It is often the less well known, independent musicians who are willing to take chances on new media as artistic expression. The unfortunate Catch-22 is that these musicians or their record labels are usually unable to fund such endeavors. Now, with the advent of crowd funding platforms, artists can turn to their fan base and other interested parties to help bring new projects to fruition.
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan is no stranger to DIY. The multidisciplinary art collective has made a career of working in many different mediums, on little-to-no budget. Recently, the group finished a 6-month creative business development with the Canadian Film Centre, and have started an Indiegogo campaign to fund Your Task: Shoot Things, a mobile game set in Pureland, the realm in which their album YT//ST and other rock operas had been set.
YT//ST was founded by Alaska B and Ruby Kato Attwood in 2007, their mixed Asian Canadian heritage heavily influencing the group’s East-meets-West aesthetic and sound they cleverly named “Noh-Wave.” J-pop, industrial music, Buddhism, and Kabuki are just a handful of influences they have thrown out there. Originally working in strictly black and white (cheaper for printing), they have come to add metallics and the color red to their palette a color synonymous with Chinese culture. “Home-brewed” instruments and cheap samplers and drum machines naturally evolved into an electronic/acoustic hybrid of music.
Said Alaska, “We sort of migrated from a post-modern interdisciplinary arts milieu into some kind of avant-garde anime stoner pop realm and are still straddling those worlds in our artistic expression.”
They have since self-recorded and mastered their first full-length album YT//ST, subsequently nominated for the Polaris Prize, created their own custom-designed lighting systems for live performances, and produced rock operas with elaborate cardboard-cutout set designs. Yet, YT//ST continue to push themselves, and are now attempting to develop and release a mobile game for iOS and Android devices.
Alaska was kind enough to discuss the group’s evolution and its current fundraising campaign with me.
What made you decide to explore video games? Was it the format, your personal interest, or something else?
I have a post-grad degree in Computer Animation from Sheridan College, but prior to studied interactive media, video, and robotics while doing my BFA at Concordia University. I first started messing with 3D software and animation as far back as 1996 in DOS environments, wrote my first BASIC code at the age of 5 or 6 on an Atari 800, and first learned MIDI from my father before the age of 10 on Windows 3.1 environments. My first job at the age of 14 was in graphic design for the web. So my engagement with technology has been pretty consistent throughout my career, even engineering and mixing YT//ST’s records myself. Gaming wise, I had been hacking DooM and Quake engine games since the moment I had access to the games, as the freedom of the first person shooter environment actually interested more than the violent gameplay itself. My goal was actually to some day study Game Design but my adventures in art took me elsewhere.
At this time though, the format particularly interests me. We want to do massive rock operas with video and robotic components, but the cost is astronomical during fairly lean economic times. The only other form of media that allows one to mix in that much art, music, and narrative into a single format, is interactive digital media, still allowing us to pursue the same goal and project with a different format for delivery or execution. Many of our fans are gamers, and after having worked on the soundtrack for Mark of the Ninja, I realized that the potential in interactive media allows us to be taken on the road or enjoyed beyond an MP3, instead of having to actually make it to one of our shows.
How is Your Task: Shoot Things related to your music? Does it address any messages you convey through previous or future recordings, or is it more of an extension of YT:ST generally, such as through aesthetic?
Because we have built a series of Hyrule-like narrative arcs, extending through STAR and our opera 33, all of the music we write has been envisioned as the soundtrack of a place called Pureland (referenced on YT//ST), named after the disputed Buddhist realm. Your Task // Shoot Things has been imagined as the first step into situating our audiences inside of that realm itself as they listen to the soundtrack of that world, rather than trying to picture it with only the music to aid you.
But that doesn’t mean that whatever people have heard/seen through their own interpretation is incorrect, the music is like a soundtrack to eternal struggles that happen over and over again, whether the struggle for enlightenment is manifested in the story of two drag queens (33), the spiritual colonization of a fantasy First Nations and the immigrants implicated in a murder plot (STAR), or the physical battle between absurdist kung-fu super heroes and invading army of Dogs aided by ancient majik (Your Task // Shoot Things).
So it is really a new iteration of the same stories in the same environments: reusing audio motifs that resonate through these various worlds to tell the stories of archetypal characters in archetypal struggles, like how every Koan/Kung-An teaches the same basic Buddhist concepts.
How has the mechanics and benefits of gaming affected the story you’ve been developing?
It makes it have to be streamlined and made for a gaming environment, you can make a story line that is filled with robot bosses but that doesn’t necessarily work in a stage opera setting.
When did you decide to start developing Your Task: Shoot Things?
The narrative is based on STAR, the narrative that underlies the record YT//ST, so it has been in conception for a while, but its mutation into a game concept started last summer. After doing an incubator and receiving some funding from the Canadian Film Centre, we’ve started the project in partnership with Golden Gear Games, the team of which has previously worked on Pop Sandbox’s Pipe Trouble.
From concept to actual release, how long will that take?
If we can secure funding, we will be doing Alpha testing this fall during our upcoming North America tour with a portable arcade box, playable at every show, and then complete and release the game first quarter of 2014.
How did you get involved with ideaBOOST? What was the development process like?
ideaBOOST was brought to my attention by Aylwin Lo, my development partner and part of the YT//ST Technological R&D division (not kidding, we kind of actually work that way). He previously worked with me on building our new MIDI lighting systems, as well as video projection. We had to be ‘boosted’ enough to show support in our project, and were chosen by final jury based on viability of our plans. We had a series of mentors and advisors who helped us hone our business plan and we were given the opportunity to attend business development workshops.
It seems Canada’s government has been doing a lot to support and promote digital/multiplatform content.
The Canadian government has loaning bodies that have focused on broadcast content for a long time, but in the last bunch of years shifted focus towards supporting transmedia projects that allow active audience participation over various forms of media, rather than just passive media on a television.
Why did you decide to use crowd funding? Specifically Indiegogo, as opposed to other crowd funding sites?
We saw the advantages in crowd funding, because of the community and exposure to an audience that it provides, testing the concept from the get go, rather than getting private funding without being able to see the audience response.
The hassle of Kickstarter for Canadians made us choose Indiegogo in the end. if Kickstarter was launched in Canada, we would have used it. There is the US Amazon account work around but we didn’t want to bother with it.
How did you come up with the perks for contributing?
The jewelry was something that Morgan Black and I had already conversed about doing as band merch anyways, and both Ruby and Brendan are teachers in their fields. The hot sauce is something that I do in my spare time, but had already designed some wacky labels with YT//ST branding already, and it seemed like an appropriately absurd prize. We have a 2nd LP scheduled soon, so one can pre-order it through the IG campaign and support our game in the process. The arcade boxes will be made for the tour, and then delivered to the purchaser afterwards.
Any plans to create other content related to/supporting the game, such as music, website, or social media?
We have a blog in the works that will be documenting the creative process, as well as video content related to our projects and work flow in production right now.
Are there any possible platforms you are considering creating content for in the future?
Because of my digital modelling background, 3D printers excite me. I hope to do some work using 3D printing and installation art related to the game content in the future.