An Interview with Video Game Music Composer Voltz.Supreme
Voltz Supreme is an Australian composer of video game music who is a self-described "synth chef and voltage architect." In an email, I asked him about his musical background, his creative process and his "80s synth" video game music remixes.
Karl Magi: What first sparked your passion for making music?
Voltz.Supreme: My parents encouraged myself and my siblings to play music from an early age. We’ve all learnt to play different instruments. For me, it was guitar and my brother now tours the world as a drummer for The Walking Who and Angus Stone’s band Dope Lemon. Having supportive parents is a real blessing that I’m thankful for and growing up with friends who were composers played a big part as we bounced off each other creatively.
I have always been interested in creating music and started very young with a program call Guitar Pro which is a fun MIDI-driven program used for writing and reading guitar tab. Early in high school I got some simple recording hardware and I would just record with whatever instrument I could get my hands on. I’d just experiment and have fun. Things just grew from there.
KM: How did you become drawn towards video game music and wanting to create it?
VS: From as early as I can remember I’ve been interested in music as a way of telling a story or creating an atmosphere. I also grew up playing video games and before I was even thinking about video game music, composers like Nobuo Uematsu (FF7-9) in particular were causing me to stop and take notice of the music.
For a long time, I thought I wanted to write film music. I listen to tons of film music from composers like Ennio Morricone, Henry Mancini, Bernard Herrmann etc; Writing music for other people’s films was almost an impossibility so I started looking into writing music for indie video game developers. I don’t think it took very long for me to change my mind from “video game music as plan B” to “this is what I actually want to do!”
KM: Who are some of the musicians and composers who've had a strong influence on you and why?
VS: I’ve always been drawn to composers and bands who are a bit “out of the box.” Some artists who I grew up listening to but still have a strong impact on me today and artists I currently am inspired by are Ennio Morricone, Henry Mancini, Bernard Herrmann, Frank Zappa, Steve Vai, Mr Bungle (and anything related), Yellow Magic Orchestra, Kraftwerk, Yasutaka Nakata, Parliament-Funkadelic, Hiroshi Yoshimura, Disasterpeace, Cliff Martinez, Claude Debussy, Bernie Worrell, Maurice Ravel, Nobuo Uematsu and my all time favourite Masashi Hamauzu!
KM: Where does video game music fit into the broader tapestry of contemporary music?
VS: The video game industry is absolutely massive, larger than film and music industries put together. The range of creative expression continues to get broader and broader as the industry grows and as it gets cheaper and easier for everyday people to produce games. The same goes for the music of video games. You can fit any genre of music into the broad category of video game music and then on top of that, this big melting pot of genres (video game music) ends up creating its own unique genres, styles and musical possibilities.
Now you see things coming full circle as old chiptune music and sounds are being seen as cool and retro causing video game music to make its way out of games and into contemporary (non-video game) music.
Personally, what I love about video game music is the dynamic aspect that allows interactions between the person (player) and the music in a way that no other entertainment medium can produce. There’s a lot of untapped possibilities there and I hope to really exploit dynamic music more in the future.
KM: Tell me how you go about creating new music?
VS: Getting started on a new composition can be challenging. It helps to start off with some form of inspiration. For me it might come from playing around with an interesting instrument sound (usually synth), taking inspiration directly from a project I’m working on, trying a new technique or style of music or taking inspiration from someone else’s compositions. Getting started is the hardest part and then it usually flows in a linear fashion, almost from start to finish, layering track by track. If I’m recording my own music I usually play most of the parts.
When I’m working for someone who requires more polish, I mostly have to put my musician’s pride aside...
That usually looks like me playing and recording an initial section of music with a MIDI controller followed by looping and adjusting the part until it sounds right and all the notes are in place. Once the MIDI parts are nice, I’ll send that info back to my synths to “perform” the final take.
KM: Tell me about some of the recent projects that you've worked on recently of which you're especially proud?
VS: My biggest project to date is the video game soundtrack that I’m currently working on. The game is Adams Ascending which is being developed by a solo indie developer in California, Nick Depalo. It’s a very ambitious third person sci-fi adventure with some deep themes. We both live on opposite sides of the world (I’m Australian) but Nick and myself share a lot of common values and creative interests. Because of that, communication issues have been pretty minimal. We spent the end of last year (2018) working on a number of different trailers which was fun but this year I’ve moved to scoring individual scenes and levels. Both the music and the game are coming along great and it’s been a fun and reward challenge so far.
KM: I'm curious about your '80s synth video game remixes. What is your approach to doing them and why were you compelled to start making them?
VS: Originally I was making remixes so I could have backing tracks to perform video game music live. I generally perform as Voltz Supreme solo, so I need backing tracks for all the parts I won’t play. Recently, doing the remixes has become a nice relaxing way of still being creative if I need a short break from (or don’t have the energy for) composing. Almost all my creative time is devoted to writing for Adams Ascending at the moment so the remixes are nice quick projects that allow me to keep releasing some kind of content to the world without sacrificing my responsibilities.
I choose songs based on my instincts. I have a fairly good idea of what will or won’t work and whether I can add any new life to the original version. If it’s a complex composition, it definitely helps to have solid midi files to use. I use Propellerhead’s Reason for my DAW. It’s full of great sounds but I try to stick to using my vintage or modern analog synths for the remixes. I use a Roland SH-101 (1982), Roland Jupiter-6 (1983), Roland Alpha Juno 2 (1986) and Moog Little Phatty which was Bob Moog’s final synth design. I also have an Arturia Microbrute but I don’t usually use it for studio recording. It’s a lot of fun reinventing these amazing compositions using this great gear and hopefully people enjoy listening to their favourite video game music!
KM: Where do you want to take your music going forward?
VS: I’m content with the direction things are going at the moment. I would love to just keep writing soundtracks for video games and continue to grow and improve as a composer and producer. It would also be awesome to command a 20-piece funk band…
KM: How do you recharge your creative batteries?
VS: I think balance is one of the most important things for anyone and that can keep you fairly consistently charged to a degree. It’s different from person to person but for me I need to balance my creative life with being a husband, a dad, engineering work and all in a way that aligns with my Christian faith and values. Staying inspired is also very important. Video game music podcasts like Super Marcato Bros, VGMbassy and others help me to hear and appreciate new music which is always great for creativity and growth. And a big one is staying relaxed and not beating yourself up. Accept and know your limitations (while also striving for growth) and accept that you’ll have good and bad days as a composer or artist.