Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Unit 73 - Assignment 1 - Sound for computer games

Unit 73: Sound for Computer Games
Comparison of ‘The Last Of Us’’ theme and ‘Dead Heat’ from Little Big Planet 3
By Dave Johnson
Task 1a)

Compare and contrast the following sounds clips: The theme from ‘The Last Of Us’ and ‘Dead Heat’ from Little Big Planet 3.

For this assignment, I am looking at and comparing the following sound clips, both high profile games on the PS3. The first of these is the theme tune to the hit title ‘The Last Of Us’, available to listen to via this YouTube link:

The second track is from the game ‘Little Big Planet 3’, and is called ‘Dead Heat’:

Both tracks convey different emotions which I will attempt to analyse and give a critical opinion on during this assignment. Ultimately they are similar in the sense that they share the same goal: to elicit an emotional response from the viewer and give them an insight into the layers that make up the game stories. I think they differ however in that the ‘The Last Of Us’ theme attempts to create not only a visual picture but also convey the feelings and emotions of the two main characters Ellie and Joel. I would personally term it as quite a serious piece of music. However, ‘Dead Heat’ is different in the sense that it is more tongue and cheek. Admittedly, it does seem to suggest a certain degree of personality describing the main characters. However, the piece is deliberately juxtaposing a dark sounding piece of thriller movie-esque music with light hearted gameplay - whereas ‘The Last Of Music’ creates drama, ‘Dead Heat’ generates humour and comedy. Let us now look at and analyse each piece and decide what they are trying to suggest.

The Last Of Us
‘The Last Of Us’ is a post apocalyptic survival horror game in which an experienced mercenary and a young girl must travel across a ravaged America to find a cure for a widespread airborne virus. The game presents the player with the scenario of what could happen if humanity was destroyed by nature - the mentioned airborne virus has turned many into zombie like plant/human hybrids, merciless creatures who will hunt and kill any man they encounter. Small pockets of humanity cling to desperate but primitive ways of living whilst a mysterious government authority attempts to keep order. Add renegade human bandits and scavengers into the mix and the stage is set for what many term as one of the most breathtaking gameplay / narrative adventures ever , successfully bridging the gap between cinema and video gaming. This accolade alone contains some heavy clues as to why certain personnel were hired to produce the  music, and what the developers intentions were.

Gustavo Santaolalla is an Argentine musician, film composer and producer. He has won two Academy Awards for Best Original Score in two consecutive years, for Brokeback Mountain in 2005, and Babel in 2006. He took his first foray into the world of video game music when he composed the score for the video game The Last of Us. Previous movie score work has included:

She Dances Alone (1981)
Ronroco (1998)
21 Grams (2003)  (score producer)
Brokeback Mountain (2005) (score producer)
Babel (2006) (music producer)

Santaolalla, known for his minimalist approach to composing, began working on the music early in the game's development. He used several folk instruments to compose the score, including various ones that he was unfamiliar with such as the Ronroco, a ten stringed guitar. As a musician myself, my theory on this may be because sometimes knowledge can create predictability in the composers techniques and thoughts. Using an unfamiliar instrument can create strange and new sounds and effects, pushing the musician into unexplored territory which can surprise the composer and the audience. ‘The Last Of Us’ contains some strikingly daring ideas and concepts which would suggest Gustav’s approach was the right one to capture the attention of the audience.

To challenge himself, Santaolalla used a variety of unique instruments he was unfamiliar with, giving a sense of danger, unpredictability and innocence; For The Last of Us, he used a detuned Ronroco guitar, that produces deep noise. To capture the various timbre and tones, Santaolalla recorded in various rooms, including a bathroom and kitchen. This would probably be because the echoing atmosphere resonated with Gustavo’s interpretation of the vast deserted spaces in the game. I know from my own experience as a guitarist that using more reverb on a guitar channel creates an echoing effect, in turn producing ambience, drama and atmosphere.

Throughout development of The Last of Us, creative director Neil Druckmann and game director Bruce Straley had been compiling various musical tracks that they found inspirational. When searching for a composer to work on the game's music, they realised that many of the compiled tracks were composed by Gustavo Santaolalla. Straley described Santaolalla's music as "organic instrumentation, minimalist, dissonance and resonance with the sounds".
As a result, Sony reached out to Santaolalla, who agreed to work on the game's soundtrack.After hearing the game's pitch, Santaolalla was excited to work on the game; he previously wanted to work on video games, but refused to work on those without a focus on story and characters.

