John Broomhall talks with the Far Cry Primal composer about making ancient history sound contemporary
Far Cry Primal is the latest top tier video game score in Jason Graves’ impressive canon, which sports blockbusters like Dead Space, Tomb Raider and The Order: 1886. With games in the sights of all media composers, devs can select from a stellar array of talent. So how important are music mixing and production skills to the composer, wanting to keep one step ahead?
“They’re equally as important as composition,” says Graves. “There’s no John Williams-style demo-ing it at a piano and saying you’ll really hear it at the recording – even demos have to sound ‘finished’.
“I came through the ranks doing orchestral mock-ups, creating bespoke sample libraries and mixing everything. Now I’m rubbing elbows with LA folks who have assistant composers, alternate ‘team’ composers or ghost writers... When people hire me, they actually get me. I’m in this business because I love creating music – I’d rather do less work better on my own than the opposite. As a one-man show, mixing and production skills are more important than ever.”
With lead times of months or even years, the only way to be current is to be original.
For his prestigious Primal project, Graves faced a six-month involvement, with the music production pipe needing to ‘go large’ for the last three. A production strategy to minimise and mitigate risk was vital. The first 90 days were spent planning and conceptualising, and testing three new DAW templates – one for each tribe with different instruments and mix set-ups. Doing so, he harnessed some neat production tricks.
“I enjoy figuring out ways to apply fairly abstract mixing ideas to what I’m doing ,” says Graves. “For example, a dance music-style side-chain set-up – except instead of a kick drum, I had a giant piece of firewood hitting a wooden box, and the offbeat was my shrubberies. This pumped the sound providing those extra accents via attack and sustain from the compressors.”
A MAMMOTH TASK
Three short music ‘suites’ were demoed for sign-off on overall sonic and compositional direction. These became the final templates for mixing, sounds and production.
“The idea was that by the time I hit the final period with eight to nine hours of music to finish, I wasn’t thinking about mix engineering or recording parameters – it was all good to go,” Graves explains. “I had to mix a little bit for every cue but the bulk of the mixing work had already been done.”
The game itself proved to be Graves’ biggest source of inspiration, he adds.
“No-one wants their game sounding dated but, with lead times of months or even years, the only way to be current is to be original,” he explains. “Fortunately, I seldom get asked to make it sound like ‘this or that’. There are no comparisons to film or previous game scores nowadays.
“That’s where games really shine – titles like Primal are taking chances and pushing the envelope to get something musically unique.”