“Raw stuff feels more intimate”: Interview with Bound composer Oleg ‘Heinali’ Shpudeiko

Ukranian musician Oleg Shpudeiko (aka Heinali) was enlisted by developers Plastic to compose the soundtrack for Bound, a breathtaking and unique blend of dance, art and music. We have already shared our thoughts on this wonderful gaming experience, but wanted to hear from Shpudeiko about the creative process behind the game’s soundtrack.

What was your introduction to making music? Who inspired you?

It was a sudden thing. I didn’t have any music background, any music education and I don’t think I was really interested in writing music before I started, back in 2003. I was into graphic design, 3D modeling, and coding and just started my IT education. A friend of mine who used to record mixtapes for me with rare music like Coil, Einsturzende Neubaten, Merzbow, Sigur Ros, Telefon Tel Aviv, Squarepusher etc. (Internet was terribly slow and expensive back then in Ukraine and we didn’t have a lot of music on CDs, except for pirated more or less popular stuff) recommended me to try out Jeskola Buzz software. Its logic takes roots in the old school music trackers. I started tinkering with it, trial and error, having no idea what I was doing. But I loved the process. At first, I was just having fun, in a couple of years it became a hobby, I switched to Cubase and started recording DIY CDRs, compilations, and albums that were handed out to my friends (the idea that some of this material is still present online somewhere makes me shudder). I moved through a lot of different styles and genres. I think I tried my hand at every new genre I discovered. So there were a lot of inspirations. As a teenager, though, I loved music and listened to lots of it, I especially loved all the weird stuff I could get — noise, dark ambient, industrial and postindustrial, goth rock, black metal, experimental electronics, IDM, J-pop etc. I have been a fan of Nine Inch Nails. Reznor’s Downward Spiral and Quake soundtrack are still my favorites. I started taking music more seriously in 2009 when a local art group offered me to compose for their art installations. By then I already had a couple of live shows in Moscow, thanks to a Russian NIN fan community there, and a couple of shows here in Kiev, thanks to a local psychedelic trance movement and even some proper physical releases on CD compilations. I think music became my profession in 2013 when I got my first job to score a feature film. By that time I also released a couple of albums on different albums, had more live shows and started the collaboration with Matt Finney. ·

“After I discovered Bound’s main themes it became very personal to me”

How was your partnership with Plastic formed? What attracted you to Bound?

Michal [Staniszewski, creative director] from Plastic sent me an email with the game description and proposal to take part in a small competition. Basically, I had to write a short demo track for them. He explained that they heard my solo piano music online and thought that it can fit the game, but they wanted electronics as well. The idea was to mix warm ‘classical’ acoustic piano sound representing the Princess with raw electronics representing the abstract world. They liked my demo (this track is actually a part of the OST digital edition, one of the bonus tracks) and offered me a job. By that time I realized that they are working on something very special and after I discovered Bound’s main themes it became very personal to me.

What kind of artistic direction did Plastic provide when you were composing the score?

They sent a couple of references, but I had a lot of creative freedom. Basically, the restrictions came down to the instrumentation — piano, electronics, and organs. They also wanted music that dynamically responds to the events in the game. I didn’t have any prior experience in composing for videogames, so Michal explained over Skype basic game music concepts and asked me to watch some YouTube videos showcasing different ways of how music can work within the game. The fact that I was a gamer back in my teens and still occasionally enjoy the games definitely helped.

What types of equipment/software did you use?

Almost all of it was made in the box. Cubase, Soundhack, sampled VST piano, free software synths and sampled organ. Except for an MS20 mini [synth], which I got myself while working on the game. It was integrated with the process momentarily. I was after raw, unpolished, sometimes even cheesy timbres and heavy processing. I think we have a deficit of this kind of music in the games today, a lot of stuff is heavily polished and very well produced. It’s great in general, of course, but sometimes it creates distance. Raw stuff feels more intimate, fragile, at least to me.

Were there any moments in the game that stood out, or were challenging to compose for?

I couldn’t name a particular moment, but the whole game was a challenge for me. I never composed for a videogame before and never worked on a project of this scale. On the one hand, I had a great time, on the other hand, I was terrified, especially in the beginning, as I had no idea whether what I wrote was any good. How is it going to be received? There was a lot of responsibility, as it’s not a small release on an independent label for a niche audience, the format I was used to before.

Did you collaborate with choreographer Michał Adam Góral during the creative process?

I didn’t collaborate with him, but I tried to compose in a way that it would fit the movements I’ve seen.

“Maybe it’s a medium contemporary music composers should pay more attention to”

How does the process for scoring a videogame differ from producing a film soundtrack?

Continuity. When you compose for a film, you have a narrative that develops in time. You just write for what you see. In a videogame, however, this continuity can break every time — a player can return to a previously visited space, just stop for a while or take a different path. So, instead of traditional composition, if we want music to respond to what’s happening, we deal with layers. Each layer is a looped segment that has a certain character, brings something new to the composition, each layer should be composed in a way to be easily combined with other layers. In this way, by starting and stopping layers, combining them in different ways, can dynamically respond to the drama. I never dealt with this kind of composing before, so it was challenging to get my mind work in this way at first. But it’s really interesting. I mean, maybe even to the point that games give much more room for experimentation in music, maybe it’s a medium contemporary music composers should pay more attention to. While you can’t really break the continuity in films — even if you write an experimental score for a movie, it will still be constrained by the laws of the medium. A videogame is much more malleable, it allows for a layer based approach, stochastic composition, even generative music.

Are you able to tell us when the OST will be released physically/digitally? A lot of people are asking for it!

I’m waiting for the release as well 🙂 It’s mastered and ready, we’re just waiting for the official announcement from Plastic and Sony Santa Monica, it will happen soon!

What kind of an impact has Bound made on your artistic career?

It’s too early to tell I guess 🙂 But I had a wonderful time working on it, very happy that people like it, it means a lot to me. I’m very thankful to Plastic and Sony Santa Monica for the opportunity to work on Bound!

Tell us about your other projects, like your recently completed album with Matt Finney. Looking to the future, would you consider working on another videogame soundtrack?

I’d definitely consider working on another videogame soundtrack. As for my other projects, yes, we finished our new album with Matt, it’s our heaviest and darkest yet, experimental electronics/drones with a heavily distorted guitar. We plan to go acoustic after it. I also have my solo release planned with the ambient material. I can’t tell you more right now, as it’s about to be announced, but the people who are releasing it are good and I’m excited to work with them.

Connect with Oleg and learn more about his music via his website, Twitter (@Heinali) and Facebook.

Main image courtesy of Oleg Pereverzev