Tomáš Dvořák Interview: Beauty Beneath the Rust and Dirt (February 2010)
Interview Subject: Tomáš Dvořák
Interviewer: Michael Naumenko
Editor: Michael Naumenko, Simon Elchlepp
Coordination: Michael Naumenko
Michael: When and why did you decide to write music and can you maybe remember some of your childhood memories relating to music for us? What groups / composers have influenced you the most?
Tomáš Dvořák: Well, I think I was little bit crazy about music from my childhood onwards actually. We had some old tape player and I spent hours just listening to music and dancing around with a table tennis racket, pretending it was a guitar! I did "concerts" with my brother like this, but he got bored pretty soon. I didn't ;-) Later I wanted to learn some actual instruments and because I had some allergy, my parents thought it could be a good idea to choose an instrument that involved breathing. I wanted to learn saxophone, but because I couldn't remember the instrument's well, I got it mixed up with the clarinet, so I started to learn clarinet, which since then has been a very important instrument for me. It might have made my music less jazzy and more soundtrack-like...
In regards to musical influences, I would say my main influence comes from the electronic or electro-acoustic scene. Lusine, Beaumont Hannant, Arve Henriksen, Apparat, Vladislav Delay, AGF, Fennesz, Clark, Jon Hopkins, Burial, Black Dog, Riyuichi Sakamoto... but I am actually listening to many other kinds of music. More than anything else, I have always been looking for interesting individual personalities, no matter what kind of music or even art it is. Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett, Kayo Dot, Sonic Youth, Grizzly Bear, OTK, Deerhoof, Thom York, Mark Hollis, Béla Bartók, Philip Glass, Steve Reich... I would like to also mention Hans Zimmer. His soundtrack for The Thin Red Line really opened my eyes to the field of film music.
Michael: On Machinarium, what ideas and thoughts did you receive from Jakub Dvorsky [director and designer of Machinarium] during pre-production? In how far did his vision of the soundtrack match the final result you delivered? Did you ever have to remake a track because Jakub asked you to?
Tomáš Dvořák: I was looking for the right "face" of the music, especially at the beginning. There was some trial and error involved, mainly because I wanted something more musical, something that people would really enjoy not just in the context of the game, but also simply as tunes. Soundtrack music of course has to be more abstract to leave space for the imagery to fill and also to avoid becoming annoying if it is looped, so it was about trying to find a balance between abstract and more melodic music.
Jakub and I agreed that the sound should be based on a rustier and kind of dirtier aesthetic. One example are the synths, which obviously underline the robot world of Machinarium, but don't sound too polished and often rather vintage and noisy. I even got some old synths from my friends, like a Roland SH01 or the legendary Korg MS10. Jakub was always giving me good ideas, which was particularly important at the beginning of the soundtrack's development. As far as I remember, he was very much into radio noises for example :-D The first songs for the soundtrack were the hardest ones of course, because they were kind of defining the whole sound of Machinarium... Sometimes it's not that easy to find the right atmosphere which fits a given scene. I remember I had a big fight with the second level, which may look super-easy, but I created more than five different songs for it before I found the right one... Jakub refused only one level and it was the one before the "game place". I wanted to use a song called "Gameboy Tune", but he found it too different, happy, dancy.
Michael: How much time did you spent on Machinarium and what difficulties did you face during your work? Are there any tracks that didn't make it into the game?
Tomáš Dvořák: I worked on Machinarium from January 2009 until the release date. I've definitely never worked on such a big collaborative project before. Difficulties? Apart from what I have already mentioned, the issue was sometimes finding the right atmosphere for each scene. There are several tracks that weren't used in the game. However, many of these songs ended up on the radio at least! I refer to the puzzle where you look for a station with a musical code - there you can find several unused songs, including the abovementioned "Gameboy Tune".
Michael: Tell us about your composition process - how do you create music from scratch?
Tomáš Dvořák: That's really not an easy question to give a short answer to. But generally speaking, I think an important aspect of the process is imagination - to be able to deeply imagine what you want to do and what the result should look like, how it should feel. What I'm talking about here is not so much the tune itself - it is more about how the music should look and feel. This is something that I am trying to determine before I even touch any instrument or start with the notation. For me, it's a good way to start, because then I know where I am trying to go. Apart from that, music itself has a kind of strange flow, maybe like some unknown language with different qualities that have something to do with emotions and energy in you. From my experience, once you are trying to catch it with rational thought, things go wrong.
Michael: What hard- and software do you use and what instruments can you play? Did you search for new Virtual Studio Technology or live instruments while developing the musical style of Machinarium?
Tomáš Dvořák: Currently, I am on Apple Logic. Often, my music is also about experiments with sound, so another important software I'd like to mention is Max/Msp. It is an object oriented language where you can write your own sound algorithms, amongst other things. I learned Max/Msp while I was studying at the Prague Academy of Visual Arts. I used it for my interative installations and performances, but later I found out that I'm even able to write my own audio patches with it. I wrote a few Pluggo plugins, which I actually used in most of my songs, despite fighting with some bugs resulting from my lacking programming skills. Anyway, I am quite unhappy that Cycling74 decided to stop development on Pluggo... Apart from that, there are several important acoustical instruments in my studio, including piano, clarinet, kalimba, metalophones, accordion, melodica etc... I also have a Korg Z1, which is very organic - you can tweak it and find really interesting sounds. At the same time, it is little bit cheesy, so I always look for ways to destroy or dirty the sound... As for plugins, I really like to keep an eye out for what is new in the field. For example, I really like the free plug-ins scene, like Smartelectronix - I think they have been so influential for the whole electronic music.
