Best of ND 2011: Interview: David Wise

Nintendojo interviews video game music legend David Wise.

By Lewis Hampson. Posted 12/28/2011 09:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

ND: What is your thought process when creating a soundtrack?
David: There is no set pattern at all, just random. A lot of the time, someone may say “well we want something like this” or alternatively, they have no idea and leave it up to you. In this case it may just be the first thing I liked on the radio that morning that I liked an element of, and took that as a starting point. But in general it’s a developmental process, nothing premeditated when starting out.

ND: How did it come about that you would be the composer for Donkey Kong Country?
David: At first, because it was Nintendo’s IP, I just assumed they would have an in-house team or person like Koji Kondo or someone of similar caliber to work on the music. When I first heard Rare were going to be developing DKC, I was sitting on a beach in France, so even at that immediate point, I was getting a few ideas together. From what I knew, I would be putting demo pieces of music together for it, that I assumed, rightly or wrongly, would be replaced by Nintendo. After I put the first few bits of music together for the Jungle level, they must have liked it because it kind of stuck and we took it from there really. We had no idea at the time how iconic and well-received the game would become, you can only look back at things retrospectively, but during development it was hard to say it would reach the level of recognition it has today.

ND: The DK series has very dynamic, varied and atmospheric musical styles. What was your thought process whilst composing for the legendary series?
David: Ideally, if we had more polyphony, there would have been a separate music track, and separate ambiences, etc. But with only eight notes of polyphony, we could not do that. Because of this, it was a case of trying to compensate for the lack of memory, and we did this by incorporating the ambiences into the music, and that’s really how it came about. For the “Aquatic Ambience piece”, I was actually trying to get it to emulate a Korg Wavestation, a popular synthesiser at that time, which takes tiny waveforms and re-sequences them back together again. I spent five weeks on “Aquatic Ambience”, mostly on the technical side, trying to get all those little waveforms and stick them together next to each other. By doing this, going back to efficiency, you can get movement in the track for many different sounds, using very little memory. When fitting them back in differing orders, you get different timbres, and that’s really where the idea came from. Trying to surpass the technical limitations of the SNES was driving the creative process, and enabled us to achieve what we did.

ND: Which is your favorite piece from the Donkey Kong Country series?
David: Obviously I’m very proud of “Aquatic Ambience”, because it helped set everything up for DKC2, but overall, I am very happy with the DKC2 soundtrack. At the time we were working in a very enclosed and sheltered environment, so there was no way of gauging what the opinion would be. I can remember that once I had finished the soundtrack for DKC2, I wasn’t entirely convinced that Rare were as proud of the soundtrack as I was. However, fortunately, time has vindicated the huge effort I put into the soundtrack with it being recognized to this day.

ND: Diddy Kong Racing is a complete departure from platforming. Was it a challenge to adapt the sound of DK to the pace of a racing game.
David: I think the first few months were difficult to get the balance right, and to find a style that suited. We listened, to a lot of the Mario Kart music, and tried to create a clichéd sound, that was even more Mario Kart than even Mario Kart. Once we had that sound I think we cracked the nut really. Going back to the lava level (Hot Top Volcano) which used Indian voicings and instruments– I got the idea for that from Mario 64, where the composer used Indian instrumentation in the Lethal Lava Land and Desert levels in the game, so really it was trying to be more Nintendo than Nintendo, but in a very complementary and respectful way.

DKR was great fun to work on, we had a ball, it wasn’t like working at all. You would wake up in the morning and think, “come on!”. The main thrust of the development cycle was around nine months, but it was so much fun, seeing what the guys were doing with the graphics and gameplay. It was very inspiring and was a gift really to wake up and look forward to working on that product.

ND: You create the sound FX for games as well. How does this compare to the music-making process and have you done much Foley recording?
David: Sometimes yes, it’s a different discipline to scoring music, but it is very creative, enjoyable and something I like to do. I have a very big sample library, but ideally I like to create the sounds myself, as in go out and record location Foley sounds myself. A lot of games you hear, you can almost name the sample CD or patch a certain sound is taken from. There is a lot more satisfaction in creating or recording your own set of sounds that will all be unique from anything anyone else has created.

ND: What are your opinions of Nintendo as a company, having been a second-party developer for so long?
David: They were really good, and just let us get on with the projects, so were a very good partner to work with. I think the whole thing about Nintendo is that they encourage and develop talent. That is exactly the kind of environment that you would want to work in in order to maximize your creativity, so in that respect they are a very good company to work with.

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