Interview by Miguel Penabella
Originally conducted October 20, 2018
Edits and introduction written November 23, 2018
An interview with Mona Mur on her industrial terror ambience of Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days, and her audio work on Ballance and Velvet Assassin.
Among the few critics who champion Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days as a startling work of unapologetic brutality and urban loneliness (myself included), much of the discussion pinpoints the game’s bold visual design of grainy handheld camcorders and glitch effects as a counter-aesthetic to the shiny and flawless resolutions of major studio videogames. Its deliberately ugly, brutal, and grimy aesthetic inspired by snuff films and low-resolution YouTube uploads finds thematic parallels with its eponymous criminals who are similarly rough around the edges. By presenting acts of spectacular violence in this unpleasant, burdensome style, Kane & Lynch 2 effectively undercuts tendencies in other shooter games that glorify such acts with attractive visuals and enjoyable gameplay mechanics. While the game’s bleak imagery is central to the experience, Kane & Lynch 2 also demands that we take heed of its harsh, urgent soundscape that envelops players within the hellish desolation of the Shanghai underworld. Carefully crafted by vocalist, performer, composer, and audio designer Mona Mur, Kane & Lynch 2’s soundscape channels the eeriness of dingy back alleyways and the nastiness of the firefights that erupt and spill onto busy city streets.
Mona Mur emerged onto an industrial music scene at its nascence in Berlin in the 1980s, developing its sound alongside other key German figures like Einstürzende Neubauten, creating intricate, moody music that often concerns the relationship between beauty and darkness. Nearly forty years of recording and performing has produced a rich career that bridges ominous synthpop and heavy, abrasive industrial rock. For the past few decades, Mona Mur has also been intensely interested in digital software and the Internet, and especially the then-budding world of videogames, as new and exciting ways to develop herself and her music. Alongside Kane & Lynch 2, her work also helped shape the cryptic otherworld of Ballance and the horrific hallucinations of warfare in Velvet Assassin. To understand these games, we have to also understand Berlin in the 1980s, because Mona Mur channels the anger and fears and energies of that crumbling, restless city in the midst of nuclear annihilation and sweeping political and artistic change.
While many years have passed since the release of Ballance, Velvet Assassin, and Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days, Mona Mur recalls the development of each game with stunning detail and candidness. I chatted with her during one evening in October as she settled in for a late night in Germany with a glass of wine, conjuring memories that date back decades. We discuss the influence of Blade Runner and Throbbing Gristle, the atmosphere of West Berlin in the 1980s, the shadow of World War II, and working with En Esch in constructing the rotted, gritty, and beautiful layers of Kane & Lynch 2’s soundscapes. Below is our interview (conducted October 20, 2018), which has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Thanks again for taking the time to talk, I really appreciate it.
Sure! Actually, I already read an article written by you on Kane & Lynch 2 from two years ago.
I’m glad! Thank you.
For me, it’s a great delight. It’s crazy to read about how it seems to have started a cult following after it was bashed so badly for other reasons. But that article covered the beauty of this game; Kane & Lynch 2 is timeless, very intense, and a radical piece of art.
It might work to its benefit in the long-term, now that it has this cult status.
It’s very interesting. So you say that this is the case? There are parallels with the movie that is mentioned a lot in connection with Kane & Lynch 2’s aesthetic, Blade Runner. I’m a total Blade Runner fanatic, obviously. I’ve always been. I own this beautiful book, Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, where you can get all these interesting insights. The film was also a non-success when it came out. People also said, “Oh, it’s dark. It’s bleak. What is this? There is no plot!” Then there were re-screenings, with people queuing up all around the block, and only then did Blade Runner become a success like ten or fifteen years later. Well, you know the story!
For sure. I have some questions about Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days that I’ll ask later, but I wanted to ask about your earlier work. Your musical career dates back a few decades, so can you tell me about your entrance into working on videogames?
