Hi everybody! This is Julius. Today we have a special guest blog from Jonas Kjellberg (one of the SteamWorld Dig composers). We’re so excited he agreed to share some of his ace composing secrets with all of you in this really interesting story.
In the spring of 2013 I got an interesting e-mail from the nice folks at Image & Form. They were putting the finishing touches on SteamWorld Dig and needed a last minute track for the game – the main theme. Did I have any ideas?
My name is Jonas Kjellberg, but you may know me as Wrench. I am a contemporary composer and recent graduate from the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. A few years ago I attended GameX (an annual game convention in Sweden) looking for networking opportunities. Mainly I was attending to meet the team behind Unmechanical, for which I later composed my first game soundtrack. While there I also chatted with some very friendly developers who showed their game Anthill. Those friendly developers were Image & Form.
Fast forward a couple of years, I got word that SteamWorld Dig was in production. I dug around in my neatly organized random-business-cards-from-nice-people-I’ve-met-box and sent a friendly e-mail to the CEO. Unfortunately I was not able to get the gig as composer this time, but they were so nice to me that I made an effort to stay in touch.
I have spent years honing my craft of experimental electronic music, working with abstract textures and complex timbres. A strong Wild West motif with key words such as robots and steampunk was, to say the least, far away from my usual repertoire.
The first time I pitched my ideas for the game, I had sketched something more of a slow and dark dystopian track featuring a slide guitar. But one day when taking a break I tried out some guitar chords that I thought would work for this other, more uplifting, chanting melody stuck in my head. The result would always make me smile – a bit corny and pastiche, yet quite bombastic and oozing with a fair bit of “fuck yeah”. I envisioned the music as a tongue-in-cheek flirt with the classic Western themes, and music lovers will notice the Ennio Morricone homage. Contrary to what one may think I did not directly use his music as inspiration, but rather dug far and deep into my childhood memories of what Western movies sounded like. I guess those memories just stuck really hard.
The deep chanting did not really feel “Western” enough however, and I would need a more iconic lead instrument. I asked myself if I felt like a lucky punk, which I did, and that stroke of luck gave birth to the idea of using human whistling. I painted grand pictures in my head of what the production would sound like, with cowboy boots and pickaxes as percussion and mariachi trumpets and guitars as background colors. Everything accompanied by glitchy electronic sounds and robot choirs of course. “This track will surprise the team when I get the gig”, I thought.
Alas, I never did. Oh, no! The idea was pushed into the back of my mental drawer, and boy was I sad this charming piece of music would never see the light of day. I moved on, forgot, forgave and went to find myself while backpacking in Africa. When I got home I was going to start anew.
But, in the spring of 2013 I got an interesting e-mail from the nice folks at Image & Form. They were putting the finishing touches on SteamWorld Dig and needed a last minute track for the game – the main theme. Did I have any ideas? “Yeah,” I said. “Give me a day or two”.
Jonas Kjellberg is a Swedish experimental electronic music artist, passionate gamer, and freelance game audio composer and sound designer. He is currently working on the soundtrack for the adventure game Paradigm, currently on Kickstarter.