Artem Bank Q&A: Scoring the Music of Space and Beyond…
A little while back, after the Kinetic Void Kickstarter began, I got an email from one Artem Bank about doing the music for the game. This immediately got me excited as Artem had also done the music for Star Ruler, which was a great game with a fantastic soundtrack. I therefore contacted Artem and asked if I could do a Q&A, the results of which you can read below. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did. :)
Brian: First off, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Now, I’ll admit, the first time I’d ever heard of you was in relation to Star Ruler — which is an AWESOME soundtrack by the way — which apparently is your first game soundtrack ever. Might I ask how you got involved with that project? Also, had you ever considered creating music for video games before then?
Artem: Why, thanks a bunch! I had fun making it, and I’m glad you enjoyed the SR soundtrack. And actually, that’s a funny story, how I got into it. It was entirely by chance. I was in the OCRemix IRC channel, and Firgof just so happened to join the room. The first thing he posted into the room was if anyone wanted to do music for a soundtrack. I said sure, and then through that first little private message I was the composer for Star Ruler. It wasn’t the first time I’d ever thought about doing music for video games, but it was the first opportunity, and sort of pushed me forward.
Brian: Did the Star Ruler soundtrack open up any doors to you that were likely unopened before?
Artem: Yes, it really did. Star Ruler did pretty well for an indie game, and I had Savage Mojo, a company that writes settings and scenarios for their table top rpg system contact me to do some music for them. Also, because I started to get more into the idea of making game music, I joined TIGSource, which gave me lots of opportunities just to write more.
Brian: Now, with the Star Ruler soundtrack especially, you really did an amazing job capturing the…expanse, the sheer magnitude of space in musical form, or so I thought. How did you go about composing the music for Star Ruler, and did composing music for Star Ruler affect the way you approached future compositions at all?
Artem: Thanks again! I think the main thing I looked at for the music of Star Ruler was more the textures of the sounds that I was using, rather than having some sort of complexity in the theory behind it I think. I like to think that at least, but it was probably more like “Well, I don’t know what I’m doing, but this sounds cool!” And after that, it was just a back and forth between me and the Blind-Mind guys until we were both happy with the tracks. It certainly made me play with more of the toys I had in my arsenal, to make me discover the sounds I liked and just how to fit them together. It was as much a learning experience as it was getting the music down.
Brian: Moving on from Star Ruler, you’re now doing the music for an upcoming space game — currently Kickstarting — called Kinetic Void, another space game. What can you tell us about the music you’re creating for this game? For example, is it similar in spaciness to Star Ruler, or does it have a flavor all its own?
Artem: I’ll say that while it’s got a few similarities to the Star Ruler music, it’s pretty far from the sound that SR had, if just for the quality of it all. My skills have grown quite a bit since then, or so I like to tell myself and pat my own ego. It’s bigger, cleaner, tighter, and just sounds like a soundtrack. Something a little more cinematic, or just fitting. I’ll say that I’m trying to stay away from using too much of the SR stuff that I have before, like presets for synth or such. There’s a lot of organic sounds in there though, and I’m trying to make a nice blend between orchestral and electronic (with just the slightest hint of rock in there.)
Brian: Did the Kinetic Void folks approach you, or vice versa? Also, how do you go about deciding which projects you’ll work on?
Artem: Actually, it was more that Sean (Lead Developer) was pimpin’ out his game, and sending links to the youtube for the devlogs to everyone on his steam account. I’d known him as a beta tester for Star Ruler, and I got the link, watched the video, and asked if he needed music for his game. He had actually forgotten that I did the SR music, but after a bit of reminding and showing the stuff I’ve done since then, he was completely on board with me doing the music for the game. And I have to say, I’m really happy with writing the music. It’s fun to actually be able to talk to the developers really openly, and he’s one of those guys that sits in a voice chat with the rest of the team. I LOVE that. So, that’s one thing I look for in projects I want to work on. I like being able to talk to the developers, really openly, and knowing that I can contact them that easily without it being a chore of emails is nice. Also, I look for a game that has enough momentum in it’s development, and enough passion from the developers that I’ll know for sure that the game will get done and be released. I’m much less likely to take a job where there’s no indication that the product will ever come out in the end, even if it’s a free indie game.
