Composer Michael Berto Sharing His Process and Philosophies

Hello! I hope you have been doing well since the last time I wrote. It has been quite some time indeed! I have to admit that I've been really quite over these past several months and for good reason; just maybe not the reason you would expect. But I won't get into that now! What I really wanted to share was this really nice message I got recently from Michael Berto, otherwise known as Paws Menu - the composer of all the amazing music we hear in the Of Love and Eternity demo.

Being a particularly inspired individual, Michael one day felt moved to write down his experiences of working on the soundtrack with me and share his side of the story. Since we only ever spoke at a distance through email, it was a nice thought to have this personal retrospective that would otherwise be lost to me. Having read through it now, I feel really blessed with the sentiment especially in this time when I'm feeling a rift between myself and the project as time goes by - due to the aforementioned "reasons". I've worked alone for so many years now that I had forgotten how important it was to share an experience with another team member and have that as a connection. Michael's writeup also offers really interesting and valuable perspective on the process for making this soundtrack including his collaboration with Freya Berkhout - the talented vocalist we hear in the soundtrack.

Enough from me! Here's the devlog he sent me for you to enjoy :)

When I recall the first glimpses I had Of Love and Eternity, I find myself in a very dreamy place. It was a mysterious glimpse into a rich world, one that I could feel the depth and breadth of. A mysterious, solemn, breathing realm of macabre and delicate beauty. The first thing I saw was what looked like an owl, or a raven, with a kind of bone face mask. Instantly, I was in love with this universe.
When I think about the initial conversations with Winston, what I think about is mostly warm conversations about Narrative, Music, Art and Tolkein’s Goblin Language. 
When the news came from Winston that the game was ready for some music, I was over the moon. I began tinkering away, and then a little while into it all, he told me what he had planned to call his game; “Of Love and Eternity” and I phased into another dimension, in a good way. What a title.
It’s sometimes difficult to really feel human connection over the internet, especially personable. It’s special  to be able to have deep and sprawling, and open, conversation with someone who you have never met, or are just meeting, about something creative, and immediately feel both safe and inspired. I feel this safe inspiration with Winston, and I felt the same deep connection with Freya, my musical collaborator on Of Love and Eternity. I think these connective creative elements are so important in the creative process, but like gold is important to adorn buildings with. I will not explain this comparison. 
What I want to write about today particularly is the process and philosophies of music and tone that we engage with on Of Love and Eternity. The game is still in development, and so is the breadth of tone and flavour of the music, and what that may hold. But there is a fundamental to the process, to my process, and my collaboration with Winston that I wanted to share, that I feel is important. That involves our collaboration with Freya. 
At the first moments, Winston was able to convey this emotional core of his game to me, one that is evident in the first moments of the current slice of the game that has been shared; a tragedy. Our knight sees his love murdered, and in those helpless moments after losing her, loses his own life by the same hand. 
The mechanical and narrative notion of representing the essence of ‘love’ in the music has become core for my explorations and compositions. Winston and I, and Freya and I, spoke deeply about the concept of the character’s voice permeating the music, as she permeates life and death. Not only as a presence, but as a frequency, based upon how far, or near, our protagonist is to the soul of his departed wife. Whether ethereal distance, or physical distance, or emotional distance, her presence, or lack thereof, would be felt in the music itself. Closer to life, we hear her clearly, and further from her in death, her voice almost mixes with the ambiance, as she dances and drifts in the afterlife, untethered to life, recognisable as human only by those who love her.
It was, and has been, and is, a great honour to be able to work with someone like Freya who understands these kinds of approaches to art and composition. I have been a long, long admirer of Freya, going back to my early 20s when I first heard her voice. Let me set the scene; It’s just after sundown, on a wintery night, and some friends have come to pick me up and we’re going to hang out. One of my friends put in a CD on the car stereo. On this CD was a bunch of songs, and one of those songs is called “Pixiphony” by an Australian band named Kyü; the collaborative effort of Alyx Dennison and Freya Berkhout. This song had such an impact on me I am convinced it changed my DNA. In some way, and I have shared the sentiment with Freya, the moment I heard that song, I had an overwhelming sensation that we would work together some day. The rest is manifestation at its finest. Only took like a decade, but no worries. All good things are worth waiting for. Working with Freya as closely as I have, and seeing the fruits of those initial conversations bloom in our art, is empowering and life affirming. Hopefully the work is also evidence of the potency of this kind of connection and shared passion for composition.
