Behind the Music and Sounds of Transistor

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Behind the Music and Sounds of Transistor

Hey everybody! I’m Darren, the audio director at Supergiant Games and composer for Transistor. I’ve been blown away by the amazing response the game and the music have been getting, and I thought I’d tell you a little bit about my approach to the game’s music. From our point of view as a team, audio is a really important part of creating an immersive, atmospheric experience, and everything I do as audio director is in service of that. Supergiant is based in of San Francisco, but Logan Cunningham (our talented voice actor) and I are all the way in New York. Since we’re a small team, we have to make do with whatever we can get our hands on when it comes to making games!

Transistor: Darren's Studio

That’s my apartment (and dog and baby) to the right. Just about all the sounds and music in Transistor were created here. The constraint of working out of my home studio, with only the resources available to me, is a big part of my creative process. It means that all the music in the game is made up of some combination of recorded instrument parts that I play myself, as well as software instruments or samples from a sound library — and also Ashley Barrett’s vocals, which we knew would be a big part of the game. At the moment I don’t really have the means to record live drums properly (neighbors…), so I end up using a lot of samples and software instruments for percussion tracks.

“I tried to create a genre, which I ended up calling ‘Old-world Electronic Post-rock.'”

The main thing that I try to focus on when composing is vibe. What should the piece feel like? If I start with a particular feel in mind, this dictates a lot of things about the piece right away, such as tempo, production aesthetic, tonal palate (happy, sad, major, minor, and so on), and gives me some useful constraints for how to proceed. For Transistor, it was also important to me to define the sonic palate of the game overall. By selecting a handful of instruments and using them to varying degrees throughout all the pieces in the game, I could connect the pieces to one another sonically, even though the content of each piece was very different. To help out with this process, I tried to create a genre for myself to work within, which I ended up calling “Old-world Electronic Post-rock.” After a lot of experimentation, I zeroed in on electric guitars, harps, accordions, mandolins, electric piano, and synth pads as some of the primary textures in the game. Each of these instruments tries to express some component of that genre mash-up.

Transistor on PS4

From an implementation standpoint, I wanted to try something I had never tried before: multi-channel music! For Transistor, every piece of music in the game consists of multiple stems playing at once, which we can then manipulate individually in real time. This lets our level designers turn certain tracks on and off at will, and we can also apply real-time effects to individual channels. For example, when the player enters Turn() mode, we apply an EQ filter to the music tracks, and bring in a vocal track that is silent during real-time gameplay. We really liked how this sounded during development and ended up using it throughout the game. This multi-channel approach also lets us get a lot of mileage out of each piece based on which channels we use at a given time. Sometimes just playing the percussion of a given piece of music adds a lot of tension to a scene!

If you’d like to have a listen to how it all came together, we’ve posted the Transistor Original Soundtrack online in its entirety! We recommend playing through the game first though, since the game and the music are so closely tied.

“The vocals for the soundtrack were recorded… in my closet.”

Though I composed all of the music myself, it really was a team effort to get it all implemented the way it’s presented in the game. Chris Jurney, one of our awesome engineers, was instrumental in the technical setup of this stuff. Greg Kasavin, our creative director, did most of the scripting of when these types of multi-channel changes actually occur in game. And Camilo Vanegas, our incredible animator/3D modeler, was responsible for creating the beautiful, mournful animation you see when you press the L1 button to hum a song, and the vocal track comes in. Amir Rao our studio director first thought of the idea that maybe you could stop and hum a song at any point, and we’re really happy we got that in the game and that it’s been so well received.

The vocals were also a really important part of this game. After all, you play as a singer! I was lucky enough to work with my friend Ashley Barrett who provided all of the vocal tracks you hear throughout the game. We worked together over a two-year period and more than a dozen sessions to put together all the vocals for the soundtrack, which we recorded… in my closet:

Transistor: Darren's Studio

No kidding! The setup isn’t fancy but for us, it works. Now I could go on all day about all the aspects of the audio in Transistor, though perhaps that’s for another time! Thanks again to everyone for being so enthusiastic about the game, and we really hope you enjoy it. The outpouring of support has been overwhelming, and I can’t wait to hear from the rest of you!

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52 Author Replies

  • Great game, where can I buy your soundtrack? :^)

  • Such a beautiful game! Thank you for another great experience on PS4!

  • I think I listened to the soundtrack four times yesterday. Possibly my new favorite soundtrack, up there with Mirror’s Edge and Silent Hill for certain. Even my mother, who doesn’t play or know anything about video games, watched me play the game for a while. She was just so drawn into the visuals and music that it didn’t matter what actually was going on in the game. Seriously the best game I’ve played this year so far, even better than Dark Souls 2.

