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Archive for the ‘2. Soundtrack Central’ Category

CRYSIS 2

Composers: Hans Zimmer, Lorne Bafle, Borislav Slavov, Tilman Sillescu

Release: November 2011

Length: 46 Tracks (2-discs)

Label: E.A.R.S (digital) La-la Land Records (Audio CD)

Two minds are better than one, but four musical minds are much better than two, and that was clearly the thinking behind the creation of Crysis 2’s score. Four composers, two CDs, and 47 tracks, sounds like a legend to me. Hans Zimmer lends his name and skill to the soundtrack, but the real stars of the show are Borislav Slavov and Tilman Sillescu; two experienced game composers with an ear for rich and cinematic themes. The game is a futuristic FPS with lots of mind-blowing action and a sci-fi plot, so we can expect the usual epic bass and string melodies, but is there anything here to elicit an emotive connection?

Let’s start with “Crysis 2 – Intro”, composed by Zimmer and Lorne Bafle. Zimmer has a thing for epic strings and thumping drums, and his use of this technique on this track has the desired effect. Think The Dark Knight soundtrack and you’re more or less there. The context of the game is essentially summed up; hopelessness, danger, adventure, and the apocalypse. Zimmer worked on six tracks out of the 47, and the most memorable composition is the aforementioned intro, with the other five pieces basically acting as variations of it. Zimmer’s contribution, albeit a small one, sets the tone for the rest of the score, and now that we’ve talked about his bit part, we can review the real meat of the soundtrack.

Slavov composed 21 tracks, and it’s a perfect example of the Bulgarian’s abilities to mix different styles of moods and music.  Soft piano and violin solos on tracks like “New York Aftermath” provoke emotions of loss, contemplating and misery, while “Chase” has the pacey drums of a cinematic scene, with enough deep brass and determined strings to epitomise the urgency of the scene.

In “Resolution (Reprise)” Slavov manages to conjour up memories of Gears of War and The Exorcist; the deep brass associated with the score of the former is introduced with a piano not dissimilar to the latter’s main theme. However, Slavov makes the track his own by adding a beautiful string melody that really tugs on the courage in your heart. That last sentence might have been a little dramatic, but the emotion in this track is highly potent and provocative.

In a direct contrast to the previous track, “Sneak and Shoot” displays Slavov’s ability to compose gameplay music. Reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid 4’s score, this piece is a sporadic experience. In order for it to work with the moments of stealth gameplay, the music is discontinued, from slow-pace quiet moments (sneak) to crescendos of numerous instruments (and shoot). Whether or not Slavov was inspired by any of the references made in this article thus far, he still manages to produce original pieces, giving the score its own identity, and managing to match the subject matter.

The final – but not the least – member of this composer quartet is Tilman Sillescu, a winner of the industry-recognised G.A.N.G award in 2007, brings his own magic to Crysis 2’s score. Dominating 19 tracks, Sillescu introduces gamers to his use of the electric guitar and soft soprano horns, especially in the prominent “Catastrophic Beauty”, which, coupled with Slavov’s “New York Aftermath”, provoke a melancholic emotive response.

The Crysis 2 score is cinematic and epic experience, rivalling and possibly surpassing many Hollywood blockbusters. Despite Zimmer’s input, Slavov and Sillescu are the true talent behind this. These guys proven that videogame soundtracks are an art in their own right, making this writer proud once again.

Check out more of Alec-Ross Bower’s writing at Thirteen1.com

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DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION

Composer: Michael McCann

Release: November 2011

Length: 12 Tracks

Label: Sumthing Else

The main theme of Edios Montreal’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution is that of Transhumanism: the study of transforming the human body by developing and technologies to eliminate aging, and enhancing the human condition physically and mentally. This theme, coupled with a ‘cyber-Renaissance’ art style, brings about an interesting concept. What we’re looking at today is how this theme has affected the music, composed by Michael McCann. With award-winning soundtracks like Splinter Cell: Double Agent under his belt, McCann has quite the reputation to bring to the game. Will he be able to transcend this soundtrack into greatness?

