Acclaimed composer, pianist, and singer-songwriter, Rob Kovacs, has joined forces with DR BLOC on the revolutionary virtual reality game, STRAYLIGHT, which released on Jan 31st for Meta Quest 2, Meta Quest, Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, Valve Index, and the HTC Vive. Scoring this virtual world allowed Kovacs to experiment and embody the freedom of STRAYLIGHT’s gameplay and its feeling of weightlessness. While Kovacs has scored short films in the past, this is his first time working on a video game. “I’ve never written music like this before. And I probably wouldn’t have if it weren’t for this game. The team basically trusted me and gave me free rein to compose whatever I wanted. I used this opportunity to try new compositional ideas and techniques. I feel I’ve created something very unique and something that people will want to keep coming back to whether they play the game or not.”
The STRAYLIGHT soundtrack consists of 10 progressive synthwave tracks, featuring long-developing melodies that require multiple listens, ideal for songs that may be looping multiple times. Harmonically, Kovacs makes heavy use of mode mixture and progressions that never quite feel settled – a feeling that is mirrored by gameplay where there is no ground. After initially writing the title track, a slow-developing and ungrounded synthwave track that is reflective of the unique experience of the game, Kovacs was tapped to score the entire game and all sound effects.
The album was released digitally on Emperia Records on January 27, and followed up by a successfully funded Bandcamp vinyl pre-sale. The release will feature the soundtrack on “deep purple” vinyl, in a side-loading jacket depicting artwork from the game, with a poster design that will be exclusive to the campaign! While the pre-sale campaign has ended, more vinyl is expected to be released later this year.
Composing the soundtrack was a natural progression for Kovacs, who also releases music under the moniker 88bit, reimagining classic video game themes for piano, and performing at events like PAX West, GDC Online, The Game Audio Network Guild Awards and MAGFest. He credits his study and knowledge of early video game music for inspiring his approach to composing new soundtracks for video games today.
“Studying these early video game soundtracks really influenced my writing for STRAYLIGHT,” he explains. “I got the sense that these early composers were breaking new ground, working with new technology, and creating music for a brand-new medium. They took a lot of risks. I’ve taken that same approach with this soundtrack. VR is like the Wild West of video games right now. It’s brand new territory.
The soundtrack has been drawing rave reviews as well, with FLOOD Magazine writing; “Rob Kovacs draws on classic video game soundtracks and Stravinsky…Chords swell in anticipation, and then, as you start to find your bearings, a stellar bass and drum groove snaps into orbit.“
In addition to his work as 88bit and as a composer, Kovacs released his first solo album, Let Go, in 2021. An introspective indie-rock concept album, it chronicles an intense and poignant romance, and earned praise from critics at notable outlets such as American Songwriter and Glide Magazine. He has also been interviewed on Level with Emily Reese, gameinformer.com, clevelandclassical.com, NPR’s “Sound of Applause” (WCPN Cleveland), NPR’s “Shuffle” (WKSU Kent), NPR’s ReSpawn Podcast and others. In addition, he is internationally recognized as the first person to perform a solo version of Steve Reich’s Piano Phase by playing both piano parts on two pianos simultaneously. Kovacs is a member of the Recording Academy and a professor of composition and songwriting at Baldwin Wallace University.
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