Music Spotlight: Remember Me Composer Olivier Deriviere

by Matt Helgeson on Apr 29, 2013 at 07:23 AM

Oliver Deriviere filters his formal classical background through a love of cutting edge electronic music. This is evidenced in his innovative score for Capcom's Remember Me, which digitally manipulates live orchestral recordings into a score that feels remarkably fresh.

We spoke with Deriviere about his musical background, video game composition, and musical inspirations.

Talk a little bit about your background with music? Were you musical as a child?

My parents are great music lovers and they were always listening to a large variety of genres such as classical, folk, pop, world music and many more -­ country music included!  At eight years old I was already listening to video game soundtracks and creating tapes full of computer music from the C64, Atari ST and Amiga.

Tell us about your formal musical education and how that informs your work as a game composer?

At the age of five my parents sent me to the conservatory to study classical percussion and piano. When I grew up I took some harmony and instrumentation courses. Eventually I went to Berklee College of Music to learn film scoring and Jazz. I think composition is a process of practice and now thanks to computers you can experiment a lot! However I believe what really helps me today writing for games is that my first passion is video games. I started playing on a C64, and since then I haven't stopped. I think to experience a game is the best education for a composer learning how to write music for games.

What are some of your musical influences, from either the classical world or the world of popular music?

Peter Gabriel for his work on textures and melodies. Dimitri Shostakovich for the incredible clarity of his orchestration and themes. Finally, Aphex Twin, as I believe he created the next step in music history using electronic instruments.

How did you come to work in games? Had you done composition for other media before?

I wanted to create games since my childhood and the best way to participate was to use my strength in music. I worked in film and advertising and received some commissions but my first major assignment was for Obscure, developed by Hydravision. Back then we were all juniors with little experience.  I remember the first time we met my ideas were initially frowned upon ­-I was "crazy" to want a children's choir in the music. A week later, I got a phone call to inform me that I was chosen. It happened thanks to one person who was as passionate as I am and he trusted me. So it's a matter of hard work, luck, and, sometimes, balls.

Do you play games in your spare time?

This is my main concern ­­- I don't play enough! I really try to play a lot of games, not only the big titles but also the indie games. I think it is really important to experience all that video games have to offer. We are now on the edge of a new era, the next generation of course but also the indie scene that is getting more and more attention. It's a really exciting time since it's been years that we haven't had such a prolific expression in games.

When you begin a game project, what's the process for coming up with a vision for the score? Do you work closely with the developer? Describe the process.

It all starts with the creative director. I spend a long time talking with him/her because they have been working on the game for days, weeks, months, years maybe, and I have to capture their vision. This is when the best ideas come up because I'm fresh and, like a sponge, I absorb every word. It takes some time to adjust the translation and usually after a few exchanges back and forth I share their vision but in a different language. They use words; I use musical notes. Meanwhile I'm also working very close with the audio team to prepare the music implementation. I think it's the key for a great video game score. In terms of schedule the sooner I'm involved the better so we can push everything to its maximum potential. But I really start to score during the second half of the game's production, when you can actually walk through the game. I love that process!

What are some of the video game projects you've worked on that you're most proud of?

Every time I work on a project that is released, I'm proud of it. In this industry it becomes more and more difficult to finish a project and have it released on shelves. I also try to work with different people on different projects. Working on Obscure and Obscure 2 were really personal, a very small team.  Alone In The Dark was a completely different story, a lot of pressure for a big title. Remember Me is perhaps my most accomplished soundtrack so far in terms of music production. We went to record the Philharmonia Orchestra with Grammy award-winning recording engineer John Kurlander in London and I kept telling him, "Don't be mad at me when I will screw up this wonderful recording with my electronic processing!"

Your bio says you've worked with the Mystery of Bulgarian Voices women's choir. What project was that for? They are tremendous, such an eerie feeling. What was that experience like?

That was for Alone In The Dark. I had a long conversation with the creative director David Nadal, and the more he was talking about the mystery of his game, the more I tried to capture this in the music. I remember all of sudden saying, "Let's put in some Bulgarian voices." He looked at me like I was speaking Chinese. The recording in Bulgaria was one of a kind. The choir is really mystical and when they started singing my music I couldn't believe it. They took my score and made it theirs, you can't anticipate such a sound...and of course they are really nice and incredible artists!

How did you come to be involved with Remember Me?

People might think it's because I'm French but not at all. There was a pitching process, and I did something completely crazy because I felt this game needed such a risk. When I got the email that confirmed I was selected as the composer it took me a week to really believe it. But what surprised me even more is when I first met Jean-Max Moris, the creative director, he asked me to go even crazier. I guess I was lucky, once again.

Listening to the soundtrack samples, it's really a striking score. There's a very odd feel, a mix of traditional orchestral work with a glitchy, electronic feel. How was that accomplished?

Thank you! Every time I score a game I really try to add something unique; to give the game a flavor that no one out there has done before. I can't explain exactly with words how I did it but it was a long process to achieve this. I was thinking about this idea already in 2001 when Aphex Twin released his album Druqks. The concept of the music is not to have a mix between electronic and acoustic; it's to manipulate the acoustic to become electronic.

The game obviously deals with the manipulation of our minds and memories, was the score intended to evoke that through electronic manipulation of the music?

Exactly! Remember Me is not just a game; it's a fully realized world that the creative team at DONTNOD created from scratch. During my first contact [with the game], I was quite confused by so much information and I felt the music should reflect this confusion. The music supports what's happening in the game, not as an illustration but as another layer of information. I think you can understand everything by listening to the soundtrack on its own.

Are there any other game composers that you admire, or particular game soundtracks that you admire today?

When Halo was released in 2001 I was just stunned. Great theme, great instrumentation, incredible implementation...I really think Martin O'Donnell did a fantastic job and to know that he is also the audio director at Bungie makes sense. Also, I have to mention Jeremy Soule. He wrote one of the best themes and music with The Elder Scrolls series, even though the implementation is not sophisticated, it works perfectly for such an atmospheric and personal game experience.

What's next for you after Remember Me? Any upcoming game projects?

I'm finishing an indie game called Harold from Moonspider Studio. It's a platform race-runner game. For this one, I merged some gospel choir with Arabic music, Calypso style and...dubstep. Then I will work on a game made by Spider Games (Mars: War Logs) called Bound By Flames, it's going to be a very cold ambient style. Hopefully after that I will have some spare time to beat Bioshock Infinite ­- I'm so late.

For music samples from Remember Me and other projects head over to Olivier Derivierre's Soundcloud Page.