Olivier Dervier’s radical vision of video game music

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Olivier Dervier’s radical vision of video game music

Written by Casey Jarman March 15, 2022

The most popular video game score this past month, Dying Light 2: Stay Human, Ambitious, innovative and often stunningly beautiful. It’s a big budget, high-profile release from a hot streak composer whose previous soundtrack was a fresh take on the legendary game. Streets of Rage 4 series. Composer Olivier Derviere admits that this is the dream he has always dreamed of: to make a successful living and create music for video games, a medium he loves so much.

However, the video game music drives Olivier Derviere a bit crazy.

“It’s been more than twenty years and we’ve been doing everything the same way,” he says via Zoom, lying almost absurdly on his sofa in France, where it’s past 10pm. “Lighting, artificial intelligence, physics, polygons, multiplayer numbers: everything goes up except the music. I’m not talking about composition, but about the use of music and the way it is used and exploited in games.”

“I don’t know,” he said, pausing as a hint of a devious smile crept across his tired face. “I feel sad for me, as a player.”

We may have instigated this harsh statement, but we also knew that it wouldn’t take much nudge to get here. Deriviere is an evangelist for expanding the possibilities of interactive music and audio in games. He sees it not just as a technological necessity, but as a necessary component in the maturation of video games as an art form that could rival the power of great literature or cinema.

What kind of audio innovation Deriviere is looking for, exactly, isn’t always immediately obvious. Music in contemporary games often responds to variables such as player movement or the number of enemies that appear on screen. The truth is that not even Deriviere is sure what the next evolution of the game’s music looks like: more than anything, he wants to see a big leap forward come from a new generation of composers who are fully exploiting the kind of modern software that can ostensibly collaborate with them. He wants to see what happens when more composers not only write music, but the systems that bring music to life. He wants to blow his mind. “When I’m at conferences, I don’t talk about my music,” he says. “I don’t care. I’m here for the games.”

If this constant criticism of his own industry makes Deriviere something of an outsider, he’s used to it. He began studying classical percussion at the age of five and attended the French Conservatoire of Nice as a child. There, he made cassettes of his favorite songs from video games, which he thought were cool. “Of course people were laughing at me,” he recalls. As a teenager, his dual interests in music and computer programming led him to be one of the youngest faces at Demosense Underground in France, a non-commercial game design community where the goal has always been to experiment with pushing envelopes. When he won a scholarship to Berkeley in his early twenties—and then spent a season working with the Boston Symphony Orchestra—he may have seen an opportunity to leave the games behind. Instead, the experience intensified his desire to bring music of technical and emotional complexity to video games.

From the start, he did just that. When Deriviere found his first real foothold in game music in 2004, with a cocky French developer working on a survival horror game called mysteriousHe brought in the children’s choir at the National Opera in Paris to help set the dire tone. To supplement it, he rented the Boston String Quartet. Action game cyberpunk 2013 remember meHe collaborated with the famous Philharmonia Orchestra in London and legendary Abbey Road engineer John Kurlander although he often played with orchestral elements of the music through elaborate acoustic filters to create something completely unique. bend for lover Doctrine killer Meanwhile, the franchisor found him collaborating with the Haitian group La Troupe Makandal and Brussels Philharmonic.

“You can’t find any composers who have been working with different groups of world musicians, like me,” Deriver says. “It’s not because I think my music deserves it. It’s because I know these people can improve my music, and because I want to give this to the players. I really want the orchestra, but I want them to participate.”

For Deriviere, creating that interaction has always meant taking on duties in both composition and what the game industry reduces to as “implementation,” a simplification of the myriad of decisions about how in-game music and sound should work. In the early 2000s mysterious Games, meaning staying up late at night with the programmer, and building a system from scratch. Deriver says instruments have evolved to where imagination is the only limitation for a composer.

death light 2 It is a lesson in musical imagination: music arises, responds, and transforms so seamlessly in the game’s central city of Philidor that it feels inseparable from the landscape. The airy atmosphere on the city’s green rooftops in the afternoon turns exhilarating as the player starts running and jumping his way through the city. Finding yourself in the zombie-infested streets and alleys below makes a more menacing soundboard by day, and escaping an attack at night is quite distorted and paradoxical. Although these musical surges are easy to feel at the moment, they are built on so many variables that it is difficult to predict. In a promotional interview for the game, chief sound designer Edita Mosiška-Duralska described the heart of the system as “invisible areas” that lead to sound changes throughout the game. When asked how many of these areas actually exist in death light 2She looks confused. “I think millions, probably?”

Taken as a soundtrack alone, death light 2The company’s innovations may at first seem less ambitious. Like the soundtrack to other big-budget games, it has its own big themes (“Running, Jumping, and Fighting”), emotional mood pieces (“The Bound”) and intense battle music (“Surrounded By Infected”). But Deriviere is also adept at combining traditional sounds with unexpected ones. His collaborations with the London Contemporary Orchestra – a world-renowned ensemble who have also lighted with Radiohead and Frank Ocean – is notable for their fluidity. This isn’t classical music as well as percussion, a trap that high-profile game soundtracks tend to fall into: instead, it’s a strange and sometimes troubling integration of digital and analog: it’s often not clear where the orchestra ends and Deriviere’s synthesizers begin. Add a post-apocalypse tool called electric psalm Created by Dervier’s longtime collaborator, Nicholas Brass adds a layer of contention. “Once you tune out one chord, everything else becomes out of tune,” Deriver says. “But the mixing machines are also out of tune. [game] The world had to break a little.”

This refraction, at the end of the day, appealed to Derviere. Fallen Worlds and Broken Heroes have been a theme in many of the games he’s worked on, as well as inciting a new era of interactive game music, something he talks about with great enthusiasm. “I need a project to talk about human complexity,” he says. “For me, I like it when nothing is white or black. What I write most of the time is related to my existence, my own viewpoint, my own feelings. I use games for that.”

That’s what fascinates me about Olivier Derviere. He is a champion for artists learning to collaborate fully with instruments, and he is also a firm believer that humanity should remain central to music. For him, there is no conflict between these two deeply held beliefs: “People believe, here is man and there is technology. But look at technology as when we created machines that day: before electricity, technology was all about wood, and this technology gave musicians new ways to express themselves”.

“Machines can reproduce anything,” Deriver adds. “The human part is when you start breaking the rules, the disruption. So I think composers who create music with a real sense of surprise — a good surprise — will avoid making men wear suits and replace them with artificial intelligence.”

Whether creating that surprise means running an orchestra through a maze of distortion filters, using a disharmonious bike as the main instrument or expanding the definition of composition — before the suits do it for you — Olivier Dervier is excited to take on the challenge. It’s here for the games.

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