To compose, Santaolalla felt the need to "go into some more dark place, more textural and not necessarily melodic”. The theme tune that I am examining was the first piece of music to be sent to Neil Druckmann and Bruce Staley. They loved what they heard, being in total agreement with Gustavo’s interpretation of the game world and atmosphere. The choice to use a movie soundtrack composer on a video game implies that the game director’s vision was to create a genuine cinematic experience for the player.

Thoughts on what the music means


Going through the track from the beginning, this is what each section communicated to me, and my interpretation of what was going on.

A slightly eerie opening - a singular classical guitar playing a fragile timbre of melody with a large amount of echo and natural reverb. This suggests a very emotional, human story that will combine many natural everyday locations with a sense of ruin and decay - as if mankind has reverted to a primitive state. Upon hearing it for the first time, I immediately thought of deserted cities. The single guitar playing suggests loss and loneliness - it sounds brittle against the large open spaces of silence around it. It communicates a metaphor for a broken world, a collapsed society and mankind being in a place of difficulty and trouble. Underneath this is a discordant layer of sound reminiscent of a scream, fall or descent. In turn this suggests fear, anger or collapse reinforcing the ideas I have set out on the game’s vision of a fallen world. This is more or less how society is portrayed in the game.
There are also some subtle synth notes underneath everything, ominously hinting at trouble and danger.

What does this tell us? That things have gone badly wrong and for man, there may well be extreme danger ahead - a potentially life threatening situation. The melody is sad and melancholic being played in a minor key so it is unlikely to be a cheerful game.

There is a slight edge of attitude and anger with the transition to blues pentatonic notes at the end of the minor phrase. This is a video game after all, and traditionally rock and blues music uses blues pentatonic notes to suggest drama. We hear them all the time in hundreds of songs getting us excited and enthused as well as suggesting action and storytelling. These four ingredients underpin what most video games aim to achieve.
Eventually a second guitar comes in to play rhythm and we realise that there is a sense of duality - this could be a metaphor for the game having two main characters. Again, low ominous synths underpin everything, suggesting that the characters paths will not be easy ones.

We can ask ourselves why classical guitars? To me, this piece is definitely Ennio Morricone inspired. Morricone wrote a lot of music for screen westerns with his compositions featuring classical guitar music.. Western movies usually feature the convention of loners or travellers who make their way through wilderness. This is exactly what happens in The Last Of Us. Compare Morricone's theme tune for the movie ‘A Fistful Of Dollars’ to the theme tune of ‘The Last Of Us’:

Both tracks suggest epic journeys, dark and brooding characters, vast landscapes and hot, dry terrain. All of these characteristics appear in the movie and ‘The Last Of Us’’ video game respectively.

Around 1 minute 25 seconds, a timpani drum comes in, pounding out a low steady rhythm. It adds to the general sense of unease and suggests upcoming danger or battle. This sound is often used in movies featuring armies, seafaring, battles or pirates. It sounds vaguely Celtic and suggests war or conflict. The drum evokes a feeling of suspense, anguish and fear. Some other TV and movie tracks that use this timpani drum idea include:


Pirates of the Caribbean:

Game of Thrones:

The Terminator also bought the idea of collapsed societies up to date and the timpani drum is also present here in the moody theme:

The weighty timbre of the drum suggests menace and trouble, like an oncoming storm. Traditionally these drums were used to psych up an army or ready them for war. If we take this notion and look at it from the characters point of view or even society’s, it gives the impression of conflict and a potential fight for survival.

Melodically, the tone changes briefly from minor to major, symbolising hope in the darkness. This suggests that the characters will be questing for something or trying to achieve something to bring balance. The synths in the background also change to a more optimistic timbre to give the impression of hope. However, this section gives way to a darker, more pessimistic tone again, suggesting that peace will not be achieved easily and there will be trouble, danger, loss and possibly death.

Back to the bluesy descending phrases which strongly suggest action and danger as well as a level of attitude to appeal to action fans. The music stops abruptly and ends with a minor chord sounding crescendo, suggesting that the character’s fate is uncertain, being left in the player’s hands. It almost like a cliffhanger too, prompting the listener to ask the question ‘what happens next’? In this way, it draws the player in, inviting them to find out more.

