Cyberpunk 2077 Interview with Composers Marcin Przybylowicz, P.T. Adamczyk, Paul Leonard-Morgan

Cyberpunk 2077 is the highly anticipated first-person action RPG from CD Projekt Red, and it’s finally available for consoles and PC. Players are now able to wreak havoc in the open-world of Night City while immersing themselves with the sounds from the radio and score. The game features the score from Marcin Przybylowicz (The Witcher 3), P.T. Adamczyk (Gwent: The Card Game), Paul Leonard-Morgan (Amazon’s Tales from the Loop), and in an interview with Nerd Reactor, the trio talks about creating the music of Cyberpunk 2077.

Nerd Reactor: Marcin, you’ve been working on CD Projekt Red’s projects. What’s it like having another group of composers here with talent from film and television?

Marcin Przybylowicz: Great, actually! It’s a completely new project. Everything is completely new including the setting and the protagonist when compared to The Witcher. For the very first time in a CDPR game, players are able to make their own characters. New things were shooting at us from every single direction. It was kind of obvious with a project of that concept, scale and ambition. Because every single game CDPR does is full of ambition, you need to gather up a team of bulletproof people who will deliver and take the challenge.

We did hire P.T. as our in-house composer. This is a little bit different than Paul, for example, who joined us later on since he doesn’t work, per se, for CDPR like we do. The team was gradually getting bigger once we realized how much stuff we were supposed to do for this project. I’m super happy how quickly we’ve managed to establish a common dialect for communication and started to understand ourselves, musically without words. So that was nice.

Paul Leonard-Morgan: At the start of it, you’ve got to create that sound as Marcin says. We had all met up in Venice, in LA, and had a beer at the start of me coming on board. So P.T. had already been on board, I think six months by then. So this was about three years ago, and we sat down. It was kind of getting to know each other as anything else because it’s important. Particularly when you’re in your own studios, you’ve got to gradually get on each other’s wavelength.

We started playing around with all our senses and our ideas, and “How about this instrument? How about this?” That’s how you gradually form the sound. There’s also this whole building the sound because once you’ve got that sound built, it becomes an awful lot easier to go in and dig into a particular sound and creating a track out of that. But you’ve got to know what kind of sound you’re going for, to begin with. Is it orchestral? Is it this? Is it that? Is it synth? It is in the end with the splattering of other sounds. Then what synth are we using? What sounds are we going for? How are we going to create the sound? So that was a cool thing for me. Finding a sound for any project is really fun.

Cyberpunk 2077
Courtesy of CD Projekt Red

Nerd Reactor: With different composers working on the same project, do you guys ever converge?

Paul Leonard-Morgan: Accidentally! They’re always taking my tune! [Laughs]

Marcin Przybylowicz: We didn’t converge, per se, meaning that two of us or three of us didn’t work on the same piece of music. We split the game among the three of us. Paul would do different stuff, P.T. would do different stuff, and I would do different stuff. The game would be covered evenly. There were times where, for example, Paul’s music is being stripped down to layers and the specific layer is getting repurposed for another scene where we’ve built another piece of music around it. So it can provide additional context but still have something in common. For example, with the piece that has been playing an hour ago or maybe two hours ago, the narrative arc suggests or requires us to draw a connection or draw a line between two characters or maybe two events in the storyline. It flows seamlessly and provides additional context.

Paul Leonard-Morgan: Yeah, that’s the thing… the whole flow of it. So it’s not a case of here’s a PT track, here’s a Marcin track, or here’s a PLM track. Did I just talk about myself in the third person?

Nerd Reactor: Yes, you did.

[Group Laughs]

Paul Leonard-Morgan: Here’s a Paul track. Okay, well look, here’s a bunch of sounds as Marcin said about the kind of layers underneath. It’s all written in the same key. There’s lots of variation behind it. So although there are the three of us doing our own thing, we’re using some similar instruments, some similar synths, and some similar sounds. So there is a very big continuity between the sound of the game. You can’t tell who’s written each individual track, I don’t think. It’s about the whole sound as a complete thing. So yes, there’s lots of variation and we did our own thing, but it all ties in really well together sonically.

P.T. Adamczyk: I think it was actually a very fun thing to do, especially since I was implementing a lot of stuff. I was implementing my own music and most of the stuff that Paul wrote. It was interesting to make it a seamless sort of musical pad, to go from one composer to another. I never had problems, and we basically used similar instruments or sensibilities. More times, I was sort of impressed how the guys tackled certain cues. There are two cues that Paul wrote that are my absolute favorites in the game, and I think he totally nailed them. The same goes for Marcin’s main theme. It was just a joy.

Keanu Reeves Cyberpunk 2077
Courtesy of CD Projekt Red

Nerd Reactor: Did anybody have to figure out who was working on the Keanu Reeves/Johnny Silverhand theme?

P.T. Adamczyk: We had a discussion with Marcin very early on that we wanted to somehow merge Samurai’s music and this underscore for Johnny Silverhand. I was the guy who wrote a lot of the Samurai material, so it was kind of a no-brainer that I should sort of work on that. Themes and motifs that appear in Johnny’s underscore also appear in the Samurai music. We had to make sure that those riffs and motifs are capable of delivering on many emotional levels.

Samurai Cyberpunk 2077

Nerd Reactor: CD Projekt Red has lots of security surrounding Cyberpunk 2077. Paul, what was the security like compared to other projects?

