Composer Interview: Olivier Deriviere [Assassin's Creed IV - Freedom Cry]
Great news for western videogame music fans as we have got a chance to interview one of the industry’s most talented composers, Olivier Deriviere. Mr. Olivier has scored games like Remember Me, Obscure, Assassin’s Creed IV Freedom Cry DLC, of Orcs and Men, and my personal favourite, Alone in the Dark. Below, Mr Deriviere talks about his experience scoring the Assassin’s Creed IV Freedom Cry DLC and about his experience working on other projects. The questions were set by me, and were sent through email.
[Push-Start]: To start off, would you like to introduce yourself, especially about how you got into writing music for games?
It might sound funny but if I’m doing music for games it’s because I’m a hardcore gamer. I love games and I’ve been playing them since a very young age, and after years of music and math studies it appeared to me that my chances were higher to become a composer than a programmer. It took me quite some time to become part of a game production but since ObScure (my very first game) I’ve been lucky enough to continue scoring games and be involved with some great projects.
[Push-Start]: When were you brought on board to write music for Assassins Creed: Freedom Cry? Were you familiar with the franchise? What did you think of this opportunity?
It was in June 2013. I was preparing my summer time to spend on my private life but Ubisoft decided otherwise. They called and offered me the opportunity to score a game from their “main brand” and I couldn’t say no. I was really familiar with the franchise as I have played nearly all the iterations. I think Assassin’s Creed is quite unique and to get an opportunity to score such a game was really challenging and exciting!
[Push-Start]: What were you hoping to achieve in terms of the overall style and feel of the score? More importantly, what did you want to convey through your music?
When you score a game you don’t have your own vision but you have to embrace the vision behind the game and to add music to it. In this game, the predominant part was the personal journey of its main character, Adéwalé, who is a former slave that became an assassin, and by accident, has to face the struggle of his people in order to get back to his own roots. That is what we (Ubisoft and I) wanted to convey through the music. To do so, we decided to record a Haitian music group called La Troupe Makandal to capture the essence of their traditional music. Then I composed my score influenced by their rhythmic patterns and recorded it with the Brussels Philharmonic. The idea was to follow the influence of Haitian culture on Adéwalé; the more he stays on Port au Prince, the more his roots come back to him and the music follows this progression.
[Push-Start]: I personally call you, the master of vocals, as I think no one does a better job in creating memorable vocal melodies as you. Do you plan all the vocal work in games like this, and Alone in the Dark beforehand, or do you have someone come aboard, to help you with the lyrics?
Thank you, I don’t know if I master vocals but I use them a lot for sure! I use choir or solo singers for 2 main reasons. The first is because the game I work on needs it, the second because nothing is as powerful as voice for an instrument. Also, what I really like to do is to attach meaning to the singing and by using words I can even extend some ideas that are developed in the games I score. Freedom Cry is based on traditional songs. Alone In The Dark lyrics (as I don’t know Bulgarian) were written by Irina Zhekova to express what was happening in the game.
[Push-Start]: What was your best experience working with a choir group?
I’ve had the honour to work with many different vocal groups such as The Children’s Choir of the National Opera of Paris, The Grammy winning Mystery of Bulgarian Voices, La Troupe Makandal for Haitian songs and some more that will be unveiled for my next game. For each score the experience was quite unique and moving and for each I would have stories. I can’t forget those incredible moments when I can hear my own music through their vocal interpretations.
[Push-Start]: I really loved the track, The Fight For All as it sounds both energetic and exotic in a sense. I can say that most other tracks are also energetic and breath-taking, was there a reason for you to choose this pace?
Thank you! African music is very energetic and I am glad you felt that in the score. I really wanted the pace to be really genuine so I decided to first record the Haitian drums and then score the strings on top of them. I thought it would be a great way to keep the core energy of the traditional music and to extend this to my actual score. In the end, the OST starts quite gently but gradually the African energy is leading more and more of the pace to explode at the very end with the traditional songs.
[Push-Start]: Is there a track you would like to associate with this project as the main theme and what were your inspirations when you were thinking up compositions for this game?
At the early stage of the production we knew (Christian Pacaud, the music supervisor and I) that I shouldn’t create a new theme. It was not because of the franchise but much more because we wanted to celebrate Haitian music throughout my own score. The idea was then to pick a song and to compose a score around it. The result is called “The Root” and it’s the first track on the OST. You can hear both Haitian music and my score as a communion. My inspirations came from the game itself. For the first time in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, the plot focuses much more on its main character than on a mission for his creed. And because of the harsh and terrible historical facts surrounding the game, the music had to revolve around the human condition.
[Push-Start]: What did you think of Jesper Kyd’s work for Assassin’s Creed. Specifically, what did you think of the beautiful track, Ezio’s Family?
I think it was exactly when the franchise got its real dimension. The previous game was great but somehow they extended the experience to be much more engaging and I think the music from Jesper Kyd is a real part of this fantastic result. This track you are talking about is for sure part of the DNA of Assassin’s Creed.
[Push-Start]: Since I really love the soundtrack to Alone in the Dark, I have to ask this… would you love to write something like that again, if the opportunity comes up?
Thank you! I have to say that I always try to create something unique for each game and to gather the Mystery of Bulgarian Voices once again would make sense if a sequel was planned…I don’t know, you should ask Atari
[Push-Start]: Any hints for our readers and your fans on what you might do next? What would you personally like to do?
Well, nothing secret. I am finishing an action RPG called Bound by Flames made by a French studio, Spiders Games. I love this team! And I am still working on an indie game called Harold made by Moon Spider Studio. The scores for each project are quite different from my previous work.
[Push-Start]: This is a question I ask every composer in hopes that it might help someone, even me. Any advice to budding young composers who might want to get their feet in the industry?
It is a tough question as there is no rule. You may have luck; you may have connections or just work really hard. The only “advice” is that any aspiring game composer should love and play games because while playing you understand much more of what music does to your experience, not as a composition only but as an asset to the game itself. Today is a great period in the industry with all the indie games and their fresh approach to gameplay. I hope young composers will catch that momentum and start composing specific music that only games could make good use of for this medium.
[Push-Start]: Lastly, thank you so much again for sharing with us your experiences. Is there anything else you would like to say on an ending note?
Thank you for your interest in my work and in music for games in general. It was a pleasure to answer your questions.
Lastly, I would once again like to thank Greg O’Connor-Read for this wonderful opportunity, and hopefully you will hear us talking to more composers soon, or at least read about it. Until next time, take care!