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5th February 2024
Sounds In Gaming's Interview with Petri Alanko, Transcript
[Original Program No Longer Available]

At the start of the year, BBC Radio 3' Sound of Gaming featured a special interview with Petri Alanko on returning to the Alan Wake series and how Quantum Break's soundtrack stands apart from the rest for him. 

Hosted by Elle Osili-Wood, the radio show is targeted at those interested in the impact of video game music and eager to learn more, Sound of Gaming explores how music shapes our experience. In this latest episode, they explore literature in games. 

Alongside the interview, we hear tracks from a range of different composers, including Marcin Przybyłowicz for ‘The Witcher 3’, by Maribeth Solomon & Brent Barkman for ‘Sunless Skies’; Garry Schyman for ‘Bioshock’; The Alkemie Early Music Ensemble for ‘Pentiment’; Cœur de Pirate for ‘Child of Light’, Laurence Chapman for ‘80 Days’; Andrea Boccadoro for ‘Astrologaster’; and Adam Gubman for ‘Elsinore’. 

For Alan Wake fans, this specific conversation was hard to access; recorded by BBC Sounds, it could only be heard in the UK, and only played within a month of publishing. The program has since expired and was removed from the BBC Sounds archive, but the full transcript of Elle Osili-Wood's interview with Alanko can be read below. 

[If there is any copyright issue with the transcript, please contact me through the menu above.]

Sound of Gaming, Literary Games w. Petri Alanko Transcript

Elle Osili-Wood: The team at Remedy Entertainment, the studio behind blockbuster games like Alan Wake and Control, have a similar approach; big bold games that defy the boundaries of conventional storytelling built around an emotional core. It's led to a string of distinctive titles best described as "psychological supernatural thrillers" inspired by storytellers like Stephen King or David Lynch. They're the kind of surreal, enigmatic games that people spend years writing theories about. Not least because each title they release becomes part of the Remedy Connected Universe. Think of it as the Marvel Cinematic Universe but for games. With each new release, weaving into a larger narrative tapestry. So, who better to guest on Cutscene, our regular deep dive into a composer's process, than Petri Alanko, the composer whose powerfully evocative scores have become synonymous with Remedy's distinctive narratives. Having worked with Remedy for almost twenty years, his music is a key element of their mesmerising worlds. Acting as a sonic guide through mind-bending titles that blur the lines between reality and fiction. 

I sat down with Petri to explore the challenge of crafting new music for games that are as much literary masterpieces as they are immersive experiences. And there was only one place to begin... the dark world of Alan Wake, an author tormented by a supernatural force that can transform his words into a living nightmare. 

Petri Alanko: The first thing that I noticed when I saw the first screenplay for Alan Wake 1 was that Alan Wake was flawed as a person. He was burnt out. He was in desperate need of a long, long, long vacation. For some reason, they ended up in a town which happened to be the nest of everything that is evil [laughs], Bright Falls. 

[Alan Wake, "A Writer's Dream"]

It was clear that we should decorate the world with fragile yet sombre tones; harmonies and melodies, and it had to feel like you're basically in the middle of a recovery process. That was something that I discussed with Sam [Lake] already and the then-Art Director Saku Lehtinen. It was a series of interesting talks about fragility and how that would appear in orchestrations, and we ended up using, just barely, a chamber orchestra, that's playing the main orchestra themes in Alan Wake. When you have smaller sections, you can hear, almost hear, the individual vibrato of violins, or violas, or cellips, and that's something that, sort of, speaks to me very loudly. I like that kind of orchestration. I always prefer smaller sections rather than the vast Hollywoodian whatnot monster sections. 

[Alan Wake, "Waking Up To A Nightmare"]

Some of my orchestrations and soundscapes are really big, and they feel like they eat half of Finland, but in reality they just come and they go. They don't stay, and yet that image sort of looms in your hand for quite a long time. 

Most of the horror happens inside your head instead of onscreen. It's not about shock value; it's about evoking emotions. 

Elle Osili-Wood: Music from Alan Wake composed by Petri Alanko who I am very excited to say is my guest today on Sound of Gaming. Petri, welcome to the show. 

Petri Alanko: Oh, thank you! Thank you. It's great to be here. 

Elle Osili-Wood: Well, today we're talking about literary games, really narrative-heavy story-driven works, and of course, you are best known for your incredible work on the titles of Remedy, a studio that - I think story-driven barely scratches the surface of their work, doesn't it? They are meticulously detailed works of writing within games. So, what's it like to work on titles that are so heavily narrative-focused?

Petri Alanko: It's a wonderland to put it short. They provide me with so many tools that I would be a total idiot not to turn everything into, at least, something decent. The level of the stories and the number of the layers within the story, and how far every story arc reaches, they sort of give you so much room and ground to write on. You can recognise a good partner if they manage to turn you into a better copy of yourself, and that's what Remedy have done, y'know, I feel like they have done that with me. 

Elle Osili-Wood: So, what's it like to work with the same studio across multiple games? How does that change the process?

Petri Alanko: It speeds up the process greatly. Finns don't like small talk at all. We are not like, y'know, United-States-small talkers at all. We go straight into business, and if we- well, let's say, our small talk is usually, "Oh, it's obviously snow again", "Yes, it does." That's it, and then we go to the point. I guess we started in August 2004. That's when I did my first track for Alan Wake 1. There's almost twenty years behind me and Remedy, and we know exactly what to expect from each other, and I feel that, nowadays, when there have been a lot of talk about Remedy Connected Universe, which sort of is a universe for, y'know, all the events that have happened in the games, I feel that I've seen and composed the birth of it. So, it's really good to continue building on the foundation that has been laid. 

