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When I think over my collection of music — I’m talking all of it, not just video game stuff — only one soundtrack comes to mind that is composed of two volumes unrelated in theme or sound.  That soundtrack for the anime film, Appleseed, contains electronica and vocalized tracks on one CD and an orchestral score on the other.  Lost Planet 3 presents a different listening challenge, if you will, because both volumes are composed by the same person, whom I adore: Jack Wall.  The man who won my heart with Myst III and IV, Jade Empire, and Mass Effect, left me mostly puzzled here.

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Jack Wall – Lost Planet 3’s composer

The first volume, nicknamed “Alien Country Music,” is supposed to reflect the music that the main character, Jim Peyton, listens to in order to remind himself of home… in the future.  Supposing that country (or any other current music form) never dies, I’d say Jack has succeeded in conveying a country feel without being polarizing towards the larger fan base.  It’s Country Lite, in a sense, and it’s largely effective at being inoffensive.  If I was on the ice planet, EDN III, I would not be opposed to a coworker putting this stuff on while we worked.  I imagine future-me to be more of an electronica guy, whatever wacky things those folks would be producing then, but it’s smart of Spark Unlimited to ask the composer to eschew the obvious.  Leave the techno off the radio, and put the Tron-like florescent colors on the enemies instead of every single usable element.  Unlike what I experienced with Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, the country music presented here is not so “alienating,” nor is it presented alongside overly long and confused suites.

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Whistle while you work

The country track that struck me most was “Someone Like You,” which is a rather romantic song for the volume.  It features a sweet arrangement of guitar, violin, and accordion that left me feeling vaguely reminiscent about old friendships and good times.  The song is hard not to enjoy as it softly asks you to dance, melting the room away.  And when you two are ready for something a bit more enlivening to bring everyone back on the floor, “Stompin’ Ground” chimes in as the full-on jig.  Quick guitar/banjo work and a team of violinists saddle you up to the side of your best buddy in the saloon with all the expected hootin’ and hollerin’ you’d expect.  There’s even the breakdown with the bass drum and some old fashioned clappin’ to situate you in the right mood.  It’s cheeky and corny, but begrudgingly makes me smile.

Though I don’t know what incident would cause a lead character to listen to a song about himself, “The Ballad of Jim Peyton” touches on the same charming feelings as “Someone Like You.”  Expressing less nostalgia and more calm reflection, this guitar-driven track displays a lot of talented complexity in its plucked strings.  As you grow used to the acoustic sounds, the electric guitar makes itself noticeably more present for a brief reprieve before giving the show back to the other instruments again.

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Moving to the second volume, the “Score,” as some would call it, Lost Planet 3 actually starts sounding like a slightly scary space adventure. “Lost Planet 3 Theme”, the 18th track on this two-hour soundtrack, begins the mystery of discovery for this prequel.  Undulating strings, a chilling female vocalist, and a reaffirming brass section set the tone for the adventure, and the melody carries over into the next track, “New Surroundings.”  The latter brings the sound firmly into the future with electronic musings and plodding programmed synths in the background.  Between these two, an appropriate sense of exploration and reservation is established, setting the stage for tracks to come.

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Though there are a number of ably composed tracks to fit this adventure, “A Pack of Goonroe” stands out with its unique tribal feel.  Of course, most songs with a didgeridoo feel tribal by default, but Jack brought me back to Haven in Myst IV: Revelations (listen to “The Predator”), with an evocative set of percussion to back it up.  Though brief, this song gives the greatest sense of being somewhere unfamiliar and possibly being stalked by a creature among the foliage, of which there would be little on an ice planet.  The most striking track from the score for me was the last one, “The Forgotten.”  Using more synths and electronic beats, it acts as a perfect foil to the orchestral theme in the beginning.  The listener is left with a sense of beauty — surrounded in space with ice crystals and barren caves and shocking prisms of color.  In all its subtlety, Wall has crafted an expert end theme that stands out among the pack.

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“Disturbing a pack of Goonroe is ill-advised.” – an excerpt from Jim Peyton’s Didgeri-Don’t’s

Ultimately, my ambivalence about this soundtrack comes from my own expectations from Jack Wall as a composer.  No song, save for the struggling “In the Bayou,” is bad at all.  It’s all rather good.  But the things I’m used to listening to from him communicate more fantasy and more wonderment.  I’m used to albums full of songs that each command presence, which he normally does without delving into histrionics — a masterful feat.  While his latest installment may contradict this a bit, where expectation fails me, Wall’s offering ultimately succeeds.

The Lost Planet 3 soundtrack is available now on iTunes and Amazon.  The game is also available now at all major retailers.

