Petri Alanko. Credit: Joel Korhonen.

It took a “long, winding road” to make horror game masterpiece Alan Wake 2, creative director Sam Lake told NME back in 2023. The first Alan Wake, which launched back in 2010, sent fans head-over-hells for Bright Falls – a rural, haunted American town inspired by Stephen King books and David Lynch’s surrealist Twin Peaks series. Yet it would take over a decade for developer Remedy Entertainment to find funding for its ambitious sequel, which finally released to critical acclaim in October 2023.

For BAFTA-nominated Finnish composer Petri Alanko, who scored both Alan Wake games along with Remedy’s 2019 sci-fi shooter Control, Alan Wake 2 was a long time coming. Speaking to NME, Alanko tells us that he recorded the first notes for Remedy Entertainment’s terrifying follow-up in 2011, but the finished sequel is a “very different entity” to the one that was in the works 13 years ago.

One of the biggest changes is the addition of a second protagonist: Saga Anderson, an FBI profiler who is investigating a string of ritualistic murders in Bright Falls. Meanwhile, titular author Alan Wake is trying to escape an alternate dimension called the Dark Place, a nightmarish version of New York City where he has been trapped since the first game’s cliffhanger ending.

As players control both characters through contrasting settings, Alanko incorporates two very different styles into his score – there are gorgeous symphonic pieces, but also heaps of heady, violent synth. Listen to ‘Nightingale’, which plays as a possessed corpse chases Anderson through a pitch-black forest. The track, with its heavily distorted bass, is guaranteed to trigger your fight-or-flight. It’s urgent, oppressive, and a far cry from Anderson’s beautiful orchestral theme.

Alan Wake 2
‘Alan Wake 2’ Credit: Epic Games Publishing

No two songs are alike. Sometimes jittery strings will shred your nerves, until you’re imagining an axe-wielding cultist hiding behind every tree in Bright Falls. At other times, creeping synth will leave you jumping at the Dark Place’s every shadow. That’s to say nothing of the 15-minute rock opera in the middle of Wake’s escape, or record label Fried Music’s gothic end-of-chapter pop songs. To keep up with Remedy, Alanko took a no-holds-barred approach to his instrumentals.

“By now [Remedy] knows I wouldn’t leave a stone unturned in order to find something extraordinary,” says Alanko. “I recorded a rusty old cattle fence, burned two pianos, violated one piano with adult toys and triggered a fire alarm, then dropped [a piano] from a forklift onto a concrete floor.”

“By mistake,” he jokes, “but still”.

Petri Alanko. Credit: Joel Korhonen.
Petri Alanko. Credit: Joel Korhonen.

Alanko also got to play with the “wonders” hidden in Remedy’s basement, with instruments like The Mega Marvin and the appropriately-named Apprehension Engine – both staples in creating horror soundtracks – tucked within. But when Remedy wanted music that sounded like Wake’s brain was physically being picked, even Alanko was caught off guard.

“Being the world’s number one shitty cello and double bass player, I turned a set of cello and bass pizzicatos [where you pluck at the strings] into mayhem – of something clipping away pieces of someone’s organs,” he recalls. “Sample libraries have good-sounding pizzicatos, so these needed to be flawed and really odd to begin with.”

During all of this, Sam Lake was Alanko’s partner-in-crime. “Without our weekly coffee chats I had with him, the story would’ve felt much more constrained,” shares Alanko. “The stories and background material I got from these chats made the whole world feel so much more real.”

Petri Alanko. Credit: Joel Korhonen.
Petri Alanko. Credit: Joel Korhonen.

Toward the end of Alan Wake 2 (spoilers follow if you haven’t rolled credits), Wake finally escapes from the Dark Place by writing a horror story that comes true, culminating in his return to the real world. It’s a short-lived victory though, as he realises that he needs to go back to his prison to stop the Dark Presence from destroying the world. As he drives back to Bright Falls, ready to sacrifice himself once again, he monologues on the cost of his actions and the innocent people his story has hurt. Yet, even as Wake returned to where it all started, Alanko’s own work came full circle.

“When I saw the driving scene, something happened,” Alanko recalls. “It had the same exact feeling to a demo cinematic I had been given in 2004 – even the pacing was identical.”

Alanko couldn’t shake the déjà vu. Diving into DVD back-ups that were nearly two decades old and “physically decaying,” the composer remembers one particular DVD getting stuck in his disc drive due to its age. When it finally worked, Alanko found a 2004 demo for the game that would eventually be known as Alan Wake. Playing over it was the first-ever song that Alanko had made for Remedy. He worked tirelessly to retrieve the score from that crumbling DVD, and when he played it alongside the scene for Alan Wake 2, Alanko was in awe – it was as if the song had been made specifically for this, two decades early. Alanko revamped its ending to match the now-darker tone, but the track was otherwise a perfect fit, and in the full game, it plays beneath Wake’s monologue.

Alan Wake 2. Credit: Epic Games, Remedy Entertainment.
Alan Wake 2. Credit: Epic Games, Remedy Entertainment.

“Not movie magic exactly, but game cinematic magic,” says Alanko, who adds that it’s the part of his score he’s proudest of. “The conceiving took a long time, but the birth itself was a sheer miracle.”

Alanko’s sublime soundtrack didn’t go unnoticed. It was nominated for Best Score And Music at The Game Awards 2023, Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition at The Dice Awards, and has made the BAFTA Games longlist for Best Music. Alanko is “humbled” by the nods amid a “very high quality” year for gaming soundtracks. “The point to me about [awards] is keeping track of my colleagues,” he says. “Such marvellous stuff [in 2023] – damn!”

He also says the nominations show how quickly his field is expanding. “Back in the day, if you made a soundtrack with synths, it would’ve been a ‘cheapo’ soundtrack, whereas orchestral scores immediately ‘added to the production values’,” he explains. “Now the border is so blurred, it basically allows us composers to do everything.”

Ultimately, Alan Wake himself couldn’t have written a more straightforward view of music than Alanko’s. “What matters is: does the music speak to you, does it move you?” he says. “Everything else is fucking pointless nagging. A great score is a great score.”

Alan Wake 2 is available on PS5, PC, and Xbox Series X|S.

The post How Petri Alanko scored ‘Alan Wake 2’ with mayhem and miracles appeared first on NME.


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