WipEout Starting Line: CoLD SToRAGE and the Zero Gravity Soundtrack

Jerry on 2023-11-08
Pressed by Lapsus Records in Barcelona, wipE'out'': The Zero Gravity Soundtrack revisits music from Psygnosis-developed anti-gravity racing games WipEout and WipEout 2097.

All tracks are written and produced by Welsh composer CoLD SToRAGE (Tim Wright). The Zero Gravity Soundtrack has been remastered, and introduces new remixes by producers Kode9, μ-Ziq, Brainwaltzera, Simo Cell, Wordcolour, James Shinra, Surgeons Girl, and Dattassette.

Slated for release on November 17th on vinyl and compact disc, dual CD digipack and the three-disc LP, pressed on solid silver vinyl, come with the digital album in MP3 and FLAC file formats. "Messij" 2023 Remaster, Kode9 Remix, and Datassette Remix, among other reinterpretations, are currently previewed on Bandcamp.

Talking with the prolific game soundtrack composer, we are offered details on the origins of the WipEout Zero Gravity Soundtrack.

In the early '70s, Tim Wright relocated with his family to a 65-acre farm in rural Wales to tend a herd of dairy cows. The eldest of five siblings, he was surrounded by a dizzying array of sounds. Insects buzzed, interspersed with the moo's of the cows. A purring of "at one point, way too many cats" lined the foreground, while far away one could hear encroaching foxes and birds of prey.

"And thinking back, I've always been obsessed with the stereoscopic field," Wright recalls of moving to the farm at age five. "To the point where I would cap my hands behind my ears, where I could actually hear the phase shifting in all of the sounds that were coming in—that kind of band-pass filtering."

"I'd say to my brothers, 'Hey, if you do this, can you hear that sound?' And they'd go, '... No.'”

Wright created his own demos for the Amiga, teaching himself computer programming and chiptune sound design. With his friends Lee Carus and Alan McCarthy, he presented "Puggs in Space" to Psygnosis Limited at the Personal Computer World Show (PCW), impressing the company's representatives. His initiative earned him a foot in the door of the industry. By the early '90s, Wright's music had found a wide audience, having been featured in Psygnosis' blockbuster puzzle game Lemmings.

Wright's first game score incorporating CD-quality audio was for the industrial techno of Krazy Ivan. Psygnosis had a base of operations at the Century Buildings in Liverpool's Brunswick Business Park, geographically proximate to the birthplace of A Flock of Seagulls and the hometown of the Beatles band members. The high ceilings of the converted textile warehouse sucked heat aloft, rapidly dissipating warmth in the winter. Rain asserted its presence by pounding the roof in a thunderous cacophony.

Having acclimated himself to harrowing weather conditions in his childhood, amidst leisure activities like riding scrambler motorcycles and carving wood with a pocket knife, Wright was unfazed by the noise and chill. The musician hung a sign outside the front door, designating his studio the "Cold Storage."

Krazy Ivan placed the player in the role of a Russian mech pilot, defending the Earth from invading alien robots. "I was still in the position of trying to learn how do you write CD quality music," Wright recalls of what would soon become a turbulent era of his career. "I'd just come from writing everything on an Amiga."

Wright played around with a shortwave radio amidst the frigid cold and rain pelting the roof. "I knew which radio bands you could tune into. There are some sounds in there... the occasional song or melody being played from some far off land, maybe even Russia itself, with a lot of hiss over the top. Stuff like that was thrown in."

However, development on Krazy Ivan took a back seat when Sony acquired Psygnosis in 1993, throwing what Wright describes as an "obscene amount of money" at the studio.

"They were looking for various publishers and developers around the world. They went, "Okay, well, for the UK, we're gonna go with Psygnosis." Sony would aggressively market the futuristic anti-gravity racing game, dubbed WipEout, to showcase the processing power of the PlayStation hardware.

