Aivi and Surasshu AMA Interview Highlights
The girl plus robot composing duo Aivi and Surasshu spent hours on the Steven Universe subreddit answering fan questions about their work on the show and beyond. Be sure to check out their Soundcloud, where they upload tracks from the SU soundtrack!
On the Process
- The composition process for Steven Universe begins with the duo receiving a “locked video” (meaning the timing and voice acting has all been finalized) and chatting about it over skype with Rebecca Sugar and the other show directors. They are given one week per 11-episode block, wherein they compose the music, and then discuss the next episode and changes from the previous one over that same scheduled weekly call. Then they send out the songs to Sabre Media Studios, and the sound design and music is finalized concurrently.
- In choosing signature instruments, they began with the four main Gems, choosing sounds based on their own personalities and how they fit together as an ensemble: “bass [Garnet] as foundation; drums [Amethyst] for momentum/energy; piano [Pearl] as harmony or melody depending on the situation; chiptune [Steven] as melody or supporting countermelody.
- Anticipating the question about signature instruments, they prepared a list:
- Aivi was approached by Rebecca to do a pitch for the show. She and Surasshu scored “Gem Glow,” from the scene where Steven recreates his gem glow, to the Centipeetle mother’s return. The songs were used almost exactly as is in the final version!
- Both of them drew inspiration for composing Steven Universe from people mixing chiptunes with classical instruments.
- Whenever a Gem reforms, Aivi and Surasshu adjust their theme a little bit to reflect their changes.
- When doing chiptune/piano work, Surasshu composes in a tracker, and aivi records in Cubase. Then Surasshu mixes in Reaper.
- To create the Diamond instrument, Surasshu blended together synth and strings with a harmonette.
- When choosing which songs to upload to their Soundcloud, they prefer pieces which can stand on their own, regardless of whether you’ve seen the episode or not.
- They have very complementary composing styles! According to Aivi: “I plot our destination and the points we need to hit, and he drives us there.”
- Usually they divide up the composition work based on their own areas of expertise, but with Fusion songs, they work together closely, “because we’re both involved in the gem palettes that make up the fusion.”
- The idea to give each character instruments instead of strict melodies came from their experience as videogame composers. This helps make their actions onscreen interactive.
- On working with Rebecca: “Rebecca is the best person in the world to work for. She encourages thoughtfulness and never makes me feel like I’m thinking too hard about anything, like a lot of us overthinking people get told in life. I’ve been able to grow so much as a person and composer under her direction and I’m super grateful!”
On the Particulars
- Surasshu’s current favorite song is the Smoky Quartz theme, “with the FM-style bass and the riff-style melody!”
- They struggled a lot with the Cluster’s music. “it was just so difficult to explain the emotions going into those scenes.” Aivi spent three days composing the “Inside the Cluster” scene.
- Surasshu loves working on the Big Donut themes. “I pitched the idea that Sadie and Lars are secretly anime fans and were allowed to play instrumental anime openings. so making those themes is always a blast since i love anime too!”
- Most of the time, the duo are given relevant plot spoilers to help inform their writing. Notable exceptions include Peridot’s redemption and the fact Garnet was a fusion, although Surasshu guessed the truth by Giant Woman!
- There is at least one big (literal) hidden message in the soundtrack that no one has figured out yet.
- “Mr. Greg” got one week just like every other episode, and they had to “really scramble” to get it done. However, “It’s Over (Isn’t It)” was already arranged before Deedee Magno-Hall sang it, so that helped.
- They wrote “Love Like You” piece by piece as it was revealed, meaning the entire process took over three years.
- Pearl’s Room/Theme was inspired by Rachmaninoff’s Prelude Op. 23 No. 5 in G minor.
- In picking Bismuth’s instrument, they wanted something that conveyed a lot of power that was able to “blend in” with the rest of the Crystal crew, “like she was an element that was missing all along but you never knew.”
- The hint of Lapis’s motif in “Water Damage” from episode 3 is a total coincidence! Aivi: “It happens to be the case that they’re both watery themes, and I composed both of them, so maybe that’s just what “water” sounds like to me…”
- Rebecca Sugar herself pitched the Diamond Theme to the duo. She came up with the idea of four chords representing the four Diamonds.
- According to Aivi’s notes, the first description they received for Lapis was: “beautiful and minimal, ominous, confused, awkward, fragile.”
- Steven’s theme was composed first!
- Aivi’s favorite character to compose pieces for is Stevonnie.
On the Personal & Professional
- Aivi and Surasshu met through Twitter, and fell in love while working on The Black Box. They have plans for a 2nd album/comic, currently with 10 songs at various stages of completion.
- Surasshu was gifted a digital piano at age 8 and has been composing ever since. Aivi has been playing since she was 5 years old.
- Surasshu never cries, but almost did during Lion 3, because his mother had just passed away. Aivi cries while scoring pretty much every episode. “I get saddled with all of the emotional scenes. Tears don’t scare me.”
- Aivi’s suggestion for those who want to be composers is to play songs you like and then make changes from there. “Eventually, these little seeds that you plant will bloom into your own creative voice.” They also both stressed making friends/joining communities of composers, and asking for honest feedback to help you grow.
- The first time Aivi met Jeff Liu (a writer/storyboarder on Steven Universe), her car battery died, and she was very embarrassed. They swapped music and hung out until midnight when AAA arrived.
- Surasshu requires coffee to warm-up. If Aivi is recording a lot of piano for the day, she tries to play at least 30 minutes of someone else’s sheet music.
- They made Gemsonas once. Surasshu is Sodalite and Aivi is Calcite, and their fusion is Afghanite.
Author: K-K Bracken
K-K Bracken grew up overseas and in the Washington, DC area, went to the Ohio State University to get her BA in English, and has been in Columbus, Ohio ever since. She is working on her first novel and co-wrote the book for “Edit:Undo,” a musical featured at the Kennedy Center.
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