Michael Bross interview

Michael Bross interview [Hosted by OddBlog]
Date: 25 July, 2007
Interviewers: Wil & Xavier
Interviewee: Michael Bross

Source: http://oddworldlibrary.net/oddblog/specials/Michael_Bross_interview

Monday 30 July sees the release of Music From Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath, Volume 1, the first ever soundtrack to an Oddworld to be released worldwide. To help promote the album, OddBlog has had the pleasure of interviewing composer and sound engineer Michael Bross about his celebrated contribution to Oddworld.

OddBlog: Why have you waited until now to release the Stranger’s Wrath soundtrack?

Michael Bross: I had always wanted to see the soundtrack released, but didn’t think it would be possible. Initially, I believed Electronic Arts (the publisher for Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath) had the rights to do so. After we finished working on Stranger, we immediately began production for Fangus and I didn’t have much else to think about. Early in 2005, as most Oddworld fans already know, Oddworld changed course and stopped internal game production. So, I had to change direction myself and that took my mind further away from the music from Stranger. Last year (2006), I was in my studio going through some of my archives and happened upon the Stranger music. Coming across it triggered all those memories of all the hard work I put into making that music. At that point, I realized I had to find a way for the music to be released as an official soundtrack. So, I contacted Lorne and Sherry at Oddworld and they were happy to help me realize that. The big perceived hurdle was EA, so I contacted them for permission to release the music. Well, legal contracts for game development can be very complicated. It turned out, after some research, that we didn’t have to obtain permission from EA to release the music, so we were free and clear to do what we wanted with it.

OddBlog: Do you have any favourite pieces in Music From Stranger’s Wrath?

Michael Bross: Overall there are no pieces that I favor. Being the creator of the work and also living with this music for so long, especially in an extremely intense way during the composition process, it’s hard to enjoy it in the way that everyone else might. I’m definitely proud of many of the tracks, though. For instance, I’m very happy with how ‘The Temple’ and ‘Fighting Outlaws’ came together. And with the end movie (the music track is called ‘The Truth In Everything’), there were particular sections that I’m certainly pleased with. Many of the tracks are special to me in their own way.

OddBlog: Do the tracks come with descriptions, as the downloads did on your website and Oddworld.com?

Michael Bross: No, not right now. I hadn’t really thought about that until you asked the question. Hopefully at some future date I can post thoughts on each track like I did in the past.

OddBlog: What inspired the music of Stranger’s Wrath? The Stranger’s personality? The Earth cultures and conflicts that are mirrored in the story? Music from other Westerns?

Michael Bross: Yeah, all that inspired the music and more. Of course, the story itself influenced the music the most. Stranger transforms in the game, but like Stranger, the landscape also changes as he heads up river toward the dam. I thought a lot about that and how the land itself should also influence the music. I can also confirm that films like Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly and Fistful of Dollars were good starting influences, too. I didn’t want to copy them since I wanted to create something unique and new, but I did let them influence me.

OddBlog: How did you tailor music to suit Oddworld?

Michael Bross: While there’s always a core style I bring with me to any project, there are always ways where I tailor the music for any project I work on. To me, it’s important that the music serves the story first before it does anything else. The music I create is my voice, but it also must be the voice of the project I’m working on. The trick is in finding the intersection point between them.

OddBlog: What makes Oddworld music distinctive?

Michael Bross: Concerning the music I composed for Oddworld, there a few things I wanted to do to make it “Oddworld”. One was blending diverse styles, genres and sounds to create compositions that were cohesive and natural as themselves and also as a whole soundtrack. An example would be my use of electronic, orchestral and tribal elements in a number of the pieces. The analogy would be like combining hydrogen and oxygen in the right way to form a totally new element (water). I strived to take established musical elements and hopefully conjure a synergy that would nurture something unique altogether. Another important approach was to always strive to create music that was rich in emotion, because I feel that Oddworld’s characters and stories are very moving.

OddBlog: How much input did Lorne have with the music? Was the soundtrack subject to the same iteration that Oddworld concept art is famed for?

Michael Bross: Every aspect of the game went through a very involved iteration process. Music, art, design, programming, dialog. You name it. Like any director who is trying to serve his story, Lorne did give a fair amount of input to the music, but that mainly involved emotional direction. As his composer, he left most of the details for me to sort out concerning how to achieve those results. Sometimes I’d nail it in the first round and he’d be happy with it. Other times, I had to go through several re‐writes before capturing the right feel. Part of the opening movie required just that type of thing. In the scene where Blisterz Booty chases Stranger, I re‐wrote that 5 times.

OddBlog: What is the relationship between level design and music composition? Do they evolve together, or are they put together when each is nearly complete? (Do you agree with Rob Brown that some spaces can be described as rhythms? )

Michael Bross: Some of the music I had finished long before the levels were complete. I had a pretty strong sense of what the music needed to sound like before I saw the levels, but some of it didn’t come together until after the levels were close to being finished. Yes, I agree with Rob. I also believe that music (and the use of rhythm) can be used to create space. In the case of much of my Oddworld music and a number of my other compositions, I’m trying to define a space that’s epic in size.