Apparently, the development team Naughty Dog were aiming for a soundtrack that was "emotional", as opposed to being scary. This is true as overall, I think the theme can be easily enjoyed outside of the game. In my opinion it is:
  • Haunting
  • Fragile
  • Sounding like an epic journey
  • Evoking emotions of fear, hope, conflict and hidden danger

There are at least two metaphors on display in this piece:
  • Hope - Represented by the minor to major key change in the middle - a change from ‘pessimism’ to ‘optimism’

  • A menacing unseen presence - a drone under the chords and melody, suggests vast, empty expanses. When the drums overtake them it is as if the soundtrack is telling us that the expanse is not completely devoid of life and danger is around the corner. The player and the characters need to be mindful and aware to survive.

There are at least two pieces of symbolism on display in this piece, characterised by the timbre of the instruments:
  • A Heavy drum symbolizes weight, sluggishness and violence

  • Fragility of melody and the guitar instrument suggests societies fragility, vulnerability and reversion to a
    primitive state

Little Big Planet

Three rag doll puppets set out into a colorful cloth world to stop three giant titans destroying the universe. They journey through many worlds facing evil enemies and an evil genius. The player must use teamwork. puzzle solving and fighting skills to progress through each level.


The composer of this piece is the English rock artist Barry Adamson. He has worked with rock bands such as Magazine, Visage, The Birthday Party, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and the electro musicians Pan sonic. Adamson has also remixed Grinderman, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Depeche Mode. He created the seven-minute opus Useless (Escape From Wherever: Pts. 1 & 2) remix for the latter band in 1997. He has also worked on the soundtrack for David Lynch's Lost Highway, and released numerous solo recordings.

An artist with a hugely eclectic range of styles and tastes, his has mostly been influenced by John Barry, Elmer Bernstein and Ennio Morricone, whilst his later works include jazz, electronica, soul, funk, and dub-styles. This considerable musical knowledge made him a good choice to produce the work for the Little Big Planet 3.  The track used by Little Big Planet 3, ‘Dead Heat’, is a 1993 track written and produced by Adamson and owned by Sony Music. This means the music is most likely a re-imagining of Adamson’s original ideas, remixed and remastered for the game.

The game is a platformer that mixes fun family friendly cartoon action with stylistic ‘sack cloth’ visuals and funky tunes. It is deliberately light hearted and fun with much of its appeal and humour being drawn from comical visuals and wacky cartoon like characters. The game’s composers aimed to carry on this humourous approach by juxtaposing certain pieces of semi-serious sounding music against the craziness and wit of the visuals. In the words of the game developers, the music intends to come across as a ‘second hand shop bin’ of tastes and styles. Each of the games themes was assigned to and composed by a separate musician, resulting in an eclectic soundtrack unlike any other. Adamson contributed the song ‘Dead Heat’, from which  he appears to take inspiration from 70’s Kung Fu movies and film noir. To contrast this and ‘The Last Of Us’, the serious narrative and message of the story shines through in the intelligence of the soundtrack. ‘The Last Of Us’ aims to make us think about the story and seeks us to examine the characters, aided by the music. ‘Dead Heat’ is all about having fun and making us laugh. The first clue that this is what is intended takes place when we consider a rag doll puppet having adventures to deep, dramatic sounding melodies and ambience. It is intentionally ludicrous, endearing us to the game and it’s quirky sense of humour.

The second clue as the game’s intentions is provided by the voiceover talent that provide for the characters. They are all well known figures from the world of comedy - Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Lewis MacLeod, Peter Serafinowicz, and Simon Greenall to name just a few. To me, this implies that the game is designed to amuse you and make you laugh, a fact supported by the juxtaposition of music and images. The music could easily be termed as audio jokes.

Thoughts on what the music means

Going through the track from the beginning, this is what each section communicated to me, and my interpretation of what was going on:

The track opens with a deep 1970’s sounding horn sections and a funky tempo, evoking 1970’s action movies such as ‘Enter The Dragon’ or ‘Shaft’:

The joke works because when you consider a rag doll becoming an action hero like Bruce Lee or John Shaft, the scene makes us laugh because it is so silly. They have used a convincing film score musician because it adds to the quirkiness of the humour and the punchline of the joke. However, it does underline a trend that is appearing in many games, regardless of how they may be trying to affect us as an audience; the fact that games are trying to become more cinematic. This is evidenced by the high calibre movie score composers who are being brought on board to lend authenticity to the  projects.

