Interview: Composer Jason Graves Discusses Scoring The Dark Pictures
We had a chance to chat with composer Jason Graves about his recent work in The Dark Pictures, as well as a bit about his process.
One of the more prominent names making gaming soundtracks these days is the BAFTA-winning composer Jason Graves, who has had a hand in several titles you might have played. Two of the more recent are The Dark Pictures: The Devil In Me, and the epic score for the remake of Dead Space. Bringing a darker and more serious tone to each one as you fight to survive in truly horrifying titles. We recently had a chance to chat with Graves about his work, as the soundtracks for both of these games are now available.
BC: Hey Jason, first off, how's the new year been treating you so far?
JG: So far, so good, thanks!
Prior to The Devil In Me, what had you been working on the past couple of years?
Well, this game wraps up the first season of The Dark Pictures Anthology. We've released four games so far, so the last few years were games three and four. I've also had the immense pleasure to write a score for Moss: Book II, which is a fairytale-esque fantasy game – about as far away from horror as you could get! There was a 10+ in-store soundtrack that Limited Run commissioned me for in 2021. That was essentially all nostalgia/feel-good 80's and 90's instrumental pop and an absolute blast to write and produce.
When did you first hear about The Dark Pictures Anthology, and what intrigued you most about the game?
I was introduced to the whole Anthology idea back in 2018 before starting work on the first release, Man of Medan. It's been full steam ahead since then, and now the fourth title is finally out. I thought the Anthology idea was brilliant and was very much on board with the "one title every year" release schedule. It's a refreshing change from the usual three to four-year development cycle of most larger games.
How did the opportunity come about to work on the score for the game?
I worked with Supermassive Games earlier on Until Dawn and had a really great time with Braney Pratt, the Audio Director. I think it was a logical next step to take with The Dark Pictures, and I jumped at the chance to work with Barney again.
When you first started coming up with a concept for the music, what were your initial thoughts to make it stand out?
Two specific things – the very slow, methodical way the killer stalks his prey and the extensive use of mannequins, both stationary and animatronic, throughout the game. It's mostly a "get out of this trap before it kills you" kind of game, so there isn't a lot of adrenaline-pumping "run away!" kinds of moments. The gameplay is mostly about strategy and puzzles. I thought it would be interesting to underscore those basic gameplay mechanics with slow-paced ticky/machine kinds of sounds, as a nod to the time-based nature of most of the game as well as the slow pace of the killer and the super duper creepy animated mannequins.
What was the process like in putting this together on your own before hitting the studio? Who were some of the people you worked with in putting this together, and how was your time with them recording it?
This score was mostly written during lockdown, so essentially I was the only musician that played on it. Of course, it has live strings, piano, harp, vibraphone, and percussion…it's just I was the one playing them all! I had moved into my new studio at the very beginning of working on this score and took full advantage of my new setup. As much as possible was recorded live, especially all the creepy string effect that permeate the score.
Is there one particular track you take the most pride in after completing the score?
"Dumet" is the first track on the album and also the very first track I wrote for the game. I like starting some sort of main theme idea as a foundation to build the rest of the score on top off. This track is the theme for our main antagonist, Dumet, and is really underscoring that slow, methodical walking pace we talked about earlier. And, of course, the creepy animatronics! There's even a needle-drop sound with some vinyl record noise at the very beginning of the track. That's a subtle nod to the diegetic classical music Dumet plays off an old gramophone throughout the game. He's very dramatic and sees himself as an artist. I liked the idea of giving him a theme that was originally taken off an old vinyl record!
Have you seen any of The Devil In Me being played and heard what your music had brought to it?
Absolutely. I always make sure to play through the final game at least once to get a really accurate reading of how the music is implemented and how it affects the overall vibe of the game. Fortunately, one of my daughters is an avid gamer and loves horror games, so we've already played through the entire thing twice. I think it's important to keep up with that – every published title is another case study for music and how important it is to the overall gameplay experience. I'd like to think I learn something new with every project I work on and can bring that to the next title as an added bonus.
What's next for you looking ahead at 2023 and projects in the pipeline?
As usual, there are several things I'm working on at the moment that I am not at liberty to talk about yet. And a few other things coming out this year that I can't mention until they are released. But I can say that The Dark Pictures is releasing Switchback, a VR title, next month, and I had a wonderful time writing new music for it. There are also new seasons of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 releasing throughout 2023 that are keeping me busy with new music for each release.