  • Did you or Ashley find any challenge when it was decided to have Red hum along to most of the songs? I imagine it would get rather cramped and toasty recording that many vocals in a closet.

    I loved the Bastion soundtrack, and have been really enjoying the Transistor soundtrack. Looking forward to whatever work you have coming up in the future.

    • When we decided to have humming for every piece in the game it certainly increased the scope of our work! We tried to space it out into many sessions, so we didn’t have to do more than a few hours of recording at a time. So glad you’ve been enjoying the soundtrack!

  • This album puts me in the greatest mood the emotion of the game is ever so present in the music i love the game i love the music i love supergiant i cant say enough kind words to express my grattitude to what u guys do so ill just end with a thank you.

  • Great soundtrack, I actually just picked it up on! I wish the game offered a demo so people can experience it. Trailers are great but demos provide more. The demo is what sold me on Child of Light.

    • Glad you like the soundtrack! For a number of reasons, we weren’t able to do a demo this time around, but there are a bunch of “let’s play”s up on youtube if you want to check it out more.

  • I bought this game the day it came out, but haven’t beaten the game yet. I only get to play it about an hour each night after work, but I think I’m getting close to the end. I just wanted to say that this game is amazing. The gameplay, the graphics, and the music all blend together so well. I can’t point to any one part of the game that makes it so good because all three are just so amazing. But when the first trailer of Transistor came out, I remember loading up the trailer just so I could listen to the music. Great soundtrack so far. Great game all around.

    • Thanks! I know how precious after-work-time can be, and I definitely appreciate that you are spending it with our little game. Glad to hear it’s been satisfying so far!

  • Bought the soundtrack after finishing the game and it’s incredible, love it as much as I loved the Bastion soundtrack.

    I think the addition of the humming button in the game was a very nice touch and would often hear out whole songs with the addition of the humming.

    Are there any plans to make the instrumentals available with their respective humming tracks?

    • The humming feature was a lot of fun to implement and I’m glad you like it! We’ve gotten a lot of similar requests and we are looking into it…

  • This comment may seem a little unusual, but my wife is a Bellydancer. I had her listen to pieces of the soundtrack for Transistor because I noted many of the songs seemed appropriate for the style of Bellydancing she does. I am pleased to let you know she is working on a new piece right now, using the wonderful music, and Ashley Bennett vocals for the song We All Become (mine and many others personal favourite).

    Thanx for a great soundtrack.

    • Awesome! That sounds cool! (My cousin is a bellydancer) Let me know if there is a video someday!

  • Sorry Ashley, just noticed I got your last name wrong…Barrett

  • Such an informative article! Many thanks for writing it as the game & it’s soundtrack are already favored by lots of gamers. So, it’s only natural that the aural creative process left us wondering… again appreciate all the insight! I wish Supergiant uber success in the now released Transistor & future projects!

  • Transistor soundtrack is as good as Bastion soundtrack!

  • “Amazing” pun intended. Thanx Justin, add me on PS4 and see my cool personal Spidey avatar too.

  • you have no idea how much I love this soundtrack.. I LOVE when games have great music like this. music is life to me, thanks for the amazing soundtrack & game!

  • I’m loving the soundtrack, didn’t paid attention to this game until now, you sold me the game with this great music. As a musician with two decades of work on my back, great job +Darren

    P.S (Sorry for the bad english, still learning)

  • I love everything about Transistor, including the music. Well done, and thank you for this great experience.

  • Amazing game, amazing narrative, amazing soundtrack, like Bastion was. Thank you so much for your work. Always close to tears.

  • I’m just starting the game, trying to figure out the battle mechanics but it sure looks and sounds beautiful.

    But never mind all that. Darren, your puppy and baby are adorable!!

  • I’ve played a lot of good games in the past few months but transistor is the first game I’ve played in a while where the synergy between the writing, voice acting, art direction, music, and gameplay are are all on the same level; and it’s a very very high and impressive level.
    Thank you for your work on it Darren, it’s incredible.

  • I usually don’t post here, but everyone needs this soundtrack… The Spine is a song I have listened to 3-7 times a day since I got the soundtrack. The game is great but the soundtrack pushes the game to another echelon. You are a musical genius.

    • Well thank you so much! The Spine is actually the first song I wrote for Transistor, so I’m extra glad you like it!