OddBlog: Who provides the vocals in your music? In particular we were wondering about the reversed message in Stranger’s opening sequence. Was that purely your own doing?

Michael Bross: The reversed message wasn’t part of the music track. We dropped it in when I was working on the overall mix between sfx, music and dialog. That’s Lorne’s voice you hear. He adlibed a number of different phrases in the recording booth. After that I edited them and Lorne liked the idea of playing it in reverse. Truthfully, I don’t even remember anymore exactly what he said, but I do remember it was of a social and political nature. For the rest of the vocals that are an actual part of the music, some of them are my voice. Some are also ethnic vocal samples that I have in my library.

OddBlog: How did you first get involved with Oddworld?

Michael Bross: Back in 2001, about 8 months before Munch shipped, Oddworld was looking for a composer/sound designer to be part of the team. I knew they were looking and so I sent my demo reel to them. After a few weeks, I heard from them and had several conversations with people there. They flew me out for an interview and offered me a job that day. It turned out they received over 500 submissions for the position. I was very happy that they decided on me.

OddBlog: What sort of place was Oddworld to work?

Michael Bross: It was a great team to work with. I could always depend on the fact that people were going to create something inspiring for me to contribute to.

OddBlog: Do you have any interesting stories you might share?

Michael Bross: I’ve never worked so hard and worked so many hours on one project as I did for Stranger’s Wrath. I’d work long days in the studio for months at a time to try to finish the music, but there was so much work to do, it was incredibly overwhelming, and there were many days where I was in a panic to get it all done. Late at night, I’d get home and then work on the couch with the laptop on my chest to progress further with the music. Working in high gear for so long and being exhausted from it, I’d sometimes fall asleep like that in the middle of working. It’s not like I felt like I finished all my work on the project, but one day, the producers told me that there was no more time to keep adding content to the game. That’s usually how it works. With a project like that, you just keep working until someone tells you to stop.

OddBlog: How much do you sympathize with the socio‐political messages that inspire Oddworld?

Michael Bross: A fair amount of it strikes a chord with me. I like the idea of working on projects that have more substance than just pure entertainment and have something meaningful to say.

OddBlog: Considering the attention fans have given Oddworld’s partnerships in the past, why is Nettwerk Music Group providing digital distribution?

Michael Bross: Steve Schnur, who is head of music licensing for EA, introduced me to Nettwerk. Nettwerk currently digitally distributes all of EA’s soundtracks, so I thought they would be a good fit. Plus, I think they have a better vision of the music industry’s future than the major record labels.

OddBlog: Will Music From Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath, Volume 2 feature a similar play length, number of tracks, cover art? When can we expect its release?

Michael Bross: Along with cover art, it will have enough music to totally fill up a CD and there will be approximately the same number of tracks. Hopefully more. Volume 2 is sure to happen, but my time is very involved with the next game I’m working on right now for Red 5 Studios. I’m also in the midst of work for my own new album that I plan to release in the coming months. Making Volume 1 available for release was far more time‐consuming than I thought it would be. Though I didn’t change anything compositionally, I took time to mix many of the tracks again to give them more clarity. I want to give the same special attention to all the music for Volume 2. So, I hope to release it in 7–​12 months, but I can’t give a specific date yet.

OddBlog: Are we likely to see a Munch’s Oddysee (or MO‐‘inspired’) soundtrack in the future?

Michael Bross: I would love for it to be available as a soundtrack. There are issues that revolve around it, though. The music wasn’t conceived in a linear way. It was fashioned in ‘layers’ to change in relation to the events and action in the game. So, taking this music and re‐purposing it for a soundtrack would likely take a minimum of 3 months of work. There may also be hurdles to overcome with Microsoft, the game’s publisher, for legal clearance. And I’d additionally need to get approval from Oddworld. Securing funding to make it happen all happen is also problematic. The funds have to exist first to be able to produce, distribute and promote it, so I’m not sure if we’ll ever see an official soundtrack released.

OddBlog: Do you see yourself being involved with Citizen Siege and future Oddworld projects?

Michael Bross: Lorne and I are in regular contact and we continue to be good friends. Actually, I just had dinner with him this past week when I was in San Francisco. He’s pretty busy with with the projects he’s working on and is pushing forward with that. I’m pretty excited about the project I’m working on at Red 5 Studios. It’s an MMO‐based game. I’ve also been spending time working on releasing my own albums. I’m sure we’ll work together on something in the future. At this point, I can’t say what that will be.

OddBlog: Thank you very much for the chance to interview you, Michael. We relish every opportunity to support Oddworld, and bridge the gap between its creators and fans. Our friends on the Oddworld Forums are already enthusiastic about Music From Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath.

Michael Bross: You’re very welcome. I’m glad to be able to connect with the fans and always enjoy hearing from such a great group of people.

Music From Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath, Volume 1 contains over seventy minutes of music in twenty‐five tracks. You can pre‐order the CD now from bross.com, and digital distribution will soon be available over iTunes, Rhapsody, Yahoo! Music, and eMusic.