Any panel that begins with its host shredding metal riffs on an eight string guitar gets a gold star in my book. I guess it helps if the panelist is Mick Gordon, the Australian composer of the soundtrack for the reboot of DOOM, but any other panellists out there who want to give it a crack will at least get points for trying.
I didn’t quite know what to expect going in to the “DOOM: Behind the Music” panel at PAX Aus. Maybe some tidbits about which bands inspired the game’s amazing soundtrack along with a Q&A, but certainly not the live performance that Gordon provided. But that’s not to say he didn’t deliver on the tidbits front, because he certainly had a lot to provide that made me view the soundtrack in an entirely new light.
Specifically, that if it weren’t for a random Ukrainian person flogging off some gear made before the Berlin Wall fell, the soundtrack couldn’t have sounded the way it does.
Let’s start at the beginning. When approaching the soundtrack for the new DOOM, Gordon wanted to create a new sound for it. The 1993 DOOM’s soundtrack, composed by Bobby Prince, was inspired by thrash metal, but Gordon believed the genre’s quick tempo wasn’t best suited to the narrative of the reboot. Since the DOOM Marine is now referred to as the DOOM Slayer and is the psychopathic, ripping and tearing nightmare of every demon in Hell, Gordon felt the soundtrack needed to reflect his status as a “bad guy”.
“DOOM in 2016 needed a harder and more visceral edge,” he said. “A good way to get that is to slow your music down.”
So Gordon took the famous E1M1 theme music from the original game and slowed the tempo right down and lowered the octaves on an eight string guitar, turning the sound from an energetic riff to a harsher, meaner theme song.
“It suddenly gave swagger and attitude to the character,” Gordon said.
Here’s a comparison. First up, original DOOM‘s E1M1:
So now that Gordon had the concept of making the soundtrack seem evil, he says the rest of it just began to fall into place. The idea to bring an electronic twist to the soundtrack came from the villainous nature of the Union Aerospace Corporation, the owners of the game’s setting on Mars.
“The UAC are so evil, that they’re literally mining hell so as to create a form of renewable energy,” Gordon said. “That was such an interesting concept, that every device from our phones, televisions, and airplanes, are secretly powered by hell energy. From a sound perspective, what would evil electricity sound like?”
Gordon then took the raw components of his music and “corrupted them” by feeding them through elaborate analogue device chains. The devices included old guitar pedals, recording to old cassette tapes and even pumping it through microphone feedback.
While searching for more devices to bring into these chaotic device chains was when Gordon came across someone in the Ukraine who was selling an old Soviet synthesizer called a Polivoks. These gigantic analogue synthesizers were manufactured in the Soviet Union from 1982 to 1990 at the Formanta Radio Factory in Kachkanar, where only approximately 100,000 of them were ever made.
According to Gordon, the Polivoks were all manufactured using whatever parts were available to the factory at the time, making them all slightly unique and having “an inconsistency to them.” When Gordon’s Polivoks arrived, he described it as being held together by “Macgyver engineering”, cobbled together with whatever would hold it in place.
So this Polivoks created all the synthesized sounds for DOOM’s soundtrack, sounds which Gordon says, due to the unique nature of this particular Polivoks, could not have been created with a computer. I don’t know about any of you, but I think creating the soundtrack of Hell itself by defying computers and using a remnant of Cold War technology is metal as fuck.
Gordon also utilised other strange sounds to create unique tones throughout the soundtrack. He went to the trouble of tracking down an old Sound Blaster sound card just to sample a midi file on it so he could replicate a “tick-tick” sound from the 1993 original. And the main menu music was conceived by synthesising the sounds of chainsaws, because of course it was. Check it out, because now that I’ve pointed that out you’ll be able to hear it:
“It was meant it be my own little thing, I spent 15 seconds doing it and forgot about it,” Gordon said. “Two weeks after the game came out someone found it. It really shows the power of DOOM fans.”
He also added the sprite of original DOOM developer John Romero’s head on a spike found in DOOM II into the song “SkullHacker”.
Since its full release in late September, the DOOM soundtrack eventually made it to being the number one album on iTunes, relieving Gordon from his annoyance that it was trailing behind Keith Urban for a while. Personally, after hearing the soundtrack in game and now learning about the level of detail in its creation, I’d say that’s a deserved reward.