I’ve known Brian for a little over a decade. During that time I watched him grow as a musician and as an audio engineer while working at Konami and Tetris. I met Brian while I was attending Hawaii Pacific University. We ran with the same crowd. He’s one of the reasons I got in to djing. Back then we used to party, dj and write drum n bass music. He’s one friend I’m truly blessed to have. With out further ado here’s my interview with him.
How did you get started in video game music?
It all ultimately came down to meeting the right people at the right time. Prior to that, I had spent a great deal of time writing drum and bass with several other DJs out here in Hawaii. Basically I had set out to try to get music pressed on 12″, and sent out mountains of demo CDs to independent labels and even to one distributor. One label had contacted me with the intent of releasing a song I wrote with Charles Shackford called “Aether”, but that ended up falling through once the label itself collapsed.
During this time, I was promoting a drum and bass party here called “Audiolab” with my friend Dean Song. Around the end of ’03, we debuted a neurofunk track for the crowd that people really dug. Anyway, I stepped outside for a moment and this dude named Stillwind Borenstein approached me and asked me if I’d be interested in licensing the track to ‘Dance Dance Revolution’ for Konami. From there, I was able to snag a full time gig at Konami’s offices in Waikiki doing sound design. Sadly, Stillwind passed away not too long ago which was a devastating loss to not only all of us who knew him, but to the industry as a whole. He hadn’t even reached his 40s yet. Basically, every game I do music composition for, I try to throw in some small tribute to him for being not only a good friend, but an incredible sound designer and human being.
What exactly do you do at tetris?
Currently I do composition work for our console titles and coordinate with outside studios in Japan when it comes to implementing it. At Konami, I had to use a high level proprietary scripting language called NITRO for background ambience on Frogger for the DS. That was really quite fun because there’s something oddly satisfying about seeing lines of code transform into the right balance of birds chirping, water rushing, and wind blowing.
Wojciech Kilar and Chopin are my all time favorite composers by far. Kilar, in particular, is a special breed of genius because he has absolutely mastered the art of tense minimalism. Being able to evoke raw emotion with as few elements as possible is a very difficult thing to do:
Other people that have greatly influenced me are Aki Haapaniemi who is a dub/dnb/ambient producer from Finland, and Kjetil Sagstad (Polar) who released a number of incredible songs on labels like Certificate18 and Subtitles. I’ve also got to send a special shout out to AMe and Charles Shackford for always answering any technical questions when they cropped up.
I come from a very musical family. My grandfather was a very accomplished jazz drummer and my father owned radio stations all over Florida when I was a kid. Due to the latter, I spent a lot of time in recording studios doing grunt work like bulk erasing reel tape and splicing commercials. How I got into using FX units is a fairly ridiculous story. Because radio often requires that the on-air DJs record phone calls, I realized one day that there was a way to patch the outgoing voice through the main mixing console (and by extension, the Yamaha SPX90 FX unit). Once I realized this, my friends and I started going into the radio station during the off-hours and making prank phone calls while processing our voices to sound like Darth Vader/Mickey Mouse. We ended up passing out recordings of these at school. It’s a good thing my father didn’t find out about it then because I probably wouldn’t be here giving this interview if he had. Hahahaha.
What kind of advice do you have for someone wanting to get in to video game music?
If you want to get into the gaming industry, the best way to get your foot in the door is to apply for jobs in testing departments. Obviously, depending on the particular branch of gaming, you’re going to need education in certain fields like programming or 3D art, but if you’re looking for the back door, contact the QA departments of gaming companies and carpetbomb them with resumes until something comes through.
The other thing worth noting is that game creation is a truly team effort. Yeah, you definitely need to bring a sense of confidence in yourself to the plate, but it’s critical that you also be approachable and willing to entertain other people’s ideas. Gaming is essentially a hybrid of Silicon Valley and Hollywood which means that you need to bring the skillsets of both if you want to really make a mark.
How much sampling do you do?
It depends entirely on the kind of music/sound effects that need to be written. Obviously, if I need a gunshot, I can’t go outside and do foley work of a .357 being blasted, so for those I will start with a few base sounds from a sample library, then try several methods of layering/compression/FX. Drums tend to be the one area where a good sample library is indispensable though when it comes to music.
Native Instruments are still on top. Every week, those guys are releasing some new toy that I have to get my hands on. I just recently bought a copy of RAZOR for the Reaktor 5 player and I can’t get enough of that monster. The thing is an absolute beast of a synth.
Why all digital and no hardware?
For what I do, it just comes down to convenience at the end of the day.
What’s and average day at Tetris?
Currently, we’re juggling several different games including a title we just released for the Major League Baseball Players Association which was actually the first sports themed game I’ve worked on. These days, I do a lot of sound effects work for our various titles and occasionally record voice talent for them.
Any interesting stories about Tetris?
About two years ago, I was in a conference call with Henk Rogers and Alexey Pajitnov (the guy who originally created Tetris in the early 80s). Anyway, at the time, we were talking about offering different options for the in-game voice in Tetris. As soon as Alexey spoke up over the phone with his heavy Russian accent, I was like “we soooooo have to get that dude in here ASAP!”. About 2 months later, he was here on the island just checking in on the latest progress with the game and agreed to let me record his voice. Thus far it’s been a really popular addition to the game; you can hear it here by clicking on “Customize Tetris” –> “Voice Styles”: