For a moment, Ben Prunty parks his craft on the hangar, and he holds the rebel fleet with a laser baton expression. The composer, who creates Faster Than Light‘s music score, pay attention to the plenty of indie-o-rama‘s team and carry his stelar poise to answer a kind of questions. A promising figure from the indie scene, Ben speaks about his past, and his future projects.
I don’t know if I should call you Ben or Mr. Prunty. What do I do?
Please, just Ben will be fine. You’re welcome.
Who is Ben, in few words. Do you save the world every morning, after leaping out of bed? The galaxy, maybe? I would want to thank you if that’s the case!
I live in Sunnyvale, California (right in the middle of Silicon Valley) with my girlfriend and two other roommates. I moved to California from Maine 8 years ago to start a career making music for games. I had no idea what I was doing, so it took a while. I got distracted for a few years working at Google. Which was fun!
Funnier than saving the world? Just tell us some secret plans from Google…
(Laughs) All my info about Google is out of date these days. But it was pretty neat working on secret projects. I diagnosed and repaired servers, which meant I got to tear apart computers. It was a good time.
And nowadays, how’s your everyday life? No more google, I guess.
Yeah, I left Google in 2007. I recently quit my most recent job, which was working at a non-profit that records books-on-tape for people with learning disabilities. Really cool job. So in the last few months I haven’t really had any kind of routine.
There are a lot of great people who volunteer to read and record books. Very satisfying job. But it was time for me to focus on music 100%. And Faster Than Light allowed me to afford living without a job.
Great. When did you start to just create music?
That would be around 2000 or 2001, I think. I was a Junior in high school. Not much of a musical background, but a strong desire to make music with computers. I bought Sonic Foundry’s ACID, a looping tool, from a paper catalog. That’s how long ago that was (laughts).
Did you ever think on becoming a musician as a kid?
I had a keyboard from the eighties and I played it a ton, so I must’ve been interested without realizing it. I didn’t consciously get into until high school. When I say “played it a ton” I mean “banged on the keys without any musical sense”. I knew nothing about music (laughs).
So what happened at the high school?
I honestly don’t remember what triggered my sudden interest. I listened to a lot of game music at the time, and I remember thinking how cool it would be if I could make music with electronics, but I didn’t have the slightest idea how people actually did that. Not exactly a thriving technology community in Maine. Since MP3 players didn’t really exist, I saved up and bought a minidisc recorder and would record game soundtracks directly from the games themselves onto minidisc.
Now that you are a musician, would you say that you make music, or music for videogames? Are there any differences between them?
Not too much difference. There are obvious ones, like someone else has to approve of what you’re doing for game music, and maybe your sonic palette is limited. You can see in Chromatic T-Rex (2012) that the genres are all over the place, but Faster Than Light is very focused. Sometimes having a limited palette works to your advantage, because you have fewer decisions to make. Sometimes I get paralyzed when I realize I can choose any instrument or sound I want. With Faster Than Light I had a small suite of sounds that I kept coming back to, so I always had something to start with.
Setting apart that suite of sounds what music genres do you like? Where do you find your inspiration? I know you already play banjo, isn’t it?
I play banjo and piano.
Is Faster Than Light compatible with old time southern folk, somewhat?
Not really. I didn’t do any composing for the game on banjo. Faster Than Light was mostly piano. I love classic rock, funk, electronic, bluegrass, a smattering of symphonic composers and game music. Funk was actually a big inspiration for Faster Than Light. That’s why you hear a lot of strong basslines. After I finished the soundtrack, I did try to play some of the motifs on banjo, and it was pretty fun actually.
Is there any remarkable bass player that you like? Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten…Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Geddy Lee from Rush or Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam?
I hate to say it, but I don’t really have any particular bass player I like! The only band where I know the individual members is Queen. Otherwise I don’t really keep track.
Nice! So we’ve have enough of bass players. Lets return to video games. Faster Than Light is… (in one word!)
Wow, that’s a tough one. Faster Than Light has different meaning to me, since it represents a turning point in my career and life, but I don’t know how to express that in one word.
You have the rebel fleet behind you. Try it! We need your word!
