Percussa micro super signal processor

Troels Folmann is one of our favorite composers at CDM. The fact that he’s a game composer both incidental and essential — it’s not that he’s scoring a Tomb Raider title that matters, it’s that game composition requires a new, fluid way of thinking about form, and Dr. Folmann (he did a dissertation topic on the subject) is up to the challenge.

Digging through recent entries on Troels’ blog is definitely a source of weekend inspiration. I’m fond of found samples, but I tend to record sound making things around the house up close with a mobile recorder for a more intimate sound. Troels drags them over to a concert hall and uses the natural reverb to turn a candle light holder and Coke bottle into something that sounds like massive, tribal percussion. To keep himself disciplined, he limited himself to objects in a random photo. Here’s what it sounds like:

To add to the ambience, he uses the Timefreezer plug-in ($99 for Mac, Windows, Mac Intel, the lot). As the name implies, it “freezes” samples of sound as an effect or instrument. I’ve done some similar things as DIY patches, but it sounds like they’ve done a nice job of implementation.

This approach to sampling percussion with natural reverb, and making an art of the samples, is part of why they pay Troels the big bucks. Be sure to hear his percussion demo for more of the sounds. Little wonder that he blogs the meditation on autism that’s been making the YouTube rounds: sampling sounds requires an almost extrasensory focus on the world around us that we spend most of our time shutting out.

So there you have some fiddling with household objects. What about this “future of adaptive music” business?

Our own W. Brent Latta covered this in some detail in a 2006 interview:

CDM Interview: Tomb Raider: Legend Composer Troels Brun Folmann on Adaptive “Micro-Scoring”

Troels follows up on that topic in a new interview with Game Soundtracks, as reproduced in total on his blog. He has this to say about “micro-scoring” — and notes the use of sliced samples, manipulated live:

So a part of my Ph.D. studies in game music related to developing new methodologies for advanced types of application of music in the game. One of my main focal points was – and still is – the development of something I call: “Micro-scoring”. Micro-scoring is essentially about breaking the score into a variety of small components that are assembled in real-time according to player action and/or interaction. The micro-scores are made in such a way that they adapt to player action or interaction. You have to imagine that there are thousands of things going on in the game environment — the idea behind micro-scoring is to support the major elements in the environment. An example can be a 3-second score for breaking pillars or falling stones, which is scored in the same key as the main ambient background score. We also have more detailed types of micro-scores which are based on slices samples like REX and other sliced sample formats. This allows us to fully adjust pitch- and timing based on player interaction with the game. An example of this is adjusting beat to footsteps and increasing tempo when she starts running. A good example of micro-scoring application relates to chopping up a score in multiple components. So essentially composing a score in 15 different steps and cutting each step up, so it can seemingly integrate into any of the other 15 steps. The system then blends the steps in real-time and you have a much more varied and versatile score – made from micro-scores. This allows you to adjust mood in music with using basic cross-fades, but actually have adaptive types of compositions. Needless to say it’s a fairly complicated effort.

Game scores had at one time been more interactive than they are now, because for at least a period around the early 1990s, PC games used MIDI scores instead of more-rigid audio. Scores are making progress back towards interactivity at those levels and beyond, aided by more powerful game systems that start to resemble the computers we use for live music production. Troels also speaks to where this future is going (and there have been some interesting developments since October 2006 when we spoke to him last):

It depends on whether studios are willing to commit to investing properly into game music. The commitment involves a variety of factors, including prioritizing audio in the production planning and a willingness to invest properly in the scoring. I doubt we will see a huge leap within the next ten years, but we will see more adaptive types of music based on principles similar to the micro-scoring methodology I described. We will also see some real-time DX/VST-based FX plugins like the integration of Waves plugins in Halo 3.

We will not see true adaptive music, since the next-next generation consoles won’t have the processing power to play a 50 GB orchestral sample library playing in real-time with 5 high-end convolution reverbs and an advanced AI that translate player action into music.

We will see more ties between motion picture, television and games – and most likely a larger degree of score usage between the media. But we also see a billion mediocre game scores and they will retain game music in a space it doesn’t need to be. Bleep, Bleep. Blob.

So, there you go — to any of you who are skeptical as far as quality, most game composers are, too! (They’re the ones, after all, most invested in seeing their field progress, while having to wrangle with mediocrity in their area, tight budgets, and tight deadlines.)

I am curious, though, about those 50 GB orchestral samples. Given that adaptive music in games could extend to all kinds of game play that doesn’t need massive orchestras in the background, let alone other venues for adaptive music beyond gaming (from live performance to installation), I’m more optimistic. This year, we’ll see Spore from EA powered by a sound engine built in Pure Data, and I expect other games from developers big to indie. The sound of 8-bit is making a comeback, as well, which will hardly tax game consoles.

With composers like Troels around, that may be a 20 MB sample of a Mexican Coke bottle that sounds better than the 50 GB orchestra, anyway. Troels, give us a ring if you decide to release your Things On My Coffee Table Sample Collection.