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Gil is a video game enthusiast and professional meanderer.  When he’s not giving people his unsolicited grammar corrections, he is out and about seeking exciting food and even more exciting single-player experiences.  He’s got one of them Twitters (@gilmeansjoy) and a blog or something (fromthebacklog.blogspot.com).

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Listen: Heat Wave

Richard Hell, co-founder of seminal New York punk-rock band Television, was recently asked about his long-fractured relationship with song-writing partner Tom Verlaine, and if the two men still had any contact with each other.  Hell replied: What level of connection there is, is just some kind of inevitable consequence of the friendship that we once had.”  Hell continued: “But yes, sure there’s a connection in the sense that we spent so much time together and did so many things together in a period that was really crucial to me.  He is just necessarily built into who I am.”  That last line really struck me, as it perfectly articulates the full-measure of two people going beyond mere symbiosis: it gives credence and proof to the abstract idea in which two individuals are created to complement each other.  No matter what happens, Hell concedes, in some small or large part, Verlaine is a part of him.  It’s how I thought best to describe the marriage that Simon Viklund and the 8-bit music of Bionic Commando have shared for the better part of twenty-five years.  A partnership was formed quite unexpectedly from some now-antiquated 13” tube television languishing in a corner in Viklund’s now defunct, childhood bedroom.  Commando’s choppy, condensed mono flourished, and repurposed itself inside Viklund’s 8-year-old mind.  It remained there, in the lowest form of function, hibernating, nourishing its seed, reinforcing its walls, drip-feeding Viklund its life-force, whispering in his ear, forcing its chords from his mouth: It was never far from his thoughts.  It would be twenty years of tossing in his bed at night, fevered by the pitch of Commando’s saturated Vocoder strings.  He lived with this burden, but Viklund’s day was coming.

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Listen: Rise of the Albatross

When Viklund finally stepped up to put his guitar monitors through the rigorous paces of the entire re-worked score two decades later, the results of his preoccupation, his obsession, were quite unlike anything before or since.  Simon Viklund knows the notes of Bionic Commando, their finite symmetry, and the speed of their progression better, perhaps, than he understands how to siphon air from his nose.  No man, mammal, or extraterrestrial within screaming distance of some lachrymose black hole could better Viklund’s results.  Viklund is Bionic Commando, and for its continued existence, Bionic Commando is Viklund.

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Listen: Main Theme

On Bionic Commando Rearmed, Viklund works far beyond the regular scope of typical gentrification.  Viklund fuses the original’s dying archaic motor and its fading response with wholly reinvigorated elements.  He goes miles beyond simply replacing parts.  Viklund’s score becomes a litmus test of boundaries.  How far can he eschew these songs before they lose their original membrane?  This is all very delicate work.  Keenly aware, Viklund is cautious to preserve, but eager to extend his mercurial influence over the proceedings.

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Listen: Leap of Faith

Viklund has a knack for distilling the original soundtrack’s vaguely drawn choruses out from its layers of bleep and monotony.  His ability to dissect and reassemble the 8-bit loop, from which all those original tracks were spawned, generates some of the greatest hooks in modern video gaming scores.  At each repeat, Viklund raises his stakes, making each corner brighter, more taut, robust and in all respects thoroughly unyielding.

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Listen: Power Plant

Bionic Commando Rearmed’s soundtrack is no simple homage.  It’s the sound of true spiritual release, and the culmination of one man’s arduous decades of labor – his perilous germination.  Though Viklund may have had differences with his lover over their years, he has no desire to expunge or separate her tendrils so deeply imbedded within his chest.  This connection is one of permanence, and chief among his concerns is the monument they are to jointly leave behind.  Make no mistake: Viklund’s Bionic Commando Rearmed possesses the strength on which Viklund may rest his legacy.  It’s built into who he is, after all.

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Purchase the Bionic Commando Rearmed soundtrack here!

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.   He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

The Metal Gear series as seen through the eyes of a soundboard has been defined by excruciating, laborious pacing.  Creaking lockers, the smack of rubber sole, from the use of flash grenades to all out fracas –  inch to inch the audio is prostrate, drowning in subtlety.  That being said, the music has never betrayed its onscreen partner.  They have worked together in unison to clear the overrun facility of paramilitary and its barking mechanical menace; each moment cued, tension escalating until one gun is finally nestled like a beak inside the inner ear of the wobbling, dazed opponent.  This series’ overall scoring can be aptly summarized by a track found nearly buried within Metal Gear Solid 4’s ponderous and fragile postmortem sound cues.  As seen below:

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Listen: Mobs Alive

While there is little to criticize within the series’ overall soundtrack, its single drawback might be its own stubborn nature, its ornery backtalk: Only Metal Gear knows Metal Gear!  Like a stooped, aged man, it is consumed by its own daily rituals.  Coffee – 3AM, a brisk walk around the food court – 7AM, loitering about the bookstore – 9AM-5PM.  Habitual, scripted, non-negotiable.  The blueprint is permanent, and if Metal Gear misses that mall walk, its blood sugar could spike, setting in motion a diabetic coma from which it may never wake.  If you’re looking for nightlife, this is not the place!  Remember: curfew’s at sundown.