Owing to the generous investment from Sony, Wright graduated from Cold Storage. The musician was afforded a custom music studio in Wavertree Technology Park, designed to match British Broadcasting Corporation standards. The sound team was granted their pick of equipment.

"It was two in-house musicians," Wright relates. "[It was myself] and Mike Clarke, sitting down and combing through Sound On Sound magazine and just going, 'Well, that looks like a bloody cool mixer.'"

Part of the lavish budget allowed for the licensing of popular electronica for the WipEout soundtrack. Lead designer Nick Burcombe pointed out that a pedestrian moniker like "Tim Wright" might stick out like a sore thumb in a track list peppered with the likes of The Chemical Brothers, New Order, Orbital, and The Prodigy. Wright suggested "Cold Storage." Carus, having served as a graphics designer on Shadow of the Beast, created a 3D logo that invented the capitalized “CoLD SToRAGE” stylization.

Wright's forward planning at that crucial turning point paved the way for his remastering of WipEout music decades later. "I made a deal with Sony's legal team that we would have co-ownership of the music," he explains. "I had the foresight to do that, which meant that I owned it, but they obviously had it for use within the product." 

Psygnosis partnered with a graphic design studio based in Sheffield, England, known as The Designers Republic, investing their iconic visual branding in the launch of the franchise. Wright was operating under the implicit assumption that he would furnish studio-quality trance techno, a genre largely unfamiliar to him, to match that benchmark of visual design.

"I remember the tension and the worry and everything of the first composition for WipEout," he recalls. "Whether that was true, I don't know. But to me, it felt like there was an initial pressure to produce at least one track where it was agreed, 'That's good!'"

Columbia pressed the soundtrack CD in 1995, passing over Wright's music tracks due to an apparent licensing snafu. "And I'd got pissed off that they didn't put any of my music on the official albums," he recalls. Wright was assured that with the sequel already in preproduction, record companies were "banging on the door" to get his in-game tracks properly distributed.

"I'd been getting fan mail sent to CoLD SToRAGE, which freaked me out, along with little gifts," he says. "That was a bizarre experience."

For the sequel, titled WipEout 2097, Wright began challenging the preconceived notion that a rapid tempo was a prerequisite of a high-speed racing game soundtrack. "If the ships are flying along really quickly, the easiest way of emphasizing doing that is a breakneck BPM." Composing the CoLD SToRAGE track known as "Canada," Wright went "Nah," and "just kept dropping the BPM until it was like porridge, and then just stepped it up again."

"So I went down to the developers and said, 'Right, I've written a track. Can you just show me what it's gonna look like in the game?'”

A member of the marketing department joined in to observe the resulting demo, with "Canada" implemented. "This was a definite different kind of feeling," Wright recalls.

The marketing representative took immediate notice, mentioning to the devs, “That's a real corker! Is that something you guys have just put in from a CD or is it one of the actual tracks?”

Wright took this as an indication that his experimentation with tempo had panned out.

Growing up, Wright developed a love of the kind of sci-fi narratives that informed the lore surrounding the WipEout universe. His immersion in UK-centric fiction, from Blake’s 7 to Doctor Who, was balanced out by a fascination with real-life scientific research conducted at NASA.

At his studio "Shoe Box Under The Shady Pines," Wright remastered his WipEout duology, up-sampling the CoLD SToRAGE tracks to 64 bits at 192 kilohertz. "I thought the Wirral—the peninsula between Wales and Liverpool—was perfect," Wright says of the Northwestern England locale. "You've got a sort of a mild countryside, access to parks, trees, beaches."

As an adult, Wright communicated his love of astronomy to his young son. Together they made visits to the Wirral Astronomical Club, where large telescopes were trained at the sky. Wright recalls waking up his son around midnight and driving to a field in Wales to have a picnic. "It was a brilliantly clear night, no moon. And I was pointing out various star constellations. And he was quite surprised to see this kind of vague smear across the entire sky, multicolored."