Paul Leonard-Morgan: Yeah, I remember working on Limitless, and that was my first introduction to Hollywood security. I think Sony has just been hacked or something like that, and the security around the video was just insane. They deliver it on a hard drive in a case with a chain. Literally, with a chain around. I was like, “Oh my god! This is mental!” So now I’m used to NDAs and not being able to speak about things.

I think the wonderfully frustrating thing about working on a game like this is that you work on it for three years. “Am I working on this now? Is this legit?” So you can’t speak about it. In one sense, it’s great because you’re just in this thing. Everyone’s going, “Is Paul doing anything this year, the lazy swine?” But yeah, you’re really working hard on it. And then suddenly, it gets announced that we’re working on it. So many people then start saying, “Does it sound like this?” All these questions, which is brilliant because that’s what we want from fans. We want them to be so involved in the game, to show their passion for it. But it’s so frustrating because you can’t give them any tidbits at all. You’re just going to have to wait.

Nerd Reactor: There are so many sounds that can go into cyberpunk including ’80s synth. What makes this a unique cyberpunk sound?

Marcin Przybylowicz: It’s interesting that you mentioned that ’80s thing. One of the first creative decisions we’ve made, even before P.T. and Paul joined the project, was to do everything we can to avoid ’80s references as much as possible. Instead of that, let’s focus on the ’90s decades, on other musical styles than the typical synthwave, retrowave, outrun and other variations of the sound or aesthetics. Let’s focus our attention more towards rave, industrial, techno, EDM, and the 90s. I grew up in the ’90s. I was listening to tons of different stuff at that time.

With how the project’s built, constructed, conceived, and what kind of themes the game touches upon story-wise, it simply didn’t do it justice to just slap the ’80s neon aesthetics on it, call it a day and say, “Yeah, we did it. Now, rewards!” It doesn’t work like that. This is not any cyberpunk game. This is the cyberpunk. We have cyberpunk in the title. It’s based on Mike Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk 2020, the pen and paper RPG system. It’s a very well described, established and lore heavy world. It’s about a single person surviving Night City. How does it feel to be a cyberpunk and go up in the ranks and basically make your mark there in this world? It’s a darker, busier and overstimulating kind of place. It was obvious for us that this time the ’80s wouldn’t do the trick. So we’ve done everything we could to actually avoid people referencing our music to the ’80s.

Paul Leonard-Morgan: For me, it was more just about the attitude and the energy of the ’90s. Growing up in the UK, it’s surrounded by people like the Chemical Brothers and Prodigy. The energy of it was so raw. And it’s interesting because then you look at it as evolving throughout the years and Unkle and those raw drums and DJ Shadow. We had Ilana, the drummer of Nine Inch Nails, and took a load of his drums and then processed the hell out of them. So it’s not just electronic.

I think P.T. has said the other day about how people can think of electronica as a cold thing, but there are some wonderfully warm textures underneath it. Obviously, it’s a dark-as-hell place and the textures can really have emotional resonance to it while still being electronic because of all the mods synth that we’re using. Those beats, energy and attitude of the ’90s are what cyberpunk is about. You’re walking down and you’re choosing your fashion. Your fashion is so important; it’s a statement of intent as you walk down those streets.

Courtesy of CD Projekt Red

P.T. Adamczyk: The ’90s is so interesting because digital music production became available to everybody. And this boom of new music in the ’90s was very much technology-based. And that sort of ties in well with the cyberpunk genre and the cyberpunk setting that we were scoring. If you think about the bands that Paul mentioned, Chemical Brothers and Prodigy, they weren’t superstar producers when they started. They’re bedroom producers, sampling old records and stuff and looking for breaks. That attitude is very much a part of the cyberpunk philosophy.

There’s a great quote from Mike Pondsmith, who says that the streets will find their use for things. He started exactly like those guys. He couldn’t afford to go to the studio and record a full band. They found a way to express themselves with the tools that were available to them. So I think the ’90s is a far more interesting decade musically. Although I love a lot of stuff in the 80s. But culturally, I think they made a bigger impact. Europe was an interesting time for electronic music. Paul was very lucky to be in the UK to experience that firsthand.

Paul Leonard-Morgan: When everyone goes, “Oh, is it going to sound like Blade Runner? Is it going to sound like Stranger Things?” That’s wonderful music and it’s brilliant, but it’s been done to death. What we’ve tried to do is bring an attitude and energy to the world of cyberpunk that people aren’t expecting, because there’s no point trying to do something that’s been done before.

Until you put it out there, you don’t know what people are going to think. But you’re not trying to second guess it. You’re just trying to go, “Well, you know what? Yes, of course, it’s got a certain kind of instrumentation, which might be evocative of Blade Runner.” Because as soon as you have a certain kind of synthy sounds, it just takes people into that space. You can’t do anything about that. But what you’re not trying to do is imitate that. What you’re trying to do is create these sounds. We had Tina Guo on electric cello, we had Eric Byers on electric cello, and we had Ilan on the drums. All of these things are to bring a certain warmth and humanity over the top of this electronic sound that we’ve got going and to then create this mishmash. It’s going through processor pedals, it’s going through distortion, it’s going through echoes, it’s going through reverb, and it’s going through modular synth. It’s a frigging wall of sound that hits you in the face. Going back to that energy as you’re going through it, like P.T.’s baselines underneath it. The drums just get you going and get that kind of adrenaline level up.

To watch the full interview, check out the video below:

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