EPIC Interview with Kai Rosenkranz: The Journey Home and exclusive recording!
...and a lot more!
Kai Rosenkranz. Artist. Genius. Father. He is one of the main reasons Piranha Bytes managed to win such a faithful fan base. His work as composer for the Gothic series and Risen 1 touched people in a special way and helped us immerse in some of the best RPGs ever made. He started working on Gothic 1 when he was barely out of school and we watched him develop as an artist with each game. As times changed, he moved on and created his own company, Nevigo, not to develop games, but to help other artists, the game designers, by giving them the right tools to deliver the best possible results. Nevigo’s main product, Articy: Draft is now being used for large titles and its capabilities are growing with each passing day.
However, something was missing, so a few months ago Kai announced his latest project, a music album titled Journey Home, featuring personal and intimate compositions relating to family life, as well as some tracks revisiting his wonderful game music. He was kind enough and granted us an interview, detailing his experience as a game developer, as a musician and as a father.
This is a 5 part interview, so be sure to check all of them.
Part 1: The Journey Home and family
Part 2: About Music
Part 3: The Games
Part 4: Nevigo
Part 5: Bonus: Exclusive track.
The Journey Home and family
Kai recently launched the project's Kickstarter campaign. And although at the time of this article's writing it has been fully financed, plenty of backer rewards await you, including sheet music, a BBQ with former and current members of Piranha Bytes or even a private concert! Furthermore, more backers mean more guest musicians and a higher quality of the finished product! And who knows what the future holds...
Support the album on Kickstarter!
Thank y’all very much for your interest in my creative work! It means a lot to me.
1. Since this is a more personal and intimate album, so will be the questions. Can you tell us a little bit something about your family and how did they change the way you listen, feel or write music?
I have a lovely wife and two daughters, Lucy (4) and Emmy (3). Our third child is on the way, but it’ll need some more time until the release date. Uhm, … I mean birth.
They have changed the way I feel about everything. Since I always need some sort of emotional context for my music, I now have a huge range of emotions I can draw from that matter so much to me. Currently, I’m torn between priorities and time management issues, for example. My kids are growing up so fast, but I also have my own company and a lot of responsibility there. So I can’t really live up to the expectations in both worlds, and it’s a constant dealing with compromises and unfulfilled expectations. On the other hand, the time I have with my family is my everything, the center of my universe …my home. And I try to get better in enjoying the “here and now”. When I come home from work, I sometimes find myself thinking about the business meeting tomorrow, the important trip next week, and such things. And I have to remind myself to let go of the anchor and ground myself in the present. My kids teach me how to do that. All these feelings will be a source of inspiration for my album.
2. An adult life, a family life, it comes with a lot of happy moments. But there are also tiresome, worrisome moments, and sometimes even fear. Will this side be reflected on your new album?
Yes, definitely. The fear of not living up to the expectations in my various “life roles” (father, husband, team leader) is an important motive. Also, the concerns that come with the responsibility for the kids, and the worries of a 4 years old child. So, as you can see, there are manifold aspects.
3. Will your family have a sort of cameo in any of your songs? Like the laughter of children at the beginning of a track?
I like that idea. But I haven’t yet entered that stage. I’m currently not working on the final tracks, I’m still experimenting and toying with musical ideas on the piano.
4. What can we expect from "Journey Home" that we have never heard before in any of your compositions?
Some of the Journey Home tracks will actually be structured like a song, with verses and choruses. I never did that before, and the element of repetition goes against my intuition (I always try to surprise with little twists and details), but it satisfies listener expectations and makes the album less Soundtrack-ish. It’ll also be a different instrumentation, with the grand piano being the central element.
5. Many of your fans are young, so please share something to them about what it's like to have a family. What is the most wonderful feeling you get? What should they be looking forward to?
