Black Magic, Zombie Dust, and Zydeco: behind-the-scenes of cult classic Voodoo Vince

Excerpt:

While the game itself turned out well enough in its own right, it would be an absolute travesty not to mention Voodoo Vince’s wholly unique jazz soundtrack. “Audio is half your game, yet it’s almost an afterthought in a lot of game development,” Clayton says. “I always felt there were two main characters in our game: one is Vince and the other is the environment. And there was no getting that across without really good sound design.”

For both audio and soundtrack duties, Clayton enlisted the talents of Steve Kirk, a composer who was more than up for the challenge of scoring Vince’s unsettling Louisiana escapade. From the outset, it was an ideal partnership.

“Unlike a fair amount of game designers, Clay is pretty musically literate,” Steve says. “He had a really good idea of the style he wanted for each level, and he had examples he would play for me. Like he’d say ‘I need something that sounds like Tom Waits on Swordfishtrombones and I knew exactly what he needed. Or another example was in the beginning level, when he said we needed something similar to Django Reinhardt's Hot Club stuff. So I thought, I’m going to do that, but I’ll make the chord progression a little spookier.”

 The soundtrack, which Steve says was meant to be “a kind of psychedelic interpretation of New Orleans-based styles”, would go on to include traditional jazz, zydeco, second line, and even a New Orleans take on R&B. “The drummer John Hanes and I did some research on New Orleans-style drum beats before I started writing,” says Steve. “There were at least five or six pieces that were built entirely on John’s drum track from that particular day’s recording session, like Bumper Cars and Sarcophagus Hustle.”
 And it wasn’t just the drums that were recorded live. Songs were largely performed with real musicians playing actual instruments, the likes of which included violin, cello, saxophone, piano, mandolin, banjo, harmonica, vocals (that’s Steve’s haunting pipes toward the end of the excellent Zombie Guidance Counselor track) a full brass line and even a dependably eerie theremin. The whole composition, including in-game music cues, proper tunes and even a song written by Clayton (Vince Theme), came in at just under three total hours of material—composed, arranged, recorded, mixed and mastered in six months. “It’s about the most prolific I’ve ever been,” Steve admits. “It was 12 hour days for those six months, and it was a total blast.”
 For the remaster, Steve says to expect a fresh orchestration of one of the original pieces, as well as a brand new exclusive song.

 

Seeing as Zynga’s Farmville has almost 70,000,000 monthly active users and somewhere between 20,000,000 and 25,000,000 players a day, we can assume that whoever wrote the Zynga theme song has written one of the most listened to audio tracks of the year.  Well, I did some research, and Zynga hooked me up with the man behind the Farmville theme song: Steve Kirk. 

...at the 10th annual Game Developers Choice Awards, ... Zynga, creators of the wildly addictive and popular Facebook game, Farmville, received the honor for Best New Social/Online Game, marking the first winner for this inaugural category.
Probably the most-listened to song in the country was written by a Bay Area musician. Tens of millions of people know the country-flavored theme from the most popular game in the country.
The musical score [of The Princess and The Frog video game] resonates with classic New Orleans-style jazz at every given opportunity. Trumpets really permeate through the score and give every mini-game and setting a lighthearted feel. [...] the jazz band renditions do an excellent job of not only fitting the atmosphere of the restaurant live band but also making you appreciate the music of the movie and game. With nothing really negative to say about the audio, you can consider it to be an audible masterpiece.
The audio is generally strong, but the musical highlights really steal the show. This will likely be a huge attraction for young players.
Oakland composer Steve Kirk didn't dream as a boy of growing up to write the FarmVille theme. But the fact that he did, and that 26 million people log on each day and hear his music as they play, suits him just fine.
"its actually a funny story of how i came to know your music. well Voodoo Vince has always been my favorite game but i always loved to listen to the amazing compositions on its soundtrack and i have been in search of the artist for years now, and i just recently found out that you in fact are that artist, and i would like to compliment you on your music because it is brilliant and breath taking" -taylor-
Aug 9 2007 3:46 PM RE: Tango - That's a great piece, Maestro! Evocative and slithery, I can taste the smoke and feel the broken glass, and even though I know I'll lose my wallet and there's a stain on her dress that could be from someone else, I still press her against the alley wall, subsumed in the ejaculatory inevitability of it all and then....a Gypsy lilt, right in the middle! Splendid stuff, old boy. All the best from Griff and His Legion of Cats

