Memorable Music: An Interview with Olivier DerivièrePlatforms: Android
While the game has split critics – including our own take - the soundtrack to Dontnod’s Remember Me is already one of the most engaging, musically inventive scores this year. The Digital Fix recently had the pleasure of talking with composer Olivier Derivière about his work on the game as well as his previous compositions.
You’ve worked previously on games such as Alone in the Dark and Of Orcs and Men. What was it that led you to work on soundtracks for games?
I'm a big gamer and I think my passion for games will last forever. It's like a love story. The only way I found to be an active part of that story was to be an active member of this industry as a composer. I worked and still work very hard to bring something different to the usual style of music in games to best fit what each game needs. I'm really lucky to have worked on very unique games such as Alone In The Dark and Of Orcs and Men.
Remember Me is a wholly new IP from a new studio. What attracted you to the project and what was it like collaborating with a studio on their first title?
Dontnod is a brand new studio and it was a big risk for them to develop a AAA title. They created the studio to make their own games, create worlds, something that everyone out there would dream of, and when I started working with them, I felt this involvement, this devotion which is more than necessary to release a game. The team is the key to success, so it’s important that we were all on the same page, giving our best. Concerning Remember Me I think it was a really great opportunity for me since I had never worked on a sci-fi game before.
How does Remember Me’s sci-fi setting differ to composing for fantasy games like Of Orcs and Men?
The main difference was the scale of the project. Of Orcs and Men is a small budget game with a lot of charm and made by a great team (Spiders Game Weavers). Remember Me is maybe 10 times bigger, so there is much more pressure. My work is quite identical in terms of commitment, however concerning the style of music it's rather different.
Why the choice to use full orchestra opposed to full electronica?
We asked ourselves the same question with Jean-Maxime Moris, the creative director, and there are two main reasons. The first is that the technology used in the game can digitize memories and we wanted to capture this idea in the music; to start with an organic form and digitize it and since Neo Paris in 2084 still has some of the 19th century buildings, we thought that using an orchestra would fit both the setting and the technology. The second reason is that even if electronica can be really moving I think it will never achieve what a human performance can provoke emotionally. We could have gone in a really ambient music direction, to set a mood, but since the game is about a character, Nilin, and in order to tell her story, her confusion, her pain, her condition, there is nothing better than real performers to convey that.
The fragmented remix style is a really unique sound. Can you explain how this sound was achieved?
Thank you! It took me a while to create the sonic sound of Remember Me. Without being too technical I started by exploring electronic manipulations of my own voice and then on mockups. I created a bank of manipulations and knowing how they would affect the sound I started to compose the score. The only thing I couldn't anticipate was how the live recording would be affected and it was quite exciting when I heard the final result!
A few tracks include single and choral vocals. How do these fit into the soundtrack as a whole? How did working with a choir on Remember Me differ to your work on Alone in the Dark with The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices?
Laure-Helene Cesari performed all the vocals for the game. The way I used it is quite similar to how I treated the orchestra and the only time you hear the raw voice is in "Nilin the Memory Hunter" right before the last musical phrases. The use of a female voice was quite obvious so we tried to avoid the cliché, however, in my opinion, there is no better instrument than the human voice and what we ended up with was a blend between a voice and a synth to reflect once again, the manipulated memory of Nilin. Regarding Alone In The Dark and the choir, it was a totally different story. For that game we really needed something full of mystery and to record with such a group was a real treat. The main difference between the two scores is that in Remember Me there are no lyrics, just a few words. In Alone In The Dark, the lyrics were written by a Bulgarian native poet and were featured heavily throughout the game.
The remixing of the orchestra really mirrors Nilin’s remixing of memories in the game. Were there any other approaches to the music considered but unused? Ideas left at proof of concept stage?
Anything that was too obvious was let go but we really worked hard on the music implementation. When you score a movie it's generally on a final cut, the picture will not change so you can sync your music with it quite obviously. In games, you depend on the player and personally speaking, I want the music to become an asset. So a lot of ideas were developed to support the interactivity and a lot were left out. In the end, the fights were the center of the attention and I created really crazy templates to support all the actions of the player. I think it adds a real feel of support and reward.
Set in Neo-Paris, what parts of the art-design and content of the game inspired your work on the music? Some parts almost sound like a distorted waltz – a reference to Renaissance Paris transformed into this futuristic mega-city?
You are absolutely right! The choice of a live orchestra would have been different if the set was in Tokyo or NYC but as it was Paris it felt right. You start the game in the low Paris, in a slum, where people are not all about technology so the music had to fit the atmosphere, a sort of memory of the old times. Then, as you go deeper in the more sophisticated part of the city the music starts to get more digitized, but also manipulated, as Nilin is glitching the world around her. I think the incredible artwork was a big inspiration to achieve such an idea.
Neo-Paris is a wholly unique setting for a video game. What was it like working with a French studio on a game set in France?
As odd as it might sound I thought I would not work on this game and being French was part of that. You know, all over the world, people get excited to work with big names in Hollywood or in the music industry, but Dontnod just fell in love with my ideas and I was really surprised and working with them was a great experience. Also, they are based in Paris and I was coming back from a long stay in the US so I couldn't be happier. We spent about 8 months 'together' and if the music is so connected to the gamplay it's because of this proximity. Concerning the French factor I have mixed feelings. On one hand you have the reality of the industry that says it has to be Americanized and on the other side you have the strong spirit of creativity from French developers (look at Quantic Dream, Ubisoft, Dontnod...).
Did you have any input over aspects of the game? For example, were the memory-remixing sequences affected by the musical direction?
I always listen really carefully to the creative director to understand his or her vision and my work is to enhance it, bring some ideas to wrap around theirs. I think this is the key to a great collaboration. However, Jean-Maxime didn't want any music on the memory remix. It's a choice I respected but I had hoped I could have scored them a little...
What are the difficulties and rewards of working on a game compared to scoring a film?
As I mentioned a little earlier, the interactivity is something I really work on but I want to go a little deeper in my description of interactivity. A lot of times music in games reacts to what is happening, for example when you are exploring, a certain type of music will support the exploration, then, if you encounter an enemy, the music will switch to a more action-based style. This is mainly what people call interactivity and I think it's effective but I want to go further. To really score a game you need to understand both the gameplay mechanics and the artistic intentions behind it. A video game is not a movie and you have to approach it for what it is at its core: a mechanism of rules. The players will follow the rules and if they are playing well they will beat them and therefore feel great and the music has to support all of that. And what is really exciting is from one game to another the rules will be different! In the end, in order to find a musical language, you have to understand each game’s language.
Will there be any way for readers to listen to some of the soundtrack? Will there be a CD release?
I share excerpts on my SoundCloud page and the OST is available on iTunes and Spotify, among others. There won't be a CD release but you can download (still on SoundCloud) the official art book for the CD to build your own!
What’s coming up in the future for you? Any projects or live performances you can tease us with?
I'm now finishing an indie game by Moon Spider Studio called HAROLD that includes a gospel choir with calypso rhythm, Arabic and dub-step music. I will work on the next production of Spider Weaver called Bound by Flames, an action RPG set in a heroic fantasy world and finally I'm on a big name game that, of course, I can't talk about but I am really excited about it! It will be unveiled in September.
Many thanks for answering our questions!
Check out our review of Remember Me and stay tuned to The Digital Fix for a review of this month’s soundtracks near the end of the month. The soundtrack to Remember Me is available to buy on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify and is published by Capcom.