Unfortunately the full soundtrack hasn’t been released yet, however, those lucky enough to afford the Collector’s Edition of Deus Ex: HR (not the already beefy Augmented Edition) will have a 30-minute soundtrack included, and this is what we’ve been listening to for the past week. There are only a small number of tracks available, but they seem to feature a range of themes, from dramatic to epic, action-orientated to electronic ambience; appropriately mimicking the different play-styles involved in the videogame.

There are a number of comparatives that we can make straight away: Mass Effect, The Dark Knight, and Blade Runner spring to mind. However, McCann has a great skill for blending cinematic scores with organic soundscapes. The theme of transhumanism is apparent in the track “Opening Credits”, with its electronic bass rumble, and despite having those dramatic strings we’ve all grown to love from other cinematic scores, there’s an electro beat hooking up with a solo vocalist. “Detroit City Ambient Part” is another example of the game’s main theme influencing McCann’s style.

The cyber-punk/Renaissance theme is augmented by the use of choirs and solo vocalists. In “Icarus – Main Theme”, we’re treated to McCann’s skill as a cinematic composer; his use of dramatic piano sounds and synths give the music extra effect. But it’s his use of vocals that carry the most weight, sustaining any emotion the music may provoke.

Until we hear this complete soundtrack, we’re going to reserve our full judgement. It’s a good start so far, but there’s nothing here to grant this soundtrack into prominence. We’ve been looking forward to hearing this, but the twelve tracks available at the moment are not enough for us to go on.

Check out more of Alec-Ross Bower’s writing at Thirteen1.com

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BASTION

Composer: Darren Korb

Release: July 2011

Length: 22 Tracks

Label: N/A

There always seems to be one indie game that suddenly comes out of nowhere during the summer season, and this year Supergiant Games can claim that accolade. Bastion, a RPG-inspired hack n’ slash, with ‘real-time’ narration (if one can coin such a term), has quickly become a strong candidate for the Best Independent Game of the Year, which in turn has gained the game a strong horde of followers. The same can also be said for the game’s soundtrack, which has grown increasingly popular over the past four weeks due to its free-to-listen availability on Supergiant’s website. The man behind this masterful score – and making his videogame soundtrack debut – is ‘self-professed’ rock star Darren Korb, an absolutely phenomenal guitarist from Stateside. Is Korb one to listen out for? Or has Bastion’s score just got caught up in the hype?

A guitarist first and foremost, Korb brilliantly showcases his skills with the stringed instrument. That’s not to say that this is an all guitar-led score, on the contrary, Korb classifies the style of Bastion’s music as ‘acoustic frontier trip-hop’, so let’s dissect that.

The acoustic theme is apparent from the get-go. In the score’s second track “A Proper Story”, the guitar strings are strummed forcefully, albeit confidently, and the strings have a vintage feel, complementing the game’s context. Straight-away memories of the soundtrack from Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven springs to mind; perhaps it’s the scales that are being used, or the lead string instrument that I assume is a sitar. And while we’re on the topic of other videogame soundtracks, the intro to the track “The Sole Regret” is somewhat reminiscent of Red Dead Redemption, but it only stems from the electric guitar used in this track.

Trip-hop could be a way of describing the fast-paced percussion mixed with the Asian scales. The quick tempo beats have a knack for inducing foot tapping and head rocking, and the Middle Eastern feel helps to augment the psychedelic – or trippy – aura. “Terminal March” is a perfect example of this; a strong percussion introduction featuring some very interesting instrument, and then the sitar returns again with some demanding finger work.

And the final aspect in Korb’s definition of Bastion’s music is frontier, and from that – coupled with Bastion’s narration – we can assume that the composer means to capture elements of the plot. Some of the tracks on the soundtrack include vocals sang by Korb and other talents, and some lyrics just dictated by the game’s narrator Logan Cunningham. Even if you’ve played the game, the soundtrack offers its own journey – and there’s nothing like a musical journey.

Korb has proven himself to be quite the guitar hero, not just in his playing style, but in the way he writes his music. Bastion may have surprised gamers across the globe, but the soundtrack with its unique-blend of genres has its own surprises worth discovering.