This is what the juxtaposition of the music and visuals in LBP3 is all about - creating audio jokes that contribute to creating a cheerful sense of fun. This is in direct contrast to ‘The Last Of Us’. where laughter is very much not intended. The tone of ‘Dead Heat’ is fun, playful and tongue in cheek. The rescue mission and good vs evil story of LBP3 is underscored with a funky track suggesting drama, suspense and action.

It deliberately sounds like a thriller or Bond movie to nod to its obviously retro influences. In fact, upon researching Barry Adamson, we can discover that like Gustavo Santaolalla, Barry Adamson cites Morricone as a huge influence.

This brings us around to the idea of Morricone’s work on film noir and gangster movies. When I first heard ‘Dead Heat’, it put me in mind of Morricone’s score for the 1987 movie ‘The Untouchables’:

Again, this is humorous as the game is audibly communicating with us in a very tongue in cheek way. The music evokes dark forces, evil and creepy enemies which of course is amusing in a cartoon environment. The brass sections evoke a looming presence and feelings of suspense, mystery  and drama while the rhythm is undeniable driven and funky, tripping the whole piece along.

Eventually the layers of the song build taking us from a retro gangster ambience to more modern, layered electronic beats. It is as if the song is keen to have fun, yet remind us LBP3 is a game for the ‘now’ generation. It’s retro roots and audio jokes are soon matched by complex electronic drums and samples. A Playstation 3 exclusive, the hardware for producing the game, graphics and sound is the same used in ’The Last Of Us’ - an HD Stereo platform with amazing sound quality and clarity. The game developers even begin to bring sound effects and voice samples from the game into the track,creating a complex narrative effect. Sounds from the game environments are displayed including wind, owls and character voices. All of this evokes feelings of creeping and night time, hiding from an ominous presence.

A drop out in the middle comes back in with a another layer: piano. The creepy sounding music continues while the music puts the player in mind of ghosts, monsters and halloween. Blues riffing on the piano keeps things light hearted, likeable and humourous however; the purpose of the track is not to scare but to enthrall and amuse, wittly painting a picture of the creepy quirky worlds the player must work through. Again we are reminded of how with the right music in a game we can be frightened of an enemy or amused by it. The enemies in ‘The Last Of Us’ would not work with LBP3’s funky tracks behind them. ‘The Last Of Us’ music is designed to make us seriously  think about story, character and situation. The music in LBP3 is designed for the exact opposite reason - for us to switch off our brains, have some fun, enjoy the ride and have some laughs along the way.

The song ends with a ‘Lifting’ sample which sounds like teleporting or ascending bringing a futuristic element to very 70’s sounding tracks. This is provided either by Foley or a synthesizer.

Symbolism, Metaphor and Iconography
In terms of metaphors and symbolism, a creeping, ominous brass horn sounds like imminent danger or a darker presence. Aside from that the game is not trying to make any big, grand statements - just entertain  us and make us laugh. However, there is a sense of iconic movies from the 1970’s in this track. As an action game, it makes reference to action movies of this period to give itself a narrative personality and style.

The music for ‘Dead Heat ’ was certainly not likely to have been recorded using low end equipment or in a lossless format. However, like ‘The Last Of Us’ theme, it would be eventually exported via lossy AAC / AC3 file to conserve hard disk space but preserve quality. As a piece of Sony music from 1993 it is more probable that the whole piece was remixed within the confines of a computer application or Sony owned recording studio. A PS3 is a High Definition Stereo piece of hardware that supports Dolby Surround Sound. ACC / AC3 files are those that Dolby Surround Sound system needs to read. These are advanced audio coding files that compress size but preserve quality.
The PS3 has a large hard drive space that can contain a couple of hundred gigabytes of memory. This would mean that the recorded file could be a lossy format as memory constraints may be an issue. The PS3 also has a high range of pitch and hertz meaning that loud and soft noises that are high and deep can be created. In addition the bit depth and resolution ensures that the sound is crisp and sharp, enabling individual sounds, rhythms and instruments to be picked out by the ear.