There is no specific point I can distinctly say that I started work in videogames, but for me, it was a natural development as a musician. I was always interested in visual worlds, and I was inspired to make music by visuals such as landscape, nature, and films at a very early age. Because I love films, there was a super natural development towards videogames, and I had a very early interest in electronic music and instruments that were created while I was starting out in my musical career. In the early 1980s, the MIDI system was introduced for music production. As a musician, you were always working with computers, and the Atari 1040ST was a studio standard in the mid-1980s alongside tape machines and huge consoles. Apart from being a singer, I was very much inspired by early industrial music with bands like Einstürzende Neubauten and Throbbing Gristle, who created the industrial sound through the machines that were invented. When my singing career came to a break in the early 1990s, I had to find out what, apart from writing songs and singing, my other burning professional musical interests were. Of course, electronic music went along with a love of sci-fi movies and literature, and then I started working for many bloody years to learn how to handle a sampler and create a unique sound that would be of use in a professional realm. Around 1995, I was also on the Internet and very interested in figuring out how to get sound onto the Internet, using early streaming formats like RealAudio. [laughs] We had these crazily slow 14k modems! So this online interest takes you further, and I explored where I could lend my creative output apart from just being a music businessperson, recording artist, singer, musician, and band member. I always had this passion.
Around 1996 or 1997, I sensed that there was something exciting around computer games, and then somebody brought a Blade Runner game to my house, can you imagine? I was sure that the soundscapes I was developing back then using a lot of analog vintage gear and digital software was fruitful. Two years later, somebody put me in contact with the company TERRATOOLS in Potsdam-Babelsberg. TERRATOOLS was founded right out of the Berlin border, and after the Cold War and former East Germany, it was very fruitful ground to set up a company, get funding, and be able to really experiment with early game formats. I was lucky to meet these guys; they’re beautiful, nice, wonderful people. Professor Ulrich Weinberg was the boss of the development company TERRATOOLS, as well as a professor for animation at the Film University Babelsberg Konrad Wolf. I also met Klaus Riech, who was later the creator of Ballance, which is an extremely beautiful game. I had the pleasure to do the audio, sound effects, and music for that game. I was learning on the job. There were no university courses teaching how to be an audio designer for computer games in a non-linear environment. But funnily enough, I later became a lecturer for sound design for three years at the Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft (HTW), which is in Berlin, at the University of Applied Sciences. They now have a game development program. There’s a new institute founded about ten years ago in former East Berlin, with huge buildings and a sound studio, and they set up a sound design lecture for games.
But still, I cringe. [laughs] For me, it’s not the real world, but I can see that there are many fields in which you absolutely have to go to school. For me as a musician, I want to tell the students that the first thing they should do is to take your things and leave as fast as you can! [laughs] But yeah, that’s how I got into computer games. I had a strong attraction and intuition to it, and a burning interest in working on music and sound. I think I managed after some years to develop my own language in electronic sound. I never aimed to create dance floor beats or the like, because everybody had been already working there twenty years earlier than me. Instead, my chance was to find the weird and the strange, and to use obsolete software and vintage synthesizers in a very odd way.
“My chance was to find the weird and the strange, and to use obsolete software and vintage synthesizers in a very odd way.”
I’m glad that you brought up the game Ballance, because I did take a look at that game. It has this otherworldly, very eerie soundscape. But there’s also a very soothing musical cue that plays when you figure out the puzzle, and the music is very mysterious and cryptic.
Oh, thanks so much! [laughs] That’s exactly what was intended; it’s lovely that you used those words. If we managed to evoke this kind of unearthly atmosphere, then we are very happy. Klaus Riech, the developer of the game, is a genius and still my friend. He later stepped out of the computer games business because he found it too inhumane, and he became an animal rights activist and total organic food expert. I still pray that Klaus would come back and make Ballance 2 one day; I pray for that.
Could you talk about those feelings of calmness and mysteriousness evoked in the game? What do you remember about working on the game?
It was a long and crazy process. The developer became bankrupt shortly before Ballance was finished, and a small core team finished the whole game given these crazy circumstances. It was almost dead and buried, but then Atari dug it out and became the publisher. That miracle allowed this beautiful gem to see the world, and Ballance also has a kind of cult status now. Ballance has very different principles, whereas Kane & Lynch 2 has a very sparse and defined concept. With Ballance, I could tell you in a few sentences the briefing that Klaus sent. Klaus Riech had a very strong sense of the audio, and unlike many other developers, he has this super fine and sophisticated feeling about how the whole thing should sound. And he only has one ear! Klaus actually damaged his eardrum when he was in his teenage years, so this guy listens with only one ear. The first thing he said to me was that there had to be hyper-realistic sound design, but the music and atmosphere should be surreal. And this is what we really worked on very strictly and elaborately.
