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Montreal composer crafts video game soundtracks with help from musical forefathers

Montreal composer crafts video game soundtracks
WATCH ABOVE: A local composer in Montreal is making a big name for himself thanks to his work in the latest Tomb Raider game. Global’s Dan Spector reports.

If you or your kids ever play video games, you may have noticed they often have musical soundtracks like what you’d hear in a movie. While they may be background for gameplay, video game soundtracks are nothing short of serious work.

Brian D’Oliveira, the Montreal composer who made the music in the latest Tomb Raider video game, started his journey to score the game in the Amazon jungle, and ended it by following in the footsteps of musical royalty. The soundtrack took him four years to make, and it soon to be released on vinyl.

“I’m living the dream,” D’Oliveira, the founder of Hacienda Creative told Global News from his St-Henri studio.

Every bar of sound that goes into his soundtracks comes from the vast, wood-paneled studio in the former RCA Victor building on Lacasse. It’s the same space once used by Oscar Peterson and countless other artists to record music a generation ago, and has been home base for D’Oliveira’s La Hacienda Creative since 2015.

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“It’s a magical space. Everything we record here sounds good and beautiful.”

In the studio, D’Oliveira has thousands of instruments from all over the world.

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“These are some of the death whistles I got in Mexico,” he said, as he showed off a collection of skull-shaped whistles. “They were used by Aztecs for war and ceremonies.”

The death whistles were a key part of the soundtrack he created for Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the latest installment in the popular adventure game franchise. The game takes place in Mexico and Peru, so D’Oliveira journeyed to meet Indigenous musicians in Mexico.

“I spent weeks and weeks with the musicians, learned specific rhythms, the state of mind, the approach,” he explained.

He had a set of finely-crafted, custom-made percussion instruments created by artisans deep in rural Mexico where the Aztecs once roamed.

“It’s great for a fight scene, or if there’s tension, or if she’s jumping through temples,” he explained.

Movie Trailer: Tomb Raider
Movie Trailer: Tomb Raider

A set of volcanic rocks he got in Mexico was also used prominently as an instrument in the game. The rocks cost him a pretty penny in overweight baggage fees.

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“I found this old man that sold them at the edge of a town in the middle of nowhere,” D’Oliveira recounted.

For darker, scarier scenes, he might rub the top of a massive drum, or extract sounds from a custom contraption he built himself, or use the hurdy-gurdy, a hand-cranked string instrument invented in Europe centuries ago.

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D’Oliveira claims he can play every single one of the thousands of instruments in his studio, all self-taught.

“I spend about 60 hours a week playing instruments all day long. It’s a way of being, it’s my happy spot,” he said. “Once you get good at a few instruments, all the other instruments become just a variation.”

“It’s like a language.”

In addition to games, he’s writing scores for Netflix shows, films, and more.  He’s looking to branch out into virtual instruments as well.

His Shadow of the Tomb Raider will be released on vinyl in February 2020.