Sound Byte: Meet the Composer of Heavy Rain
We talk to composer Normand Corbeil about his background, his work, and how he got into the video game industry.
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Heavy Rain was one of my most memorable games of 2010. While there are some who dismissed it as one large interactive cutscene, Heavy Rain was much more than that. Through its interactive storytelling, technical achievements, and intense atmosphere, it created an experience that stays with you long after you've completed the game. Part of it is attributed to Normand Corbeil's stirring musical score that accompanies you when step into the shoes of Ethan Mars. Find out more about the composer and let us know in the comments what you thought of Heavy Rain's soundtrack.
GameSpot: Could you please tell us about yourself and your musical background?
Normand Corbeil: I started playing the piano at 4 years old in the living room while watching TV without sound and trying to play music that would fit with what was onscreen. Then came 13 years of piano lessons, eight years of classical saxophone training, and multiple years of private composition/orchestration lessons. So here I am.
GS: What was the first instrument you picked up?
NC: Piano was the first.
GS: Is there an instrument you wish you knew how to play?
NC: Probably violin.
GS: What is your fondest memory when it comes to music?
NC: Interesting question. As a child, I was always playing piano and loved listening Mozart and Beethoven, to the point where I would try to mimic their incredible sounds. It was those experiences that helped me discover that I could not live without music.
GS: How did you get into making music for video games?
NC: I worked with Angelo Badalamenti on several projects, and he got a call from David Cage asking him if he would be interested in writing music for a video game. Then, Angelo asked me if I wanted to work with him on this particular project, so here I am.
GS: Heavy Rain is an emotionally driven game. What were some of the challenges coming up with a compelling score for a game like that?
NC: I was asked to be part of the project because of my experience as a film music composer, so for me, it was not something really new to write since they were looking for a film score in many ways. The challenge, though, was having to write music for a scene that sometimes had more than 10 different endings (happy, sad, scary, etc.). I was really excited about this aspect.
GS: What is your process when composing a particular track?
NC: It's always different, so you never really know. I try to trust my instinct and not to think too much about the process. If you think too much about process, you would probably lose the magic, and this is the difference between people and computers. The only thing I know is the work; never give up and be there when it's happening.
GS: How did you approach the individual character themes?
NC: David Cage and I talked about the emotional side of each character. Then, I tried to make each of them unique so anywhere in the game, you would be able to know and understand where you are and who you are.
GS: How was working on Heavy Rain different from other genres or mediums that you've composed for?
NC: Working on Heavy Rain was a huge challenge because at the beginning, I had to work without any animation at first. So I started with the script but had to move very quickly because after two months, I had 85 musicians in front of me. Usually, I get an early cut of the movie, which is helpful, so I'm sure not to waste time on a theme that doesn't fit really within the picture. So, I had to trust my instinct and spend a lot of time on the phone talking to David about his vision!
GS: What was your favorite track from Heavy Rain?
NC: I love all the main themes. After spending so much time on them, there is always a little piece that I like about each character. If I had to choose…maybe the Ethan theme.
GS: What other artists in the game music industry do you admire and why?
NC: David Cage, for his tenacity and his innovation.
GS: What kind of music do you listen to now?
NC: Always Bach, Mozart for his melodies, the new Radiohead album, Stravinsky, Ligeti, Arcade Fire, Bob Dylan, the last Johnny Cash album, Miles Davis, and many others.
GS: What are your biggest influences?
NC: Tough question…since my influences change every day. Some days, I can be so moved by Orlando Gibbons and how he played with such harmony, while other days, I'm impressed by Ligeti's melodies. When I'm listening to Johnny Cash, I can't believe how simple the words to his songs are. Same goes for the Beatles, Radiohead, and many others; the list is endless. This is why music is so amazing and mysterious. You never stop learning and experiencing new sounds.
GS: Can you talk about some of the projects you're working on now?
NC: Unfortunately, I cannot. But I am working hard!
GS: What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?
NC: Work, Work, Work. Work every day!
GS: Thank you for your time!
Sound Byte is GameSpot's video game audio blog. This will be the last post from me. Hope you all have enjoyed it as much as I have creating it. Look for future Sound Byte articles from Jonathan Toyad. Thank you all for the support!