RVG Interviews - Matt Gray.

RVG Interviews - Matt Gray.

RVG interviews Matt Gray, Matt is a British musician who composed many classic C64 games soundtracks including Driller, Dominator, Tusker, Deliverance, Quedex and the System 3 multi million seller The Last Ninja 2 and many many more..

 

He is also known for various dance records released under aliases such as Westworld, Industrial and Nitrous and as a co member of the hugely successful remix/production teams Xenomania and Motiv8.

Matt is also the man behind the recently successful Kickstarter campaign





Greyfox

What was the inspiration and concept for the Last Ninja 2's wonderfully intelligent composition on the C64?

Matt

Well it was just a natural follow on from the loader theme I'd done for Bangkok Knights. Certainly the Central Park tracks, which I did first were inspired by that track. Then after that it was a case of the setting inspiring the music or me just trying to do something I liked. I know Mark Cale at System 3 didn't want endless cliched sounding oriental music. Obviously there had to be a nod to that far east sound and also the odd nod to the original Last Ninja music, but the main idea was to make it dramatic and powerful. Certainly that was my aim anyway.


Greyfox

With Ben Daglish and Anthony Lee's very hard to follow last act in the Last Ninja score, did you feel under pressure to produce something as exceptional or was it a case you decided to go it completely your own way in originality ?

Matt

To be honest, I just wanted to do my own thing bringing in the ocassional reference to Ben and Anthony's original game music. I don't think I felt any pressure at all really. I wanted System 3 and all the development team to be happy with it, but I never felt real pressure. It was a very smooth workflow as far as I remember.


Greyfox

What was your time like working at System 3?

Matt

The high point of my C64 career really. I was lucky to be working alongside some of the best in the business and working for an overall winning team. At the time, it was like playing for Liverpool (back when Liverpool were awesome). Mark's a dynamic character and very good at putting the right people together to get a great end product. The atmosphere was always jovial but hard working whenever I was up at the offices or the house where most of the development was done. I worked remotely from home and drove up every week or so, or whenever I had new music to play.


Greyfox

Have you any antidotes you'd like to share about your time at System 3?

Matt

Well as I wasn't there day in day out I probably missed all the good material. The best story personally for me was going up to the System 3 offices to deliver Bangkok Knights, getting it accepted by Mark and then over a pint he offered me a whopping deal to produce all their music on an exclusive basis. I knew Last Ninja 2 was next so that was a great end to the year and the start of a cool journey.


Greyfox

From looking at your discography, you mainly composed music for the Commodore 64 and for the NES, why didn't you approach the 16 bit computers like the Atari ST (a haven for professional musicians) or the Commodore Amiga or the Sega Mega-Drive or Super Nintendo to further video game music?

Matt

It was a case of circumstances and collision of new ideas. I was starting to make dance music as the whole house and rave scene took off in this country. I was buying midi gear and samplers and it was a whole new world especially for an 18 year old. Coding music on a C64 direct into an assembler was a great way to make a living, but the process get's very restrictive and laborious after a few years. Whilst I still loved movies soundtracks, I was listening more and more to dance music and starting to DJ in clubs and at raves. I was able to make music at home and play it to a few hundred people every weekend within days of making it. That was the buzz. I was using Atari ST's for sequencing but making games music had been put to one side. I suppose I was also guilty of thinking the games explosion on personal computers was a fad maybe? Seems crazy now, but that's with 20/20 hindsight. There was a slight lull in proceedings before the games market really became the behemoth it is now.


Greyfox

Which one of your compositions did you feel captured the essence of the game it was written for, the best?

Matt

Probably Driller in that respect, but LN2's Central Park main theme is so associated with that game. You only need to hear the first 3 or 4 bars. They are inseparable.


Greyfox

Do you feel that you possibly didn't do enough video game music back in the day or do you feel you did  more than enough of you preferred to work on back then?

Matt

Looking back I probably needed to have been around 2 years earlier to have done much more. Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway have much bigger back catalogue's than me because they were there from the start virtually. I did 4 or 5 games for System 3 in about 16 months. If I'd been freelance then I could have done more, but what else was there in 1988 that would have been bigger than LN2? So I'm happy enough with what I did.


Greyfox

Who was or is your favourite c64 musician.

Matt

It's Rob Hubbard but Martin Galway is a very close second. They've both written some incredible C64 tracks.


Greyfox

Regarding your recent kickstarter, why did you decide to do one?

Matt

It was over 18 months off and on of thinking about it. I was starting to think about doing games soundtracks again, because I suddenly realised that I had the technology to do everything I'd wanted to do in those earlier games years before. Someone showed me several other musicians Kickstarters and I was amazed there were so many fans out there still wanting new ways to hear the old tracks. But it was months before the timing felt right or fitted into my work plans. It's amazing that within 2 months of finally deciding to do it, the project has funded and still rising.


