We’re just about ready to reveal our 2015 Album of the Year (those who listened to the Year in Review probably have a good idea what it’ll be) but before we do, we have a brief Q&A with the composer of last year’s AOTY winner!
Composer David Wise took some time and answered a series of questions centered around Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, which won the 2014 Album of the Year award. Please give that episode a listen if you missed it!
Big thanks to David for answering our questions.
Q: How much of the OST is live instruments? Many tracks sound crystal clear and it’s always nice to know when a track or OST utilized live pieces instead of, or in conjunction with, sampled audio.
David Wise: There are live instruments – mixed with live played VST virtual instruments. Although the ‘live’ instruments were quantised at times to fit in with the style of the OST.
Q: Generally speaking, how long did it take to dream up a given song, then hear it performed as we know it in the game? Were any songs particularly challenging (or easy!) to get through this process?
Normally between 3 days and 2 weeks, depending on complexity. Those tracks that have multiple layers, would have taken a little longer to complete.
Q: Regarding Busted Bayou, I love how the lead instrument changes from flute to guitar to a rippin’ sax solo. How did you arrive at these instruments for this song? What makes you decide to swap the wind lead to a string lead in the second loop?
It’s just how the mood takes me. The electric guitar is live – as is the sax. The wind is a VST played through my EWI wind synth. And the acoustic guitar solo is played live from a keyboard.
Q: Alpine Incline has a great sense of peril and progression as it plays. Can you talk a bit about how this song came to be, and what music inspired it?
It’s inspired by traditional Austrian music – I love visiting Austria – and quite like the Accordion Music – and this is where the 3/4 time signature was derived from. Which has then been morphed into trance instrumentation. And then made a little more mellow by using a brush kit for the drums.
Q: On the other end of the spectrum, Windmill Hills is super uplifting and pleasant. Very easygoing and conjures images of Muppet-like bears having a roaring riverboat concert. While I’m sure that isn’t what you were going for, what DID you have in mind with this track?
I was experimenting with some ‘country’ style chords on my guitar – and this forms the basis of the track.
So it’s live electric and acoustic guitar – along with midi guitar too.
Q: And then as a testament to the varied nature of the OST, tracks like Big Top Bop and Grassland Groove are unlike anything else in the game. What’s it like bouncing from Kenyan harmonizing to shredding guitars? Do you use some kind of mental palate cleanser to move from one style of music to the other?
I definitely like variety – and a challenge. So I’m happy to mix the styles up. Keeps it interesting as a composer.
Yamamoto-san didn’t want it to sound too familiar. At the Nintendo offices, there are quite a few good singers who regularly sing in choirs. So Yamamoto san recruited them all to sing the vocal choir parts for Grassland Grove. It certainly gives the music a very unique and charming character. It’s an honour to have the staff at Nintendo record their vocals for the Tropical Freeze Score. We used a Sample CD of African Vocals.
Q: How do you balance between new tracks and “updates” to classic jams like Aquatic Ambiance or Fear Factory? Is this something that happens over the course of the project or do you have a ballpark idea of new vs remix?
It definitely evolves over the course of the project. I tried several remixes for Aquatic Ambience, but ultimately for that track, I think I got it right for the SNES – which is why I kept it close to the original. Whereas, there are many references form the original series hidden, or not so hidden, referenced in the Tropical Freeze OST.
Q: In 1994~1997, the internet was a quieter place and getting feedback on work was a much slower process. When did you first get a sense that fans were really digging your SNES DKC work, and did it surprise you at all?
It was an engineer at Rare called Jens Restemeier, who now works at Playtonic, who made me aware of OC Remix – and their first Donkey Kong Country Remix album. It wasn’t until this time that I realised the music from the series was quite popular. And yes, I was very surprised.
Q: A moment to toot your own horn: has there been a track that, when completed, you sat back and thought ‘hot damn, I nailed that one.’
Yes. The first version of Seashore War – which was originally going to be set in the Savannah levels – was the one that I sat back and thought ‘Yes!” It’s a different version that exists in Tropical Freeze, but the original version, is still very much my favourite.
Q: Are there any modern game OSTs that have caught your ear, like from the indie space or something a friend has pinged you?
The latest score I’ve listened to is the Yooka-Laylee OST, by Grant Kirkhope, which I heard recently when I visited the playtonic offices for a festive lunch.