Video game scores have really evolved over the last three decades from the old bleeps and blips to the keyboard laden scores of the 1980's to the early 1990's, which started to go bigger and bigger utilizing full orchestra starting in the late 90's as companies such as Nintendo, Sega, and Sony started to expand really upgrade the level of video game quality which now are up to full realistic state thanks to the evolution of computer rendering technology as well as that of 3D that propelled the likes of video game systems such as the Playstation 3 and the X-Box.
Many big name composers such as Oscar Winners Hans Zimmer and Michael Giacchino as well as big time talents such as Harry Gregson-Williams, Henry Jackman, Lorne Balfe, Brian Tyler, Mark Mancina, Ramin Djawadi, John Debney, Ron Jones and Christopher Lennertz along side veteran Jasper Kyd, have really brought about a real classy cinematic feel to these games with full blooded orchestrial scores that are just as powerful as their work in film and television.
Enter composer Olivier Deriviere, an up and coming composer who's just scored the music for the latest game in the hit series "Assassins' Creed", “Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag - Freedom Cry". Olivier is a very talented composer who's written a massive score for this latest installment and one that will get solid attention. For this interview, Olivier candidly shares with me his thoughts on this score, how he came to compose it and how the upcoming soundtrack was put together. So read and enjoy the thoughts of a rising video game musical star.
Please tell the readers about what made you become interested in music.
OD: When I was 5 my parents enrolled me in a classical conservatory to study music. I studied classical percussion and piano but the first time I got really into composition was when my mother had to buy a synthesizer for her own work. I was so crazy with all the buttons that I started composing my little pieces. Concerning video game music, I think it's because I'm a real hardcore gamer and to write music for games has always been a dream for me.
Let’s talk about your latest project the music for the hit video game, “Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag - Freedom Cry.” Please tell us about the game and what attracted you to it?
OD: It's a really unique Assassin's Creed game because it tells the story of a former slave, Adéwalé, who became an assassin. While on a mission his ship sinks and he gets stranded on Haiti where he witnesses the struggle of his people being enslaved. In order to get back out to sea he has to help them and little by little he feels he has a role to play, not as an assassin but as a human being. This is what attracted me most, we are not in a regular plot where assassins and Templars are fighting against each other but we are experiencing, as gamers, a historical period where humanity was at a dark time.
Let’s talk about the score, was it easy for you to find a tone for the music right off the bat or did you have to dig deep to find that great theme that would be the basis of the score?
OD: To be a part of this great franchise is quite an honor. For each iteration, the developers made a lot of effort to be historically accurate with the characters you encounter, the locations you visit and the events that happened. I felt that the music should follow the same idea and be historically accurate. Therefore, I did some research but the most difficult part was to find the right balance between the traditional music from Haiti and my original score. After my first hands-on with the game it was clear to me that we had to respect the historical music that was born out of those tragic events and implement it into my original score, not as a support but as a blend of the two cultures, French and African.
Did you pretty much get a sense of what the creators of the game wanted musically for it right away or was there a discussion about what you should and shouldn’t do musically?
OD: Ubisoft never asked me for a specific score; they hired me because they knew our collaboration could bring a unique approach to the score. When I came up with the idea of making the music start with an Assassin's Creed feel and progressively turn it into a more African-influenced music with traditional drums and choir they were quite excited. The greater part of the score is the 40-piece string section that starts out as being quite western and the more you progress, the more their rhythmic patterns and melodies match the traditional music and the introduction of the choir. I hope the players will feel this effect as much as it affects Adéwalé.
Please share with us about the recording sessions for the score, what were they like?
OD: We had two recording sessions, one was at Avatar Studios in New York with La Troupe Makandal, a dedicated group for Haitian music, and the other took place at Galaxy Studios in Belgium with The Brussels Philharmonic. I have to tell you we all felt moved because 300 years ago the French and the Belgians enslaved African people and today here we are recording these sessions based on both cultures’ music supporting each other’s. A lot of energy was put into this project and a lot of emotions were felt.
Do you like to conduct your own scores or do you find it easier to sit back and observe everything from the recording booth?
OD: I’m very fortunate to have spent many years studying orchestration by attending orchestra concerts and rehearsals with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and many other great orchestras with tremendous conductors. I think you can write the best music but you may not be the best performer for it. Moreover being in the recording booth lets you hear the music with great detail, as long as you have a great conductor.
It is hard for you during the recording of your scores to make changes on the fly if necessary in regards to certain pieces that are just missing something or need tweaking?
OD: It happens and it is not a good feeling when you know that time is an issue. I would hope to get more time during sessions to tweak if necessary but I have to make sure it sounds good right away...and of course sometimes it doesn't. This is how you learn. The bright side is that, generally speaking, as the composer you know if you did something that doesn't sound as good as it could but the listeners might not notice it, unless it's a really big mistake that makes the players raise their hands...in that case you are in trouble!
