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Composer Profile: Filippo Beck Peccoz | Crashing Into the Indie Game Scene

March 1, 2011
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Filippo Beck Peccoz got a bit of sound effects help from his dog, Link.

Filippo Beck Peccoz got a bit of sound effects help from his dog, Link.

It wasn''t an amazing film soundtrack that got him interested in composing. Nor was it a hit TV theme song or commercial ditty. But at the age of 6, Filippo Beck Peccoz made up variations on the Mega Man 2 Nintendo game theme by humming them into a tape recorder while he was playing the game. His love for music for games continued at Berklee College of Music (Class of Summer 2009), where he helped create the “Video Game Music Club @ Berklee” where he promoted a dedicated game audio curriculum that was later adopted by the school. Today, in his native Germany, he continues to focus on game audio. “I just love the unique challenges, both compositional 
and technical, that this discipline is known for,” he explains. “You have to think about the unpredictability of a player''s actions and how you, as a composer, can construct the best possible system to make the music ‘flow'' despite of this. Game music has its own voice, and we definitively should let people hear it!”

You''ve also done composing for art installations. What is your attack for this type of media?
It depends on the artist. For now, I''ve mainly done sound designy things—like setting up speakers in weird places and jostling waves of sound around the room—to convert the artist''s vision into a physical experience. Or, connecting objects the visitor can interact with to sound events.

One installation revolved around the concept of dust: how these tiny elements settle everywhere and change the objects around us in time. The artist brought in an old (and, of course, dusty!) detuned piano, and we layered her live playing with old recordings of her childhood piano recitals, swirling around the darkened room, creating an interesting division between past and present. It was definitively a very conceptual and less-technical project. When live sound interaction is asked for, I tend to use [Cycling ''74] Max/MSP as it''s fantastically flexible and powerful.

Where are you working out of?
I just moved into a new space, sharing a bigger room with a young developer team from Munich, the Bit Barons. I use Digital Performer mostly; I just love its flexibility in terms of tempo changes, rubato playing, creating tempo maps and such. Also, Version 7 is very stable and reliable on my computer, which is a blessing working on any project. I use a MOTU 828 mk3 interface and a couple of Genelec 8030s, a great investment.

I''m a bit of a Korg fetishist. I have a Kaoss pad, a Kaossilator, and an Electribe hooked up and ready to go at all times and in reach. I love the idea of having a bit of outboard gear but in a compact setting: playing a note on the MIDI keyboard with the right hand and mangling the sound on the Kaoss pad with the left, and then triggering a guitar sample I made with the ribbon controller on the Electribe—the possibilities are endless.

I have two Shure SM81s, which I love for guitars and percussion recording/sampling. Then the ever-present SM57 and SM58. Plug-ins I use are the Vienna Special Edition, the amazing LA Scoring Strings, a couple of Waves plug-ins I still have from my Berklee time, EastWest Silk, and Native Instruments Komplete. IZotope''s Ozone has been a favorite of mine for some time, too.

Some say that you''re part of the “indie game scene”—those titles produced without a videogame publisher. What exactly does that mean to you?
I''ve been fortunate to find a pretty large local indie game community in Munich, which also wants to reach out to the bigger groups of people in the U.S. and the rest of Europe. There''s lots of opportunities and drive to create great games. The Game Jam is a monthly jam that takes place in Munich. There''s also interest in moving the art of game audio forward. Recently, Bit Barons'' Alex Zacherl and myself organized a Game Audio Forum, an event geared toward bringing audio people and game developers together, which was a success attendance- and feedback-wise. My personal goal is to make Munich and Bavaria another center for cool indie games.

You recently wrapped up sound for the Astroslugs game. What was your process?
First, it was important to determine the general mood of the game. We wanted a bit of an orchestral touch, coupled with a lighthearted beat and catchy melody. I also wanted to make the really pretty artwork in the World selection scene of the game stand out: You are presented a picture of the entire game world, and there are different regions (the classic ice, woods, desert stages) that the player can zoom in by clicking on them. I created variations of the main theme for each zone so that by entering, the player is hearing an appropriate music for each zone.

We did this by starting six music loops at exactly the same time in the game engine, but turning up the volume just on one of those loops. The engine then crossfades between the tracks as the player enters the different zones. The result is a super-smooth, musically coherent transition.

Because the core gameplay revolves around pretty difficult puzzle mechanics, we needed an in-game music that doesn''t get annoying even after a long time and doesn''t sacrifice the Astroslugs vibe to be appropriate for this gameplay. We came up with a little music system in which groups of instruments play semirandomly over a fixed, kind of “rubato” pad loop. This way, the music never repeats exactly the same way, lending itself to longer sessions inside the same level.

I also created the sound effects for the game and want to thank my dog, Link, for the great chomping/barking sounds that made it into the game after some modifications! It was a lot of fun coming up with what was needed, and I really focused on not using library sounds if possible. That''s another reason why I almost always run around with a little portable recorder.

As an added bonus, we decided to release a soundtrack album of a different kind for Astroslugs. I gathered a group of musician friends and colleagues, gave them the main melody and bounced the single tracks out of [Digital Performer], and off they went to some arrangement/remix fun. What came out of this project is a nice concoction of different genres and interpretations of the original theme, from progressive trance to solo piano, all the way to metal.

So you do a lot of sampling.
I try to as much as I can. I''ve always been fascinated by how one can capture sound, contain it onto a tape, CD, or whatever medium. It''s been extremely beneficial to me to learn how to use Kontakt—making my own scripts, my own loops (acoustic and electronic), just messing around making tons of little instruments out of everything. When I noodle around on a guitar, I keep a recording. Not just for song-creation/idea-keeping purposes, but also for placing certain sounds as the basis of new Kontakt instruments. Another favorite of mine is the gritty Yamaha FM Soundchip found in the Sega Genesis console. Call me a bit nostalgic, but I think there''s nothing like it around!

What''s next for you?
This year started out with a series of really cool indie game projects that will keep me busy up until around May. I''m also looking into the sample libraries market to see what has not been covered yet. Also, I''m preparing a game music-related live show, but that''s still in the brainstorming phase. Stay tuned and keep gaming!

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