Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs comes out today, and even if you’re too scared to play it, you won’t want to miss out on one of the most incredible game soundtracks of the year, written by Jessica Curry.
Listen: Full soundtrack streaming here
The music is, at times, so beautiful it breaks your heart. Other times, it’s so terrifying that it nearly breaks your spirit.
Mind-blowing fact: the music budget for Pigs was less than the music budget for Dear Esther. Curry did more with less than just about anyone else I can think of, other than John Cage.
But let’s talk about the music. I’ll start with what’s melodic, or close to it. We’ll get to the scary stuff in a bit.
Honestly, though, one of the most impressive aspects of the entire soundtrack is how Curry is frightening even at her most gorgeous musical moments.
Pigs is set in Victorian London, a time when art song was at the peak of its popularity, and everyone had a piano. It was fashionable to have one, in fact. Nearly everyone was, at the very least, an amateur musician. People got together so they could play music. It’s why music by composers like Chopin, Schumann, Schubert and others was so popular – it was for everyone, not just for the pros.
Curry reflects this historical fact brilliantly in the score, with musical gems like “Recital”, or “In Lily’s Honour” (both of which share a theme). These are simple melodies, and it’s easy to envision novices sitting down to play this type of music together.
Music boxes were really popular in the Victorian era as well. Check out “Music of the Spheres.”
Subtleties like this add an immense depth and maturity to the score. This is not work by a self-taught musician, but from a studied professional.
“The Children” also features piano, along with a boy soprano (who happens to be Curry’s son). Again, this is a simple song (even though the harmonies are beautifully complex), with an understated sorrow to it.
Not once do I feel Curry is hitting me over the head with her intentions. Well…. maybe just once, but it’s so perfect I really just want to give her a high five.
I’m speaking of “Mors Praematura”. The piece starts with heavily-bowed strings. If you could put an instrumental sound effect to someone plodding through thick mud in big boots, it would be the sound of these strings sawing back and forth.
And the singer, Joanna Forbes L’Estrange, nails the idea of someone who thinks they’re great but is just a tiny bit over-the-top. You know who I’m talking about. It’s that lady in church who’s maybe like 5 or 10 years past her prime, yet who insists on singing solos for every single holiday, with a vibrato that has a mind of its own, and a somewhat unpredictable concept of melody.
“Oh joy, Beverly has prepared a song.”
In all fairness, L’Estrange is a trained classical singer, and Curry had to coax her to sing a little…. off.
L’Estrange sings similarly in the main Pigs theme (called “A Machine for Pigs”), but another shining star of the soundtrack comes in “Dieses Herz”.
So these are basically songs written for a voice to sing with a piano. Simple concept. Lieder were hugely popular in the Victorian era, helped by the fact that Franz Schubert wrote more than 600 of them before he died at the age of 31. Curry puts her own twist on the genre, but honors it with German lyrics.
Now let’s talk about the creepy shit, because there’s plenty of it. Having spoken to Curry twice, it’s difficult to understand where that comes from due to her my-cup-runneth-over-with-kindness-and-warmth type of personality.
There are so many different kinds of scary music. The two notes from the Jaws soundtrack by John Williams are scary. Symphonie fantastique by Hector Berlioz is scary. Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima by Krzysztof Penderecki is scary.
The Penderecki is evident here – Curry’s music is a kind of audio torture. She creates sounds that make us really uncomfortable. Check out “The Descent Begins”. Metallic sounds that put us on edge. Nothing about it sounds welcoming or warm.
It hurts so good!
A different kind of discomfort rattles my bones in “New Year’s Eve”. The plodding strings are here, too, playing so passionately it conjures images of some type of freaky, drugged-out zombie orchestra.
Spend some time with Curry’s score. I encourage you to own this one if it’s within your means, especially if you’re a composer. It’s an impeccable study of a musical nightmare.