Interview: Galactic's Stanton Moore and SCEA Music Manager Jonathan Mayer Talk The Music of inFamous 2
In 2009, inFamous introduced the world to Cole MacGrath, a courier-turned-lightning-toting superhero with a morality complex. This summer will see the release of inFamous 2, transplanting Cole from the electric metropolis of Empire City to the shambling bayou town of New Marais.
Inspired by the structure, culture, and music of New Orleans, New Marais provides a refreshing backdrop to the continuation of Cole’s story (See our New Orleans-centric interview with the game’s developers here). To help capture the feel of New Orleans, developer Sucker Punch enlisted the help of legendary drummer Bryan “Brain” Mantia and New Orleans-based funk band Galactic. We spoke to Galactic’s drummer Stanton Moore and SCEA Music Manager Jonathan Mayer about the music of the game, its development process, and how it reflects the essence of New Orleans.
Paste: The “Music of inFamous 2” video pointed out that many sounds are being drawn from unconventional instruments or regular instruments that are out of tune or have been otherwise messed up. As a drummer, how have you used this style?
Stanton Moore: I used the opportunity to set up lots of different instruments that I have been collecting over the years. I had some Nayhabinghi drums from Jamaica and I set up one of the bigger ones on a cradle as a bass drum. I set up several Remo Mondo snares which have simulated calf heads. I set up a 10, 12 and 14 as a snare and toms. I also used a lot of LP micro snares and drum set timbales and used a lot of Pete Englehart percussion and bells as well. We came to affectionately call this the “Bizarro Kit”. I played a lot of grooves that I have come to develop over the years but they all sounded different on this kit. This led to lots of other ideas as well. It was a very creative process. This process then led to lots of grooves that I was able to use for the current Galactic record that we were recording at the same time as some of the inFamous 2 sessions. It’s been a very liberating experience and has opened up a lot of creativity in some of the things that I do in the studio now.
Jonathan Mayer: Additionally, our PlayStation music staff collaborated on the project to get really strange in our approach to mic-ing and recording all the strange items that Stanton and Brain and I were using as percussion. We attached contact mics to pieces of junk or the bottoms of cymbals and piped them through guitar amps and did a lot of stuff like that. Some of the biggest ‘percussion’ sounds in the score came from little things like fingernails on an amplified tin plate and things of that nature.
Could you talk about the “brutal” aspect of the music that is referenced in the video?
Moore: The brutal aspect refers to playing large tom-toms in a very aggressive powerful manner. Jonathan Mayer would bring in string quartet pieces and I would improvise on the big kit which had three tom-toms, three floor toms, a 26 inch bass drum and very few cymbals. I would play in stark contrast to some of the lush string quartet pieces. This made for very interesting contrasting textures and was very fun to do.
Mayer: With the kind of grooves Stanton is referring to embedded in our tracks we were also afforded a lot of flexibility in making the score adapt to the gameplay in realtime. At the editorial level we could always ‘pair-down’ or remove some of the more brutal elements bringing them in and out of the mix for a score that tracks the tension in the gameplay more.
It’s always easy to edit some of the brutality out of a track but if it’s not there to begin with you’re kind of lost when trying to hit those high intensity moments.
Additionally, collaboration was mentioned to be a primary factor in the writing of the music. Could you talk about this process and how it affected the score?
Moore: The collaborative spirit on this project was enjoyable for us. The Sony guys would bring in pieces and ideas and we would improvise to them and they would mix the pieces later. We also composed about 65 min. of music and they would cut that up and use it for their purposes as well. It was a very fun process and it’s exciting to see the end result.
Mayer: The best part about this project was not only how deeply all of our creative contributors (Galactic, Jim Dooley, Brain and myself) embraced collaboration but it became one of the focal points in everyone’s development of themes and the like. For my part, looking back on the year or so that we were all composing and recording, I can’t envision having achieved much of what we did without the team approach and spirit that
everyone delivered on.
What about the music of New Orleans has majorly influenced the music of inFamous 2?
Moore: With us being from New Orleans we were able to tap into the vibe of the city and have it underlie everything that we were doing. When we heard that the city was going to be based off of a fictitious destroyed New Orleans we knew how to convey the vibe without making it sound like traditional New Orleans music. Having played video games, we could twist and alter and obscure the New Orleans vibe so that it fit in with the world of inFamous 2.
Mayer: In addition to providing all their amazing composition, having the members of Galactic available as session players and contributors on the tunes composed by the rest of us gave a level of continuity to the project. They became our New Orleans consultants, so to speak!
One of the major musical elements of New Orleans is the random live music that is always happening, such as dueling pianos and other street musicians. Will this have a place in the game, or is the primary focus of the music on just the score?
Mayer: We’ve collaborated with the developers at Sucker Punch to actually have some street musicians in the world of the game. As players roam the city of New Marais they will occasionally encounter folks busking on a corner. We’ve also done a lot of work to try and incorporate the more esoteric and atmospheric feeling of walking around New Orleans into the game’s darker ambient underscore. From the outset I thought that it would be really great to have that sense of haunting distant and often dissonant music wafting through the city.