All the core gameplay feedback sound effects were recorded live. I organized globes and balls, asking my friends that I needed a wooden ball or a heavy stone ball. I had bought a wooden ball from travels to Essaouira, Morocco. They sell wooden balls made from the wood of acacia roots there. The stone ball was harder to find. I asked friends who were in the antiques business if they had a stone ball I could use. In the Polish city of Danzig, on the Baltic coast, they have huge stone balls in front of houses, but I could not possibly got there to steal or buy one! [laughs] So instead, I mixed in glass sounds, but Klaus—the guy with one ear—immediately found out. He said, “Sounds like glass!” That was a crazily long process. I was rolling these balls, and the music occurs in little bits. There’s no ongoing soundscape, so we left a lot of air in there. This is one of the secrets: you have to take silence into account. The normal game developers, they say, “Oh, let’s have a lot of this, and have five orchestras play this! Boom, boom, bash!” And this is so sad because a lot of dynamic goes down the drain immediately. This is a very Hollywood principle: start with an earthquake and then slowly increase from there.
I did also want to ask about your influence from industrial and post-punk because those were some of the genres that you were drawing from. How did that background influence your videogame work?
I’m drawing from that because I was inventing it, and I was among all the other people who invented it. I’ve been active in this scene since 1980, and members of Einstürzende Neubauten such as F.M. Einheit, Mark Chung, and Alexander Hacke were in my band. We were friends and hung out, and it was like one great “big bang” actually. These genres were developed only later, but somehow I’m in this “big bang” mass, and we were listening to this one very seminal band, Throbbing Gristle. I think I was exclusively listening to that band for a full year. [laughs] Are you familiar with their work? It’s more like a group of artists than a band or something.
“A lot of dynamic goes down the drain immediately. This is a very Hollywood principle: start with an earthquake and then slowly increase from there.”
Yeah, I do listen to some industrial, but I’m more familiar with American bands like Nine Inch Nails and Ministry.
Oh, I’m a total Ministry fan by the way, but this was ten years later. This name “industrial,” in my humble opinion, was Throbbing Gristle. Their record company was called Industrial Records, they released Music from the Death Factory, and had the tagline “Industrial Music for Industrial People,” so really, we were talking about a kind of non-music. It was even anti-music. It was more a simulation of conditions that human beings were exposed to. If you read about Genesis P-Orridge, the mastermind of Throbbing Gristle, you’ll see what I mean. This idea of anti-music slept in my head until I had my own computers and studio and was able to really let this creative input stream out of myself and, with the help of these machines, get into videogames. Maybe I’m just an authentic part of this movement, and this is why I was able and competent to be able to do the music for Kane & Lynch 2, decades later.
During your Game Developers Conference (GDC) talk for Kane & Lynch 2, you talked about the history and architecture of Germany, especially during the time of the Berlin Wall, as influencing your early 1980s work. Can you talk more about that?
As an artist, you are always influenced by the conditions, locations, and your existence within these parameters. West Berlin at the time of the Wall during the 1980s was where I was very actively starting out my musical career, and it was such a dense place. It was like the eye of the hurricane because the two world systems met and clashed in this little island of West Berlin. If you think about it, West Berlin was encaged in this Wall because it was an island within East-Germany. There was the Iron Curtain with rockets planted along the border, and as young people, we were convinced that we would die in the nuclear holocaust very soon. At the same time, nobody wanted to live in West Berlin… I mean, not normal people who wanted to have normal jobs, because there was no industry there. It was supported by the state. Only retired people and young, crazy freaks and artists would go to Berlin. You could rent a one-room flat for a hundred marks, which is about sixty dollars. The toilet was out in the hallway, but you could be super independent and on your own, and it was a kind of Blade Runner-ish place, West Berlin. You still had the old façades of the buildings, and a lot of decaying quarters. Nowadays, those same quarters have almost unpayable rent and are gentrified.
