If you’re interested in indie games it’s likely that you have his songs on your playlist. Across different indie projects his work for Dead Cells bought him quite a lot of fans. I had the pleasure to talk with Yoann Laulan about his participation in game jams, his inspirations, love for animals and becoming one of the popular indie games composers.
There’s some cat sounds in Dead Cells since early development – Yoann Laulan
Let’s start with the chicken and the egg. Which came first for you: music or video games?
Video games came first. I started playing when I was probably around 5 or 6 years old on NES that was in the “family” house, and then got my first system a bit later with the Megadrive Aladdin bundle (which I still have to this day !). Interest in music came around the same time, as I loved Yuzo Koshiro’s tracks from Streets of Rage and Revenge of Shinobi but wasn’t until high school when I started playing keys, guitar and composed my first tracks for homemade games made with RPG Maker 2000 software.
Your background is classical music, isn’t it? What music do you usually listen to?
I’m not sure about having a music background, I mean I haven’t took any classes or done studies. Despite video games my only music experiences came from composing and playing for a few projects in my early 20s (Trip-Hop and Rock) as a hobby. Interest in classical and orchestral music came with video games I think, as it was inspirational for some very appreciated series like Castlevania or Final Fantasy.
If I can mention a few “non video games” persons and bands I enjoy listening: Soap&Skin, Warpaint, Fields Of The Nephilim, Alice in Chains, Schwefelgelb, Conan The Barbarian OST. When I’m working it’s more some modular videos in the background (Julia Bondar, Helene Vogelsinger, Cinematic Laboratory, just to name a few). It’s very inspirational ambiance-wise.
Using DAWs and virtual instruments makes composers independent to session musicians. Do you prefer to work alone or do you think about some collaborations sometimes? Apart from your cat, who took part in recording music for Dead Cells.
The Cat actually makes everything, I’m just a human puppet. Haven’t had the occasion to do collaborations, but I may be more at ease working alone or if each composer have their own creative space. But in general, there’s exchange with other team members regarding their feelings towards music and take that in consideration.
Some composers, like Natureboy Flako (Stonefly) are inspired by plants while making music. In your life these are animals that seem to play a quite important role. Do you find them inspirational for your music?
Music wise, they’re more inspirational to me for sound design more than pure composing, like recording some sounds to create pads or drones. There’s some cat sounds in Dead Cells since early development when first tracks where created, some purring recordings that was pitched down with few effects to create a drone sound. A part of this drone was re used in the first level’s music (Prisoner’s Awakening) and the untouched sound can be heard in the first seconds of the Pan Master Slash animated trailer music.
You got into game dev through game jams, very specific events where creators have to make games in a limited time. Did it impact on your general way of creating music?
I think it helps learning to work under pressure, limitations and go to the essential as much as possible. Also, in game jams as you are usually part of a small team, you can easily exchange with other team members and learn understanding their job and reuse this in everyday work. Communication and understanding is one of the most important aspect, in my opinion, in this industry.
Game music concerts have been very popular lately. Do you imagine Dead Cells music played by an orchestra live?
It actually already happened ! The Orlando Contemporary Chamber Orchestra played and arrangement by Timothy William in 2019 as a first part of a concert (second part was Wizard of Legend composed by Dale North). They did a really great job ! If there’s a next time, hopefully we’ll be able to have a choir as “voices” sounds are quite used in Dead Cells. But anyways, I’m just happy if it can bring joy and fun, either for players and listeners
In comparison to your previous projects Dead Cells seems to be different. For Better or For Worse from 2015 is mild and minimalistic. It’s surrounded by lots of sounds of nature and city. Schrödinghost or ScarKrow, so even older games sound more acoustic. Dead Cells, on the other hand, is really synth-heavy and dynamic as it should be. It supports the visuals perfectly. Was it difficult for you to go into this game’s shoes?
Not very difficult, it’s very refreshing to work with different types of projects and genres of music. In For Better or For Worse, everything went so super smoothly and everybody was very happy and felt proud of the result. I’m looking forward at some point to work on projects with a different mood for music. Of course working on a RPG would be great, but a Survival Horror too.
I like to do as much as possible – Yoann Laulan
You are part of the indie scene. Among Danny Baranowsky, Floex or Jessica Curry. Did you have a certain moment when you felt being a part of this community for the first time?
I think that was when attending different events that felt like being part of the industry. I like the fact it allows to meet great people from all around the world and helps goes against my usual solitary attitude. But as for now, almost all people I’ve met from this side of the industry were very cool and interesting to talk with.
Do you think you could also feel happy working with the biggest game studios one day?
As long as I can work the same way I guess I’ll be happy, but from what I’ve understood usually in big game studios you’re kinda only do one job and despite more enjoying composing I like to do as much as possible (sound design, integration, audio direction). I won’t say “no” to a good offer as long as it’s compatible with my requirements and still having freedom with schedule.