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Interview with Benjamin Tibbetts

Posted by TheInterviewer - April 22nd, 2012


Interview No. 95

Interview By: @The-Great-One

Today's guest is a fascinating individual. He is probably most known on Newgrounds for his music, with tracks such as {BT} Dance till Dawn, {BT} Coulrophobia, and Nostalgica. He is also an artist and filmmaker. The story he is going to tell us today is unlike one I have heard before. He is none other than @BenTibbetts.

Q: How did you find Newgrounds and why did you join?

A: A couple of years ago I was looking for a place to showcase some of my original music. A friend of mine mentioned that Newgrounds might be a good place to start. Since I knew he had connected with some very cool artists here, I thought it was worth a shot. At first my experience was not good. Visiting this site for the first time was like wandering clueless into a giant party without knowing anybody. I was overwhelmed by the staggering amount of content. I was intimidated by the quality and talent exhibited by some of the community members, which made me hesitant about uploading anything for a while. Gradually and through participation I've become much more comfortable here. These days it is my homepage.

This experience is probably not unique. I'm sure lots of people are scared away initially from uploading their own content by the harshness of reviews, or by the sheer size of the community, only to later grow to love those same qualities in the site. Newgrounds is somewhat unlike most web communities I've seen in that it feels like a giant mess, like a place where everybody is throwing paint on the walls. Since my first visit to the site I've realized that this is probably the best environment for creative and passionate artists to thrive, fail, succeed and connect with one another. After seeing the recent threats of SOPA and PIPA, I'm beginning to realize how much I cherish this sense of freedom which Newgrounds and some other important sites have fostered in the last decade.

Q: How did you discover music?

A: My parents are music teachers. When I was three years old my dad would play the piano, I would sit on his lap, and I would pretend to play by putting my hands on top of his. At five I started taking piano lessons. I haven't stopped since.

Q: What inspired you to make music?

A: At about seven or eight I realized I didn't like to practice, so I started improvising on the piano to fool my parents in the other room into thinking I was playing Beethoven or whatever it was that I was supposed to be practicing. After a while I started messing around with some old music notation software so I wouldn't forget some of the things I had improvised.

Q: Your first song to the Audio Portal would be entitled {BT} So I am Singing. Were you the one singing and then edited with these programs and/or was there more to it?

A: That track sounds even weirder to me now, and even cooler, than when I first wrote it! The voices were totally synthetic and rendered using an old program called Virtual Singer in conjunction with another, even older program called Melody Assistant. The second half of the track is basically a reversed rendition of the first half, which was edited in Audacity.

Q: How and when did the University of New Hampshire come into your life and what did you study there?

A: I pursued my undergraduate degree in music theory at the University of New Hampshire from 2007 to 2011. There were a few great professors who listened to and gave constructive criticism on nearly everything I wrote while I was there. I also made some close musical friends at the university who continue to give me support, competition and feedback.

Q: {BT} Prelude in C minor was a sad solo piece played at the University of New Hampshire by you. Why a sad piece for your performance and what was your audience's response to it?

A: One of my professors said that sometimes you write for yourself and sometimes you write for other people. Prelude in C Minor was one of those pieces which was written in a private moment and which I later chose to perform at the university. I tried to evoke a very specific emotion through that music; there is sadness, but sadness with a twinge of something else. The audience responded well. I cut off the applause from the version I submitted to Newgrounds because it ruined the mood, but I nevertheless felt very happy with the reception to that performance.

Q: Your first time in the Trance genre here on Newgrounds would be with {BT} Dance till Dawn. I have heard many different Trance songs here on Newgrounds, some good, while others very generic. You take your time with this and ease the listener into it to where you are entrancing the listener. What was the inspiration and process you took in making this?

A: I'm beginning to understand the genre a little better now than when I wrote that song. The trouble is, you can write a very generic Trance song and be perfectly within the confines of the genre and also be boring as hell. Or, you can blur the genre line so completely that no one can follow what's going on. Dance till Dawn was a little too ambitious for the software I was working with at the time, so it sounds to me like this might be overdo for a makeover with better samples, but I'm still very proud of the song compositionally. I'll reveal something a little private here and mention that the inspiration for the track actually came from my experiences seeing various people I knew struggle with abusive relationships throughout high school and college. I tried to convey some of these emotions through the music. There is struggle and there is momentum throughout the whole track. The music takes a few dark turns, but everything ends on a triumphant note. Trance felt right for that kind of story. The process I used to write the song was not complicated, but it was slow--I painstakingly clicked and dragged every note into the notation software and listened repeatedly until I was sure I was writing what I wanted to hear.