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Listen: The War Still Rages Within

Contrarily, Metal Gear Rising‘s composer is a young man.  Jamie Christopherson’s stride is neither hobbled nor dependent on prosthetics.  He requires no extraneous quantity of bran and he sleeps soundly… sometimes late into the day!  He recounts nights spent in wild, neon cabanas, with no need to rely on obstinate Metal Gear’s tired anecdotes of its chance meeting with President Taft and his surly entourage as they rode horseback from a ramshackle saloon.  Christopherson further understands that when people move, when they are charged with action, the room and the range on which they stand needs to thrust and gyrate equally.

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Listen: Dark Skies (Platinum Mix)

The spirit of Rising’s delicate musical ballast is in knowing that in open war, you need not step lightly. This is made evident in the above video for the track entitled “Dark Skies (Platinum Mix)”.  If you could melt everything to distillation, this song is the liters of blood that run through Rising‘s cybernetic protagonist’s factory assembled veins, the foundation upon which the entire score is based.  This cyborg was built to outlast other batteries, to perform with precision long after the graves of all his colleagues, enemies and family are filled.  He is conflicted, enraged, and always ready for the next wave of drones and privates to fall to his heated steel.  Why come from behind your adversary when you have the option to see his furrowed pensive brow turn to squinted, rounded surprise?  Jamie Christopherson is TIRED of the footsies, TIRED of this hide and seek.  So it’s understandable that Rising‘s compositions are blistered, and irritated accordingly.

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Listen: It Has To Be This Way

Rising’s score carries a caustic and predatory preamble.  “Rules Of Nature (Platinum Mix)” and “The Only Thing I Know For Real (Maniac Agenda Mix)” carry the sound of an unfaltering youthful conviction.  Its sinew, its sharp corners will surely be enough to overtake the corrosive humanoid tank just steps from its position: The idea that simply digging heels will guarantee a swift victory sans casualties.  It’s foolish and risky, but sneaking away only bargains for time.  Why not simply stand to it now?  That’s the point: Why drag out the engagement?  Let them see!

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Listen: The Hot Wind Blowing

If Metal Gear purists expect a written apology from Christopherson, know that those legs of yours will be crossed for a very long time.  This is not Metal Gear Solid.  Rising incorporates a copious heaping of vocals, verse and chorus.  It challenges your book of stringent rules continually coloring outside the lines.   “A Stranger I Remain (Maniac Agenda Mix)” would have been homeless, a toothless beggar in 1998’s Metal Gear Solid but here it’s given space and fire to breathe.  The experimentation of near-faultless bravado (“Red Sun Maniac Agenda Mix“) and boot licking heavy metal (“A Soul Can’t Be Cut“) are plied and soldered together as part of a larger arsenal.  If you’re going to use the front door… don’t bother knocking.  Think of these compositions as C4 explosives, clearing paths and opposition.  At first you fear that initial blast, praying it does not take some part of you with it.  As you acclimate, as it becomes routine, you begin to anticipate its charge.  You get closer to each wall that it’s about to tumble, even stirring up the courage to light the fuse yourself.  It becomes your dangerous, beloved appendage.

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Listen: The Stains of Time (Maniac Agenda Mix)

Metal Gear Rising’s score is immeasurable.  It is outstanding and deserves the highest marks for living so completely exposed.  It’s also hands down one of gaming’s greatest punk rock operas.  You could have simply added water, giving birth to another Metal Gear mountain song.  It’s the additions though, all manner of added food coloring and syrup, that make the plain and tasteless worth saving your daily calories for.  After all why spend those weekends hitting the pillow while the sun’s still out, dentures fizzling?  Why not drive out to where the cops get called, and people scatter?  There might be girls!

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Purchase the Metal Gear Rising Soundtrack right here!

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

It’s a soundtrack I return to time and again, Jesper Kyd’s Darksiders II.  Jesper has a unique sound that’s virtually impossible to confuse with any other composer, yet just when I think I’ve figured him out, he ends up writing something like Darksiders II.