Listen to Bastion’s OST for free here

Check out Alec-Ross Bower’s writing at Thirteen1.com

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DRAGON AGE II

Composer: Inon Zur

Release: March 2011

Length: 12 Tracks

Label: EA

The success of the first Dragon Age: Origins was a sure thing. BioWare is one of the videogame industries leading developers of RPGs, and Dragon Age proved to be their most challenging one yet. The sequel brings back some of the things we loved about the first videogame, the difficulty, the dark design, and Inon Zur’s musical genius.

Zur’s past titles, Fallout 3, Everquest, and Baulder’s Gate II have all received great praise from fans, and the composer seems to have used these works, including the previous Dragon Age title, as inspiration in his latest score.

The fantasy world wouldn’t be as evocative or as cinematic without Zur’s ability to create graceful compositions. In “Hawke Family Theme”, Zur gives us a loving and soft track made up of melodic guitar pieces and wood sections. However, Dragon Age is a game with a violent context, so combat music plays a role that is just as important as the fantasy element. In “Qunari on the Rise” we hear Zur’s darker side. There’s an element of Feudal Japan hidden in the deep drums, but it’s the bass wind instrument couple with the male choir chants that really captures the violence of the game.

We’re given a sample of Zur’s more romantic side too in “Love Scene”. Pan pipes, soft violins, and rhythm picking guitar come elegantly together to support the silky female vocal that fades in and out intermittently.

The soundtrack is a rather short one, lasting less than thirty minutes. My guess is that EA plan to release more music later on, but at the moment what we’ve got is a mix of Zur’s score. “Tavern Music” gives us a chance to hear some in-game music; it’s as you’d expect from a fantasy tavern; lively and rich with joy.

The last track worth mentioning is “Rogue Heart” a soft song, sung in a language I fail to identify. Its structure is brilliant, beginning very faint, with piano and synths. The vocal just repeats, but more and more instruments are introduced. By the point the bass has had a turn get your foot-tapping, the drums and guitar pick up the rhythm – it’s a shiver giver.

Inon Zur remains a master of the fantasy genre. Though I must admit that the fantasy is a big no-no for me, Zur manages to capture the magic that will tempt new players to the genre. Dragon Age II is set to be one of the most impressive RPGs of the year, and Zur’s soundtrack will certainly help make that experience even greater.

Check out more of Alec-Ross Bower’s writing at Thirteen1.com

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RED DEAD REDEMPTION RIDES OFF INTO THE SUNSET WITH MULTIPLE WINS

The ninth annual G.A.N.G awards took place in San Francisco last week (March 3) with the Music of the Year award going to Red Dead Redemption – Yeehaw! The musical aces of the soundtrack, Bill Elm and Woody Jackson, were also recognised, winning the Rookie(s) of the Year category – something that I consider to be well and truely deserved.

However Red Dead Redemption didn’t stop there; the relentless game also scooped up three more awards: Audio of the Year, Best Interactive Score, and Best Dialogue.

By no means was it an easy judge either, because the Rockstar game was up against some brilliantly strong competition including Heavy Rain, which unfortunately won nothing, Halo: Reach, again nothing, and Battlefield: Bad Company 2, the other prominent winner that day (Best Sound Design, and Best Use of Multi-Channel Surround in a Game).

The Music of the Year award is a huge accolade in the games industry, so hopefully it will mean we may hear more from Billy and Woody in the future. However, the fact that Red Dead Redemption claimed four awards, and also the fact that it was nominated for six other categories is an outstanding feat and one that sustains Rockstar Games’ sharp eye – or rather ear – for detail in every department, obviously including music and sound.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was awarded for it's awesome sound design.

 

The gamut of talent was so strong last year, giving us a phenomenal selection of videogame music. It’s unfortunate that strong favourites of Now Loading didn’t win or get nominated – Heavy Rain and Mass Effect 2 respectively – but there’s no question regarding the sheer brilliance behind the Red Dead Redemption score. John Marston was the last cowboy standing after all.

