Composer Oleksa Lozowchuk Talks "Dead Rising 2"
Mon, 04 Oct 2010 18:42:59
Dead Rising 2 is one of the best games of the year, and one reason why it's so bloodlettingly awesome is the score. While roaming around Fortune City killing zombies, players get to experience Oleksa Lozowchuk's brooding, bombastic and brilliant score. The music sets the mood perfectly, pinpointing the precise power at the heart of Dead Rising 2. Oleksa incorporates a myriad of sonic textures and vibes in order to create the perfect video game soundtrack. It might just turn you into a zombie it's so damn good…
Composer Oleksa Lozowchuk sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about scoring Dead Rising 2, what's next on the horizon for him and so much more.
What was your favorite part of composing music for Dead Rising 2?
The most exciting thing about composing for DR2 was that I could wear so many different musical hats at the same time. Dead Rising has a certain ethos, unlike any other franchise...it’s actually quite invigorating, since anything is possible. You’re free to take iconic musical elements and push them to the edge. You try to invoke feelings in the user that puts a smile on their face, or makes them want to explore the world for golden Easter-eggs. Sometimes this comes through choice of instrumentation; other times, it’s by concentrating the music in areas where people naturally gravitate: anywhere you find food or alcohol. This could include: killing zombies while eating sausage, listening to Bratwurst Polka music full of loud yodeling, tubas, accordions, and crashing cymbals; listening to Poison-like glam rock while chugging back a bottle of whiskey in the Americana Casino; taking in ‘meowing’ pedal steel guitar and B4 rotary vibrato from an old jukebox in Rosie’s Diner; parodying old Italian restaurant music at Cucinna Italiana; using a Theramin squeak box, military snare drum and bassoon to summon magicians’ muses; and so forth...
What other type of game allows you to go to work and pull out a banjo, pan flute or accordion one moment, arrange a string session or remix some dub/club tracks the next, and then hammer out some heavy guitar riffs for a Gladiator meets Zombie kill fest? Fortune City is a thrill seeking world of pleasure for everyone, and this allowed for some truly delightful experimentation.
Another thing I really enjoyed was collaborating with different composers and artists to create a memorable soundtrack that was both exciting and accessible. For example, in one of the cheaper casinos, the Slot Barn, there’s a one-hit wonder Diva psycho you face. Our actress, Patricia Drake, sent in a demo mp3 of herself half talking/half singing her cinematic lines in character, and we all loved it so much that we hired her. I ended up taking her demo, and writing a song for the Diva based around the delivery of her performance, and fleshing out some additional banter lyric ideas with our in-house writer, Annie Reid. The vocal recording session with Patricia went so well, that we included 8 or 9 versions of her ‘hit’ song in the game, all themed differently (hunger, eros, inspiration, comeback tour, etc.) , and full of raunchy noises and hilarious commentary. Patricia’s a wonderful actress and backed by an 80’s type Casio-Disco track full of blasting horns, wah-guitar, slap bass, Moog synths, and A-M-O-R-E, you’d never know that the DR2 Diva was also a proud soccer mom. These kinds of opportunities made working on the DR2 Soundtrack truly memorable.
What has a greater influence on the score, the plot or the characters?
You always hope for a great marriage of both, an intriguing story that draws you in and provides plenty of motivation, mixed with a variety of characters and foes that bring out the best and the worst in each other. DR1 had this and DR2 takes it to the next level. Although I made sure there was always a musical connection between the main character themes, boss themes, cinematic score and ambient music, and that each echoed elements from the other, Chuck’s character influenced most of the score primarily , since the user assumes his point of view. Sometimes this took shape as his ‘everyday’ man theme; other times, it was his perspective as a protective father fighting for his life, or as a zombie killer/contestant in a Terror is Reality Show. Sometimes his theme would even weave its way into psycho boss intro cinematics, but would be arranged with instrumentation that represented the psycho bosses he would face. For example, Chuck meets a Hangman/Security Guard boss, who is ‘defending’ a shopping mall area by hanging unsuspecting ‘offenders’. I played up the scene with a Hillbilly banjo hoedown, but harmonically still based it around Chuck’s action theme…and when the Security Guard dies by landing on a table saw, I embellish the moment by reintroducing Chuck’s action theme with banjo, phaser dulcimer, floor toms, and distorted gargle voice, right before Chuck delivers one of his classic one-liners.
Often, I’d also reinforce Chuck’s character by employing musical thematic stings at the beginning or end of cinematic scenes. Much like in TV, they would help segue into battle action, in order to make another connection between our main character, the world and the user. Even, the end credit theme song, "Kill the Sound," features Chuck’s theme, and all of the other main themes from the game. It literally picks up from where DR1’s end credits track finishes, and goes on to capture the story of our Chuck, and his dilemma to saves his daughter Katey.
What do you feel like separates the score for Dead Rising 2?
