Wednesday, May 19, 2010

2010-05-19. Music for the Umbrella Project

Coining the term 'idea music'

I am Pauli "Gwaur" Marttinen. I am the appointed composer for the Umbrella Project, though one other composer has also been invited to fill some of the stylistic gaps that I don't span. I specialize in music in the symphonic or otherwise classical sense. I am far for being a pro, but I'm aiming for professional studies in percussion and/or conducting.

At this point of the Umbrella Project, virtually no game exists. There's an incomplete graphics engine, the game and scripting engines are just being conceived, and the plot setting is only starting to get out of the "vague idea" state. This is the opposite of an ideal phase for making the score: I have no idea what I am making music for.

I have practically no mental image of where the project is headed to. There's too little concept art, 3D models, scripts or storyboards to follow. It is hard to get any inspiration that's directly linked to this game. If I make a piece of music for the game at this point, who knows if it will it be used in a cutscene or a playable place, or in the closing credits? Should I make it repeatable? Should I make other versions of it, for different situations?

It is of course never a bad idea to store ideas beforehand. Even if a piece I go ahead and finish now will ultimately be unused, ideas can be recycled. Maybe a new piece with a new structure but some same themes. Or the same structure and new themes in the same style. On the other hand, changing things may be difficult if, for instance, some pieces have music played with real instruments instead of computerized ones.

Something like this has been done at Studio Ghibli, a film studio that produces some of the most popular animated features. If you look for soundtracks of Ghibli's films, you might come across some albums subtitled "Image Album". These are albums of music inspired by storyboards and concept art, composed by the composer in the earliest phases of filmmaking, as opposed to music often being one of the last things to be made. With this, the composer has more time to fine-tune the music, discard some and make some new, according to the project leader's wish.

In our case, we are currently trying out something I might call "idea music" instead of image music, since we have no images yet. What happens right now is that the project coordinator asks me to make "something based on this idea". I try to follow that idea, make something, and suggest whatever I come up with. By now we have three pieces of music, but none of us knows exactly where and how to use them.

Things are starting out slow, and there are several reasons for it. None of us are professionals, and we have little experience on working on such an ambitious project. We live quite far away from each other, so we are relayed through the Internet and seldom meet in real life, but the Internet doesn't always do it for you. Also, frankly, my personal video game interests don't match with this one. ;)