So what makes a composer great?  It’s all in the detail: small musical actions that elicit a reaction in the listener, which quite possibly could be no reaction at all.

To my ears, Jesper introduces me to a new world with each soundtrack or album he makes.  He creates an individual universe for each project that rarely, if ever, strays from whatever norm he’s established.

Take Darksiders II.  In the first track, “Maker’s Theme”, we’re introduced to the main elements of that universe.  Immediately, we hear Celtic overtones both in the melody Jesper wrote and the instrument he wrote it for, the whistle.  Then, a heartfelt violin solo that’s accompanied by harp and other plucked strings.  It’s an intimate sound, one that is reminiscent of folk songs.

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Listen: Maker’s Theme

All is well and good, and then Jesper becomes even more Jesper at 1:22, and we go somewhere else.  At around 1:54, he brings back the harmonic structure established in the beginning, always with that pulsing rhythm.  Jesper is always true to rhythm and motion in his music.

He’s kind of a rhythm genius, really, in my totally biased opinion.

It’s something you vividly hear in the next track, “Into Eternity”.  It’s like a waltz in a daydream. The vocals are absolutely amazing (Jesper has worked with Melissa Kaplan on many occasions, and that would be because she’s fricking amazing.  She’s all over Assassin’s Creed II & Brotherhood).

I mean, listen to her sing this.  And be sure to pay attention to when Jesper kicks in the bass at 1:25.  There are a lot of composers I would love to watch write some music, but Jesper is so totally at the top of that list.  Not that any composer would ever want anyone watching them.  It kind of sounds creepy now.

You’ve gotta experience “Story of the Makers”.   I’m going to completely nerd out about this one, but I recommend listening to the track before you continue reading.  Seriously; it takes two minutes and twelve seconds.  Listen :-)

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Listen: Story of the Makers

Now that you’ve listened to it to explain to you why the business that happens from 1:29 – 1:39 feels so sad, and sounds so beautiful and right.  So Jesper starts with all this quintal and intervallic harmony that only partially resolves, and those partial resolutions have tension, or dissonance, in them.  I’m talking about notes that don’t necessarily sound wrong, but they seem to want to go places other than where Jesper puts them.

Harmony has rules.  I don’t mean rules as in “this chord can’t follow that chord”, although those rules exist too, depending on which century or hemisphere we’re discussing.  By rules, I mean the physics of sound and the harmonic series and such, and how we’ve trained ourselves (since the 17th century) to expect certain notes to follow others.  I’m talking about tonality.  Like, if I play you the first seven notes of a major scale, you will want to hear the eighth (unless you suffer from amusia).  True story.  Holy crap let’s get back to Jesper.

So he suspends all these notes (aptly called “suspensions” in music theory) so that the harmonies kind of melt into each other; it’s a smooth process.  At 0:49, we get our first hint at a melody, which again, doesn’t resolve.  But at 1:29, something magical starts.  It’s the beginnings of our first real cadence, an actual dominant chord (1:35) that goes to a tonic chord at 1:39.  And that chord at 1:39 feels so good because it’s the first time Jesper resolves anything leading up to it.

Honestly, I don’t even know if Jesper can read music.  It’s irrelevant.  If he does or doesn’t, he writes what he hears.

On to “The Corruption” and its steady rhythms.  And, of course, it gets super cool.  Jesper tricks us a bit here, by flipping things around.  Just try to follow the pattern, which he establishes at around 0:38.  He flips it at 1:37.  Unexpected, simple and awesome.

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Listen: The Corruption

Oh, but it just gets better, that track.  The anthem!  Jesper ramps up this anthem to start at around 2:31 (the piano chords).  It actually starts at 2:52.  Goosebumps every. time.  Then the rhythm at 3:14.  I want to, like, stand on a mountain holding a lighter in the air, hugging my sister or something like that.

One more, and then I’ll leave you to discover the rest of Darksiders II.

It’s a short one, and it’s a track Jesper says he never thought would end up in the game.   It was an improvisation – almost an afterthought.  And that spontaneity is effervescent from the first to the final note.  I have to stop myself from repeating it too many times in a row or I start to feel all weird, like someone will somehow notice that I’ve listened to it 27 times.

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Listen: Crystal Spire

My favorite part in this particular track happens at 1:09.  Again, this is a tiny detail in the large scope of the soundtrack.  So tiny.  But stopping everything for that tiny rhythmic motive draws a listener in.  You notice it.  And it’s right.

