My cat asks some compelling questions:
How would you describe your approach to scoring?
If you make a catchy and compelling theme you can draw your audience into the world, into the experience. Once you have achieved buy-in you may gradually pull people deeper into the emotional, psychological, physiological and spiritual immersive experience by intensifying the aural cinema.
I am constantly asking myself how I can be different with the same resources. We all live in the same universe, on the same world, with the same physics, the same senses, the same vendors and tools and so on. How can I make it so my work isn't like everything else out there? Using an 808 cowbell for a melody? Blending work from a quarter century ago with new material to make something timeless? Using tools in ways for which they were not intended? Mixing elements of unrelated genres? Intentionally breaking with conventions? Changing the definition of music?
My goal is to reach beyond the conventional approach of layering familiar elements to make a game or film and instead create a composite of elements that creates a compelling experience. The sound is the medium in which the world of the game or film exists psychologically and emotionally. People think they are seeing a world, hopefully presented well cinematographically, but the experience itself is brought to life through what they hear. Hearing is our most primal sense and we can use sound and music to conjure anything with the mind's eye of the intended audience. This creates a more immersive experience because often we can, at any given moment, hear so much more than we can see. It is not just about picking cool sounds or music with a certain type of energy. It is about blurring the line between diegetic and nondiegetic for the sake of creating an experience. It may be noise, it may be musical, it may be somewhere in between, but it is the difference between writing music and layering it on top versus designing a sonic experience beyond the thinking associated with conventional music production and recording. A fight sequence doesn't have to be just fast music to mimic the kinetic action. It could be that, but it could also be beautiful, uplifting, haunting or sorrowful music, maybe all of the above, that reflects emotion and the weight of a situation and not simply the action.
How can music make games more cinematic?
The challenge of making games more cinematic is the fact that games and films are two completely different experiences, with games being immersive through player activity and films being immersive by way of cinematography and sound for a passive audience. So, the more you make a game like a movie the more you remove the player from the experience.
What we do now is use story, character and cut scenes to make games cinematic. These work to a certain extent but, ultimately, this is like putting pimentos in lunch meat; it can be forced to work but you can still see they are two different things mashed together unnaturally.
My approach is to understand that music is aural cinema; what I call Cinetecture. By treating music as cinema I can make games more cinematic without the clunkiness associated with trying to mash two unrelated things together. By using various writing and design techniques to blur or erase the line between diegetic and nondiegetic sound, we can pull players deeper into a more cinematic experience emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, without compromising the fundamental nature of the gaming experience.
How long have you been making music?
I started in middle school, back in 1984, when I lived in Manila, messing with tape loops and a double cassette deck. I figured out I could use one side of my headphones as a microphone when plugged into the mic jack. I would record my voice or me banging on things over the music on the first deck onto the second deck. Then I could put that product in the first deck and repeat the process, as if I had a multitrack recorder. It was also in middle school that I got kicked out of band. Apparently I’m a terrible trombone player. That era is when I began trying to understand how it all worked and what was possible.
Who are your influences?
Musically, growing up I listened to everything: bagpipes, classical, my older brother's and sister's record collections (Pink Floyd, ACDC, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Moody Blues etc), Vangelis, Earth Wind & Fire, Soul Sonic Force, early 80s dance music. My first four cassettes were Judas Priest: Hell Bent For Leather, Gary Numan: The Pleasure Principle, Def Leppard: Pyromania and Van Halen: 1984. The pivotal moment in my life was hearing Computer Love by Egyptian Lover on a bus in 1984 in Manila and realizing that I would spend the rest of my life working with music. OMD, Kraftwerk, Front Line Assembly and countless others continued to show the way. I find myself going through phases, with a few weeks of focused listening to various artists/genres such as Frank Zappa, Venetian Snares, stoner doom, free jazz, Aphex Twin etc.
How have you changed over the years as an artist?
