Interview: Dissecting Dead Space Music with Composer Trevor Gureckis
Dead Space is one of the best horror games of the PS3 era, and we were lucky enough to recently sit down with Trevor Gureckis, composer of the excellent remake of the 2008 classic. We got to talking about how to make a horror soundtrack stand out from the competition, how to make the music resonate more emotionally, and why nursery rhymes are so great for a horror game. Join us as we dive into the world of planet-crackers, unitology, and a ruthless engineer named Isaac Clarke.
Push Square: As a remake of a pretty iconic game with a memorable soundtrack, what was your approach to the music? Do you obviously want to distance yourself from the work of Jason Graves? Or do you want to pay homage to it, keeping everything very much in the original spirit? Some mix of it?
Trevor Gureckis: I started with a very narrow focus for my role in the remake of Dead Space. EA and Motive Studios really wanted to explore narrative opportunities throughout the game, using new themes and new textures. So, first, my main goal was to achieve this.
For example, there are new themes for Nicole (Isaac’s girlfriend) that he is exploring at USG Ishimura. I also explored new sounds and textures for the ship including things like solo violin, solo cello, and percussion noises on metal instruments such as a weld instrument. Marvin. But I did it all in the universe of Dead Space, Which Jason Graves did a great job of developing over three games. So, I have that big full orchestra doing elaborate techniques, and exploring those ugly sounds that are so familiar to gamers and listeners of the original score. After developing the score over 18 months I started writing bigger and bigger cues for boss scenes and cutscenes. There are not so many [cutscenes] But when they happen, they [have] Quite developed orchestral and solo instrumental pieces.
Creating music for horror games (or movies for that matter) can be challenging to keep things interesting. There are some unlikely sounds like tittering strings, and sudden, explosive percussion. Did you make any effort to steer the score away from that kind of sound, and if not, what measures did you take with your score to make sure it would stand out?
There are some hints that are in the horror genre, but I have a lot of music in this soundtrack and the score in the game is a more ambient atmosphere with experimental performance techniques on electronics and instruments that I tried to capture. . [the] Isaac’s inner space. One of the things I wanted to explore in doing this remake was finding locations and sonic worlds that could describe his personal journey through Hell. It includes lots of close-mic violin and cello body tapping and the use of the bow in unconventional ways.
Also with electronics: I used granular synthesis to manipulate recordings from previous recording sessions of the orchestra.
[Granular synthesis is a recording technique wherein samples of music are sliced into a large number of micro-samples, sometimes milliseconds in length, and then reconstituting them into a wholly different sound from what was originally created.]
So, Dead Space is a very scary game. Necromorphs are shining beacons of some of the very best in body horror. In what ways did the violence and viscera of Dead Space influence the way you approach your music? Did it affect it at all?
[The Necromorphs helped in trying to] Gain high energy. The most extreme sounds. [That] It was always something I was in search of and [it was] Completely inspired by the violence and viscera of Dead Space. I found it very exciting to go after that challenge because, often, I can get scared and anxious very easily afterwards. M. Working with Night Shyamalan all these yearsBut directly…
“That sounds awful, what’s going on!” For example, how “Hive Mind” begins – and when the arm wraps around you and there’s this swirling noise. 30 seconds later, you’re hit with a full choir screaming. It was a great, fun challenge to find that level of intensity.
So as a follow-up to that, how did your approach change during that time? Down, down, down moment? The tension can only be sustained for so long, so how challenging or different was it for you to score the more reflective, quieter moments in the game? How to strike that balance between calm and stressful moments?
Okay, so it was a huge relief to leave this high intensity behind. And that was something they really wanted to enhance: the emotional beats in this remake. But there is always something less even if I retreat as a solo piano piece. There may be some part of the harmony that is “stuck” or “looped”. Love Isaac Nicol’s Replay Videos. This material always has a musical reason as well. There is a story logic to this, even though it may be more reflective on a base level and in a different emotional space.
What were your thoughts on the different areas of USG Ishimura? For the original version of the game, each area/level had a very unique look and feel. Do you want to reinforce those identities, or help give each new area a whole new feel and personality?
Yes, we wanted to explore this idea – and I’m seeing it now that I’m getting a chance to play the game myself. I didn’t apply any music, so I was working with big concepts and rough storyboards. One idea that the audio team (led by Olivier Asselin and James Wallace) took early on was that, as with Isaac’s journey on the ship, as he gets closer and closer to the marker, things “more” are corrupt”. He starts imagining things. People start losing their minds.
I have written a series of articles on the subject of corruption as it relates to theory. In one of those albums [is] called “star hunger“. For example, in the game, Tram is a place where there is a musical cue that gradually “corrupts”. This means screaming solo cello parts, heavy heartbeat-like percussion, and woodwind. Riffs that come out of nowhere. These parts are added bit by bit to Isaac’s journey, and likewise, the ship. [it] changes
One of the popular tricks in the original game was Necromorphs playing dead and trying to attack Isaac in a jump scare tone, something that happens quite often. How do you feel about jump scares in general, and how do you approach moments like that when scoring a game this time around? How did you try to keep it interesting as players progressed through the game?
I understand what you mean. From the remakes I’ve played there’s a lot more variety, sonically. As the original relies mostly on full orchestral mixes, we have fine-tuned mix part separations (aka stems) from all my music – woodwinds, brass, strings, choir, synths 1, synths 2, etc. – so the details The level of stingers in the remake is much more manageable [greater] details I’ve also made some cutscenes or research pieces that I’ve written, but mostly [ones] I’ve experienced that in-game I was edited out of my large chunks of trunk. or [some] A combination of the original score and my stem pieces. So, there’s a touch of cello, electronics, and vocals here or there.
The Dead Space franchise has some pretty iconic trailers using lullabies, which Trailer of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Being a memorable highlight. How do you feel about those trailers or their inclusion in games? What was the process of working them back into music?
That contrast — nursery rhyme for a space horror game — made it so cool! And it was so small and tender against this epic and brutal experience. Really clever stuff. I recorded two versions of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with an all female choir to be used in the game. I think they are going with a solo voice version where they wanted to bring back the moment late in the game from the footage I saw. This is an interesting version, though. [It] It has its own lyrics that are super dark that describe Isaac and both [the in-game religion of] Unitology.
I always like to close my first time interview with a fun question! How did you find yourself making music for video games? A lifelong desire? A total accident? What got you into sports?
I always wanted to work on a game, but I got it, with my first luck because some people at EA/Motive knew about it. My score is M. Night Shyamalan’s servant on Apple TV+. The final season is starting to air now! And I think they thought my experience with storytelling might be an interesting fit for the narrative goals they were after. I, of course, told them that I had played Dead Space on my Xbox 360 back in 2008 and was very familiar with it. I think that helped sell them on my commitment to making a strong, faithful, and inventive remake. I hope to do more games soon!
Thanks for doing this Trevor!
Definitely! Enjoyed it.
Thanks again Trevor for taking the time to talk with us! Are you playing Dead Space Remake? What do you think of the new music? Like? Complete the comments below again.
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