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Interview | Magnus Pålsson on music

In the key of V…

Interview: Magnus Pålsson on music

VVVVVV’s soundtrack was almost universally adored. With the album now available, Fraser McMillan catches up with its composer.

“Obsession – such a nasty word.” Magnus Pålsson, known also as SoulEye, seems almost indignant at my assumption. Not an unreasonable one, given how proudly he describes his passion for old-school computer game music on his website, so I’m slightly taken aback. “I like the ’80s sound, but I’m not a freak for it”. The Swedish chiptune musician’s alternate influences apparently include “other chip musicians, contemporary rock, pop and indie, and some anime to a lesser extent.”

It’s an interesting mixture, certainly, but perhaps not a surprising one. VVVVVV’s stellar soundtrack attracted as much praise as the game itself, matching like-for-like its uncanny ability to take retro concepts and give them a fresh spin. Hearing the music outside the game is every bit as unsettling as the reverse, but perhaps there’s good reason for that: the two are effectively hardwired to each other by virtue of their simultaneous, concerted development. “Pushing Onwards and Positive Force were made after I saw an early work-in-progress thing from Terry [Cavanagh, VVVVVV's developer].” And then what? “Then I did my own thing.”

But the connection goes deeper than that. Pålsson may have indirectly contributed to VVVVVV’s development more than he lets on. “Terry thought the tunes were incredibly motivating and spent countless hours listening to them whilst constructing subsequent parts of the game,” he says. When roughly finished and in beta, Pålsson returned to complete the soundtrack that had, by that point, virtually written itself. “I felt as if I could do no wrong with the music, so in making the remaining tracks I didn’t have to think about the game very much.”

Making contact

It’s genuinely astounding how well the soundtrack and game gel, especially considering how little Cavanagh interfered with Pålsson’s work. “I was given totally free reign over the music,” he says. “My ‘direction’ was limited to one or two words describing the mood the song needed.” The two were seemingly a perfect match, and PPPPPP – the VVVVVV soundtrack album – is seemingly yet another product of the fascinating indie community spirit and openness that allows complete strangers to collaborate on projects and forge firm relationships beginning with the exchange of a few emails. “Our mutual friend Charlie [of Charlie's Games] used my song Retrotune in the first level of his game, Space Phallus, in which you play a sawed-off dog’s head that rains hot death on evil male space genitalia,” says Pålsson. Nowhere else could people meet under circumstances like that. Nor, indeed, could a creative relationship be struck so quickly and easily: how did the pair begin working together? “Terry contacted me after liking the song.”

As I inquire about their relationship, citing Pålsson’s adoration and admiration for his friend on the hysterical bonus track Waiting For VVVVVV, he presumably exaggerates somewhat: “There’s no point hiding it any more. We were lovers, and this [song] was just an expression of our love.” Upon receiving a phone call from Cavanagh, however, he quickly rescinds the statement and rushes to assert that “We are not even platonic friends.” Wryly wrapping it back around to his own lyric, he informs me that, “In fact, he’s a monster. I think we all know that.” It’s crying out for a wink emoticon.

Joking aside, Pålsson has a great affinity for independent gaming, producing music for Nifflas, Cavanagh and Charlie’s Games among others. He’s clearly a fan himself, but what draws him to work almost exclusively with the little guys? “The passion of the developers,” he tells me. “When somebody puts their heart and soul into a project it’s just great.” He clearly feels lucky to have such a diverse and enthusiastic bunch to work with. “Helping them out becomes a privilege.”


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1 Comment

    I remember that CU Amiga disk, it had a pink label and yellow writing and got me into the demoscene. Good times. Nice article!

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