My motivations are completely different now. The version of me from the 80s and 90s is completely gone and replaced by someone who is more interested in joy, gratitude, sharing creative energy and inspiring others. The same drive and musical energy is there, but everything comes from a more positive and constructive place. Artistically speaking I was creating somewhat similar soundscapes compared to what I am now, but I didn't have the experience or knowledge to really understand what I was actually doing until I got into film. The combination of evolving as a person and as an artist has led to an evolution, a leveling up that I previously did not realize was possible. Things working out but then falling apart when I was younger was painful at the time but ultimately led to my foundation growing so broad, vast and deep that I became capable of things far greater than that of which I had dreamt in the first place. Sometimes your dreams going up in smoke is a blessing in disguise. I've also changed in the sense that I care less about whether or not something entertains me or about what I can learn from it. Of course this only works if you respect others.
What is your favorite genre?
I'll listen to anything, and keep listening if it suits me or if I can learn from it. My background grew from an obsession with electronic music to appreciating most genres to wanting to have my own voice and vision by going beyond genre. The amount of talent out there is amazing and I don't want to miss anything by being aloof based on genre.
What inspires you? What are you smoking?
Sometimes people hear and see my work, or hear me speak of visions and they assume I use drugs. They have it backwards. I have a multiplex theater playing sound and vision in my head 24/7/365. All the dreamlike, otherworldly music and visuals I make are constantly going through my mind. I've been experiencing these visions since I was a small child; they just come to me all day every day. I just pluck things out of that empyreal flow and it flows through my hands. No need for drugs or alcohol. In fact I rarely even drink coffee. Aside from that I am inspired by everything around. Life, good times, bad times, God, people, animals, a crack in a wall, the sky, too many things to list. As I've gotten older the world seems to resemble something like a Hieronymus Bosch painting come to life. There is a spiritual angle to the inspiration that is difficult to describe; I just let it flow.
I get excited by things that go under the radar for most people. I am perpetually noticing details, textures and light or shadow everywhere I go. It sounds crazy but we are always surrounded by a treasure trove of aesthetic detail, the glory of reality in the most mundane aspects of the world around us. It could be dust on a spare tire, natural light on my cat, the way the sound of the world rushes in when I close my eyes or rolls back out like the tide when I open them, or even a specular highlight on a bathroom tile; I instantly see and hear the cinematic potential of everything. I am constantly in awe of what most people take for granted.
What gear do you use? What is your approach to writing and producing?
Over the years I've used a vast array of tools, gear and software, far too much to go through. It's not the tools that matter, it's how you use them. Different workflows yield different results from the same idea; sometimes I mix them. Writing usually happens very quickly, in a day or so, and then, if necessary, refining details like a sculpture. Otherwise a piece of music may grow into something larger. It depends on the goal.
What is your musical philosophy?
I believe that music is divine energy and that it should be made with a playful spirit, as children or the gods are playful. The best music comes when we remove our ego and insecurity, get out of our own way and let it flow. It is joyous. This is true when being arbitrarily creative or when designing something specific. I also think that creative energy is a gift that comes with responsibility. We should have the right motivations for what happens just as in film or life. When I became a film director it changed my view of music. I have lots of crazy ideas about music and film but, essentially, to me, music is aural cinema, architecture is static music, the sky is an ever-changing piece of abstract art, etc, and that informs how I create. It is already happening; we are only discovering it, therefore when we get out of our own way we are most connected to that energy from the source. I am of the view that music is otherworldly, that it is divine. We can only "master" it by reducing it to the mortal, to the mundane. I have no illusions of mastering it; I would rather play with divine fire imperfectly than reduce it.
What is your goal in all of this?
I want to wed what I love and my ideas with what the world needs in games, film and other projects. I want to use my ideas to make these experiences more immersive, more compelling emotionally, psychologically, physiologically and spiritually. I want to blow peoples' minds. I want to make people believe in themselves at the highest level. I want to inspire people to pursue their own dreams. I want to be the best version of myself in order to facilitate these dreams. The more successful I am, the more I can help others, the more successful they are, the more they can help others, and so on.