Rich Vreeland Interview

Rich Vreeland Interview

Rich Vreeland is the 8-bit being behind Disasterpeace, the musical alias responsible for crafting soundtracks for Fez, Shoot Many Robots and many, many other games. What separates his most recent release, the splendid, commodiously ambient record that is Fez's soundtrack, is the sheer versatility of the record.

On one hand it's a nigh-perfect accommodation of Fez's faux-retro design, on the other it concurrently exists independently of Fez as a fantastic work of art.  The sharp synth play is there--tracks such as "Adventure and "Flow" will pleasure traditionalists looking for less experimentation and more routine, retro-addled work--but the other twenty-four tracks consist of an hour of genuine, prismatic ambiance. To dig through the neon-glazed dirt of the project, we contacted Rich Vreeland for a deeper insight.

Do you consider yourself a musician?

Uhh... Yes!

There’s certainly been a true validation of video game music as certifiable art in its own right in the past few years--Noise-rock band HEALTH scored Max Payne 3, you’ve created one of the most listenable faux-retro soundtracks of this generation, and Beck has contributed to the PSN success Sound Shapes. What reasons do you attribute to this recent string of mainstream success in video game scoring?

In the last couple years we've seen a lot of new faces contributing to video game projects, many of whom may have had their focuses elsewhere, which I think has been fantastic. There ought to be more collaboration between members of different universes. There are a bunch of success stories in the vein of the ones you've described... DVA's musical contributions to Botanicula, the Red Dead Redemption soundtrack, and so on. I think we can all benefit from the blurring of lines, in terms of which mediums artists and designers focus their efforts.

Soundtracks rarely cross into the realm of casual listening material--Fez’s soundtrack strikes me as one of the few examples of games that boast soundtracks that can be digested piecemeal. Was this intentional? Perhaps in spots, but generally speaking, I tend not to give too much thought to things like that. I think for the most part, I just did what I thought was appropriate for the game. There's certainly a bit of ambient music in Fez, and this left some ripe moments for turning up the energy level, so to speak. I also let silence do a lot of the ambient work. Another composer probably could have squeezed out another hour of really sparse ambient material, but I chose to use silence and locational sounds in lots of places instead.

Video game soundtracks rarely contain restraint, and oftentimes they can even exhaust listeners with hyperactivity. Fez never panders to the listener’s attention span and seems meticulously composed. Is it a coincidence that this seems to mirror Fez’s development and gameplay? Certainly not. I think a big part of trying to convey the appropriate atmosphere had to do with letting things breathe, and letting the player take things in on their own terms. I really tried to give the music this sort of feeling, where the tempo drags along at times, and is not always begging the player for attention. I have trouble making it through most albums/soundtracks for this reason, because they ask for too much energy from the listener. I'm usually spent about 20 minutes in, so I wanted to do something that could stretch further.

Games have arrived at an almost universal presence in the entertainment world, but video game music still seems to linger in the niche corners of the world. Have you ever felt limited by working within the gaming industry?

No, because all of the greatest and best opportunities I've had in my life have come through writing music for games. Working in niches can often be a benefit rather than a detriment, because if you have something to say, you're less likely to be thrown into an endless sea of obscurity. Staking out territory on your own in the general realm of "music" is much more difficult. When we can share a common interest, like video games, I think it makes it easier to communicate with people.

Can you tell us a bit about January and what drove you to create it?

January was an idea I doodled in my notebook, about a kid walking through town licking snowflakes. One day a couple of years ago I decided I would try to run through a tutorial for Flixel, and I was able to morph some space shooter code into the beginning of a little game about licking snowflakes. I shortly thereafter decided to make it a musical game, which seemed like the most natural progression for me. I really wanted to capture the feeling of being alone in the snow, which is something I have fond memories of as a kid. The music system generates new notes based on the previous notes, keeping things relatively fresh and ambiguous. The player controls the rhythm of the music (with his virtual tongue), and can lick special snowflakes to generate octaves and chords, as well as change the wind patterns.

What’s your next project?

Right now I'm writing music for a bunch of small game projects, a few larger ones, and making a game of my own with some good friends. I'll have more to share when the time is right!