The Music Of Battlefield 1 – An Interview with Johan Söderqvist

Three months in, the dust is only now starting to settle. Field manuals have all been collected. Every corner of Monte Grappa and Argonne Forest scouted and manipulated. Operations Mode has been fought through thousands of times with battles lasting upwards of an hour – exhausting players not only when they win but even more so when suffering a loss. That anti-air gun near objective Charlie on Ballroom Blitz is no longer the best kept secret for bringing down a Behemoth. Luca Vincenzo Cocchiola has found the remains of his brother Matteo after fighting through the mountains of Northern Italy. Dog tags stolen, battlepacks opened, objectives reached and ranks conquered. Everything has been cracked open and its innards spilled out into the trench mud for everyone to see.

However, Battlefield 1 hasn’t worn out its welcome. Under the surface, the engine of war keeps running to consistently deliver tense, exciting multiplayer mayhem. The weapons are perpetually varied and the maps remain unpredictable. There is something unique here compared to previous Battlefields and a lot of it has to do with setting. After Battlefield 4, the modern-day military appeal was wearing thin and both developer DICE and publisher EA deserve praise for moving away from the norm and taking a chance on the one relatively recent era of war that games rarely touched.

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For over four years, millions upon millions of people lost their lives in World War 1. Even more were forever affected by that insane level of loss. Something that colossal, that crippling to the functions of world society is a concept that is damn near impossible for anyone to grasp in 2017. Endless, pointless death as far as the eye could see. Death that changed the world and shaped the future. Say what you will about the state of the modern world, it’s still quite comfortable compared to the mind-boggling genocidal madness that was witnessed by our great-grandparents. Young kids dying in the dirt without really knowing why. Just wanting to get back home.

What’s probably the most astounding aspect of Battlefield 1 is how it balances respectfully demonstrating and educating the horrors of war with an incredibly fun video game. It doesn’t cheapen or exploit what happened between 1914 and 1918. It explains it in painstaking detail through story, environment and collectables that manages to successfully flesh out this very real world. Leaving you with a thirst to know more.

DICE are busy working on gameplay updates and the first expansion set for release in March. In the meantime, the matches continue and the kills pile up. In addition to the surrounding danger of instant death, there’s another constant companion for anyone who sets foot into this theatre of war.

And that’s the music.

Battlefield One Theme

Stockholm-born Johan Söderqvist wrote his first film score in 1991 and has since shaped his talents into a very successful career. In 2008, he provided the score to Tomas Alfredson’s acclaimed horror romance Let The Right One In. His film and television work has touched upon Rwandan genocide, family grief and supernatural murder. No stranger to heavy themes to drape his music on, Söderqvist and collaborative composer Patrik Andrén came together to record the haunting, tense and celebratory soundtrack to Battlefield 1.

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“From working on numerous films together we have established a workflow,” Söderqvist tells me. “We bounce ideas and send files back and forth until we find the compositions and productions ready. And after daily conversations we are usually well in tune about what needs to be done and what the music should sound like. Neither of us have any relation to that [World War 1] period. We decided early on not to write a historical score but to focus on the emotional side of the period. The hell and sorrow of the war and to make people feel something even after playing the game. Not sure we succeeded but that was our intention.”

A pause in the interview comes after that statement. It’s something I’ve noticed with interviewing certain video game composers. They don’t get nearly enough credit and as a result, not enough feedback. For Söderqvist to wonder, even for a moment, if he and Andrén made a difference is an unnecessary shame. Every note in Battlefield 1 leaves an impact.

The War To End All Wars

Logging into the game, it’s the music that transforms the player from a passive stats-reader to someone who is ready and willing to face the enemy head on with only a Mondragon Marksman rifle and a belly full of guts. Even on the main menu, delivering that feeling successfully and immediately was a hurdle that Söderqvist and Andrén overcame with precision. “One of the challenges to write music for BF1 was finding the balance between the emotional dramatic scoring and the natural energy of the more action-driven game music. ‘Hunted’ was written for the multiplayer mode to create urgency as a sector is close to be conquered. Also with another scene where you fly a pigeon over the trenches (halfway into the tank-based Through Mud And Blood single-player campaign) and even though there’s a full war on the ground, we wanted to make that scene really beautiful and calm overlooking the battle. We call that piece ‘The Flight of the Pigeon’. Since that worked really well we wrote other still and reflective pieces for other places too, such as ‘Dawn of a New Time’. Voices and exotic instruments combined with orchestra felt like a natural choice portraying the enormous geographical and emotional span of World War 1.”

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Battlefield 1 was Söderqvist’s first work on a video game. After years of film and television, he came to appreciate the collaborative process and even though the cliche of ‘great art from great stress’ is at the forefront of some people’s minds, it’s more important to have a clear goal, direction and best of all – freedom to experiment. “It has been a delightful process working with DICE. We got involved early in the process, nearly 2 years ago, and began making sketches and sounds. We recorded percussion, big drums, metal sounds, voices and instruments like ney flutes (a wooden Persian flute that dates back 4000-5000 years) and ouds (a North African short-necked lute) to be all charged up. The last few months got really hectic and we had to write lots of music under a short period of time. The communication with DICE went really smooth. We were well in tune from the start and were given full freedom artistically to create the score. However, we worked close with main sound designer Bence Pajor and the creative director Stefan Strandberg and also with the two cinematic directors Marcus Kryler and Fredrik Åkerström at DICE who supported and inspired us through the whole process.”
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Video game soundtracks and composers remain largely anonymous and highly unappreciated. Despite attempts at various award ceremonies, the recognition of this creative artistry goes unmarked in a lot of cases. But the music of Battlefield 1 bleeds out of the game to become instantly recognisable – the hallmark of a classic collection of work. More people should let these talented musicians know just how astonishing their music is and how well it fits into the moment-to-moment experience of Battlefield 1 and elevates this senseless bloody struggle to a level of exhilaration and cinematic glory.
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The Swindle
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“We are really happy about the way the music sounds and works in the game. We aimed to make it a rich and diverse sounding musical world and hopefully that is what people feel too.”

One Comment Add yours

  1. dannyonpc says:

    Love BF1’s music!

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