In my twenties, I lived a crazy life between Hamburg, West Berlin, and Paris. The major part of this Mona Mur live band from 1984 to 1986 occurred alongside Foetus and Einstürzende Neubauten. I don’t know whether you know this track “Yü-Gung (Fütter Mein Ego),” which has this razorblade hacking noise. There was this super cool dance remix done by Adrian Sherwood from London. This is the industrial music I grew up with, and also KMFDM helped cut out the specific American wave. I only understood it when I had the chance and the pleasure to come to the United States and tour there with En Esch much later, because I’d never been to the United States before, apart from one week in Los Angeles in 1985. I wanted to wait for the chance to come and visit with my own work, whether playing music or visiting for a conference, and that happened only much later. And immediately, I understood this whole American industrial concept, like Nine Inch Nails, KMFDM, and Skinny Puppy. The funny thing is, I loved Ministry during their Twitch period because I had the album in Berlin on cassette. Ministry’s Al Jourgensen came from synthpop and developed this sound, and then all of a sudden he turned into this 666 Beast with four guitars and eight people on stage. I was like, “Fuck, this is Al Jourgensen?!” I mean, if you dig deep, you can find older videos that Uncle Al would maybe be embarrassed about because he looked like Dexys Midnight Runners and their “Come On Eileen” period with hats and funny trousers. [laughs] I’m a total Ministry maniac, and I think that if I would go to a lonely island and you asked what I would listen to, there are only a few bands I would pick, apart from serious, classical music. The bands I listen to are Ministry, Hanzel und Gretyl, Laibach, Rammstein, and Combichrist, but nothing else.
“We were talking about a kind of non-music. It was even anti-music. It was more a simulation of conditions that human beings were exposed to.”
I was thinking of your German background too for your work on Velvet Assassin, since that’s a game about World War II. How did certain memories or feelings as a German influence your work on that game?
For a German person, the Second World War and the Nazi Reich is something so central and a no-fun issue. You need to understand that I was born only fifteen years after the war ended, can you imagine? My father was in the war; my mother was twelve years old during that time. My family came from places in the far, far east in Ukraine. Some of them were German; others were Ukrainian. So can you imagine how deeply ashamed you were growing up as a kid when you heard this news at a certain age about what had happened there? I have no words for this. But I think Velvet Assassin dealt with it in a way similar to Spec Ops: The Line. The approach was to take the war seriously and to not make a fun shooter as though you were shooting clay pigeons at a shooting ground and going, “Hey, this is so much fun! Now we’re going to rescue a bunch of people, and the rest, we will shoot!” The developers of Velvet Assassin became friends of mine. Claus Wohlgemuth was one of the art directors of Velvet Assassin. The game has a very long story of four publishers wanting to publish it before going bankrupt, being crooks, or totally changing the concept. It’s such a crazy story; you couldn’t even imagine.
In the beginning, Velvet Assassin was called Sabotage 1943, and then years later, another game came out called The Saboteur. Those guys were a huge AAA production, and all of a sudden, Sabotage 1943 was changed to Velvet Assassin. Quite a difference, isn’t it? [laughs] All of a sudden, the outfit of the protagonist changed to tight leather; I could talk for ages about this. But I liked the surreal and reckless approach of the game where you are made to feel really terrified, because real war is fucking terrifying. There’s a war where some lunatics are armed with stupid, idiotic devices meant to burn up your house and kill everybody. This is war: the most idiotic shit you could ever imagine. And I think Velvet Assassin tried to approach war like that, and also through its sound. There are a lot of brutal sounds, but also beauty and tenderness, and this combination is what makes the game insidious in effect.
It’s a spy game, but it feels more like a horror game at some points.
Right, and I think that’s the right approach. A war game should be a horror game, because war is a horror. That’s what they wanted to achieve actually, but of course, there are other aesthetic thoughts. You can find a kind of Japanese take on the whole issue too. There are surreal elements akin to Silent Hill. Of course, that’s one of the great models for this game, and which I also love.
Silent Hill is one of my favorite games, and has one of my favorite soundtracks.
The soundtrack is wonderful. It’s awesome and just beautiful. Beautiful and scary. What else could you ask for? [laughs]
“As young people, we were convinced that we would die in the nuclear holocaust very soon.”
