for (Special assignment In Toronto)

It used to be that film scores were only for, well – films, but these days, the video game industry employs composers to give their games dynamics and atmosphere.

At Canadian Music Week in Toronto, a panel of four industry insiders had a discussion about this niche for soundtrack music. Participants included Musical Supervisors Janesta Boudreau (Rocking Horse Road Productions), and Benedicte Ouimet (Ubisoft), and composers Brian D’Olivera and Jesper Kyd. The latter is not only a composer but also an avid gamer. As he explained, though watching a movie can be passive, a game player can take control of the experience. This helps keep them involved. This is a bit like Kyd’s creative process. He has always composed in a way that encourages immersion. He tries to evoke an atmosphere that makes the gamer want to play longer, or buy the soundtrack and be reminded of when they played the game.

As a gamer himself, he has an ‘inside’ to know how to move a story along with music. What does the gamer feel and hear? How does a composer then use this to immerse them? Kyd did his first game score at age 17, after four years of gaming on a Commodore 64, and experimenting with sound composition. At this young age he also entered the underground European visual arts scene. He is now known for Assassin’s Creed Warhammer, and the State of Decay game franchise, where he creates apocalyptic sonorities. He said that although the game is about the post-apocalypse, he didn’t want to just create an oppressive doom and gloom ambiance. Instead, he aimed to infuse some hope as the gamer rebuilds their community.

Along with Kyd, Brian D’Olivera was the other composer on the panel. He likes to travel to research local instruments and culture, and bring that back to his creative lab. He uses this to give relevance to the various worlds of the gaming kaleidoscope. This is his playground, where he feels most at home, always taking on challenges to further push the reach of his scores. He has not only worked on games such as Resident Evil 7, Little Big World 3, and Far Cry: Revival, but has also created soundscapes for documentary film. He has also done spacial audio for the SATosphere 360-degree experiences and responsive audio workshops.

From a less hands-on perspective, Janesta Boudreau went from the business aspect to the creative side of the industry. She has made things run smoothly for games like Jurassic World Evolution, and Planet Coaster. Though she is not a musician, she works in conjunction with them to find the right fit for the games. In a similar manner, Benedicte Ouimet created her own position at Ubisoft. Though she was previously a jazz vocalist, she now uses her musical knowledge to match music to game. Sometimes this requires taking a chance on mixing a violent adventure game with music by Leonard Cohen. An unlikely mix, but somehow she makes it work. For Assassin’s Creed Origins: Leonard Cohen, she was able to prove that this odd pair can match indeed. She says, “you can make fun things happen”.

Though she began this career doing monster cries, she now chooses composers with the right color and the ability to adapt their composition techniques for games. Rainbow Six Siege: Invitational Live Theme is a majestic orchestral work, and proves that gaming is no longer just sound effects like Mario bumping his head on a power-up block.