Happy blog day everyone! We’re drawing closer and closer to launch (September 16th, save the date!) so we thought now was a great time to spotlight the main maestro himself, Joel Corelitz!
If you’ve been living in a post-apocalyptic underground mining town then you may not know that the BAFTA-nominated brains behind the incredible soundtrack to Eastward also worked on titles such as Halo Infinite, Death Stranding, Unfinished Swan and Gorogoa. What a roster! Eastward’s soundtrack will also be available on Steam.
We took the time to sit down and splash about in that creative cranium of his and share a little music video of one of the game’s tracks… enjoy!
Hello Joel! Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with us about Eastward. Easy one to start: in 6 words or less how would you describe your work?
Collaborator who translates ideas into music.
Fans often say that the music in Eastward feels really fresh yet nostalgic, much like the art style of the game. Where did you pull your influences from when starting out?
I grew up in the 80s and 90s. Games of that era, in addition to being one of my favorite pastimes, were my earliest musical influences, so nostalgia was the easy part! I wanted the soundtrack to include the kinds of chunky lo-fi sounds we associate with 16bit games, and even though they pre-date Eastward’s art style, I wanted to include 8bit sounds too. Those sounds, produced by the chips from those old consoles, inspired me to be a composer. To me, they’re the heart and soul of video game music, and they deserve to be in any soundtrack that has anything to do with games of the past.
I wanted to spread those influences around though, because Eastward isn’t just about nostalgia – so they’re usually combined with more modern, higher-resolution sounds and production techniques to create a unique fusion that builds on that sense of nostalgia. The incredible world of Eastward, its story, locations, and characters were about as much inspiration as I needed! And classic game soundtracks were a huge influence of course. But because Eastward’s art style is a mashup of modern and classic, it gave me the freedom to draw from anywhere. Often, Pixpil had an idea of a style that would work for a certain area – for example, there’s this kind of loungy, Japanese Pop from the 70s & 80s that they sent me as inspiration for New Dam City’s theme, Saka No Machi. It worked so well that we used it for Go! Daniel! too.
When considering those influences, how did you go about composing a soundtrack that stands out? (which it very much does in my opinion!)
Thank you! It’s all about variety – just like the world of Eastward, which feels so rich and full of life. For the soundtrack to support such a vivid experience, it needed to feel like more the sum of its individual influences. The goal was to blend as many styles, techniques, and sounds as possible into a collection of pieces that feel like they belong together on the same soundtrack. It turned out like a tribute – my love letter to video game music.
Which is your favourite track and which was the most interesting to create?
It’s hard to pick out of 70+ tracks! But Johnny’s is definitely one of my favorites – I had so much fun creating Eastward’s expression of such an important genre staple. No classic soundtrack would be complete without shop music!
Yes! We’re huge fans of shop music here. Speaking of retail… coming off the back of Death Stranding, was it at all difficult to switch gears?
Switching gears is one of my favorite things about what I do.
I’ve been involved with Eastward since 2016. During that time, aside from Death Stranding, I scored Gorogoa, Halo Infinite, and a handful of other games I can’t talk about yet!
I also designed sounds for electric vehicles, a surgical robot, and composed music for installations, a feature film, and commercials.
Jumping in and out of different worlds keeps my perspective on each one fresh so I can stay focused on creating the perfect fit for each one.
It’s really cool that you get to work across different industries and bring those learnings along with you. Where does video game music fit into the realm of contemporary composition in your view?
I’d put it up against anything. There’s so much freedom in game music. It can be adaptive, or just loop. It can be any style or genre. The only restriction is that it has to fit the experience – from a standpoint of mood, but also in terms of the say it’s presented, or implemented in the game – so in that sense, it’s always functional, sets it apart from other genres or mediums. And that adds an interesting dimension to the process – always a unique and fun puzzle to solve.
But I think maybe what I love most about video game music is that the memory of playing the game is fused hearing the music, so that you can listen to the soundtrack after you play and instantly remember the mood and emotion of the place or point in the story when you first heard it. It’s like the perfect souvenir.
A souvenir, what a wonderful way to describe it! Speaking of memories when creating, how has the music developed from the start of the project compared to the final tracks we’re hearing in Eastward today?
Pixpil had a very strategic compositional plan for the whole process. Each piece on the soundtrack is either about a place, a character, or a mood. We decided to start with a character – with Alva’s theme, The Curious Princess, and once it was in a good place, we moved on to the next piece. So the development of the soundtrack was like creating building blocks, with the sensibilities of each piece informing the next. Because we constructed it that way, we didn’t end up with too much material on the cutting room floor. Terminal, which was I think the actual first piece I wrote, ended up in a very special place in the game.
I almost never compose the theme first – I sort of “ease in” to the world, so that by the time I do the theme, the musical sensibilities of the world are really well established. On almost every project, the theme is sort of “discovered” accidentally. In Eastward’s case, the track Eastward, which contains the main theme, was written for a trailer and the melody just came out and felt right.
There was a point halfway through development (although we didn’t know it was only halfway at the time) where we’d sort of fulfilled the requirements of all our initial sprints, and I took a step back and thought: “this is a Pixel art game, we need more chiptunes!” So, I wrote some, along with additional music for various moods and locations. I think those pieces ended up being some of the most successful in the game. Strange Quest came out of that round. By the end, that “additional music” was about half the soundtrack!
Honestly I don’t think you can ever have too much chiptune, though it does pluck at the nostalgic heartstrings for us. Looking forward, what would you like to see more of in the future of games composition, whether that be technology or technique?
I usually try to make sure creativity and ideas remain the driving force, but I’m always looking for opportunities to experiment with new technology. There are some incredible innovations happening, particularly in adaptive audio. I’m particularly excited to hear how composers and developers use real-time, in-engine synthesis.
Okay, now for the million dollar question. Which post-apocalyptic world would you rather live in, Death Stranding’s or Eastward’s?
Definitely Eastward’s. A trailer in Potcrock Isle wouldn’t be a bad setup to hunker down after the apocalypse. Sure, there might be some giant electrified slugs to deal with but you just smack ‘em with a frying pan – way easier to handle than BTs!
Finally, where can fans find your body of work?
My site & portfolio is at joelcorelitz.com. My studio and audio-branding company, Waveplant, is waveplantstudios.com, and I’m on Twitter & Instagram.
If you’re enjoying the soundtrack to Eastward so far, please reach out to Joel and send him your thoughts! Until then, we’ll be dropping a fresh new track from the OST each week for you to enjoy. You can also pre-order the OST right now on Joel’s Bandcamp and check back in to grab it on Steam. Bon appetit!