The score for Battlefield 1 is epic and emotional, full of never-before-heard sounds. Meet Johan Söderqvist and Patrik Andrén, the two composers behind the stunning audio, and learn about the most unique instruments used to create the game’s soundtrack.
Johan and Patrik sampled a lot of instruments to create their own sound libraries and bring richness to the Battlefield 1 music. Some sounds, and some instruments, were more interesting than others.
“There are layers and layers of bizarre sounds,” says Söderqvist. “It’s weird to begin with, and then it gets weirder. It’s a creative process, and then at some point you also write a song, or a theme, or an orchestral piece, but there is a lot of craziness that is going on.”
Creating that sound took a lot of legwork. Johan and Patrik travelled to Slovakia to record orchestral sounds and effects with their Orchestrator, Vladimir Martinka. The musicians improvised and went very dark and experimental. The result was eight hours of unique sounds that later could be incorporated into the music.
From marathon recording sessions to in-game, these are some of the most unique instruments used in the music of Battlefield 1.
The bohak was constructed in the 1960s by a Hungarian builder. It was a trial instrument that never went into production. Johan found it in an obscure shop in the Netherlands over 15 years ago and kept it in the back of his studio. Patrik came to his studio, the two stumbled across the bohak, and started to play with it. They discovered it had a gritty sound with mythological dark explosions, perfect for Battlefield 1 In the Name of the Tsar.
The bohak inspired some of the mythological sounds in the second Battlefield 1 expansion pack.
The duo created some unique sounds using an old piano frame stripped of its keys. Johan spent over a decade trying to find one, with most people telling him that he’d never find one because nobody would be crazy enough to sell it. Much to his surprise, he found one for sale, and it turned out to be a Steinway, one of the best pianos. The owner had attempted to replace the wood in the Steinway from American Steinway to German Steinway, which of course didn’t work because it’s a solid instrument.
He put the frame in his attic for 15 years and it rusted away. Johan later purchased it for next to nothing. The frame in fact has nothing to do with a piano sound itself – but it’s a wonderful sound creation machine.
The duo has been constantly trashing the piano to get new sounds out of it. They throw things on it, they scratch it, and they bang it with hammers, all just to get this unique, chaotic sound. If you listen carefully you can hear it all over in the background of the Battlefield 1 music.
Hitting the piano frame with a soft mallet on the lower strings produces super low, sub-sonic sounds. You can get very edgy high sounds if you use hard mallets on the higher strings.
Bass Willow Flute
The bass willow flute is an overtone flute that can be used to record bassy, breathy, and windy sounds, as well as energetic scream-like outbursts. These are very interesting to use as textures. The massive flutes are up to three meters long with multiple pipes.
Gran Casas Drums
The Gran Cassas are bass drums and the biggest orchestra drums available. Johan and Patrik put on a couple of drum recording sessions to fill their library with all kinds of drum sounds and rhythms. A group of drummers were recorded in various constellations of big drums and metal.
Patrik and the drum musicians, ready for a full day of recording drum sounds.
The Bass waterphone is an unusual looking instrument, consisting of a stainless-steel bowl with bronze rods of different lengths sticking up around the rim of the bowl. You bow the rods as a violin string, and the base has water inside. The sound it produces can be very horror-like and creepy sounding. You can also play it in another way where it doesn't sound eerie, but sounds more metallic and icy. Despite all these possibilities, the waterphone can be challenging to record because you can basically never control where the sound will go but that´s also the beauty of the instrument.
Johan striking a bow to the Bass Waterphone – photo by Jeanette Hägglund
The Cristal Baschet is a beautiful looking glass instrument with only a few of them found in the world. Johan is one of the proud owners. The French instrument builder taught Johan and his son how to play it. He instructed them to play the instrument by gently sliding their fingers along the glass rods with water on their fingertips. That creates the friction that produces the strange and eerie, but at the same time beautiful, sound.
In the first few seconds of the start of the Battlefield 1 In the Name of the Tsar soundtrack, the Cristal Baschet can be heard being played with rubber mallets against the big shield at the front, instead of on the glass rods. Playing on the shield produced some unique sounds that instantly sets the tone of the soundtrack and puts you in another world. It’s a very beautiful, yet disturbing and haunting at the same time.
The Cristal Baschet takes years to master the technique
A Tibetan horn was also used in the second expansion pack. It’s a large horn that when blown into gives off deep mythological pedal notes.
Have a listen to the Battlefield 1 In the Name of the Tsar soundtrack where you can hear a lot of these instruments being played within the first 10 seconds.
It took a lot of instruments, and a lot of ideas, to create the music for Battlefield 1.
Johan and Patrik both wanted the music to have a metallic, brassy war sound, but also incorporate earthy sounds. Muddy, dark, and chaotic were words they had in mind. It would have been challenging to achieve an earthy mythological feeling with synthetic sounds, so they experimented with their own sounds. And as they continued to create the soundtrack, the musical experimentation and writing process went hand in hand.
“While we’re recording the different instruments and the orchestral effects, we’re also writing music, and then when we have the sounds and effects, we have more colors in our palette to play with,” says Söderqvist. “This way of working enables us to work with many more shades. If we would only have synthesizers or items that we can buy, we would have a less rich amount of nuances.”
It was important for the composers to give the Battlefield 1 sound an authentic feeling. They didn’t want it to sound artificial - they wanted it to sound real and gritty.
“It’s better to do your own sounds because you can get them where you want them to be,” says Andrén. “We basically start with attacking a new piece of music or a new scene with banging on the piano frame, or the bohak, or some other odd instrument. That opens our senses and it becomes easier to get into the zone of writing.”
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