Sticking with the recent "making of" theme they've been going with on the Legend of Grimrock blog, Almost Human's Antti takes us through the creation of the game's ambient tracks and the goals they had for the memorable background sound. For added effect, hit the link and listen to the tracks he embedded in the post itself:
When we begun the Grimrock project we already had one good looping ambient soundscape that we could use that Markus “Captain” Kaarlonen of Poets of the Fall fame had made for one hobby game project that Petri and Olli had been working on some years ago. It was pretty much a perfect match for this game too but the only problem was that we needed more and we were on a tight budget. So that left me as the most practical option for creating the new tracks since I’ve been fiddling with electronic music as a hobby for a while and, with our salaries, I was pretty damn cheap too! ;)
Of course I couldn’t just go ahead and start composing whatever pops in to my mind since there were a few requirements. Most importantly, the ambient music would need to be looped over and over again for hours without getting on the players’ nerves. To ensure this, we decided to avoid making the ambient tracks too musical and instead try and make something that comfortably sits in the space between actual environmental sound effects (tumbling rocks, ancient mechanisms, dripping water etc.) and proper instrumental background music. Basically this meant some ambient hums and drones overlaid with subtle, slowly evolving abstract melodies topped with some eerie sound effects that are blended in to the rest of the ambient track. And for many of these elements, granular synthesis was the perfect tool.
Granular synths are great for taking some recorded source audio, that by itself might sound sort of everyday or even a little boring, and turning it into a slowly evolving abstract and scary soundscape while still retaining some eerie sense of familiarity that comes from using actual sounds as the basis. Granular synthesis is basically a method of sound synthesis where you take a sample and split it down to tiny tiny grains which you loop very rapidly. You can then blend and randomize the selection of the grains or make the sound evolve slowly by, for example, pushing the selection of grains slowly into some direction. Robert Henke explains the process pretty well in this video where he talks about the Granulator which was the same synth as I used with these tracks.