Are there any contributions from any actual New Orleans street musicians?
Mayer: The actual performances in the game are all by members of the composition team although we did leverage Galactic’s network of friends to record a few guests with Corey Henry of the Rebirth Brass Band on trombone and Kirk Joseph for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band came in and played some sousaphone, too.
Could you talk about some of the different gameplay themes explored in the music? How does the music change between combat, exploration, etc.?
Mayer: Scott Hanau on our PlayStation Music team has worked with the Sucker Punch team to develop a very sophisticated system for handling the music in the game. When players are in the ‘open-world’ free roaming gameplay state the ambient music relies on some very complex logic to play a collection of layered music in a manner that sounds very subtle and musical. That music can be interrupted by action music if the player is attacked as the game tracks a music tension value and there are thresholds set to dictate how all that happens. In the more scripted, story parts of the game things are laid out more like a film in that we spot and edit music for specific events. Since we can’t know specifically how a player will approach a given situation we still use a lot of multi-layered, adaptive music to score these missions.
Expanding on that, how about some of the major combat encounters? How was the music crafted to reflect the enemies? Is there one primary “enemy boss” theme or do individual enemies have particular themes?
Mayer: Our general approach usually centers around having themes for the major characters and then having a lot of versions of these themes and devices pop up in a variety of cues. We don’t typically set out to have music written for a specific battle but rather we try and inspire everyone to do a wide variety of things with their music in a range of intensities and then we respond to the organic nature of the game’s development by editing and spotting the music appropriately.
Cole’s powers have transformed from just electricity, which is reflected in the electronic score of the first game, to the addition of fire and ice. How did the score transform to reflect this change?
Mayer: That’s a great question! Actually, the cities (Empire City in I1 and New Marais in I2) were the inspiration for the stylistic differences rather than Cole’s power base. So, in Empire City, we had a very modern, metropolitan and industrial kind of city which led us to a place musically that leveraged more electronic and industrial types of sounds. We did a lot of musical things with non-musical objects. This time around, we have a place that has a very old world look to it and is being overtaken by the surrounding swamp so we felt it was very organic and spoke of wood and earth rather than steel and stone. So, we went a lot more ‘organic’ with our choice of instruments and had a lot of non-musical things done with musical object and virtuostic players doing things that were very unconventional with their instruments. Our string quintet was especially integral in this regard and a lot of the things in the score that sound like percussion are actually guys riffing on stringed instruments with guitar picks or bouncing their bows on their strings or slapping the backs of their fiddles. They taught us a lot about what they could
do with their instruments too!
Does the music change any depending on what powers he is using? Either immediately, with what powers he uses in the moment, or on a larger scale, as players lean toward one power type or another?
Mayer: Not really. The music is more rooted in responding to the story and the level of tension in the moment than anything.
Similarly, does the music change any to reflect Cole’s morality choices?
Mayer: This is a question we get asked a lot but the answer is kind of the same as above. I think, at the end of the day we’re trying to have the music function in a more filmic fashion and track the subtext and the story whenever possible but also on a purely visceral level we haven’t found a great way to accomplish this yet.
Does Cole have an instrument that represents him?
Mayer: No. We use melodic themes and motifs for the main characters (Cole, Nix, Kuo and Bertrand) but those motifs are played throughout the score by a variety of instruments.
Have you written a theme for any of the characters?
Mayer: Jim Dooley wrote the main themes for Cole, Kuo and Bertrand .Brain wrote a piece that became the goto theme for some of Cole’s most heroic sacrifice moments and Galactic wrote Nix’s music. Then, as we mentioned before, we all just had fun ripping each other off.
Moore: We wrote a couple themes for Nix, both of which are used for her character in the game.
A lot of the game involves fast motion around the city; have you factored that into your writing?
Mayer: We do mix up tempos when we’re writing to ensure we have the requisite variety in our bucket of material when Scott Hanau gets to the phase where he’s integrating the music into the game. Then he’s able to pick and choose what works best when the game is more finished.
At what point was the game in its development when the music was being made? Did the music, such as the “creepy/haunting/off key” compositions have any impact on the game development-wise?
Mayer: We wrote, recorded and produced over four hours of original music for inFamous 2 .all of it completely live. This was an immense undertaking (like making four records) and we spent about a year from the time we first started recording until the game wrapped up. Sucker Punch as a developer has been EXTREMELY collaborative with us on a creative level. At the outset of the project we discussed how to make the score more emotional and one of the key things we asked them for were the moments in which to apply such emotion. They have done an amazing job of leaving the necessary space in their cutscene edits and creating dynamics in the intensity of their gameplay from mission to mission to allow us to succeed in this regard. Something a lot of game developers struggle with in my opinion is having the faith in their sound and music team’s to latch onto those moments and applying the patience and pacing to a scene or section of a game that allows music to breathe and reach out to the player. I think in this manner we have done something that stands out as being much more than the sum of the collective contributions applied to the project.