The Drummer from Supertramp Scored the 'Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon' Soundtrack
How Bob Siebenberg transitioned from recording and touring with a well-known rock band to composing the score for a popular computer game franchise.
|Gino Sorcinelli||Dec 27, 2020|
In 1987 the English rock band Supertramp released their 9th studio album Free as a Bird. With an increased emphasis computers and drum machines, the LP marked a departure from their previous style. Though the album generated the successful hit single “I’m Beggin’ You,” Free as a Bird did not meet the group’s commercial or critical expectations.
When Supertramp returned from their tour supporting Free as a Bird, drummer Bob Siebenberg was on the lookout for new creative opportunities. After spending a great deal of time away from his family on the road over the years, he also craved a project that would allow him to work from home. He found what he was looking for when he picked up a copy of the Sierra Star newspaper and saw and ad from famed game developer Sierra On-Line looking for someone with MIDI expertise.
After a meeting with Sierra General Manager Rick Cavin, Siebenberg was given an opportunity to score the upcoming Space Quest III soundtrack—which was due for release in the early spring of 1989. The game picks up after the conclusion of Space Quest II with hero Roger Wilco’s escape pod still floating in space before an automated garbage freighter grabs it. From there, Wilco faces off with bad guys like Arnoid the Annihilator and the evil video game company ScumSoft.
To score Space Quest III, Sierra provided Siebenberg with a Macintosh, the Master Tracks Pro music sequencer, and a Roland MT-32 Multi-Timbre Sound Module MIDI synthesizer. He also utilized several of his own MIDI keyboards, an Otari 24-track recorder, and a Neotek console. In terms of process, game designers Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy gave him a VHS containing gameplay footage to guide his music making journey.
Beyond having the game visuals as a guide, Siebenberg felt like the music for the score martialized in his mind over time without the use of any specific process. “I just pull it out of thin air in a sense,” he told Kirk Green in a Spring 1989 issue of the Sierra Newsletter. “I just put in the time needed to produce the music. Something I tried to achieve with Space Quest III is to expand the size and dimension of the game with music.”
Siebenberg’s score was ultimately a hit, as several PC gaming magazines of the day lauded it’s superior quality. “The combination of vivid graphics and exciting, realistic sounds makes for a nearly cinematic experience,” Alan Cohen wrote in a September 1989 PC Magazine review.
In addition to providing an impressive standalone soundtrack, Space Quest III marked another important step in the evolution of computer and video game music. With Sierra On-Line hiring established composer William Goldstein just one year prior to score the King’s Quest IV soundtrack—which was also scored with the MT-32—the company proved they were willing to invest serious resources into developing the music in their games.
Though Roland’s MT-32 was originally marketed to amatuer musicians as a budget synth, it became much better known for its association with computer game music over time—both for composers and game players. Gamers could use alternatives like the AdLib Music Synthesizer Card while enjoying King’s Quest IV and Space Quest III, but the sound provided by Roland was rich and vastly superior.
The costliness of the MT-32 when compared to the Adlib prevented it from ever achieving widespread commercial adoption from gamers, but it was still a critical piece of technology for expanding the capabilities of game scores. Maniac Mansion and Zombies Ate My Neighbors composter George Sanger also used the MT-32 while creating the score for Lucasfilm Games’ critically acclaimed 1990 effort Loom.
Though Bob Siebenberg enjoyed his experience working on Space Quest III for Sierra and expressed a desire to create more music for them, he never scored another computer or video game after his impressive debut. This is unfortunate, as the score indicated he had a bright future ahead of him.
Despite his lack of game credits in the years since, Space Quest III remains an impressive feat of computer music composition 31 years after its release.
If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe to the Micro-Chop newsletter to support independent music journalism.