The moment when your first kid is born is like putting the sun in the middle of your solar system for the first time. Everything is filled with light, warmth, meaning, and purpose. Regardless of what the center of your universe has been before (yourself, your husband/wife, your work), it instantly becomes less important. And that just feels great, because it happens so naturally, and having one’s priorities sorted is a good compass for all decisions in life. At the same time, the relation to your partner and the love is one of the laws of nature in your universe that makes it work and prevents it from imploding or exploding. It’s like the gravity that holds things together, gives it stability and robustness against all sorts of threats.
6. Can you please share with us some great memories you have with your loved ones? Are they a source of inspiration for your songs?
It’s really hard to pick individual moments. Birth is definitely a very emotional and special moment. It’s also very rewarding and touching to feel how unconditional, all-out and true your kids love you – just the way you are. When we are on vacation together and can really spend a lot of time with each other, without time pressure, daily routines, etc., it is also very heartening to see how nicely we harmonize and chime together. Even the kids. Sometimes, two daughters can treat each other quite harshly, but when they are in a chilled environment and there’s no need to fight for attention, they calm down so quickly and reveal a very natural, unbiased and self-regulating social life.
7. One of the hardest things as a parent would be to remember what it's like to be young. With everything that's happening around you as an adult, it's easy to forget how a child thinks. Does it ever happen to you?
Oh yes, definitely. I mentioned earlier how simple a kid sees life, and it’s very easy for an adult to misinterpret it and add a layer of assumption and allegation. “She’s only doing that to provoke us” is an adult’s very natural reaction to a child’s misbehavior, because we’re applying our own range of complex behavioral patterns, like the expedience of actions, tactics, general nastiness. But in many cases, the child just wants to be hugged or needs a bit of attention or feels insecure about something.
8. (asked by ed2ken) Are you planning to continue writing music for commercial purposes after the release of Journey Home?
I never say never! If my time allows it and the projects are attractive, I’d love to dedicate some of my time and love to them.
1. What is your favourite genre of music?
I’m not so much bound to certain genres, I cherry-pick great songs from various genres. Besides my addiction to soundtracks, I love Snow Patrol, Sarah McLachlan, 30 Seconds To Mars, Coldplay… hard to put them into the same genre category.
2. What is your opinion on the more "synthetic" music styles, like dupstep or trance?
I don’t have a general opinion on that. If I listen to something and it resonates in my body or soul, makes me feel something, or think about something, I like it. Dubstep is always interesting to listen to, it never gets boring and gives my brain something to chew on.
3. Do you like to get experimental with the scales you use? For example pentatonic scales, Arabic scales, Blues scales and so on?
I never actively think about music theory. I speak the piano like a native “emotional language”, and I just let the music pour out of my hands onto the keys. Somethimes I manage to intuitively follow some sort of music theory patterns, but in most cases it’s just purely coincidence. ;)
4. What advice would you give to the fans who would like to take up composing?
Produce as much material as possible and present it in a convenient form, like an audio portfolio on Soundcloud or your own website. Don’t limit yourself to a certain genre. The industry – especially in Germany or parts of Europe – is too small for genre specialization. Try to get in touch with as many people as possible and expand your network.
5. How many instruments can you play?
I have invested most of my learning points into piano, and some into guitar. All other instruments that I performed for my soundtracks (percussion, woodwinds, didgeridoo, …) were merely experimental, and it took me quite some time to get the desired sound out of them.
6. Is there a genre of music or an instrument you deeply dislike?
No, not really. I just care less about some of them.
7. (asked by DenZanuda) Would you like to create a joint music project with any musician or composer, or do you prefer to do everything yourself?
Both sounds like fun. I don’t really have a preference here. I think it’s hard to work together in the early stages of writing a song. It’s a very fluent and emotional process for me. But when it comes to refining ideas and crafting them into finished themes, it’d be exciting to work closely with another composer. I can also imagine doing a couple of themes while the other composer does some other themes, and we agree upon some sort of music concept so that the style is consistent.