I find it highly likely that no live instruments were used during the making of this track. I can imagine a keyboard or synth plugged into a Mac running Audition would have provided the brass section. Everything else is likely to have been loops, samples and electronic drums recorded via digital instruments. Each instrument would have assembled upon a timeline in a music recording program and arranged accordingly. There are a lot of phrases that are repeated, suggesting they are separate files imported to the timeline and copied / pasted at key points. The drums for example are probably quite a short loop that has been repeated and spliced where necessary. Live drum kits are notoriously difficult to record consistently, meaning that an electronic  loop would be a better option.

Legal issues and codes of practice relating to both tracks
This area can be broken down into many sub sections and applies to both tracks.It is necessary that developers and publishers have a complete understanding of it all. Failure to do so can result in prosecution or criminal charges.

The music would be owned by Sony as they are the publisher of the games. Sony & the game developer Naughty Dog would have copyright restrictions in place. These copyright laws would prohibit people from unlawfully copying, sharing or stealing either the file or the intellectual property behind the music. This would protect the ideas, concepts and work of the composer, the development team and the publisher (also company and individual profits) Plagiarism is also a very real concern for anyone releasing a piece of work into the public domain. To respect the ideas and work of the original creatives, it is against the law to steal any or all parts of their work. In this instance the music would be protected by copyright laws preventing anyone from stealing or duplicating creative ideas.

Copyright also determines who owns the song and who will receive money from the audio recording when it is released. When songwriters write songs they are automatically copyrighted as soon as the work is in a tangible format - eg, a recording or a printed piece of sheet music. If a publisher or songwriter wishes to sue for copyright infringement they must register with the copyright office at the Library of Congress. This registration must be carried out before the song is released into the public domain.

The developer, Naughty Dog, may well have considered completion insurance. Completion insurance refers to a company covering themselves being sued for supplying a creative product late. The repercussions of late delivery could mean loss of client earnings, extra moving / storage costs, or additional interest / penalties for failing to complete on the contracted date. A contract is legally binding so any deviation from this agreed set of timescales could result in a serious financial impact as well as legal proceedings. For example, if the project was a video game soundtrack that is scheduled to be included in AAA title, failure to produce at the launch of the console could lose sales for the manufacturer. This could result in court action for loss of earnings, which the developers need to be prepared for. It is important to have a thorough understanding of every aspect of the project during pre-production so as to avoid this.

The Performing Rights Society is the official channel for organisations to request a licence to play music by a composer. They license organisations to play, perform or make available copyright music on behalf of  members and overseas societies. The PRS is also responsible for distributing the resulting royalties to the artist fairly and efficiently. The PRS is a recognised governing body in the world of performing arts and promotes and protect the value of copyright. They deal with:

  • Copyright licences: giving someone permission to use your song
  • Shared copyrights: when the work is split between two or more parties and they wish to protect their contribution
  • Transfer of copyrights: In most music publishing agreements, there is a requirement that the songwriter assign the copyright of the written song to the publisher. This is known as a "transfer of copyright," or simply "assignment." This, in effect, transfers ownership of the song to the publisher in exchange for the payment to the songwriter of royalties in amounts and time intervals agreed upon in the publishing contract. Typically, song copyrights are held by the music publishers, in this case Sony.

In terms of royalties and how they work, there is a strong distinction between recording-artist royalties and songwriter/publisher royalties. Recording artists earn royalties from the sale of their recordings on CDs, cassette tapes, vinyl and in this case, video games. Recording artists don't earn royalties on public performances (when their music is played on the radio, on TV, or in bars and restaurants). The only current instance in which artists are able to earn royalties for public performances is:
  • a) When the song is played via a digital transmission (such as a Webcast or on satellite radio)
  • b) Is non-interactive (meaning the listener doesn't pick and choose songs to hear)
  • c) When the listener is a subscriber to the service.

These rules were introduced via the Digital Performance Rights in Sound Recordings Act of 1995. This act was passed to give performers of music their first performance royalties.

Ancillary rights, in relation to music publishing is a contractual agreement in which a percentage of the profits are received and derived from the sale of CDs, downloads or vinyls relating to a film, motion picture, TV programme or video game. In the case of Gustavo Santaolalla and Barry Adamson, they may both have had a contract in place assigning them a share of each unit sold or an agreed flat fee upfront.

