in depth with the Portal:Awakening OST - part 2

This feature follows on from the first three discussed tracks from the upcoming portal mod 'Portal: Awakening'. Sadly it would seem that at this time the game will not appear to the general public until after the release of Portal 2, but (now under new management) I'm hoping their hard work will pay off in the near future, that aside please have a look at the glorious screenshots and tidbits they have released so far;


The first three tracks can be found in part 1 of this feature here;

4. Non-vital personelle
This track is one of the first to undermine the idea that I wanted to leave traditional rhythm behind. Like all good music (and most other things in life) diversity is the key, giving the developers varying styles and paces in the tracks will allow them to use the music properly; as an underpinning source of emotion and drive.
This is one of those slow build to fast paced tracks, I had wanted to keep the ambiance that had gone before and felt it very important not to let the music impose itself over any action that might be happening gameplay wise but I also wanted to build something with pace and urgency.
There's a great free (as most of my effects and kit are) vst on the net called Crystal which allows for a lot of knob tweaking and also plenty of automation.
This provided the synth-drum element that keeps the track moving. Adding a very hi-pinched drum beat also differentiated the track from the other more ambient stuff.
Couple that with the great echo sample which I've had for a while and used on various projects and used a really low end cello to get the siren-distorted bass melody.

5. Anomalous variance
After hearing the beautiful 800% slowed down version of Jonathan Coultan's 'Still alive'
(See below)

I loved how any song becomes a slow ambient drone when taken to extremes like this. I wanted to give it a try and thought (with more than half a mind on laziness I confess) 'I wonder what I can do with one of my own tracks'.
I went digging through my back catalogue and found a track from a set of fairly ambient tracks I produced mostly as experiments and unfinished songs called 'Variables'.
After trying some extreme timestreching using Audacity I found that things weren't turning out as I hoped; I only seemed to achieve really clipped choppy long winded versions of my track.
I went back to the source and found that the 'Still alive' version was slowed down using an add-on called Paulstretch.
After a bit of tweaking and cutting down (Variable #5 came out at over 30mins long after the stretch) I got a good chunk of 3-4 minutes that I wanted added some reverb to reduce any clicking and cut-offs and added some high pass filter to cut out the low rumble and 'Anomalous variance' was born as a slow building ambient warble.

6. Diversity furnace
When I first thought of making music for Portal I didn't really have a project to work on until I shipped a couple of samples around to development studios and the Portal: Awakening guys took me on.
So I had a bank of samples and sounds that I knew would work but no really home for them, this track houses most of those early samples, especially the long low swelling bass synth.
That was made up with Computer Muzys CM-101 Bass synth. (I'd normally host a link but Muzys has been discontinued, if you want any info. please comment below) I let it run with the the higher tremolo synth over the top and sat in front of the keyboard hammering out dozens of light melody lines until one finally stuck.
It's really easy as a musician to stick to a numbers game; 4/4 time signatures, melodies running at 4, 8 or 16 bars in length, but the most interesting things come from when you decide to tell yourself 'No'.
The long high notes that provide a pseudo-bassline are at a count of something like a  batch of 6 bars then a batch of 5 just so that their melodies are never anticipated.
Once I had the correct melody lines it was simply a case of arranging the track and tweaking any transitions.

In the previous part to this post I was asked a few questions which I shall try to answer here;

Do you get to see the game before you score it or did you just work from an idea of what it'd be like?
Because the 'game' itself is a modification of Valve's Portal, I had a good ideas of environment and themes but the developers of the game were being quite hushed about revealing any clues to story and content before release date even I wasn't given any real ideas, if you check the link at the top of this post you'll see about as much information as I had.
It was both strange and freeing to not have any constraints and being given the trust to write what I wanted, I was constantly asking for input from the developers only to hear that what I was doing worked for them, so I guess I can't really complain. I'll look forward to seeing the music in-game as much as anyone else and hopefully will post some videos on youtube upon it's release.

How long does it take to put each piece together?
That was really dependent on the piece, some tracks are really just two live synth tracks recorded in real time. 
Others have quite a few individual samples and took some tweaking and arranging.
I try to add a lot of live recorded part to tracks and if the inspiration (and skill in playing) is there it can be quite a rapid and prolific process.Otherwise you end up tinkering and rearranging things time  and time again looking for things to be just so.
So a track like 'Special envoy' will flow very quickly and given some dedicated time can have the bulk of the work out in a day or so. Others like 'Non-vital personelle' drag on with constant tweaking and re-listens to weed out imperfections. 

Please feel free to ask any additional questions in the comments section below I'll attempt to answer them in part 3 and be sure to check out part 1
Part 3 coming soon...

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