I wanted to transition to talking about Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days. How did you come to be attached to that game?
Actually, it was through the Velvet Assassin guys. During the release party for Velvet Assassin, I met Tore Blystad, the art director of Hitman back then, for a drink. We talked for maybe ten minutes, and then months later, I made a compilation of some harsh electronic music I had produced and recorded. I thought, why not press it to CD and send it to Tore Blystad and IO Interactive? I was in doubt that I would ever hear back from them and hesitated for a moment, but I thought I had nothing to lose. So that’s what I did! I heard nothing at first, but then two months later, I got a long email from Tore Blystad saying that he liked it very much and that he was playing it to many folks at IO Interactive. It then ended up with the Kane & Lynch team, and they would come up to ask me to do some work for them. Can you believe my little pleasure from this? After a long procedure of getting in touch with each other, signing non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), and receiving the gameplay video from the first level months later, they kindly asked me whether I would be open to trying my art on this test level. They had this super precise vision already in their heads. Karsten Lund, the game director for Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days, wrote me this sentence: “The music in Kane and Lynch is supportive of our visual style, it’s bleak an un-staged. The instruments are the industrial sounds of the city, orchestrated to fit the emotional experience of the player. If we are successful, the audience will perceive this as a game without music, but with a strong sense of the mood in the environment.”
I met Frank Lindeskov, the audio director, and he said that Kane & Lynch 2 is a location-based game with ten levels plus one downloadable level, and that each level has two to five discrete locations. These structural details were very precise. They had a file convention for how things should be written, like “L03_Sweatshops,” and then either “basic,” “suspense,” or “action” [so that a file would be labeled “L03_Sweatshops_Suspense” for instance]. Per location, you had a sound set of three stereo sound layers—each three minutes long, more or less, and loopable. To each layer, there would be a mood attached: basic, suspense, and action. In terms of artistic direction for what basic should sound like, he asked me to think, “suspense.” For suspense, he asked me to think, “eerie.” And for action, he asked me again to think, “suspense.” That is absolutely the central idea of the whole concept, because there are no euphoric drumbeats when the action starts. There’s no non-diegetic music in the whole game, and this is so interesting because Kane & Lynch: Dead Men followed other directors, but for the second one, they were thinking in a very Martin Scorsese way.
Where does the music come from? You asked in your interview with Rasmus Poulsen, “So where’s this camera from?” [laughs] I mean, where is any camera from? I like very much this sort of thing. So the audio side of it followed this same concept, organically. Where does the orchestral score come from during this action scene? This is for little babies. It becomes much more serious and stronger if you just leave that out and create layers that are, in a very faint way, also musical. Everybody always called it “Your music, Mona,” and not, “Your dirty, rumbling noise.” Indeed, it is music if you just properly listen to it, and you would see how musical it is. You find variety in the similar, and this is what you have to be able to produce as a composer for this kind of concept. I started to record like 300 minutes of variety, and then of course, it’s a question of how do I achieve this, what measures do I take, what instruments do I use, who do I collaborate with, and who do I hire for certain specialties? But yeah, this is the core idea and concept for the Kane & Lynch 2 ambient soundtrack.
“The instruments are the industrial sounds of the city, orchestrated to fit the emotional experience of the player. If we are successful, the audience will perceive this as a game without music.”
Did you travel to Shanghai for field recordings?
No, I did not travel to Shanghai, but I got the audio material. I wish they had taken me! But I don’t complain. I got all this material, but it’s only one of seven pillars that I used for this score. The modulated field recordings are the first of seven major sources I was drawing from to create this huge body of work, because you have to be open to some changes. It can’t all sound the same; you have to draw from different materials, sources, and instruments. You also need to bring other people in. Otherwise, you’re stewing in your own juices. So give some dosh to other musicians too; don’t keep the whole huge budget for yourself! Don’t be egoistic because it will pay off later.
How did you use specific sounds or effects to convey themes of urban alienation and violence in Kane & Lynch 2?
