Interview: Paul Van Dyk Brings Techno to Games
Paul Van Dyk is one of the forerunners of modern electronic music. Massively influential as a "trance" artist in the 1990s, his music has evolved both on the dancefloor and in the studio. He continues to contribute his talent to the electronic music scene, and DJ Magazine has consistently ranked him among the top 10 techno artists in the world. Recently, he was tapped by EA to help compose music for their upcoming sports title, Grand Slam Tennis. As big fans of both gaming and techno music, we jumped at the chance to catch up with Paul van Dyk and talk about his experiences crafting music for games. Being somewhat of a global citizen and activist, he also shared his thoughts on diverse topics like music piracy and the twitter revolution in Iran. You can read the full transcript of our interview with Paul Van Dyk below:
GameFlavor: Tell us a bit about what you are up to musically at the moment. When can we expect another studio album, and where can we see you on tour in the next little while?
PVD: Well , I'm basically writing songs right now, so that means sitting around with my notebook writing down ideas and recording things here and there. My next full album is due to be released in 2010. Probably, sound wise the next album is going to be a logical progression from the kind of work I've been doing. One thing I like about recording this way is that I don't have a production team in the background, I'm making everything myself. So in the end when I put it all together, it is probably going to be inspired by some random sounds that I've heard at that particular moment.
Right now I'm also touring the United States. You can actually catch me tonight in Detroit, and then we're going to Minneapolis, to Chicago, and then Indianapolis, Nashville, and Atlanta.
I have to say that I've never been to this particular part of America before, and I am really impressed about the audiences here. Electronic music is a truly global music culture, and after seeing these fans I think it's absolutely true. You can find energized and dedicated people with an interest in music all over the world.
GameFlavor: How did you get involved with licensing music for games? What has the process been like for you?
PVD: Well, normally the licensing goes through the publisher or the record label, and I've had some of my tracks licensed that way for games in the past. This time I'm working directly within the gaming industry, alongside EA as an original composer for their upcoming Grand Slam Tennis game. Essentially I am creating the soundtrack for different parts of the game, and this was my first direct involvement in making music for a game.
It was a very interesting experience, because I had to create the main themes for events like the US Open and so on. I was surprised at the amount of creative freedom that they game me, so at first I was like, "Which direction do you want me to go with it?". They told me just to be creative, to do what I felt like. So, for example with the Wimbledon event, I ended up going with a drum and bass theme, but at the same time adding a lush, beautiful summer thing to it because that is when Wimbledon happens.
But then on the other hand, for the New York event, I had this really banging piece, hard electro, which I felt was perfect for the US Open. I guess it was a bit too hard, because the music supervisor came back to me saying, "This is really cool but actually a little too banging". So, I had to revisit it and make it more easy.
I definitely enjoyed the creative freedom of working this way. Nobody was there to tell me in which direction they wanted me to go. With this game, they just gave me a few hints, and they would say that they wanted it a bit more like this or like that, because they had the bigger picture.
GameFlavor: Are you a gamer? What do you think about the potential for artistic expression in video games?
PVD: I just got a copy of it three days ago, and unfortunately we don't have a Wii on the tour bus [laughs]. But probably it wouldn't be a good idea to play the game on a moving bus anyway.
The first involvement I ever had with EA was with a game called Mirrors Edge -- I was asked to remix their main song. And I have to say that it was one of the most beautiful songs I had heard in a long time, and I couldn't believe they had just made it for the game instead of an actual musical release. The gaming industry is exploring the world of sounds and music with more and more sophistication, so there is huge potential there.
Screenshot of Grand Slam Tennis for the Wii.
GameFlavor: Piracy is a big issue right now In Europe and America. What is your stance on the battle between online file sharers and the music industry?
PVD: Well, the thing is I think that wide open digital distribution is a great thing, but there also have to be some rules to it. In the gaming just as in the music industry, a lot of money is being invested to create a product people enjoy, so I think people should pay for that. I pour a lot of my own energy and time into creating my music. Somebody just downloading that, it kind of hurts me as a human being. I think there have to be certain rules. By downloading songs illegally and not paying for something that you actually enjoy, you are sending a message to artists that you don't respect their work.
When it comes to things like mashups, I'm personally more about creating music from scratch, you know? For me, creating something new is more interesting than sampling elements of other people's music. But I don't mind sampling music and using it as long as it is to create brand new art.
We had an online contest to remix one of my songs. In terms of the remixing , I liked it because it gave young artists the possibility of being heard. By remixing one of my tracks, and having it heard by thousands of people, they are being heard. After the competition we actually released the winner's track, so they got a lot of exposure that way.
GameFlavor: You've been involved in online politics quite a bit, as a major proponent of getting young people involved in voting. What do you think about the twitter and blog revolution that's going on in Iran right now?
PVD: Well, first of all I hope that the violence there actually calms down and that the peaceful democratic side will eventually win. Obviously, new media is a great thing for getting information out of places that otherwise have a centralized media. I grew up in East Germany, so I know what it is like to live in a repressive society, a communist dictatorship without the possibility of free speech. The most important thing about digital technology is that it can be used to create an understanding of what's going on in Iran, and to gather support from other people around the world.
As users of information technology, it's our responsibility to support them and give these kids a chance to be part of the global community that we all live in. There is not just a British survival plan or an American survival plan, just a global one.
We would like to thank Paul Van Dyk for taking the time out of his busy American tour to talk with us. If you live in the Eastern United States, you should definitely check him out at a live performance as he completes his tour of major clubs in your area. To read more about how the music and gaming industries are collaborating, check out our previous interview with indie pop sensation Matt & Kim.
Paul Van Dyk playing a live DJ set in 2007.
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