Rostislav Trifonov: The music I compose is always ambient, visual

I tell stories by combining musical techniques with experimental technologies for making sound design

Photo: Personal Archive Rostislav Trifonov

It is important for me to always try to create something new, making efforts to experiment as much as possible both in the creative process and with the different recording devices that I use, says Rostislav Trifonov, sound designer at Mojang Studios, in an interview to Europost.

Rostislav, only 26 years old you are an audio designer of some of the best-selling video games and movies in the world. Tell us more about you and your work.

To date, I am a sound designer and electronic music producer at Microsoft’s Mojang Studios in Stockholm. We work there on Minecraft, which is the best-selling video game in history, with over 200 million copies sold and over 125 million active players monthly. I also create sound effects and music for the latest projects in the Minecraft universe, such as Minecraft Dungeons, as well as for new upcoming projects.

Apart from this, I also make sound design for official trailers of Hollywood film productions, such as the trailer for Disney and Pixar's Soul, and last year for the official trailer campaign of Disney+ video streaming service. Sound effects designed by me can also be heard in the animation series Rick and Morty and the video game Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time, as well as in the World of Warcraft: Shadowlands cinematic trailer. Other famous games I have worked on include Ark: Survival Evolved and Mortal Shell.

I have also created corporate audio design and music for projects for corporations, such as Microsoft, Aker Solutions, Soundmorph and others.

Where has this passion of yours actually originated from?

I started playing the piano at a young age - my first concert was when I was seven-eight years old. Six years later, when I first discovered the music software, my long-standing passion to make electronic music arose, and hence to make my own sounds with various synthesisers and effects.

After I graduated from school, I went to study Music Technology at Coventry University, in the UK. This is an engineering specialty that helped me improve my knowledge in every aspect of sound creation, recording, mixing, mastering and acoustics. There, for the first time I really felt how my passion for music, engineering, games and movies combined in one, and I started working professionally in the sphere of design and music in these industries.

What distinctive feature do you think your music possesses?

I believe, the music I compose is always ambient and visual. I strive to tell stories and create abstract worlds by combining musical techniques with experimental technologies for creating sound design.

Taking into consideration the diversity of your work, can you explain to people who are not familiar with this field what is the specificity of the sounds that are created for a computer game and what is their difference with those for a movie?

The sound effects designed for games and movies are sometimes quite similar. Especially nowadays a priority of each project is to have the so-called “cinematic sound”, meaning to sound epic, strong and powerful. The main difference (between games and movies) is in the way that the sound is synchronised with the picture and the way it is reproduced.

In the so-called linear media (movies, commercials, videos, trailers, etc.) the sound is added linearly. It means that sound, voice, and music are being synchronised with the picture by a software, and whenever someone plays the specific movie, the same sounds can be heard each time in the same sequence.
On the other hand, games are interactive products and the sound is being programmed (or implemented) in the game through code. In this way, the various effects are triggered as a result of a certain action, scene, feature, character, motion, etc. As the sound is being implemented in a non-linear way, in fact the combinations of different effects and musical elements can be limitless and they depend largely on the actions of the players.

Another difference is that when it comes to sound design and music for Hollywood trailers, audio licensing is the main way that things happen. I work with record labels, creating original collections and albums who are then licensed through them for the major projects. There is a huge amount of competition there - designers and composers from around the world compete to license their effects and music in Hollywood productions, and at the end of the day the most innovative and modern-sounding works are being selected.

At the end of the day, it can be noted that communication and personal contacts make up 50% of the business. This is why it is very important that a person works on building their business contacts, as strongly as building their other skills and talents.

While we are on the topic, tell us, please more about your work on the sound design and music of the best-selling video game in the world - Minecraft.

At Mojang, I create a variety of sound effects such as sounds of creatures, charms, atmospheres, fantastic weapons and objects. I also compose music and work on audio implementation.

The world of Minecraft inspires me mostly because of its abstract nature. That is a world quite different and weirder than ours, which allows us to experiment with different innovative ideas and approaches. Since this Minecraft world is not based on reality, we make every effort for the sound also to be innovative and unique. Sounds that would fit in many other games and genres would not fit here. The potential for experimentation is huge. Therefore, we combine different styles and ideas, in order to be able to recreate this abstract vision also in the audio field.

The style of Minecraft Dungeons, for example, is a combination of genres such as horror, arcade, fantasy and dungeon crawlers such as Diablo, as well as the classic style of Minecraft. This combination itself is something unique, as there is no other project in the world that brings these styles together.