8. If you had a chance to make a joint music project with any musician or composer in the history of music, who and why would it be? And what kind of a project it might be?
That’s a very good question, and a hard one to answer. I think it would be Tschaikovsky, I adore his sense of harmony. It would have been a huge honor to be his padawan. When it comes to movie composers, I’ll have to go for the obvious: Howard Shore. It is remarkable how well he understood the desired moods of all the locations and characters in Middle Earth, and how his choice of instruments underlined the manifold characteristics.
9. (asked by unnamed man) Five years has gone by now when you come back to writing of music again. What feelings you experience now?
Missing the music-making was a very strong feeling. I have a piano at home, and it felt a lot like negligence to not use it very often. So now that I have made room in my life for my creative endeavors, I’m very much relieved and inspired and full of ideas. ;)
10. There's an one interesting question that we are all asking ourselves – how can you create some of the greatest music and make us feel a strong attachment to it and love it whole-heartedly, but at the same time there's someone else, a specialist, a person whose career is centered around writing music , who can't make such amazing music as you do?
Thanks a lot, that’s very kind. I can’t really answer that question, and I know many composers that touch my heart with every note.
One thing that I came to realize is that my composing style is just one out of many. I don’t have any background in music theory, and I’m really bad at writing it down and jiggling notes. All my sheet music had to be polished by an orchestrator before it could actually be performed by the orchestra in Gothic 3 (“Kai, that note doesn’t even exist on the oboe. Do you want him to drill an additional hole?”). But I speak the piano like a native language. I can close my eyes and just let emotions flow onto the ivories of my piano. So when I surround myself with concept art, story pieces, and basically anything that helps me understand the emotion, I can quite naturally translate that into music.
So I approach music very intuitively and “from the heart”, which may make it easier for the music to also get into other peoples’ hearts.
11. Who are your favorite composers of our time?
Regarding modern composers, I like Howard Shore because the LotR music is a massive masterpiece. I also admire James Newton Howard for his diversity. And John Williams for his ability to compose legendary and catchy main themes, but also use the orchestra like no other.
12. (asked by Cartmanez) Which videogame soundtrack do you like best? Who do you think is the best composer of videogames?
I think Jeremy Soule did a great job with the “Skyrim” soundtrack. And Austin Wintory’s score for “Journey” is also very close-to-the-heart. And maybe Leon Willit’s “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey”. It’s hard to award only one of them, because there are so many great composers. But okay, … Jeremy Soule.
1. What inspired you when you wrote the main themes of Gothic and Risen? Was it a song? Did you try to stimulate a certain feeling from the player?
I didn’t really have any specific inspiration. I typically start with a list of attributes that describe the desired emotion. Like “epic”, “adventurous”, “cool”, “slightly menacing” for the Gothic theme and “inviting to explore”, “harsh / massive / rock-solid”, “cool”, “magical and otherworldly” for Risen. Then all my thematic ideas have to be matched against these emotional criteria. I also try to pick up the setting in the instrumentation and add some sort of distinguish character. The electric guitar and percussion in the Risen main theme, for example, were supposed to add a fresh sound on the one hand, but also support the adjectives “cool” and “massive”. For the Gothic main theme, the use of harmonies in the first part underlined the “slightly menacing” aspect that resolved into “adventurous” in the second part. I’m really driven by the targeted mood.
2. What was the role of the project manager in your compositions? What kind of directions did Mike Hoge give you?
The characteristics described above, my “emotional compass” – so to speak –, is something that we determined together. I’d ask Mike what he wants to achieve with the music, what kind of emotion or association, and then I’d distill the attributes out of that. In my early days I wasn’t really good at being open for early feedback. I kind of locked myself away until a theme was almost finished, expecting it to cause some sort of “wow” effect. But I learned the hard way to involve others in the creative process relatively early, so I’d invite Mike to my office and just play life on the piano, knowing that he’s capable of understanding and imagining what I’m up to. So we could even evaluate certain musical ideas and directions in very early phases.
