Chip Music, Game Music

A ConVVVVVVersation With SoulEye

March 16, 2010 | | 1 Comment Share thison Facebook A ConVVVVVVersation With SoulEyeon Twitter

Terry Cavanagh’s latest masterpiece, VVVVVV, featured an entirely chiptune soundtrack composed by the great SoulEye (Magnus Palsson). We were fortunate enough to be able to sit down with SoulEye and pick his brain about his fantastic score.

It was very refreshing to find a composer so unafraid to let us behind the curtain and tell all the inner workings of his crazy, Swedish mind. Oh, and he is the guy who sings “Waiting for VVVVVV.” I know you were all wondering.

Click the jump for more!

OSV: Who performs the vocals on “Waiting for VVVVVV”? And who wrote the lyrics/music? What can you tell us about this song?

Magnus: First off, I’d like to thank you for this interview and also for a
wonderful site with great interviews and reviews.

Ah! The bonus track! This one is performed by myself, playing my new mini-guitalele and singing into a 17-year old $10 microphone given to me by a friend. It started out as a joke to Terry. I had seen the videos of the famous Lets-Play* guy DeceasedCrab playing the VVVVVV beta. In there, he’s totally immersed in the game and complains constantly of the difficulty of it. When he gets to what’s publicly known as the hardest room in there, he pauses for a moment, realizing
what he must do to traverse a particularly nasty section that has had people dying hundreds of times…

He goes: “Hm.. uh… Wha.. You… Terry! No! NO! Terry! You didn’t! You…YOU MONSTER!” and while doing some initial tries to do it, he’s still in shock and goes on to flame Terry for minutes, albeit in a very humorous way. I thought it was so funny, that I wrote this little doodle about Terry and the game.

Terry is an affluent guy, highly intelligent and productive, with a great sense of humor, so I thought I’d do a little practical joke on him. I sent the song when it was first finished to DeceasedCrab (DC from now on), and had HIM send it to Terry. DC made up a long fun weird story on how this song came to him in a delirious dream about a spirit animal/guide walrus king (yes, it was quite imaginative…) and Terry didn’t realize that it was me singing it, even though he had
heard my voice a lot during the development of VVVVVV.

A few days later, with no indication from Terry that he even heard the song, I had to confess to him slowly that “it was in fact me who was the one who… Well, it’s kind of hard to say this, and… I didn’t want you to find this out from me, but…”
At this point, Terry was a bit shook up, probably expecting me to say that I was the one who leaked the VVVVVV beta and uploaded it to the 4chan boards. When I proclaimed that I was the walrus king performing the song I imagined that he drew a sigh of relief and admitted that he’d thought DC’s voice sounded a bit weird, but he had been giggling to it for quite some time.

The initial line “If I could be somebody else” is a reference to Stephen Lynch’s “If I could be a superhero” line from his song
“Superhero”. The melody and chord progression is similar also, but not identical. About the lyrics: people like Terry, until they’ve played through VVVVVV. Then they think he’s a monster and deserves a horse head on his bed when he wakes up. I’ve heard the horse head line twice from independent sources, so it’s not just a coincidence. They want to hurt him… But they can’t, because they’re all at home playing the game. This is a fun little jab at that.

* A lets-play video is somebody playing through a game, commenting it as he goes, and uploading the videos for public display.

OSV: You mentioned the influence of Street Fighter II music on your score. Any other soundtracks influenced this score?

Magnus: I can tell you some of the songs and moods I had in mind or thought of consciously once or twice while making the music, and all the other thieveries are unconscious (so far) and thus I cannot be blamed for those.

Presenting VVVVVV: I can remotely imagine some inspiration from the moods from Zelda 2, the town music. But it didn’t really come out that way at all. Passion for exploring has some not-so-subtle inspirations from “Fly on the wings of love” by the Olsen brothers.

Positive force and Pushing onwards are in the general happy moods of Mega Man 2. In Pipe dream, I thought of the high score tune from Commando by Rob Hubbard.

OSV: How much of the game did you see before writing the music?

