August 2, 2016
Download at Bandcamp
Austin Wintory is already an accomplished composer with approximately 300 productions under his belt since 2003. That not being enough, his score for thatgamecompany’s Journey was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media. So high expectations were in place for his latest big indie score, ABZÛ. Throughout the score, Wintory uses classical elements in a fluent and masterful manner to capture the sense of the underwater adventure. But does the soundtrack stand on its own as a listening experience equally well?
Already after the first listen, it is clear, that Austin Wintory has captured a whole ocean full of mystery and beauty into an hour-long score. Even without considering the visuals and content of ABZÛ, it should be perfectly clear to the listener that ABZÛ is all about the atmosphere and ambience. The beautifully orchestrated music reflects the visual experience. It is easy to imagine the mesmerizing dance of the creatures that dwell under the glittery surface. At times, I could sense the danger that is always present. As the score proceeds, the listener is constantly reminded of the unknown and constant change that is, has been and always will be a part of the ocean. Even the calmer tracks, never seem to stop moving – like the ocean.
The opening track “To Know, Water” – being probably the most memorable and distinguishable – presents a beautiful choir singing their ode to the ocean and beginning of life. This sets the tone beautifully for the whole soundtrack. With “Heaven Was Not Named” we descend to the depths accompanied by one of the very classical ideas regarding ocean, water, sea: a sparkling harp. The accompaniment is packed with mystery and speaks about the unknown in an enchanting way.The sound palette Wintory uses combines an orchestra with a variety of synths. Regardless of the electronic qualities, the whole soundtrack retains a high degree of organic nature and never gives an impression of being robbed of character or life.
Tracks “The Earth Did Not Yet Bare a Name”, “No Field Was Formed” and “No Destinies Ordained” seem to make a continuum being very similar in style and emotion. The tracks are beautiful and soothing pieces that drift peacefully in the ocean of which they tell a story. An emotional, slightly melancholic string orchestra pulls most of the weight with the voice of a choir that at this point seems to have been established as the voice of the score. The darkest track of the score “Chaos, the Mother” is a track that incorporates modern synths, haunting solo vocal performance and some orchestral elements to create a track that keeps you listening.
Many of the tracks are named after current and prehistoric sea creatures: fishes, mammals, and even a few dinosaurs… These tracks are beautifully impressionistic about life under the sea in different ways, and there is plenty of wonderful imagery captured throughout this selection of music. My personal favourite has been “Delphinus Delphis” for the common dolphin with its lively, dancing and excited musical imagery. The tracks themed after current sea-life have a brighter and more present quality while the prehistoric ones have much more mystery, wonder and melancholy; a kind of longing to the past. Even when you compare the two more active tracks from both classes (“Delphinus Delphis” and “Ichtyosaurus Communis”), there is a clear difference in mood.
The lengthiest track on the soundtrack “Their Waters Were Mingled Together” comes across as a vivid finale for the journey. The choir gets a possibility to shine in many parts of the track. While at it, the choir takes at times almost a religious character and tone, creating a smooth bridge to the concluding track “Then Were the Gods Created in the Heavens”, which is pure choral beauty and speaks well of an end to an era and ushers in another.
The soundtrack performs in an excellent manner in connection to the game itself. As a standalone work, it is a beautiful creation that can help the listener create a relaxing mood at home or at work. It has a lot more common with 20th century impressionistic classical music and religious vocal practices of the past than most of modern day orchestral game music. That said, I am not convinced this soundtrack will go down in history quite like Journey; while it is great music, it’s a somewhat less memorable experience overall. However, the soundtrack at 7 USD at Bandcamp is good value and provides a great musical journey from Mr. Wintory.
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Posted on February 3, 2017 by Markus Lappalainen. Last modified on February 3, 2017.