I’ve left you an entire second disc of Darksiders II to discover for yourself, and I cannot recommend it enough. Whether you’ve been a Jesper fan from the early days of Hitman, or you’re discovering him for the first time, this is a pretty great place to start.

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Preview all tracks and purchase the soundtrack right here!

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.

Last winter, someone was nice enough to send me to Dragon’s Dogma soundtrack for review.  I had every intention of doing the review, but I got a little caught up with work.  I had a trip to Italy coming up in December, though, so I figured I’d listen to it on the plane and review it when I arrived (I was not touring, just visiting in-laws).  I ripped the CD to my MP3 library and put it on my phone.  Much to my surprise, when I tried to listen to the album on the plane, I was unimpressed.  What I heard initially felt like a generic fantasy album with the drama dial set up way high in some spots.  And at 34 tracks running over an hour, it felt a little taxing.

Luckily, the story doesn’t end there.  Since I left the MP3s on my phone, whenever I had my player set to shuffle all my songs, which is often, one of the Dragon’s Dogma songs would play.  And almost every time, I’d have the same internal conversation:

“What is this?”

“This isn’t Assassin’s Creed: Revelation.

“Final Fantasy?  No.”

“Some small song from The Longest Journey?  Nuh-uh.”

Then, even though I was driving, I’d risk life and limb to glance at my phone to learn I’m listening to the soundtrack I thought I didn’t like.  Every time, I was startled to see Dragon’s Dogma on the display.  What I did learn from this experience is that some video game soundtracks, unlike Journey or World of Goo, maybe weren’t meant to be listened to straight through or with a lot of focus.  This is one of those albums without a doubt.  I can’t explain it, but most of the tracks are exceptional just standing on their own.  I was also pleasantly surprised to discover some mastery behind Tadayoshi Makino’s music, which I initially chalked up to being generic fantasy.  It is anything but.

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Listen: Cassardis

My favorite tracks are some of the most simple with mostly piano-driven melodies.  Take “Cassardis,” for example. This stunning track has a simple piano melody initially backed by a rather tribal sounding male vocalist, oddly reminiscent of some of Jack Wall‘s work on the Myst IV: Revelations soundtrack.  The genius of it for me, are the small drumbeats that slowly populate the background.  They sound like beads being dropped on hollow logs but with clear purpose and care.

Take “Beyond the Rift” next.  Backed by piano, the main melodies are played by a somber clarinet with a simple bass undertone.  Throw in some aquatic sounds and the sounds of chimes in the background, and you have a song that effectively immerses you in water.  Actually, Inon Zur, not Tadayoshi Makino, composed this gorgeous track.

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Listen: Beyond the Rift

Moving on, my next favorite tracks feature effective marching drums.  My tastes seem silly, I know, but I love a good marching drum.  “Verity,” which is the simplified set-up for the grandiose “Fateful Decision,” has a running marching beat rhythm behind intermittent strings, flittery piano melodies, and hushed vocals popping discreetly into the aural experience.

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Listen: Verity

 On the bright side of the spectrum, “Gran Soren,” features very Celtic instruments and rhythms with those lovely marching drums driving the experience.  The whole of the song’s composition inspires visions of lush, green landscapes, and knights surmounting hills to view a kingdom before them.  It’s a happy and adventurous tune that separates itself from the rest of the album.

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Listen: Gran Soren

 Those are just some songs, but really, when you pick any random song out of the bunch, it sounds pretty remarkable.  Maybe I’m kooky or just plain wrong, but I definitely suggest picking up the Dragon’s Dogma soundtrack and just listening to it in bursts.  I will lodge one criticism in that I was, and still am, underwhelmed by the Rei Kondoh tracks.  He composed my favorite songs from the Okami and Bayonetta soundtracks, but something fell flat here.  Still, none of them are bad, and the whole of the album is just beaming with quality.

RE Chronicles INSIDE Foldout 6

Buy the Dragon’s Dogma soundtrack right here!

Enjoy!

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Gil is a video game enthusiast and professional meanderer. When he’s not giving people his unsolicited grammar corrections, he is out and about seeking exciting food and even more exciting single-player experiences. He’s got one of them Twitters (@gilmeansjoy) and a blog or something (fromthebacklog.blogspot.com).

 

Marty O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori wrote a ton of music for the Halo franchise.  More than six hours of it is in my iTunes, and that’s not even close to all of it.

Of all the music for Halo Marty wrote, one soundtrack rises above all the rest: Halo 3: ODST.

ODST gets a lot of hate for the campaign, the multiplayer, or both.  But who cares, because the music is awesome.