Q: {BT} Sneaky Sneakers lives up to its name of being very sneaky. As the user basbalfan55 put it...

"The plucked guitar, harp, and pizzicato strings were a perfect selection of instruments which fits the character described in the title perfectly. Wonderful layering of instruments, and the melody and countermelodies all work so well together!"

Would you agree with this statement? If not then perhaps you could tell us your original vision when making this song?

A: Jeff Heim (basbalfan55) is himself an impressive composer, so it was great to find that complement from him in the Comments box. To answer your question I'll just say that Sneaky Sneakers began as something totally different than what it became. There was a long period a few years ago when I would write a piece every day in Sibelius for whatever instruments I felt like using at that moment. This by itself doesn't explain why some of these sketches came out as strangely as they often did (and even less does it explain what to do with them now, other than let them sit on my hard drive), but there was definitely something carthartic about writing music every day and getting into a really consistent work schedule. The piece which eventually became Sneaky Sneakers began as a trombone quintet with cowbell on the side and it was called More Cowbell. Eventually I decided to change the music and settled on using plucked strings to create a completely different atmosphere.

Q: I believe there is an interesting story to be told with the song {BT} Coulrophobia. The definition of this word is of course "the fear of clowns". So what is the story behind this song?

A: I hate clowns. I know they're supposed to be funny but I don't find them funny at all. When I was a little kid my parents used to take me to a traveling circus which came to my town every year. This was like getting the same awful Christmas gift in your stocking a couple years in a row. I wasn't into it. I tried to look like I was having a good time so it wouldn't hurt my parents' feelings. Apparently I was a little too convincing.

Q: Another step into the world of Trance would be with {BT} Alberti's Place. Truly a rocking song that envelops the ears. When making this song did you reference "Dance till Dawn" or did you simply go from scratch when looking into Trance?

A: That's a hard question, because I do think that I might have accidentally or subconsciously borrowed from Dance till Dawn to make Alberti's Place. Mostly the answer is no. Alberti's Place came more from my recent obsession with Souleye's soundtrack to VVVVVV, and although I think it fits well into the Trance category I would probably be equally comfortable submitting it as Video Game music. There is a kind of 8-bit enthusiasm in the middle section which I tried to copy from Souleye's work. Definitely, though, electronica is something I've really only begun to explore.

Q: My favorite song by you and what I believe to be your best song has to be Nostalgica. It truly did captivate my ears when I heard and sent me back to a simpler time of my youth as I'm sure it will for others who listen to it. Where did the inspiration for this song come from?

A: Nostalgica is emotional for me too. Its roots are in some Japanese music which is close to my heart, namely the soundtracks to the Zelda and Final Fantasy series as well as the films of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. I imagine that anyone who's played those games or seen those movies might understand a little of what I'm getting at. I definitely associate those feelings with my childhood and with sights, sounds and smells which are only just on the edge of my memory.

Q: The last song of yours we're gonna talk about is Four On Four an interesting Video Game song for sure since it can be used for a variety of different things. Either just as a background theme, a fight song, a boss theme, there are just so many possibilities. Where did the inspiration come from for this one and what were the steps you took into building it?

A: Some of the inspiration for Four on Four came from admiration for certain NES soundtracks, particularly music from the Castlevania and Super Mario Bros. games. What I find really inspiring about these old soundtracks is the simultaneous complexity and simplicity which they demonstrate. There are only ever a few lines or melodies happening at once, but the music is nevertheless really sophistocated, and there are lot of little details which an attentive listener can relish. I should add that the Ape Escape soundtrack by Soichi Terada was also on my mind when I composed this and I definitely hear influences from that music as well.

To create a tricky piece like Four on Four I split the composition process into two distinct parts: 1) the initial conception and 2) the edited final track. This is a process which seems to work well for a lot of my music. I begin by writing down the things I'm sure about, or as sure as I can be-a melody, a harmony I really like, a texture which is really important in a certain place, and so on. During this time I sometimes make notes (no pun intended) about what I'm going to do later. This is usually done in one sitting, or as quickly as possible, to get the idea out of my mind and into some kind of recognizably musical form before I second-guess myself. Usually this results in a track which is too long and disorganized. This is actually a great place to start. From there I edit, reorchestrate, tweak, reconsider, and polish the music until I'm satisfied (or, occasionally, until I'm sick of working on it!). I like to think of this process as comparable to mining for a raw metal before cutting and polishing the diamond.