When the Of Love and Eternity demo was released, we also released two songs alongside it; Stringbloom and Eterna. A good way to talk through the processes, inspirations and ideas mentioned above would be to dissect those two songs. First of all;
Eterna. Eterna was the first piece of music I made for Of Love. I had made it at a time before I wasn’t officially the composer, but I was already speaking with Winston. Originally, the song was a little faster, and a little cleaner, but that central core melody was still there. That ambling, weaving, ghostly little sequence of notes. When I began working on more songs, after playing the build, Eterna slowed down, and became a little more ghostly. It quickly began to feel like the game’s theme, an etheric, ghostly, endlessly weaving little melody accompanied with wisps of sound from elsewhere. I love Eterna, it is a very affecting piece of music for me. When I began working with Freya, my general direction was “do whatever you feel the song needs” because I trust her creative instincts deeply. However, for Eterna, I had a very specific idea; I wanted Freya to sing the melody. To sing along like a strange music box, like a child playing in a garden. If Eterna was going to play in a thematic sense, and especially as it was geared to be the first piece you hear when you wake in the afterlife, I wanted a dreamy “between worlds” feeling evoked from the music. In this case, the feeling I wanted from the music was visual; imagining a soul lost, and dancing, in the afterlife, singing, not singing to anyone, but just singing. Perhaps our protagonist, because of his connection to this soul in the depths of the afterlife, is the only one who hears it.
Stringbloom. Stringbloom to me is a great example of the use of analogue instruments to evoke a living, mortal world. Orchestral elements are utilised, as opposed to more electronic and effected sounds. The dichotomy created in the suite of sounds used game-wide informs the accompaniment to scenes that take place, and deal with, the mortal, living realm; the sound of cellos, and violas and violins, being emblematic of life, and synthetic sounds beginning to permeate the soundscape with the death, and then the awakening in the afterlife. And not only limited to Stringbloom, as in the demo, as the game progressed, we slowly shed these orchestral elements in other songs like Middlelight, the sequence ‘in limbo’ and then into Eterna, waking in the dungeon, and Petrichor, emerging in the forest, the music and soundscape slowly morphing into more disparate and synthetic tones, to evoke a sense of an otherworld. Though, being a forest, still maintains natural elements, however, they are manipulated in some way. Back to Stringbloom specifically, the song changed a little when Freya did her magic, to better conform to her work. Her voice is clearest, most ethereal, more free and peaceful during Stringbloom than other compositions. Stringbloom plays over the main menu, holding the camera on a scene that takes place in a sunny throne room, in the moments before the tragic inciting incident of Of Love and Eternity. If the player never pressed start, this sun-soaked picturesque scene would hold on a reality where no tragedy had yet taken place. Our protagonist and his wife are alive, and in love, and although there is still a notion of peril, there is overwhelming hope. This is what the sound of Stringbloom is to me, the sound of love and of hope. The sound of life. When the player presses start, the song fades away, and the camera moves towards the doors of the throne room, and Stringbloom is almost sucked out of the room itself, the moment those doors open.
With this write-up, we are sharing most of the songs from the demo of Of Love and Eternity, as well as a new working-titled instrumental sketch entitled “Quiet Valley”. Hopefully in listening to them, you can hear these notions of narrative and evocation evident within the music.

I hope you were able to take something with you after reading this post. Until next time, take care :)


You can listen to the full Of Love and Eternity soundtrack here:

And here is where you can find out more about the creators:

Composer - Michael Berto
Vocalist - Freya Berkhout


Recently Michael released a game of his own. It's really fascinating and beautiful and I recommend checking it out! You can use this link to go right to the game's page or even visit his itch page and see all of his other works and collaborations.

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