Brother Android (Harrison Lemke) is a humanoid robot who makes electronic music inspired by and for games. I first heard his work in the headliner track to Digital: a Love Story and he recently composed the soundtrack to the excellent Hero Core.
What inspired you to make the music you do, and how long have you been composing?
I’ve been composing in a pretty loose sense for a long time, but the first couple of years of high school is when I got serious about it, I guess. So, I’ve been doing it for four or five years. It was pretty inevitable; my older brothers both wrote songs and played instruments since they were really young, and I always wanted to do what they did, but me being more into video games and worse at writing lyrics led me to make this kind of music. As far as inspiration, I think my music has changed a lot and continues to change, so it’s hard to make broad statements. I got into making this particular kind of music through the indie game scene, after playing Seiklus and getting into the sort of early-90s demoscene tracks that are in that game. I’ve drawn on a lot of different inspirations, though, musical and otherwise. And then a lot of what I like about music is how it can convey the sorts of feelings that we don’t really have words for, or that there could never be words for. Hence the overblown prog song titles and concept albums – for me, music is often about conveying weird feelings.
Seiklus was great. It still has a place on my PC for the occasional session of relaxed exploration. It’s interesting that you cite that as a formative influence, considering how many game musicians would go for something like Super Mario Brothers. As for what you say about feelings: it certainly comes across in your music. There’s a kind of warmth that I wouldn’t normally associative with electronic music. Not exactly organic, but certainly not dead and digitised either. What goes into making this sound in terms of software, instruments, or augmentations for your android chassis?
I guess the Super Mario Bros. theme is sort of like the Star Wars theme, where it’s so iconic that it’s become impossible to really like it as a song, because when you hear it you’re hearing what it stands for and not what it is. I mean, I played Mario a lot as a kid, mostly on the SNES because that was what we had, but video game music never really struck me as something to be into until I was older. I think as a kid I thought I was too cool for it, whatever that means (because I wasn’t cool, at all). I’ve retrospectively come to love a lot of old game music though. Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country are great; Ocarina of Time, Metroid and Super Metroid are all phenomenal. Among others.
Anyway, in answer to your question, composition usually occurs in my experimental Feelings Unit, which allows me to play my brainwaves like a synthesizer, audible when I interface with an amplification system. It’s great for parties.
In reality, I mostly use samples created with a simple waveform generator, and plug them into a tracker. Trackers are a sort of vertically scrolling sequencer that rose to popularity in the demoscene in the 80s and 90s because they have native formats which are very space efficient. Basically, they’re sample-based and just pitch-shift small sound clips up and down to produce different notes. My samples come from a lot of places, but most of them come from a little program called SFXR, which generates simple waveforms based on a few parameters. Nothing very fancy, although I might shake things up soon; the same setup can get old, even if it is comfortable.
The Hero Core soundtrack was all square waves, triangle waves and noise, because that’s what an NES can do, and Daniel wanted that sort of sound. A lot of my older stuff used sine waves pretty abundantly. I think these sounds are warm in their own way, and as capable of conveying emotion as any other instrument; minimalistic instruments is really all they are.
I want a Feelings Unit now. You mention that Daniel Remar wanted a specific sound for Hero Core to match its minimalist aesthetic. Compared to your other work, the score seems a bit more aggressive and beat driven, as befits the action gameplay.
How did you decide on how the music would sound, aside from the NES hardware restriction? Also: how different was composing specifically for a game compared to what you’d worked on before?
Daniel gave a pretty detailed description of how he wanted the music to sound, so that’s where the aggressiveness came from; it was kind of a new thing for me, but ultimately I appreciate that he pushed me like that, as it’s pretty easy to fall into a rut and recycle the same musical ideas over and over. Composing for a game was weird at first, and I really didn’t know where to start; I remember loading up Metroid (on an emulator, unfortunately) and playing it for a few hours because all I knew was that that soundtrack was great and did the kinds of things I wanted a soundtrack to do. Plus the games are pretty similar in spirit. There’s a lot of Metroid homage in Hero Core, as you probably noticed; the title screen is a total ripoff, musically and visually. I wanted to make a soundtrack that was eerie and sad and sounded sort of flat and colorless, because that’s how the game feels. I made the music because I love the game, and hopefully that comes through.
Agreed: the overall ambiance of the game lends itself to an almost melancholic sound. Flip Hero, despite his determination, seems almost resigned to his role and his fate. Is there a Hero Core track you’re particularly proud of?
Natural Caves was my favorite, melodically; Guardian Zone, Old Base, and Core are, I think, the most successful at creating a particularly fitting atmosphere. A lot of people like the boss themes. They’re not my favorites exactly – I’m not really a boss theme sort of guy – but I’m happy that I managed to make ones that people enjoyed, because it’s not exactly my forte. And given how hard some of the boss battles were, it’s good to hear that no one got tired of them.
It seems that independent game development has really taken off in the last few years – what does that mean for indie musicians like yourself? How did you get attached to the Hero Core project?
I’m not sure what it means – hopefully good things. I mean, there seems to be a bigger audience for it lately, and there are lots of creative people putting great ideas into action, and it’s awesome to have an opportunity to work with people like that. For the most part all the soundtrack work I’ve done has been because I already knew the people involved. I’ve been involved in the indie game scene for longer than I’ve been doing indie game music, actually; I made some pretty crappy Game Maker games when I was a bit younger, and got to know some interesting people that way.
I didn’t know Daniel too well, but we both belong to a private group of independent game developer/artist types, so I’d played an alpha version of the game. Originally someone else was working on the soundtrack, but they never finished. He was getting frustrated with the delay, so I just asked him if he wanted me to give it a shot, since I liked the game a lot. And that was that, pretty much.