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When playing Airborne Kingdom, developer The Wandering Band’s new city-builder game set in the sky, users are transported to a different world, in large part thanks to the game’s unique musical score. Hovering above a Middle Eastern landscape, the music adds a light ambience that makes players feel as though they’re, literally, floating on air.

VENN sat down with composers Paul Aubry and Simon Desrochers to discuss the airy tunes that lift up Airborne Kingdom.

Aubry started music at a young age, studying classical jazz until university where he studied musical composition, becoming a media composer after graduation.

“I worked mainly in media advertising, I would say, but then I also worked on all kinds of projects, such as short films, dance and theater,” Aubry tells VENN of his early days in music, which began at a young age, studying classical jazz until university where he learned musical composition. “Then I really had interest in video games.”

Interested in video games didn’t come until later and, once Aubry realized it as a viable new path, Desrochers, an old friend who considers himself a “casual musician,” saw an opportunity. “I had always joked about becoming an agent when we used to jam,” Desrochers says. “At one point I was between jobs and I asked [Aubry] what he would like to do. Is that video games?”

When Aubry agreed, Desrochers reached out to his friend Fred Gareau, a coder at The Wandering Band. Desrochers knew The Wandering Band was creating a video game and needed music, so Aubry and Desrochers made a demo.

“A year later, [The Wandering Band] got a big deal, asking ‘Hey, you guys want to do 60 minutes and sound effects?’” says Desrochers. The answer was easy: “Sure we do.”

“First, we did a lot of research to really try to understand what was needed,” Aubry says of the process. “We had to approach quite a new genre, world music. As for writing for the video game, it was not an enormous challenge. Where it was a bit easier is that this game didn’t require complex game implementation where [the music] really interacts with the player. Really the main goal was ambient music.”

“Making something that fits the game really well is so critical. You can have a great song, but if it doesn’t fit the game, there’s no emotional connection,” says Desrochers. “We spent a lot of time talking to the guys at The Wandering Band as to what their vision of the game was. Then Paul and I took that and tried to tie musical concepts to it.”

One example the composers describe is ascension, a major theme in the skycity builder. Proper instrumentation was crucial to conveying the “floatiness” needed.

“Winds come into that. We used flutes for the unifying aspect that we thought were like voices coming together,” Desrochers says. “That’s why there’s voices in the soundtrack.”

“We didn’t want it to be a realistic approach,” adds Aubry. “The artistic approach [of the game] clearly shows this huge Middle Eastern influence, so we really wanted to have the music unconsciously associated with this.”

From the initial call with Gareau until Airborne Kingdom’s launch on Dec. 17, Aubry and Desrochers spent roughly two years working on the soundtrack, including during a global pandemic.

“To me it actually felt quite relieving to do this,” Aubry says. “I’m disappointed we didn’t have the opportunity to meet [The Wandering Band team], but working on this long term project of making an hour of music was a relief to me. The video game was really some place to escape for me. The world was falling apart, but I had this project which really inspired me and helped me go through it.”

“It was easier to collaborate when we could physically be together, but perhaps [the pandemic] was for the better because I think it turned out great,” Desrochers adds. “I guess it made it a little tricky, but at the same time we reached out to some musicians across Canada for recording different stuff. During the hard part of the pandemic, this game was really a relief.”

The Airborne Kingdom soundtrack is available on Bandcamp and Spotify.

Photo courtesy of The Wandering Band