INTERVIEW: Olivier Derivière Talks Composing The Vampyr Soundtrack

Olivier Derivière is a BAFTA nominated composer, known for games like Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag and Remember Me. His most recent work is the score of the new DONTNOD game, Vampyr, where he worked together with Eric-Maria Couturier to create an atmospheric soundtrack that fits the tone and feel of the game.

The soundtrack has a very heavy industrial feel to it, and a dark pulse at its heart. The cello works both with and against the “noise” to a point where they melt together. The score slightly fades into the background while sending constant reminders that it’s still there, that it’s got a lot more to give and when it hits hard, it doesn’t pull any punches. We talked to Derivière about the score and his process behind making it, seeing how such a chaotic score comes to exist.

You said in the Vampyr – Behind the Music YouTube video that you started off with an industrial theme and then moved towards a “Jonathan Reid vs. the outside world” theme. Did you have any direct inspirations while working through this process or did you solely concentrate on capturing the feeling?
My first inspiration is always the game itself. Of course, since there is no game to experience in the early stages of development, I need to discuss in detail with the Creative Directors and Audio Directors.

For Vampyr, we spent a lot of time discussing the setting: the city of London at night in 1918 during the Spanish flu. We wanted to express the oppressive street ambience without being too aggressive and also reflect the beginning of the industrial era.

We didn’t want the music to be “musical” in a sense that you would hear a lot of notes, rather it was about textures and since it all happens at night I tried to make the textures as vivid and organic as possible to give a sense of the inner apprehension. Then we focused our attention on the main character, Jonathan Reid, a doctor who has just become a vampire.

He is quite lost in his new condition and after coming back from World War I, he doesn’t recognize much of his city. We chose to use a cello to represent him and to give a more human feel in contrast with the gritty textures.

Vampyr

The soundtrack has a very distinct and constant pulse, it’s heavy and it’s dripping with darkness. Did you conceptualize the whole soundtrack first, knowing which pieces you’d need to make and what feeling each needed, or did you create the tracks mainly by experimenting with different subthemes? 
I always plan things and then I get lost in the process and this is when the magic happens. I think to create something meaningful you need to start with questions and the answers will build a mountain of ideas. Once you face the mountain, you need to decide by which way you will climb it, but reaching the top of the mountain is not the goal, it’s the journey.

When I was creating the industrial textures I could spend hours on just one tiny detail but I knew the premise of my ideas, so I would never leave the overall meaning, although I could get lost. There is one organic cue called “Impromptu” on the soundtrack and this is basically something we came up with by chance with cellist Eric-Maria.

Vampyr

How does this soundtrack compare to your previous works for you? Is it faster, more chaotic and ominous, or is it slower but also heavier? 
All of my work is quite distinctive, I believe. This is mostly because I serve a collective vision that includes many aspects such as the player’s experience, the world, the story, the gameplay mechanics. It leads me to create something that generally surprises me and hopefully the audience too.

Vampyr has something quite unique. Nowadays most of the live recordings for games and movies use a metronome, a click track. But with Vampyr most of the soundtrack was recorded without any click. It was to capture the essence of the musical expression that was needed. Eric-Maria really outperformed my expectations and brought some unique and insane moments to the music which fits the world of Vampyr perfectly.

What were your favourite pieces to work on in this soundtrack? How much freedom did you have while working on the themes and pieces? 
I love them all! It’s funny because I never quite understood such questions for years because I have never felt I was imposed to write in a specific way or to follow any references.

I think my relationship with each developer is very strong and not just because I spend a lot of time with them but because I feel I am part of the team, I want to support their game, our game, as much as I can and therefore I do everything I can to capture what the game is asking me to write. So I always follow what the game demands.

VAMPYR GAMEPLAY

Although I found the soundtrack very interesting as a whole, two pieces in particular stick out for me: The Cross and The Lady. Both of these pieces are lighter, having quite a different feel while still clearly belonging to the soundtrack. Did you think about making more such pieces, or did you prefer keeping them at a minimum to assert the consistency of the soundtrack? 
The soundtrack is only a third of the whole score for Vampyr. There is much more music in the game. However the soundtrack is like a storytelling experience, I tend to avoid too much of an atmospheric OST as I am working essentially on narrative games.

These particular tracks you mention are specific to two very important elements of the game. “The Cross” represents the force of God that transcends any human being or vampire. “The Lady” is more about a specific character in the game, a very important one. I am happy these tracks resonate with you in a different manner because they are supposed to impact the players as well.

Vampyr game

The tracks Twisted Tango, Life is Circus and Blood are listed as bonus pieces in the soundtrack, despite being some of the most compelling pieces. Does that mean that these didn’t make it into the game, or were they never meant as part of the game and instead purely as extras for the soundtrack? 
Oh no, they definitely are in the game! These bonus tracks are not included on the official OST, they are only available on my Bandcamp for the fans. As I mentioned earlier, I wanted the soundtrack to tell a story on its own and I felt quite happy with the 23 tracks. However, the game includes much more music and I thought to release the most epic cues as bonus tracks on my Bandcamp would be a nice addition to the journey.

Were there any ideas you had for tracks that didn’t make the soundtrack that you really enjoyed/would have enjoyed?
I don’t think so. Sometimes it is frustrating that you can’t score everything in a game but in a way, it is a good thing because you need to make sure every minute of music counts. I always want music to be meaningful to the game and to support the player’s experience and I believe what we have achieved on Vampyr is what the game needed. I hope players will enjoy it as much as we enjoyed making it!

Vampyr comes out on June 5 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One, and the soundtrack is available on Bandcamp.

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