Hey! How have you been?
Well, today I wanna talk a bit of the Far Cry Primal game’s soundtrack. For those who doesn’t know, it’s a game from the Far Cry series, but this time you play it on the stone age. Yep, it’s an totally different thematic from the other games of the series, and maybe this is what makes it so interesting.
And, more than the gameplay itself, what made me explore it a little bit was how it’s soundtrack was done, that is very different from most of the game songs we know.
The composer Jason Graves, who has already worked on games like Until Dawn and Tom Raider, made a very curious and beautiful soundtrack only made with primary materials (like stones, wood, plants, clay pots, bamboo, etc), not utilizing electric or electronic instruments.
And the results are really good, although far from being ultra unexpected or new. Of course, with all the limitations and given the popularity of the series itself (that influences on how much a soundtrack can be experimental and “out of the box”). You can listen to it (and make your own conclusions) on the playlist below.
Also, I would like to share here an interview that the Ubiblog (Ubisoft’s Blog) made with Jason about the soundtrack, and the whole process of pre-production, recording, etc. I think the most interesting part is to know that he used plants as hi-hats! 😀
After reading it and listening to the final results, I got really interested on composing and producing sounds with things that completely out of my comfort zone. Instruments, synths, day to day things, etc. More than that, made me remember that everything can have an interesting sound, and be used build an completely new audio asset. Because, after a while working with music and sound design, you start to get used on having the same set of tools, instruments and sounds that you fell comfortable. And that’s pretty dangerous for our creativity.
How did you get involved with Far Cry Primal?
Jason Graves: I was fortunate enough to be contacted by Simon Landry at Ubisoft, who had heard some of my more experimental scores and thought I may be a good fit for Primal. I’ve been a longtime fan of the Far Cry series and the thought of being able to compose music for a Stone Age Far Cry was quite intriguing.
We had a few detailed phone conversations and I sent him my take on the whole ‘non-metal, stone age band’ idea. Ubisoft responded very positively to the music and within a few weeks I found myself in Montreal, soaking in all the beautiful environments from Far Cry Primal.
How do you generally approach a game’s soundtrack? What’s the creative routine that you go through?
JG: Every game is unique. My first order of business is immersing myself in the game world as much as possible. I’m not even really thinking about music yet. I’m getting a feel for the surroundings, characters, story, moods and overall emotions the game is conveying.
The next step is determining the instruments included in the score. Mostly I try and focus on a specific set of sounds that really represent the game. Many times that means being extremely selective and honing in on a small group of instruments, but I’ve discovered more specific is always more identifiable and unique in the long run.
Did you have to do anything different for Primal?
JG: Primal was a completely different experience, but all in good ways! I was definitely intrigued by the time setting of the game – it was a matter of figuring out how much of the time period could influence the score. It’s probably safe to say this was the first game soundtrack that began with multiple trips to the hardware store. Plants, clay pots, bamboo, gravel, bricks, firewood and stones of all sizes were set up with microphones around the studio.
The idea was to have as many non-metal found sounds as possible and treat them as if they were instruments – a primitive drum set, if you will. But everything retained its unique natural sound properties, so I was literally playing nature – plants and shrubs were hi-hats, bamboo pipes were drums and huge slabs of stone acted as bass instruments. In fact, I almost killed my hi-hats after the first few weeks when I realized the plants really needed some light and water!
What was the biggest challenge? Presumably, creating a soundtrack suitable for a Stone Age setting is a notable one.
JG: It was a wonderful opportunity that I completely engrossed myself in. I proposed an entirely ‘non-metal’ score to Ubisoft in the beginning – it felt like a sensible tie in to the game’s location. I also loved the idea of recording an entirely live soundtrack without any synthesizers or sampled sounds coming from the computer. It just seemed to click with the aesthetics of the game.
So I ended up giving myself a twofold challenge – restricting the instrumentation to a very specific and non-musical set of sounds while also challenging myself to perform and record everything live in my studio. It was a wonderful learning process and I’d like to think the score is stronger and more unique due to the way it was assembled.
Can you describe some of the musical themes? Are they tied to characters? Environments?
JG: There’s a single, simple theme that’s tied to the land of Oros. Most of the thematic ideas are instruments that relate to the three different tribes. I wanted to use as many natural, breath sources as possible to distinguish the tribes – flutes, horns and solo vocalists.
The Wenja and Takkar have a reflective, solo flute and fairly straightforward percussion instruments – nothing metal, of course! It’s definitely the ‘comfort zone’ set of sounds. It’s the sound of your home and ancestry.
The Udam’s sound consists solely of naturally occurring found sounds – stone, wood, clay, bone, plants and dirt. There’s also a very guttural, solo male vocal that’s probably the most primal sound in Primal – very textural but hopefully immediately recognizable with the Udam. The music itself is also very slow and brooding, mirroring the look and feel of the Udam.
As a tribe, the Izila are very quick on their feet and use fear as a weapon. I used a very unique tribal instrument called an Aztec Death Whistle, which makes a sound just as horrible as the name suggests. It’s even shaped like a human skull! It literally sounds like someone screaming at the top of their lungs. I also was blessed to have the amazing vocal talents of Malukah onboard for the Izila, who added an unmistakable emotion and vibe to the score. Her tracks are some of my favorite in the game and she was absolutely wonderful to work with.
How would you describe the Far Cry Primal soundtrack with one word?
JG: I suppose if ‘primal’ was the one word that would be cheating a bit! “Immersive” would be the word I hope best describes the music. I was aiming for a soundtrack that pulls listeners in and makes the world of Far Cry Primal come to life.
Do you think you could survive in the Stone Age?
JG: Not a chance! I would run at the first sight of a predator and be inevitably picked off by a Sabretooth within minutes. Of course, if I could make friends with Takkar I think I may stand a better chance of living to see another day…
Thanks for your time, Jason
Well, that’s all for today! Hope this inspired you on making songs using things out of your comfort zone. It can be surprisingly cool!
Mauricio Ruiz – www.mauricioruiz.me