An Interview With Robyn Miller (Part 1)

Translation Note: The 英語 version of this content is being displayed because the 日本語 translation is unavailable.

The D'ni Musicological Research Hood had a very special treat for all of us Myst and URU fans on Friday, the 8th of February: They invited Robyn Miller for a Q&A and a discussion about the Myst games series and his part in creating them and also to discuss his other projects.

Robyn is the brother of Rand Miller and Ryan Miller, a co-founder of the game company Cyan, Inc. (now Cyan Worlds, Inc.), and the man who played Sirrus in the original Myst. He created the music for both Myst and Riven: The Sequel To Myst and has continued his career well beyond the world of D'ni.

In this interview, Robyn reflects on Myst and Riven, especially his "drive" in the creation of the games.  He chats about the creative process when composing the scores for both games and the tools he used, as well as the technical limitations he, Rand and the rest had to deal with at that time.

Robyn will also discuss one of his musical projects, Ambo, as well as tell us about his film, The Immortal Augustus Gladstone, which he directed and for which he composed the musical score, and it's expected to be released soon. He also reveals the unconventional work methods used while making it. Further, he tells us his favorite type of pizza and some other assorted trivia.

 

To hear the original recording of this interview, follow this link.

 

Here is Part One of the transcript of that inteview with the DMR, conducted by Planetary, Mouski, and Christine.

 

Planetary (Pl): And, good evening everyone! Welcome to the DMR.
Mouski (Mo): Well, we have a lot of folks here in the DMR tonight and a lot are listening in the Ustream broadcast.
Pl: Yes, already.
Mo: So, for the last two and a half years on a weekly basis, the DMR has entertained music lovers with worldwide selections. Today, we celebrate MOULa's third anniversary with a very special guest. Back in the early nineties, two brothers had a vision. It all began as a single thought, which soon became their passion. What they created revolutionized computer games. They did what they wanted to do and it was successful! Myst series fans, it is an honour to have with us Cyan's co-founder, game visual designer, music composer and documentary feature film director, Mr. Robyn Miller.
Robyn Miller (RM): Thank you! Hi.
Mo: Hello, sir.
RM: It's an honour to be here. Thank you very much for having me.
Pl: Glad to have you.
RM: Yes. I'm glad to be here.
Pl: So, what we would like to do tonight Robyn is we would like to play a selection of your compositions from the early titles, as well as we'd like to just have a dialog with you from some questions that we have as well, as some of the other listeners and users have submitted earlier on the forum board that we have. So we have compiled those together, and some of them may be some light questions, some may be some hardballs thrown at you.
RM: Great. I'm ready for everything. What ever you got. I'm ready. I think I'm ready [laughs].
Pl: All right. So why don't we start with some music? I've got the entire first Myst sountrack here, so tell me, what song from that early stands out to you? We've been playing the first track, the Myst Theme just as some entrance music as people have been arriving, but in addition to that, what song do you think exemplifies a good example for what you would consider from the first game?
RM: Wow! That is always such a hard question. I've been asked it before because I don't typically go back and listen to the soundtrack so I don't even know the pieces. I remember when I was working on the Mechanical Age.
Pl: Yeah?
RM: I remember those pieces. I began to hit a stride that I enjoyed and I remember really enjoying working on the music at that point. And I remember really just enjoying listening to that music at that point. There is a lot of just mechanical sounding, almost ambient sounding stuff that was in the music and, when I go back and listen to it, I really enjoy that stuff. So yeah, I'd say some of that stuff.
Pl: Ok. We'll choose one of that. This is Sirrus' Theme from the Mechanical Age then. Does that sound like a good example to you?
RM: Cool, that's great.
Pl: Mouski, does that sound good to you?
Mo: Yeah, sure. Sure.
Pl: Ok, here we go. We're going to listen to this and we'll be back with some more Q &A with Robyn Miller.

 

Trivia: Initially, Cyan released the soundtrack via a mail-order service, but before the release of Myst's sequel, Riven, Virgin Records acquired the rights to release the soundtrack, and the CD was re-released on April 21, 1998.

Pl: Okay, and we're back.
RM: Well, that brings back some memories.
Mo: Twenty years ago.
Christine (Ch): So I think I have a few questions for you, Robyn.
RM: All right.
Ch: Is there something you created but ended up disliking,
but it was cheered by the public? How did you explain this to yourself?