After Machinarium had been released, people often asked me about the synths and the software that I use. However, for me it's really not about those tools - mostly it's about combinations of them, like chains of plugins, or out of the computer or out of the DAW experiments which then are reedited and reprocessed in DAW. You can take a really simple source like a sinusoid, which by the way is my favourite sound source, and it goes through some plugin like Frohmage, and you get completely new colours.
Michael: What music did you listen to during your work on Machinarium and what were your artistic influences? Did Jakub Dvorsky give you any musical references?
Tomáš Dvořák: I don't think I had any particular influence which directly affect the shape of the soundtrack. Since Machinarium's world is quite different and Jakub gave me complete freedom with my creative approach, he didn't need to send me track references, as we both knew we don't work on advertisements :-D
Michael: Could you tell us why some of the music from the game didn't make it onto the soundtrack CD?
Tomáš Dvořák: When I was putting together a compilation of songs for the soundtrack release, I found that I couldn't put all of the music onto it. It wasn't just because the soundtrack would be too long, but mainly because I felt that some songs disturbed the flow of the music... For me, it was important to put together a selection of songs that would allow you to really enjoy listening to the soundtrack from beginning to end, and to make sure that the soundtrack is well balanced... Some songs just didn't fit, they created a different mood or destroyed the "flow" of the listening experience, and if they were similar to other tracks, then it was better for me to omit them.
The important thing to mention is that we have already released a free bonus soundtrack EP, which includes most of the important songs which have not been included on the official OST.
Michael: Why was the theme from the first Machinarium trailer (which was also used on the BBC's Questionaut) not included in the game?
Tomáš Dvořák: It was just because at that time, we didn't have any song from Machinarium's soundtrack really :D
Michael: What are your favourite compositions from Machinarium?
Tomáš Dvořák: I really like the moodier, maybe more melancholic pieces like "Glasshouse With The Butterfly", "Elevator", "Castle" or "Clockwise Operetta".
Michael: In general, do you play video games? Could you tell us about any games whose score or sound implementation have influenced you?
Tomáš Dvořák: I'm sorry, but I don't play games very often. It is mainly because of time and also screens. I even don't have television for the same reason, because I am often in the studio and after looking into the computer screen whole day I am not that much interested to look into another to have fun. But due to Machinarium game and Jakub I have been recently happy to see some interesting projects, like the ones from Keita Takahashi - Noby Noby Boy. Or art games like Blueberry Garden, trough its author Eric Swedang who we met on the festival in Bradford.... I also like very much PS3 project Little Big Planet for its creative approach to gaming.
Michael: Would you accept an offer to write music for a game not developed by Machinarium's Amanita Design?
Tomáš Dvořák: If it is an interesting project. sure.
Michael: Your first (and so far only) solo album was released almost 10 years ago. How are things coming along with the new album? Are you still developing the concept or have you already begun to write tracks? Could you tell us about the style of your new album?
Tomáš Dvořák: Yes, it's crazy with my own stuff. There are many reasons why it takes so long, but definitely not because I wouldn't be happy to release it earlier. Anyway, the album is in the making. You can hear a few older songs considered for the album on my website www.floex.cz. The album is my main focus now and hopefully will be next year as well. It was good that some interesting musicians contacted me because to Machinarium. I've just sent one song to an Italian group from Milano, who offered me collaborate. I really like what they do, so I'm curious if it works out. The new album will be electro acoustic. Maybe deeper, more experimental, but also a bit more minimalist. Two instruments are important important for the album - clarinet and piano.
Michael: With which composers, musicians or performers would you like to work together?
Tomáš Dvořák: Hmm... That's a really interesting question. The older I get, the more important a good personal rapport becomes. I've been lucky to meet some really nice people, especially recently. Other than that, I have some musical heroes (mentioned above) and of course it would be super cool to work on something with any of them - or at least to have a nice conversation. Lusine, one of my very favorite musicians, was just playing in Brno few days ago. Unfortunately I had a concert on the other side of the country and couldn't see him - it was pretty upsetting. I had been hoping to have a beer with him :D
Michael: What music and album have impressed you recently?
Tomáš Dvořák: I'm quite choosy with music, but once I've found something interesting, I can get mad about it. Recently, I have been listening a lot to Grizzly Bear actually. I saw their Cemetery Gates concert on Pitchfork.tv and it was absolutely magical. Maybe it was because of the interaction between the space and the music, it had a beautiful sound. Through this concert, I discovered their studio album. Arve Henrisken, one of my big musical heroes, was playing in Prague recently. It was a concert with Jan Bang. I just have to highlight this event, because it was definitely one of the most touching concert experiences of my life. For me, Arve is an extraordinary person - such original, deep, spiritual music.
Michael: Thanks for your time and good luck with your creative endeavours!
Tomáš Dvořák: Thank you too!