The biggest factor is that DR2 is a game like no other game, so it follows that the music will need to support this crazy intoxicating world in Fortune City. There were two things that were important to focus on: making the world have as much character as possible, so the experience is truly memorable; and making sure there was plenty of musical energy to propel the user through the battles, and plenty of emotion to support the core story of Chuck and Katey. For the first, we themed psycho battles and casinos with as much flavor as possible, added spice to outside strips, filled malls with ‘almost forgettable music’, filled food and drink areas with attractive ‘comfort’ music - making sure the user would not forget the various characters they met during their stay in Fortune City. For the latter, we interwove our main character themes into the mission-based battle music, and used a darker/edgier palette with lots of tight rhythmic energy, heavy guitar riffs, and hybrid orchestral/organic ambiences to resonate emotionally with the story.
The Dead Rising 2 Soundtrack features a real variety of music scattered throughout the world: Americana bar Rock, glam Rock, Rockabilly, Country/Bluegrass, Zydeco, peep show music, Trip-Hop, Enya-like female vocals with dolphin cries, Mayan-like jungle soundscapes, vintage Wonderland 70s music with sleazy analogue synths, mall Muzak (Zamfir-type panflutes, old DX7 electric pianos, Simmons electric drums, schmalzy glissandi strings, Loveboat flugel horns, nylon stringed acoustic solos, shakers, brush kits), Mariachi, Django Jazz, godfather-like music (mandolins, harmonica, lonely operatic tenor), etc…Basically, the goal was to bring the world alive, and to have something for everyone.
Since the game is so unique, was the task of scoring particularly boundless?
Yes, boundless in a good way, and in a challenging way…pretty much anything is possible in the world of DR2. One minute I could be scoring a Ninja DLC Trailer with Shakuhachi and Koto; a scene of Chuck giving his daughter Zombrex, with tender piano and cello; a gas zombie transformation with painful screechy strings and throbbing distorted heart-beats; a Medieval burger joint with lutes and recorders; an intense Boss Battle in sports stadium rafters with intense orchestral/percussive/heavy music; a strip club backing track with groans, wow synths and beats; a psycho TV mascot who dreams of his deceased "imaginary girlfriend" with trance/DnB/glitch/speak and tell and female Disney whispers; the list just goes on and on.
With a soundtrack that required over 6 hours of original music, for Dead Rising 2 and Case Zero combined, I had to ensure that there was a seamless flow between the ending of DR1, Case Zero and the transition to the new world of DR2, regardless of the genre or context. I also had to make sure that internally, there was continuity between each game’s respective cinematic score, boss battle music, environmental music, pause menu music, etc… So I’d bring in elements from certain tracks into others, or make sure there was a solid musical flow in terms of key signatures or pacing between tracks or transitions throughout the game experience. As things progressed, it ended up working really well, as I made sure there was a lot of back and forth between myself and the wonderful music team I brought in to help me with additional music and end credit songs: the Humble Brothers, the Soule Brothers (Jeremy and Julian) and Klayton (Celldweller). It involved composing, sharing stems, adding, subtracting, icing, mixing, remixing, refixing, re-arranging, and whatever else that seemed to fit the needs of each particular cue - lots of cross-pollination going on. You always want more disc space, time and money, but alas, you do the very best you can with what’s in front of you.
Is there a moment that was particularly scary in the game that you added music to?
There was a couple of cinematics that were scary in a traditional sense…they were about instilling fear and panic in the user, to prepare them for what they would encounter next in the world…one scene involved regular zombies transforming into gas zombies, who are much quicker and more ferocious; another involved a bloodbath of Army soldiers, who were supposed to come in and ‘take charge’ of the zombie infestation, but ended up being massacred by these gas zombies, and leaving our main characters to fend for themselves. These types of cinematics relied on music to imbue the scenes with as much tension and edginess as possible, since they were filled with hungry zombies, blood splattered windshields, screaming soldiers, bullet fly-bys, chaos and poor visibility, and a general uneasiness about what was coming next.
There’s also an obese sex deviant psycho in the game, who’s a pretty creepy character. He holds women, from Fortune City, hostage in a wedding chapel, holding them close, in preparation for the consummation of their ‘marriage’. I played on the whole perversion of the wedding scene in his head, using a ‘walk down the aisle’ wedding song with gothic organ, wedding bells, and choir swells. Seeing a stunted-child type psycho character in a black leather mask, and pig snout is pretty scary stuff, and it was heightened by expectant music that climaxed with our hero, Chuck, arriving on scene to save the tortured women. Classic good guy meets bad guy set-up, but with a lethal twist.
However, the actual scariest moment for me came when I was scoring a scene that had to insinuate that Chuck’s little daughter, Katey, was transforming into a zombie (I have three young kids). I had always asked myself, ‘what would Chuck do?’, so I could hone in on what I felt was raw and visceral in his struggle, but something different was brewing inside me this time. When the scene finally came together for the final mix on the dub stage, with all the music, dialogue, foley and sfx, the scare factor actually hit me on an emotional level, and I had chills up my spine.
What’s next for you?
If I told, I’d have to kill you [Laughs]. I am the resident music composer/producer at Blue Castle (soon to be Capcom Games Vancouver), so there is plenty of game work to do…otherwise, I have a couple of film/tv and music projects coming up, and a commission for an early music ensemble…but as DR2 has taught me, anything is possible, so I'm excited about the future…
Have you played Dead Rising 2 yet?