The Legacy Music Hour #138: Alberto José González
By Katie Levine on June 20, 2013
Alberto José González (otherwise known as Joe McAlby) is a Spanish composer who worked for the video game company Bit Managers during the 8-bit and 16-bit era. He did the music for many Game Boy titles, most of them released only in Europe and often times based on European cartoons. Brent and Rob focus on the work of Mr. González, but also select a few tracks from other composers González admires. PLUS, Brent and Rob did an interview with Alberto José González via e-mail, which you can read right here. Big thanks to Alberto José González for taking the time to answer The Legacy Music Hour‘s questions and for listening to the show! Full track listing and interview below.
Game – Composer – Song – Company – Console – Year (North American release unless otherwise indicated)
The Smurfs – Alberto José González – Act 7: The Old Gold Mine – Bit Managers/Infogrames – NES (Europe) – 1994
Tintin in Tibet – Alberto José González – Hotel des Sommets – Bit Managers/Infogrames – Game Gear (Europe) – 1995
V-Rally Championship Edition – Alberto José González – Ending – Infogrames/Ocean/Velez & Dubail – Game Boy (Europe) – 1998
Sea Battle – Alberto José González – Lose – Bit Managers/Infogrames – Game Boy (Europe) – 1998
Spirou – Alberto José González – Cave – Bit Managers/Infogrames – Game Boy (Europe) – 1996
Spirou – Alberto José González – Ending – Bit Managers/Infogrames – Game Boy (Europe) – 1996
Streets of Rage – Yuzo Koshiro – Dilapadated Town (Stage 2) – Sega – Genesis – 1991
Final Fantasy III – Nobuo Uematsu – Edgar & Sabin – Square – SNES – 1994
Metal Masters – Alberto José González – Metal Beat – Bit Managers/Electro Brain – Game Boy – 1993
Super Turrican – Chris Hülsbeck – Stage 2-4 – Factor 5/Seika – SNES – 1993
Otto’s Ottifanten: Baby Bruno’s Alptraum – Alberto José González – Woods of Happiness – Bit Managers/Infogrames – Game Boy (Europe) – 1998
The Smurfs 3/The Smurfs Nightmare – Alberto José González – The Mysterious Planet – Bit Managers/Infogrames/Velez & Dubail – Game Boy (Europe) – 1997
The Smurfs – Alberto José González – Stork Travel – Bit Managers/Infogrames – Game Boy – 1994
V-Rally Championship Edition – Alberto José González – Car Selection – Infogrames/Ocean/Velez & Dubail – Game Boy (Europe) – 1998
The Smurfs 3/The Smurfs Nightmare – Alberto José González – The Bottomless Well – Bit Managers/Infogrames/Velez & Dubail – Game Boy (Europe) – 1997
Otto’s Ottifanten: Baby Bruno’s Alptraum – Alberto José González – Game Over – Bit Managers/Infogrames – Game Boy (Europe) – 1998
Asterix & Obelix – Alberto José González – Intermission – Bit Managers/Infogrames – SNES (Europe) – 1995
Alberto José González: I think both the individual composers and their regions are closely related to the different styles in the early game music. Some good composers with a very distinct style were the inspiration of others, and both at the same time were influenced by music not related to video games that was played in their regions.
In Europe we had a strong market of games for 8-bit computers dominated by game companies of the UK. The best musicians from UK were also programmers, which in my opinion resulted in the creation of a music style very elaborated technically. New musicians like myself would follow that style because it was what we were used to hear in our games.
From my own experience, composing for sound chips can be quite boring if you just use them following their normal specifications, but for a young programmer it’s always a motivation doing something out of the ordinary with a limited machine.
That said, I think every composer has his own recognizable style, which in many cases is easy to guess. There’s always that moment when you listen to a fantastic music which you suspect must be from a favorite composer, and then you find that it is!
Brent: Were there other Spanish video game composers during the 8-bit and 16-bit era or were you the only one?
Alberto José González: We had a golden era of 8-bit computer gaming here in Spain, with several companies doing games, but I don’t remember being many dedicated video game composers. I can only think of two or so….
