Rik Nieuwdorp of Claynote: “Adaptive music increases player immersion dramatically”

Rik Nieuwdorp is gamesmusic composer. His adaptive music was the soundtrack to 2011 IGF finalist Bohm. Nieuwdorp doesn’t believe in an ‘accompanying tune’, his business with his company Claynote is an audible emotional investment in the music: “Because when you attach a change in music to a meaningful parameter in a game, your immersion as a player will increase dramatically.” An interview.

How did you get started in the music business?

“At one time, I was studying architecture. Then, out of nowhere (and four years into university), I realised I didn’t ever want to become an architect. I had always loved music, playing in bands and noodling with computer music software. So first I studied audio engineering (all the technical stuff), and later learned to compose music at art school. The architecture eventually came back into my life in the form of designing adaptive music systems.”

How would you describe your style?

“When composing, I would not say I am limited to certain musical genres. I compose whatever is necessary for the project. Personally, I really like making slowly-developing, organic ambient music, so whenever I get a chance to work on that for a game or installation, I’m stoked. What sets my company and its music apart, or so I’ve heard from clients, is an audible emotional investment in the music, as opposed to ‘an accompanying tune’. Also, being the first music production company in the world to do so, Claynote specialises in designing Adaptive Music Systems, a way of composing and applying music so that it can adapt to unpredictable user input. This is extremely useful, because when you attach a change in music to a meaningful parameter in a game, your immersion as a player will increase dramatically.”

How did you find your own style?

“Musically, I have never thought about a certain style. I feel I can travel anywhere in music, and some elements of my personality will always end up in the end result. For inspiration I rely fully on my intuition, and it has served me well so far. It’s all about feeling, letting your guts tell you what type of music they want to hear in a certain environment or scenario. And then rationalising and organising these feelings while you’re arranging them in music. I am aware this sounds extremely woolly and vague. But you asked.”

What tools do you prefer?

“My DAW is Ableton Live. I really like how flexible and responsive it is. Instruments I usually record myself, although some things can’t be recorded, of course. I use a couple of surprisingly versatile synths by Camel Audio and reFX, and I’m a big fan of Native Instruments software, especially Reaktor, which I regularly use to create my own instruments or effects. You can really mangle stuff beyond recognition with it, which is nice.”

What is your work recipe?

“Like I said, intuition comes first.  I need to know the situation for which I’ll be composing. If it’s a game, I want to see as much of it as I can: levels, mechanics, artwork, mood boards, whatever’s available. As if by magic some ideas about the music will pop up, usually in the form of certain images, colours and textures. Being a synesthete, I just remember these visual associations and convert them to music. I have no rational composition methods for the initial creation process. Of course, after that initial phase, it is comforting to have enjoyed an extensive musical education to work out the details.”

Name some of the games you worked on.

“Some XBLA / iOS stuff like, for instance, BitStream, which heavily features adaptive music. A couple of interesting apps for museums and libraries; interesting places where you wouldn’t expect much audio. Some action-packed browser games called Shootin’ Cybertrash and Army of the Damned. And of course the IGF nominated Bohm, with which we (Monobanda, Cannibal and Claynote) created a highly relaxing, artistically ambitious and super adaptive experience for almost all senses. Right now I’m composing very emotive soundscapes for a really socially useful, visually amazing web environment in which teenagers can mourn a loved one. It’s very gratifying. Also, I’m working with Monobanda again, this time to turn a 1000-year-old ship in Utrecht’s Central Museum into a user-influenced interactive piece of art, with stunning light projection and, of course, an adaptive music system.”

Do you want to play  the games before you make music?

“Yes, as much as possible. If there are no graphics yet, I want to play the prototype/placeholder version. If that doesn’t even exist yet, I want to see the mood boards. I need the creative input, mainly a visual stimulus, to start up my own creative process.”

Samples of Nieuwdorp’s work

Bohm: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bi3Ye8VpR8
How adaptive music works: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qF-8t7hPSr4
Soundcloud page: http://soundcloud.com/claynote


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