Hey Steve, My name is Zane Carney. I am currently a freshman at USC majoring in studio/jazz guitar under the instruction of Pat Kelley. For Christmas, I was lucky enough to have received Voodoo Vince from my mother, and once I opened it I was expecting to play what was reviewed as being a fun, and humorous game. But, once I inserted the disc I found much, much more than a good time and a few laughs. This is definitely the best video game music I have ever heard. I mean I've heard music from games like Lord of the Rings, and Azurik, where it's obvious that professional musicians were hired to play the music, but the music from Voodoo Vince is definitely something else. You can imagine how awesome it was for a studio/jazz guitar major to hear in a video game what sounds like...i dunno....improvisation! I honestly don't know how you did it, because the mixture of textures and styles combined with the juxtaposition between arranged little jazz pieces (like what is heard when one is transferring from one level to another by train) and improvised Django-ish combo tunes (like in the French Quarter) is just perfect - and I've only gotten to the 6th level! If you'd like to e-mail me back, I would be glad to hear from you, and if you're interested in hearing any of my guitar playing I'd love to send you some of that, too. Again, thank you writing such great music, and I look forward to hearing from you once you get some time. Sincerely, Zane Carney

*****

Hi, I just came across Voodoo Vince again on my old Xbox, and just wanted to say that your music rocks ! Is there a way to find the album of all the complete songs from the game ? Thanks, Davy

*****

Hi Steve, I was so happy to find a CD of the Voodoo Vince music! I loved the game and the music was a big part of that. I listen to the CD all the time. My favorite track is "On Fire". I am a drummer and I love the drumming in the music. Whoever that guy is, he's excellent. I look forward to your future musical endevors. Any more plans with Beep Industries? Sincerely, Jason McNeal

*****

Hello this is purely fan mail- i'd just like to tell you my most sincere appreciation of the soundtrack you composed for the game "Voodoo Vince". It was a unique game and the music for it was excellent. I have bought the soundtrack cd and have heard nothing like it since. Thankyou for a great collection of songs. Vaughan King

*****

Steve, Just a quick note to say your work on the Voodoo Vince soundtrack was just amazing. I'm a 31 year old gamer and musician, and as I played Voodoo Vince, I felt that the game would not have had the same character and depth had it not been for your soundtrack. After I played the game, I couldn't wait to get my hands on the soundtrack which I finally just picked up, it's just great stuff all around. Bravo and I look forward to checking out some of your other work. Regards, Eden DCooper  

*****

Steve- We love this CD! Elisabeth and I have been listening to it a lot. Zombie Guidance Counselor is an early favorite. Now we want to get the game (although we're both immersed in Grand Theft Auto San Andreas at the moment). I hope you make many more soundtracks. If you ever need MIDI vibraphone or marimba, let me know. I have some high-quality samples in Akai format, which you are welcome to copy. And I'll drag my MalletKAT to your studio any time. Or better yet, just program the parts and credit me falsely as the vibraphonist! -DC ----------------- David Cooper MTC Graphics

*****

Hi Steve, I am a keyboardist/vocalist/composer in the Atlantic City, Philadelphia and NYC area. I have a 3 year old son who got into xbox games at age 2 when he saw me playing Gotham racing. He became amazingly good at it by age 3, so I wanted to get him something that was fun and non-violent enough for a little boy, so I got him Voodoo Vince, and I have to tell you, we all loved your score for the game. (my wife is a player /composer too). We found the variety of motifs and styles to be really inventive and tasteful and the playing is just great. recently we finally played through to the end credits and when I saw your name, I decided to seek you out to tell you that your writing was spot on for this project. Best of success to you in your future work. Jon Pruitt

