Petri Alanko Exclusive Interview - Part 20 Comments
The G4 Staff recently got a chance to interview lead composer for Quantum Break, Petri Alanko, and got to know a little more about the EDM and rock loving musician. A man that's not just relegated to the world of video game compositions, Alanko has worked on almost every type of project a composer can become involved with. You can check out a preview of the Quantum Break soundtrack here as we anxiously await and game's release, and join us below for part two of our exclusive interview with Petri Alanko. Part 1 can be found here.
Was there a specific direction that Remedy wanted the soundtrack to go in from the beginning, or were you given a fair bit of control in your composition?
They wanted me to keep it simple, not to overdo the layer treatments and try to keep the orchestra away, which I really, really tried. And, of course, there was the everlasting plea of “keep the bloody brass away” which I, of course, didn’t follow. Instead, one or two of the tracks in the game are literally filled with brass, quadrupled actually, to create one enormous pad with heaps of lower rumbling, heh. So there, Remedy. I got you guys. In reality, the brass sections (both drawn from my personal library I’ve created over the years plus several sample banks) sound like it’s just one huge organic mattress of furry, goth-y roar, and thus almost unrecognizable, but it was such a delicious joke to do.
Other than that, I was given quite free hands. There was a very thorough audio guidelines document which contained a lot of examples and flavors — of course, we’re talking about Remedy, but since the company doesn’t have a music director as such (well, it’s not needed there), it was merely a sound doc rather than a specific music doc.
Also, since Alan Wake had such a distinctive sound, we all agreed Quantum Break should sound a little different, which is when I decided it’d be almost totally analogue synth-based, and if digital was used, it had to have a certain flavor — so I dusted off my collection and gathered back some equipment being stored in a storage rental room. Even an early ‘80s analogue organ was hauled over to my place. Mind you, using the word “electric organ” doesn’t do justice to that machine, it really isn’t just your average living room piece, instead, it’s a three-manual analogue beast that was hugely expensive back in the day. I’ve owned it for years, but until Quantum Break, it wasn’t used that much.
Juxtaposing high-end tech in the game with older analogue stuff created contrast, but the contrast was a delicate one, and provided enough “abrasion surface” to make the sound interesting. Overdoing the “high-end tech” would have sounded dated, would be overkill and somehow boringly predictable, but with “old school tech” and “old school skills” this sharpest edge of high-tech blade got its serration, enabling deeper cuts, whereas with just the average ready-built libraries and plugins it would’ve been just… boring. I hope that my current stylistic choices provide some longevity for the soundtrack.
Video games have become far more cinematic in nature over the last few console generations. Does a player's amount of agency in a particular scene affect your musical score for that scene, or do you score scenes / setpieces in advance and let the developers use that material to suit their needs?
Well, both, but eventually pretty much everything gets placed here and there. Sometimes doing stem tracks for a battle scene reveals very, very interesting atmospheres as I tend to print the sends and busses (in Pro Tools) too. There are LOTS of convolution “reverbs” which aren’t reverbs, but instead they’re crumbling tinfoil, rice paper, sandpaper, glass shards, etc., and they tend to react to incoming sounds’ frequencies quite unpredictably, thus creating about two million happy accidents — which the devs, of course, used according to their will, in addition to the stems.
Because the production cycle of Quantum Break was quite a long time (over four years in my case) there was a lot of material, both used and unused, and not too long ago about a full album of tracks emerged from my backups, among them 8 unused pieces from Quantum Break’s early phases. This pack of tracks was written when Remedy had only half a level done for the game, so I had imagined what it would be like. To my surprise, there were lots of very usable themes and atmospheres that could be — with small edits — incorporated into in-game music and cinematics, one of them being what is now called “Limping, Together”, the other became “Suite for Time and Machines” with a mere few edits, and the game’s ending, “The Whisper” survived throughout the whole process. Again, a lot of that was just a result of discussions, concept art, and very early screenplay. I’d say that’s quite strong evidence of how clear the initial idea of the game really was.
You've worked on everything from songwriting to mobile and AAA game soundtracks; does anything stick out as your favorite type of project to work on?
I’ll probably answer this for the rest of my days, but Alan Wake was a breeze to work on, and Wake took me with him. In both cases, Quantum Break and Alan Wake, I always felt I watched the world from a high hill or a mountain, and saw as far as a human can see — a clarity of vision — and both felt relatively easy to do, like doing a puzzle first in your head, then just transmitting the corner pieces into place, then connecting the corners, then the skies, the grass, the details… and it’s ready. But since the colours were of a deeper shade in Alan Wake, it felt more like home, thematically and story-wise.
I just keep on thinking: what would Remedy do now that they’ve got their tech skills honed to maximum, with all the equipment and face tech? I seriously hope I can one day dust off my Alan Wake skills and go back to where the evil lurks everywhere, not only around Paul Serene.
However, I must add that Quantum Break is another dream project. They’re very different, yet they somehow belong to the same universe, where the events could happen, a Remedy world. And, as usual, after more time has passed, I’m sure Quantum will be my #1. The mixing phase is still clear in my memory. I probably slept ten hours in four days during the last phase of mixing the soundtrack… it was a monster to do, really.
Soundwise and as compositions, I like Quantum Break more; it’s modern and synth-based, yet not dated. The arcs in the tracks are longer and connect better with each other, reaching out for other tracks and flirting with on-screen events. But, Alan Wake was my first one and remains as such.
What's next for Petri Alanko?
An album. I started working on it more than a year ago, containing material that didn’t fit in Quantum Break. Then, during Helsinki Festive Week, I’ll perform revamped trance and EDM classics on a grand piano, with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, in Helsinki Music House — that’s about as huge it gets — and then, maybe, another album. However, I’m not willing to colour my calendar as black as it was about a year ago, unless someone has a psycho-thriller in need of music, let me know. I’ll sleep in 2018 then.