A chiptune virtuoso who brought British progressive rock to video game music
We move forward in the process: each time we take more seriously the role that composers have played in the evolution of the medium. The sound aspect of video games and, above all, the visibility of the people who made it possible, are increasing in interest for the general public as specialized studies, master’s thesis and doctoral theses are emerging, but above all we are the players themselves who are becoming aware that behind the music there are people who dedicated their lives to it. There are already names that enjoy the highest consideration (the Koji Kondo, Michiru Yamane, Yoko Shimomura, Nobuo Uematsu …) due to their decisive importance in everything we hear today, but there are also true masters whose music is more unnoticed today. , especially among the European composers to whom it seems that the recognition does not finish coming to them -with the happy exception of the great teacher David Wise-. Among the latter, Tim Follin’s case is possibly the most striking. Although it is unknown to many players of today, his musical talent shone in the generations of 8 and 16 Bits in Europe, with soundtracks that today surprise by their true virtuosity in the handling of the sound chips of these machines.
Tim Follin is a very young person. The accounts don’t lie: if he’s 49 now, it means he was insultingly precocious when composing music for the Spectrum or Commodore 64. A typical teenager of his day, with the Spectrum under his arm, who spent many hours experimenting, programming and playing that computer. All these hours of experimentation must have been done while listening to his great musical influences, no less evident than recognized. Tim Follin’s music resonates with absolute clarity the best albums of the mythical bands of British progressive rock of the 70s (Yes, Jethro Tull and, above all, Genesis) from which anyone who knows his music can find almost literal quotes by everywhere. Of course, it is also perceived in certain uses of the counterpoint that knew the music of Bach and Mozart, but it always seems in his compositions that this knowledge came rather through those progressive bands that already incorporated classical music resources into his work. With these influences and an evident musical talent, his career as a composer should have put him on the same level as the greatest. However, everything went down a somewhat different path from that of the top geniuses of the video game, among which is found by talent beyond any reasonable doubt.
A virtuoso composing for the … Pictionary
It is not insane to consider Follin’s career as a kind of antithesis of Koji Kondo, if we consider what we said about the Japanese genius a few months ago. Listening to his music is enough to realize that he dominated the chiptune medium as very few composers have, within systems such as the Nes or the Commodore 64. All this, by the way, although this type of music did not finish filling him, according to comments in some interviews and podcasts worth listening to. A pragmatic man who saw how his great hobby could become a profession, Tim Follin has the problem of having composed almost always for games that have not gone down in history, if not for true mediocrities that benefited from music they would never have imagined. . Just the opposite of what happened to a Koji Kondo who was in the right place at the right time, regardless of his outsized talent.
The fact is that, even if we think about all this recent wave of admiration for video game composers, Tim Follin’s is not a name that usually appears among the most cited. Yet in British magazines of the 1980s and 1990s reviews were written that spoke more about his music than about the game itself, which he surely did before any other composer in Europe – at a time when composers were the last. step in the production of a game, a detail that should not be forgotten. His music remains the type for enthusiasts due to its always outstanding quality, but the era of microcomputers in which he developed a large part of his career is long past, which may have overshadowed his legacy. His profile, in any case, is that of the classic pioneer of video game composition: self-taught, curious, with very little musical training but endowed with great melodic intuition and an enormous desire to experiment with the resources at hand. Of course, ready to program music, much sooner than to compose it. We are going to see (and hear) what sounded in some of his works, which in some way can help us to meet this peculiar artist.
Ghouls and Ghosts
Tim Follin’s music for the conversion of Ghouls and Ghosts into Commodore 64 stands out a lot among his work for its starting point. The original soundtrack of this arcade game is one of the most remembered, arguably, in the entire history of the medium. With this premise in mind, you have to be very big to be commissioned to adapt a game with music like that and do without the first level theme (the most popular) directly to try to do something more interesting. The beginning of the game is even more surprising, with an introductory theme of more than four minutes (a wild one at this time) in which storms, orchestras, screams, Bach music and progressive rock influences are suggested. Follin comments that he began to feel comfortable composing for three-channel chips like the Commodore 64’s SID, and this music clearly demonstrates this. For example, in the second level -another masterpiece by Tamayo Kawamoto in its original version-, the British artist decided to double the melodies, slightly increase the tempo and incorporate a counterpoint that transformed the entire theme into something else, possibly even better than the original. The version of Amiga also stands out on a musical level, although it does not impress as much as that of Commodore 64 due to the pure economy of its means. Without a doubt, one of the best works of Follin in which his style, almost risky, of composing for arcade games is appreciated without knowing if he had permission or not to deviate so much from the original material. It is also the best example of his taste for epic introductions in which he uses ultra-varied melodic material. This music is a true masterpiece of video game composition, now and decades ago.