Marty went in a completely different direction with ODST.  He (mostly) replaced the electric guitar with a saxophone, of all things, mirroring the film noir aspects of ODST’s story.  Most of the voices are gone – certainly the heavy Gregorian chant influence is missing.  The piano is still there, perhaps a reminder of Halo 3, and that trademark tribal percussion is present too.

And just like the first three Halo scores, the Northwest Sinfonia returns as the performing orchestra.

I like ODST for its differences and its subtleties.

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Listen: Overture

Much like the other Halo scores, there are long tracks on the ODST soundtrack.  For my ears, the Halo soundtracks play a lot like a symphonic album, with these long pieces that evolve over time, with many moods per track.

And that’s exactly what Marty hoped when he ordered the music and put it all together.  “I’ve ordered the suites to match what you would hear if you played straight through the game,” he said in the ODST liner notes.

It’s a thing he does with his soundtracks – one of many things that make Marty a unique composer in the industry.  Another odd Marty fact is that he typically doesn’t start writing a score until the game is pretty much finished.

(Budding game composers, that probably won’t be an option for you.  He can, because he’s Marty.)

Each piece on the ODST soundtrack is actually a collection of several pieces as the game unfolds chronologically.  The “Overture” alone has five miniature movements.

The “Overture” is one of my favorite tracks, but there are several more to add to that list.

“The Light at the End” begins as if some sort of piano prelude.  If you’re a fan of the chords and harmonies used in the opening of this piece, you’ll love Aaron Copland.  Jus’ sayin’.  In any event, “The Light at the End” also eventually features those Halo voices we cling to in all the soundtracks.

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Listen: The Light at the End

As beautifully symphonic as the “Overture” is, it might not be Halo enough for some of you.  In that case, check out the bass/drums/guitar of “Traffic Jam”.

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Listen: Traffic Jam

One of my favorite tracks is “Neon Night” due to the opening motif.  Three different notes, but repeated in a pattern of seven, which inevitably offsets the three notes.  It creates a twisting effect – like a small puzzle for the brain to decipher while listening. So simple, yet such a treat for the ear.

When the piano returns at about 3:04, the new melody is a modified inversion of what we heard at the beginning of the track.  As a result, that new melody doesn’t exactly sound new – it sounds familiar and germane, and those are things we like to hear in soundtracks because it makes us feel connected to the music and story.

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Listen: Neon Night

And then there’s “Bits and Pieces”, which might be my favorite Halo track in the history of Halo tracks.  The mini-movement called “From the Ashes” starts it off.  The orchestra blends so incredibly well with all of the other musical elements – the upper strings mimicking the piano, while the low strings sweep back and forth underneath it all.

I want you to listen for two instruments in the opening moments of “Bits and Pieces” – listen for the harp, and listen for the triangle.  Those two simple sounds add character and depth to the music, if not a layer of warmth. Also, this.

 odst 6

Listen: Bits and Pieces

I appreciate that Marty didn’t overuse the saxophone.  Rather than saturate the soundtrack with that “film noir” staple, it’s used on occasion.  To my ears, it’s more refreshing as a result.

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Listen: Asphalt and Ablution

ODST is a fun listen.  I love how Marty organized it, from the suites of music to the chronology.  I like the film noir aspects, used sparingly in a blend of traditional Halo score elements.  Do you have a favorite Halo soundtrack?

Halo 3 OSDT_Coverart

Soundtrack available for purchase right here!

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.

There’s something amazing and special about the Mass Effect soundtrack.

My favorite quote about it comes from Casey Hudson himself: “It would need the thundering power and emotional range of a live orchestra.  At the same time, that classic sound would be woven into themes reminiscent of 80s electronica, with synthetic instruments providing complex layers and an ambient, futuristic atmosphere.”

Jack Wall, Sam Hulick, Richard Jacques and David Kates each contributed in varying degrees to the Mass Effect score, and they did a great job maintaining a tone and creating that sound Casey desired.

Additionally, the simplicity and clarity of the Mass Effect soundtrack contribute heavily to its success.

The menu music is calming and wonderful, and sets a tone for what’s to come musically through the game. A simple, single synth plays a song-like melody over a drone with some wind. Awesome.

Mass Effect orbit

Listen: Vigil

If you’ve never played the first Mass Effect, there’s a lot of walking around.  Like, a lot.  Under normal circumstances, that can get tiring and frustrating.  Unless you’re meandering along to this.

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Listen: The Normandy

One of my favorite scenes in Mass Effect occurs the first time Commander Shepard meets a Reaper, named Sovereign.  The script is brilliant, and the music is perfect, thanks to Sam.

