Grant Graham took the time to answer a few questions we had about their work on the Ghost Song soundtrack. Here's what they had to say!
Q1: Of all the possible Metroidvania comparisons, Ghost Song feels closest to Metroid Fusion regarding tone and aesthetic. Were there any specific games in the genre you drew inspiration from?
A1: In regards to the soundtrack, I didn’t really look too far when it came to direct inspiration from other games. I mainly focused on composing something that fit with the atmospheric visuals and tone of Ghost Song, and with some direction from Matt on what he wanted for the game we settled on a more ambient post-rock style for the overall soundtrack, with the leading instrument being this warbly electric guitar sound which can be heard throughout. There are definitely some inspirations that have directly influenced anything I make: Chihei Hatakeyama, Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, Tim Hecker, Do Make Say Think, Daniel Avery, Akira Yamaoka, amongst way too many others to mention! I’m not too familiar with the Metroid Fusion soundtrack so I’ll definitely be checking that out after this!
Q2: Where and how do you capture your field recordings?
A2: I recorded the majority around my house honestly (I’m cheap), but did utilise some audio recordings I took with my phone when out and about that I stuck into a sampler and turned into weird playable pads for background atmospheric stuff. These were processed heavily through various effects and could have probably been achieved using some white noise and simple waveforms, but I suppose it felt more authentic to use personally gathered recordings and mangle them up in the computer, but in all honesty would likely make no difference to the listener either way. I’d say these recordings feature in over half the tracks, but could easily be mistaken for hard/soft synths. The poor quality of my phone mic definitely adds some character though. Things buried in the soundtrack are my washing machine, running a tap on different plates and bowls, hitting random objects around the house, recording the town whilst walking home at night, stupid stuff like that. My personal favourite though was sampling my fiancée’s blood curdling scream and implementing it into one of the weapon modules in the game (Deadshot). She’s great a making the most crazy monster noises so I just had to get those out into the world somehow.
Q3: How do you create songs that are ambient but still carry a sense of urgency?
A3: That’s always a tricky one. I think the most important element to that is having a recognizable melody line that is introduced early enough in the track before it gets too cluttered. Then as you start to bring in more layers and textures, you can go back to that melody again when more things are going on, and the listener won’t need to pay as much attention to it in the second time around. You can then let the melody pick up to create the sense of urgency, and use the background textural stuff to create the ambient base. This can work in both tense and mellow compositions, both being ambient at heart.
Q4: Ghost Song is your first video game soundtrack. Did you hit any unexpected roadblocks while working on the project?
A4: All in all, it was a really great experience. I worked on it part-time in the evenings after work for 3-4 years. Matt was incredibly collaborative and a joy to work with, there weren’t really any roadblocks as such and I couldn’t be happier with how the whole experience went. Would do it all again in a heartbeat.
Q5: Do you have any tips or tricks for blending electric guitar with synths, pads and other electronic sounds?
A5: One of the key things to get the guitar to blend in was a lot of mixing and EQing so it didn’t get too muddy sounding. The soundtrack is very heavy on the low/mid range with less stuff going on in the high end, so I had a lot of bandpassing going on in synth pads and tried to make sure there was nothing clashing with the guitar when it was at the forefront. Panning played quite a big part too when adding in counter melodies with synths, so that they weren’t fighting each other in the middle. If any elements were competing or clashing too much, I’d either strip one away completely, or bus them together and run them into the same reverb to blend them, taking away some of the effectiveness of the melodies but making it more ambient and spacey. There’s a lot of give and take, and it just came down to what the purpose of the track was when it came to making those decisions. There’s a lot of bussing tracks to single effects going on throughout, it definitely helps making everything feel more coherent and like it’s existing within the same space. I’m absolutely not a master at mixing, but putting this soundtrack together has definitely taught me a lot in blending all of these things together.
Q6: What have you been gaming lately?
A6: Besides trying to terribly speedrun Ghost Song: Factorio, Vampire Survivors, Brotato and I’m forever playing The Binding Of Isaac!