As I mentioned, I envisioned seven pillars of the score. The first pillar is modulated field recordings from Shanghai. What did I do with them? I applied to them my set of torture instruments. [laughs] These were the measures and instruments I always use and like the best. Why use something else? When I was young, I said, “Oh, I must change. Every song has to sound different!” Of course, it’s good to learn and figure things out, but once you learn your favorite instruments, I use them all the time. I only use three to six special vocal effects. I don’t want to make an advertisement for company names, but for instance, in the editor Sound Forge, there is a thing called Acoustic Mirror. I always use this in a way that I’m not allowed to use it. I try and go into the microcosm of a sound file; that’s what I always do. So the field recordings include sounds of taxi drivers or animal markets, and that was part of a longer atmosphere that the guys took in Shanghai. I don’t want to tell all my secrets! [laughs] Field recordings are one source.
The second pillar is modulated sound effects, which include audio signals processed with old and unusual software such as SuperCollider from 1998. I had the pleasure of meeting Martin Stig Andersen, the composer of Limbo, in San Francisco when he honored me by coming to my GDC lecture. Like me, he also used obsolete software and vintage synthesizers, and he told me one of his secrets: “Use distortion everywhere.” [laughs] To be honest, I do this too, but not tons of it everywhere. In Kane & Lynch 2, there’s one level at an abandoned train station and another at a sweatshop, so it made a lot of sense to use extensive train recordings and sewing machine recordings, but with obscene things done with them. I joke with En Esch about this because he’s not into this idea. He has his own torture instruments, but for me, distortion is one secret.
Pillar three is strangely played instruments. I had the pleasure of having En Esch agree to work on Kane & Lynch 2 and deliver some of these layers. We went to the rehearsal space with some rotten drum sets—the cheaper, the better. They had some Peavey Bandit amplifiers in there, and you could hear other bands playing from the neighboring room, which was good—some undefined rumbling. So we were recording modified electric guitar and bass, and we played drums and cymbals with cellphones and electric shavers. We kicked these guitar amplifiers for the reverb spiral, and I think even Deep Purple did that kicking method to make a huge sound. You can’t imagine what kind of crazy sound it makes, and we recorded it in a low, low, lo-fi setting. It was very important to get real dirt into this. Of course, we were in the right mood and adapted to these wonderful graphics IO Interactive had already sent. I totally loved it. The first second I saw this test level, I was electrified. It was the scene in the restaurant, when the protagonists are silently eating their noodles.
That’s my favorite scene.
I love this so much. I thought, “Oh shit, this is great!” And the dialogue was already recorded, and I especially loved Lynch. [imitates Lynch grunting] I adored the work of the Lynch voice actor, Jarion Monroe, so much. He is so incredible. And I totally loved the sound effects, the really brilliant machine gun shooting sounds placed nicely into the game. I was very happy here in my studio when I saw this and listened to it. Because I had the dialogue and sound effects for the level, I saw that this whole scene was super fucked up. “Fucked up” was one of the terms that was very often used to describe what they wanted from me. “Mona, it can be even more fucked up!” It’s the truth! But I know what they mean because I lived here in Berlin in the early 1980s, and I lived in the real shit. I don’t have to find how this feels from reading some books. I come from a generation where living an authentic, real life was crucial, and being totally unlike everybody else. You have to be an antagonist, not a protagonist. I’m from an artist generation where you have to put the finger right into the wound—not to please people.
“It was very important to get real dirt into this.”
So strangely played instruments is the third pillar. The fourth pillar is hi-fi versus lo-fi. How we generated the lo-fi, I already described to you, but then I saw two levels: the boss level with the taxidermied animals and the level with the torture scene. These are two very extreme situations, so I thought we should have the total extreme contrast. That idea made me go to my friend Christian St. Claire, who has a very expensive studio in Berlin, Clarity Studio. He piles up high-end audio equipment such as Avalon preamps and a collection of super expensive Neumann microphones. So I went into the studio for two hours, asking him to play some amorphous layers of heavenly metal percussion. And of course, I think about Kenji Kawai and his work for Ghost in the Shell. That involved expensive and wonderfully, beautifully recorded metal percussion in long reverberation rooms with other unearthly effects. This is what I did there. I thought this should be in contrast to all the grittiness, dirtiness, craziness, and hysteria, to have these extremely beautiful layers that only occur twice in the game.
