frame with some strings still intact, and some power tools were used to provide acoustic-sounding raw material, which was then cleaned up and edited with several applications, some of them working in my iPads, some in Symbolic Sound Kyma.
I happen to own a nice modular synth, and used it alongside several analog synths (Macbeth M5, Omega 8, SE-1, MiniMoog Voyager, Prophet12, Arp Odyssey, Roland SH-2, Oberheim Matrix 12, Oberheim XPander) to create about 1.2 terabytes of raw material recorded through a set of Neve preamps and EQs, which was then cut into pieces, hacked and slashed into a ton of Kontakt instruments. All that combined with acoustical sources provided by Remedy’s audio team--who, actually, wrecked quite a few cars during the making of their own libraries. They also gave me a huge amount of metallic and glass sounds which I turned into convolutions and musical sources. It was a wonderland, really.
Also, since one of the issues we discussed with the writers was "time breaking down", I--as a drop-out theoretical physics student--felt like the splitting storyline was like two shards of time approaching you at an eye level, which itself is quite a graphic view, so… glass, ice, dry ice, something that’s transparent yet distorting. I happened to have very thin laminated glass sheets in my garage, so I glued some contact mics onto it, and started bending the sheets. Little by little it crackled and gave up, but stayed together thanks to the laminate. The results were turned into convolution tables and used inside Waves' IR-1, Logic’s Space Designer and Native Instruments' Reflektor. They provided a strange "splintered" ambience that sweetened pretty much every pad there was.
I think I could go on and on forever, but the story gets crazier the deeper I go. I tend to take my job very seriously, and if I’m after some obscure sound, I become locked in the creative process. I seldom watch a clock when making music and sounds, if ever.
While Alan Wake is thematically very different to Quantum Break, were there any cues or links you wanted to include in Quantum Break? Something that would unify your work across two very different game experiences?
Oh yes, I think people will recognize both the mother company and the composer in both cases! I’ve actually studied my own tracks quite thoroughly, to the core, and it seems I never, ever write to accommodate or decorate what you already see or experience. That would be a bit obvious, it would sound like saying the exact same sentence twice: first on screen, then in the music track, one plus one makes two, so it becomes LOUDER and duller. You already get what you see, now how do you spice up that image? You've got a chance to tell two stories at the same time: your current flow and then the motivations, emotions, roads leading in and out. Why not go with the choice that offers more?
So, instead, I like to find the gateway from the previous action to the next through what you experience currently, it sort of deepens the experience and the emotions. It adds layers to the cake (or onion), and creates a more lifelike feeling, since nothing in the real world is actually one-dimensional emotionally.
I've sometimes said, "there are always tears in a clown’s eyes", which sort of emphasizes my philosophy. And at the same time, I’ve never been to a funeral where only crying was involved. My granddad passed away quite tragically in December 2015, and at his funeral, there was a surprising amount of laughter in people's stories about him, which made the longing and goodbyes even more bittersweet. I still feel the warmth of us gathering together, despite us not having seen each other in a long time. Had it been just crying, it'd fade away faster. There’s that same human touch involved in both Alan Wake and Quantum Break, The Greatest Feeling, one would say, the feeling that clings people together…some for life--the feeling I’d like to think that makes you and me tick, and makes our lives worth living.