Task 1b)

Choose at least one of the sounds clips above and describe the methods and principles which may have been used and why. You must consider, Sound Design Methodology, Sound File Formats, Audio Limitations. You can re-visit all of your exercises for P2. You can complete this in the form of a video/audio recording or any other form of presentation such as word report/ppt presentation.


‘The Last Of Us’
As we have already established Gustavo Santaolalla took on the project of recording the music for 'The Last Of Us' because the story and characters appealed to him. He saw early on in the design process that music would be integral to the game narrative rather than a peripheral part of the experience. Using music to describe the feelings of two characters and a fallen society is a tall order, and it would have been difficult to find a starting point. A common technique amongst musicians is to use a minor key on the track - a minor key track speaks of sadness, regret or loss. Another common trick is changing from minor to major halfway through - this lifts the music above the sorrow and gives the song a feeling of hope. This is an original concept meaning that the music would have been written and recorded from scratch to reflect the thoughts and feelings of Joel and Ellie, the main characters. It is doubtful that any stock library instruments or effects were used - a composer of Gustavo Santaolalla’s calibre would have recorded everything from scratch.

In the case of Gustavo's thought process, the emotions of loss, hope and a devestated natural wilderness jumped out at him. Using a 10 stringed folk instrument called a Ronroco, Gustavo recorded a fragile sounding finger picked theme. To create eerie echoes and a sweeping vista feel to the recording, Gustavo made the recording in his kitchen and bathroom using a digital multitrack recorder or PC. This added natural reverb and ambience to the recording creating a haunting echo effect. From here the file was most likely taken into a computer recording environment. Other tracks would have been built around the guide track using a multi track sequencing software (such as Audition, Soundbooth or Garageband) to add a second guitar, synths and a timpani drum.

This file would likely have been saved in an lossless format such as an AIFF or WAV, SMP file to record as much audio information as possible. A high sample rate and bit depth would capture all the nuances of Gustavo’s picking and the natural warm sound of every note of his guitar.

Recording technique
This status and acclaim of composers like Santaolalla probably also gives us clues about how the music was recorded. It is certainly not likely to have been recorded using low end equipment or in a lossy sound format - compression would have come later, either during exporting of the finished mixed file or by Sony during the mastering process.

As the overriding guitar piece was recorded in a bathroom and kitchen, it is likely that this would have been a live instrument recording to capture the ambience of the room. This would probably have entailed setting up a mic near the guitar to pick up the natural sound. The mic may have been connected to a recorder to produce a music file. The file format would have been uncompressed and lossless as Gustavo would have wanted to capture as much audio information as possible, for clarity and atmosphere.

The clarity of the sound implies use of a quality multi track digital recorder or PC / MAC application. Using recording software, the recorded guitar track could be imported and placed on a layer as a guide track. Around this, other layers are created and placed on a timeline - instruments such as secondary guitars, drums and synths can ‘play along’ with the original guide guitar track. The whole project would eventually be flattened and exported as an optimised lossy compressed file to speed up loading times in game. As the file would have to be played in game, the file cannot take up a vast amount of space on the drive. Consider that there will several thousand files like this one to provide the sound for one game. Load times would be a priority as there is so much going on during the gameplay. Sound and graphics are loaded dynamically as the player progresses through the level. Graphics and sound all have to be loaded at once, meaning each file has to be small and quick to load.

Audio recording systems
There are two likely ways in which Gustavo would possibly have recorded the music. The first would be to record the guitar sound as an analogue signal then use Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) to convert it to a digital one. This is achieved by PCM taking a sample of the analogue sound every second. The number of samples per second, ranging from 8,000 to 192,000, is usually several times the maximum frequency of the analog waveform in Hertz (Hz), or cycles per second, which ranges from 8 to 192 KHz. This method would not be suitable for recording audio for films, games or TV however as the sound can be quite broken and choppy (due to the samples being taken once a second rather than every millisecond).

Other ways of recording could include:
Multi track systems
As well as the guitar, all other effects could potentially have been recorded live on to separate tracks in an 8, 16
or 24 track system. Each of these tracks plays host to a separate instrument or effect. Some tracks can even be reserved for foley or ambient effects.

