A surge of righteous anger often courses through individuals as powerful music blares and a song can evoke a profound sense of empathy for previously misunderstood causes. Music has the incredible ability to tap into our emotions and connect us to ideas of fairness and justice. In the world of music, some composers tell tales of love and heartbreak, while others capture the frenetic energy of a bygone era. But for Kamil Orman-Janowski, the very essence of his music lies in pursuing more profound ideals: justice and peace. His compositions in the video game Path of Exile echo a deep yearning for a harmonious world, urging listeners to contemplate humanity's capacity for both conflict and compassion.

A photo of Kamil Orman-Janowski. Image courtesy of Kamil Orman-Janowski.

The fight for justice burns bright in the face of a corrupted world. Wraeclast's inhabitants grapple with the fallout of past wrongs, fractured societies and a constant struggle for peace. This is the premise of Path of Exile. Wraeclast, once a vibrant land, is now dull, with its beauty twisted into a desolate wasteland. Its once-proud civilizations devolved into warring tribes and their memories were tainted by madness. While it is a world of fantasy, this narrative reflects the real challenges we face in reality and Kamil's music reflects the harsh truths of a world teetering on the edge of chaos. 

Exiled. Cast out. Left for dead in the unforgiving world of Wraeclast. Path of Exile tells the story of exiles who are accused of transgressions against Oriath, a powerful empire with a seemingly righteous goal – to purge the world of chaos and corruption. Yet, the exiles are, in fact, victims of a corrupt system. Its cruel embrace hides a deeper truth, which blurs the line between hero and villain. As we explore the world of Wraeclast, Kamil's music becomes a guide, urging us to consider the fight for a just world, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

Beneath the grim orchestral and electronic layers lies a deeper resonance, highlighting the importance of building a peaceful world where everyone can thrive and not just survive. This work mirrors the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal of Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. In an interview with Arts Help, Kamil explains how music acts as a mirror to our emotions, a shaper of narratives and a purpose that goes beyond mere reflection or entertainment.

A photo of Kamil’s studio. Image courtesy of interviewee Kamil Orman-Janowski.

What was your first foray into making music?
While I enjoyed EDM at 19, I craved a deeper creative outlet. My love for music merged with video games, and I knew I had to pursue composing soundtracks that would truly resonate with me.

How would you describe the music that you create?
Mostly hybrid, combining electronic, orchestral and ethnic elements. Cinematic, lush and spacious.

Could you walk us through your creative process of composing?
The creative process typically begins with concept art for visual reference, but actual gameplay footage is even better. This is followed by crafting the sound palette through instrument selection and creation. Finally, themes are composed, existing ones are explored, and rhythmic ideas are developed.

What do you find most challenging about composing interactive music that responds to gameplay and changes according to the player's situation?
The detailed combination of layering, horizontal segmentation and vertical segmentation can get quite intricate, potentially leading to cluttered project sessions. However, the creative process itself remains enjoyable.

What are some aspects of game music composition that you believe create truly memorable moments for players?
Memorable themes that get stuck in your head, playable covers, these sounds become ingrained. They're assigned not just to characters, locations and events but also crafted with unique signature sounds and instruments.

How much do games’ narratives influence your initial musical ideas?While the story is a factor, the environment and culture hold greater influence on the initial soundscape and thematic direction. However, once I have a fleshed-out sound palette and initial sketches, composing themes becomes the key to further progress.

How do you approach composing music that reflects the emotional arc of a character or storyline?
Composing truly impactful music hinges on a deep understanding of the narrative context, character motivations, and emotional journeys. With this knowledge, I craft thematic material and strategically integrate it to elicit the desired emotional response from the audience. In essence, memorable themes and their precise timing are the cornerstones of effective game music.

Are there specific musical genres or artists outside of game music that inspire your compositions?
Mostly film music and composers like Hans Zimmer, Trevor Morris or Bear McCreary, but I also listen to various ethnic music or artists like Trent Reznor or The Crystal Method.

Could you describe a time when you used music to reveal a plot twist or hidden detail within a game as a way of storytelling?
I enjoy subtly weaving thematic hints throughout the score, even with just a couple of opening notes. It's a way to foreshadow upcoming events or character development in a way that feels organic.

What do you believe is the ultimate purpose of music in video games? Is it to enhance gameplay, tell a story, or create an emotional connection with the player?
Absolutely. Enhancing gameplay, storytelling, and emotional connection are all crucial aspects, but for me, it goes even deeper. The ideal soundtrack truly synergizes these elements, creating a cohesive and impactful experience that elevates the story as a whole.

A portrait of Wraeclast, the city at the heart of the video game Path of Exile. Image courtesy of Pinterest.

To capture the heart of Kamil’s artistic path, here is an anecdote that weaves together the threads we have heard in this interview: A player grips the controller, heart pounding as they creep through the darkened halls of the digital castle. The silence is broken only by the rhythmic tapping of her thumbs and the soft sigh of the console's fan. Suddenly, a haunting melody swells from the speakers. It was not a literal translation of the scene – no lyrics about ghosts or flickering torches. Yet, a shiver dances down the player's spine as the melody rises and falls. Here, the music was not narrating the action; it amplified it, evoking a sense of dread that perfectly complemented the shadows lurking on the screen. 

This is the magic of video game soundtracks; In the heat of the moment, they become an invisible hand guiding your emotions, a surge of adrenaline during a boss fight and a wave of relief when you discover a hidden treasure. But unlike a movie soundtrack that is often tied to a specific scene, a game soundtrack can transcend its digital world owing to its relative fluidity within gameplay. Hit pause and that same haunting melody from the castle transforms. his flexibility allows it to maintain its impact even when the game is paused, sustaining its atmospheric presence outside the immediate gameplay. It becomes a piece of art in its own right, capable of evoking a kaleidoscope of emotions and igniting one’s imagination. One may still find oneself in a spooky castle. Still, it is something the mind conjures, a soundscape rich with its unique narrative, born from the brilliant, unspoken collaboration between composer and player.

This agency and ability to explore the consequences of our actions within the game mirror the core principles of the Sustainable Development Goal of Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions. By encouraging players to grapple with complex narratives and the moral weight of their choices, video game soundtracks may indeed encourage empathy for diverse perspectives and the importance of upholding justice. They emerge as effective, transformative tools and potential training grounds for cultivating a better world for all.

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