As one YouTube comment states about Tim Follin, “He really knew how to crank up the 2A0E to 11.” And he totally does.
Tim Follin was mainly active during the Commodore 64/ZX Spectrum/NES era of gaming starting in 1985. These were more limited boards in terms of simultaneous sounds and productions. He officially retired in 2006 but still programs and composes.
He received no formal musical training though he did attend music college in England for a semester. He got his start because his older brother Mike was programming for the ZX Spectrum system. Evident in his music is his influence by progressive rock (mainly YES) and his love for the composer John Adams (as he states “the only minimalist stuff I’ve heard which struck a chord with me”).
Honestly, I can’t say much more about the composer as his music speaks for itself. Let’s take a look at some tracks:
Yes, this is quite primitive music. Still, Follin is able to unlock some of the best that the ZX Spectrum 128k model has to offer. There is a lot here considering this sound module is MUCH weaker than even the 2a03 from the NES. For the game Star Firebirds, Follin arranged and adapted Stravinsky’s Firebird for ZX Spectrum engine. I wish I could find a copy to play for you but I feel like the previous track showed depth. If I find it, I’ll post it.
This is his music for the NES game Pictionary. Yes, THAT Pictionary. I think his approach is hilarious. Honestly, since Pictionary itself really lends nothing to music design, writing any kind of music would probably fit the mold. By writing a solid rock track, it really lends something to this boring, slow NES port of the board game. Notice all the techniques he uses. He’s very heavy handed with sampled sound and uses the NES DCPM very often. It produces small sampled drums sounds which are far more pleasing than the usual noise channel sounds.
So imagine what happens when you give a guy like this the ability to work with the broad spectrum of sounds provided by the Sega MegaDrive/Genesis. Notice how he creates a guitar effect and sound with the limited resources and channels. It’s quite masterful. I love the broad swells he’s able to produce with the chords (a feat which I’m told is very complicated to pull off using that chip).
Using the full capabilities of the variable SFC/SNES soundboards combined with stereo sound, Follin (et al) is able to bring us one of my favorite video game tracks from my youth. This track plays during gameplay so imagine playing baseball and just flat out rockin’ out. I love the organ and guitar sounds he was able to create. It’s like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” meets Jethro Tull. The game itself? Just ok. I used to play this game ONLY for the music. Looking back, that says a lot.
Later, as he grew as a composer and discovered John Adams, his music took a very different turn. We start to see less progressive rock and more minimalism.
This is a beautiful track. I find it hard to believe this is the same composer… but it is. There’s a certain level of touch that he develops. It’s not just WHAM HIT YOU IN THE FACE anymore. In an interview, Follin stated that much of the time when he was composing for ZX Spectrum and NES, he had no frame of reference for the game. He was just told to compose. This lead to his tracks (such as Pictionary) which don’t necessarily fit the game. He spent a lot of time testing the limitations of the old hardware as opposed to really viewing and imagining the games. For games such as Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the The Future, Follin was a complete part of the development and execution of the game. The result is music that follows the atmosphere of the game and is not just some kind of show off piece.
Lemmings. His final work was Lemmings for PSP/PS2. Tim Follin was approached by Psygnosis/Rockstar North to provide the soundtrack. Lemmings has always been known for it’s quirky selection of classical music and rock tunes as BGM. The result is a cutesy and somewhat ironic soundtrack that follows your poor Lemmings as they attempt to make it from one side of the screen to another in colorful, dangerous environments full of traps which usually ends with disasters and exploding. Follin, however, provides a much different view of Lemmings. His soundtrack examines the suffering of the Lemmings and their incredible journey through dangerous landscapes to reach their goal. As someone who has played, helped, and killed millions of Lemmings in my life, I enjoy this minimalist approach to a timeless game.
I hope you really enjoyed this post. I will post some interviews I found with Tim Follin in the future. He has a lot to say about the game music industry. Happy New Year to everyone!