Andrián Pertout / Freelance
Added on August 27th, 2015 (2015 views)
Hello Andrián! Please introduce yourself to anyone who may not know you.
My name is Andrián Pertout. I'm a composer based in Australia, though I was born in Chile (to a Chilean mother and a Slovenian father). These days, I dedicate myself mainly to writing contemporary classical concert or notated music, but in the past I have composed quite a lot of film music (for documentaries, short films, television programmes, commercials, computer games and stage productions), as well as some pop music.
How did you first get started with computers in general and the C64 in particular?
A friend of mine worked as a programmer at Beam Software, a video game development studio founded in 1978 and based in Melbourne, Australia, and he recommended me as a suitable candidate to compose music for their computer games. The platform they used in the early 1980s was essentially the Commodore 64. The company later became known as Melbourne House, and it was eventually sold to Krome Studios in 2006.
Tell us how your career in games started. Did you submit sample work to various games companies in order to procure jobs, or did jobs come to you?
No, I didn't submit sample work to different games companies looking for jobs, but I did submit a lot of tapes to film companies in those days. And "tape" of course meant cassettes back then. I used to run off a hundred cassettes at a time, get out the Yellow Pages, make a hundred phone calls, arrange appointments, send packages through the mail and/or deliver some personally, etc. Also, I would do this not only in Melbourne, but also Adelaide, Sydney and even Perth; I toured the country, promoting myself. My philosophy was simple: contact a hundred people, and if none of them are interested, move on to the next hundred. As with anything else, it's all about the law of numbers, and I did get work: at least one or two out of each hundred would come back with a positive response. That's ultimately how I got work, though I never actually contacted any other computer games companies, as I guess I had my eyes set more on film music work in those days. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the computer games scene would of course go on to become bigger than Hollywood, as it were, in later years.
What attracted you to the C64 as a development platform? In your opinion, was it as special as we like to think it was?
I actually found the process fascinating. One must remember that the situation then was almost bizarre compared to now: the music was monophonic, so only one line of music at a time was possible, and everything had to be punched in as code. I remember having to fill out pages and pages of numeric code for the programmers to then convert into computer language, and finally musical notes, i.e. sound; this was before practical midi programming. The Roland MC-500 Micro Composer (an 8-track, 16-midi-channel sequencer with a 30,000 note capacity, track merging, microscopic editing and quantisation) didn't come out until 1986. Writing monophonic music is definitely a great challenge for a composer, and I have always appreciated a challenge. In some ways, it's no different to writing single-line music, such as for example in a piece for solo flute, where you have to incorporate horizontal as well as vertical melodic and harmonic movement within the confines of a single line.
What C64 games did you work on? Please include a list of titles and as many details as you can recall about each of them.
I actually only worked on two Commodore 64 computer games: Penetrator (1984) and Fighting Warrior (1985). The approach I took was pretty much the same as I would have taken when composing film music. I simply tried to create the right atmosphere for each scene. I have always regarded music and the composition of music as the same challenge, whatever the genre. Let us for example compare contemporary classical concert or notated music and electronic music. Is there any real difference when it comes to compositional methodology? I would say no, because you will always for instance have to consider dynamics (the volume of a sound or note), the difference is merely that on one platform, that means actual specified dynamics, so essentially shaping the music within a range of let's say pianississimo (ppp) and fortississimo (fff), whereas in electronic music, we think of dynamics as amplitude (the size of the vibration, which determines how loud the sound is), so rather than writing dynamics, we just turn the volume knob up or down, but this is exactly the same exploration of one of the six parameters of music composition: form (or structure), melody (pitch material), harmony, rhythm, texture and timbre (instrumentation), text and expression (dynamics and articulation).
What companies did you work for, either in-house or freelance, and in what capacity?
I have always been a freelance composer, so I have never worked exclusively for one particular company. There were of course certain companies, and independent film directors, whom I worked for on an ongoing basis, but it was always based on an individual contract for a specific project.
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer at that time. When you were assigned to a game, how much time did you usually have to complete your work? What tools, development kits, etc. did you use, and did you create any yourself to fulfil a need?
I did not use a computer myself in the early days, as I was always assigned a computer programmer to deal with the computer coding of the music, so wasn't actually until the early 1990s that I became computer literate. I bought my first Microsoft Windows 3.1 PC in 1993. It had four megabytes of RAM, which was quite amazing, really, as the cost of upgrading to eight megabytes of RAM in those days was 400 Australian dollars, just for the extra four megabytes! Sometimes, you had to wait until the next day just to complete the processing on an image in CorelDraw. I had, however, started using the Roland MC-500 Micro Composer in 1986, so I did program some MIDI tracks in the 1980s using that device. Music composition in the early 1980s was still done the old-fashioned way, with a pen and paper and a regular acoustic piano or at most an electronic keyboard. My instrument of choice in those days was the Fender Rhodes Mark II (a 73-note stage piano), which I still have in my studio today. But computer games music, much like film music, is composed quickly, so the turnaround on a project could for example be as little as one week, while two weeks would be a luxury. Larger projects require more time, of course, but if I was for example composing fifteen minutes of music for a documentary film, then I might allocate three or four days for actual composition and use the remaining three days for scoring, recording, mixing and final delivery of the project.
Were there any games you worked on which never saw the light of day? Which game are you most proud of, which was the most fun to do, which became a real challenge, and which ended up giving you the biggest headache?
