Game People Calling

Game People Calling
Catherine’s Soundtrack Renaissance

Game People | 16 May 2010 14:00
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Before Wipeout on the original PlayStation, the idea of having real music in a videogame was a novelty. Now though, game soundtracks are becoming as important as their movie equivalents. Catherine Spencer recently launched her project reviewing soundtracks and interviewing their creators as the Soundtrack Gamer.

Growing up we always had music and instruments around, so it seems natural to write about these things. I'm fascinated to see how videogames make use of their musical assets. Music in films is often quite cynically used - and often included to bolster sales of the soundtrack CD - whereas games still have an innocence about their use of quality music.

Maybe it's because they lean more heavily on this to add emotional weight, or maybe they are just still new at this. Either way, it was great to interview Greg Edmonson and hear how highly he praised the videogame makers he worked with. Coming straight from working on Firefly, he appreciated the way Naughty Dog enabled him to focus on what he did best - creating moving music - rather than worrying about technicalities or being restricted to short looping refrains. Both Uncharted games are the richer for it, as are their soundtracks.

I'd like to interview Jesper Kyd at some point too, I really enjoyed digging into his work on the Assassin's Creed 2 soundtrack ...

Successfully blending a modern-sounding soundtrack with classical themes, Assassin's Creed 2 is a beautiful album that enhances the Renaissance setting of the game. Even away from the console, it doesn't lose its power and stayed in my Walkman long after finishing the main experience.

It marks an improvement over the first game's heavy, overly moody synths that to my ear lacked the ethnic themes that evoke religious fervor in the Holy Lands. The ambient samples are still there in Assassin's Creed 2 but are now a springboard for more developed melodies.

Assassin's Creed is impressive for grasping the nettle of using voice to evoke setting and emotion. Play a violin or cello and you can be sure their neutral beauty will connect with any listener, but to achieve this with a sung melody is much more difficult. People respond with much greater variety to the human voice, so getting it right is difficult. For me, Assassin's Creed managed this well.

"Home in Florence" stands out for its delicacy and ethereal voice, laying a calm melancholy on the player. A timely if temporary sanctuary away from the darker tones of the game.

Listening to this again, I'm reminded that it's these voiced tracks I return to the most though. Whether the counter-tenor in "Dreams of Venice" or young soprano in "Flight Over Venice," these voices connect directly with rich suggestions of another world.

This can easily backfire, sounding self-important or overpowering, but Kyd judges it well, adding legitimate weight where it's needed. The voices embellish a theme or haunt dramatic moments and really add substance to the action, as well as general listening dynamics.

Next for me is an in depth look at the Alan Wake Special Edition focusing, of course, on its soundtrack CD. It's something I relish both for playing the game, as well as pinpointing what's going on musically throughout the experience.

But I want to know, what have been the soundtracks you have most enjoyed - and have any stood up to being listened to with girlfriends or boyfriends not so into gaming?

Game People is a rag tag bunch of artisans creating awesomely bizarre reviews from across the pond.

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