J2O's interview with Alexander Brandon

25 Feb 2015 at 12:24

Alexander Brandon is one of the people you most likely hear everyday, if it’s in Jazz Jackrabbit 2, Dues Ex, Unreal Tournament or some more recent games such as Dust: An Elysian Tail or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. He’s has magic hands when it comes down to music, giving us the ambiance or tunes we all love.

So yeah.. it was time for us Jazz Jackrabbit 2 fans to sit down with the man and ask him a bunch of questions.

It has been 17 years that Jazz Jackrabbit 2 came out, how do you look back at those times?
Alexander Brandon: They were simpler, they were a lot of fun, and things just happened. Not to say that things don’t just happen these days but the medium had more acceptance from a much smaller crowd of enthusiasts. And development didn’t take nearly as long as it would now. Having said that the game really was an impressive step up from Jazz 1 in many ways.

How does the process of making a track work? Do you get to play an early build of the game first? Or do you just build something and hope it’s the sound they are looking for it?
Alexander Brandon: I’d play early builds, sure. Nick Stadler was creating some hilarious animations and some experiments eventually led to the state of the game at ship. I was told what levels were and what they looked like, and just told to write tracks, which I did. I don’t remember revising anything, or wait that’s not right, Cliff wanted a more Sonic bell like sound for Carrotus, so I added some bling to it and made it more fast paced. He dug it. I don’t think any other changes were requested really.

What makes a soundtrack good?
Alexander Brandon: Depends on the game. I loved Populous for the Amiga but it was completely different than Jazz / Jazz 2, it was ambient. Jazz games and their ilk need decent themes and upbeat tempos. That’s the foundation. And I tried to include as much jazz chord influence as I could but I’d say it was more funk and J-pop than jazz.

How do other games influence your work?
Alexander Brandon: Everything influences me. I take bits and pieces from everything I listen to. The jazz guitarist John McGlaughlin has an album “The Promise” where he tracked some MIDI drums way back in the day which sounded very very syncopated and just… cool. I took some of that. Steve Vai had released his first album with a “band” called “Vai” and “Deep into the Pain” inspired “Jazz Be Damned”. Ecco the Dolphin and the original Jazz and Donkey Kong Country inspired the water level.

What kind of setup do you use to make your tracks?
Alexander Brandon: These days I use a Yamaha MOXF8 synth, a ton of soft synths like Omnisphere which is my favorite, a Jem guitar, a Dean acoustic guitar, a pretty decent PC, and a Universal Audio Apollo Duo interface. My main software to write is Nuendo 6.5.

Would you ever consider making pop songs? Or do you rather produce music scores for Games/Films?
Alexander Brandon: I write my own albums and you can find them at alexanderbrandon.bandcamp.com and https://loudr.fm/artist/alexander-brandon/fxuqS

Which game soundtrack that you have composed would you have done differently now if you had the chance? What would you say to younger Alexander Brandon?
Alexander Brandon: Oooh that’s a tough one. Not Tyrian, that sounded better than I expected. Probably Unreal and Deus Ex. They were written at a time before the rich / thick studio tracks you hear now but they tried to be like them. So eventually it’d be great to do a full remaster of DX / Unreal.

What project are you the most proud of?
Alexander Brandon: I love them all but Deus Ex is probably #1, because somehow the music ties in somehow so well. The art isn’t great, the music wasn’t live orchestra, but the game experience was pretty addictive and had a lot of choice that didn’t drive you crazy with die rolls or memorizing charts.

Why was ‘unused Medivo’’ track removed from the game?
Alexander Brandon: God I love YouTube. I didn’t even know what you were talking about, then I remembered writing the tune. No idea why it was Medivo at first then changed to Colonius. Here’s what “sam raven” has to say. But I really like this tune.

“This was actually used in the second part ‘night’ version of Colony with turtles using fencing swords, incorrectly named Medivo and confusing with the retro missions of Jazz Jackrabbit 1. Totally cool, dunno why clubs don’t use this music.”

