Far Cry Primal – How to Create a Stone Age Soundtrack

Bamboo. Plants. Clay plots.Gravel. These might seem like odd choices for instruments under normal circumstances, but for Far Cry Primal’s BAFTA-Award winning composer, they were perfect. Jason Graves – whose past work includes Until Dawn, Dead Space, and Tomb Raider – reached deep into humanity’s musical past to craft a soundtrack that would not only enhance the experience of playing through Primal’s Stone Age setting, but also immerse players deeper into Takkar’s personal journey to survive and rebuild his life.

How did you get involved with Far Cry Primal?

Jason Graves: I was fortunate enough to be contacted by Simon Landry at Ubisoft, who had heard some of my more experimental scores and thought I may be a good fit for Primal. I’ve been a longtime fan of the Far Cry series and the thought of being able to compose music for a Stone Age Far Cry was quite intriguing.

Jason Graves

We had a few detailed phone conversations and I sent him my take on the whole ‘non-metal, stone age band’ idea. Ubisoft responded very positively to the music and within a few weeks I found myself in Montreal, soaking in all the beautiful environments from Far Cry Primal.

How do you generally approach a game’s soundtrack? What’s the creative routine that you go through?

JG: Every game is unique. My first order of business is immersing myself in the game world as much as possible. I’m not even really thinking about music yet. I’m getting a feel for the surroundings, characters, story, moods and overall emotions the game is conveying.

The next step is determining the instruments included in the score. Mostly I try and focus on a specific set of sounds that really represent the game. Many times that means being extremely selective and honing in on a small group of instruments, but I’ve discovered more specific is always more identifiable and unique in the long run.

Did you have to do anything different for Primal?

JG: Primal was a completely different experience, but all in good ways! I was definitely intrigued by the time setting of the game – it was a matter of figuring out how much of the time period could influence the score. It’s probably safe to say this was the first game soundtrack that began with multiple trips to the hardware store. Plants, clay pots, bamboo, gravel, bricks, firewood and stones of all sizes were set up with microphones around the studio.

The idea was to have as many non-metal found sounds as possible and treat them as if they were instruments – a primitive drum set, if you will. But everything retained its unique natural sound properties, so I was literally playing nature – plants and shrubs were hi-hats, bamboo pipes were drums and huge slabs of stone acted as bass instruments. In fact, I almost killed my hi-hats after the first few weeks when I realized the plants really needed some light and water!

What was the biggest challenge? Presumably, creating a soundtrack suitable for a Stone Age setting is a notable one.

JG: It was a wonderful opportunity that I completely engrossed myself in. I proposed an entirely ‘non-metal’ score to Ubisoft in the beginning – it felt like a sensible tie in to the game’s location. I also loved the idea of recording an entirely live soundtrack without any synthesizers or sampled sounds coming from the computer. It just seemed to click with the aesthetics of the game.

So I ended up giving myself a twofold challenge – restricting the instrumentation to a very specific and non-musical set of sounds while also challenging myself to perform and record everything live in my studio. It was a wonderful learning process and I’d like to think the score is stronger and more unique due to the way it was assembled.

Can you describe some of the musical themes? Are they tied to characters? Environments?

JG: There’s a single, simple theme that’s tied to the land of Oros. Most of the thematic ideas are instruments that relate to the three different tribes. I wanted to use as many natural, breath sources as possible to distinguish the tribes – flutes, horns and solo vocalists.

The Wenja and Takkar have a reflective, solo flute and fairly straightforward percussion instruments – nothing metal, of course! It’s definitely the ‘comfort zone’ set of sounds.  It’s the sound of your home and ancestry.

Instruments

The Udam’s sound consists solely of naturally occurring found sounds – stone, wood, clay, bone, plants and dirt. There’s also a very guttural, solo male vocal that’s probably the most primal sound in Primal – very textural but hopefully immediately recognizable with the Udam. The music itself is also very slow and brooding, mirroring the look and feel of the Udam.

As a tribe, the Izila are very quick on their feet and use fear as a weapon. I used a very unique tribal instrument called an Aztec Death Whistle, which makes a sound just as horrible as the name suggests. It’s even shaped like a human skull! It literally sounds like someone screaming at the top of their lungs. I also was blessed to have the amazing vocal talents of Malukah onboard for the Izila, who added an unmistakable emotion and vibe to the score. Her tracks are some of my favorite in the game and she was absolutely wonderful to work with.

How would you describe the Far Cry Primal soundtrack with one word?

JG: I suppose if ‘primal’ was the one word that would be cheating a bit! “Immersive” would be the word I hope best describes the music. I was aiming for a soundtrack that pulls listeners in and makes the world of Far Cry Primal come to life.

Do you think you could survive in the Stone Age?

JG: Not a chance! I would run at the first sight of a predator and be inevitably picked off by a Sabretooth within minutes. Of course, if I could make friends with Takkar I think I may stand a better chance of living to see another day…

Thanks for your time, Jason

The Far Cry Primal soundtrack will be available February 23. You can pre-order the soundtrack by clicking the album cover below.

Far Cry Primal Cover