G.A.N.G Awards

AUDIO OF THE YEAR
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Dante’s Inferno
God of War III
Heavy Rain
WINNER: Red Dead Redemption

MUSIC OF THE YEAR
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Bioshock 2
Dante’s Inferno
Heavy Rain
James Bond 007: Blood Stone
WINNER: Red Dead Redemption

BEST AUDIO OTHER
WINNER: Halo: Waypoint “The Return”

SOUND DESIGN OF THE YEAR
WINNER: Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Bioshock 2
Dante’s Inferno
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
God of War III
Red Dead Redemption

BEST SOUNDTRACK ALBUM
Bioshock 2
Dante’s Inferno
Halo: Reach
Mass Effect 2
Red Dead Redemption
WINNER: Video Games Live – Level 2

BEST INTERACTIVE SCORE
Dante’s Inferno
God of War III
Halo: Reach
Heavy Rain
James Bond 007: Blood Stone
WINNER: Red Dead Redemption

BEST HANDHELD AUDIO
God of War: Ghost of Sparta
WINNER: Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck’s Revenge
Monster Hunter Portable 3
Ni no Kuni: Shikkoku no Madoshi
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

BEST CINEMATIC/CUT-SCENE AUDIO
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
God of War III
Medal of Honor
Red Dead Redemption
WINNER: StarCraft II
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm

BEST DIALOGUE
Bioshock 2
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
God of War III
Mafia II
Medal of Honor
WINNER: Red Dead Redemption

BEST ORIGINAL INSTRUMENTAL
WINNER: “Athens Harbour Chase” – James Bond 007: Blood Stone
“Ethan Mars Theme” – Heavy Rain
“Main Theme” – Red Dead Redemption
“Northern Grasslands” – Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer
“The Palace Gates” – Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (Wii)

BEST ORIGINAL VOCAL – CHORAL
“Alice’s Theme” – Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland
“Dante’s Theme” – Dante’s Inferno
“Hymn” – Halo: Reach
WINNER: “Invincible” – World of Warcraft: Cataclysm
“Overture” – God of War III
“Redemption” – Dante’s Inferno

BEST ORIGINAL VOCAL – POP

“Dagomba” – Just Dance 2
“Dead Man’s Gun” – Red Dead Redemption
“Far Away” – Red Dead Redemption
WINNER: “I’ll Take It All” – James Bond 007: Blood Stone
“No Death In Love” – Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
“The Peri” (Zahara’s Theme) – Prince of Persia The Forgotten Sands

BEST USE OF MULTI-CHANNEL SURROUND
WINNER: Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Call of Duty: Black-Ops
Crackdown 2
Fable III
Halo: Reach
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II
Transformers: War for Cybertron

BEST USE OF LICENSED MUSIC
WINNER: Bioshock 2
Civilization V
DJ Hero 2
Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock
Mafia II
Rock Band 3

BEST GAME AUDIO ARTICLE, PUBLICATION OR BROADCAST
APM Film & Television Music Podcast
“Composing the Music of Star Wars: The Old Republic”
“From the Shadows of Film Sound: Cinematic Production & Creative Process in Video Game Audio”
“Recording Firearms Explosions”
WINNER: “The Weight of Silence – How Silence Can Indicate a Character’s Importance”

G.A.N.G Recongition Award
WINNER: Sumthing Else Musicworks

G.A.N.G. Distinguished Service Award
WINNER: Dren McDonald, Jacquie Shriver

Rookie of the Year Award
WINNER: Woody Jackson, Bill Elm

Lifetime Achievement Award

WINNER: Chris Huelsbeck

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HOMEFRONT

Composer: Matthew Harwood

Release: November 2011

Length: 34 Tracks

Label: THQ

It’s great to see some fresh blood on the videogame music scene. Sure, this little niche still has its greats that have been writing and composing videogame scores for years, and it’s great to hear new material from them. However, every now and again I yearn to hear the work of someone fresh to the scene. The guys behind the award-winning Red Dead Redemption soundtrack hadn’t worked on videogames before, and as far as I’m aware, neither has Matthew Harwood, the composer behind the original score to Homefront.

Listening to a soundtrack before a game’s release has its benefits. You can conjure up images in your head that the music might represent. Homefront is labelled as a cinematic and character driven experience, and after listening to the soundtrack the first time you can tell that the music aims to sustain that experience.

