By Marty Mulrooney
Following on from our recent chat with The Journey Down: Over The Edge creator Theodor Waern, AMO is proud to present yet another exclusive interview, this time with the game’s soundtrack composer Simon D’souza! Fans can buy the music from the game here. You can also listen to other music Simon has written via his website www.souzamusic.co.uk.
Welcome to AMO Mr D’souza! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
Please, call me Simon! I am a saxophonist, composer, music educator and technologist. I live with my wife and two cats in Brighton a seaside city on the south coast of England. I am 47 years old and I have been a professional musician pretty much my whole working life.
You teach jazz, which is obviously a huge passion of yours! What other musical styles are you passionate about?
When I was growing up I was a soul boy – really into funk, soul, reggae, jazz funk – all of that groove music – people like James Brown, Grover Washington Jnr, Toots and the Maytals, early Prince – these were formative influences… I am still really into that, though I have to admit not being as up on the current stars as I could be! I am also very much into modern classical music – Gyorgi Ligeti, Steve Reich, Michael Nyman, Christopher Rouse, Stravinsky. I could go on… But it is indeed true that the central musical genre in my career is jazz, or maybe it’s improvisation – I love to work stuff out ‘in the moment’. Some of my improvisations turn into melodies which turn into tracks.
How did you come to be involved with the indie adventure game The Journey Down?
Theo, the developer, emailed me to ask if I would give him permission to use a couple of sax samples I had put up on Freesound. I said sure but I’d love to see the game (loads of people have used my Freesound samples, and I really like to see what people make with them). When I saw the game I was blown away by the visuals and gameplay but thought that I could add something to the soundtrack he already had. I’ve always wanted to write music for computer games and so offered to do so for JD. Luckily enough, Theo was up for that and so it started.
Are you a gamer yourself?
I like puzzle and strategy games – I just finished Precipice Of Darkness which was a lot of fun. I like strategy games too – do you remember Seven Kingdoms? – that was a great game! I also like Battle for Wesnoth – I had a serious addiction to that for about a year! I try not to play too many games as it takes away time when I could be writing and playing music…
What made you decide to get actively involved with the project, rather than simply grant permission for use of the pre-made samples?
As I said it was the quality of the graphics and the gameplay. I also really liked that the protagonists were based on African masks – it gave the game a unique edge. Theo’s really into collecting them – I’ve seen the photos of the masks that the characters are based on and he’s got them down to a tee!
How did you collaborate with Theodor Waern throughout the project?
It was very straightforward. Theo told me what he needed music for (cutscenes, rooms, etc) and the sort of vibe he was looking for, I wrote something and sent it to him, he said yes, maybe or no, I edited, tweaked or started again as necessary and usually by the second try we were more or less there. The cutscenes took longer to get together – it was all about getting the music to develop in the same way as the cut scenes did.
What is Theo like to work with? How did he give you direction?
Theo is a very cool and laid back guy. The process was a lot of fun and very unpressurised, even as we approached the release date. As the game was pretty much finished all the visual clues were already there and so it was a case of Theo emailing me what he thought the music should convey and me trying to implement that.
The music has a very prominent reggae flavour… how was this style decided upon?
The piece of music that Theo already had (which was okay but a bit 80’s midi sounding for my taste) had a reggae groove to it. So I just picked up on that. As I said earlier, I listened to reggae a lot when I was in my teens (in fact I was in a lovers rock band called Storm that had a top 40 hit with ‘It’s My House’) so it was like going back to my roots.
What style did you go for during the cutscenes?
Theo and I both thought that we should go for the dramatic, cinematic, full orchestra sound. I like composers like Hans Zimmer, Morriconi and Bernard Herrmann so I tried to do something like that.
What equipment/software did you use to complete the soundtrack?
I used a MacBook running Logic Express, with East West Silver Orchestra, some Reggae drum loops, a couple of guitar drum loops (I bought a copyright free reggae sample back for some of these sounds). I play trumpet and trombone as well as saxophone I so was able to lay down some fat reggae horn sections – which I REALLY enjoyed doing.
