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Eyeliner & Donovan Hikaru Share 'Marbloid' Game Soundtrack + Interview

Eyeliner & Donovan Hikaru Share 'Marbloid' Game Soundtrack + Interview

Interview questions by Luke Rowell / Monday 15th April, 2019 11:04AM

Wellington vaporwave icon Eyeliner (Luke Rowell aka Disasteradio) has joined forces with Arizona electronic composer Donovan Hikaru for the keenly-anticipated rollout of their joint soundtrack to Marbloid, a supremely stylish and fun video game which hit digital devices (iPhone and iPad) in late 2018. Supyrb, a game studio based in Hamburg, Germany approached the pair about producing an adaptive music score that changes to complement the multiple vaporwave art styles in the game, as well as a few B-sides made during the production. The collaboration was initially foretold by late nite lo-fi pioneer Luxury Elite, who recommended Eyeliner and Donovan Hikaru work together. The resulting collection is a scintillating standalone listening experience as addictive as the game itself.

Luke Rowell reconnected with Donovan Hikaru via the magic of the internet, for a freewheeling Q & A exploring the challenges and rewards involved in creating music for a gaming context. You can grip your own irl copy of the collection to cherish on highly limited cassette here, and catch Rowell performing as Disasteradio with comedian Tim Batt at their Space Couch show at Auckland's Basement Theatre in mid-May. Dive into a stream of the Marbloid soundtrack and read Eyeliner and Donovan Hikaru's words below...

What was different about making a game soundtrack as opposed to album tracks?

Eyeliner: Because of the nature of the music in the game, that it is endless loops that change due to difficulty, art style and a little secret variable that Supyrb called “tension” I really got into this idea of a song as an endless musical object… and that endless attention overhead for the listener / player was something I was very mindful of.

I’m always trying to do my best to “not waste the listener’s time” and this one was a very strong principle running through the writing - so aside from the main melody hook, I tried to make all the other sections very simple in terms of the complexity of the notes, always keeping the attention headroom for the listener / player quite low.

Donovan Hikaru: To me, it was about --for example-- coming up with a melody that has maximum repeatability. Game music feels like writing a number of themes, something memorable, but not so saccharin that you can't take more than a few minutes of it. And then the stuff in between. It also has to feel flowing and not claustrophobic. It can be a tough balance, cuz it also can't just be blaahh. It took a few demos before I found a concept that had the right balance of energy for the particular type of game--that's also a challenge.

When making a (non-game) artist release, I'm in a different headspace, because my personality as an artist is at play as well as the album's concept or story, so it's more of an inner space I guess. When making multimedia collabs or projects like game music, it's kind of like a remix. Less ego, more immersed in the culture around you and the end user.

Do you consider your practice influenced by video game music in any ways?

Eyeliner: As I’m thinking about asking this question I’m reminded of recently getting back into chiptune (for the 4th time around) via Brent Weinbach’s Legacy Music Hour... and maybe that a lot of the Commodore 64 music I was listening to from when I was six years old always had a singular lead / melody line (mostly due to the limited voicing available on those sound chips)... I think now that listening to a lot of this looping, endless melody was such a formative experience on my writing and appreciation of music. Like, I had those melodies drilled into my head, and that drew me away from intrinsic texture and sounds, and more towards notes and harmonies. I think of the music I’ve written as sort of “instrument-agnostic” – that is: there is an essential musical object comprised only of notes that is portable to any kind of instrumentation... and I feel chiptune arrangements have quite the same quality. I’ve realised that during this whole process, we really didn’t discuss video games at all! It was more about styles and musicality.

Donovan Hikaru: Yes! I was inspired by music from a number of video games as a kid, including: Sonic The Hedgehog (esp. Marble and Aqua Zone!), Little Nemo, The Adventures of Link, Mario, 2 Crude Dudes, and many others. It's funny because a lot of those brilliant compositions were essentially city pop and j-fusion (in 8 / 16-bit), and our first introductions to all of that growing up. It's no wonder we all love vaporwave source material!

I notice with the Donovan Hikaru and Eyeliner back catalogue share a similar attraction to a visual context...  both use a lot of titles that are visually evocative. Do you get a kind of visual sense alongside the music you write?

Eyeliner: I have worked on an assumption that my tunes didn’t really come to life until I had the song title but I realised what deeper implication of having a title is such that it provides the mental visual context for the song. I definitely hear a visual thread in your stuff in the Marbloid soundtrack, and I think we have similar evocative reactions to sound sets (ie slap bass, choir sounds)... like even beyond a strict time reference, there’s something else? Perhaps it has something to do with the visual listening sense that makes stuff sound “filmic” (which I think you employ to good effect!)

Donovan Hikaru: I agree, I think we have a very (almost eerily) similar approach and philosophy with music making. Maybe we're long lost brothers? I think we both focus on environments and moods in our sound, like these stylised moods. Personally, specific images sometimes spark inspiration for me, other times it's like a certain colour or feeling or fantasy world, or something abstract. It really depends.

Marbloid was a super fun project and unique challenge to create with Luke and the guys at Supyrb. Definitely a magical process!

Supyrb's 'Marbloid' is out now on iPhone and iPad – you can download the game via the App Store here.


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