3. Are there any samples in your songs we might have missed? (for example Herr Mannelig in the Old Camp theme)
You mean original compositions from other people that I used as samples? I worked with a bunch of awesome people on the Gothic 3 soundtrack that were also involved in the creation of the actual themes. “Ishtar” (Gothic 3) for example was greatly influenced by Borislav Slavov (composer of Crysis 2 and 3). His knowledge and expertise in Eastern instruments and melodic patterns added a depth and credibility that would have been hard for me to achieve. And some of the guitar elements in the “Geldern” themes for Gothic 3 were improvised by Benjamin Hessler, and I used them as building blocks to arrange them into an actual song.
4. (asked by Disturbed) About music: all your works are good, but which one is the most valuable for you personally? Which one makes you especially proud of?
Do you mean entire game scores, or individual tracks? “Vista Point” is very high on my list, and the “Gothic 2 Theme” as well. And Gothic 3 is the project I’m most proud of, because I got to work with so many great artists and musicians, and the whole project was one big mind-blowing roller coaster ride.
5. Is there any truth to the rumour that you were making the monster sounds with your nose?
Oh my, I used all sorts of sources for creature sounds. Some I made myself with various parts of my body, including my nose ;), and others were a blend of screams from friends, animal sounds, and other elements. I was really experimenting a lot with crazy ideas!
6. What tools (hardware and software) did you use to obtain the wonderful sound of the soundtracks? Some of us could swear you used real instruments in all of your tracks.
Since I had to use “DirectMusic Producer” for Gothic 1 and 2, I was limited to using just a handful of instruments for each track. The idea behind DM Producer is that all songs are shipped with the game as MIDI files (“sheet music” like instructions) and tons of individual audio files for percussion beats, harp notes, string sounds, etc.! So the whole music is actually performed live during the playing, which gives us a lot of freedom regarding transitions and the sheer amount of music. But is also forced me to keep an eye on sample quality (less memory usage), instrument ranges (less audio files), and arrangement complexity (less performance impact). Nevertheless, I tried to use live instruments in most of my songs, just to make the music feel more natural and relatable.
For Gothic 3 and Risen I used Steinberg’s Cubase for composing and arranging the themes, with HALion as the sampler and a handpicked selection of sample libraries. My demo tracks for Gothic 3 would then be exported out of Cubase together with the sheet music, and orchestrator Valery Voronov took both to finalize the orchestral score.
7. Did you add real instruments on top of digitally generated songs?
Yes, a lot. Mostly guitar, human voice, percussions, and some woodwinds.
8. Is there any chance, would you be willing to do a cameo track for PB's next game? A discrete theme, in a forest or a hidden cave?
My album “Journey Home” is my first step back into the world of music making. When the dust has settled and I have my new studio and equipment in place, I’m generally open for everything.
9. What is your most fond memory from your time as a game developer?
I enjoyed every minute of it. But all the recording sessions (orchestra, choir, GOCOO taiko band, etc.) were definitely the pinnacles of my career. And I also enjoyed the initial phases of our projects when everybody was open-minded and we would pretty much brainstorm about each other’s ideas and visions.
10. Would you like to have another, more active role in the development of a game? Like for example writing or game design?
Yeah, that would be fun. But it’s also dangerous. Many people think they can be good game designers and writers, and they underestimate the complexity of the task. So it needs a lot of expertise, experience, and good intuition to be a good game designer. I think I have many good ideas, but I don’t know if I could provide a coherent big picture from scratch. It needs a Mike or a Björn for that. ;)
11. (asked by mirk) My question: Kai, as we know, you are planning to release your own album. But if all of a sudden you will be invited to write music for any other project (well, videogames, say), will you take the job?
