A Futuristic Music for Ecuador: Oliver Getz Rodahl

Andean Sky is an inspirational web comic. It tells the story of an immigrant who returned to his hometown in Ecuador to reconnect with his own culture in the 26th Century. In this comic, the importance of identity, language, family ties, religion and technology are addressed, using a futuristic view of Ecuador and Latin America. As the creative collaboration of graphic designer Carlos Villarreal Kwasek and music composer Oliver Getz Rodahl, Andean Sky integrates interactive visuals and sound tracks. In this two-part interview, both these creators are asked about their lives, artistic backgrounds and challenges in accomplishing this beautiful, worldwide free access web project. These interviews were the result of a class project coordinated and edited by Juan Carlos Grijalva, Associate Professor of Latin American Literature at Assumption College, in Worcester, Massachusetts.

For this second part (read the first part here), music composer Oliver Getz Rodahl is interviewed by Isobelle Ives, Monique LaBarre and Hannah Avard. Based in Boston, Oliver was born in Norway and specializes in composing music and recording audio for video games, short films and series. Oliver has played guitar in several jazz ensembles touring different European countries. After he moved to the United States, he has provided sound design to video games such as Ludum Dare 30, Colliding Forces, Smoothie Operator, and the soundtracks of the short film series Inappropriate Relations (Episode 2) and now Andean Sky. When composing for this project, Oliver got many of his ideas from looking at the visual component of the comic. He had the visual images next to him on another screen so that he could get a feel as to whether or not he was going in the right direction with the music. As a composer, Oliver feels strongly that music is a way to tell the story without words and it must reflect the work in the best way possible. Currently, Oliver is finishing up his studies in music theory and composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Andean Sky is available for free here. To listed to all of Oliver’s music, visit his Soundcloud page.

Oliver Getz Rodahl

My grandfather is paying for a lot of my education

My family is actually one of the biggest reasons why I can do what I do. My grandfather is actually paying for a lot of my education and whenever I played in shows and such, someone would always try to be there. When I was younger and didn’t have a car, not that I have a car right now either, when I couldn’t drive when I was like 14, 15, my grandfather would drive me to concerts and stuff where I could play in places where I’d never been before. They have been very supportive of me in general.

I played in bands, mostly rock music

I started playing guitar when I was like 12 or 13. I played in bands, mostly rock music and at some point I started getting into the music track in high school. I got into that and opportunities started to come up. I tried my best to accept every opportunity that came up and that somehow led me to more writing than performing.

I was about 18 when I started to compose music. I used to play in a band, actually a heavy metal band, where we would write our own songs and stuff like that. I think that was my first experience writing music at all. That was specifically for guitar, not for other instruments.

I actually tried graphic design for a bit

I actually tried graphic design for a bit, for about six months. After high school, I took some time off to think about “how can I actually make some money?” because there is very little money in music. I got into graphic design for about six months or so but I always ended up going back to writing music so that’s where that path took me. If I didn’t do composition or music in general I would probably do art or something related to the visual arts.

Finding a way around it is always so hard

Writer’s block. Definitely writer’s block, I hate it, it’s the worst. Finding a way around it is always so hard. But like, when you find it you get into this space where you think “I figured it out, I’ll never get writer’s block again.” And then it happens again a few weeks later and you’re like “ugh!” My method to get through my writer’s block is to force my way through it. So like, I will become very determined and I just write. I try to block out the parts of mind that are critical. I tend to be very critical of what I write and that’s what causes my writer’s block because I think “will that be good enough?” My easiest way around this is to start thinking about what I want to hear. Another way that I have used in the past is to just take a break. I will take up to a week where I distance myself from music. I’ve heard that other artists do this especially with visual art and with authors. Sometimes you just need a break and there’s no way around that.

In Norway there are a lot of insanely good musicians

I started out in guitar performance playing in bands and all that. And a lot of that was greatly improvised music, like you would just go on stage and play whatever, and, throughout a lot of that time I didn’t really feel valued as a musician that much, like, mostly because back in Norway there are a lot of insanely good musicians and it is very easy to feel intimidated. And there, there always seems to be this hierarchy, like this group… the best wants to play with the best right? And that’s kind of demotivating sometimes and I ended up playing less and less guitar as time went by, but I saw composition as a way for me to become a musical leader, rather than someone who just plays the music. I could be someone who dictates what the music is and it was a place for me to, where I could decide the rules and I can say what’s going to happen. And I could… yeah, take charge.

Boston is a wonderful town for college kids

My first ever thought of Boston actually came from a guitar teacher of mine that I had when I was about 19, which was also quite late. I had practically never heard of Berklee before but a guitar teacher from a college that I went to in Norway went to Berklee and he said very good things about Berklee and his time in Boston. It didn’t convince me to go, but that was sort of my first connection. And then one of my high school classmates ended up going to college at Berklee so that was kind of a major point in that direction. Also, Berklee has a film score program which practically doesn’t exist back home. Funnily enough, that isn’t what I ended up doing. So those were the main reasons why I came to Boston.

