Composer Jason Graves explains how he scored the hit PS4 horror
With Until Dawn‘s soundtrack now available to purchase from iTunes, the team at PlayStation has asked me to offer a little background into how I got involved with Supermassive Games‘ acclaimed interactive horror. Of course, I was more than happy to oblige.
To start at the beginning, I was originally approached by Supermassive Games’ Audio Director, Barney Pratt. We set up a brief intro phone call that ended up lasting a few hours. It was just one of those conversations where we really clicked, both personally and aesthetically. There was a lot of finishing each other’s sentences and one person sparking an idea off the other.
Until Dawn is a very character-driven title and from the beginning the team at Supermassive wanted the music to really be another character in the game. I was excited about the idea of a thematic-based score for a horror title and not just plastering every minute of the game with spooky textures.
The first thing I did was send over a synth mockup of my main theme. The idea was the main theme was everything we needed for the game – a main menu piece, so to speak, that encompassed all the feelings and emotions we were looking for.
Supermassive responded very positively to it and we recorded the exact same demo I sent with a live orchestra, note-for-note as it first sounded in the original demo.
It always comes down to emotion and tone when you’re talking about music and its effect on listeners. For Until Dawn, I was going for a cold, atmospheric tone that evoked the cold, isolated mountain setting and also had a mystery vibe to it. I decided on a classical orchestra augmented with analogue synthesizers and creative recordings in my studio.
The orchestra provided the emotional tension and connection to the listeners through spooky textures and thematic content. The decision to use some of my outboard analogue synthesizers was a bit of a wink to the classic slasher films of the ’70s and ’80s – there’s a lot of great synth sounds in those and I loved the idea of paying homage while still moving forward and trying something fresh.
Everything in my score is coated with a nice, creepy feeling – many different found sounds and extended playing techniques from things around my studio, including solo strings played with pencils, a piano soundboard scraped with razor blades and guitar picks, and bowed cymbals run through my external guitar pedals. The general idea was to have as much custom “musical sound design” as possible and keep things fresh sounding for both the listener and myself.
There are definitely some things I did for Until Dawn that I haven’t had the chance to do before, namely the combination of horror elements and thematic elements. It’s actually a very thematic score and there are only four different themes, so chances are the players will pick up on all of them within the first hour of playing.
Those themes are essential to connecting the players with the characters they are controlling. The music really cements the bonds players establish with their on screen characters and helps them feel more like real people and not just a bunch of pixels on the screen.
If anyone actually feels bad for some of the characters they end up killing I know I’ve done my job!