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Interview: Composer Olivier Deriviere talks the unique soundtrack of Remember Me

Remember Me Screenshot - Olivier Deriviere composing

Remember Me is more than just an upcoming action-adventure game from Capcom. Set in the year 2084, this psychedelic adventure deals with the concept of entering one's mind into and stealing or altering their memory. Thanks to an invention from Mega-corporation MEMORIZE, citizens can upload their memories to the net, but it also subjects users to a degree of control and surveillance. When addressing such a topic, the unique tone -- that of a world futuristic world rampant with technology --  must be present in all aspects of the game: art style, gameplay, and music.

Last month, we had a chance to listen to a few clips from Remember Me's soundtrack, a "dynamic emotional score" in which the game's "innovative memory remix gameplay experience" is told through a unique, electronically manipulated live symphonic score. Intrigued by the sound that I heard, I reached out to composer Olivier Deriviere (Of Orcs and Men, Alone in the Dark) to learn more about the creation of Remember Me's soundtrack.

Have a brief listen to the soundtrack and then check out Deriviere's responses to a few of our questions about manipulating a live orchestra, the character of Nilin, and how Olivier's work on Remember Me differed from past projects.

What was it like working on a game as psychologically driven as Remember Me? I mean, manipulating the memories and thoughts of people is a pretty wild topic. It must have been a fun journey coming up with the music.

The world of Remember Me is quite unique because people live in a society of control and they have accepted it.  The memories can be stored on a huge server at Memorize, the company who created the technology, and share their memories to others.  The idea was to transfer this concept to the music – to record an acoustic performance, digitize it and then electronically manipulate it. It was pretty wild, fun, and really challenging!  But the main journey of the game is Nilin, the main character, and her psychological struggle.  Jean-Maxime Moris, the Creative Director, wanted the music to reflect the technology but mostly he asked me to follow Nilin's reconstruction.  This is what players will find out at the end of the game, it is not about Neo Paris, nor the technology but about this strong female character that has been acting like a glitch inside this world.

Olivier Deriviere

How exactly does one approach composing for a video game? How do you begin to know where to start? Do you look at concept art and just kind of go from there or do you literally play the game in silence and think what would sound cool at that exact moment?

I'm a real gamer so I play a lot of games.  I tend to think it's the best education you can get to learn how to score a game.  To experience a game lets you understand how the music can help support the gameplay.  I always try to work closely with both the creative director, who owns the vision, and the audio director, who manages the music implementation.  You have to find the right colors, compose the themes, make the music structure around the whole game and finally play the game and adapt the creative director's intentions in music.  But every time it is possible, I go to the studio to play and understand the gameplay mechanics.  It helps a lot to experience what the gamers will experience.

How did composing the music of Remember Me differ from your work on past games like Of Orcs and Men and Alone in the Dark?

Alone in the Dark was performed by the Grammy-winning Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares and I had not written for such a group before.  It was a great opportunity.  Of Orcs and Men was performed by the Boston Cello Quartet but I didn't write conventional cello work.  It was a simple dark music (you know, it's an Orc...) Remember Me was recorded in London and performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra.  The goal was to get a great performance and to manipulate it.  On such a budget scale you really don't want to fail.  All these projects really differ from each other musically, but the only factor that remains consistent is that I had no idea how to do it prior to actually doing it!

Could you explain, or further elaborate, the process of creating the music of the game? Hearing the live orchestra digitally manipulated sounds fantastic!

Thank you! I was thinking of such a concept for many years.  Actually since I heard Drukqs from Aphex Twin in 2001.  Without being too technical the music is written in a way that the manipulation of the orchestra adds a new layer of music so I had to anticipate this extra material. What's funny is when we went to record the orchestra, I didn't tell them I would manipulate the recording; I didn't want to distract them from their natural performance by letting them know it would be manipulated.  Some parts were quite strange like a huge trumpet dynamic while the rest of the orchestra was almost quiet.  The trumpet player raised his hand and asked if his part was wrong because truly it sounded wrong (without knowing the context). They must have thought I was crazy when I told him it was fantastic!

Were there any difficulties or challenges you faced while scoring the game?

It's always difficult to find the right place for the music.  I really want to avoid repeated loops that essentially puts the music in the background.  The worst case is when people say they need music just because there is none.  Each cue in Remember Me supports the player's experience.  Of course it follows the story, Nilin's journey, but also the player's journey by supporting his or her actions.  The most challenging were the fight sequences.  As it's about fifty per cent of the game, we wanted to support them by giving a sense of reward to the player.  Since the game mechanics are based on combos we thought that linking the music to the success of the player's moves would add this extra motivation.  Moreover you can activate many special moves, and to be fully connected the music has also to follow your choices.  But some fights are more narrative-driven so this system won't be activated on every fight, to prevent repeating the same experience.

Remember Me - Nilin

Did the character of Nilin -- a strong female protagonist -- have an effect on any of your music direction?  What about the Neo-Paris setting in 2084?

Actually the whole game is about Nilin.  This is what was really surprising for me the first time I met with Jean-Maxime Morris.  Neo-Paris was a great support to find the instrumentation and colors.  We recorded a full symphony orchestra because Paris is a city of art and music and we wanted to capture this in the music.  But mainly the music follows Nilin's fate.  She is strong but confused and this is where it becomes interesting.  Every music cue is a part of Nilin.  For instance, one of them is called Neo-Paris and people might listen to it as an illustration of the city, but if you listen carefully, the main melody of this track is the background figure of Nilin The Memory Hunter.  There is a meaning to it as well which will be revealed to the player at the end.

Has the growing recognition and appreciation of musical scores in games altered your approach when composing the soundtrack to Remember Me, or any a video game for that matter? Do you feel more pressure to deliver a lasting, memorable soundtrack as a result of the greater emphasis placed on music in games now?

I think music for games is going to be what it should be: a support to the gameplay. There are as many ways of working as there are development studios but I think that when you compose for a game you have to experience it.  It's like scoring a movie without actually watching it.  It can work, and sometimes quite a bit, but I tend to believe composers are too often disconnected to the final product.  It's a shame because the opposite is happening in the indie scene. Composers are much more aware of the games they are working on and it gives this extra dimension, this connection with the gameplay that makes the difference.  Personally I have always tried to explore how the music might add a unique identity in both the composition and the implementation to create an extra layer to the overall experience. I really hope more of the industry will let us composers explore these aspects in the next generation of games.

Do you have a favorite track on the soundtrack or is each song kind of your baby?

Each song is my baby. The official soundtrack is 15 tracks with about 50 minutes of music and includes mostly the orchestra manipulation.  Besides this, I have much more tracks with electronic music only that I may add on my SoundCloud later on...those are my little, little  babies!

This interview was conducted via email. Thanks to Greg for helping setup and arrange the interview with Olivier Deriviere. Remember to check out Remember Me when it releases on June 4 for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.

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Matt Liebl You can follow Senior News Editor Matt Liebl on Twitter @Matt_GZ. He likes games, sports, musicals, and his adorable dog, Wrigley. And his wife.
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