Probably, the players of Minecraft Dungeons update - Howling Peaks DLC, have easily caught that Bulgarian folk instruments and motifs are present in the creation of the music. How did you come up with this idea?

In this update, the action takes place in a mountainous areas and its atmosphere is associated with the beauty of nature. For this reason, we relied on instruments such as bagpipes, kaval and duduk (Bulgarian traditional folk wind instruments). In our opinion, they emphasise especially strongly the beauty of nature and the mountain feeling effect, which was our purpose.

These instruments sound also quite interesting and unique, and we always strive for creating unique and innovative sound - something that has not been created before.

What type of music do you listen to?
I listen to different styles - from electronic music to orchestral, rock, hip-hop, etc. It is important for me to develop my musical taste daily and to keep an open mind for the perception of new styles and tastes.

However, my favourite style is ambient and experimental electronic music. For example, artists like Boards of Canada, Eskmo, Amon Tobin and others.

They have always inspired me because of their innovative approach, always struggling to create something new and to go beyond the boundaries between music and sound design.

You mentioned above that you have also created sound design for the official trailer of the movie of Disney and Pixar - Soul, which is a big career leap. What kind of techniques have you used there?

Apart from sounds for fantastic creatures and magic spells, I also specialise in the so-called musical sound design. These sound effects are used to create or exalt certain features in music. For example, we can hear these loud bass impacts in movies and trailers. I use a variety of techniques to create such "epic" effects, as in the Soul trailer.

I record, for example, hits on different surfaces with microphones, then I process them with software and a variety of effects. I also use various analog and digital synthesisers, as well as more experimental and innovative devices for recording and processing of the sound.

It is important for me to always try to create something new, making efforts to experiment as much as possible both in the creative process and with the different recording devices that I use.

How was your industry impacted by the coronavirus pandemic as a whole?

In general, we know that this pandemic had a bad impact on all industries. Now, it may be harder to communicate on a professional level in person - communication and work happen mainly through the internet. Before there were more professional events, forums and live parties as well. In this regard, I really hope the situation will stabilise as soon as possible.

It can also be noted that the Hollywood film industry has been hit quite hard in the last year – very few films were finished. The video games industry has been a bit better, perhaps because many people around the world spent more time at home.

Let us notice here that among other things, you run your own business in Bulgaria – libraries with sound effects. Which foreign agencies are you working with and where can be heard something from your library most recently?

I have been developing my own business for sound effects and music in Bulgaria for several years - my brand is called RT Sonics (rtsonics.com). There we design audio libraries and collections that are used by top professionals from the film, video game and trailer industries worldwide - from music composers to sound engineers, video editors, corporations, games and videos. On our website you can see reviews from various professionals in this industry.

Our team consists of sound designers and composers who have worked on some of the most famous titles in the world such as Diablo 3, Starcraft 2, Hearthstone, League of Legends, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Ratchet and Clank, Facebook and many others.

My main goal is to continue developing the audio industry in Bulgaria - especially in terms of sound design and audio for games, as this industry is still almost non-existing in our country. Our purpose is to attract more and more foreign and high-budget projects and names in order to put Bulgaria on the world stage when it comes to sound design and music for games, movies and trailers.

Apart from computer games, movies and music, what other interests do you have?

Perhaps my greatest passion is art in its various nuances. Other interests of mine include Eastern philosophy, science and nature. Despite of the global situation, I try to develop my creative capacity and learn new things.

What else do you hope to achieve in the future?

Most of all, I wish to keep contributing increasingly to the development of Bulgaria’s creative industry and business at a global level!

Close-up

Rostislav Trifonov is a G.A.N.G. (The Game Audio Network Guild) nominated sound designer and electronic music producer working on games, trailers, SFX collections and corporate audio. Born in 1994 in Sofia, he graduated from the National High School of Finance and Business and then had his Bachelor of Applied Science at Coventry University, United Kingdom. 

Currently, Rostislav lives in Stockholm and works at Mojang Studios, where he creates audio for upcoming projects in the Minecraft universe. Among the most recent games titles he'd worked on are also Mortal Shell, 'Ark: Survival Evolved', 'The Mean Greens - Plastic Warfare', 'Outlaws of the Old West' and others. He also designs sound effects for official trailers of movies and games, jis most recent placements being Soul (Disney/Pixar), Disney+, World of Warcraft: Shadowlands. At only 26 he is also the CEO of the audio library company RT Sonics. 

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