I would say “heartbreakingly epic”… but that’s two words (laughs). You joined the project by a friend in common. Good luck, or hard work?
It’s always a mix of both. It was work in a sense that I always made sure to tell everyone what I do.
For us, the Faster Than Light music score is the natural evolution of the 8-bits themes. The evolution of chiptune itself. As you have said, you have got Faster Than Light inspiration in early videogaming. Would you tell us some examples? Your chiptune selection.
I’m a big fan of Tim Follin‘s Silver Surfer (Software Creations, 1990) soundtrack for NES.
Oh, my. MY CHILDHOOD.
So… avid retrogamer or casual classical gaming moderate fan?
My Super NES is hooked up right next to my PlayStation 3.
Been playing Super Mario Bros. 3 (Nintendo, 1993) two-player with a friend. We’re working our way through every level without skipping anything.
Another though question, I guess. If you could create the musical score for an existing film, that movie would be…
Well, see now I could only choose a score that I didn’t like, so I could replace it. All of my favorite movies have good music already (laughts). Oooh! I got one: Twin Peaks (Mark Frost & David Lynch, 1990), is one of the greatest artistic experiences to come out of modern pop culture. But it’s music is awful. I would score that whole show.
Now, you have to write a comic book music score. Your choice?
Hmm, I don’t read comics, so I’m not really sure.
Well, choose a book instead.
Hmm… Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel is one of my favorites, and is very evocative and inspiring. That might be a good choice.
Sometimes I dream of chromatic T-Rexes. What do you dream about?
I tend to dream about crazy architecture, giant monsters and flooded forests. Seriously. Thought recently I dreamed that Danny Baranowski threatened to ruin my career if I didn’t help him build his aquarium.
Cool. Apart from becoming a future aquarium builder. what could you tell us about your new projects?
I’m working on Erin Robinson‘s Gravity Ghost (from Ivy Games), which is awesome. Erin is supremely talented and she’s making something that will appeal to a much wider audience than most games. It’s very colorful and nonviolent.
Something interactive, but not a videogame? Or a special kind of videogame.
It’s still a game. It’s a platformer. You spend a lot of time hopping between small planets. Think The Little Prince.
Beautiful reference. And Aether?
Maybe? I’m not too familiar with that one. Anyway, you should check it out at gravityghost.com. Erin writes a bunch of neat blog entries, and I wrote a couple too. I’m also doing sound effects for Chris Pavia‘s Dungeon Hearts.
Well, we’re near the end. Is it possible to live comfortably as an independent musician?
Certainly, but only if you’re comfortable being an extrovert. Going out and meeting people and selling yourself is a such an important part of being independent. If you don’t go out and meet people, you simply won’t get work.
Moreover, is it possible for an independent musician to live in a mansion? You said you love architecture…
I said I tend to dream about architecture. I don’t think there are any independent musicians that currently live in mansions, but I hear Danny Baranowski has a really nice house on a lake.
Do you think that this work is sufficiently appreciated?
It is certainly more appreciated than many other disciplines in game development. 3D artists, sound designers, animators, writers, programmers, all of them work very, very hard, but they rarely get interviewed. The sound design in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda Game Studios, 2011) is absolutely brilliant. Not a single stock sound effect, but does anyone know who did it?
Now, let’s play a game. Try not to think too much and choose one of the following. Ready? Choose one of each pair.
May the force be with you… It’s a super question! Super Mario Bros. or Super Meat Boy?
Super Mario Bros, though I’ve played through and loved both.
Han Solo or Picard?
Picard I think. More well-developed character.
Chopin or Stratovarius?
Nobuo Uematsu or Koji Kondo?
They somehow have a baby, and that baby is my favorite.
And the last and most important question! Velociraptors… or chickens?
I haven’t eaten a velociraptor, so I’m going with chickens, because I’m about to cook up some chicken after the interview.
Ok, so we will cook raptors and try to make sure THANK YOU FOR YOUR AWESOMENESS, BEN. We’re really grateful! I hope you have enjoyed the interview as I did. At least you survived!
Hey thanks, it was fun (laughts).