We made it. It’s 2020 and PartyChat is back in full swing!
Over the holidays I had the pleasure of speaking with Berlinist, the composer of the soundtrack for the award-winning indie title: Gris. to put it lightly, Gris is one of the most beautiful and emotionally compelling games I’ve ever played.
It’s about how fear and anxiety sometimes cripple us, to the point where even getting up can seem like an insurmountable task. The developers took this concept, paired it with one of the most beautiful worlds I’ve ever experienced, and paired with Berlinist’s emotionally charged soundtrack to make one of the best games of the year.
So, without further ado:
This is me.
This is Berlinist.
This is a GIF of me listening to the Gris soundtrack as I type up this post.
Alright guys, thank you so much again for your time. I guess let’s start here: why did you choose to be a composer?
To be honest, the desire was to be together and to express feelings in the way that best fits us.
Was the goal from the beginning to compose music for video games? How did that get started?
We were really interested in composing music for games, especially Marco. He’s paid attention to the gaming music since he was a child. We didn’t have much experience as a group though.
Was Gris your first game?
Actually, we’d previously just composed one short theme for the game ABC Lexicopolis.
So how did you get involved with Gris? Did they reach out to you?
We already knew Conrad (creative director of GRIS) because of the mutual respect for what we do. We really love his art, and we think he loves our music. One day he asked Marco to get involved in the project.
What was it like working with a developer on a soundtrack? Did the Nomada team already know what they were looking for?
Nomada was mainly just looking for a composer who knew the game and whose music is not so common to be heard in games. And to their credit, they made it really easy on us. First of all, they gave us the freedom to experiment. Second, they filled us with concepts, art and builds of the game from the very beginning, which meant the music could grow with the game.
Gotcha. So how do you go about writing music for a game? I feel like it’s difficult enough to write songs on their own, much less a soundtrack for a game.
That’s not completely true. When you compose songs on your own, you have to imagine everything: the concept, the lyrics, the arrangement, etc. For us, it is much easier if someone already delivers a concept to us. In the case of GRIS, the concept was so great that the music came out almost by itself.
Could you go more in detail over how you “imagine the concept, lyrics, and arrangement of a song”?
We simply develop tracks that start really smooth with two emotional peaks in each of them (one is more sad, the other conveys hope). Then we focus on the melody; we use a melody only in the character’s voice, trying to create “micro-melodies” in the rest of the soundtrack. As the listener can’t follow a specific melody, the music can only deliver a mood that changes according to the intensity.
Very cool. I think everyone would agree that music triggers emotional responses unlike anything else. How do you build a soundtrack to take listeners on an emotional roller coaster?
This is something natural for us. We have listened for so many years to composers that are considered emotional. What we always do in our music is build an emotional crescendo that tends not to explode. With GRIS, we kept the same modus operandi (method of working). We built tracks that mix hope and sorrow; their shape is similar to a mirror. In the first part of each track, we design a soundscape according to the scenario. In the last part of the tracks, we put the emotional part.
So I know this is a weird way to word it, but I have to ask this question: Do you have to get in a dark sad mood (like a method actor) to write these types of songs? Are you sad all the time? Are you, like, OK?
Haha we are not sad, but we do like to go deep into a melancholic mood.
Haha gotcha. So how many hours did you spend writing the soundtrack? What’s your favorite track?
Lots, believe us. Everyone has a favorite track but we especially love Unagui and Gris Pt. 2.
What are some of your biggest influences? Like are there specific tracks or albums that have changed you as a human being or even just as a composer?
These are some works that have a strong influence on us:
- Sigur Ros – “Hoppipolla”
- Bon Iver – “Holocene”
- Ryuichi Sakamoto – “Energy Flow”
- Ico (soundtrack) – “Heal”
- Everbody’s Gone to the Rapture (soundtrack)
- The Last of Us (soundtrack)
I can tell after listening through them. Very good stuff. So what do you guys think of the evolution of soundtracks in video games over the years?
They are, technically speaking, more complex but what is interesting is the concept behind the themes. Think about the research that Kow Otani did just to find instruments that could fit with the extreme desolation of Shadow of the Colossus’ landscapes.
That’s an interesting way to look at it. I’ve never really thought about that before. I never knew he went out of the way to find instruments like that.
Alright, that’s all the traditional questions I had for today. Ready to wrap this all up with some rapid-fire questions?
Sure! I’ll let Marco answer these since he’s the biggest gamer of us at Berlinist.
Alright: Favorite game of all time?
Shadow of the Colossus
Favorite game this year?
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Most underrated game of all time?
Most overrated game of all time?
Game you refuse to play (for whatever reason)?
Red dead redemption 2
Woah. Ok then, last question: Gris has been nominated for a ton of awards regarding their art direction, but significantly less for its soundtrack. I think that’s an absolute shame.
As a composer, does that bother you?
We don’t give special importance to it. Our fans or Gris fans are probably angrier than us. We were extremely happy to be among the best at the BAFTA, and maybe we will be luckier in the future.
Alright guys, thank you so much again for your time. Good luck with your future endeavors and I hope we get to hear more from you soon!
What a fantastic interview to kick off the new year! I hope you all enjoyed that deep dive into how soundtracks are made for video games.
As you have noticed, this is the first post I’ve made in the Behind the Mask series where I didn’t directly interview a game development studio. I’m going to do more posts like this throughout the year so keep an eye out!
Lastly, if you haven’t played Gris, I highly recommend you do. It’s available on PC, Playstation, Nintendo Switch, and iOS (sorry Xbox bois, we’ve been jipped again). Also, you can follow the devs here!
See you next week with another edition of Behind the Mask! And tune in tonight on Mixer for more Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice!