Gamers and indie music fans alike are eagerly awaiting the release of Rockstar Games’ Max Payne 3. Gamers are excited because Max Payne 3 represents the latest in the tremendously popular series, which has sold over 7.5 million copies and garnered numerous awards. Indie music fans are excited because Rockstar Games contracted Los Angeles’ groundbreaking noise pop band HEALTH to craft its original score. Individuals who count themselves in both categories are, of course, watching the game’s May release date very closely, as are the members of HEALTH, who are presently blessed and cursed with the soaring creative frenzies that tight deadlines tend to inspire. As a useful tool in capturing the magic of those frenzies, HEALTH has chosen to rely on a Metric Halo ULN-2 interface for much of the tracking and all of the mixing and monitoring.
The premise of the game is that Max Payne is trying to put his troubled past behind him (per games 1 and 2) by taking a job as head of security for a wealthy family in São Paulo, Brazil. But trouble follows the world-weary ex-cop, and he is again given cause to shoot – and be shot at – by many, many people. “Max Payne’s story is dark and somber,” explained Jupiter Keyes, HEALTH’s keyboardist, effects artist, and many other things. “Our band’s aesthetic is in line with that. So working on a game like Max Payne 3 makes sense for us. It’s really not that much of a stretch.” Rockstar Games supplied the band with video captures of the game’s various levels to inspire the right feel for each track. In addition, the band is recording bonus tracks for inclusion on the game’s soundtrack, which will be available as part of a special edition package.
Depending on needs and availability, the band splits its time between its own project studio, Vox Recording Studio (the studio of Woody Jackson, who composed the score for Red Dead Redemption), and Keyes’ home studio. The band has no formal songwriting structure. All four members play integral roles in songwriting, performance and production. As per its agreement with Rockstar Games, HEALTH is responsible for producing, writing, recording, arranging, and mixing everything, and according to Keyes, all of those various activities are happening simultaneously.
“Workflow demands are heavy and turnaround needs to be quick, so the most efficient means for completing a level changes from one situation to the next,” he said. “It’s often a process of discovery as well, sometimes we’ll be recording something that was pre-written and we know exactly how we want it used within the game. Other times, we’ll be recording as part of the writing process and – through extensive editing – the piece becomes a finished product. Basically, we just do what works in the moment.”
When an advance came through to help HEALTH deliver a polished final product, Keyes called on his friend, Jonathan Snipes of LA-based Captain Ahab. “He’s a soundtrack composer, performance artist, producer, and all around tech whiz so I knew he’d have an opinion on must-have gear,” Keyes explained. “I hadn’t heard of Metric Halo at the time, but it was the only instance where his unequivocal advice was that I should not bother with anything else.” The band is tracking and mixing the project on Logic 9.
Keyes is abundantly pleased with his decision. “With the Metric Halo ULN-2, I’m past the ‘what if I only had that one’ syndrome now. There are no more excuses. I’ve got great, clean preamps, mastering-grade conversion, and routing flexibility that none of the other manufacturers can touch as far as I’m aware. The flexibility of MIO Console [the software that controls the ULN-2] stands out. With MIO Console, I can do things faster and more efficiently than I could with any other interface. The possibilities might exceed some people’s needs, but personally I love that as a starting point.”
Of course, one of HEALTH’s trademarks is jaw-dropping sound manipulation of the sort that makes one ponder the musical distinctions that our culture has propped up between beautiful and ugly… between entrancing and repelling. Like an Escher illustration, it’s impossible to understand how you get from one moment to the next in a HEALTH song, and yet, there you are. To make that happen, the band relies on a gigantic bag of tricks that contains, among many other things, Boss effects pedals, bent circuits, and, now, the +DSP capability of the Metric Halo ULN-2. “Being able to send audio through the Metric Halo +DSP plug-ins and back into the DAW without latency is a dream for me,” said Keyes. “It allows me to use the effects for creative, as well as functional, purposes when writing, recording or mixing. I also have to comment on the built-in HaloVerb. It sounds amazing.”
Although HEALTH isn’t going to wiggle so much as an inch from its workflow until Max Payne 3 is done, the next purchase on the horizon is an eight-channel Metric Halo ULN-8 for expanded multi-tracking use as they record their upcoming third album.
For more information on HEALTH visit: http://www.rockstargames.com/maxpayne3/videos/?video=8671
And to learn more about Max Payne 3 visit: