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65daysofstatic – No Man’s Sky: Music For An Infinite Universe Soundtrack Exclusive Album Stream

The instrumental electronic rock quartet stream one of their most ambitious projects to date exclusively with The Independent

Remfry Dedman
Friday 05 August 2016 11:02 BST
65daysofstatic from left to right, Rob Jones, Joe Shrewsbury, Simon Wright and Paul Wolinski
65daysofstatic from left to right, Rob Jones, Joe Shrewsbury, Simon Wright and Paul Wolinski (Danny Payne)

65daysofstatic have always been a band unafraid to take on wildly ambitious projects, but the soundtrack for No Man’s Sky, an expansive, space exploration game that puts players in a universe of 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 procedurally generated planets, is surely their most grandstanding yet. It’s been estimated that it would take a single player 500billion years to visit each planet in the game, which kinda puts those 200hours you’ve been levelling up your warlock in Skyrim into perspective.

Creating a soundtrack for a universe that is not only so vast but essentially created on the fly by a series of algorithms is a daunting prospect for any band. Given their cinematic scope and penchant for science fiction (their first foray into soundtracks being a reworking of the score to Douglas Trumbull’s 1972 environmentally-conscious sci-fi film Silent Running), 65DOS were the perfect band to capture the feeling of exploring almost limitless space. Through the writing process, the band created two forms of music; the more traditional ‘song-based’ structured record (effectively the new 65DOS album) and a series of soundscapes made up from components of those songs that are procedurally played out in-game. A natural progression from 2013’s critically lauded Wild Light, No Man’s Sky: Music For An Infinite Universe is a bold step into a new frontier for a band that is constantly evolving.

Joe Shrewsbury, one of 65daysofstatic’s founding members, took time out to answer some questions about No Man’s Sky and their involvement in the project

How did 65DOS get involved in the No Man’s Sky project?

Way back in 2013 we received a request to license the track ‘Debutante’ from our album We Were Exploding Anyway for a promotional trailer for No Man’s Sky. We were intrigued by the game, and asked to learn more, and the more we learnt the more we wanted to be involved. We made it abundantly clear that if they didn’t have someone lined up to do the soundtrack, we’d be interested. Fortunately for us, they were fans of our music already, and we met up with Sean not long after that, and were subsequently offered the project.

What was the brief given to you by the game’s developers, Hello Games?

It was quite simply ‘write the next 65daysofstatic album’. Our involvement in the procedural audio, the actual in-game music came later. The plan was always to use elements of the album for that purpose, but we established a really good relationship with No Man’s Sky audio director, Paul Weir, and by the time we’d finished the bulk of the recording, it was clear that the procedural stuff would be more collaborative than we’d initially imagined. So as well as deconstructing the album, we were able to generate more audio to feed into the game. That extra sound design used the palette of sounds we’d developed for the record as a jump off, but expanded upon it.

Writing the album, we both adhered to and ignored the brief. That is, we wrote a bunch of music with an album format in mind, but we also wrote a great deal more music than that, assuming it would probably be useful in some way. It was. I think we saw the responsibility we were given for the No Man’s Sky music (i.e. there weren’t a bunch of studio execs saying useful stuff like ‘can it have more of an Aphex Twin vibe? Like Aphex Twin but with a K-pop edge’) meant we felt trusted and we saw the project as an opportunity to augment No Man’s Sky’s already strong aesthetic with something that would make it darker, bigger, sadder, more emotive than it already was. We didn’t want to play it safe, basically.

A film score is a determined by the edit of a film that is made, whereas a video game score has to shift and be fluid depending on the actions of the player. What challenges did that create for you as musicians when creating the score for No Man’s Sky?

In terms of writing the album, we concentrated on the tracks that we felt were more likely to make it as full band compositions. Alongside that we had a great deal of more minimal or abstract music that we felt was suitable for the game. In real terms, we didn’t really make the distinction between album and non-album music. It was all part of the same project. We didn’t limit any aspect of the music when writing because we felt it wouldn’t fit the rhythm of the game, we just trusted our instincts and come to deal with that hurdle later. Instead we cultivated an attitude to the body of work we were creating that meant once the album was recorded and mixed, we were pretty open to deconstructing it and using it’s component parts, rhythms, loops, melodies, refrains, anything really, as the jump off for expanding the game audio.

No Man’s Sky is a vastly expansive game that will contain 18quintillion procedurally generated planets; how do you even begin the process of scoring such a vast expansive universe?

