Beyond the Canvas with Ben Burnes

A pulsing drum, a crying synth, an angry riff; tinny chirps, quick bleeps, squishy splats; the tempo slows–a piano weeps single notes, a lover’s sigh carried on a soft wind. Ben Burnes’ sounds form audio landscapes, sounds that shape the listening ground we travel on; we move from track to track, from mood to mood. Do This Justice, Three Red Hearts, and Just Drive Mixtape are some of the albums at Ben’s site www.abstractionmusic.com that will take you on a journey.

I’m excited to do this interview because Ben’s a creative guy; he does interesting work: He makes music for indie game developers. One of Ben’s current projects is The UnEarth Initiative by developers Inkling Games (http://www.inklinggames.com/unearth) .

Let’s discover more about Ben…

M. Duda: Welcome, Ben. Your music is enjoyable; it evokes many moods–eclectic.

Ben: Hey buddy, it’s great to be here! I’m glad you find the music enjoyable; it means a lot.

M. Duda: How do you view life? How do you see everyday experiences?

Ben: Eclectic is a great word to use for life. Everyday experiences come from everywhere. Even the most benign event has the potential to shape our persons and our futures. Getting out and experiencing life does often open doors that might remain closed, creative or otherwise.

Sometimes that eclectic philosophy bleeds into my music writing.

M. Duda: So, your music is more than just writing scores for the next game?

Ben: Always! Even for the commissioned music, I do my best to make it a personal experience rather than just making something quick and easy “for the paycheck”. The developers I’ve worked with have often spent months or years on their project and it would seem unfair if I swooped in and half-assed some generic music in a week or two.

Beyond that, I have several personal albums percolating; some are half finished and others are just ideas in a .TXT file. I’m probably backlogged until 2017 or so. <laughs>

M. Duda: What goes into your process of creating music?

Ben: When I am working with someone on a game, I often look at graphical assets. I read the story and try to get into that mood for the game. Sometimes, I just tinker around on my piano or on various instruments and see what happens. The process can be very evolutionary.

M. Duda: Ever start a project with the ‘big picture?’

Ben: Sometimes I do sit down with a fully formed idea in my head, but it isn’t very often. It varies by the project.

M. Duda: Interesting. You really care about your music. Well, are there any past projects that you’ve especially enjoyed?

Ben: Honestly, I’ve enjoyed all my projects for various reasons: I loved working on Three Red Hearts because it gave me the chance to really delve into making authentic music from my childhood; The Maker’s Eden, Act 1 (http://makerseden.screwylightbulb.com) was my first experience with making music for games and it was extraordinarily fun. Working with Graham on Torn and Just Drive really helped me expand my musical “language” with other styles of music. Finally, Do This Justice was an incredible exploration of upbeat and energetic dance music, something I’ve been meaning to do since I started writing music over a decade ago.

M. Duda: Sounds almost like artistic temperament… <laughs>

Ben: Oh definitely! But I love the music.

M. Duda: Have any other musicians inspired you?

Ben: I hate to say that all music inspires me because it feels like a cop-out answer, but it’s really the case. I love listening to all styles. I can often extract interesting tidbits and inspiration from anything. If you’re curious, my Bandcamp listener page (https://bandcamp.com/benburnes) has a big sample size of albums I’ve bought.

When it comes to specific artists–especially when it comes to video game music–, Rich Vreeland (Disasterpeace, http://music.disasterpeace.com/album/fez-ost) has been the most inspirational; aside from his monumental work on the Fez album, he is crazy prolific when it comes to his music output. It’s incredibly motivating to go through his catalog.

M. Duda: Does your earlier work inspire new scores? Or is each album different?

Ben: While each album might be different, all of my current projects build on the foundation of my past albums. For example, I wouldn’t have been able to do some of the things in Three Red Hearts if I hadn’t explored heavier electronic stuff in Do This Justice. My work with the jazzy, noir world of The Maker’s Eden colors most of the music I’ve written lately because I love the style and mood that it evokes.

M. Duda: What’s now in the works?

Ben: So many things: I have three soundtracks in progress right now. One is still under wraps, so I can’t divulge much, but the other two are The Maker’s Eden, Act 2 and The UnEarth Initiative.

Hopefully, those games will be completed in a month or two, and I can continue working on some of my personal projects. I have a few album ideas I really want to get to, and a friend wants to start a live music project.

M. Duda: It can’t be all work and no play—what else do you do? What are your other interests?

Ben: I play video games when I get the chance. I have a background in both graphic design and programming, so I hope to create my own game; I don’t think I fully understand the monumental undertaking something like that can be yet though. <laughs>

Beyond computers, I like to read. I’ve been going on a lot of walks, lately, which is nice; despite the cold, it’s good to get outside! I also DJ for Hoop Twin Cities, a hula hooping and flow dancing group—it’s a lot of fun being part of their community and providing music for them.

M. Duda: Wow! You are eclectic. Before we end this interview, any message you want to pass on to the readers; a moral to life’s many fables?

Ben: I have two important things that have really worked well for me over the past few years:

First, I don’t take things too seriously. It’s so easy to get mad or frustrated at something not going your way, but there is rarely anything you can do about it. Adapt and flow around obstacles, don’t try to bash through them.

Second, I do everything I can to learn from my mistakes. If something goes wrong, I figure out the “why” so that it doesn’t happen again. It isn’t fun putting a magnifying glass to failure, but the knowledge gained is often vital. Learning from my mistakes has benefited my music, too.

M. Duda: Thanks, Ben, for your time.

Ben: Thank you for hosting me! It was a lot of fun.

It was great of Ben to take this time for an interview. If you’ve enjoyed reading it, you can learn more about his work at http://www.abstractionmusic.com. Be prepared to be intrigued: Ben likes to see the world as his musical canvas; the situations life throws at us, a song or tune. He drums to his own digital beat, which he shares on his albums. His music is the same stuff that places you in just the right frame of mind as you take your virtual journeys.

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