It depends on the project, but … yes! I’m generally open to that. Not only that, I’d love to work on a game. ;) In my 5 years break from music I really missed it a lot, which is the reason why I’m returning to music-making with my album. The only problem for large-scale game projects will be time. I have a full-time job in my own company, plus 2.5 kids (the 3rd one is on the way). Thus, music for a massive RPG (for example) cannot be done in the little spare time that I have. :-/
12. In the credits of Gothic we can see MUSIC: Kai Rosenkranz and Willy Rosenkranz. Who is Willy and what what was contribution he made to the soundtrack that he was included in the credits?
Willy is my father, and I owe him much. He and my mum are both musicians, and they allowed me a very natural and intuitive relationship with the instruments I was surrounded with. For Gothic 1, I just spent a lot of time in front of the music authoring software (“DirectMusic Producer”) with my dad and we were trying to figure stuff out ;). He also contributed some musical ideas, but only to inspire me. He is a masterly guitarist, so he used his guitar to express ideas and I picked them up with my choice of instruments.
13. If you had a chance to turn back time, what changes would you decided to make in the music of Gothic 3?
I’d definitely make it less obtrusive and less repetitive. Especially the combat themes were a punch in the face after the 10th time.
14. (asked by Diman) Initially at the end of Gothic 3 should have been movies instead of slideshows. And we even know about music for them:
Can you tell us anything about what was planned?
All the music linked above was written for in-game scenes, except “Leaving Myrtana” which is actually called “The End”. Outro Beliar is for the beliar temple in Varant, “Outro Innos” is for the first encounter with Innos after you have activated the 12 pillars. And “Leaving Myrtana” / “The End” is the actual outro theme. It was written for a much shorter slideshow, which I think is the reason we re-used some of the in-game themes and edited them together.
I’m not sure if anything other than the slideshow had been planned for the ending of Gothic 3. I haven’t seen any animatics or storyboards.
1. Can you tell us a few words about your company, Nevigo, and your product Articy: Draft?
Nevigo is a technology firm that produces development tools for game studios. Articy:draft is our core product, it’s a collaborative environment for the design and creation of game content, like stories and dialogue, characters, locations, etc.! You can use it for blueprinting (ideation, concept, design), but also for the creation of actual game content that’s exported right into the game. So it can become a visual and very convenient editor for parts of your game data.
2. What is articy:access?
While articy:draft is the authoring tool, so to speak, articy:access is the bridge into the game. It has a component that’s hooked up to the game’s source code, and thus the game can import, manage and use the content created in articy:draft. You could call it a middleware.
3. (asked by Vladgamer) Which companies use your tool Articy:draft? Can you name some of the project that use your tools? Launched or in-development titles?
Star Citizen (Cloud Imperium Games), Cyberpunk 2077 (CD Projekt RED), Star Wars: The Old Republic (BioWare), Might & Magic X: Legacy (Ubisoft), just to name a few.
4. Are your tools designed for role-playing games, or can they be used for other genres as well?
They are pretty much genre-independent, but they produce most benefit in story-driven games.
5. What can we expect in the future?
We’ll expand the feature set so that articy:draft becomes a more general design tool, also for other parts of the game content, balancing, game mechanigs and rules, etc.! We’ll also further streamline the so-called “pipeline”, which is the technical infrastructure that consists out of the individual tools and the communication and data exchange channels between them.
A gift from Kai!
Kai Rosenkranz, you are great!
Kai was kind enough to grant us an exclusive sneak peak at his new project, in the form of a short video containing a couple of Gothic themes and a yet untitled song. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, the one and only Kai Rosenkranz:
Depending on your donation to Kai's Kickstarter campaign, you can also get a book containing sheet music from the Gothic Series and Risen. This is a sample from the book The Art of Gothic 3 (the kickstarter book will differ in quality and aspect)
© 2006 R. Marczinzik / A. Illiger / Pluto 13 GmbH
Used with the kind permission of Piranha Bytes and Ralf Marczinzik
So be sure to get your hands on the sheet music book by donating today, and join the international fan community which has gathered around his amazing music!