Remember Me (2013)
Set in a near futuristic cyberpunk-laden Paris and inspired by the prevalence of social media sites, Remember Me is a game that has caught the gaming public’s attention since it was revealed in Gamescom 2012. Remember Me immediately caught the imagination of gamers – from the beautiful art style, the unique setting of Neo-Paris, and the underdog status of the developers Dontnod. Since the beginning the developer had difficulty selling the game to publishers, as the protagonist Niln was female as well as non-white. Many publishers wanted Dontnod to change Nillin to a male for higher marketability. Eventually Remember Me found a home in Capcom. To compose the music for the game Dontnod went with fellow Frenchman Olivier Derivere, who is best known as the composer for the 2008 reboot/sequel Alone in the Dark, as well as Obscure 1 and 2.
Ever since Alone in the Dark, Derivere had incorporated the talents of a major musical group when recording his score. With Alone in the Dark (2008), The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices. For Of Orcs and Men (2011), he made use of The Boston Cello Quartet. For Remember Me Derivere turned to The Philharmonia Orchestra. Additionally, and this is definitely the most defining aspect of the score, Deriviere programmed “glitches” into the music. It would be erroneous to call what Derivere has created as emulating corrupted music files – corrupted music will create just outright static, which is not the case here. As can be heard in the opening cue, “Niln the Memory Hunter” electronic distortion is intentionally melded with the orchestra to create a unique musical signature that emulates the distorted memories of the main character.
The distorted musical effect creates a sense of detachment from the world: we can get an impression of what exactly is going on in Niln’s head. However, it also works against the music as the listener feels distracted from the orchestra. Because the electronics literally alter the music – not underplay or rises above them – it pulls the listener away from the cues. This is most realized in the action cue “Chase Through Montmarte” where the distortions are so frequent and volatile that the music is closer to emulating an MRI scan than any sense of urgency. “The Fight” does a much better job of keeping the distortions in check and the result is a thrilling, emotional combat piece.
There are quite a few times when Derivere allows the Philharmonia Orchestra to truly shine, such as in the completely orchestral cue “Neo Paris”. Still Human also employs the Orchestra to create a darkly enchanting piece of music that embodies Niln’s determination. “Our Parents” is another emotional cue that makes full use of the Philharmonia. On the other side of the table Derivere goes completely electronic in “Fragments”, which makes use of sudden distorted motifs and an electronically fluctuating singer in order to talk specifically about the mutilated state of Niln’s mind. “The Enforcers” is also completely industrial and is an action motif dedicated to the police of Neo Paris. The motif is seen from Niln’s perspective, and we see a police force that is easily manipulated and ultimately weak in the face of our heroine.
The album concludes with the heavily distorted “The Zorn” and the orchestral “Hope”, but of which act as complete contrasts to each other. “The Zorn” suffers from the same ailments that plagued “Chase Through Montmarte” in its first half, while the second half rescues itself with more of an emphasis on the orchestral. “Hope” has almost no electronics employed, and the few times they do they are so soft that one could almost consider it to be a whisper of their former selves. The Philharmonia Orchestra is the star in the concluding final moments, an obvious representation of Niln’s humanity. With her mind restored the electronics have no real narrative use…but the connected zeitgeist of the world is still at large, and so Derivere makes use of his distortions for one last time.
Ultimately, Remember Me is a honorable failure that is saved by Derivere’s understanding of the orchestra. What works as a narrative and setting building tool fails as a listening experience, as it can quite often pull the listener away from the moods and melodies of the music. The music is strange, weird, wonderful, abysmal and distracting all at the same time. It is good that composers are willing to attempt such experiments in the age of Hans Zimmer-eaque complacency, but this is one experiment that does not reach the heights it could have achieved. Still, this album is a worthwhile listen if only so that listeners can experience the weird soundscapes that Derivere has created.