When game consoles replaced the 8-bit and 16-bit computers in the early ’90s, most of the Spanish video game companies disappeared or switched to the PC market. For over a decade, we were the only Spanish studio developing games for consoles, so I suppose I was the only console musician in that period. I may be wrong, but I think there’s only one Spanish console game not made by us during the whole 8-bit and 16-bit era.
Rob: Have you met any other notable composers like Hirokazu Tanaka or Koji Kondo? Do you talk about music with them or do you try to avoid the subject and talk about sports or something?
Alberto José González: Unfortunately I haven’t ever met any famous game composer, at least not in person. Now thanks to social networks, I can find many of my favorite composers and leave them a message, but I’m afraid that’s all for the moment!
Brent: Occasionally, you’re credited with doing graphics. How much were you involved with doing graphics and how does it compare to doing music? Is it harder or easier? Is it as fulfilling?
Alberto José González: Actually I started my career as a graphic designer. I was in charge of all the work related to sprites and animation.
I can’t say which was easier; Both things were challenging at the time because of the limitations of the machines. I found refreshing to switch from one job to another during the development, but then it was also a lot of work. I suppose that doing music was more fulfilling for me because occasionally it also involved programming, which was one of my favorite hobbies.
Brent: While you were composing music for games during the 8-bit and 16-bit era, were you also playing video games you didn’t work on? If so, which games from that era were your favorite? When you played other games, did you actively listen to the music to hear what other composers were doing in your field?
Alberto José González: I have been a very active player since I got my first computer… until now, that is. With the family and all the work it’s difficult to find free time to have long playing sessions any more. But yes, I used to play a lot during the years I composed music for videogames. I also had several consoles from Sega and Nintendo, and even the Atari Lynx.
Favorite games… so many! Just to cite a few: Contra, Castlevania, Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star, Batman, Metroid, Axelay, Gradius, Street Fighter 2, Wonder Boy, Super Mario, Sonic… and then there’s Shadow Dancer for the Genesis, which to me is like the perfect action game.
As for the music of other composers, yes, I listened to every game soundtrack I could under scrutiny, trying to decipher every technique used on its composition. That was my way of learning. I even programmed an emulator of the Game Boy CPU and sound chip so I could listen to the soundtracks I ripped from the games without actually play them. That was much before the first GBS player appeared, and I still use it to record the soundtracks I have uploaded to my SoundCloud.
Rob: Genesis vs NES vs SNES. If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have one of those to compose music for until you were saved, which one would it be? Which one do you think would be more useful for parts when you finally decide to make a raft and leave the island?
Alberto José González: I think I would chose the Genesis, since I’ve already worked with the others and I know them fairly well. Trying to get the most of a sound chip is highly addictive, and I also loved the sound of the Genesis and FM synthesis in general. I wish I’d worked with that console at least once.
As for the parts, I wouldn’t dare to destroy any of them to build a shabby raft! Besides, the idea of being alone in a deserted island with a game console sounds now quite appealing to me…
Brent: How come so much of your work was on the Game Boy? How come you didn’t work on many NES and SNES titles? And why not any Genesis titles?
Alberto José González: I think it just went that way because of specific time the industry and our relationship with Infogrames.
We worked very closely with them since the late ’80s, developing 8-bit computer versions of their Commodore Amiga games. That continued later with the consoles; they had an in-house 16-bit development team producing games for SNES and Genesis, and we made all the versions for 8-bit consoles. The only exception was Obelix for the SNES, which was co-developed; most of the graphics and the design were made by Infogrames, and the program, music, and some animations were made by us.
We also worked for other 8-bit consoles, but the Game Boy was selling better and went strong for a long time. We had plenty of work only with it. Then we also made four Turok games for Akklaim. There was no escape from that console for more than 10 years!
Brent: Did you compose the music for every game by Bit Managers?
Alberto José González: Almost, there were some exceptions: a coin op arcade game named BANG, and Radikal Bikers for the Playstation, for which I programmed the sound but used the original songs and effects from the arcade.
We also did a Playstation game which was a port of another arcade named Speed Up, and I also programmed the sound on it. The game was sold to Sammy, and I think they changed the music and the graphics to released it as Racingroovy in Japan, although I’m not 100% sure of that.
