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Welcome to Rapture, Part 1

October 25, 2010

I’ve been in possession of the Bioshock Soundtrack for quite some time, which I got from IGN. I have a passing knowledge of what the game is about, but have never actually played it. Consequently, I’m highly familiar with the score, but have no knowledge of how the music is used in game, or where it occurs or in what context.

I would like to give my appraisal of what I think of the score before I eventually hear it in its original context and to see how much a video game’s score can tell us about the game before playing it. Latter I will play through the game to see if my expectations matched up in context. I think that it is important to gauge how much a game’s soundtrack can tell us about a game by itself.

The soundtrack is pretty short, clocking in at around twenty minutes. Most of the tracks are pretty brisk, and many sound very cinematic in nature, so I’m deducing that most of the music will follow specific in-game scenes and narrative events. Which would make it a very specific type of game i.e being linear in direction and being very story driven.

I’m making an educated guess that perhaps a lot of play time will not have any ‘music’ at all, and the void may be filled by background ambiance and sound effects, as opposed to ‘full-blown music’. This would make a case for a very atmospheric, perhaps ‘horror’ style game.

The score as a whole definitely has a ‘horror’ vibe, for the most part a tale of textures and sound. Screeching violins, minor keys, lots of dissonance and atonality paint a picture, to me, of a very dark, almost claustrophobic sounding game. The context of the game could well be a horror-style game, with scary encounters, not knowing what will be around the next corner etc.

A couple of stand out tracks:

‘The Ocean on his Shoulders’, Bioshock’s main theme, is a hauntingly beautiful piece that weaves tender strings, elements of music concréte and unconventional violin techniques to create a piece that, to me, expresses tragedy and sorrow and almost evokes somewhere alien and unknowable. It also happens to be one of my favorite pieces of video game music ever.

This is what the composer has to say about writing the piece, taken from an interview at Original Sound Version:

“I thought it would be very interesting to play the tragedy – the overriding human tragedy – that seems to occur again and again where man is going to create utopia on Earth and, in the most tragic way, we’ve seen that happen – whether in the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, Communist China….it’s sort of this recurring tragedy of humans wanting to do something good and instead doing great evil. Maybe that didn’t come across, but that was my thought.”

‘Cohen’s Masterpiece’ is a romantic styled piano piece that tips the hat to Chopin and Liszt.  I think it’s doubtful that upon first listen people would expect this piece of music to of come from a video game. I’m at a loss to where I think this piece would be used in game…I’m guessing one of the characters plays piano? This piece also speaks of the higher classes to me, maybe that has some place in the game? But this piece, and the score as a whole, is a testament to why I think Video Game music should get more recognition that it currently does.

Choen’s Masterpiece:

From listening to the score a number of times, I’m expecting the game (and it’s context) to be pretty dark in tone and the sophistication of the score hints that a deeper theme and narrative may be present than in your standard FPS (First Person Shooter). I think it will be quite linear and very heavily story driven (unlike some games that are more ‘sandbox’ in nature, where you can go anywhere and do what you like), and the player will be lead on a very narrative, atmospheric experience.

I’m looking forward to finally playing Bioshock and hearing this music I’m so familiar within it’s intended and original context.

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