The Indian influences you need to know about in ‘Resident Evil Village’

BAFTA-nominated composer Brian D’Oliveira on blending the mystical worlds of lore and gore while scoring for Netflix animated film ‘The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf’ and award-winning video game ‘Resident Evil: Village’

“We are just at the tip of the iceberg in exploring the possibilities that interactivity brings to music-making,” says Montreal-based composer Brian D’Oliveira as he explains why video games make for one of his favourite mediums for which to score.

However, he points out that scoring for video game music is not necessarily “better” than scoring for a film or series, adding, “it’s just different and requires a distinct mindset and understanding of how interactivity works within the video game engine.”

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D’Oliveira – who was nominated for a BAFTA Games Award in 2014 for platform adventure game Tearaway – has worked on two recent big-ticket titles: Capcom’s Resident Evil Village, one of 2021’s most enjoyed games, and Netflix’s The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf, an animated prequel film to the Henry Cavill live-action series.

Resident Evil Village followed the franchise’s Ethan Winters trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter Rose, and he heads to a mysterious village overrun by various creatures including a giant vampire. Meanwhile, The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf follows the story of legendary monster-hunter Vesemir, who later becomes Geralt of Rivia’s mentor.

Though they exist in different worlds, both projects have an Eastern European vein running through them and the multi-instrumentalist was excited to create some very striking yet unusual melodies for the score.

Speaking to The Hindu over email, the composer speaks on adding his musical infusions to these worlds and sharing the breadth of collaborations across these two projects, while recalling learning Indian Classical music from some industry greats in India.


Where did the challenge lie in merging the continental sound world of ‘The Witcher’ and traditional Anime scores, while staying true to the story?

With every new project, I always start with extensive [research and development] before I get into the production process, and with The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf I was able to spend the first six months iterating back and forth with writer Beau DeMayo to ascertain both the musical sound world and the main character themes as one cohesive musical voice that would feel both familiar yet uniquely distinctive.

I decided to explore the darker and deeper side of the ‘continental’ sound in an honest yet unusual way, so I drew from my extensive knowledge of medieval and Baroque music blended with other musical traditions from all over the world, and particularly, by my experience with Indian classical music that I have extensively studied with my teachers Dr. Sangeeta Shankar and Chintan Upadhyay while in India, and which successfully became the foundation for the musical aesthetics of the score.

A still from 2021 Netflix animated feature film ‘The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf’ | Photo Credit: Netflix

With all of this work done, I was able to rapidly deliver during the production process by recording all of the scores one track at a time, emulating the performances to give the feeling of how an ensemble would have done it on the classic anime scores.

You used ultrasonically recorded instruments for ‘The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf’. How did you gauge this was the right approach for this story?

I have been researching for several years in this field and custom-developed my own recording techniques and virtual musical instruments based on this technology. They have given me the ability to extremely pitch and manipulate recorded sounds while still retaining the full spectral resolution, allowing me access to sounds and textures that humans would never normally hear by conventional means.

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This was an invaluable toolset to bring out the magical and otherworldly qualities of The Witcher universe, and I was able to achieve what to me were the sonic representations of the mutations and dark magic elements that permeate the storyline. A good example of this is when Vesemir first discovers the lab where they are creating Chimeras, the main instrument is a very high-pitched medieval bowed Viola Da Gamba that is pitched down several octaves and sounds like an ancient dark, and almost voice-like instrument that does not exist in reality but perfectly fits the mood and storytelling.

A still from 2021 Netflix animated feature film ‘The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf’ | Photo Credit: Netflix

Were there any parts of Vesemir’s story that inspired you in terms of the score?

Vesemir’s ‘Trial Of The Grasses’ served as one of the key moments where I delved into the extremes of his flamboyant personality juxtaposed with the extreme violence and pain of the world he lives and fights in. This was the very first piece I composed and became one of the foundational references of the rest of the score in terms of melodic aesthetics and textural intensity.

It’s been a couple of projects for you, working on storylines around Eastern European influences. When you first found out the game was themed Village and would take place in this region, what was your reaction? And what parts of Village’s unexpected geography helped you score, while keeping Resident Evil’s action-packed core in mind?

A fun fact is that a lot of Eastern European musical traditions are highly influenced by the Roma people who originally came from Rajasthan via the silk road for numerous centuries. So when I found out Village was based on this I was very excited since many of these musical traditions come very naturally to me having extensively studied Indian classical music. I specifically focused on the idea of using drones and musical textures that impart the aesthetic and feel of the region yet also seamlessly blend into the trademark dark horror textures of the Resident Evil series that I know very well from having also contributed to Resident Evil Biohazard [the game that precedes Village and kicks off Ethan’s story].

A screenshot of part of the village in 2021 video game ‘Resident Evil Village’ | Photo Credit: Capcom

Village was an especially unique project because along with composing the title song ‘Yearning For Dark Shadows’ I was also entrusted with developing a custom set of recorded instruments for the Capcom composing team to use as the main foundational sounds for their score work, so we experimented with a large variety of self-built drone-based instruments from our studio as well as unique Eastern European instruments such as the Bulgarian Gadulka, along with some spicings from a few ancient 150-plus-year-old bowed Indian Sarangis from my collection.

So many gamers enjoyed ‘Yearning for Dark Shadows’ which you created with Aga Ujma using an Indonesian harp and different textures of sound. How else did you push your musical boundaries for this track?

‘Yearning for Dark Shadows’ brings together many years of experience in working with the Resident Evil series in a surprisingly cohesive form. I got to extensively use all of the instruments developed for Village, and combined them with additional ultrasonically recorded sounds that juxtapose against Aga’s vocal sound.

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And since Aga is from Poland but has extensively studied Indonesian music, I was able to write microtonal melodic lines for her that would normally not be easily interpreted by most professional singers, and her masterful execution fluidly blends and shines against the brash and dark instrumentation in a way that superseded my expectations.

A screenshot of part of the castle in 2021 video game ‘Resident Evil Village’ | Photo Credit: Capcom

How does scoring for a video game trump the process of scoring for a film or series?

I would not say that video game music is better than scoring for a film or series, it’s just different and requires a distinct mindset and understanding of how interactivity works within the video game engine. In essence, the music you create will bring to life experiences that may last minutes or even hours depending on how the player interacts, so you have to plan and account for all of these parameters when producing.

Also, games usually take more time and sometimes even years to complete, so you usually have more time to be able to research and develop distinct musical sounds and approaches to the project. So, by default, a lot of video game music is very varied and unique, and it has become a soundtrack genre in its own right enjoyed by millions. Subsequently, it’s one of my favourite mediums to work with and I feel we are just at the tip of the iceberg in exploring the possibilities that interactivity brings to music-making.

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