Once big in Japan and nowadays a composer of music for interactive media, among other things. Meet former popstar and Pole associate Mats Lundgren.
So, Mats, tell me, what is your role at Pole?
My role at Pole can often be quite varied. A good thing about our company is that we do so many fun things and we all have to pitch in to help out with field recordings, sound design and whatever other tasks that come along. The one thing that I do a little bit more than the other guys though, although all of them are accomplished musicians, is composing music for interactive media. I guess you could say that I’m the music guy at Pole.
You’ve been a musician for a long time. When did your interest in music start?
Playing music is something that I started doing at a very early age, I was only 5 years old when I discovered the piano that stood in my home back then (and still stands in my home now). So, I was already then very interested in music, and I also started to play drums and guitar by the age of 7 or 8. (Admittedly drums are something that I certainly cannot play anymore!) To a great extent I am self-taught, but I’ve also had some teachers that meant a lot to me during my adolescence.
And then you started playing in a band?
In my late teens me and some friends formed a band, Pineforest Crunch, with which we had some success both in Sweden and abroad (especially in Japan). It was actually through this band that I met Max. He was a childhood friend with the band’s drummer and was at the time (1994) doing an internship at the famous Polar Studios in Stockholm. So, we were able to record a demo there for a couple of weekends. It was truly the coolest thing that I’d ever done up to that point in my life and from then on, my mind was set on making some kind of career as a recording or mixing engineer. By the way, since I’m talking about it, Bernard was working frequently at Polar at that time and that was how Max and he got to know each other. I was really lucky that Max some years after this called me up to ask if I wanted to work with him, producing pop music in a studio that he’d heard of. That was 20 years ago, and it’s just kept going!
Mats at the grand piano.
How come you started composing music for games?
I had always been very interested in all the different aspects of music production, everything from composing, arranging, orchestrating and recording to mixing, and it was in the composing music for games that I really felt that I could use all the knowledge that I’d accumulated. We had already recorded vehicles for some time when Magnus Lindberg, then audio director at Avalanche Studios, stepped into our lives since he needed someone who could do such recordings for what was to become
Just Cause 2. To make a long story short, the composer that was supposed to do the music for that game could not be reached, so by a stroke of fate (and some really hard work demoing music tracks) I got the chance to do the score for JC2. And that’s how that career started. After that I have among other things composed music for Mad Max the Game, , Generation Zero and The Hunter: Call of the Wild Quantum Break.
Check out the music from Generation Zero here!
And the music from theHunter: Call of the Wild here!
In what ways does music play a role in games?
In games, just like in film and television, music to a great extent is what gives the story its pacing and atmosphere. And just like in film and television the wrong music will ruin the whole experience. So, in that respect, writing for games is a lot similar to writing music to traditional media. The very big difference is that in games the music has to follow the story in a nonlinear way, so you have to compose the music in a way so that it can loop and repeat itself without it becoming boring or repetitive. But also, you often have to compose it in different layers of intensity so that the game automatically and seamlessly can transform depending on what the player chooses to do. So, the work can be very complex and needs a lot of consideration to get right, not only by the composer but also by the programmers that have to create the technical solutions that make it all work.
During the production of a game, when is the music added?
I have been quite lucky since very often it is at a rather late stage in production that someone realizes that there is something missing in the cake: the music. And then the music has to be composed in a very big rush, and that rarely serves the end product very well. That has happened to me as well a few times but with for example
I got involved at a very early stage of the production and was continually involved during the process of completing it. That meant that I was able to create a very unique tone and could also follow the transformations that the project went through. It’s a bit funny actually, because it took some years to complete the whole project, but the embryo to the main theme I wrote on the first day of work. Mad Max the Game
Watch this presentation of Mats and his work on Mad Max the Game!
How do you compose music that matches the game?
The process of writing a musical score often starts with me composing something that can be perceived as a main theme. That doesn’t necessarily have to be the main theme for the whole game, but still something that sets the tone for the music and that matches the mood or pacing of the game. That is a good way to kick off because that way me and the game directors can gather around a common vision that will affect the continuing process. The developer usually has a list of needed assets that are required so once we have decided on a style and tone that suits the game’s needs, I will start to finish off that list.
Can you give a concrete example from one of the games you worked on?
Mad Max the Game for instance, the requirements were sort of added as we went along, so they were able to tell me ”Hey, we want to try this and this functionality out, can you please write us some music that works with that scenario”. The freedom and experimentality of that working method also meant that I was able to create some of my own rather personal and unique working methods. I recorded and sampled a lot of homebuilt instruments that I made into my own palette of sounds, and we even had a 26-person string orchestra improvising orchestral effects for three hours. One of the side effects of working with this somewhat untraditional musical palette, is that after a while you realize that almost anything around you can be an ingredient in your composition. I did a lot of the Mad Max work in a studio not very far from the amusement park Gröna Lund in Stockholm, so I would hear a lot of sounds coming from there, especially in the springtime when they were building and preparing for the summer season. A lot of the times I couldn’t tell if the music was coming from my speakers or from the amusement park.
I know you also do field recordings. Your background as a musician and composer, is that an advantage?
Sound, in all its forms, has been my main focus and interest through the whole of my life, and I don’t make too much difference between recording/creating music and doing field recordings. It’s all different types of sounds. Working a lot with music helps you to learn how to sharpen your ears and to listen to details, and that comes in handy also in field recordings when a lot of the work goes into singling out which sounds to record and how to get them as cleanly as possible.
What are you looking forward to in the coming months?
We have been developing a plugin that we will release during this spring and I am really looking forward to getting this little beast on the market and to see how people will react to it. It is a joint collaboration between us and BOOM library in Germany and is a tool that will be a great help for people doing tracklaying for film. It is a ”brew” that combines our past hard work in the field with future technologies and feels like a big step forward for us as a company. More details about this plugin will surely come later!