Darren Korb: On the Acoustic Frontier - HighrezGaming

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Darren Korb
Darren Korb: On the Acoustic Frontier / 3rd of July 2015

Was there anywhere in the world left wanting by Supergiant Games’ incredible debut release, Bastion? Find me such an example and I’ll show you a man without eyes, ears or thumbs, probably (I’m just guessing here). But alas, I digress, and you’ve probably got the point by now, Bastion was good, hell, it was damn good, and a major part of its artistic, and subsequent commercial success was surely attributable to its thoroughly unique and utterly brilliant soundtrack. Eschewing the standard practices of composition, and blending together traditional acoustic instruments with punchy, electronic beats, the music of Bastion was as bold and adventurous as the game itself, seeing it ear the term “frontier trip-hop” in the process. That score was penned by none other than Darren Korb, who recently took some time out of his rather busy schedule to chat to us about his work on the game.

HRG: Bastion was something of a surprise breakout hit, and your excellent soundtrack was a key part of that, was this success something that you expected?
DK: Not at all! I mean, I was personally really proud of the game and I thought the music was cool, but I'd also felt that way about other projects I had worked on in the past that went largely unnoticed, so I really had no idea people would respond so positively to it.
HRG: As far as scores go, Bastion stands quite unique, was this a goal that you intended to aim for from the outset of the project?
DK: I wanted to try something I hadn't really heard before in a game. My approach to Bastion's music was a combination of this desire to do something new with a more practical sense of "what can I achieve by myself on a budget in a convincing way?"

HRG: The acoustic elements found within the music evoke images of the old west, now, given that Bastion is set in a time when the old order no longer stands, and the player is thrust into the shoes of a protagonist who stands upon the precipice of a new frontier, was this a deliberate aesthetic choice on your part?
DK: An early idea we had for Bastion was to make a sort of "frontier fantasy." We thought to ourselves, "if Cormac McCarthy made a fantasy video game, what would it be like?" So I knew that I wanted to incorporate elements of that into the music.
HRG: How did you become involved with the project, as well as its developer, Supergiant, in general?
DK: When one of my oldest friends, Amir Rao, was co-founding Supergiant, he asked me to do all the music and sound. That was it!

HRG: What, or who, were your biggest influences when writing the music for Bastion?
DK: A ton of stuff...Jeff Buckley, Led Zeppelin, Nada Surf, Radiohead, old Southern spirituals...so much more!
HRG: Did the main musical themes, and direction as a whole, stem from those primary influences, or more from simply messing around with various ideas until you found where you wanted to go with it?
DK: I think I stayed fairly true to the "acoustic frontier trip-hop" idea that I set out to make, for the most part. A lot of it was achieved with experimentation, but all sort of aiming at that point, creatively.

HRG: In terms of themes, Bastion is rather unusual as soundtracks go in that it doesn’t really reference recurring themes and motifs as such, but rather it seems to be the overriding mood and arrangements that provide the necessary conceptual continuity, is this the case?
DK: Yes! That was intentional. My experience was in writing songs and producing, so I didn't/don't really have the traditional composer's skill set. I knew that creating a collection of pieces in a genre of music was something that I could execute on, so that's what I set out to do.
HRG: What aspects of the score are you most proud of?
DK: I'm pleased with the way the vocal pieces turned out, and that the response to them was so positive. At the time it felt like a risk, so it's certainly nice to see that people enjoyed that aspect of it.

HRG: Is there anything that you would have done differently?
DK: In general I tend not to dwell on past creative choices... I learned a lot from working on Bastion and I'm happy with how it turned out, ultimately. 
HRG: And lastly, have you got any advice for young, up and coming composers?
DK: Something that's been useful for me is the skill I've developed as an engineer/producer. I think it's extremely valuable to be able to take a musical idea all the way from your head to a finished, good-sounding recording. Having a command of the entire process allows me to do it quickly and without having to hire other people to help me execute my ideas. It's certainly valuable on smaller-scale projects (like Bastion, for example) that don't have big music budgets!

We’d like to take this opportunity to extend our heartfelt gratitude to the one and only, Darren Korb for taking the time to speak with us.
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