RM: In terms of music you mean, or Myst?
Ch: Anything creative you have done.
RM: Well, I guess in a way, Myst itself. I didn't dislike Myst. I thought...I mean I think we both thought, Rand and I, that Myst was...we believed in it. We just didn't believe in it equal to the amount that it was accepted and loved. We just didn't know that it would be that is was going to be that amount of a success. And we're still, I think shocked to this day. So yeah. We thought it was different, we believed in it and thought it was something new. But we had no idea the reaction that it would have, that would take place. But I can't think of anything that I didn't like that the public liked. Not off the top of my head at least. Maybe if I really thought about it for a really long time, I could. [laughs]
Pl: Christine is an artist, so her questions are coming from a standpoint of an artist to an artist.
RM: Right, yeah. That's a hard one, as sometimes you'll be working on something. I know sometimes I will be working on something and I will feel like there's something not right here! There's something... Ah, it's not at that place. And I know that, show it to people, as it's in the process, I want confirmation or I want feedback and people will say "No, no, it's good". But you really don't get that real positive. I mean the best feedback of all is when you look at it yourself and you really feel like yeah, OK, it's there now. It's good. And so for Myst, I think Rand and I both...we got to that point when we really felt like: Oh yeah, this is good. This is a decent thing, you know. [laughs]
Pl: Yeah, definitely.
RM: It's that place. And so that's where we were.
Mo: Well, meaning that you got a chill down your spine?
RM: No. We didn't get a chill down our spine, no. But we felt like it was a good thing. We felt like it was good, and I have these moments, every so often where I've created something and I do get a chill down my spine, but that's more for small things. Like, you write a melody, or for musical things, that happens a lot more often. For creating a huge...for a very large long term project, at the en...by the end of it you're so tired, and it's hard to just stand back and get a chill down your spine. You know it so intimately, it's harder to be objective. So you're making desicions based on criteria that you know it to be good based on criteria. So yeah, I don't think we had chills going down our spine. We just knew that it was different. And we knew that it was somehow good. And we really felt like people would react to it in a good way.
Pl: Well, it certainly created a new paradigm in gaming, you know.
RM: Which we certainly never, never, never expected anything like that. Never! Which was an amazing and a wonderful surprise! And to this day, it's amazing. To have been in that position at that time and to be a part of that. It happens to a very few people! And I'm very thankful and to have been a part of that. It's wonderful.
Pl: And it has got such attraction because it continues, you know, and my eighteen year old son plays Mmyst on his iPad now.
RM: Right. It's very cool.
Ch: So, let's cheer to Cyan and to you, Robyn and I'll say like we say in Burgundy [France]: "
Santé pour cent ans!"
RM: So… I'm sorry?
Ch:
"To your health for a hundred years"!
RM: Yeah... maybe. [laughs]
Pl: Okay, another cut from the MYST soundtrack, is the music from the planetarium area.
RM. Okay.

Pl: And that was particularly meaningful to me. The late seventies and early eighties I worked in a planetarium here, so it had special significance for me.
RM: Oh, ok.
Pl: And I appreciated that. If you recall, do you have any memory of what sort of thought was going through your mind when you composed this piece?
RM: Well, I know that at a certain point, I remember... I realised, I recognised that it was a very non-linear type of composition that had to take place for all of the music. So I just had to feel my way through the composing of the music. So I would just go to those places like the planetarium. I would walk into them, and I would have the keyboard in front of me. And I would just sort of play things. But I would have to play it but there's nothing happening on the screen. So I would just start playing what I saw, if that makes any sense at all.
Pl: Sure.  You had to sort of envision the enviroment.
RM: Envision it and turn it into music and really, that's all I can say for that.
Pl: Ok. We're going to listen to Planetarium. Here it is.

Trivia: Myst was the best-selling PC game of all time up until 2002, when it was overtaken by The Sims, and was one of the main reasons behind the surge of CD-ROM drive sales in the 1990's.

Pl: OK, and we're back. That was the planetarium music from Myst.
Mo: The one you like, Planetary.
Pl: Yes, that was one of my favourites. Ok, Mouski, did you have another question?  Maybe one from the forum?
Mo: Yes, sure. I have one from Zephyr. He wants to ask you: Do You think writing music and writing a story are two different things creativity-wise?
RM: I tend to think...and this is for me personally...I tend to feel that all, whether it's writing music or writing a story or anything or whatever it may be, they're all different. They have their differences. Of course, they're very, very similar. And I find they're all telling a story in one way or another, and they all have a very similar process. And, for me, when I write music, it does have the same structure as a story. And it has a same structure in a way like a painting. I do layers and layers and then will take away some and put down some and, you know, scrape away. Maybe everybody doesn't work on that in the same way with those same methods. But that's how I tend to think of it. So yeah. I think so.
Pl: Good.
Mo: Is there any artist who has inspired you in particular?
RM: Oh boy. Well, it's all different for music and for art. And all these different, you know, for film or for video games. So I would say right now, yeah, that's a hard one because there's many artists. There's so much talent. And now, when people are able to self-publish online, there's...it's just incredible how much talent there is. I think we're more and more seeing that talent out there. It's not...