The Silver Surfer Virtuosity for NES
Follin’s stage in the British company Software Creations is surely the most relevant of his career if we look at the number of titles he put music on, within the reservations that must necessarily be put on this matter when we talk about this artist. From this stage comes one of the commissions that best define the trajectory of this author: music that sounded in a game that is nothing more than a perfect forgotten among the catalog tide that owns the 8 bit of Nintendo. Instead, any list worth its salt always refers to Follin’s compositions for Silver Surfer among the best of everything that sounded in the system – and they are many hours of music. Although the author did not think that the NES brought anything new at the sound level (it really did not), the use made of this hardware in Silver Surfer is special. Everything is at a very high level, especially highlighting the way in which Follin uses all the possible sound field in this chip with hardly any continuity solution, but also the decided use of a vibrato that emulates that of an electric guitar, within a arrangement that undoubtedly transmits the heroism that the game cannot transmit to the controls. With Silver Surfer’s music we can perfectly summarize what Tim Follin did throughout his career: put rock’n roll to mediocrity. It goes without saying that all the analyzes focused on music, much earlier than on a game that was almost impossible to digest right now, which no longer stood out at all in 1990. To top it all off, the NES was already on its last legs.
Solstice and Equinox
Follin was a little luckier with these isometric games from Software Creations for Nes and Snes. From the outset, the fact that there was a sequel indicates that they were profitable enough projects, so Solstice’s is -this time yes- the music of a game that received good reviews and a relative commercial success in its day, however much his isometric adventure style is behind him. The music is another true monument to the chiptune in which there are themes as emphatic as its epic introduction, another very long theme with a color that brings us closer to the sound of a Hammond organ and to the progressive rock keyboard solos that this one liked so much. musician. Specifically, the cleverest will find quotes from the British band Yes in this incredible introduction. The rest of the songs are not far behind, within which undoubtedly seems to us one of the most rounded soundtracks that this author composed. For its sequel, Equinox, it doesn’t essentially change the environment, but it does change the media. Curiously, Follin speaks of the Snes as a console in which he felt very limited by the space available. Even so, words for the music of this game are also found in almost all the analyzes of the time. Listening to the music from this Equinox, we must regret that Follin’s only approach to the sound of the Sega Mega Drive was a game like Time Trax, canceled before leaving. Luckily, preservation has done its job, and today we can hear another great soundtrack that did not officially go on the market.
Rock and Roll Racing
Despite these limits imposed by the Snes, Rock and Roll Racing seems to us to be another of the great works composed by Follin, also being one of the most outstanding games in which it participated. The racing game from Sylicon and Synapse (later… Blizzard) was not a top of the system, but it was a well-received game that obtained significant sales, for which the author comments that it was very well paid. From the title itself it is already noticed that the music was not anything in the playable proposal, so the soundtrack composed by Follin consists of several arrangements of mythical Rock ‘n Roll themes (from bands like Deep Purple or Black Sabbath) that really take advantage of the sound characteristics of the Super Nintendo. Without reservations, it must be considered another of the obligatory stops in the author’s work, especially if we think about the affinity with this type of music that Tim Follin always alludes to.
A legend with bad luck
Overall, Tim Follin’s career in video game music is a totally inconsistent story, always in contrast between what it sounds like (brilliant) and the inconsequentiality of almost every game he put music on, with Pictionary for NES as a point. low. The various interviews and podcasts in which he has told his story bring us closer to a character who never thought of video game music as a single activity to which to dedicate his life as the other individuals of his lineage have done, always ready to go to the next level. On the contrary, when the sound of the chips stopped being a resource forced by the systems … Tim Follin decided that it was time to stop. It is possible to find him, as much as it surprises us, making television commercials or in jobs that have nothing to do with everything that we remember him for. Even so, we would still see snippets of his genius in later generations, as in the case of Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future for Dreamcast or Starsky and Hutsch for Playstation 2. They are, unfortunately, much more isolated cases that have nothing to do with your past.
That legacy, as inconsequential as the author may seem – who seems to enjoy demystifying it – is that of one of the composers who has best understood the musical language of the first generations of video games. His music for Ghouls’n Ghosts on Commodore 64 alone would be enough to take him into account among the great composers of this medium. We hope that this wave of appreciation in the form of a scene and publications on music and video games end up putting you where you really deserve. For now, we are content to listen to him in interviews such as those that accompany these lines to channels such as RetroManCave or the Super Marcato Bros. Podcast. They are the best testimonials to approach this character as great as he is particular.