Olivier Deriviere Interview: Back in the Dark (June 2008)
Interview Subject: Olivier Deriviere
Interviewer: Michael Naumenko
Editor: Michael Naumenko, Simon Elchlepp
Coordination: Michael Naumenko, Greg O'Connor-Read
Michael: First of all, tell us about yourself. When did you start to compose music and how did you get into the game industry?
Olivier Deriviere: I’m 29, I’m just done with Alone In The Dark as composer, music supervisor and game mixer. I started writing music for video games at the age of 23 for Hydravision on Obscure. I got the job since I was connected with friends, demo makers from the old Amiga and Atari days, who entered the videogames industry. It was a real dream come true and I was very excited and nervous!
MIchael: What instruments do you play? What hard- and software do you use to create your music?
Olivier Deriviere: What may sound weird is that despite the fact that I've got a diploma in classical percussion, I never wanted to be a player in an orchestra; you know, that guy who waits for two hours before he makes the final splash with the cymbals. I’ve studied piano, harmony, counterpoint, instrumentation and orchestration… but I still need to work on everything. Music has so much to offer, I surely need more than one life to understand it as well as I want to. Concerning software and hardware, it depends. If I have to use sampled sounds, I will use Cubase with some libraries like the great Vienna Symphony Library, or if it’s electronic sounds, I may use a lot of plug-ins like Atmosphere and Reason. If it has to be performed, I'm used to composing on a software called Finale before going into the recording studio. In the end, nothing counts but the final result, whatever software or hardware you use. By the way: for hardware, I stick with RME, great gears!
Michael: Since you have worked on some movies, it would be interesting to hear your view on the difference between creating music for movies and for video games.
Olivier Deriviere: Actually I haven’t worked on any feature movies… yet! But my shorts and some assistant jobs I had for great composers have taught me a lot. I would say that working on a movie is much more artistic than on a video game. Only few people in the video game industry use music to its fullest. Most of the time it illustrates or adds some background sound to the game. However, music for video games doesn’t have rules yet, unlike movies. You’re much freer to explore and try something different.
Michael: How did you land the composing gig on Alone In The Dark? Did some old friends from Hydravision catch you? :)
Olivier Deriviere: What’s funny is that it’s exactly the opposite. I wouldn’t say they [Hydravision] made the PS2 and Wii versions thanks to me, but I helped as much as I could to get them the job! I met with Atari during the last ECTS in 2004. They were quite impressed by Obscure's music and that’s how I met David Nadal, Eden Games’ director.
Michael: At what stage did you join the project?
Olivier Deriviere: Quite early. As I mentioned earlier, people in the video game industry are not that aware of what music can add to their games. It’s part of my job to try to communicate very early in the process and talk to the developers about music and how it can help the player to get immersed and understand what’s happening on screen because music can be very helpful for gameplay.
Michael: Did you play any previous Alone In The Dark games? Where did you draw your inspiration from for Alone In The Dark?
Olivier Deriviere: I’ve played all of them. David [Nadal, Game Director] and I decided to avoid taking inspiration from the previous games - firstly because he wanted to redefine the franchise and thus the music. Also, this new Alone In The Dark is not a survival horror game as people think it might be. It’s an action survival game with lots of very dramatic and impressive situations, similar to those you may have seen in Hollywood blockbusters. The main inspiration was the game itself with David’s directions. We wanted to create a score that would accompany the story, the sceneries and the gameplay with very unique music.
Michael: Tell our readers what they can expect from your soundtrack.
Olivier Deriviere: This soundtrack has multiple goals, but the main purpose is to serve the game. I think players will be very pleased to hear how the music reacts to everything that’s happening on screen. Then, each cue has a reason for being played. Each time you’re going to hear a music cue, listen carefully because it will give you a lot of information in regards to the narrative, but also about situations, monsters, drama… Every time I added a cue I was wondering: Where? Why? What? How? Then you have the Bulgarian choir who sings the lyrics Irina Zhekova wrote especially for Alone In The Dark. The Milan Records CD release includes the lyrics with an English translation and it shows you another dimension of the music and therefore of the game.
Michael: You collaborated with the Grammy Award-winning choral ensemble The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices. Could you describe your experience working with these famous performers?
Olivier Deriviere: It was a thrill! I knew this choir from my childhood and when I asked them to sing my music, it was quite embarrassing as I wasn’t a great composer, not of worldwide renown as they are. But after their director Dora Hristova read the music, she accepted to perform it. It was an incredible week when I got there in Sofia to record them. They were just as great as they are… and very generous by giving all of their talent to me.
Michael: How much creative freedom did you have when you composed Alone In The Dark?
Olivier Deriviere: I think as a composer you have to listen very carefully to what the producer and the director will say to make sure you’re able to deliver what they're looking for. I do need to discuss a lot of things with them to understand their intentions, their sensitivity and whether we can actually work together, since it’s a real collaboration. For Alone In The Dark, the tough part was to convince them to include a Bulgarian choir, but after a few discussions they were very enthusiastic.
Michael: How much time did it take you to write this soundtrack? How much of the music that you wrote made it into the game in the end?
Olivier Deriviere: I would say about a full year to write all cues, but the work was spread across 2,5 years. I’ve had to leave out some music since the game changed quite a few times, but out of the five hours included in the final game, I would say an hour of music was left out.
Michael: Were there any particular challenges that you encountered when creating Alone In The Dark? Is the music in the game dynamic and if so, was it your first experience in writing multilayered tracks?
Olivier Deriviere: The most difficult part are all the choices you have to make when you start talking with the Director: “Do we need music? If yes, what? How…etc.” Since Alone In The Dark features a lot of music, I wanted to be sure that every cue was great. David and I often had long discussions. Multilayered music is very interesting and we could have used it since Eden’s music tool is quite impressive, but I chose not to. I didn't need to create multiple layers for Alone In The Dark that would give the music a very dynamic range because Alone In The Dark is very linear and I was able to score it with simply one cue followed by another. The game is very linear as long as you’re in a sequence with no free roaming, so I was able to stick very closely to everything that's happening. The use of layers for music is very useful when you're free to do whatever you want. For most of Alone In The Dark, it's not this way, but during the free roaming it would have been possible to implement this. However, time was short and David and I decided not to use dynamic music for this part of the game either. It can be paradoxical since the music evolves so much during scripted sceneries, but trust me: sometimes it’s good to have just a whisper for music!
Michael: What advice can you give to aspiring composers?
Olivier Deriviere: I once asked a great composer this question. He gave me two pieces of advice: “First, be very patient. Second, don’t get married.”!!!
Michael: Imagine that you have a special microphone. Everything you say magically appears in the ears of all Russians. Feel free to say anything from “Hello, guys!” to “Bring me some Russian vodka!” :)
Olivier Deriviere: As I’m French, I know that Russia and France have a special relationship and I’ve experienced it myself. When I was studying in Boston, I was renting a room from a great Russian lady. She helped me A LOT and she loved French people (so lucky was I). She introduced me to a lot of Russians and for a year, I felt much more in Russia than in the USA! It ended with the Obscure 2 soundtrack featuring Tamara Smirnova, the Associate Concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Unfortunately I can’t say a word in Russian (kak dela? Kak tibia zavout?...), but Russian people mean a lot to me and I owe them a lot!
Michael: Thanks for letting us interrogate you. We looking forward to hearing more of your music in the future!
Olivier Deriviere: Spasiba!! Thanks a lot for your interview! I hope the game will please you!!! :)