What is speed? This was the very first question that I had to answer when I approached Redout as a composer. Redout is an anti-gravity racing game where players compete in the Solar Redout Racing League by piloting futuristic ships at more than 2000 Km/h. It’s a tribute to the zero-G racing classics but it struck the player base for its original driving system that requires a high degree of technical mastery and its particular look. When I started to think about the music for this game I had to overcome several problems before finding the right direction, first of all keeping true to its motto “race faster than ever”.
To synthesize this in music I adopted a hybrid style that mixed modern EDM genres.
The alpha version of Redout looked very different from what we see now, the direction was much more arcade and at the time the developers emphasized their desire to have this element present in the music. This is why my first approach to the soundtrack was with this rule in mind. A couple of months after I started working on it, the game aesthetics changed drastically, shifting from a light-hearted colorful arcade atmosphere to a much more serious futuristic-looking game. This reflected both in the environment and in the final design of the ships.
The change of tone made me rethink from scratch the music and come up with a new direction that would reflect the look of the game. One of the standout characteristics of the visuals was the modern low-polygon style to depict the eerie post-apocalyptic landscapes of an abandoned Earth, reclaimed by wild forests, frozen lands and arid deserts. To synthesize this in music I adopted a hybrid style that mixed modern EDM genres with more old school arcade patterns, and guitar solos. The music combines together several genres that go from Trance to Dubstep, from DnB to Hard Rock, sometimes in the span of the same track. Every environment has its own set of tracks, that reflect the visuals with the aid of specific elements, for example the use of the oud (a Middle Eastern stringed instrument) for New Cairo or a large orchestra for Neptune.
The presence of an electric guitar was fundamental to make the music breath. For this reason I worked closely with the very talented guitarist Daniel Giagnorio, and while at the beginning we tried approaching the soundtrack with a very classical mindset (solos written down on sheet music), we immediately noticed that this wasn’t working for us and switched to a much more free approach. We would talk and come up with the vibe together with a few small hints on how the guitar should sound and then give the guitar total freedom while recording. The results were impressive and it’s no coincidence that some of the most iconic tracks are the ones with a very present guitar (On My Own, Subsurface).
Before starting to work on the music I was only sure of one thing: it had to be adaptive. I wanted the music to react to the players’ choices and follow the pace of their gameplay. For this reason I designed a dynamic system splitting the music in layers (up to five for the most complex tracks) and combining vertical re-mixing and horizontal re-sequencing driven by parameters like speed, jumps, over or under water, position in the environment.
Using Trance elements alternated with other contrasting genres I could make the player slip into a deep relaxation.
This led to a soundtrack that adapts in real-time to your style of playing and becomes more intense the faster you go, adding layers, switching to guitar riffs when you reach certain parts of the track, dropping the bass when you land after a jump, and playing a complementary “low movement” music track when you slow down. One of the very first problems noticed during the development of Redout was that without an appropriate reference system when you start to go too fast it feels like you’re actually slowing down: we experience a time compression and we lose all the tension of racing at high speeds.
In music there is a similar issue with the concept of adrenaline. A very basic approach to increase the adrenaline is the usage of high BPMs, but in the long run this backfires since a prolonged exposure to high BPMs reduces the perceived sense of speed. What our brain is very good at sensing instead is the change of speed, so to give an adrenaline boost I needed to disrupt perception.
At the same time the developers asked me if I could include more Psy-trance elements in the soundtrack and that’s when things clicked. The pulse patterns of Psy-trance are often associated with meditative states and this was exactly what I needed for the players to experience. Using Trance elements alternated with other contrasting genres I could make the player slip into a deep relaxation, where time slows down, making him synchronize with the flow of the game, and break this state when needed with a new rhythm or guitar riff that would result much faster and more powerful than normal.
I liked the idea of a trance state where you experience a concentration increase.
I later noticed that this approach not only generated an adrenaline rush, but made the gamers more focused during long sessions of play, heightening their senses with a hypersensitivity for micro changes in the gameplay flow. I liked the idea of a trance state where you experience a concentration increase and a time dilation, so I decided to make the menu music reflect this. It features a slow rhythm on top of synth patterns and orchestral wide chords, but when you speed it up more and more you will notice that it’s actually a Drum and Bass track.
The soundtrack of Redout was a technical, philosophical and aesthetic research. In the end the answer to my question was simple. True speed means annihilating time and breaking free from its domain.