Penetrator (1984) and Fighting Warrior (1985) were the only two computer games I worked on in the 1980s, and I haven't composed for any other games since. While "proud" is perhaps too strong a word, I am however very happy to have had that experience, as it certainly enriched my compositional thinking. I really feel that all my previous experiences (composing not only for film and computer games, but also pop songs) inform my compositional process today.
If you had the chance to revisit any of your past games, what would you add, change or remove?
I almost never go back to an old piece and attempt to change or improve it, as I feel that our work is among other things a personal reflection of the time it was composed, and so I prefer to leave that moment intact and respect and/or accept it for what it is. Also, there is of course no way I could compose today the same piece that I composed in 1984, but that's the essence of life, and I strongly believe that there's no point living life in hindsight. The only exception to this rule I can think of is perhaps orchestral work: if an opportunity comes up for a symphony orchestra to perform an orchestral composition which is in need of some revision, then I will use that opportunity to tweak the work a bit.
Are there any particular games you would have liked to have worked on or converted from arcade? Did you get much of a chance to play games as well as create them? Any favourites?
I quite enjoyed playing arcade video games such as Namco's Pac-Man (1980) in the 1980s, but Tomohiro Nishikado's Space Invaders (1978) was by far my favourite game of all time. Andrew Schartmann, in his 2013 article Maestro Mario: How Nintendo Transformed Videogame Music into an Art, points out that "the music in Space Invaders was revolutionary in the gaming industry". Schartmann identifies "three aspects of the music that would have a significant impact on the development of game music: (1) the alien-inspired hit featured continuous music; (2) music interacts with on-screen animation to influence the emotions of the player; (3) the music popularised the notion of variability – the idea that music can change in accordance with the ongoing narrative."
Was there a particular programmer, artist and/or musician who influenced you and possibly inspired some of your own work, or did inspiration come from somewhere else?
At that time, I was influenced by many things from classical music to pop culture. My favourite bands at the time were Japan, The Stranglers and Kraftwerk. I still actually listen to Japan these days, and Mick Karn of Japan (who sadly passed away in 2011) is still one of my favourite bass players of all time. He was, and still is, a major influence on me, as his fretless bass playing is implanted in my psyche. Nowadays, of course, my listening habits have expanded to incorporate a vast amount of music, including non-Western music from every corner of the globe, as well as contemporary or modern classical music. Having said that, listening to Mozart or Beethoven is to classical music what listening to Elvis is to pop music, so when it comes to classical music, I don't mind listening to the classics, but I prefer to listen to something a little more current, more "today".
What are you up to these days?
I am currently the Australian delegate of the ACL (Asian Composers' League) and Honorary Fellow at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (University of Melbourne). I was also President of the Melbourne Composers' League between 2009 and 2013. As well as being a freelance composer, I also work as a composition lecturer, teacher, supervisor and examiner at Bachelor, Masters and PhD levels at the University of Melbourne.
Regarding my compositional activities, I recently completed an arrangement of Digressioni modali (2003) for tenor saxophone, trumpet and pianoforte. It was for the American saxophonist Noah Getz, for a presentation at the Levine School of Music in Washington, D.C. entitled "3Stream: Where Classical and Jazz Converge". I have also just completed a new arrangement of Bhuwana Agung for soprano saxophone and gamelan orchestra (2008) for Manolete Mora and Semar Pegulingan (the Balinese gamelan orchestra of the University of New South Wales). The work was commissioned by Julian Burnside AO QC for Gamelan Gong Kebyar, the Balinese orchestra of Hong Kong University, and will be presented at the governor's invitation in Bali, Indonesia, featuring the great Australian saxophonist Sandy Evans. The Orquestra Cia Bachiana Brasileira, conducted by Ricardo Rocha, recently presented Navigating the Labyrinth for string orchestra (2002, revised 2010) at the Planetário de Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and Bénédiction d'un conquérant for symphony orchestra (2004) is receiving its second Chilean performance in June 2015 by the Orquesta Sinfonica Universidad de Concepción, conducted by Dutch conductor/pianist Jan Schultsz, at the Teatro Universidad de Concepción in Concepción, Chile's second city.
In May, I travelled to Mexico to attend a performance of Symphonie de guerre for symphony orchestra (featuring L'assaut sur la raison and Bénédiction d'un conquérant) by the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de México, conducted by José Luis Castillo, at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. In June and July, I will then be travelling to Paris, Budapest, Split and Bari, though the focus of this tour will be a lecture on my piano compositions which I will be giving at the 6th World Piano Conference (WPC) in Novi Sad, Serbia. Later in the year, in November, I will be travelling to the Philippines to attend the 33rd Asian Composers League (ACL) Festival & Conference.
Another recent commission was a collaborative installation for the upcoming 2nd International Symposium on Sound and Interactivity (SI15) for the School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. I am also about to start on two composition projects commissioned by Julian Burnside AO QC: a Sonata for Flute Ensemble (including alto, bass, contrabass and subcontrabass flutes and featuring Peter Sheridan, director of the Monash University Flute Ensemble and a specialist in low flutes) and a new work for clarinet, violin and pianoforte for the extraordinary Melbourne group Plexus (comprising Monica Curro on violin, Philip Arkinstall on clarinet and Stefan Cassomenos on pianoforte).
Thank you for helping us preserve an important part of computer and gaming history!
back to the list of available interviews