[Ed. Note: At this point, Robyn's connection to Skype was dropped]

Pl: Whoops, we're having some bandwidth issues with Robyn's Skype connection. But we'll get him right back. Hang on...
Mo: Whoops...
Pl: Sorry about that, folks. We'll put another song on while we try getting him back. Here's The Tower.
Ch: We're going to tell Robyn.

Pl: Okay. And we're back and we've got Robyn back. Christine, what were you going to say about Skype?
Ch: Yes. You have to hold on tight to the line, Robyn. You can't let it go like this.
RM: I know, I know. It's like hanging by a thread here. [laughs]
Ch: Yes, Robyn has a Prison Skype Age.
RM: Oooh… Let me out! Let me out!
Pl: OK. Christine, did you have another question?
Ch: OK, get ready. I'll be light. What colour describes you? Which colour brings you the most comfort? And tell me why.
RM: Oh boy… The colour that brings me the most comfort is a sort of a turqouise. Which, I don't know... turquoise or aqua. The colour that describes me is propably turquoise or aqua. [laughs]
Pl: Right.
RM: So… what was the third question?
Ch: Tell me why.
RM: Oh. There is no explanation. It's all… mysterious.
Ch: So next time…
RM: Maybe it's the colour of water. I don't know.
Ch: Next time I will tell you all kind of things about this. Okay?
RM: [laughs] Okay. I'll be anxious to hear that.
Pl: Do you feel like you've used that colour a lot in the illustrations in the game? Has it come out as naturally?
RM: Well no. I actually think that I do like to live around that kind, that colour. But I like to utilise any colour. All colours. And I really like colour. And … you know there's just a time and a place for just any colour. So I really don't ever... yeah, I'm never drawn to one particular colour over another. And I mean by that I'm never drawn to a particular colour or another in a work that I'm doing, because colours mean different things. And so if you're wanting to build tension, you use a particular colour. Or a colour combination. And if you're wanting to build a calm or serene surrounding, you use particular colours. 
And so I would never just all the time, be tempted to use my favourite colours or something. It's a matter what you're trying to say. It's just like different instruments you might use. You first decide what you're trying to say, what the meaning is and then you choose, well, what instruments convey that meaning.

Ch: Now, in psychology, "the blues" means something as well. It means that you are dependable, reliable and faithful.
RM: [laughs] Wow.
  Yeah, I mean, to a certain extent. No, I am, I am. I'm just playing around.
Pl: Ok. Mouski, would you pick a song from the Riven soundtrack? And something that would be a good example of that. And maybe Robyn, if you want to comment or liked to say something about it, before we play?
RM: Ok. All right.
Mo: I like the... Catherine's Theme.
Pl: Ok.
Mo: Catherine's Theme from Riven.
RM: All right.
Pl: All right. Here we go. We will talk some about that. Let's listen to this first...
RM: Cool.

Trivia: Gehn's Theme from the Riven soundtrack was originally composed for the Wahrk Room, but Robyn Miller felt that it was too powerful a piece for a location, and decided to associate it with the game's villain, Gehn.

 

