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Exclusive Interview: Jason Graves Talks The Music Of Dead Space 2 Part 1

Update: You can check out Part 2 right HERE!

Earlier this year, we ran an exclusive interview with Andrew Boyd, audio director for EA’s upcoming survival sci-fi/horror game Dead Space 2. He told us about all the amazing sounds we would be hearing as well as touched upon the music of Dead Space 2. Now, we have an exclusive interview with Jason Graves, composer of Dead Space 2, where we get all of the music answers we want straight from the source. Check out Part 1 of the interview after the jump and keep an eye out for Part 2 tomorrow in BD’s Dead Pixels section!

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BD: How do you enter the proper mindset for composing music for a game such as Dead Space 2?

Jason Graves: The world of Dead Space is so immersive and complete.  All I have to do is play some of the game and I’m instantly back in that sonic universe.  There’s definitely a “break in” period for something as dark and experimental as Dead Space, but I’m happy to report that most of the score for Dead Space 2 came much faster and easier for me.

In fact, Isaac and I have the exact same journey as we progress through the series together.  We’ve weathered the storm of the original game, which definitely gives us an edge this time around.  We’re more confident going into Dead Space 2.  We’ve got some new tools to play with and we’re willing to take more risks, given our past experience in the Dead Space universe.
BD: What did you take from your experiences composing Dead Space that you brought into Dead Space 2?

Jason Graves: Wow, where do I start?  The original Dead Space literally changed the way I approach music day to day, regardless of the genre or medium.  I learned new techniques for recording and implementing live players and have spent a lot of time recording my own sounds for my personal orchestral library.

The whole experience had an extreme impact of how I work, so the foundation for the Dead Space 2 score was pretty much already built.  The main idea I carried from the original Dead Space is the concept of fear.  What makes us afraid?  Essentially, it boils down to fear of the unknown; the masked killer, a dark alley, the empty space under our bed in the middle of the night.

How can I express fear of the unknown as a musical concept?  Strip away everything that is recognizable as “music.”  The three basic building blocks of any piece of music are melody, harmony and rhythm, so strip those away and the result is the score for Dead Space 2.  Off-kilter rhythms, no traditional sense of harmony and strange instruments effects make for quite the unsettling listening experience!
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BD: It has been said many times that Dead Space 2 feels more “open” than Dead Space. How does your music reflect this?
Jason Graves: I wanted Dead Space 2 to have a more diverse sound palette.  I still restricted the instrumentation to live players and lots of crazy sounds and effects, but I tried to balance the orchestra a little more this time around.  Dead Space 1 had lots of strings and brass, with plenty of big drums and anvils.  LOTS of anvils.  The audio guys on the DS1 team put a permanent ban on anvils in any of their future games.  I think the whole San Francisco trolley bell sound really got under their skin!

Dead Space was all about claustrophobia and paranoia.  Small, confined spaces.  Hence the limited, but effective, heavy use of strings and brass.  Since Dead Space 2 is a lot more open and in bigger spaces, I wanted to “open” the orchestra up to bigger, more epic-sounding textures by using a more balanced orchestral sound.  So there are lots of woodwinds and percussion (not just huge drums) in Dead Space 2.  Plus some great choir and string quartet textures as well.
All photos by Dan Goldwasser