Shadow Spirits Volume 1: An Interview With Project Composers Cody Carpenter and Mark Day
Shadow Spirits Volume 1 is a chiptune album composed and programmed by Cody Carpenter and Mark Day. It tells the story of the journey of a young samurai and the trials that she faces on the journey using a palette of retro JRPG-inspired sounds and exploring a diverse musical landscape.
Cody Carpenter is a third generation musician (and son of legendary horror director John Carpenter) who has been playing music and composing since he was three years old. He’s contributed music to two of his father’s movies—Vampires and Ghosts of Mars—as well as composing and performing the full-length score for "Cigarette Burns" and "Pro-Life" in Showtime's Masters of Horror movie series.
Mark Day is a musician and composer. He’s composed soundtracks for games like Diner Dash and Championship Manager as well as for indie games like Aqua Kitty. The soundtrack for Aqua Kitty was listed on TwoDashStash’s “Top Ten Best Indie Game Soundtracks of All Time.” He’s also written music that’s been used in television shows such as BBC's Top Gear, The Apprentice, and Sky Sports' Sky Sports Football.
I talked to Cody and Mark about where their inspiration for Shadow Spirits Vol 1. came from, their approach to the creation of the album, and what they hope their listeners will get out of the experience.
Karl Magi: How did the idea for Shadow Spirits Vol. 1 originate?
Mark Day: We met when I was making a game called Tap Track Heroes for the App Store. I was running out of time to write the music myself so instead I approached Cody to see if I could use 2 of his tracks.. Thankfully Cody agreed (which was very kind of him), so we got talking and we both realized that we liked video games. Cody did a bit of testing on that game which was great and once that project was finished we thought about doing some music together. It started with just one track after we decided to do some chiptune stuff. The track sounded pretty cool, so we thought we’d do another and before we knew it we had four tracks.
At that point, I thought, “This is good! Let’s continue because we both enjoyed working together.” I thought we could make an album out of it. At that point, we approached Jayson (Napolitano) at Scarlet Moon Records to see if he’d be interested in the album as well. That was it really and we just went from there.
KM: How did you approach the composition, creation and production processes individually and collectively?
Cody Carpenter: For my tracks, I started composing everything on the NES chipset. I would write my stuff on that and send it over to Mark. He would arrange it and do some stuff on his own, so that’s how the collaboration with my songs would work. Mark had his own songs as well which he sent to me. He went for a little solo here or there so I would add a couple of little touches as well.
MD: We discussed if the tracks worked or not. We threw some stuff out and added some bits. It was actually a smooth process. Most of the stuff that Cody wrote was just great. I enjoyed working with the content and adding my own stuff. Like Cody said, I would send my tracks to him. Some might be completely missing the last two minutes, so I would send some ideas and Cody would write a really great bridge or something like that. After that, it would inspire a few extra bits in the tracks, so I’d go back and rework some stuff. It was quite an organic progress.
KM: How do the limitations of the NES chipset sounds affect the music writing process?
CC: It’s funny that when you limit yourself to the sounds that you have available, you compose differently and you start to think differently especially using the NES chipset, I would start to write stuff that I wouldn’t write if I had access to a wider range of instruments.
MD: It’s obviously the aesthetic of those sounds. I’m not actually into limiting myself in the way old chiptune artists would be limited, but I like the sounds that those machines make. Cody wrote his stuff on the NES but in the final production, while we did keep some NES sounds, I added some warmth using the Commodore 64 chip and we cheated a bit with the Juno 106 synth. The aesthetic of the chiptune stuff sits on top of the production and conjures up those memories when you used to play games as a kid.
KM: What influence did the music of classic JRPGs have on Shadow Spirits Vol. 1?
CC: Growing up, I played the classic JRPGs, so its already a part of my musical repertoire. I have a tendency to write that stuff anyways, so I wasn’t really thinking about a particular game to mimic, I was just letting that style throw through in whatever I was writing.
MD: We grew up with these artists who wrote these great game soundtracks and it becomes a part of you. Hopefully you try not to steal their stuff! When you’re writing music, you imagine a scene in your head and because you’ve played so many games, you know the kind of music that was used in those scenes, so you just follow that feeling.
KM: Was there a conscious attempt to tell a story through the album?
MD: Yeah, definitely. We had half the album and around that point we started thinking about getting an order together and having a kind of story, so when you listen to it sounds like an album rather than just a collection of songs. I love listening to albums, so I wanted it to have intros and preludes, to have introductions to different sections. We had enough tracks that we could start to tell that story. As was written in the press release, we only wanted to give a bit of a story, and hopefully the music lets your imagination fill in the rest..
CC: I really like the idea of the listener make the story in their heads. It’s great to see what people think the story should be in their own minds.
KM: What do you hope that the listeners will get out of Shadow Spirits Vol. 1?
MD: With anything that I write and that I write with Cody, I just want people to be able to listen to it from start to finish and feel like it’s added something to their enjoyment of the day and hopefully it’s something that they want to listen to again and again.
CC: That’s the exact same place I’m coming from. It’s just about making people happy so I just hope that people will enjoy the album and the music.
KM: Tell me about some of the other projects that you both are working on.
MD: I’m working on two games for the PS4 that will be out, hopefully, in the year. I’m working on the sequel to Aqua Kitty. I’m already halfway through that and I’m working on a soundtrack for a cyberpunk game called Neopolis. It’s a cool project where I get to write some synthwave music.
CC: I have a lot of projects in the works. I’ll have a vocal album coming out later this month. It hasn’t been announced, but it should be soon. Keep an eye out for my new stuff because I have a lot of stuff coming out.