And F1 2017?
F1 2017 was different; F1 2017 was a nightmare. It was horrific because we’d agreed on a style of music. I wrote nearly an hour’s worth of music in this style which everybody in the sound team was happy with, but then when they played it to the management team, they were like, “Nah, we don’t like that.” Then I was told, “Right, you’re gonna write chill-out music, but you can’t have any percussion and you can’t have any chord changes. Oh, and we don’t want any melodic content!” Well, that’s not me and I struggled for months coming up with ideas, all of which were admittedly – I thought they were shit and so did everybody else.
I said, “Well, look, you need to give me some flexibility. I will still try and write a soundtrack that is relaxed and calm, but I need to have a little bit of melody and I gotta have some chord changes. Because otherwise I get bored and, if I get bored, then you’re not going to get anything. And I do need to have some percussive elements, but I will keep them tame. I won’t go mad.” And that’s why 2017 is quite different. But again, as soon as I could have chord sequences, it was ‘70s analog synth and back to Jean-Michel Jarre again! There’s still – even though the 2017 soundtrack is very different to anything that I’ve ever done previously – there’s still some me in there.
Funnily enough, I now really like it! I hated it whilst I was writing it, which made the process very difficult. But now I listen to it and actually I really like it! It was all written as one big piece of music, which we then cut up to go into the game, but each of the different areas needed something slightly different. The chords had to be the same, everything had to kind of be the same so that you could cross-fade from one area to the other and it wouldn’t conflict. I put it all back together again, so I’ve got an mp3 of 25 minutes of menu music, which are all the themes one after the other. This might make you laugh and this might prove that the music is shit, I don’t know. But if I’m having trouble sleeping, I put that music on and it helps me go to sleep [laughing]. Which is funny, considering – and I am trying to put this in a way that I’m not going to get into trouble for – that it was a difficult, very frustrating process and I felt very negative toward it. But now, I really like it and since then, I’ve been writing more music in the same style [laughing], which is bizarre!
Okay, let’s move toward the end of this very comprehensive interview. After leaving Codemasters, you went freelance again, setting up your own company called Sonic Fuel. What is Sonic Fuel’s mission?
Well, I have to have a name [laughing]! The thing is, before the music side of things on Formula 1, I was doing all of the car recordings, and we were doing it properly, absolutely properly. We were recording Formula 1 cars on the track and building recording systems into the cars. Drivers were going around and doing specific maneuvers that we wanted them to do, which is a very difficult thing to get organized, because Formula 1 teams don’t have time to do that. However, Formula 1 teams also have simulators and they want their simulators to sound good. So if we recorded the car for the game, then I did some additional work for the teams to get their simulators to have a similar sound to the game, which I love. From being a F1 fan to actually having your arms inside the nose cone of a current Formula 1 car is enough to give any Formula 1 fan a massive great big erection!
[laughing out loud]
It’s true, it’s true! Just to be that close to the cars – not the drivers. Because I’ve been to test sessions with Rubens Barrichello or Jenson Button standing next to me, and I couldn’t talk to them. I’d love to talk to them, but I’m not there to talk to them and they probably didn’t want me to talk to them. So, it’s quite difficult for a F1 fan, you just want to talk to them, but you’ve got to be professional. But I really enjoyed working with the teams. I love the fact that a lot of the simulators, they’re so futuristic in terms of everything apart from the sound – they all sound shit! To get the opportunity to go to a team and work with them to improve the sounds of their simulators has been fascinating and I love it. Whilst I want to write music, I want to earn money at the end of the day, so I can do sound design, some music composition, and I can do work with simulators and motorsport teams.
Sonic Fuel was a name that I thought incorporates sound, but also motorsport. The sound is the energy, the fuel or whatever you want to call it – I’m not very good at this sort of thing. But basically, I have no interest anymore in working in-house for a big corporation. I want to work with small teams, indie teams, outside games, in Formula 1, whatever. I want to work like back in the early ‘90s, where a developer was 10 to 20 people and they were more of a family, rather than a company who have dollar signs written on the insides of their eyelids.
You get treated a different way with these smaller developers and that’s where I want to be. Luckily, at the moment I’m working with two main clients. There’s one company called Funfair Technologies and they’re working on a blockchain technology in a casino, the back end for it. Then, if you’re into your retro stuff, you’ll know the name Jez San and Argonaut Software. They did Star Fox on the Nintendo at a point where the game cartridge had an extra processor, because the console wasn’t powerful enough to play the game. So I’m doing music and creative sound design for them.
I’ve also started working with a German company, BeamNG, where I’m working for them remotely. They do a physics-based driving game simulator. The way that their physics work, the way that their cars crash and deform is absolutely amazing. Their technology’s blown me away. They’re a small indie team, they’re self-funded. They sell the game on Steam; they don’t have a publisher. They have an office in Bremen, but everybody else who works for them is all over the world. I’ve been doing a little bit of work for them and they’ve just extended my contract. That is purely sound design; it’s all about making skid noises work, surface sounds and car sounds, and I’m really loving it! The only music I’m doing at the moment is a little bit for the casinos. But I’m also doing a CD for a Kickstarter project called Project Hubbard, which is Rob Hubbard from the Commodore 64. I’m producing a CD of John Carpenter-ish 1970s arrangements of his tunes (released in early Jan 2019).
Sonic Fuel, hopefully, will just be my bread and butter now, working from home with people who want to work with a weirdo like me, basically.
That’s amazing. So, what about you as a gamer, do you play video games often?
I don’t have a lot of time for it. I’ve got two kids. One of them lives with his mom, but he’s with me every week as well. I’ve played Terraria with him because he loves it. I haven’t got a PlayStation 4 and Xbox One yet. However, I did some BAFTA judging earlier this year, which gave me the opportunity to have both the consoles, so I want to buy a PlayStation 4 quite soon. I bought a decent video card for my PC. The sort of games I play: I love the GTAs and I am so excited for Red Dead Redemption 2. I need to get a PS4 to carry on playing Horizon Zero Dawn because I thought that was awesome.
But I like the indie games so I’ve got a load of indie games. Games like BeamNG (which I was a fan of before I started working for them) and Subnautica. Again, part of the reason is because indie games have proper computer game music. The indie scene is bringing back chiptune and bringing back cute tunes and this that and the other. I just love how the indie scene is embracing what we were doing in the ‘80s and ‘90s and bringing it into the 2000s and ‘10s and ‘20s. I don’t play as many games as I’d like to.
Do you have an all time favorite?
An all-time favorite game…
Could be anything from the ‘80s, ‘90s, whatever.
Oh, God no, because most of the ‘80s and ‘90s games weren’t that good, really [laughing]. I have to say, Commando on the Commodore 64 because it’s one of the few games that I’ve ever completed. I love the Grand Theft Auto series, I really do love those games. I’m also a big fan of Forza, Gran Turismo, Project CARS, Assetto Corsa, RaceRoom Racing Experience, F1 – I love all the driving games. I’m not very good at them. I was hoping that this would help [Mark produces his wheel controller] make things better, but there’s a reason why it’s on the floor. Rather than say there’s a specific game I like, I like genres. I love the racing genre and I love the Grand Theft Auto/Red Dead genre as well – Just Cause and that sort of thing.
Finally, the very last question. Given what you have said before, if you had to choose a single all-time biggest musical influence of your life, who would it be?
I don’t know whether Jarre or Hubbard. It would be difficult to split the two. I’d say Jarre from a technology point of view with the synthesizers and Hubbard on how you can make absolutely fucking amazing music on something that has three channels and 64 kilobytes of memory.