Mass Effect Sovreign

Listen: Sovereign’s Theme

Again, the simplicity draws me in.  The themes aren’t complicated.  They’re easy to digest, and get stuck in my ear quickly.  Take “The Wards” (Listen: The Wards) for instance.  There are only a couple things happening at any given time.

Regardless of their consonance or dissonance, if we’re listening critically, we don’t have to listen that hard to hear what’s happening.  That kind of clarity is significant.  We hear these melodies over and over again.  If our ears are distracted by too much, we want to shut it off.

Additionally, that kind of clarity encourages listening outside of the game.  Composers like Jack, Sam, Richard and David know this.

Even combat music features simple themes (Listen: Protecting the Colony), albeit over fast-moving synths or other instruments.

But no discussion of the Mass Effect soundtrack is complete without hearing Sam’s “Uncharted Worlds”.  It was his demo track, of all things, and it ends up playing a significant role in all three Mass Effect games.  Again, the simplicity of the ideas, and in this case, their cyclic qualities make it easy to hear this over and over again. Easily a fan favorite.

Mass Effect Uncharted Worlds

Listen: Uncharted Worlds

The Mass Effect soundtrack is one to own.  If you’re a budding game composer, it’s an excellent study in many ways.  It’s a great example of a unified score written by multiple composers, and its focus and simplicity make it a sophisticated game soundtrack worth knowing.

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Purchase the Mass Effect soundtrack right here!

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.

 

 

iPod loading.  It’s a miserable task that requires absolute fortitude and patience.  When you are in the throes of its gnashing jaws, your life ceases to move.  Why go out when you can inch closer to putting all thousand discs of your rank, molded CD collection into one tiny device?  Why fumble with garbage, when all you have to do is press a button?  Once it’s complete you will never have to reload this machine again.  A word to those who undertake this prodigious task: Make absolutely certain you add everything!  I forgot to add Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake to my library, and not having this in my music files was enough to make me reset the software.  I had also left out my hundreds of video game soundtracks completely.  Why?  I simply felt the styles would clash, and someone casually looking through it would judge me for having them at all.  The music loading ritual would have to be done from scratch. I simply had to have Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake at the ready.

Metal Gear Solid 2 A

Listen: Frequency 140.85

Despite its constraints, 8-bit music can be a powerful thing.  Though it strains at every turn, churning bolts that need oil, thriving on shortcuts through redundant circuitry, through loops, it processes emotion on a scale so tiny it chokes when delivering the rising action, the denouement.  So it’s not so difficult to fathom that the MSX-2, an archaic personal computer even by late 80’s standards, could be the home of such a labyrinthine, attritional, toiling artistic work.  Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake‘s soundtrack is all shards, blips of themes you will come to know over the ensuing two decades.  Solid Snake becomes the character he does largely due to the suffocating ambiance of this game.

Metal Gear 2 B

Listen: The Front Line

Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake is a score involved in an excruciating, emotional skirmish. The weight of consequences, the disillusion of the objectives that Snake must complete. The stalking of the unobservant hordes of armed men.  The tight, nauseating space inside ventilation shafts.  It’s all handled here with delicate pruning.  Each leaf cut to maximize its searing, blinding illumination.  It gives context, prose even, to a soldier who’s stranded on a small strip of land fighting to save the entire self-destructing world bare-handed.

Metal Gear 2 C

Listen: Tears

Solid Snake is just a man.  If he were omnipotent, beyond the grasp of fear, if he could outpace his enemy, it’s likely we would regard him with mere reverence.  It’s because of his ability to be so ordinary and so completely flawed that we would raise an army for him at his mild suggestion.  The musical accompaniment had to give Snake the hubris, and the blood – forge a character that can consume his obstacles, but come out the other end a bit more broken than before.  Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake‘s soundtrack is the making of a franchise from small dotted wilderness, to industrialized nation.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

Olivier Deriviere wrote a great score for the game Remember Me, and he did it in a unique and innovative way.

The first thing Olivier did was write an orchestral score.  He took that score, mocked it up in his computer, and started taking it apart and reassembling it digitally, creating yet another score.  In this way, Olivier mimicked the essential gameplay aspect of Remember Me – the ability to take someone’s memory and reorganize it so they remember things differently than what took place.

So, the orchestra (the fine players of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London) recorded the first score Olivier wrote.  After that, he took the sound files and made the final product – an acoustic soundtrack, manipulated digitally after the fact.

What’s left is a chorus of familiar sounds put together in relatively unfamiliar ways.  You can hear great back and forth between acoustic and digital manipulation in several tracks.

