Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Behind The Music With Austin Haynes


Image: Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller by Phoenix Online Studios

Developed by Phoenix Online Studios, Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is a four-part series that brings Erica to face her past. With a serial killer loose in Boston, the killer leaves clues behind that only Erica seems to have the ability to discover. Erica's character is set as an FBI agent who's really good when it comes to uncovering clues at a crime. 

Phoenix Online Studios is also the creators of The Silver Lining, which is a spin-off of King's Quest. Comic book artist, Romano Molenaar (Batman, X-Men, The Darkness), and game designer, Jane Jensen (Gabriel Knight, Gray Matter), were apart of the contributors that took part in making the game. Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller has won six Reader’s Choice Aggie Awards, including Game of the Year in 2013. 

Image: Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller by Phoenix Online Studios 

Interview with Austin Haynes

Austin Haynes, the music composer for Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, expressed a huge amount of inspiration and thrilled excitement when it came to composing music for the game.

As a game composer, are you a gamer yourself?

"Yes! I’ve been a lifelong fan of video games since I was a kid playing Mario on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Some of my favorite soundtracks growing up were Final Fantasy III, Chrono Trigger, Legend of Zelda, and Super Metroid  on the Super Nintendo. Final Fantasy III had such a diverse amount of characters and music that really pulled me into the story/world."

Image: Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller by Phoenix Online Studios 

What was your musical vision for the game? 

"Cognition had some amazing inspiring concept art and was full of graphic intensity so I wanted the music to portray a lot of mystery and drama. You play as an FBI Agent named Erica Reed, a powerful female protagonist with special Post Cognition powers going after serial killers."

Were there any specific type of sounds that you were going for in your music compositions? 

"Yes, I wanted there to be pads and soundscapes to really give it atmosphere but also have some grit using electric guitar, edgy cymbals, and synths. I also used my voice for additional expression and featured piano and strings as well. I wanted it to feel cinematic, electronic, with some rock elements here and there."

Were you given any reference songs from the game director, 'Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller'?

"Cesar Bittar, a brilliant passionate visionary, fulfilled many roles at Phoenix Online Studio. He was the Audio Director and implementer of all the music on Cognition among other things. He would provide artwork, screenshots, or videos for me to look at along with descriptions of what kind of emotions he was after or insight on the character I was to make a theme for. No temp music was really given for this game as I had already captured the essence of Cognition early on. I was given lots of freedom to explore what I thought would work best. The team in general was very passionate and we all that creativity fueled a great game with the budget and team we had."

Image: Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller by Phoenix Online Studios 

What was your experience working with the game developers for 'Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller'?

"I’ve worked with Phoenix Online Studios in the past on a fan game called The Silver Lining, which is based off of King’s Quest. Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller was their first commercial game. They are a great group of people and I really am happy that I got to work with them. We had learned a lot in the past on managing things while doing The Silver Lining so the whole experience was even better with Cognition."

Do you work with other musicians for the recordings of your compositions, or do you perform the entire piece yourself?

"If there was a bigger budget involved, there may be room for some additional musicians however I typically do all the music creation, which involves the composing, arranging, production, mixing, and mastering. I like to use some live instruments when I can, which I used guitar and my voice on to give some extra expression that virtual instruments sometimes can’t quite reach on their own. It is a great time to be a composer with all the possibilities available today with music technology. For me, music is very personal. I like to tap into the feelings the project needs and find the textures, notes, and chords that give a soul to it, an identity."

What inspired you to make music? How long have you been writing music for?

"I am the youngest in my family of 5 siblings. Music has always been around me. I heard a lot of music growing up and we had a piano my sisters played on in the house. I grew up loving Rock music from the 70s onward from artists like Led Zeppelin, U2, The Police, Yes, Pink Floyd, and others. I started out playing on drums when I was 15 and got into Piano when I was 16. The Piano really helped me find an outlet for my emotions, to express them freely. Music is a language that speaks right to you past filters we put up. To me, I always wanted to write my own songs letting out things that were in the inside or ideas I had. Creating piano pieces started right away for me. I wasn’t as interested in playing covers. A couple of years later I started getting into recording and adding in other instruments with Cubase, a Digital Audio Workstation that I ran on my PC. With all of that, I would say I have been writing music for about 20 years now."

Image: Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller by Phoenix Online Studios 

How would you describe the music that you typically create?

"I tend to write in slow to mid tempo with lots of feeling. I am drawn to music that evokes nostalgia, melancholy, sadness, wonder and most of my pieces are created on the Piano first. I love orchestral instruments, synths, and music that tend to take you places. I like music that creates visuals or places to them, space at times to be immersed in the sound. I also have found songwriting and singing another interest of mine. Lyrics can also be powerful. To allow someone to feel something is an incredible honor."

What is the best advice you’ve been given in your music career?

"I think the best thing I ever was told was my piano teacher one day stopped me when I was improvising to him and stopped me mid way and told me he was impressed to tell me I should consider myself a professional. This was during a time I wasn’t sure if I should pursue music or not but I prayed about it and shortly after my piano teacher said this. I considered it a sign and it has helped me."

Who are your biggest influences?

"Nobuo Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda, Joe Hisaishi, Alan Silvestri, Hans Zimmer, and James Horner."

Image: Austin Haynes

What is your songwriting process like?

"I usually start out on Piano and improvise. Other times, I will think of a percussive element to build the piece on or an inspiring Strings or Pad sound. Usually I start with what drives the piece best. Chords and melody will begin to form and then I start to think of how I want to utilize those elements. What feeling are we after? Where do we want the music to go? What instruments do I want to add? It is a very intuitive process."

What has been your biggest challenge as an artist?

"Business in many ways is the opposite of being an artist. I like genuine connections and being authentic. I would rather work with people I trust and value and work on projects I believe in then just do any project. To have all this is a challenge. It is also a challenge when people try to devalue the art of music making which is a terrible thing to do. Music is healing. Music communicates to us all. Music adds immersion and lets people think fondly of games after they have played them. To other composers, make great music and find a good rate you are comfortable with."

What are your goals for your music in the future? Do you have any projects you're working on next?

"I want to make music that is immersive and leaves an impression on a gamer. I want them to feel something. I recently released a songwriting album of mine called Part of the Story which are all personal songs that I produced and sang on. They are all special to me. I also have some work with a singer I did which is planned to come out in 2021. I am currently looking for a new game to work on." 

Watch Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller Game Trailer:

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller

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