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Interview: Identity Through Music - On the Soundtrack to  Heavy Rain

Interview: Identity Through Music - On the Soundtrack to Heavy Rain Exclusive

March 18, 2010 | By Jeriaska

March 18, 2010 | By Jeriaska
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More: Console/PC, Exclusive

[We catch up with Heavy Rain composer Normand Corbeil to discuss the creation of the soundtrack to the acclaimed Quantic Dream-developed PlayStation 3 exclusive.]

Composer Normand Corbeil previously joined game director David Cage and film composer Angelo Badalamenti on the production of Quantic Dream's paranormal thriller Indigo Prophecy, titled Fahrenheit in Europe.

The soundtrack to Cage's follow-up title, the interactive drama Heavy Rain, was recorded at Abbey Road Studios and has recently been made available on iTunes. In addition, a code to download the soundtrack album comes with the Collector's Edition of the game.

In this interview, Corbeil discusses his approach to adding nuance to the personalities of the story's central characters through the use of the musical score.

The storyline of Heavy Rain involves several central protagonists who each have their own distinct musical themes. How did you decide which facets of their character or backstory would best be complemented by aspects of the game score?

Normand Corbeil, Heavy Rain composer: David [Cage] briefed me very precisely. Each character has a different way of seeing life, and that was more important than what they do in the game.

For Ethan, we focused on the piano. The theme is something very human, fragile but strong at the same time. For Madison there is a chamber orchestra with a smaller setup, both strong and emotional. Jayden is an investigator and researcher in a sad and crazy world, so his theme is dark. There it’s the opposite, a symphony orchestra. Shelby’s theme is drawing on French film noire from the 60’s: cop stories, a bit jazzy, brass and flutes.

I don’t want to say too much about it because I think we love to discover the themes by ourselvesâ€"people don’t want too many hints. Also, you never know if what you say will spoil the plot.

David Cage is himself a musician. Did this help make communicating easier in the process of writing the score?

I think the most important part of his being a musician is that he understands the aspects of a musician’s work. He never involves himself directly in the notes, in the way I do the orchestration. He briefs me about the characters and prefers that to talking directly about the music.

Did this allow you greater freedom to make your own artistic choices?

I think that’s it exactly. David really knows when it’s time for him to stop talking. That adds to the great pleasure of working with him.

How would you describe the process behind your previous collaboration for Quantic Dream?

That I did with Angelo [Badalamenti], who I was working with on several projects at the time. The three of us met in New York for an afternoon, and then I worked on it for a month and a half. I think they appreciated what I did, because they called me back for Heavy Rain.

Of course many people know Badalamenti’s music from David Lynch films. Are there particular movie scores of his that have stood out in your memory?

It’s difficult to say. Muholland Drive is a very, very interesting score, and "really Angelo." I think he is among the greatest composers alive and it was a privilege to work with him and observe his process.

When you are working on game projects like Heavy Rain, do you think of it as “making game music?”

No, especially not at the beginning. I think that David came to Angelo and I because he does not want people thinking too narrowly about games, or musicians thinking too much about cues. He is concerned most with the emotion and the journey. Of course in the end because it is a game we are recording all the variations to the themes, but at the beginning at least it is the same as working in film.

Around how many cues ended up being recorded?

We recorded the cues, varying the mood and duration on the fly with the orchestra, for instance saying to the clarinet player to play the part of the harp. We did all these variations because we could not afford to come back later with the orchestra. At the end I delivered around 250 cues.

Even after that, when I returned to Montreal, I recorded a solo piece on piano. Each time you hear a solo piano in the game, it’s me playing. Now, the number might be closer to 300 cues. That gave Quantic Dream a lot of music to play with, and they said to me they used them all in the game.

How were these many cues labeled?

They changed all the titles for the soundtrack release. For me it was like “Ethan, Piano 1,” “Ethan, Piano 2”… We had only a short time, a couple months starting the fifth of June 2009 and ending at Abbey Road, for everything.

Have you had a number of experiences recording at Abbey Road Studios before?

I’ve done many things there. I’m used to working with the musicians, the sound engineer Jonathan Allen, and the assistants. I love when I’m at Abbey Road because I know that I don’t have to concern myself with anything other than music. Everything else is taken care of. They’re taking notes on all of your suggestions and if you need to hear the 62nd take, they can play it back to you in two seconds. It’s like Jonathan is co-producing with me, the way he knows the music.

This title has been years in the making, and yet the score had a tight production schedule. Did you ever feel pressured for time on Heavy Rain?

Of course. The reason why they waited until the end was because they were not sure exactly how they wanted the music. More music was required than for a movie, because there are so many beginnings, so many middles and ends. You have to take care that each piece of the puzzle fits together.

It was a bit crazy, especially because it was for a symphony orchestra and I am doing the composing and orchestration alone, but I’m used to working that way on films and miniseries and it was amazing to do. I did ask that if I am involved in a next game that I be given a bit more time.

There are any number of activities open to the player that are very uncommon to what we are used to seeing in games. Guiding Ethan through a day of playing with his son at the park is one example. In your observation do you feel this format of an interactive drama allows for the player to be engaged in the story and the identities of the characters on an experiential level?

I don't want to speak for David, but yes. People want more than to watch TV passively. They want to be involved, and games if designed correctly can offer tools to be involved. Some people are resistant to Heavy Rain because they are used to having a jump button and a run button, but for a lot of people I think it was interesting. Being involved in all these choices, maybe some people will feel closer to the characters.

Are you currently looking into to the possibility of writing for interactive dramas in the future?

Of course. It would be a shame not to use the technology to go further as an art form. Compared with other games, this is closer to the suspense thrillers I'm used to doing, more about human beings. For me the interactivity is inspiringâ€"to know that somebody can decide to go one way or another. I think it holds a lot of possibilities for storytelling and for a composer. Heavy Rain is just the start.

[This article is available in French on Squaremusic. To learn more about Normand Corbeil, visit the composer's official website. Images courtesy of Quantic Dream. Heavy Rain (Original Soundtrack from the Video Game) can be downloaded on iTunes.]

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