Pl: Okay, and we're back. That was Catherine's Theme from Riven.
Mo: Ok, So I have a question from NoorMax.
RM: Sure.
Mo: Well, it's not really a question. It's a comment that you can of course talk about. He says: "MOULa is a family in a way. Has the longevity of the game surprised you? Twenty years on, still alive and well."
RM: Of course! Oh yeah, I mean everything about the game has surprised me. Everything, of course it has surprised me. I mean the fact that there's these get-togethers, and the fact that we're sitting here, talking now is totally shocking. So yeah, the answer is yes!
Mo: So, what do you think of the MYST series today?
RM: I have played URU and I have played the third game, which I thought was really nicely done. And you can tell the creators put a lot of love into it. But I honestly just did not, partly because I think, as the creator of the other ones, it's hard to then look upon the past, and see the work turned into something else. And it's just a personal thing, I've never really seen anything past, I'd guess, Myst III. And it's just, you know, my own inability to see Myst have become something different, to observe that. So I don't know. I don't have much of an opinion, one way or the other. Basically, I can't have an opinion, I can't be objective! You know, when you spend so much time creating something, you really make it, comes from a very very deep place inside of you. It's basically like painting a painting or almost having a baby. It's  really really hard to then… I don't know, to give it away. So that's really the reason. It's not that I'm not interested. I'm thrilled that more fans have come to this wider chronicle. It's just in a way, I don't know, I'm put into the odd position of being one of the people who kick-started the whole thing.
Pl: You know, it's an interesting perspective you've mentioned is that you'll never be able have the experience of discovering it all and of having the first person game play experience as everyone else, because, as you've created it, you know what it all is. And an interesting parallel to that same kind of thought is I've listened to David Gilmour from Pink Floyd give the same parallel, where he can never sit down and just experience the ”Dark side of the Moon”.
RM: Right. Exactly.
Pl: That's something he never gets. So it's a kind of a double-edged sword, I guess.
RM: Right. Now the one thing that I've had that probably has been the closest to it is that I've been able to play other games, other adventure games, which has been a blast for me, you know.
Pl: Okay.
Mo: Can you name a few titles?
RM: Oh... I'll tell you what. The first time I really had the taste of what Myst might be like for people...because I never understood at all really what Myst would be like for people...was the very first time I had the taste...and I've had it a number of times since...was when I played [The Legend of] Zelda: Wind Waker, which was years ago now. It was just like "Oh my God, this universe...you lose yourself in it. Wow, that's kind of amazing".  I didn't understand that. I didn't understand you could lose yourself in this universe. And it'd be like you become a part of it, and you start thinking about it all the time.  I didn't get it! That's kind of funny and it's ironic that here I was, the creator of this thing, and I just didn't get it.
Ch: Caught in his own trap.
RM: Because I didn't make Myst so that other people would lose themselves in it. I made Myst so that I would lose myself in it. And so, in the process of creating it, you'd lose yourself in it, in the world, and it's a universe as you're creating it; that you're losing yourself in this weird, wonderful place. And then, when it's done, it's sort of like "Oh, okay, well. It's done. I lost myself in that universe and it was really wonderful. Now it's done". And then... everybody loved it! And it was like "Oh, OK. I wasn't expecting that!"
Mo: And they still are loving it.

RM: Right. So that was just this amazing bonus. Anyway! [laughs]

Pl: Yeah. Excellent point.
Ch: No, but this makes a lot of sense artistically actually, because I think we artists create our own world. Live in it a little bit, and then dump it. But it lives on beyond you.
RM: Totally. Oh absolutely. And so the fact that this work has lived on for so long is really incredibly satisfying and fine, you know? And I don't know. It's very wonderful. It's wonderful!
Pl: Yeah. It is, it truly is.
Mo: So, to stay in the same line of thinking here: So you composed the music for Myst and Riven and Miranna wants to ask you: Are you working on music for any other games?
RM: No, not that. I'm certainly not against that idea. I think it would be really fun to do that. I have recently made a film, a feature film. I directed a feature film and for the first time again, I have seriously composed. So I composed the music for this feature film. I don't know how many minutes of music I did. This was very, very fun. And this time around, it was kind of astonishing to me because the tools had advanced so much. When I did Riven even, the tools were not that great.
Pl: But with GarageBand...that comes with a Mac...is pretty much of what was a professional quality way back then?
RM: Oh yeah, GarageBand is so much nicer than the tools I used to do the Riven soundtrack.  GarageBand is like...oh man, I didn't even have audio tools when I did the Riven soundtrack...so the tools that are available now just kind of blew my mind. And so it was fun. This was a blast to do the music for this film. So I had a lot of fun.
Pl: And I believe there's some clips on the YouTube as well as on your own site. For The Immortal Augustus Gladstone.
RM: There is, yeah. For anybody who is interested in listening to the music, they can hear some of the music on our trailer. We have a trailer up there and the music that's in there, is music I wrote that's going to be in the film. It's music I wrote for the film. That's a plug. [laughs] I'm giving a little plug!
Pl: That's fine. We're all about plugs here.
Mo: It's the right place.
RM: All right. Good... The film is a little bit weird. You know, it's not necessarily MYST-like. It's a kind of a myth, but… I'm continuing at the plug, now! We can go back to MYST…
Pl: Why won't we listen to some more music. Going back to the Mechanical Age.
RM: All right.
Pl: This is another one from there.

