Joker and Chernobyl soundtrack producer Sam Slater on writing music for Battlefield 2042

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The Battlefield 2042 soundtrack is composed by Hildur Guðnadóttir, the award-winning songwriter behind Chernobyl and Joker, for whom she won the Oscar for Best Original Music in 2020. The producer of both soundtracks was Sam Slater, a longtime collaborator date from Guðnadóttir, who co-composed the score for Battlefield 2042 with her. I sat down with Slater to talk about their work on the game, making music with metal buckets, and what to expect from the audio landscape of this vision of a future ravaged by war and war. climate change.

“This is my first time as a co-composer with Hildur,” says Slater. “We’re both songwriters, but a lot of my skills lie in production, while his is traditional cinematic writing. In other scores we’ve worked on, it was very clearly the voice of Hildur, with my support as a producer. In this game, it’s our voices that come together. ”

Chernobyl and Joker both have sleek, upbeat, and understated music, which makes Guðnadóttir and Slater an odd choice to score a play on hundreds of soldiers sprinting to shoot each other as skyscrapers crumble. “We knew there would be different expectations when it came to the energy level and how the music worked,” says Slater. “But the world of Battlefield 2042 actually has a lot in common with something like Chernobyl. There is real tension involved, and a kind of looming darkness in the world. It’s not a historical game that needs something romantic and nostalgic. It’s not futuristic. sci-fi that needs clean, punchy synths. It’s a vision of a near future where everything is screwed up. In all the chaos that unfolds. going on, there’s a lot of weight and tension, and it seemed like a good fit for our voice. ”

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The music in Battlefield 2042 will still be exciting and dramatic, but in a less obvious way than the other games in the series, which generally opt for fairly typical Hollywood-style music. “He’s yet to reach that energy of Battlefield,” says Slater. “We do it a little differently. What attracted us was the world. We’re not necessarily the right kind of people to make pure action music, but DICE was looking for something different. He always wanted the music to capture the excitement of how the game is played, but also reflect the larger context in which it takes place. It’s a wild world, but also familiar, and we loved it. ”

Battlefield 2042 Danger Zone 2

via DICE

I ask Slater what it’s like to work on music for an intensely interactive medium, rather than just something passively watched on a screen. “An audio engine is an incredibly beautiful and complex thing and there is so much to explore in terms of composition. Hildur and I ended up relying on very simple things. The score is not a generative landscape that is constantly reinventing itself. We focused more on how that music can work in tandem with sound design in a coherent way. At times, you might not even necessarily notice the music is there, but it adds to the texture and density of the world around you.

To create the music for the game, Slater and Guðnadóttir have developed quite quirky techniques. “All music is built from the materials in your surroundings. So if you’re in a level that’s made of sand and glass, we make everything with sand and glass – and I mean all. We created crazy systems like gravel buckets with huge woofers placed underneath. It was really exploratory. As a musician, you learn to create a feeling of immersion in music. It is often about space, breadth and depth. But the moment you put that into a game, with some material sounds that could be part of the level itself, suddenly you have a problem.

“If you have very large, percussive metallic music placed to the left and right of the player’s ears, and they don’t fully understand that it is music they hear, they react to it. A player may turn to their right because they think someone is there, when it’s actually just the soundtrack. So we really had to think about it. After creating the music world, we had to go into the game and make some adjustments to make sure the player would be immersed, but not distracted or drawn out of the world by sounds that really sound like a part of the environment that you are. are in it. ”

Battlefield 2042 Tanks - via DICE

I wonder if this experimental and exploratory approach is typical of the duo when it comes to composing soundtracks. “When Hildur and I made the Chernobyl soundtrack, we went to a nuclear power plant in Lithuania and recorded it with an amazing field recorder called Chris Watson,” says Slater. “We recorded the station, then we made the whole soundtrack from Hildur’s voice and the processed sounds of the reactor itself. So we have a history of these kinds of ideas. But these are also ideas which, in the world of experimentation with music, have existed since at least the 1920s. This idea of ​​a real environmental sound as music.

“What we learned at Chernobyl translated into Battlefield. There are eight individual landscapes, which allows us to go even further. It wasn’t just one space. There is a called level. Kaleidoscope which is based on a South Korean city 20 years in the future. It’s a lot about the interaction between man and glass. It’s one of the less natural levels, with these huge skyscrapers. glass. We worked with an encoder in Berlin to create a machine learning algorithm which we fed with many recordings of The algorithm processed the sound qualities of matter, then we put in Hildur’s voice and it has reappropriated itself like glass.

“There is also a level called Manifesto, which is very tidy and made up of shipping containers, so we wanted a cyclic model that reflected that. We had buckets filled with pieces of metal of different sizes and oscillating models that made them. would hit and create different kinds of vibrations.We never had a clue what would come out of these different processes, but we were always pleasantly surprised by the results.

Guðnadóttir is an interesting choice for a loud, brash blockbuster like Battlefield, but his presence will undoubtedly give the game a very distinctive sonic personality. Slater also appreciates that EA and DICE allow the pair to be so experimental and spend a lot of time finding unusual ways to create unique sounds. “DICE didn’t want the music in this game to be familiar,” he says. “He wanted to push people around a bit, and he stuck with that throughout. I have a lot of respect for them for doing that and for giving us the space to prove our ideas would work.”

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