All told, how much music did you record for the game in total?
OD: I composed about 100 minutes of music and we recorded about 70 minutes.
Will there be an album released of this score?
OD: Yes, the soundtrack will be available on all digital platforms under the music label Ubisoft Music. There will also be a promotional CD. What is really interesting is that the soundtrack includes an extra 7 traditional songs in their purest form recorded and mixed at Avatar by Grammy winning recording and mixing engineer Silas Brown. It is meant for people to experience what was the real music at that period of time.
Let’s talk about the soundtrack album. How did you assemble it?
OD: It is always difficult to assemble a soundtrack, first of all because you have to choose the right cues to create a real journey from start to finish. Also, since it's a video game score, you have to readapt all the cues to make them a good listening experience. When I score a game, it's not like scoring a movie where the music is locked to the picture. My speciality is composing game scores, and a game is based on the actions made by the player, its interactivity, and what I really like is to create a real connection with the score. It becomes completely organic because it's built with sections that can switch from one to another seamlessly. So to reassemble it with a sense of music structure is quite challenging. Of course I have some cues that are quite linear but never enough to build a full soundtrack so I usually have to re-arrange the score for the album.
Very special thanks to Olivier for spending the time with me to share his insights on the video game scoring process and to Greg O'Connor-Read to always going to bat for me with these outstanding talents. You're awesome!
Please visit Olivier's official website for updates on his current and future projects as well as sound samples of his work at http://olivierderiviere.com/
The soundtrack to Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag - Freedom Cry will be released on December 17. Sound samples of the score can be heard at https://soundcloud.com/olivier-deriviere/sets/assassins-creed-iv-freedom-cry
Here is Olivier's Bio:
"For more than a decade, Olivier Deriviere has been scoring music for video games and has been praised for both his composition and his way of connecting his music with the game experience. He started studying classical percussions at the age of 5 and went on to study harmony, counterpoint and instrumentation under the guidance of Mr. Jean Louis Luzignant at the Conservatory of Nice, France. As a teenager he learned a lot about the technical aspects of writing music for interactive media when he attended many coding parties where passionate people would compete in creating code, graphics and music on computers. In 2000 he won a scholarship to Berklee College of Music to study film scoring and jazz. There in Boston he had the incredible opportunity to spend an entire season with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and interact with renowned musicians, composers and conductors. His experience with the BSO taught him more about music scoring than ever before. and fueled his vision to bring great performers to video games.
In 2002 he moved to Paris and began scoring short films, TV ads and documentaries. During this time he wrote both the script and the music for the critically-acclaimed short movie “The Toast,” for which he won many awards. In 2003 he was hired by Hydravision to score their first game, Obscure, a survival horror game. His decision to engage the talents of Children’s Choir of the National Opera of Paris for the production of Obscure earned him his first piece of press (“It sounds terrific” - IGN ). For Obscure 2: The Aftermath, Deriviere added the Boston String Quartet (formed by BSO members) to the choir and once again attracted exceptional press attention (“Where the audio does shine… is the soundtrack” -Total Video Games). As a result of reviews from such distinguished publications, Eden Games approached Deriviere to score the reboot of the franchise Alone in the Dark in 2008. For Alone in the Dark he wrote original songs that were performed by the Grammy ® winners The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices and the score was released worldwide by the Hollywood music label Milan Records as an original soundtrack that has been recognized by Billboard and The New York Times.
In 2009 him and his sister Marion Deriviere founded Ameo Prod Inc. which is based in San Francisco and devoted to provide services for music productions. In 2010 Deriviere composed the original score to the video game Tangled (adapted from the feature film of the same name) for Disney Interactive Studios and then returned to darker lands to score the music for Of Orcs and Men, an action RPG set in a fantasy world where an orc is sent on a suicide mission to save his entire race. To capture the harsh climate and melancholic mood of the game, Deriviere hired the Boston Cello Quartet from the BSO and the soundtrack was released by Wayo Records. In 2012 Capcom and Dontnod Entertainment asked Deriviere to provide them with a unique score to support their new game Remember Me, set in a futuristic and dystopian Neo-Paris where the memories can be digitized, shared and hacked. This mega-production was performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra and recorded in London by Grammy ® winning legendary recording and mixing engineer John Kurlander. The Remember Me soundtrack made a huge impact and garnered such enthusiastic praises as MTV’s Miguel Concepcion soundtrack review, which called Deriviere “game music’s eclectic daredevil.” In 2013 Deriviere was hired to score Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – Freedom Cry, a stand-alone story about Adewale, a former slave-turned-assassin who attempts to save his enslaved people in Haiti.
His main focus continues to be enhancing the player’s interactive experience through music"