Voodoo Vince Original Sound Track It is just amazing how far video-game music has come, not only since the tweedle-beep days of Ms. Pac-Man, but even since the relatively recent Nintendo 64 games my son spent all that homework time playing. When we upgraded to an X-Box, my brother recommended "Voodoo Vince" to us, and it was one of the first games we bought. It truly is an amazing game, and I recommend it, but that's for another review. One thing I was particularly amazed with was how evocative -- and swingin'! -- the music was. I remarked to my brother that I wished there was some way I could extract the music tracks and listen to them. Imagine my surprise and delight when I found out that this soundtrack CD was available! It is, no exaggeration, simply amazing. Composed by the inimitable Steve Kirk (who shows astonishing range playing guitar on all of these very different tracks), the songs on this CD span the spectrum of musical style while remaining relevant to the game's twisted take on the Crescent City and its environs. From the spooky lounge-lizard swing of "Son of Trophy Room" and the cajun-fried, rollicking "Fanboat Race" to "Crypt City" with its Ellington-tinged take on New Orleans funeral-march music and the Django Reinhardt-inspired "Main Street," the whole disc swings it hard Creole style. Don't miss the last track, "Vince Theme," with its kooky swing lyrics!
Interview excerpt with Voodoo Vince creator Clayton Kauzlaric: Q: The music in this game kicks. It is totally in line with the mood and theme. Who is responsible for that portion of the game? CK: Glad you noticed. I’m really proud of the music. If nothing else, Voodoo Vince sounds like no other game. Since the game is set in New Orleans, the tunes couldn’t just sound like more cookie cutter, quasi-industrial rave wannabe crap so favored by many games these days. It had to have real musicians, and it had to combine jazz, classical and various pop influences seamlessly with jazz as the common thread throughout. I made a short list of composers and styles I liked. I found the perfect person after a short while on Google. Our score is by an incredibly talented guy named Steve Kirk. He wrote over three hours of original music and hired some truly gifted musicians to play it for him. Steve is also a phenomenal guitarist. He plays on virtually every track. Steve also mixed our soundtracks and did some key sound design work on the rest of the game, which is why everything works together so beautifully. There is actually a soundtrack CD being released through Microsoft and Sumthing records.
Voodoo Vince By Microsoft Game Studios "...The musical score is terrific. It has just the right flavor to power the game along, with subtle nuances in the score to reflect the mood at the time…”
Voodoo Vince Original Soundtrack ***** (five stars out of five) An amazing musical score (for a very fun game), It may come as a surprise to some people that music for video games has progressed far beyond the bleeps and squawks of the old days. The latest generation of game console now supports full CD quality sound, surround audio and all sorts of whistles and bells (literally). The soundtrack to Voodoo Vince is a great example of what can happen when good technology meets amazing artistry. This music was composed, arranged and produced by Steve Kirk, who students of cool, obscure music may recall from his time with the Clubfoot Orchestra. Like his much under-appreciated work on the short lived Felix the Cat series, Kirk blends a great fusion of jazz, pop and classical influences. Most pieces are played by a small ensemble of horns, woodwinds and keyboard. All feature Kirk's masterful, lush guitar work. The style of the soundtrack varies from vintage jazz, which is clearly inspired by Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club of France to more contemporary jazz/rock fusion. Hints of classical music and even a few pieces reminiscent of Tom Waits sneak out in certain compositions. In spite of being so eclectic, this body of work hangs together remarkably well. The audio quality itself is terrific. Each track was lovingly recorded, mixed and mastered by Kirk himself. I highly recommend this soundtrack album not just to fans of the quirky video game, but anyone who appreciates truly refreshing music that defies categorization.
Voodoo Vince “…Sonically … the game is incredibly strong, with the highlight being the music. Scored and arranged by Steve Kirk, a renowned Jazz musician and composer, the game’s toe-tapping score is a delightful mixture of jazz, zydeco, and jazz/rock fusion. Each level and area has its own unique music that greatly helps to develop the ambiance of the game, but all of it fits together seamlessly and never seems out of place or gets tiring on the ears.”
Magic 8 Ball Says: “Outlook Good” for Voodoo Vince "The soundtrack is quite often a real joy. I love good music, and this is music with soul. Real musicians’ busted real butt to make these tunes so perfectly captivating. The tracks add a layer of sophistication that’s unusual for a game of this type. We’re talking seriously primo quality tunes. Not some pre-made mechanized slop from a box. They add something extra special to an extraordinary title. I’ve spent some time doing audio engineering and I found myself paying a lot of attention to how the music was recorded. This is something I usually reserve for well-made recordings, but infrequently for a video game."
"Beep (Industries) went to great lengths to provide Voodoo Vince with a superior musical score. The entire game is set to jazz and classical music with (a) New Orleans flair. It sounds almost like you're listening to a live performance that's leaking out of a nearby club or bandstand. Voodoo Vince wants to make you feel like you're in Louisiana, experiencing New Orleans and the surrounding area, and the music really creates this illusion since you're greeted with voodooish jazz at every turn."

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