The soundtrack is phenomenal; the 34 tracked score will hold you attention for its entirety. The “Main Theme” is a powerful track that uses bits from other scores, there’s an essence of Star Wars, Hitman, and The Matrix soundtracks. The main theme doesn’t stand out as some of the more prominent games out there; however, when you hear the track called “Lobby”, which is a variation of the main theme, you’ll realise that it’s a memorable theme nonetheless. What follows is the track “Golden Gate” a composition that is provocative enough for you to imagine images of a Korean Army invading San Francisco. It features a grand brass and an erratic string section working harmoniously together, covering ever available gap in the rhythm, as if leaving no stone unturned.

Another track that features at the beginning of the score is “Oasis”. Initially the track resonates memories of Indiana Jones’ quieter moments. It’s a peaceful track, the strings carry most of the drama, and the piano and flute moments bring in a great deal of sadness.

Towards the end of the soundtrack we return to this peaceful place, however things have drastically changed. “Burnt Oasis” carries a great deal of emptiness with it, as if there’s a desolate wasteland where a potential base of operations for the survivors once was.

A final track worthy of note is the song “Stand Your Ground”, which was written, mixed, and performed by Harwood and his collaborator Scott Cresswell. It’s a rock song that sums up the context of the game brilliantly – “Stand your ground, don’t back down.” Cresswell sings the lead vocal and plays both bass and lead guitar, while Harwood provides the percussion, backing vocals, and the synth. It’s actually a really good song; if Homefront proves as popular as predicted then this song might be on everybody’s playlists.

Harwood is a fantastic addition to the videogame music scene. The music is powerful stuff and he may be on people’s minds long after the game is released. I definitely look forward to hearing more from him.

Check out more of Alec-Ross Bower’s writing at Thirteen1.com

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ASSASSIN’S CREED: BROTHERHOOD

Composer: Jesper Kyd

Release: November 2010

Length: 20 Tracks

There’s a new Kyd on the block. Well not really, but that pun’s been a long time coming. In fact it’s quite the opposite, after receiving numerous awards for his work on Assassin’s Creed II, Ubisoft called Jesper Kyd back to work his musical prowess on Ezio Auditores new journey: to conquer the Borgia occupation of 15th century Rome.

Kyd himself professed that the third game in the series was a lot darker than its predecessors and used this mood as inspiration for his soundtrack. Listening to his latest work, it is evident that Kyd was overwhelmed with this insight, as the soundtrack is a daunting and quite harrowing piece of musical originality. The same sense experienced during the soundtrack for Assassin’s Creed II has returned in the sequel. Kyd has kept some of the familiar features in his new compositions, for instance the angelic choirs and renaissance-esque instruments, but now they are intertwined with foreboding strings and deep toned vocals.

Majestic would be a great word to describe this soundtrack because it beams with pride; the tones of elegant instruments enrich the senses. However, the darkness of the soundtrack is what really overwhelms the listener; it feels like your being watched, especially in the track “Countdown”. “Brotherhood of the Assassins” is another great piece because it subtley screams danger. The eerie solo vocal, the Jaws-like violins, and the deep bass drums represent the deadly efficiency of the assassins. Finally, “Villa under Attack” is another track worthy of note. Despite its two minute brevity, it features an emotive string section about twenty-seconds in that really twists the heart strings.

Overall, the music for Ezio’s part of the story is very aptly written and produced; it appropriately matches the setting and context of the plot.

The music for Desmond’s world is very different. The year is 2012, so Kyd has left the renaissance music behind and opted for a more futuristic feel. With light electronic synths and flowing after effects, the track “Desmond Miles” suits the advanced era in comparison to 15th century Rome.

Kyd has done extremely well to make the newer tracks blend with his compositions from the last game. Bringing these older tracks into Brotherhood allows for the soundtrack to seamlessly evolve.

Jesper Kyd has once again delivered an outstanding performance. The music plays a massive role to the game, and Kyd has successfully fulfilled expectations once again. The soundtrack is potentially award-winning and is certainly half the gaming experience.

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