Brent: When it came to porting titles from other consoles, how often did you do adaptions of the original music by another composer? Or did you mostly compose new music for the port?
Alberto José González: I think I used a few tunes from the original SNES version of Tintin, the intro and one stage of Tintin 2, and the main menu of Spirou. I didn’t think most of the original tunes would translate well to the Game Boy, and there were many I didn’t like enough, so I composed new ones.
One of my main concerns while doing music for sound chips is that the tunes had to sound well in them, and If I couldn’t find a way to make a certain tune sound good then I would compose another one specific for that sound chip, provided that I had enough time for it. That’s the reason why some of my soundtracks differ between consoles, like Asterix for GB and NES.
Actually, the sound of each sound chip had a lot of influence in the composition of the music, the tunes where thought to sound well in them right from the start.
Brent: Which video game soundtrack are you are most proud of composing during the 8-bit and 16-bit era?
Alberto José González: I’m specially fond of The Smurfs for GB and Asterix for NES, not only because I think they are two of my best soundtracks but also because they were the last games I drew the sprites for. Smurfs Nightmare was really inspiring, too, and I also loved working in Obelix for the SNES because it was completely different than doing it all with square waves and noise.
Brent: You seem to employ a lot of melody-driven pieces. How do you compose a strong melody? Do you figure out the chords first? Do you just sing it out loud free form? Do you tinker around on an instrument until you find it?
Alberto José González: I don’t have any special technique for composing the melodies, they just come at one point while trying to find them. I usually play a bit on the keyboard or directly put notes into the sequencer until something triggers the “OK” flag, then I continue from there polishing the melody and adding the other parts. Maybe I find an interesting bass first, or a chord progression, a rhythm, a sound… It depends on the tune, really. What I need for sure is a point to focus, a character and a scene.
I also like to close the eyes and compose in my mind, imagining the game with music and effects. I don’t play the keyboard very well, and this way I don’t feel limited by my physical (in)ability with it. Also, often I have to start composing a soundtrack for a game before there’s nothing yet to see, so I have to imagine it anyway.
Many times I’ve got the idea for a song when I’m not in front of the computer. A good walk or a shower at home works well for me.
The truth is: you have to mentally become a Smurf to actually compose something smurfy enough!
Brent: Are you influenced by reggae? The Smurfs, V-Rally: Championship Edition, and other soundtracks of yours seem to have tracks that use reggae rhythms? Was that a conscious thing for you to sound reggae?
Alberto José González: I don’t recall composing reggae tunes deliberately, they just ended sounding that way I’m afraid! I suppose I’ve been influenced by everything I have listened in my life, but actually I don’t think I’ve listened to much reggae. I used to listen a lot of House and electronic music back in the eighties, though. And I like almost any kind of music, really.
Brent: Who are your favorite 8-bit/16-bit era composers? What are some of your favorite game soundtracks from that era?
Alberto José González: Actually, I don’t remember the names of many console game composers, but if I have choose the ones I know whose works have been really important for me in the 8 and 16 bit console era, they would be: Tim Follin (and his brother Geoff), Nobuo Uematsu, Koji Kondo, Yuzo Koshiro. They all have influenced my work in one way or another, as I took them as reference for certain kinds of game music.
As for games: Plok, Spiderman & the X-Men (SNES), Super Turrican, Act Raiser, Castlevania IV, Chrono Trigger, Demon’s Crest, Streets of Rage 1, Revenge of Shinobi, Wonder Boy in Monster World, Robocop (Ocean) (Game Boy), Castlevania II (Game Boy), Final Fantasy Legend I and II, Batman (Game Boy), Solstice.
Rob: What’s on your iPod or iTunes playlist right now?
Alberto José González: Lately I’m digging into early progressive rock by Yes and Genesis, and also I like to listen to works of relatively unknown composers I discovered thanks to Internet. Of course I always carry a bunch of game tunes from my favorite video game composers too!
Rob: How many episodes of The Legacy Music Hour have you listened to?
Alberto José González: Not as many as I would have loved! I try to listen the show every week and I usually do it at work when my current task allows me to concentrate in the show. I really enjoy the insights on every tune, and to discover soundtracks I didn’t know about.
Also, it’s great to have one of my tunes in the show every now and then!