Elle Osili-Wood: You mentioned the Remedy Connected Universe, which is, of course, a vast overarching narrative that many of Remedy's games connect into, so how do you factor that in musically?

Petri Alanko: We started deepening the concept where we had this marvellous idea that what if something is so evil that it has gravity or creates gravity? What if that so-called "gravity" affects the pitches of notes, and their harmonic series. It meant a lot of brainwork and some custom software work, but eventually, it turned out so well that we decided that, okay, this is defining work. 

Elle Osili-Wood: Well, the latest instalment in the Remedy Connected Universe is, of course, Alan Wake 2. I think it's safe to say that anticipation was sky-high. We had waited well over a decade. So, did you feel the pressure of that?

Petri Alanko: Alan Wake has been part of my world since 2004, and I actually wrote [the] first tracks for Alan Wake sequel already back in 2011. Every now and then when Sam came to me and, sort of, showed the idea of, "Hey, we have the idea of this kind of thing cooking", but let's see if it takes flight or not. And then we discussed the concept of the game, and he told me some stories about what might happen and who might be the protagonist and the antagonist and so forth. But it took years to finally come across with powerful enough events to write on to, in order to create an interesting plot line. 

Elle Osili-Wood: Well. let's hear some of the music you wrote for Alan Wake 2.

[Alan Wake 2, "Vertical Reflections" heard at the start of the game] 

Elle Osili-Wood: Music from Alan Wake 2, composed by my guest on Sound of Gaming today, Petri Alanko. How did you write something that linked back to the original Alan Wake while still creating a standalone identity for the sequel?

Petri Alanko: I wanted Saga, the other protagonist, to have an instrumentation of her own. Slightly separated from Alan Wake's original orchestration and instrumentation. So, we introduced slightly more woodwinds and brass instruments; I was forbidden to use brass and woodwinds in Alan Wake 1 because, back then, they thought that they would sound too fantasy-ish. That was the exact reason why we used only string orchestra here, we sort of felt that it would be really nice to have some extra warmth for instance, flutes and clarinets. I happen to be a great fan of cor anglais, it also appears here and there. I even managed to squeeze in a chance drum in the end credits. It sort of promises something that's to come. 

Alan Wake [2] needed to have lots of very dark instrumentation around him, and I actually started mangling brass sounds beyond recognition. Most of the things that play music or, let's put it this way, so-called "music" in The Dark Place are mostly brass instruments; trombones and tubas. But they were processed in such a way they sort of felt like they were underwater, something that had that feeling of pressure in the sound.

I found a really nice way to process brass instruments with the aforementioned overtone bending or overtone retuning and then driving the whole mesh through an impulse response that was taken from a broken symbol that was bowed with a cello bow. That and then, the apprehension engine, which is a custom instrument. And then there was also something that resembled a giant cowbell, called Mega Marvin, which is basically... well, it looks like it's a half metre-long cowbell that has springs and rods welded to it, and you can play it with a hammer or cello bow as well. And I took quite a lot of samples of those instruments and used them as basis for processing the brass sounds. There are a lot of instruments that are originated from metal in The Dark Place. It was really a wonderland, and they let me roam free in there and the only thing that really that they actually commented was, "Could it be a wee bit more frightening?" and I was kinda "Yeah! It can!" [laughs], and went back to the studio and I did what spinal tap guys would do; turned everything to eleven.

[Alan Wake 2, "Evil is Contagious"]

Elle Osili-Wood: Turning the horror to eleven is exactly how I would describe Alan Wake 2. It is incredibly effective, unsettling horror. 

Petri Alanko: Most of the horror happens in your brain. It's most effective when it's not in your ears, but there is a promise that it could appear. That's what really makes your hair stand out. I mean, you've got to have courage to have silence in there, and sometimes, you need to have some silence within the hardest of the action as well. 

Elle Osili-Wood: Now, I can't let you leave without talking Quantum Break, which was, of course, a game about manipulating time to save the world. And it was originally envisioned as a sequel to Alan Wake. It was incredibly innovative, it fused the game with a TV show, so what was it like to score?

Petri Alanko: That basically began what became my dogma... don't do the same thing twice. Quantum Break was just synthetic. Most of the soundscape is drawn from really, like happy or innocent-sounding sounds. I think the soundtrack of that game is actually one of my favourite works ever. I feel that it was more coherent than Alan Wake 1. To me, it feels like Quantum Break's soundtrack works as an entity of its own. You can basically listen to that, from A to Z, and it feels like it's a whole concept album. Of course, if you know what happens in the game, and if you remember the cinematics and the main characters and the environments, it makes more sense then, and it sort of brings an extra layer to your memory. But, it works brilliantly as such without the main product connected to it. I've always mentioned I'm sort of the side product composer because the main product is always the game, and my duty is to support the story and the events and the characters and whatnot with my music. But at the same time, I want to have as much emotional impact in my soundtracks as I'm possibly allowed to do within the IP. 

Elle Osili-Wood: Well, I think you're being incredibly humble to describe the work that you do as a side project. I think anybody who has played one of Remedy's titles will know just as integral your scores are to the mesmerising worlds they built. We're going to end with "I'll Keep Waiting", a piece from your score of Quantum Break. Petri Alanko, thank you. 

Petri Alanko: Thank you. 

[Quantum Break, "I'll Keep Waiting"]

-- CONSOLE & PC GAMES --

The Crossfire Series

The Control Series

The Quantum Break Series

The Alan Wake Series

The Max Payne Series

Additional

-- MOBILE GAMES --

-- LIVE ACTION SERIES --

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