Could you make us new Jazz Jackrabbit tracks please ;) ?
Alexander Brandon: Sure! They’d sound pretty awesome if I put some time into them, particularly if there’s a game to go with it. Cliff amazes me with how down to earth he still is after the meteoric rise to fame. He stopped me at a GDC to catch up briefly and I did ask him about another Jazz. “There’s no way to make everyone happy, someone’s going to bitch about something.” Which is true. But in the end, you don’t make something for other people. And he didn’t back then either. He made stuff HE wanted to play. And since he had a good sense of what worked, a lot of other people did too. So I say he should make one (since he’s back together with Arjan at BossKey) and whoever wants to play it, that’s their privilege, just like it was in the old days. Admittedly when there’s employees and stockholders, you can’t really say that.

How much of a gamer are you anyway? What do you play these days?
Alexander Brandon: Not as much as I’d like to be. I’m playing Legend of Grimrock 2 and vvvv on mobile. Played a bit of Dragon Age: Inquisition but I’ll pick that up when Grimrock is done. In my GoG.com and Steam accounts there’s probably 50 games I need to play, who knows when I’ll have time :)

I allowed users of JCF to ask Alexander some questions!

Slaz: What was your inspiration for JJ2’s credits/ordering song ‘Pull Back The Bass’?
Alexander Brandon: Good question! A girl I knew in college gave me a tape with a club / dance track on it that had similar chords. I wish I could remember the name but I don’t. The melody that plays later in the tune is blatant Janet Jackson from “That’s the Way Love Goes”.

n0: Which game was the most fun to make music for? Please say Tyrian.
Alexander Brandon: Tyrian was fun and you never forget your first. But I’d still say Deus Ex was it. With Unreal a close second. I just wrote songs and the designers plugged them in and loved ‘em.

Robo4900: What’s your favourite genre to compose in?
Alexander Brandon: Don’t have one. I like quite a few. Rock, pop, jazz, funk, ambient…

Primpy: Do you think you did a better job with the JJ2 music than Robert A. Allen and Joshua Jensen did with JJ1?
Alexander Brandon: Definitely not. I think I have more depth and richness, but it’s because I got 16 channels to play with and they had only 4! Plus, my style is a little messier than Robert’s. He had a very neat and tidy, well produced comp style that I still aspire to.

Treylina: Are module trackers a good way for people to get their feet wet into creating music?
Alexander Brandon: Good question, they’re good for getting a basic understanding of how to put things together, but there are other tools that expand on that format that give you more control and more flexibility, like Ableton Live or Fruity Loops. They’re also a little easier to manipulate. You don’t have to do hex editing anymore to get a desired effect :)

F1re: How did you feel after the Jazz Jackrabbit 3 Pre-Alpha was made, but the project later on was cancelled. Did you feel like you have been spending hours of your work for nothing? (I love the Hopteego Village theme btw.)
Alexander Brandon: Thanks, glad you like Hopteego! The whole team was down, sure. That was one of the first wake up calls I ever had. But it was THAT disappointing. There were two very close calls, one where Epic wanted to do it, but we all would have had to move onsite and there was too much going on in our lives to drop it all and head to North Carolina. The second was where they shopped it to GoD games. And while I won’t say specifically who said what, that whole process seemed ridiculous. I don’t even remember being part of the conversations, almost as though there was deliberate sabotage going on even though I’m sure that wasn’t really the case. But, live and learn.

Hare: A few of the tracks show an inspiration from other songs that were out at the time.Labrat sounding like this clip from Cruel Summer by Bananarama or Dreampipes sounding like Good Vibrations by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch
Alexander Brandon: Fascinating, I can’t say that either of those tunes influenced me when I was writing those! But interesting parallels there, sure.

When creating the music for Jazz Jackrabbit, did Alexander Brandon draw inspiration from other artists often? Any particular artists that he found the most inspiring? It is fun to kind to listen for these things and pick them out. Are there any other homages I should I keep an ear out for when listening to the JJ soundtrack?
Alexander Brandon: As mentioned earlier all kinds of tunes and artists have an influence on me from Peter Gabriel to Steve Vai to A Tribe Called Quest to the game tunes from Ecco, Donkey Kong Country, Metroid, etc.. Dead Can Dance, there’s an influence too.

