songs-heard-ilomilotn.jpgDesigners of Southend Interactive's puzzle game ilomilo shared a tribute album through Bandcamp in late October, composed of songs inspired by the game soundtrack.

Artists featured on the Bandcamp release include such indie game makers as Cobalt composer Mattias Häggström Gerdt, SoulEye of VVVVVV and Bumpy Road's Simon Flesser. I also helped out by pitching in some suggestions for the free album's liner notes.

"Songs we heard in ilomilo" joins composer Daniel Olsén's 33-track digital soundtrack album, available for purchase through CD Baby. We caught up with the musician for an informal interview during the making of the compilation for a look back at the music of ilomilo.

When we spoke previously, you mentioned that the instrumental performances heard in the game were meant to have an unrefined quality, as if they were being played by children. Was this something you sought to achieve by leaving in mistakes that cropped up during recording sessions?

Daniel Olsén: How it came about was I was eager to hear what my music would sound like with live instruments. When I came home after buying the first instruments I immediately played one of the melodies on a recorder without practicing and just threw it in there. That sounded really weird, but because I was so eager I went ahead and recorded another instrument. When I heard this combination of poorly played instruments it sounded really special. I felt like I was on to something.

Most of the instruments I picked up and played for the first time while writing these songs. Naturally I made a lot of mistakes when I tried to play them. The electronic parts of the music score I arranged so that nothing was quantized. I wanted instead of a perfect, computerized sound something that had more of a live quality.

Right now you're working on R&D for Sony, but do you have any interest in writing music for game soundtracks in the future?

That's what I'd really like to do for a living. I miss doing music for videogames.

Simon Flesser, who has started his own independent studio Simogo, wrote a rap song performed by the character of Sebastian. In contributing sound design for the game, what were you using to create the voices heard in ilomilo?

I did most of the voices in ilomilo myself. Some of them are by Simon and my friend Tobias Carlsson. I would record a couple of minutes of gibberish, pitch it up and see if anything turned out well. Some of the cubes and creatures I tried to give a bit more of a personality by watching the animations and trying different voices and sounds.

Some of the animations were very expressive, like the cage monster with a safka inside who appears really scared when he runs away from you. Others were not as much, like the Muncher. I thought he looked so happy jumping around, so I made him sing.

There's a toylike quality to the sound effects that works really well with the plush textures of Simon's character designs. What instruments were you using to create those effects?

For all the sounds I used Sound Forge to record and edit. It was a lot of trial and error with sound effects before I found the right ones. I remember I had a hard time finding a sound for when the ilomilos walk around the carpet ledges. What I finally settled on was a Disney-style pitched up cello.

I looked a lot at the old Disney cartoons and how they used musical instruments for their sound effects. Whenever I had a friend over to record an instrument I would ask them to try and make weird and funny sounds with whatever they were playing. I did the same with the different instruments I had, and then I would cut and paste the takes together to finalize the sound effects.

Actually one of the songs came directly out of my friend Marcus making weird noises with his tuba. He kind of randomly sang and beatboxed and I thought it sounded hilarious. Later, when I was trying to write a theme for Sebastian. I found those takes and edited them into the song "Sebastian De Mambo."

Were you interested in hearing the approach to the Bumpy Road music, having collaborated with the game's designer on this soundtrack and tribute album?

I've played the game a lot. The music is fantastic. I like that all the tracks are different variations on the same song and yet sound so different. When you pick up all the gadgets in the game, they play the lead melody. I like details like that. It's also fun that he recorded his instruments with an iPhone.

Both of you are visual artists and musicians. Has that shared audio-visual background proven useful to the collaboration?

Yeah, that's made our communication much more in sync. The whole game started with him creating this art style, with the gameplay all emerging after that. I definitely think his being a musician and my being an artist made it easier for us to communicate our visions for the game to each other.

How did you find writing the ending credits theme, compared with composing the looping in-game music?

We had looked into licensing an old Swedish track for the credits, but it ended up being too expensive. Therefore the credits song was the last song I wrote for the game. I wanted to make it a little more bombastic than the others, and since it was not going to loop I allowed it to reach more of a climax. Something I regret is not incorporating the ilomilo theme in there, which was my plan initially.

There are a couple of themes on the soundtrack album that appear during the Ultra Deluxe portions of the game. How well did you find FamiTracker was able to recreate the atmosphere of an 8-bit game console?

I'm a big fan of old Nintendo games and very much enjoyed doing these 8-bit versions of the ilomilo tracks. I heard somewhere that something that makes NES sound special is a lot of the notes are a bit out of tune. A tone of 440 Hz will be rounded off to 400 Hz, which can make it sound a little off. Famitracker mimics that spot on, so it can be very fun to use. Everything sounds like back in the days. I think "Shuffle Theme" has a bit of a Metroid feel to it because they use a similar bass sound.

A lot of unusual instruments show up over the course of the soundtrack. Where did you find them all?

I went to music and toy stores and bought whatever kids instruments I could find, stuff that wasn't expensive. When friends of mine found out I was doing this, they would go through their closets and bring me whatever they had lying around. Some instruments I don't even know the names of.

ilomilo 'Cozy Sofa (soffpotatis)' by Mattias Häggström Gerdt

Were there occasions where the sound of a particular instrument was inspiring concepts for an in-game theme?

"Ocarina Boy" is the pause menu music. A friend gave me a pendant ocarina, a small four-hole instrument made out of clay, and I played on it a bit to see what I could come up with. It was catchy, so afterwards I added the bass line. For many tracks it took awhile to find where it would be appropriate, but this one seemed from the start like it would work for the pause music.

In closing, would you mention some of the musicians who joined in to play instruments heard in ilomilo?

Simon Flesser plays the ukulele, harmonica and kazoo. Daniel Anttila works at Southend and plays the guitar. He also wrote the music for Tecmo Bowl Throwback. Erik Strandh played the accordion on some of the more difficult songs. When I left Southend I recommended him to take my place. Carl Karjalainen is one of the graphic artists at Southend and plays the violin.

Kristina Kjelldén probably contributed to the greatest number of songs on the cello and various flutes. Marcus Björk is a principal at a private school and plays the tuba and trumpet. Hilda Lidén works at Massive Entertainment and played different flutes and the broken crumhorn at the end of "March of the Ilomilos." They are all very talented but I did not always choose their "best" takes for the tracks. Sorry friends.

[For more information about ilomilo, see the development blog. The game soundtrack can be sampled on CD Baby, while the tribute album can be heard on Bandcamp.]