Q: You are not only just a musician, but you are also an artist. You have many different works in the Art Portal. When and how did you get into art?

A: I've been into CG art as a hobby since about 2004 when I first bought a copy of Bryce 3. I had a vision that one day I would develop an RPG and create the graphics and music myself, a vision which came directly out of hot summer days playing Final Fantasy VII! I posted to the art community at Renderosity under a couple anonymous usernames. Now I've found that the Newgrounds Art Portal offers a much richer community with more helpful feedback. These days I use an amalgamation of several free and commercial programs to make my visual art. The RPG has been put on hold indefinitely.

Q: You are, as you describe, a hobbyist filmmaker. What films have you made?

A: There were some student films in high school and college, two which are feature-length and about two dozen are short films of varying quality and subject matter. I've also made a few short animations which are fairly abstract. Filmmaking is wonderful-it combines a lot of my interests, ranging from compositional work to visual aesthetics, and it offers another medium through which I can express myself artistically.

Q: You have posted in two different atheist threads. Are you an atheist? If so then could you tell your story of how you became an atheist?

A: Yes, I think I can say that I am a passionate atheist. My family is devoutly and almost uniformly Protestant, so giving up the faith of my parents, siblings and close relatives was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I think that in the U.S. there is almost as much pressure on people to be religious, or spiritual in some ill-defined way, as there is pressure to be heterosexual. Happily, thanks to some some very talented writers such as the late Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and several others, it looks like the atmosphere is beginning to improve for atheists in this country. But there remains an element of pathos in losing one's religion. I'm not at all sorry to have lost faith in God, but I am sorry to have lost what was once the only thing in common between myself and some Christians. I alluded to this briefly in the NG forum: I remember having the exact same feelings towards some of my friends at school when I found out Santa Claus was not real, and even having some of the same arguments (such as "If no one knows if you're naughty or nice, why not be naughty all the time?", and "How can you prove He doesn't exist?", and so on). These sentiments affect my work as much as they affect my politics, so I would be remiss if I didn't talk about this part of my life.

Q: You and I share a fascination of learning more. You to are an interviewer. What made you want to interview others in different fields?

A: Yes, I interview composers, game developers and visual artists. I get a thrill out of making contact with people I admire, and it's fun to pick their brains about things which interest me. Usually I learn things from an interview. Sometimes the person I am interviewing will write something which causes me to think deeply for a moment, like when Daniel Remar responded to the question about "Do you have any wisdom to offer to aspiring game developers and programmers", and part of his response was "Make what you love." I think that's terrific advice.

I should add that I think what you are doing here at TheInterviewer is great for Newgrounds. I'm sure I speak for your other readers in saying we appreciate the work you do and enjoy the weekly articles.

Q: You seem to be a teacher of music. Could you tell us then in your own words, your definition of what music is?

A: Defining a word like music is like reverse engineering your own head. I might describe music as "any sound or sounds to which we pay attention, usually organized with the purpose of entertaining an audience, generally distinct from unsung speech and language."

Q: What can we expect from BenjaminTibbetts in the future?

A: You can expect more music! I am scoring an animation which will hopefully be presented to some of the folks over at Adult Swim later this month. In the more immediate future I'm scoring another short student film by Brian Burke. This is on the heels of his previous film "No Good Deed", which I have showcased on the News section of my acount homepage.

Besides that, I will continue posting music to the Audio Portal and on my website at www.bentibbetts.net.

I found Benjamin Tibbetts while I was simply browsing the Audio Portal. His music captivated my ears and I was truly stunned that I did not come across him sooner. Over the course of this interview and after it we have become friends, and I'm certainly glad that we have. He is oozing with creativity and uses the outlets supplied to him to share his creations with the world. My only hope is that more of the world will learn about him in time.



Hey you should interview those Kickstarter guys!

I've told em they should put the teaser on NG but it's not happenin. Beats me!
They're kind of outside of Newgrounds and they don't make cartoons, but they're huge fans of it, so that's something new n interesting.

I tried to PM this but you've disabled PMs? I didn't even know you could do that! What's the deal?

Some of your music made me cry (well... no, but they got me sentimental). I hope you continue to do your best!

Woah, I had no idea you did music for Adult Swim shows! Now I'm kind of honored to have you as the Music Man for my show XD

Congrats on the interview, Ben. I still think Prelude in C minor is a great piece.

Very insightful interview. I enjoyed it very much, and thank you for the mention ;)