Note: For more information on Robyn's film, The Immortal Augustus Gladstone, visit the official site and be sure to see the trailer!

Pl: Yes, and we're back.
Mo: I think we have a [Skype] problem with Christine.
RM: We could, while we're waiting we could sing Kumbaya!
Pl: We could sing Kumbaya. OK, here we go...
RM: I thought it was funny...
Pl: Ok. Most of these songs that we've just been hearing from the Myst soundtrack. Robyn, you were mentioning earlier that you really performed most of that with one instrument?
RM: Yeah, it was.
Pl: Can you elaborate on that and how that worked out?
RM: It was very low budget. That's the main thing too: that Myst was sort of what would now be considered as an "indie-game" style. It was... well, it was just small. It was a very small team of people and that carried through to the music. And when we decided for sure that we would do the music for Myst, I was kind of the default person to do it because we certainly couldn't afford to get anybody to do it. And I had some music skills...
Pl: Yeah?
RM: And so the only way...well, Rand had a synthesizer and it was called a Proteus-MPS+. And he had it just for fun; so that's what I used. And so everything you hear in Myst was off of this one synthesizer: the Proteus-MPS+.
Pl: That's amazing because it all sounds so big and orchestral, like there's just an ensemble there performing that.
RM: It does.  It also sounds electronic, which I actually kind of like about it. It has an electronic feel, a sensibility, but it also does have a big sound. There's also in the Proteus-MPS+...and this is true for many synthesizers...it has effects, and so all of the effects that you hear as well, I did on-board on that synthesizer. Now I did have a sequencer if any of you listeners, who are listening who know about sequencing music, or familiar with writing music, know what a sequencer is. Or anybody who's used, you know...what is the Apple tool we just talked about?
Pl: The GarageBand.
RM: GarageBand, thank you. I used a tool like that, but back then, there were no effects on a tool like that. All the effects I used were also on that synthesizer. So basically the sounds...all the sounds you hear, when you listen to the music, were coming directly out of that synthesizer.
Pl: That's just amazing. That's very creative and amazing that you're able to create such soundscapes with one instrument.
RM: Well it was necessary back then, and it was just the limitations that were put on us...actually, in every respect when we did Myst. There were things across the board where we just had to make do. And I firmly, firmly, firmly believe when you have limitations like that...creative limitations...you kind of end up being able often times to do something interesting...more interesting, often times, and it pushes you. And that was a good example. So similarly, in Riven, there was a similar sort of limitation where I just composed it all and had one synthesizer. Everything you hear is of off one synthesizer again with the effects on the synthesizer. And then there was...I had one extra synthesizer that I did little solos on. They were rare solos, but everthing else was on one synthesizer. So it was a very similar set-up for Riven. Now I don't have any of that!
Mo: Yeah. Today, they can afford Peter Gabriel, so there's no limitations.
RM: In for myself, all the synthesizers are existing on the computer.
Pl: Are you using Pro Tools nowadays?
RM: No, actually I use...what do I use, I use…oh boy, there's so many different programs for so many different things. Oh, oh... Logic Pro is what I use. And I really love it, it's great.
Pl: Yeah. Ok. Well, why don't we listen to some more selections from the Riven here since you were just mentioning that.
RM: Oh, I have to say something. I should say something about Riven.
Pl: Ok.
RM: I tried to make a change from the Myst music, which I think was more linear sounding. When we moved to Riven, we decided that, and I felt that the music should become a little bit more ambient and pushed more to the background. Just to give people...so their experience would be more focused on what the player was doing. So that the player would be a little bit more in control and in charge of their own experience, because I felt that in Myst, even though the music was more linear and prominent, it often interrupted the player's experience. A little too much, maybe. So that's why you see the differentiation in the music, of those two worlds.
Pl: That makes sense. Sure. Ok. So from the Riven sondtrack, this is Atrus Theme.

 

That's it for Part One of the D'ni Musicological Research Hood's interview with Robyn Miller! For more on Riven, Ambo, The Immortal Augustus Gladstone, and other topics, continue to Part 2!

On IMDB was said, that he is Creator of Myst 3,4,5...
here: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0589247/?ref_=tt_ov_dr
I cant trust IMBD now..

He's credited as such because he co-created the original Myst, which the other games are based on.  So even though he hasn't been involved since Riven, he still gets credit for helping to create the original idea.  Common practice with IMDb.