For those of you who are unfamiliar, GRIS is the (relatively) new game from Nomada Studios. Released on 13th December 2018, GRIS is a puzzle-platformer and one of the standout games of 2018. With beautiful artwork, fluid gameplay, and great music all closely intertwined, GRIS is a work of art as much as it is a video game.
One of the reasons GRIS works as well as it does is the music from Berlinist. Berlinist, composed of Marco Albano, Luigi Gervasi and Gemma Gamarra, was formed in 2011 in Barcelona. They “dream about music and make music about dreams.”
This mentality is clearly seen in the GRIS soundtrack. Each level has a carefully constructed art and style, and the music is made to match that mood. The compositions on GRIS start small, with simple, reverberating notes, and grow increasingly more complex as the story goes on, alleviating each moment in ways that simply need to be experienced. One of the main highlights of the game comes from the first few areas, where the soft melody of a desert area is juxtaposed with a piping organ that blares an arpeggio with the desert winds. The foley and ambient sounds of this game is also stellar, with each detail from footsteps on different areas giving different sounds, to bells chiming on impact creating a thriving aural world to immerse oneself in.
GRIS is a quick, straightforward game that shouldn’t take one more than a couple of hours to finish and it is one I recommend playing from start to finish.
Of course, the music could not be perfected without mixing and mastering; this was handled by Gianmaria, whose works can be seen here.
The Berlinist crew were kind enough to answer a few of my questions. You can find them below.
What is the difference between someone who is a producer and someone who makes soundtracks for games?
We don’t know this. We usually self-produce our music. I suppose that the main difference could be that you should know a little bit about games; you aren’t the main character here and you should always think about the game itself first.
Is there a difference between making soundtracks for games, film, and television?
Well, all of them have some things in common, but the experience is very different. They all have a story behind them and something to tell us, as well as the images guiding us in the process. However, making music for a videogame is a much more interactive task in many ways. Working together with the developer and art director creates a special synergy and feedback that can enrich the final product. Musically speaking, in addition to the different technical process and mechanics that a videogame OST requires, the role of the player is also essential for us as we must guide them, make them feel as a part of the experience, and know when to stress and minimise the musical component.
The stressing and destressing of the music is something that Berlinist has done masterfully in GRIS, allowing for rousing scenes with maximum emotional impact. It also gives each area a unique feel and, having listened to the soundtrack numerous times after the game, I can tell you that each area is uniquely identifiable from its music.
How did you get started working on GRIS? How did you first connect with Nomada Studios?
We have known each other for some years. Conrad Roset, the art director, made a poster for one of our concerts in 2013. We admired his work and were delighted that he collaborated with us. Some years later, when he came up with this project, he thought our music could fit perfectly into the game experience. That’s how all started!
When working on GRIS, how did you decide on the soundtrack for each individual area?
We decided to give to each area a specific sound. We tried it by assigning each colour a specific chord.
How well did the art and game blend with your initial ideas for the music?
From the first moment art and music worked fine. But we were working on the effect more than on the style. We were trying to create a specific mood for the game.
An endeavour that Berlinist succeeds with. GRIS looks like a cross between Journey and Child of Light, and the music evokes the mysterious peacefulness of both games, allowing for the melancholy to resonate from start to finish. The music in each area, although unique, shares a similar feel: one of soft sorrow, yet with some hope left in it.
Did you expect GRIS to do as well as it did?
Well, we knew that the game itself was not going to go unnoticed because of its art and visuals. Regarding the music, we were not that sure; all we can say is that we are overwhelmed by the good reception it has had so far.
What were, if any, your influences for the music in GRIS?
We have many influences but if we had to highlight one of them it would be Fumito Ueda’s creations, and heal music.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the name, Fumito Ueda is the creator of the masterpiece Shadow of the Colossus, its spiritual successor, ICO, and the confusing mess that was The Last Guardian. The music from Shadow of the Colossus, created by Kow Otani, is available on YouTube.
How did you get started in the music and entertainment industry?
Some of us had had previous musical projects before the creation of Berlinist, but it was not until that moment that things got more intense and fulfilling. Landscapes was our first EP and after came The Winter Hexagon LP. All these years we have showed our work in Barcelona, Madrid, Zaragoza, and Bilbao. We have also had the opportunity to go abroad to France.
What would be the highlight of working on the compositions in GRIS?
Working on GRIS has been an enriching experience from many points of view. Musically speaking, it has been a great learning process, since the mechanics and dynamics of the tracks are very different for those that can be present in a song. The creative freedom that has been given to us, both from Nomada Studio and Devolver Digital, has been an essential foundation on which to develop our project.
The music goes from minimal to more complex as the areas progress. Is this intentional?
We wanted to go hand in hand with the progression of the videogame, so this involved growing at the same pace as the story and its art. We have put a lot of attention to this when translating emotions and feelings into a musical language. Sometimes we had to walk with the player creating a peaceful and relaxing mood, whereas, on other occasions, the player had to be warned that something was about to happen in the game, and, of course, there had to be more emotional and intense moments. Let’s just say that the music grows in intensity as much as art and visuals do in a parallel way, adding an emotional component each time.
GRIS manages to walk this line well, creating an intricate balance between visuals, audio, and immersion. It’s a game in a loose sense of the word; GRIS is an experience in the art form. GRIS allows for a player to immerse themselves fully in a world of watercolours, strange creatures, cute, geometric little helpers, and a lost girl looking for hope.
What advice would you give people who are new to the scene and wish to pursue music as a career?
No specific advice. Each case is unique. Work on your style trying to offer something unique which reflects your way of thinking about music.
Who, if anyone, would you most like to work with?
Daito Manabe. We recently saw his last project and we were thrilled with the experience.
What is your favourite thing about Barcelona?
Well, its climate, its location between the sea and the mountains, its hidden streets and squares, its different neighbourhoods…
What would be the composition that you’re most proud of?
We would say that probably GRIS has been the one we are most proud of. It has been a challenge where we have put all our hearts and illusion. Besides, for me (Marco), as a videogame lover, it has made one of my dreams come true, create the score for a game with an exceptional team behind. We are honoured to be part of it.
What would be your favourite track off the GRIS OST?
Gris Pt. 2. It appears in a very special moment in the game and it brings many emotions out.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
In my (Marco’s) case, playing videogames and learning Japanese are two of my passions. We like to discover interesting spots in the city, have quality time with our friends and family and enjoy the company of our beloved dogs.
What can we expect from Berlinist in 2019?
After such a long and intense work period, we are taking a short break, but we would like to give shape to some projects we have in mind. We’ll let you know.
Also check out my thoughts on GRIS and why I think it’s a fine game.