Greyfox

If given the chance, who would you like most to work along side with regarding a double team composition?

Matt

That's a tough question. I think you'd get something pretty unique if I was able to produce and compose with Tangerine Dream. If we're talking C64 and games in general then Martin Galway.


Greyfox

How do you feel about your music you wrote back in the eighties? , do you feel it stood the test of time?

Matt

I think anything that has a good melody or chordal structure stand the test of time. But there are some tracks I did that just don't cut it for me anymore. Either the sounds don't work or the melodies were not good enough. Certainly my best known tracks though have stood up well, especially now I'm bringing them into a modern age sonically.


WiggyDiggyPoo

Xenomania have worked with quite the roll call of pop artists down the years, have you got any juicy gossip you can share?

Matt

There's loads I could say, but it's a small world, especially in music. I've seen and heard some incredible things regarding some very famous people, some often hilarious. But there's a kind of ethical code of conduct in the record business. I was lucky enough to record and work with some really cool people and also some of the most beautiful women in the world. I prefer to keep out of any public gossip.


JoeMusashi

How did you find using the SID and what techniques did you employ to realise your ideas?

Matt

The SID is a very clever bit of hardware and not too difficult to use. It's all the various modulations and fx processes that you have to be able to design and code that can be tricky. There were routines that everyone was using such as the note or chord plex where you go very quickly between 2,3 or even 4 notes to give the impression of a full chord being played. That sound became unique almost to the SID and everyone is using it as a retro sound now. To do that sound, you had to write a routine to perform it. And if you put a pulse width mod on it such as a sweep, the bubbling chord took on a life of it's own. I also had to write routines to emulate drums by switching waveforms in a certain sequence. I think that was originally Rob Hubbard's idea. You had to be able to code everything, even putting a vibrato on a sound needed a mod routine to do it. There was no button to push. You literally had some waveforms to choice from, an ADSR setting and a filter. The rest was up to you.


JoeMusashi

Did the SID have any limiting factors? What features would you have included if you could redesign it and how would that have effected your output?

Matt

Without a doubt, polyphony on each channel and of course more channels. Those were the main limiting factors. But when you consider it was just a synth, we had to produce drums sounds from it and other fx to make a track work. So it was pretty darn good for a synth.


JoeMusashi

Has your experience with the SID influenced any of your later work?

Matt

Yes, It's had a lasting effect really. Sometimes in sound design but mostly in figuring out what works and what doesn't, structure wise and melody wise.


zapiy

Of all your games you were involved in which was the hardest to create music for and why?

Matt

The very early games really. Either through technical hitches or just lack of quality control on my part. I wasn't quite ready for the first couple of commissions, but I got on the right tracks pretty quickly after. Mean Streak was not a great start for me, but hey everyone has to start somewhere.


zapiy

What software tools did you use to create your games and did you create any tools to help you?

Matt

I used Ocean's Laser Genius to edit and assemble my code. It was just that, a c64, me and a small keyboard. The only tools I had were the routines I designed to handle everything from sequences to modulation. When I look at the code now, it's amazing it does so much from so few bytes of code. Most of my games tracks were under 4k, often less.


zapiy

Looking back at your career, what would you change if you had a time machine and why?

Matt

Oh, lot's of things. I'm very into not being told what to do too much, I value freedom more than most things. So any time I've felt cornered by a situation or like I've lost any control over my destiny, I'll take steps to rectify that and sometimes they are steps out the door. But music is a very emotional business and people in it take things to heart very easily. Most musicians, in fact any creative types, take it very personally where their creations are concerned.


zapiy

Did you ever do any work for the Konix Multisystem?

Matt

No, I don't think so.


zapiy

C64 or Spectrum and why?

Matt

C64 because it's sound chip changed my life. The Spectrum's sound chip just wouldn't do what I wanted it to, even with various tricks.


zapiy

Amiga or ST and why?

Matt

ST because again it helped me do what I wanted to do. I relied on the ST and the dodgy "don't touch it or knock it !!" midi interface for most of the 90's until the G3 Mac's came along. I only ever used an Amiga to play Sensible Soccer, the best footie game.


zapiy

Have you got any old tunes that you would be willing to share?

Matt

There's a couple that have been found on my disks. It's possible they may emerge at some stage.


zapiy

Congrats on the Kickstarter success, you must be over the moon and  know a few members here at RVG have pledged. Did you ever in your wildest dreams believe it would have achieved its target so easily?

Matt

Thanks. I'm grateful for the support RVG. I didn't think it would be funded first day, no. But as it approached, I did quietly think that perhaps it would reach it's funding target within 7 or 8 days. Apparently most Kickstarters either succeed comfortably or fail miserably. And most of them have a surge at the start and another one at the end. I'm very happy with how it's going and if we meet certain stretch goals that entail a lot more work, then that's great. I'm just glad the original idea is going to actually happen and better still be actually wanted.

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