Brian: Now are you a fan of space games yourself, or is it just that your music fits the setting, for example?
Artem: I think the spaciest game that I’ve ever played might be StarFox 64… Not to say that I don’t like them. Actually, I played EVE Online for a few months before I decided it was a bit of a waste of time. I don’t even play Star Ruler because I’m not a fan of strategy games. I think I definitely will play Kinetic Void though – mostly because the way it’s coming along, it might turn out like a really awesomely done “Sid Meyer’s Pirates!” in space. Sean doesn’t like me saying that, but it’s a compliment from me, for sure, and that excites me a lot. At the same time, I don’t think it’s that my music fits the setting, but that I have a strong enough ear to know how a space game should sound. To toot my horn a little bit, I think that as a composer, I could write a piece that really fit any setting I needed it to. In fact, in the music that I wrote for Savage Mojo, they had a setting called Shanghai Vampocalypse, which was a Chinese setting in the future, and they literally told me to mix the traditional Asian type music with techno. I think that I did a good job, but you be the judge:
Brian: Besides soundtracks, you’ve done several albums of your own music. I listened to some of Mammuthus Primigenius for this interview, which I really liked. I also heard some of the random MP3s on your hard drive from other collections, which were…all over the place. ;) How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard it before?
Artem: Oh god, you actually listened to MP? I’m so sorry – that was a really old album that I managed to put together about 3 years after starting it and leaving it about 1/3 done. The thing about all of the music that I’d made aside from the soundtracks I have, is that they’re all exercises or tests of synths or just extremely random stuff that I couldn’t be bothered to finish and make a proper album for. I like just making music, and it’s the best practice for me if I can just write and write, even if there are only a few ideas in my head. I’ll compose that idea, and leave it undone and just move on – because getting what I’m hearing in my head into an actual audio format is the most important part. The more I teach myself how to do that, the better my music will get. If I had to describe it to someone who never heard it, I’ll say that there’s definitely something for everyone in my catalog – you just have to search through until your find something that tickles your fancy enough. I’m always happy to answer emails if folks want to know exactly which album to look at.
Brian: I’ll finish up with some general questions. How long have you been creating music, and what got you started?
Artem: I think I’ve been making music since…I want to say 7th grade now? So, about 8 years. though, most of the things that have actually counted towards making me a better musician and composer have been in the past 3 years. The 5 or so years before that were me playing around with a guitar and just trying things out – trying to understand music as a whole and just getting myself comfortable with writing. High School bands are really good for just experimenting with what you like in music, since it’s most likely not going to pan out and go anywhere past High School.
Brian: What kind of process do you go through when you’re creating and composing your music? I.e. do you need a specific environment or time of day to work?
Artem: I usually have something in my head, and then I get in to some audible level – with a drum loop and the melody or rhythm part or whatnot. And then I leave that playing in the background while I surf the web, and after hammering it into my brain and humming along I’ll write more and more on top of it. Once I have some material all jumbled together, I’ll space it out, and make proper transitions. I’m not picky with when I’m writing music, but I really like actually writing in the comfort of my room, just because I know where everything is and how everything works.
Brian: Finally, this is a cheesy one but I like it, but if you could go back and compose a soundtrack for one movie in place of its original composer, which movie would it be and why?
Artem: This is such a hard question for me, because I really wouldn’t pick a movie where I loved the soundtrack. It’s part of the charm and mood of the entire movie, so replacing it with something else would make me like the movie even less. How terrible would that be? I’d have to pick a movie where I really hated the soundtrack… That’s tough. Probably the first Matrix movie, which didn’t have that memorable of a soundtrack, and I think I could do a pretty good one. But I’m not sure on that – I’d much rather just write a full score for a brand new movie. I wish… That’d be really fun.
Brian: Thanks for your time!!!
Artem: Thank you so much for your questions! This was fun, and please everyone check out the game I’m working on, Kinetic Void. Donate to the Kickstarter if you can!