As for how I’m liking Boston? I think it is a wonderful town for college kids. There are things happening like everywhere, especially for musicians and artists because we have the museums like the MFA and there is a very big collaboration going on between the arts schools through pro-arts and it’s just a very good student town. Things are happening everywhere and everything is so connected so there is no problem getting where you want to go. The only downside really is the expense.

Boston is a wonderful student town and I love living here but I wouldn’t be able to settle down in the city simply because of, there’s too much going on, too much noise, and I need like time and space to be able to think sometimes, There have been some helpful things though. The Boston Public Library is a wonderful place where you can just sit and work and like no one will disturb you and it’s completely quiet and that’s just wonderful for me.

Carlos’ art made me want to work on this project

It was mostly the art that Carlos made that influenced me or made me want to work on this project. He presented the project back home in this tiny cafe like a year or something ago, and just immediately after seeing his project I fell in love with it and I just approached him and asked him if I could do it because I don’t know, I’m a very audial visual person I guess. Like, I find that music works very well together with other art forms, and I just love his art style, and I just thought, wow, if I can work on his project… I just felt very inspired by what he does. That’s the simple answer.

My biggest influence on Andean Sky was definitely Carlos himself. Being the creator, the creative director of the project and all that, he had the final say. He didn’t really have to say much either. What he did with his art just made it very clear to me what I had to do. He would also occasionally send me music that kind of set the mood for different scenes, just so that I would have a general idea of where to go. But yeah, that was like the main drive of the project, I feel.

I have been working on the project for about a year

I procrastinated a lot. So I have been working on the project for about a year. We decided that I would work on it like September of last year, or something like that, and the due date to get everything done was set in like September sometime this year. And I only got done like two weeks before, even though I had over a year to do it. Yeah, I procrastinated a lot, but once in a while I would just have to make, in order to reach the deadline, I just had to make the decision to get things done, like okay, now I really have to- if I’m going to get everything done in time- I have to get this done by this day or whatever. And in those cases, which happened a lot last summer, I would wake up and eat a very big and healthy breakfast, because that’s very important to get your brain moving, and then I would grab a cup of tea and just go out into this —we have this wonderful community garden just outside my building— and I would sit there and just drink my tea and just try to relax and just not think about all the work I had to do and get discourages, and then I would just go back in and sit at my desk the whole day and just write, but I would always take a few hours of breaks during the day. But it would be, it would go from zero to one hundred very fast, like, a lot of time doing very little, and then one day I would just sit down and just crunch something out. Which I do not recommend to do, because it’s very tiresome.

There’s nothing as rewarding as when I’ve written something, and then just seeing how the pieces fall together. Like, suddenly you can see the coherent picture. That’s one of my main drives when it comes to all kinds of work that I do. As I mentioned before, I’m a big fan of different types of art coming together to make a completely new piece of art. That’s what I want to do more of. I think.

Andean Sky is about trying to find your culture again

The central message of Andean Sky is about being removed from one’s culture for so long that you have forgotten what it is. What your culture is. And trying to find that culture again, that’s completely foreign to you, can be quite difficult, and I think a lot of that comes from Carlos’ own experiences, since he’s been living in Europe for quite some time now. But he occasionally goes back to Ecuador, and I believe that’s kind of how he feels, at times where he maybe he doesn’t quite understand everything and everyone anymore. There’s one example from the comic itself, it’s actually where the main character comes home to his mother Gloria and they are building this racing spaceship together. And Gloria is religious and wants to bless this ship before it is used but the main character is like “what the hell is that?”

You know, because he doesn’t understand where his mother is coming from; he has forgotten a lot about this culture and about the practices that are and where he’s coming from because he’s been away for so long.

It is important to know how to sustain yourself even though you are an artist

Let’s see. I mean the reason why I chose to write for games and the media in general is quite simple… It is, there’s just more money to be had in the field. Writing music for concert halls and stuff like that gets rarer and rarer and there is less and less money to be had in that, like people… I feel like it is a dying… like concert music is dying for concert and orchestra. Classically trained composers. And you know, even though I am a musician and a composer I still need money to be able to survive. And it’s, I think it’s important to know how to sustain yourself even though you’re an artist. Doing art for the sake of art, it is admirable and it’s good in itself but what good is being able to do art if you are going to starve?

If I had to choose a genre to write for I would write for games that are mostly story driven, simply because that is where music can do the most good. I would be able to support the story with the music, creating like themes for different characters and for the story arch itself. And this is a practice that has been done, like, since early 19th century opera, where a lot of German composers would create themes for the characters where a specific piece of music would play when they approached up on stage or when they got angry or when they got certain types of emotions, stuff like that.

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About This Interview Project

During the Fall Semester of 2016, Brenda Anaya, Hannah Avard, Katelyn Coyle, Isobelle Ives, Monique LaBarre, Ambar K. Rosas Sánchez, Pamela Rios and Renee Zahigian, students of Assumption College, interviewed graphic designer, Carlos Villarreal Kwasek, and music composer, Oliver Getz Rodahl, authors of the artistic project Andean Sky, an interactive web comic. This class project was coordinated and edited by Juan Carlos Grijalva, Associate Professor of Latin American Literature. We would like to express our gratitude to Carlos and Oliver for their trust on this project and music professor Peter Clemente and Arts and Design Professor Lynn Simmons for their support.

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