Using an instrument nearly 4 metres tall, the OSM invokes a sense of depth in the soundtrack of Ubisoft Montréal’s latest game.
The terrifying universe of Rainbow Six Extraction quickly inspired many ideas for Vincent Gagnon, the game’s audio director, but the veteran Ubisoft composer first wanted to call on Montréal’s musical know-how. A creative approach that would foster interesting collaborations and yield its share of innovation.
A world-first…with an undeniable instrument
To reflect the sombre universe of the game, Vincent Gagnon tapped an instrument that could well have come from another planet: the gigantic octobass.
“The octobass was perfect for the game, with its sci-fi bend,” he says. “It lends a strange tone as it’s not an instrument that we hear very often.”
Of the 7 that exist in the world, the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal owns three, including the only replica of the original model, dating back to 1850. With a massive neck that rises nearly 4 metres in height anchors 3 thick strings, the instrument is operated by a system of levers and pedals. What does it sound like? “It can sound like an earthquake,” Eric Chappell, contrabassist of the OSM, says with a laugh.
In a 23-year career, coming face-to-face with an octobass is a dream, says the musician.
To see it in real life is incredible. And knowing that there are very few people who have been able to play this instrument, I found that very interesting.”
The instrument is so rare that there hardly exists any theory for how to play one, so one must be “very self-taught,” Chappell points out.
The two men casually made history by being the first to record this instrument for a video game. “There have been many firsts in what we’ve done,” the audio director from Ubisoft says.
With its ponderously deep tones, the octobass lays the foundation for the Rainbow Six Extraction soundtrack, but the composer had more than one unconventional sound in his bag of tricks…
OSM’s video showcasing the octobass – 2016
Encounter of the third kind: the octobass, the organ, and the ondes Martenot
To complement the octobass, Vincent Gagnon turned to another musical juggernaut: the Grand Orgue Pierre-Béique of the Maison symphonique de Montréal. With its 6489 pipes, needless to say it moves air. Paired with the gargantuan octobass, the musical director knew that the music would be anything but light. “A deep octobass note under the chords of an organ, it already sounds like a ton of bricks,” he says with the air of a mischievous child.
Excerpt from a recording session of the Rainbow Six Extraction soundtrack at the Maison symphonique de Montréal -2019
To complete the sound of his orchestra of curiosities, Vincent enlisted the ondes Martenot, a little-known electronic oscillation monodic instrument, dating from the early 20th century. With these three instruments, each just a touch eccentric, the Extraction soundtrack invokes the vibes of a prog rock group from th ’70s. “The octobass, the organ, and the ondes Martenot were our power trio,” he says, laughing. The table was set for a truly unique sound.
An innovative composition made in Montréal
Vincent had a more intimate vision for this made-in-Montréal production, and knew that the city wasn’t lacking in talent. “One of my goals was that I wanted it to sound Montréal. There’s a lot of musical expertise here, not only the OSM, but also the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne.”
Vincent’s offbeat approach and proximity to the musicians allowed him to obtain countless hours of musical files, all editable and arrangeable, “a little like Lego bricks,” he explains. The masterstroke is that now that these files are meticulously arranged in an intelligent program, the game music automatically refreshes itself to avoid repetitions. In other words, the auditory experience of the player is unique and infinite. Pride in this innovative technique is written all over the veteran composer’s face.
When asked about the latitude given to the project, Vincent Gagnon thanks his producer and the freedom granted to him by Ubisoft. “I am very grateful, it is a great mark of confidence for me. It’s definitely the highlight of my career,” he concludes.
Vincent Gagnon and Jean-Willy Kunz during a recording -2019
Ubisoft Montreal would like to thank the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Montreal Symphony House and all the talented musicians who contributed to the project, including Eric Chappell and Jean-Willy Kunz.
We would also like to acknowledge the great work of our teams and all those who participated in the creation of the game’s soundtrack: Vincent Gagnon, James Duhamel, Louis Dufort, Mathieu Rodier, Didier Gagnon, Alexis Farand, Simon Landry, Martin Lemieux, David Kristian, Laurent Martin and all the others. Thank you!
The Octobasses are graciously made available to the OSM by the company CANIMEX Inc. of Drummondville.
The Grand Orgue Pierre-Béique was generously donated to the OSM by Mrs. Jacqueline Desmarais.