It isn't hard to get David Kanaga going. The mastermind behind the music in DYAD and Proteus, indie darlings famous for their procedurally generated audio and unique content, Kanaga makes no secret about his love for music. He talks about his work the same way another would wax poetic about a significant other, with a kind of barely-contained excitement that is outright contagious.
"I've been doing music since I was twelve. That was around the time I discovered FruityLoops which is, like, this music software of sorts - it was around then that I could really start writing stuff and developing areas. Before that, I was always messing around on the piano. And I think what drew me to music is probably similar to what drew me to video games - just having this system with input was really intriguing and compelling to me." Kanaga begins.
"Cases where the music doesn't really affect the game have never seemed very interesting to me. As such, with the games I've been involved with, I've pushed to make them as interactive as possible."
While his working conditions have been all but perfect, Kanaga says 'he is still trying to figure out how to do this.'
"I've talked about moving through the 'verse/chorus/verse' or 'a/b/a' structures and chord progression or whatever and treating these things, which have existed for a long time in music, in an interactive form and, well, it's kind of a complex thing. It takes a while for me to wrap my mind around the possibilities. As of right now, all the things I've done are totally ideal but I'd love to be able to write the music at a lower level so that there aren't even second seconds loops."
Why? A shrug, and Kanaga launches into his explanation, punctuating sentences with wild sounds when appropriate. "I'd love to do something with much shorter loops, stuff that can be pitch-shifted a lot, loops where you can, maybe, set start positions on. So, if you have a loop that looks like 'WOO! WHEE! DELIU DELIU' then you could say, 'This is Point A, Point B, Point C, Point F or whatever.' and you could start as many of those as you like."
"Basically, just being able to interact with the sound on a lower level because I think once you can do that, you can have a really rich composition that is totally emergent from how it's played."
Kanaga doesn't think the idea of dynamic music in video games has been explored enough yet. "We could do a ton more. I don't know about whether we 'should' be doing more but I think I'd like games more if we did. Like, yeah. I don't know. People think of video games, as well, a game, first and foremost. With Proteus, it's something we've been pushing up against. It's like, 'This doesn't have a win condition but does the game actually need that?'. I think there are all kinds of restrictions that come from a certain way of looking at things and what people think it is that they're making. But, the way I look at it is like this: I just think I'm making interactive music. So, when I go in and start working on a game, that's what I'm thinking. I end up creating my own internal limitations to hopefully be able to discover new things."
DYAD is one of Kanaga's latest collaborative efforts. An abstract, psychedelic-looking racing game that eschews traditional mechanics in favor of puzzle-like components, DYAD is out on PSN now. Even before it has entered the PSN market, it has already garnered considerable acclaim from various media outlets. When questioned about he develops the score for one of the game's twenty-seven levels, Kanaga explains that there is a lot of 'accounting for chaos and randomness'. "Because there's a player there that's going to be doing things that you don't know they're going to do. As such, you have to take an attitude of that 'Whatever they do is okay'. You also have to talk about the all of the player's possible actions. There are a lot of possible variables in all these different dimensions and different objection relations. You have to know all of these variables, all of this chaos and account for them."
"As you can imagine, that randomness comes into my process a lot when I'm making a level. A lot of times, I'll start by making a simple tune and then I'll play a game and I'll compose to that RAPIDLY. I kinda have a lot of randomness in that process too. I end up trying to have it all over the place."
Though many (correctly) credit him with the creation of DYAD's near-hallucinogenic sounds, Kanaga is quick to report that it is Shawn McGrawth who is responsible for some of his favorite musical things in the game. "Having the music go backwards? That's his thing. Some of the wildest things that happen in the music are all Shawn's doings too. There's this one level that starts out with you basically going at maximum speed. The music's playing at one thousand percent and it's just total madness - it's also exciting thing and that's one of my favorite stuff."