Retro Review Speaks to Allister Brimble
We spoke to the exceedingly talented British video game composer Allister Brimble. Discussing his contributions to the video game industry and his Kickstarter project The Amiga Works.
Allister Brimble Interview
First of all, it is great to be able to talk to the man behind the music. I have been listening to your album throughout the day and it brings about some serious nostalgia for someone like myself; who grew up playing many of the games you created music for over the years. How did the album come about and when is it due for release to the public to get their hands on it?
Over the years I’ve had many requests from Amiga Fans to recreate my early work. I had already created two albums, but it felt like CD sales were at an end so I didn’t think there would be much of an audience for this. Recently, however, the great Amiga musician, Chris Huelsbeck discovered Kickstarter and won backing for his Turrican Anthology. He did incredibly well and showed that there are still many Amiga fans alive and well out there! I followed him with my own Kickstarter project, “The Amiga Works” which secured enough backing to press at least 1000 CD’s, along with posters and a USB stick. The official release to the public will be on the 21st of October.
How was music for the Amiga produced back in the day and what programmes did you use for the new album?
In the Amiga times, most of my music was produced in a program called Soundtracker. The Amiga could play 4 channels of sampled sound at once which was staggering for the time! However, these restrictions meant you had to think really carefully about the compositional structure of the music, using every bit of those four channels to make a full sound. Today I have the opposite problem in that I can play as many sounds as I want and I have to keep it pegged back to only what is needed, skills learnt on the Amiga! The new album was produced on Cubase with the very latest state of art sounds but always keeping in mind that the original tracks were produced in four channels.
Do you get a copy of the game without the music to work with or do they just give you a concept to roll with when you create your music?
We (myself and musical partner Anthony) normally get on board at a late stage so the game is almost there. There’s no sound at all. We are often given some direction from the project manager or designer and try to mould that around what we think is right for the game. As well as music we also create the sound effects which are half the fun.
How much freedom do you get with your projects? Do you get a super detailed brief or do you have full creative after playing the game?
Normally the project manager or game designer gives us a brief which often includes several links to the various music styles they might be interested in. Rather than take these too literally we often try to put our own slant on it in order to match the game perfectly. Whilst the project manager wants to have their input it’s also important that we put in our own ideas as we can often come up with something better. Occasionally we have to peg our ideas back a bit but in the end, we make sure everyone is happy.
Looking over your years of music what soundtrack did you enjoy making the most?
Probably Driver for the PlayStation One; they were 8 channel XM’s and I really had fun researching the 70s funk style. I watched every 70s cops and robbers series around! I also had a lot of fun doing Screamer for the PC where I used a live guitarist for the first time!
That sounds like good fun. Where do you get your inspiration from when writing your music? Are there any musicians that have influenced you over the years?
Inspiration in my early years came from the great C64 and Spectrum musicians such as Rob Hubbard, David Whittaker & Tim Follin. Jean Michel Jarre also influenced me greatly during the Amiga years. Also, you may hear a little bit of the Knight Rider theme in many of my tracks! Recently I have got into film music a bit, and particularly like what Hans Zimmer is doing with films like inception.
My favourite song on the new album hands down is the Amiga Never Dies track, can you tell me a bit more about it?
The Amiga Never Dies was originally called “idea1.mod” something I knocked up for Team 17 and they used it for the Super Frog promo demo. I’ve used the original as the backing and added a new melody to make it something new.
One of my favourite games as a kid was Dizzy and the music for Spellbound Dizzy really stood out on the album when I listened through it the first time as the feel was quite different to what I remembered. Was this how you originally envisaged the track but had to fit it in the constraints of the Amiga sound chip?
Lately, I’ve been into orchestral music for games so with Spellbound Dizzy I wanted to do something with this, just to have something different on the album at the same time and show off some of my latest orchestral sound libraries. It’s amazing what you can do today with a synth orchestra!
What is your most memorable experience doing gaming music over the years?
Of course, I loved doing anything on the Amiga, especially my first projects for Team 17, such as Alien Breed & Project X. Driver for Playstation was memorable for the 8 channel 70’s funk tunes I had to research and produce as well as Screamer on PC where I worked with a great guitarist. Recently all of my old skool skills came together in one game, Nintendo’s “Hydroventure Spin Cycle” for the Nintendo 3DS! Not only could I produce some of my best music but my interest in real-time sound effects generation was realised with sounds that organically change depending on the gameplay. I also used some of these techniques in Mind Candy’s new “Katsuma Unleashed” Moshi game!
A nice big chunk of the second CD was dedicated to SuperFrog. Was this more of a personal goal to finish off what you started after playing the remake with the new Team 17 in-house music?
No, all of the Amiga Works tracks were suggested by Kickstarter backers so I have followed their instruction in including these tracks. Superfrog is probably best heard whilst playing the game but the idea was to bring back memories of the original game and yet modernize them enough to be heard in their own right.
I read your mum did the voiceover for Alien Breed, how did that come about originally?
My Mum was a professional actress so I was able to go to her for any vocal requirements. Sadly she passed away in a tragic road accident whilst I was working on the new album but just before, she recorded some brand new Alien Breed speech which I used in the album!
Sorry to hear about your mum, it’s a nice tribute that she lives on in your music and I am sure she will be proud of what you have produced.
The Amiga never dies track is somewhat about that; where the vocal is that’s a day or two after it happened.
Do you find that your music is a good emotional outlet? I know many musicians who do this but I never thought it would be the same in gaming music.
I guess because I was brought up from the age of 10 or 11 listening to game music, it has become very important to me. The older you get the more you can express your emotions in music I think.
What were your favourite games growing up and how do you think they influenced your music?
I remember many but the first that really stuck in my head were the games by Binary design on the spectrum 128k with music by David Whittaker. Games like Gliderrider, and Zub. They inspired me to want to make game music. Also of note were Tim Follin’s tunes of the spectrum 48K which are still amazing even today.
With your brother doing the cover layout for the album as well, I can see family play a good role in your music. Is there any shout outs you would like to give to them here on Retro Review?
My brother did a great job laying out all of the artwork for the album.. he’s very good with this sort of thing! He also made the vocals for the original Project X game and as with my Mum he has re-recorded them for use in the album! My Dad is the musical one and I get many of my skills from them. Mostly I owe my success to my Mum who gave me my get up and go spirit; never giving up and always pushing until the end.
Where to Buy The Amiga Works!
You Can Buy The Amiga Works Album by Allister Brimble from www.amigaworks.com