MIDI systems
This acronym stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. These are a technical standard that describes a user ability to plug live instruments into a recording facility. A guitar plugged directly into a Mac can be achieved through use of a MIDI cable to convert the analogue signal to digital sound. With this in mind and in this case, the guitar would probably have been recorded directly by plugging the guitar into a MIDI compatible recording system.These can include a PC or Macbook and utilise software such as Garageband or Adode Audition or Soundbooth.

Mastering and Mixing
After sending the recording to Sony and the game directors, the track was mastered in a Los Angeles recording studio. I can imagine the mastering of the track going through several phases for it reach an optimum quality:

Mixing of the track
The mixing process would determine the timbre, pitch and volume of each individual component making up the song. Using computer software such as Adobe Audition, musical parts can have their pitch and timbre altered -, made higher, deeper, louder or muted completely. This careful balancing of the instruments creates a smoothly blended piece of work that draws the listener’s attention to the required areas to understand the story narrative.

DSP - Digital Signal Processor
Digital SIgnal Processing is a mathematical manipulation of the recording to improve or modify it in some way. The processor looks for discrete ways of altering time, audio and frequency to produce a better overall sound. The more DSP a device uses, the larger the file size but also can drastically alter the outputted sound. Both of these factors needed to be taken into consideration when looking at storage space or the achievement of a particular effect.

The final file format mastered by Sony would most likely be a compressed lossy AAC file as it offers the best possible sound quality for output at a small file size. AAC files can record a huge dynamic range, from small whispering noises to booming sounds and everything in between. As an illustration ‘home’ audio interfaces offer up to 192kHz - kHz being the number representing the range of audio available.

I find it highly likely that DSP was used on ‘The Last Of Us’ theme. The complete soundtrack was released on CD, which has a limit of 700MB. As there are 30 tracks of the game’s music on there, I would imagine that some DSP would have been used to produce a better sound, and compressed from the original file to fit within the 700MB limit.

Audio Sampling
The file that we hear in game would have been optimised to give the greatest quality at the smallest size. Several factors would have been taken into account:

Resolution refers to the crispness of the recording - whether it is muddy or clean sounding. Again, an emphasis on clean, crisp audio recording will create a much larger file. We can hear from the recording that a high level of resolution has been maintained, as we can pick out every effect and instrument.

Bit depth
Bit depth refers to the clarity of the audio and how much sound and ambient noise is picked up on the recording. For example a high rate of bit depth could pick up breathing, any small noises involuntarily made by the person and background talking as well as environmental sounds. The downside of this is that a much greater overall file size is created.
I would imagine that the original recording made by Gustavo Santaolalla would have had a high bit depth - this is evidenced by the fact that we can distinguish the echoey environment he is playing in, along with incidental sounds such as natural fret noise and fingers against strings. We can also hear the ‘snap’ of plucked notes indicating that this is definitely the case.

PS3-slim-console (1).png

Output through a PS3
The stereo sound capabilities of the PS3 can play back recordings which would have contained a great deal of audio information. The quality of the system means that the nuances of the sound in these files can be enjoyed even in a compressed state. The PS3 has a large RAM hard drive space that can contain a couple of hundred gigabytes of memory. This would mean that the final recorded file in-game could be a lossy format to conserve space, as RAM memory constraints could potentially be an issue. The PS3 also has a high range of pitch and hertz meaning that loud and soft noises that are high and deep can be created. In addition the bit depth and resolution ensures that the sound is crisp and sharp, enabling individual sounds and instruments to be picked out by the ear.

The PS3 sound system operates via the use of Dolby surround sound. AAC / AC3 files are the compressed file formats that works in conjunction with this. As stated above, these would produced when the file was mixed and exported or mastered by Sony.

The PS3 is a stereo output surround sound device. If the recording is intended to have large bit depth and resolution featuring quality and realistic audio, a mono output will not do it justice. A mono output will sound flat and monotone with any kind of presence or effect disappearing completely. Conversely stereo and surround produce more impressive audio but upscale the file size. It is highly likely that the track was recorded in stereo by Gustavo Santaolalla with the knowledge  that it would eventually be output via a PS3, which is a Dolby Stereo device. Stereo recorded files take up a larger amount of space, but produce superior sound quality.

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