Earlier this month Cinelinx’s resident musicologist got to speak with composer Jongnic Bontemps about their work on Redfall.
Earlier this month, I had the chance to talk with Jongnic Bontemps about their work on the recently released video game Redfall. Bontemps studied music at Yale University, Berklee College of Music and the University of Southern California, becoming a graduate of the Scoring for Motion Picture and Television program at USC. Their upcoming work includes the score for Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.
The game is set in the fictional island town of Redfall, Massachusetts after a failed scientific experiment created a legion of vampires who have isolated the town from the outside world. Trapped inside of the town, players must choose between four unique survivors, each with unique backgrounds and abilities, and slay their enemies to free the small island town and its inhabitants.
I hope you enjoy our conversation about Redfall!
How did you get started as a composer?
I grew up playing and writing music but I never thought I would be a composer. About 14 years ago I was playing around with Garage Band and a friend of mine said what I wrote sounded like film music. I was blown away as I never considered that as a vocation, let alone something that I could do. Realization led to exploration, exploration led research and research launched a journey that included going back to school to study film scoring at Berkeley On Line, USC and The European American Music Alliance (EAMA).
How did you get attached to Redfall and what did you think of the game’s premise?
I was recommended to the audio director by a composer friend of mine, Wilber Roget. The Audio director knew they wanted a spooky hip-hop score for the game, and Wilbert knew that infusing Hip-Hop into scores was my jam. So he introduced, I demoed and I guess they like what they heard as they hired me!
What stage of development was the game in when you came on board?
It was pretty early on. I know that the music system was not yet fully developed and the game play they shared was very preliminary. I love getting on projects early though as it allows the music to “cook” and gives the whole team a chance to get used to and be influenced by the sound. People would listen to some of the tracks as they worked and I know that had to affect the overall feel of the game.
How was it decided what the world of Redfall would sound like? How did you settle on that specific blend of sounds?
The game and audio directors wanted a score that was contemporary, blended in the sound of New England, and was fun. So taking those prompts I figured let’s integrate Hip-Hop and Dance beats/grooves with a string chamber group. That was the sound of my original demo for the game, which can be heard on the Start/Welcome screen.
What all was included in the orchestra/ensemble used for this soundtrack?
All we needed was a small string ensemble, solo electric violin, some vocals and lots of bells!
I read that “many types of bells” were included in this score and I’m curious to hear what all was used.
Nothing sounds more like New England than some bells tolling in the afternoon from a clock tower. So I leaned into that and brought out bells of all different sizes for this sound track. I also processed and twisted them to give them an other worldly sound to match the transformation that the town of Redfall has undergone. You will hear these “bells” all throughout the score along with a celeste, which I use a lot for the the main theme.
I read that you created a “hierarchy of music” for the game’s enemies and factions. What exactly does that mean and what did that ending up looking like?
The Audio Director had a great idea that the music should change as tougher factions enter the fight. So we created a different sound/ensemble/style for the three factions in the game and as a member of that faction enters the fight we created musical transitions to get us to that new factions music. They are very distinct so the player knows exactly when a tougher group has entered the fray.
Are there specific themes for different characters/places in the game?
One of the rules we came up with was Hip-Hop is for heroes. So the lobbies, safe houses and player centric scenarios are infused with Hip-Hop. We have different themes/styles for the different enemy factions. There is a theme for the Vampire Boss fights and of course there is a theme for the ultimate baddie, Black Sun.
Somewhat related: if the music changes based on the enemies being encountered, does that mean the music is also different based on which survivor you pick? I know there’s four unique survivors to choose from.
No we didn’t create different music for each player character. We felt that was going to be too much and decided to keep them all in the Hip-Hop for heroes vibe.
Were there any horror movies or games you used as inspiration for the music of Redfall?
I would say Goonies and the music of Alan Silvestri were huge influences for me as they embody the spooky fun aspect we were trying to achieve.
Music plays a pivotal role in building the world of video games, how did you make the music of Redfall different from other titles?
It really was the very unique direction from the game creators that put us on this path. They were also into doing stuff that is weird, so i took some big swings bringing in some weird sounds and textures and they were into it! It was a lot of fun just trying crazy stuff such as static, feedback, the sound of old radio equipment and processing so many sounds with granular techniques. I had a blast and I hope that joy comes across in the music.
What is your favorite Bethesda title outside of Redfall and what did you think about the music of said game?
I really like DeathLoop from Arkaine Lyon. I played that for months on the PS5. The score was fun, the premise was interesting and I was amazed how much I enjoyed paying the same day on loop.
I want to thank composer Jongnic Bontemps for taking the time to speak with me about Redfall, and I hope you enjoyed this interview.