Recording the Piano Parts for The Detail – Episode 1

Ready to start setting up and recording

Ready to start setting up and recording

We at Rival Games are in the process of creating an interactive storytelling product that’s heavy on the dialogue but without actual voice acting (heavily stylized audio design decision back up by obvious mobile platform restrictions). It might have something to do with my focus as the lead audio designer/composer/music producer, but I consider music to be our dialogue track. That is why it needs to be overflowing with resolution, natural feel, depth and – above all – it needs to enhance immersion in the gaming experience. That is why the piano-laden soundtrack needs to make its presence felt. That is why we accept no substitute for the real thing. That is also why my piano skills, ranging from “frustrating” to “get by with”, now also receive a little help from my friends.

There really weren’t that many options for a good sounding room/hall with a sufficiently grand grand piano available for rent in our region. Turned out I needed to get back to my roots and return to Turku Conservatory. In order to  capture the exceedingly lush Steinway and Crichton Hall’s beautiful natural reverb matching that of a much larger space, but to also gracefully handle the slightly troublesome early reflections, I decided to tread safely and go with close miked small diaphragm condensers and an XY small diaphragm condenser matched pair to include a bit more room. As a sort of a practical perfectionist, I also placed a backup- stereo pair in the form of Rival Games’ handy lil’ ol’ portable Sony recorder in a sweet spot in the hall.

Ilmari, a duo of Steinways and some mics in the Crichton Hall of Turku Conservatory

Ilmari, a duo of Steinways and some mics in the Crichton Hall of Turku Conservatory

Piano is nothing (insert dramatic delay here) without a capable player…or a professional-level tuner, but that being already sorted out, Ilmari Aitoaho – my go-to-guy when it comes to all-around piano stuff – was ready to hit the keys in a musical way, ie. in accordance to the pre-meditated, specific pitch, order, relation to time and dynamic instructions provided printed on paper by yours truly.

A beautiful instrument!

A beautiful instrument!

He did swimmingly, providing some additional vision into the very essence of the instrument and also some dramatic sound effects. We even finished all songs – including variations and modular bits – early enough for an additional cup of coffee before calling it a day. We both took it straight up, needless to say. Black as the black keys on an accordion.

Done and done!

Done and done!

It’s called the mixing stage for a reason, people, not the “tricksy”- stage. When endowed with punchy yet balanced, clean and well phase-aligned tracks with a nice natural space, there is little need for gimmickry – just a natural polish and a bit of looping here and there. This is as it should be.

We have in fact included a wide variety of other acoustic instruments in the game for added colour in the soundscapes. Besides the piano- which is often linked to player choices and actions in the comic frames or the story itself – The Detail’s explorable screens often feature electric guitar- parts (created, performed and recorded by Ville Ojala), that associate with explorability. There’s also music and sound effects featuring acoustic guitar, electric bass, lapsteel, mandolin, drums, percussion and cello, among other things, that I’ve thrown in for good measure. Some associate with certain characters, places, events or in-game mechanics – some tell the story. Because that is what we’re here to do.