FYIG Chats With Samuel Laflamme

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FYIG recently got the chance to talk to composer Samuel Laflamme about creating the music for Outlast and the upcoming Outlast 2! Read on to find out more about Samuel and what it was like creating the score for such intense games.

How did you get your start as a composer?

Since my childhood, I’ve always been a fan of movie soundtracks. As a teenager, I was looking for the rarest soundtracks on the market, when I went to NYC or big cities like that, my fun was to find exclusive and rare soundtrack albums. I started to compose by the age of 15, inspired by John Williams, Danny Elfman, James Horner, Hans Zimmer and Bernard Hermann. I had a great time trying to figure out how they found their melodies and harmonies. Through this process, I could understand the importance of having a signature, as a composer. I studied at Université de Montréal, in electro-acoustic composition. There, I discovered all genres of electronic music and I became really interested in exploring this avenue. As I was at the University, I started a studio with one of my friends. From there, I met some key people in the local TV industry. That was where I found my first job opportunities.

What drew you to Outlast to make you want to create the score for the game?

My friend, Samuel Girardin from Game On, introduced me to Philippe Morin, Red Barrels’s co-owner. Even though I wasn’t a hardcore gamer, or a huge horror fan, Phil and I shared the same vision for timeless scores and a sense of how the music can be used as storytelling. Outlast was my first video game project, but it had such a unique storytelling vision, that it convinced me to jump into the project. Plus, Outlast was my first real opportunity to work with an orchestra.

What are the differences in creating a horror piece as opposed to other pieces?

The way I work, I always try to create something new and unique. In horror, I think it is easier to be supported by the production to push boundaries and get out of the comfort zone because it’s part of the goal (to get uncomfortable feelings and emotions, be scared by the music etc). But I try to find new ideas in every project I do. I think it’s the only way to stay creative and unique as a composer, and as a creator. So, the main difference for me is the kind of emotions that I try to express musically. There are a lot of techniques used to create uncomfortable music, like using higher frequencies or extra low-end. Every sound outside of the human voice range makes us very uncomfortable. A Very high range is understood by our subconscious to represent insects, and small threats (e.g. insects and bacteria). Very low-end frequencies tell you that there is something bigger than you, (like a huge predator) so you better RUN!!! 

How does the score for Outlast 2 differ from the first game? Is there a difference in the mood you’re trying to create in Outlast 2?

The story of the second one is very different than the first one. For the first Outlast, I felt I needed the use of an orchestra; it was my homage to Bernard Hermann. Also, I used some contemporary techniques of compositions for orchestra. For the second one, I needed to reinvent myself and having pushed the limits of what I was able to do with the orchestra in the first one, I wanted to try something else. The second game is based in Arizona, in a ghost town, and incorporates some religious themes. So, it became obvious to me that the palette of sounds and samples I wanted to play with would be used by familiar instruments like guitars, basses, banjos, small percussions, and everything that can relate to a dirty, rural feel. My explorations led me to filter, tweak and manipulate those instruments to get some weird sounds that make you uncomfortable. The core of the score was built around this idea of distorting familiar instruments. (Without using the orchestra the same way I did in the first one).

Samuel Laflamme

Did you face any challenges in trying to nail the direction you were going for with either game?

At one point, I felt I did every transformation I could on those instruments… My assistants and I worked hard to find a new approach throughout the creative process that would push the ideas further. We ultimately decided to create a new “instrument”, made of a piece of wood, metal string, and using a contact microphone, our new “Redneck Bass” was created. It’s a very simple instrument that makes screaming sounds and enters a larger range of frequencies than guitars and basses.

Do you play video games? If so, do you have any favorites as far as horror games are concerned?

Unfortunately, I played more video games in my childhood than I do now. I remember having played to Phantasmagoria, really liking the experience, and playing the game during all night with friends. I really liked Max Payne too, in the early 2000s…Again, all of this is about a good story telling experience. Now I mostly play little games in parties with friends… At my studio, we play at Nintendo 64 Mario Tennis sometimes, just for fun.

Have you played either game? How did you react if you did?

While creating the music of Outlast 2 (as with Outlast 1), I would try to go to the Red Barrels Games studio on a monthly basis to check out the game. We would talk about what’s the next music cue, next levels, characters, important plot elements to consider for my creation… Then, at the end of the development, Red Barrels sent me a pre-final build of the game, that I could play at my studio and see if everything works well, in terms of the arrangements with SFX, mix etc. So we played the game with my assistants and at one point they were screaming so loud I wasn’t able to listen to the music and do my work. It was very funny!

If there is an Outlast 3, can we expect you back for that game?

I don’t have any idea right now. I did my very best to deliver what’s probably the best score of my life. I hope everyone likes it!

What are the perks of working with smaller studios such as Red Barrels?

They allowed me direct access to my own creativity, as well a close collaboration with creative directors, co-founders, level developers, and, especially, audio directors. I always feel comfortable pitching crazy ideas, never had to feel afraid to try new things. They give me more liberty for exploration. I don’t feel any sense of hierarchy because we’re all working in our own expertise to deliver the best possible experience. It’s a small dedicated team, and I feel like a part of it.

Do you have any other video games that you would really like the chance to work on?

I’m looking for great storytelling projects, I would love to work on other cinematographic, story-focused video games like the Uncharted series or The Last of Us. Also, I continue to score music for TV and movies, and at the end, I will always choose greater collaboration with creative people (what so ever film, TV or video game) as opposed to larger scale projects that might diminish my creative control because of the size and scope of the project.

What other projects do you have coming up in the future?

The biggest problem in video game industry for me is that I can’t talk about my next project, because of a series of non-disclosure Agreements… But I’m finishing a Montreal TV show called “Le Chalet” with outstanding collaborators. Also some other TV shows for this summer.

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