  • It’s amazing that’s such as small team made this great of a soundtrack. I already congratulate you on twitter so I’ll just say that I’m super exited to see what you come up with next! I’m officially a super fan lot your work lol

  • Just beat the game, and I absolutely loved it. I was a big fan of the music in Bastion, and that has not changed in Transistor. I haven’t played many games that has had such of an impact on me as Bastion and Transistor have. Great work!!

    • I’m glad the games have had an impact! That’s all we can hope for as developers, so thanks again!

  • I have to agree and request alongside TheBimBams, I would love to have an extended cut of the soundtrack with humming. Such a simple idea, but it just feels right. Thank you for another stellar OST Darren, but we need you to sing on the next game! Your voice on Bastions theme was gorgeous as well. ;)

  • This music has blow my mind, congrats, the best game in this 2014 yet!!!

  • anothernormalman

    OMG I can’t stop listening to this soundtrack once I started earlier today! This is about about to push me to buy a PS4 and buy transistor to experience this soundtrack the way is was meant to be, by playing transistor!

  • incredible music; really adds to the atmosphere and even the gameplay. everything about Transistor screams a unique style and the music takes the lead there too!

    • Thanks so much. Atmosphere is a really important focus in our development process, so I’m glad it comes across.

  • got this game last night i had to stop playing it this morning had to sleep… its like reading a good book. well done.

  • I just wanted to thank you for the wonderful experience. That gameplay was fantastic, but I really think that the music was instrumental (ohoho) in my purchase. The use of We All Become in the trailer was brilliant.

    I also second (third, fourth…) the request for the humming and processed tracks. :)

  • Reading the other comments, i fell free to say we Sony lovers hope the PS4 platform bring more exclusive games like this soon!

  • I really can’t put into words what I feel towards this game – and subsequently, the music, since it’s simply integral to the experience, as it was in Bastion. That, along with Greg’s storytellying, Ashley & Logan’s voices (I seriously cannot get enough of them), and Jen’s art (just… just… oh god), again made one of the most perfect, emotional games I’ve ever played. And when the game’s been played, I still have this, the music, to listen to. And it’s incredible. Such sad songs, but the good kind of sad?

    Listening to this soundtrack feels like the entirety of the game is reaching inside our hearts… or something. Y’know how I said I can’t put into words what I feel towards this? Yeah you can see that now. But still the feeling remains, that I need to find the words, I need to say how emotional and beautiful these songs are…

    Anyway, Darren, thank you, thank you very much for this.

    • You are quite welcome! I’m really glad to hear that it’s the good kind of sad, not the other one :)

  • Everything about this game is nothing short of amazing! This isn’t just one of the best indie games you’ll play out there this year it’s one of THE best games you’ll play this year! The soundtrack and theme song alone sold me on this game, but the gameplay is much more than I expected. It goes even deeper than Bastion did. You guys deserve all the praise you get, especially when you only had access to limited resources.

    I’ll be buying this and the Bastion soundtrack soon to further show my support. Keep making great games like this Supergiant.

    • It’s great to hear that you had such a positive experience. We’ll certainly do our best to keep making games as well as we can!

  • Beautiful, beautiful job. The addition of the EQ filter and the vocal track when switching into Turn() really added a new dimension to that; it truly felt as if time had frozen for everything except for me as Red and the transistor. Really immersive stuff.

    I would also pay good money to buy an expansion to the soundtrack that includes the humming and processed tracks. :^) Not gonna lie, I was a little disappointed when ” _n C_rcl_s” wasn’t included in the original soundtrack, haha.

    All the best!

  • I gotta say, just finished my second play through – and naturally, got Plat()!! Amazing game, and the soundtrack to it is amazing, not only on its own, but in concert. (Same could be said for Bastion too – but I think this takes it up a notch)

    Like #32, I really liked the dynamic nature of the music – being able to hum along with any track, or even more for me: the high pass filter that gets thrown onto the track when you enter a menu or frozen-time turn, reducing it to the bass and low drums. Really hypes you up when you hear a track kicking in the back as you setup your load out.

    While it isn’t a $60 box title, Transistor still does what those games can’t and thats MASTER every element of a game: storytelling, visuals, fun/intuitive combat, fun progression/customization, and MUSIC!

    Darren, congrats to your team for the stunning audio work and congrats to everyone else for putting out a real work of art.

    • Thank you so much! It’s great to hear that you liked the dynamic music features. Those were a lot of fun to implement.

  • this game seemed to be way better than bastion. I purchased the ost off of google play and the music is very high quality. the vocalist Ashley Barrett did very well at capturing the mood and setting of the 5 tracks she was featured in

    • I’ve been really lucky to work with Ashley a few times now. She always does a great job. Glad you like it!

  • I haven’t been able to play the game yet (preordered it of course), but I will soon (FFXIV stealing all my time).