Remember Me 1 copy

Listen: Hope

Remember Me is set in 2084 in Neo-Paris, and Olivier, being French and living in Paris, had special insight into the atmosphere and life of the city.

And, being a classically-trained French composer, he’s influenced by the great French composers that preceded him.  The influence of Ravel is stronger, but it’s impossible to dismiss that of Debussy as well.

There are many highlights on the soundtrack, including the seductively haunting “Still Human”.  The three-note motives in the strings (usually between the 2nd and 3rd notes) conjure images of dancing – twisting and turning, stopping and starting.  It’s mesmerizing.

Remember Me 2 copy

Listen: Still Human

At the beginning of Remember Me, the score is more acoustic in nature.  As you progress through the game, Olivier increasingly manipulates the orchestra.  On occasion, the transition isn’t as seamless between the acoustic and digital, perhaps intentionally so.

Olivier writes a lot for brass, and there’s a great low brass chorale of sorts in the middle of “Memory Reconstruction”.

Remember Me 3 copy

Listen: Memory Reconstruction

And once more with the dancing in the lovely “Our Parents”.  In many ways, I’m reminded of a film score I absolutely adored when I was younger when I hear this track: British minimalist composer Michael Nyman’s score for The Piano.

Olivier is anything but a minimalist, but seems to have the ability to know when to use the entire orchestra, or select a few colors at a time.

Remember Me 4 copy

Listen: Our Parents

“Chase Through Montmartre” demonstrates the best blend of the organic and synthetic of all the pieces Olivier wrote.  It’s also the longest cue on the soundtrack. A sample orchestra can never sound that great. The Philharmonia Orchestra is amazing (especially this).

Remember Me 5 copy

Listen: Chase Through Montmartre

Olivier’s 2008 score for Alone in the Dark is also a good listen.

The score for Remember Me is worth a critical ear. As much as I enjoy what Olivier did with the score electronically, I’m most in love with the acoustic orchestra bits. His talent is perhaps strongest when writing lush sounds, whether with a full ensemble or a smaller group. I look quite forward to hearing more from Olivier in the future.

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.

The Last of Us 1

Listen: The Last of Us Main Theme

Boredom and listlessness: It’s what I imagine to be what fills most days in the lives of protagonists Joel and Ellie… it’s also what is least advertised among the billowing carcinogenic stills in circulation for Naughty Dog’s The Last Of Us.  In fairness, it would be rather difficult to market, to communicate through images a misery and stillness that is not only pronounced but is absolutely taciturn to a mass gaming audience who’s neither gun-shy nor looking to probe inward.  The Last Of Us has no peculiar gait, produces no exaggerated hand gestures; it gathers nourishment, lucidity from its inching halcyon calm…

The Last Of Us composer Gustavo Santaolalla channels the title’s rise and fall of heat, the systolic readings of a body compromised, its oncoming systemic collapse imminent.  Santaolalla is conscious of this grim prognosis: working through both intravenous and topical application, he gently prepares the host for the inevitable.  Santaolalla manually moves the jaws of the disabled patient to chew, rotating and extending the legs.  For every breath expended he has maximized the output of blood and delayed the toxin for just a moment longer.  Watching, hovering over, proves to be the most difficult.

The Last of Us 2

Listen: Forgotten Memories

On The Last Of Us, Santaolalla gives voice to its marginalized, emaciated population.  Through his near silent reverberation, he articulates the disposition of those few that remain as both septic and diminished by the lengthened concrete roads they must traverse.  For every lone piece of bruised, rotten pear, there are fifty jagged cinder-blocks.

The Last of Us 3

Listen: Home

Santaolalla’s compositions log all sacrifices made, all chips used in bargaining, and a graying ethical rhetoric.  It showcases individuals in a frozen, toiling paralysis.  Though they may feel the tingle of nerve-endings, there will be no recovery, as their ability to differentiate the straight line from mild camber is dictated by their need to justify the lurid and deplorable measures administered by their hand.  It leaves every choice a parabola, a malleable balloon of varying intent and righteous hot air.

The Last of Us 4

Listen: Smugglers

Not everything here is passive however, and there are indeed moments meant to capitalize on the chase: the pressure of being pressed down upon with the full weight of the body, the hands in a desperate reach for any primitive weapon.  Escape and defense are themes not forgotten among the score’s myriad ponderous islands or its retreat to the shade of a sickly elm.

Santaolalla’s balance of traipsing subtlety masterfully complements the desperation, the loss of one’s own moral compass, and the futility of its protagonists to remain in light.  The Last Of Us, split across its thirty pieces of music, creates some of the most despondent and unsettling refrains of this generation.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

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