And then the fifth pillar I would like to mention is the WASP synthesizer. I’ve owned this WASP synthesizer for ten years. It’s a vintage analog synthesizer from the company Electronic Dreamplant, made in the United Kingdom in 1978. It’s this beautiful yellow and black instrument which was also used by Throbbing Gristle. This instrument was brought to me in the middle of the 1990s by a painter friend who used to play music. I was amazed by these absolutely unearthly and weird sounding little things. It’s very light; it doesn’t even have a real keyboard. It has a sensor keyboard and is very small and powerful. It’s like a dinosaur. So this actually opened the way for me into the games world when I met TERRATOOLS people back in 1999. I played my WASP synthesizer to Klaus Riech, and he said, “Oh! This is something totally different.” The man with the one ear, you know! And my dad, he said to me, “You should do what nobody wants to do or what nobody is able to do.” This advice was very, very important for me. So as I mentioned, when I decided to start making my own electronic music, there was already a long tradition of guys doing dance floor stuff. I was sure that this is totally not for me, and I went in a totally opposite direction where there are no traces in the snow. And I think that I somehow managed.
So there are only two more pillars. The sixth pillar is mashed music. I took instrumental tracks that I already had in my archive that had a certain electric quality. I then mashed this music, smeared it out, pitched it, stretched it, and stretched it again before I put it into the Acoustic Mirror and applied all these wrong effects that were not at all meant for music. I would never give the advice, “Oh, just do shitty and crazy things. Use software in the wrong way.” [laughs] You can do this if you can, and if you came a long way like me through analog, it takes a lot of experience. I have my torture instruments that I like to use and know how to use precisely, and I have the blueprint of the theme I want to achieve. This knowledge comes from real experiences. If you want to do some exciting stuff, you have to take risks. Only real risk generates a field.
“You have to be an antagonist, not a protagonist. I’m from an artist generation where you have to put the finger right into the wound—not to please people.”
And finally, the last pillar is voices. That pillar came from Frank Lindeskov when we were talking about this system of three stereo layers. He said that one could always be a voice layer. That could be anything: people on the street, my own voice, whatever. I used voices a lot even if you don’t recognize it anymore as a voice, but there is always a certain energy in voices and a certain liveliness and dynamic. And these were my seven pillars for Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days.
In your GDC talk, you reference this idea of “Industrial Terror Ambience” in your work. What does that term mean for you?
Industrial terror ambience was actually introduced by Rasmus Poulsen in a Eurogamer interview. I think this term pretty much sums up what we were talking about for the last hour—about my whole background, for instance, coming from this core industrial area. They wanted to achieve some kind of hysteric industrial terror ambience for this megalomaniacal, metaphorical Blade Runner-ish Shanghai. The location was a character. And I think we do live in a digital industrial terror ambience. We don’t know what our world will become. I think it pretty much sums up the whole thing in three words.
“If you want to do some exciting stuff, you have to take risks. Only real risk generates a field.”
When Kane & Lynch 2 finally came out, what were your impressions when you first saw the game and your work?
I love what they did; I love that they dared to do this. The only thing I was really disappointed about was how, in the end, the soundscapes were implemented and operated in the levels. This is only my guess and I don’t want to say anything bad, but I have a feeling that the publishers fumbled this by turning it down and making it subtler. I think it’s not loud enough! I have nothing against my wonderful colleagues. My guess is that the responsibility lies in the publisher, who probably said, “Don’t make it so extreme. It sounds like a horror game. Just turn it down totally! And let’s only use one or two of these layers and not the three as Frank Lindeskov had penciled out.” I thought it was a great pity. They were afraid. But what I totally loved was the Chinese pop music that was added by Dynamedion. They did such a beautiful job with that. People were asking for these wonderful Chinese pop songs used as diegetic music, and I wanted to kiss and hug this concept. However, I do adore games full of beautiful non-diegetic music like Diablo or Shadow of the Colossus, which have wonderful, cobweb-ish soundtracks. Each game needs its own audio concept. But I wish they would have used them in a more upfront and courageous way because they gave away so much of the power that was in there. It must have been a decision from the publishers because it would have been too risky. But maybe it’s good! Maybe I’m an overbearing, over-stoned artist who wants to hear her soundscapes everywhere. But they are beautiful: in their gruesomeness, and in their darkness.
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