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It’s a vastly expansive game with very real deadlines. We put our heads down and ran with it. Perhaps that’s the only way for a band like us (weird, irritating, obscure) to soundtrack a project like this (huge, hyped, omnipresent). We felt a huge responsibility to do the best work we could. To some extent, soundtracking the size of the game would be the problem of the game’s procedural audio engine and in that sense, being in a position where at least some of us regularly wrote and used audio software and were able to write code and so on, meant we were actually fairly well placed to rise to the specific challenges of the game’s music. Nevertheless, our primary goal was to create beautiful, varied, compelling music that brought something unique to the game.

What new processes and techniques have you had to learn through writing the music for the game and how has that made you re-evaluate the relationship you have with 65DOS’s music?

Our process has always been pretty strange, and we tend not to rely on tried and tested formulae too much, as it’s important to us that what we create progresses. As the second disc of material suggests, writing the soundtrack allowed us a greater degree of freedom than we might usually allow ourselves. Because we were working quite fast, and because we needed a lot of material, I suppose we felt able to rely on stranger processes than we might usually. A lot of this involved a proper dedication to loop based, repetitive music, without merely mining the fruits of that to more linear ends. We also employed a range of techniques that we’ve built up over the years, building our own modular synths, using a hacked e-bow system for playing multiple prepared guitars via midi, and a live-coding engine as an alternative way into beat making being amongst the most notable. We’ve become big fans in recent years of ‘warming’ or affecting electronics by feeding them through various pedal chains and re-recording them out of valve amplifiers and so on. We took this to greater extremes on this record, by re-amping live drums or blending groups of synths and guitars to come out of a single amp to attain a more singular sound. We also abused the holy church of reverb to an inexcusable degree.

Can you explain the different roles of the songs that make up the first disc and the soundscapes that make up the second within the context of the game?

Ultimately they’re all part of the same project. We knew we wanted to make an album from the material we’d written for the game, and once we’d put that together, we still had a lot of material left over that we felt was equally as good. Because No Man’s Sky is so big, and because a soundtrack project has obvious differences from an album project, we’d just written a great deal more music, and we hadn’t felt the need to arrange all of that music in the way we might usually for an album project. A lot of it was more open ended, more ambient, more repetitive, or without obvious ‘verse’ or ‘chorus’ moments (for want of better terminology). But it was all indicative of the project and we wanted to make it all available. I hope people take the time to listen to all of it.

Have any video game soundtracks stood out to you in the past?

Health’s soundtrack to Max Payne 3 is cool. We went to see Health once and introduced ourselves after the show. They’d never heard of us. There’s some love for the Machinarium soundtrack by Tomas Dvorak in the 65 camp. Eno’s work on Spore was something we looked at in terms of procedural stuff.

You’re about to do a fairly extensive tour of Europe – in light of recent events with the UK voting to leave the European Union, what obstacles does that throw up for a band like 65DOS touring on the continent?

The immediate obstacles aren’t clear. It seems that the triggering of Article 50 and so on is being reserved for the next time the Conservatives want to hijack what should have been a fact-based and lucid discussion of our country's future with a leadership contest. And by that, I mean that whichever way you happened to vote, we were all deeply misled and let down by the standard of debate presented to us by politicians and the media. It’s difficult to find anybody satisfied with the result of the vote, either on the Leave or Remain side, anyone with a halfway coherent understanding of what the vote actually meant anyway.

There is no doubt the mechanisms of the EU demanded reform, but to be suddenly removed from participation in the EU and all it represents (because the EU is more than just an economic organisation isn’t it?) seems disastrous. I doubt very much any government will make up for what we stand to lose in arts and cultural funding and that alone will make Britain greyer than it already is. The implications for infrastructure, finance, jobs, young people, and yes, bands, are overwhelming.

Assuming we do leave the EU, touring related stuff will no doubt become more difficult, most obviously with customs checks and border control. This would be compounded if the EU ultimately finds itself too weak to hold together and Europe returns to multiple currencies and so on. By that point though, I think the concerns associated with how bands get around the continent will have been replaced by a more profound set of political and economic issues.

The No Man’s Sky Soundtrack is released on 5th August and is available to pre-order on Double CD, Double Vinyl, Deluxe Quadruple Vinyl and Digital Download. The game is released 12th August for Playstation 4 and PC

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