    I love the music so far, All Become One has been on repeat so much since the initial trailer that used it. <3

    Pre-ordered the physical CD of the soundtrack too. :3

  • I love the combat in the game with it’s fast action and quick thinking needed with limiters. It didn’t take long to get the hang of it cause there is one game that had similar aspects. Resonance of Fate was my one of my favorite games and it uses some of the same mechanics used in this game. Though different combat mechanics entirely, both games have the same sort of Interactive take turn play to them.

    Love the sound tracks and the voice acting with normal game travel that work so well together. I’m amazed with the overall effort and can’t wait to see what Supergaint games comes up with next. Keep up the good work .

    • I’m glad you enjoyed using the limiters! That was a lot of fun to test towards the end of development for sure. Thanks so much!

  • There is not a lot I can’t say that you may already not know, yes, Transistor is really that good.
    I love the fact that it has your soundtrack in it.
    It just wouldn’t be the same game.

    So from me, thank you for the experience.

    Side note: I couldn’t wait and finish the game before buying and listening to the soundtrack. It really is amazing.

  • Man after Bastion you became my all time favorite artist. Thank you sooo much for the music you and Ashley produce. Amazing soundtrack simply just amazing! Thanks again.

  • I can not put it any better than anyone else here, amazing music for an amazing game. Like one reviewer put it, as soon as I finished I went immediately to recursor mode. If I kill you do I get your avatar? Like a kind of highlander situation? Long story short I want that avatar. I also want DLC, though I know you won’t do it, I would spend $40 more, for more time in Cloudbank.

    • Glad you like it!
      No highlander situation here…
      We don’t have plans for DLC at the moment, but we haven’t ruled anything out.

  • Hey, Darren. Love your work and I was glad I could catch you and Ashley Barrett sing at PAX last year.
    Wanted to grab your soundtrack for Transistor too, but was wondering if the good folks at Supergiant Games were gonna do a collectors pack like they did for Bastion. Doubt that’s your department or if they filled you in on that, but mind bringing one up if it comes along?

    Cheers! Oh and more Red posters. Please and thank you.

    • Hey! That was a super fun show! I’m not sure about if we’ll be doing any sort of collector’s pack or anything…

  • Ah, shame. Guess now is a great time to pick up the CD.
    Looking forward to whatever your next project will be.

  • I know this is about the soundtrack…..but……….( sigh )…….. Vita.

  • Really do want to get back to the kind of games that were made because the developers enjoyed making them, or also putting some heart into it.

  • The soundtrack is so awesome; i plan on getting this game soon once i get my PS4 this year or so. I would have PS4 this year but alot of things came up and family before spending on gaming.

  • Wow, great read. Thank you, and congratulations on your achievement! The soundtrack is really beautiful so far (haven’t finished the game yet so haven’t heard it all).

  • I bought the game and soundtrack. Haven’t had time to dedicate to the game yet but I’ve been listening to the soundtrack non stop at work or when outside. It is fantastic.

  • I bought the game + soundtrack bundle right off that bat, I didn’t even need to listen to know it was something I would want to own. I’m glad to say my gut-feeling was absolutely 100% correct. You and your team really hit it out of the park, and I can’t stop listening to the soundtrack. The humming absolutely made the game, and made you feel connected to the characters in such a unique and may I say – heartbreaking way. Thank you for all your hard work, it really shines through.

    • Thank you! It’s super cool to hear that people are enjoying the humming! We honestly didn’t know how many people would even notice it, let alone care about it, but we had a lot of fun doing it!

  • This game and soundtrack are wonderful. I have been waiting since the announcement and knew it would be great after enjoying Bastion so much. I think I got to the first battle, then booted my laptop up to buy the soundtrack. I am actually listening to it while reading the article, but I don’t want to pass track 17 yet because I haven’t beaten the game.

    Great job Darren, Ashley and everyone involved in the process of making this game larger than life!

  • Bravo. I absolutely adore this game so inspiring. Aesthetically it is a gem both in regards to visuals and audio. I don’t have a lot of time to play games these days and I am still in “process” of finishing the game. However when I heard teh vocals in The Spine… I looked up the OST and purchased it, I haven’t bought an album in forever, I think you hit the nail on the head with the feel and tone of the album. Thanks for creating a great game SGG.

    • The feel and tone are pretty much my top priorities when composing, and I definitely appreciate that those landed for you. Thank you so much!

  • I can’t imagine playing this without the music. It’s easily my favorite OST for a game this year and although the digital copy of the soundtrack is nice a part of me wishes there was a great physical copy.

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