Can you briefly talk us through each individual track?
Intro Music/Setting The Scene – This is the music for the first cutscene, intended to set up a mysterious and dramatic vibe at the beginning. I had a lot of fun making this and syncing it to the action. The hood’s theme is in there as is the Boss’. At the end it builds to a bit of a climax. Then a light reggae groove kicks in with the horns playing the main theme (which I think of as Bwana’s theme). Much of the music is based on Bwana’s theme, which I continually tweaked and messed around with to give me new musical themes. Hopefully this has resulted in a musical score that hangs together, in spite of the differences between the classical/reggae sounds.
Charter Music – This music gets heard a lot as it’s where Bwana has to walk through to get to the different rooms. I tried to make it very relaxing and a bit uplifting. I also discovered a technique for increasing the longevity of these pieces of music – at the end of the track it goes into a slightly different groove, so it’s like you actually have two pieces of music instead of one and hopefully when the piece of music starts again the listener feels as if they haven’t heard this piece of music before (the first couple of times at least).
Outside Maketas – Whilst I wanted to hold on to the reggae theme I wanted to get plenty of rhythmic variety, so this is a more swinging, up-tempo groove. The melody is still recognisably Bwana’s theme but he’s now in a public place with people eating and drinking and lots of activity compared to the charter. Whilst writing this I discovered a technique for increasing the longevity of a piece of backing music – at then end of the track it goes into a slightly different groove, so it’s like you actually have two pieces of music instead of one and hopefully when the piece of music starts again the listener feels as if they haven’t heard this piece of music before (the first couple of times at least)
Inside Maketas – This music tries to give the feeling of Maketa herself – slower tempo and sensuous in that way that beautiful, large women can be (hope this doesn’t sound sexist or sizeist). I am pleased with the melody here. Again the feel at the end of the track is very different to the beginning, so when it loops the player doesn’t get so tired of listening to the same 16 bars over and over so quickly.
Dockside – We had a bit of trouble with this. Initially I wanted to use the ‘Drunken Sailor’ sea shanty, but Theo didn’t want something so recognisable. It took three goes before we got the right balance – but I think we got there in the end.
Outro Music – This is when the puzzles have been solved and the heroes are getting ready to fly off – then the hoods show up – so it starts as a reggae groove and then gets progressively scarier. I really enjoyed scoring the chase sequence. As in the rest of the game, the graphics are amazing, but the animation is just superb here – a real payoff for having finished the game for the player. I was also pleased with the takeoff music – especially the bit where Bwana’s still screaming and so the high violins keep playing loud even though the rest of the music has calmed down… Finally we end up back in the reggae groove, which is a bit of a relief after all that high drama…
The game has now been released: what do you think of the final result now you can see Theo’s work alongside your own efforts?
It’s great. Theo is a very talented man and it’s an honour to have my music in his game. Thanks Theo!
Many reviewers, myself included, have mentioned the soundtrack as a key component of the overall experience. How does that make you feel?
It makes me feel good. Like most other people, I like getting praise. Also, I spent a lot of time on the music for the Journey Down and I’m glad that people are getting something out of all that work.
Do you plan to continue working with Theo for subsequent instalments of The Journey Down?
Most definitely. It’s been a rewarding and pleasurable experience. Theo is a very talented man. I just hope Hans Zimmer or someone doesn’t muscle in on the act!
Are video game soundtracks something you would consider doing more of in the future?
What else does the future hold for you?
Well, I’m recording an album with my band Spirit this summer (our second). I’m still teaching on the Chichester Jazz Course, which is an absolutely brilliant course. I’m studying an MA in composition at the University of Sussex and generally playing lots of music and having a nice time.
Thank you for your time Simon, it has been an absolute pleasure!
Thank you, I’ve enjoyed talking to you.
- GAME REVIEW – The Journey Down: Over The Edge
- INTERVIEW – In Conversation With Theodor Waern (Creator Of The Journey Down: Over The Edge)