At the beginning of the year I had the opportunity to test the soundtrack of a unique video game, Metamorphosis, inspired by Franz Kafka, who scored points in a very atypical video game style. The plot follows you, the protagonist, after you are transformed into a beetle and forced to explore a world suddenly unknown from this point of view. The music for Metamorphosis was written by Mikolai Stroinsky, whose earlier works include Witch 3 and The Age of the Empires IV, and Harry Shayman, whose earlier works include Bioshok, Destroy All Men and Dante Hell, to name but a few.

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Shortly after hearing the soundtrack I had the opportunity to talk to the composers themselves. Because of my day job, I just finished preparing for the interview, and I’m really glad you see it. Here’s my interview with Mikolai Stroinsky and Harry Shiman about their work on the metamorphosis.

How did you start composing for video games?

Mikolai: In 2012 I was asked to compose the music for the trailer of Dark Souls 2. The trailer and the music took a lot of skill and soon after, independent studios asked me to compose music for their games. Witch 3 followed Witch 3 not long ago.

Harry: Pure coincidence – In 2004 my agent sent my resume to THQ, then a major game publisher.  She was sitting in front of a fax machine (remember that technology?), and one of the executives happened to see her, and she happened to be my friend’s roommate (college).  It was the beginning of a series of events that led me to score points, to destroy all the people I liked working on, and it led me to take the shooting games very seriously.  And when DAH!’s sound director became Bioshock’s sound director, she hired me without hesitation, which gave a huge boost to my career.

How did you participate in the metamorphosis?

Mikolai: I think it was mid-2018, when I gave a conference on music for video games in Warsaw. Then the organizers invited me for a drink and some people from the room came to sit with me. At one point, I was approached by a group of people who wanted to show me the game they were working on and asked me if I was interested in scoring a goal. It sounded very original and interesting, so I said I’d love to do it. A little less than a year later I started to work on it, and from the beginning of the musical planning process it became clear that I had to use a symphonic palette with mainly atonal music. For some reason, I felt compelled to invite Harry because I knew he would like it as much as I do. Harry said yes, and the rest is history.
Harry: I had been friends with Mikolai for several years, and one day he contacted me and asked me if I was interested in scoring a goal with him.  When he called it Kafka’s game, I was really interested.

What motivated the decision to make a score with metamorphoses in the style of composers such as Alban Berg, Arnold Schönberg and other expressionist composers?

Mikolai: The choice of music style we made allowed us to be dark, but not scary. I don’t think the result will ever cross that line if it gets terrible. It is also interesting to see how the combination of gameplay and this music gives a subtle sense of humor, which was our goal.

Harry: Originally it was my idea, because Kafka was the author of the Expressionists who made history in this stormy period of German history.  Although he is Czech, he writes in German and is part of this movement. The absurd aspects of the game reminded me of the expressionist music of that time. Mikolai agreed immediately, and we walked away.  We also decided to include a singing style invented by Schoenberg, called Sprechstimme (speaking voice, half party), which perfectly complements the ironic humour of the game.

Have you ever decided to compose in a style you’ve approached to score points in the game? I mean, what was your point?

Mikolai: I think we both started sketching themes early on. Separation and application to the account was an important factor contributing to the consolidation of the account. After making the instrumental sketches we invited the singer Joanna Freschel for the recording. She did a great job!

Harry: The promoter, Ovid Works, is a Polish company and Mikolaj, who lived in Warsaw at the time, was in contact with them and somehow revealed the music that binds us together.  I recorded most of the music from the underground insects and Mikolai’s surface scores.  This had the advantage that each of us produced a slightly different sound for each area that worked well.  Although I have to say that our evaluation was very consistent and most people can’t tell who wrote which notes until we tell them.  There was a beautiful synchronization where we didn’t have to talk or plan much.

http://31.220.61.170/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Into-the-Realm-of-Kafka-Talking-with-Mikolai-Stroinski.jpg Joanna Freschelle

I’m curious that the singer singing Spreh vocals on the soundtrack? Does this have something to do with the difficult situation a player finds himself in when he is turned into a bug?

Mikolai: The words I have chosen focus on the world as perceived by insects, perhaps by those who were human in the distant past. The singing technique is so unusual that the beetles can also sing in their heads. Or, strictly speaking, it could be a reflection of a crazy world that, as before, makes no sense.

Harry: Each of us had our own approach to Joanna’s lyrics; I had a former student who spoke German and set up some real lines from Kafka’s book for my music.  It is very well done and it connects at least intellectually, although I doubt if anyone would know that we used Kafka in the text.   Mikolai went the other way. As far as I know, my words have nothing to do with the player’s situation.  Maybe, but that would be pure intuition.

How long have you had time to score the game?

Mikolai: I think it was about 6 weeks of work, plus preparing the recording session and supervising the mixing process.

Harry: I think I’ll have written music in a month.  I had a lot of time because the letter went well and the ideas just came out.  Then we recorded music with live musicians, which we did with the orchestra in Macedonia.  We conducted it remotely (i.e. we sat in our home studio while the orchestra played in the remote studio) and everything went very well!  We have a big success story.  During this concert everything went smoothly, at least in hindsight, and I enjoyed writing this music.  Of course the singer Joanna Frézel, with her incredible vocal performance, brought a lot with her.  I have to admit that Mikolaj realized it when she came to record it in her studio in Warsaw, and it was just unbelievable.

Do you have a favorite song on the bill?

Mikolai: I love all the music we’ve both played. However, the favorite will be the last race or the tower.

Harry: I have some of my favorite routes, Corridor and Beetle Village.  I am also very satisfied with the theme of the menu.  Really, I like all this.  I don’t want to sound complacent, but I’ve had a great time writing this music and I think it’s unique and really suits the game very well.

What do you hope the players will take with them when they hear the music in this game?

Mikolai: I tacitly hope that this will open up some players to the music, which can be a bit more demanding at times. I hope they realize there’s something else in there, too – a good thing, I hope. But that’s not our main goal. We are glad that our music has helped the game find its unique taste.

Harry: The music should emphasize the atmosphere and create a unique atmosphere for this really cool and unusual game.  I mean, how cool is it to make a game based on Kafka-san? I’d like players to be curious about the music and especially the vocals, and maybe get involved in expressionist music.  Maybe some people will like it and it will be great!  I don’t write music for games or movies to make the player or viewer listen to certain types of music, but when that happens, I consider it a real contribution.

I want to thank Mikolaj Stroinsky and Harry Shiman once again for taking the time to talk to me about their work on the metamorphosis. Let me know what you think of Metamorphosis in the following comments and I wish you a good day!

See also :

Checking the soundtrack : Metamorphosis (2020)

Interview with the composer

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