Papo & Yo: The Sounds of South America

In our final profile of the local team behind new PlayStation game Papo & Yo, composer and sound designer Brian D’Oliveira talks about his inspirations and the lengths he went to just to find the right sounds for the game.

Brian D’Oliveira on location


Papo & Yo sound designer and composer Brian D’Oliveira jokes that during the making of the game, he got a little obsessed.

The 33-year-old Montrealer and Venezuela native has over a decade of experience composing for film and television, but he says Papo & Yo, his first video game, was also the first time he got to express himself as an artist.

“Everything you hear is all live, no virtual instruments,” says D’Oliveira, who runs his own music and audio post-production house called La Hacienda Creative and did all of the music and audio for the game. That meant scouring the world for the right sounds, from finding a 150-year-old Indian sarangi in Chicago, to having authentic clay shingles shipped from Texas, to even making homemade Brazilian hunting whistles. In all, he says, he bought over 30 instruments just for the game.

We here at Cult have been running interviews with the Papo & Yo team, so if you want more info on the game, which was released on PlayStation Network last Tuesday, check out our interviews with creative director Vander Caballero, lead programmer Julien Barnoin and environment artist Stéphanie Landry.

Cult: How did you get involved with the project?

D’Oliveira: I met Vander at a party [laughs]. He showed me a demo and it was nothing like it is now: it was just an ogre walking around and a little kid jumping on him. It wasn’t [main character] Quico, there was no setting besides a jungle.

Cult: Did you have an idea for what you wanted the soundtrack to be like, even back then?

D’Oliveira: We wanted something that feels familiar, but also magical and not of this world. It’s been two years that I’ve been developing the sound, and I got obsessed with doing it. I bought over 30 different instruments, and most of the music I played myself. I had a few guest musicians, including a lot of percussion. I had my teacher Vovo, a master Brazilian percussionist, perform. He’s almost 60 years old, he knows every possible Brazilian rhythm as well as Cuban, and he even went to Africa. So even the rhythms in the game, they all have roots.

Even when Quico gets attacked we took classic war rhythms; I wanted that spirit there. I even built my own instruments: I bought hunting whistles from the Brazilian amazon. All those sounds are handmade whistles, I have over 40 over them. I started obsessing, trying to come up with sounds no one had ever heard before.

D’Oliveira in the studio


Cult: How many pieces of music did you create for Papo & Yo?

D’Oliveira: I haven’t counted. The thing is, the music isn’t linear, and it won’t repeat the same way every time you play. What we did was use Wwise, which runs the audio engine. I would record 30 tracks or so, then cut them all up and put them in the audio engine, and resequence them according to what’s going on with the gameplay. So it’s actually randomizing, it’s not just a loop with one track for each level of intensity. Things are changing all the time as you’re going, and if you do an action a new rhythm will come in, but it’s all separate elements that are coming through.

Cult: How long did you spend searching for sounds in South America?

D’Oliveira: I was there for a month. I’m from there too — I grew up in the Andes mountains of Venezuela — and it’s funny, because it looks just like the game. There’s a certain commonality — if you go to a favela in Brazil or a favela in Venezuela, there are similarities. For example, even tin roofs: I spent weeks trying to get the correct sound a tin roof makes. My assistants would bring in sheets of metal, and it wouldn’t be the right sound. You know the clay tiles on the roofs in the game? No one knows that sound here. I had to have them shipped from Texas, and when you step on them it creates that sound, it’s all authentic.

Cult: Were you trying to capture the sounds of your childhood, basically from memory?

D’Oliveira: It’s interesting because the way you remember hearing something as a kid, it won’t be the same as in a game. When I heard the shingles, it wasn’t quite the sound I had in my head, so you have to meet somewhere in between the creative and the reality. When you start the game it’s quiet and you can hear all these sounds; for that I really went to town, I really took a lot of time to get the proper sounds. I remember walking up at 3 a.m. for a week straight when I was in South America, just to get the proper sounds of frogs in the jungle mountain, and it was raining too. I have footage of it, we’re going to put it out soon.

The thing is, Papo & Yo was a really personal story for me too. I didn’t have an abusive father like Vander, but my father was never there growing up, so in a way I was expressing my childhood as well. It was something we shared, we were trying to tell our stories. ■


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