April 29th, 2011
Much to my delight and relief, people seem to be enjoying the song I did for Portal 2. There’s no question that Still Alive was a hard act to follow, not necessarily because the song was so great, but more because the overall experience of the game turned it into such a well-known and widely appreciated cultural moment. Thank goodness I didn’t totally blow it!
I’m getting lots of questions on Twitter and in emails, so this is an attempt to answer some of them in one fell swoop. Ready?
Can I buy this song anywhere?
Not as of this writing, and I don’t know when you will be able to. The song and the recording are owned by Valve, so I’m not at all involved with what happens to it next. I happen to know that they’re planning on putting out a sound track, more than likely it will be on iTunes and Amazon and other places just like the sound track for the first Portal. But I don’t know when that will be – I’ve heard them say “soon.”
What about Rock Band? A karaoke version? Source tracks for remixes?
See above – not up to me. I hope that Valve will do all these things though.
This is under Creative Commons like all your other stuff right? So I cover this song? Create a parody? Make a video?
It is not under Creative Commons. Technically you would have to get permission from Valve to do something with it. In the past they’ve not seemed to mind all the crazy things people did with Still Alive, so if I had to guess (and I do), I would say that as long as you weren’t profiting from it in some way, they’d generally be supportive of fan-created stuff. But this is not legal advice, and I certainly can’t give you (or refuse you) permission to do anything.
Are you going to release your own version with you singing, the way you did with Still Alive?
I might. In fact I have permission to do that from Valve. I’m not yet sure what form that would take – the new song is so much more dependent on the arrangement and all the electronics that I haven’t quite figured out another way to make it work. But you’ll be sure to know when that happens, because I will tell you. I am finishing up a new recording of Still Alive that I did in the studio with the new band, with guest vocalist Sara Quin from Tegan and Sara, keyboards from Loser’s Lounge superstar Joe McGinty, and professional thereminista Dorit Chrysler. That version will go on the new album, I don’t know yet if there will also be a version of the Portal 2 song.
Are you going to play this song live at shows?
Eventually. For now I think it’s a little too close to when the game was released. It’s debatable whether or not the song contains actual spoilers, but it is certainly true that hearing it outside the context of the game will be a different experience. So I want to make sure I’ve given people plenty of time to buy and play the game before I start forcing it on them at shows. I don’t know exactly when that will be, sort of going to play it by ear.
Did you play the game before you wrote the song?
No, they created the game based on a song I made up based on nothing. <–joke. Yes of course! I spoke at great length with the writers as they were finishing things up, and I had an early version of the game that I was able to play through. I thought a lot about GlaDOS and her new experiences, what she was experiencing in this story, and there is a lot of new stuff that comes to light. Much later when it is less spoilery I can talk with more specificity about what things mean and what I think is going on in her head. But certainly I tried very hard to hit the moving target that was the story of the game, and a big part of that was playing it – it’s really the only way to know how the player is going to feel by the end, what they’ll know, what they’ll expect, what will make them go aha!
Did you write any other music for the game?
No. The song that plays through that radio you find is by The National, all the great turret stuff is by Valve composer Mike Morasky.
How did you make this recording?
I wrote it on guitar, made some scratch tracks of synths and drums and things, sort of worked it out from there. The opening musical idea was inspired by a drum loop that Flansburgh sent me, part of a giant “inspiration pack” of drum loops to help kick start some songwriting for my album. It just seemed to fit what I was doing with the Portal song, so I tweaked it and stuffed it in. I took a demo version with my scratch vocal to Valve to go into a studio there and record Ellen McLain singing it. We did the processing of her voice back in the Valve offices. I took that track and all my instrument tracks back to the NYC studio where I had been working on my album, and John Flansburgh and Pat Dillett and I messed with the arrangement. So really it’s the same producer (Flansburgh) and sound engineer (Dillett) team I’ve been working with on the new album. We took out a track here and there, changed a sound here and there, mixed, EQ’d. It was Flansburgh’s idea to drop out the instruments on “Oh, did you think I meant you?” which still gives me shivers.
I think that’s most of the main questions, but I’ll update here if I come across more. Thanks for all the positive feedback everyone, I feel very lucky to once again be involved with something as wonderful as Portal 2.