Magnus: The first level. This game was made for my music and vice versa. Making music for this game was like being in a feedback loop of positivity, and I think one can hear that in the songs.

OSV: Do you feel there is a prevailing theme to VVVVVV as a concept – not just a game or score? What is it?

Magnus: Here I have a big urge to say “Positivity, Persistence, Purpose, Power, Passion, and Phun!”. So I just did.

On a more graspable note though, there are a couple of things that pop up with VVVVVV. First off, it’s non-violent, which I see as a kind of victory for Terry. He made a game that’s ACTUALLY FUN even though you can’t shoot anybody, whip their ass into oblivion or jump on their heads to hurt them. How many games can say that? Tetris, The Sims, and strip poker games? Well, of course you die touching monsters and you can tear your body an infinite number of new holes while being impaled on spikes, but that’s always your own clumsy doing. You never kill anything or anyone else. There’s a sense of accountability here. You can trust the game.

Then there’s the freshness of the game, with a game mechanic that, while not completely new, it explored in really innovative and interesting ways. You get everything thrown at you including the kitchen sink.

But the big one is the level of difficulty and lack of long-winded, frustrating “transport passages” to get to the place where you were having problems or dying since there’s always a handy teleporter nearby. The game is hard but fair like a drill sergeant, and you never feel angry at it. The game then teaches you new ways to work your stuff all the way through, and the difficulty curve it just excellently designed.

OSV: What do you feel the advantages/disadvantages of a chiptune score are?

Magnus: Chiptunes have an undeniable emotionally nostalgic payoff to those who were around when the computer games era began. On the other hand, those who weren’t, can sometimes be less susceptible to “understanding” them, not listening to the melodies and just brushing them off as glorified phone ring tones.

OSV: Are you pleased with how the game/score have been received?

Magnus: Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun because both about the music and the game has received massive praise.

OSV: What is next for you?

Magnus: I’m working a normal day job, so It’s pretty hectic with the music now, as there’s been a lot more requests coming in for new music, competing for time from my other hobbies. I’m currently doing some music for smaller games (smaller than VVVVVV, that is. VVVVVV is pretty short and sweet), but I’m also involved in the more prestigious Mega Man 2.5D project. There’s more music to come!

OSV: Do you ever perform chiptune music?

Magnus: I haven’t ever done that, maybe on account that I don’t know of any gig like that here in Sweden, or that I wouldn’t actually physically PLAY anything while up on stage. I don’t have any stage fright, but It’s like… “Oh, here I am, and … yeah, I’ll just press this button to play what I have prepared earlier. Could someone fire up a plasma demo on that screen behind me?”

Maybe I could grab a mike and crack a few jokes between the songs in order to not look like a TV-chef like that. I’ve seen some videos of others performing, being totally immersed. That looks kind of funny to me if there’s no vocals to it, since I know that anything they do there on stage can be done offstage beforehand. But I guess it’s not a “performance” if you just start a tune in Winamp. Hey, maybe I could get myself a red stage jumpsuit with some yellow lightning on it, choreograph myself a dance routine, and jump around on stage turning a filter knob to enhance the sound. I’d name the show “One man and his knob” in an obvious Rob Hubbard reference. Then, the question one would need to ask oneself would naturally become “would I want to pay money to see SoulEye play with his knob”?

I kid of course. I would never dress up in a costume like that.

All the above aside, It certainly has an appeal to me. I’d be a sharing of the emotions portrayed in the songs in a new way. I have a feeling that the atmosphere at an event like blip festival is really dense with awesomeness. Wherever you’d turn my head, there’d be a fellow chipmusic fan or composer. A potential co producer, someone to be inspired of, or someone to share the latest blips with. In a way, it would be a homecoming of sorts, and an instant feeling of belonging that is easy to appreciate. Like walking into the Cheers bar and everybody knows your name. That’s the lure of the community; everybody has so much in common… And that’s why I’d really want to go sometime.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the guys and girls who’s supported me this far in my musical endeavors. You guys are my neverending inspiration; you rock!

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