Metsys: Being in the video game industry for so long, how do you feel interactive/dynamic/adaptive music has come along over the past decade in video games? Has there been any big advancements in interactive music or has the tech pretty much remained the same? And I’m sure you’ve thought about this, but what would be your dream solution to adaptive music in a game? When consulting with video game developers, what is your preferred/practical solution to adaptive music?
Alexander Brandon: Interactive music has definitely progressed a lot, but not as far as it should have. The problem is, it’s hard enough to score for a specific moment that’s frozen in time. To get that sounding compelling and perfectly attuned with visuals the player establishes with their choices is more than just exponentially harder to do :)

Haze: Hi Alex, big fan of your work, loved Just Fun! Awesome thank you!! I know people on here have asked about the gear that you’ve used back during the days of JJ2. When looking back on it, what was your favorite piece of gear at the time and why? And of course what is your fave to use these days?
Alexander Brandon: My favorite piece of gear was and still is, drum roll please, the PC! It’s where I started, it’s what I use most and it’s done the most for me in terms of manipulating sound over anything else hands down, whether tracking or full digital audio workstation like Nuendo. Having said that my first synth the Proteus MPS Orchestral and second synth, Trinity Pro, were both pretty darn cool and fun :)

Haze: Keep being awesome!
Alexander Brandon: I’ll do my best :)

DrJones: Alex, thank you so much, once again, for sharing not only your love for music with me back then, but also providing the entire JJ2 soundtrack which included songs that did not end up in the final game.
After I placed it on Lori Central, the amount of times it was downloaded was incredible. over the years, I found the songs on many sites, still carrying the LC tag I put into each file.
Alexander Brandon: Hey, happy to and I’m glad they’ve found a lot of interested listeners.

Last but not least;
Do you have any shoutouts to give?
Alexander Brandon: First and foremost my family for supporting me in all that I do. Second, Cliff Bleszinski, Robert Allen and Arjan Brussee, the original Jazz crew (Cliff actually got me into the industry by recommending Tyrian be sold as an Epic game years and years ago… actually it was 20 years ago now :)), and Dean Dodrill of Humble Hearts, who made the most amazing Metroidvania style game I’ve ever played: Dust: An Elysian Tail. Not only that but letting me write music for it! (along with the super talented guys Chris and Dan from Hyperduck). Finally, the fans. People love the Jazz tunes and it makes it all worth it. Thank YOU.

- ShadowGpW


Slaz on 25 Feb 2015 at 13:29

And thank YOU too, for answering all these questions. And thanks to Shadow for doing the interview!

So much information here, brain can’t handle.. Information overload..! :O

I especially love knowing how existing songs inspiring JJ2’s soundtrack wasn’t as literal as we thought, and mostly just a coincidence while composing with ‘poppy’ tunes in mind.

PT32 on 25 Feb 2015 at 14:56

Wow, this is so cool! Shame I didn’t find out about it until after the fact, but thanks for stopping by and answering so many great questions, Alexander!

Jelly Jam on 25 Feb 2015 at 15:32

You’re awesome, Alex!
reads that he agree’s to make some Jazz music
You are my absolute god.

FawFul on 25 Feb 2015 at 16:11

Shit.. should have asked where he got the jj2 samples from!

Still an awesome interview and i’m happy he took the time to answer the questions :P.

JordanJett on 25 Feb 2015 at 17:28

Aliens have invaded earth

Roobar on 25 Feb 2015 at 19:51

Hey Alexander Brandon, if you’re reading this: THANK YOU for all the great music you’ve made! Your music is inspiration. Love so many of your songs… I, as well, am really excited for the idea of composing a new JJ music!

Stijn on 26 Feb 2015 at 10:17

Thanks for the interview! I’ve always been a fan of his music.

Primpy on 26 Feb 2015 at 19:28

Oh, really nice! Also a question of mine is there, cool xD

Baja on 26 Feb 2015 at 19:44

His music tracks are legendary :).
Nice that he took the time to answer these questions though!

F!re on 10 Apr 2015 at 21:19

Wow I totally forgot to read this. Awesome awnsers. Thanks Alexander and Shadow!

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