During the last few years, the revenue generated by the interactive entertainment industry finally surpassed annual motion picture ticket sales. With that achievement under its belt, the game industry is now determined to take it to the next level and has started to integrate Hollywood-style production values, including multichannel surround audio and professionally scored soundtracks, some even performed by large orchestras.
Mimicking Hollywood, the interactive entertainment industry has also looked to popular musicians to score game titles. Its a natural synergy: Many of todays musicians are of that generation that was practically playing video games before they could walk.
Amon Tobin is one such musician. Born in Brazil and raised in England since his early teens, Tobin has become a major presence in the world of dance music. Initially releasing a collection of singles and a full-length album under the name Cujo, he subsequently found a suitable outlet for his eclectic mix of hip-hop, jazz, drum n bass, and ambient dub at the Ninja Tune label, releasing a succession of critically acclaimed albums under his own name since 1997.
Ive always been a games fan, says Tobin. Im one of this generation of 30-somethings that, since they were kids, has had everything from ZX Spectrum to whats going on now. Ive always been excited about that.
But when game developer Ubisoft approached him to provide original music for an upcoming title, Tom Clancys Splinter Cell 3, Tobin admitted to some reservations. I wasnt sure about the limitations of making music for a game.
He had no reason to worry. I was pleasantly surprised that there was a lot more flexibility than I thought. Im really able to just do music and apply it with a different mechanism to the game, but its still the music that I like to make.
He was also concerned that, as with many movies, the soundtrack would simply be another compilation of current hits. Such a product takes away so much class, he says. You look back to the great composers and great films — there was a thread that ran through the soundtrack, a recurring theme, and different musical environments. It was always a solid body of work.
Happily, Ubisofts Montreal-based development studio asked Tobin to create the entire soundtrack. For them to take a risk like that, on a fairly unknown composer, is pretty awesome. I dont know if Id get that amount of leeway on a big Hollywood production, he says.
According to Ubisoft, Splinter Cell 3 will set a new industry benchmark with its completely immersive and interactive environment, innovative gameplay, and a completely unique collaborative multiplayer experience. A sneak preview of the game at the recent E3 Expo in Los Angeles suggests that it will live up to expectations.
Although currently working in stereo, Tobin is preparing the tracks to be mixed in 5.1. Every element is being stripped out into stem tracks. What Im going to do at the end of this process, after the main arrangement is done, is go into a 5.1 studio and remix the entire record from start to finish.
The surround mix will be more than just a stereo mix with reverb in the surrounds, he says. Its going to be proper, with every element recorded separately. Were going to decide where it all needs to go in the surround field.
Tobin considers himself more of a sound manipulator than a musician, citing the sampler as his main composition tool. I dont work in a traditional way. Ive always had a clear idea of the process that I like to use to make music. Its all about taking sounds and twisting them and chopping them up. They have to have a musical context.
Initially adopting Akai samplers, he says, As software samplers have got better and better, Im looking more at Native Instruments Kontakt, and theres a bit of hardware I use call the Roland VariOS. Its a real-time pitch-shifting, time-stretching machine.
He continues, Im doing the whole [project] on Cubase SX, rather than Pro Tools. I much prefer the MIDI interface in Cubase, and the audio in SX is really up to par. Im using a Mackie D8B and I do most of my processing with a TC Fireworx, a Mutator by Mutronics — an outboard analog filter, the Roland VariOS, and an API compressor, which I just got off my good friend [and fellow Ninja Tune recording artist] Sixtoo.
According to Tobin, Surround Professionals own Bobby Owsinski of Surround Associates in L.A. is currently favorite to mix the 5.1 soundtrack. Ninja Tune is also considering a 5.1 release of the music.