First Smile Entertainment
June 17, 1998
Buy Used Copy
Kenji Eno’s game masterpiece, D2, has the historical distinction of being one of the strangest games ever released. With a mixture of despair, isolation, depression, comical sound effects, and a strange series of game design choices ranging throughout the game’s post-modern survival horror storyline, the game is in every sense the defining moment for the director — and, most surprisingly, the musician. Eno composed and arranged the whole soundtrack for the game, itself just as compelling and oddly-calculated as the game it’s attached to: mystical, lonely, highly-melodic piano passages exist side-by-side with pulsating, certain, distorted d’n’b beats and jazz-hop backing tracks, the only tie between these two distinguished styles being their similar level of quality, development, and unsettling execution. From the haunting main themes, and throughout the various rhythm sketches that fling the player’s experience to and fro, the director set out to create a soundtrack dedicated to the most awkward emotions, while still clinging to hope and vitality in a sort of mentally-unstable, off-balance fashion.
Eno initially released important chunks of the soundtrack months before the game’s release, and then finally released the full soundtrack. The first of these two “Sketches” albums is shorter, yet holds within it the main major themes used in-game. D2 Sketches — for fans of Kenji Eno and his games, at least — was much like the arrival of a firebrand revivalist sermon, and set a standard for D2‘s soundtrack to follow, while upsetting the conventions of survival horror music just as previous soundtracks in the company WARP’s games had done so earlier. One of those games, Enemy Zero, was fortunate enough to have its soundtrack composed by Michael Nyman, who brought his established minimalist style to survival horror gaming, and in turn inspired Eno to try a similar approach for D2.
Right from the start of the album, “Sketch #1” serves as an abstract for things to come, with its spare string trio instrumentation and emphasis on silence and deep dynamic contrasts. While some might be quick to tell Eno’s chosen style off as something quite like Nyman’s, the similarities stop when Eno unveils a truly infecting main melody for his new game — at the same time haunting as it is mystical and, well, utterly beautiful. As the player wanders through the endless, snow-bound Canadian wilderness in search of a way out of a depressing, distraught predicament, the rich performance of violin, cello, and piano wanders alongside, with more uptempo sections and enough contrasts to suit the musical conversation that’s ever present in such loneliness and in a desperate situation. That one opening requiem can have such conflicting mixtures of emotion is quite impressive for a composer whose previous efforts on the original D soundtrack were clichéd and amateurish, to be frank.
While the album could have easily ended on such an immensely high note, Kenji went even further and employed his first “Rhythm Sketch” to add some vibrancy and lucidity to the world he had created. Just as quickly as the main theme changed in texture and mood, “Rhythm Sketch #1” soon builds up momentum in its percussion and electronic contrapuntal meld motif, switching between eerie moments of silence and hectic, complex inter-weavings of electronic sounds and rampant drums, though that same feeling of distortion, caprice, and grey matter is always present.
And much of the subtlety present in these two pieces alone is indicative of the game’s own environment: complex, full of facades, always changing, and ever distorted beyond one’s wildest dreams. Dreamy is a good way to describe “Sketch #2”, used in-game for the title screen and intermittently throughout. Though the opening Gregorian chant presents a picture of unimaginable agony and snowed-up emotions, Emp breaths life into the composition through piano, and then violin and cello once more — generally-speaking, a prevailing theme of life can be felt even int he most frigid and oppressive of circumstances. By the time the listener’s reached the middle-half of the piece, everything’s cleared up, with a beautiful mix of leitmotifs from the main theme and a unique, wandering melody surface from the depths of musical ambiguity and stone-cold arrangement. Hope isn’t to be found in “Rhythm Sketch #2”, instead bringing ambiguity and monstrous movement in the wake of light and darkness.
Eno’s natural style of composition can easily be heard throughout these rhythm sketches and many of his other arrangements, applying a clever mixture of melodic segmenting percussion that flows through its disruptive presence, and a variety of underlying synth layers that add breeziness and depth to more simplistic harmonies and motifs than heard in the regular chamber music themes. Kenji must have had some difficulty of his own when putting his ideas into action, however, as “Sketch #3” is without a doubt the weakest link on the album, offering little in the way of memorable divides in moods and relying too much on dead space and a lack of rich arrangement to add some color to any one of the numerous cutscenes featuring the music throughout the game. Not even any of the recognizable melodic leitmotifs appear here, nor they do surface in “Rhythm Sketch #3”, though the latter track does a better job of varying up its two-sided harmony with a jazzy feel and some interesting beats and sounds that mesh really well together.
In fact, the most common of these recurring interludes finally gets its time to shine in “Sketch #4”, the game’s so-called love theme and, unsurprisingly, the shortest chamber sketch of the five. After all, it had already been an integral part of those other pieces, so it doesn’t need to overstay its welcome. Instead of the piano taking the opening focus here, it comes in at the end of the first section upon the end of the violin’s soulful chant — and Eno’s use of blankness is also more effective here than in the previous sketch, with the melody first on violin, then given to piano, and then tossed to the cello for additional exposition. A simple arrangement, but one that’s concise, keeps the pace and album contrast unusually stable and controlled, and one that still eschews the mustiness of D2‘s sordid tale. More thrilling is “Rhythm Sketch #4”, with its frightening number of dynamic contrasts and intermixed segments — the leitmotifs now more present than ever before, and in evolving forms and guises. This track doesn’t need any heavy percussion to do the trick, either: an assortment of initially-sparse percussion works well with a variety of different string segues to create the feelings of evolution and unsettling chaos that the musician had himself concocted. So, of course, this track is not that different from its kin — does it need to be, on an album dedicated to elaborating upon the musical concepts introduced and developed heavily within a final soundtrack to come?
Throwing the previously established conventions for his sketches out the proverbial window, he then offers his most Nyman-esque window into the world of D2 with “Sketch #5”, the fear theme (according to him!). Though the piano triplets may seem rather playful initially, they’re feisty enough to evolve alongside downbeat string punctuations that, with the triplets, create a forward-moving, ever-encroaching anthem for claustrophobia and messy gunfights with strange creatures and dreams — and then he pulls back, because Kenji Eno perverts his music with al sorts of development. Be it angular keyboard chords in the middle of the piece, or the hopeful love theme finding itself in the thick of the track’s latter half — almost as if it had expected to be there sooner — everything in the sketch works like clockwork, sounding out-of-control while in control. This kind of in-and-out is something that the whole album excels at revealing to the listener, and it only lets up a little bit into “Rhythm Sketch #5”, with some more pleasant chords betraying the inevitable appearance of more brooding elements that continue to transform until the very end.
All of this complex harmonic intricacy and indecisiveness is finalized with Tonika Ichinose’s ending “Bonus Track”, a more intimate piano medley that provides a recap for all of the convention mockery and experimentation that had taken the listener’s for a great spin, and he does it with great spirit and self-consciousness, much like what had been felt in the previous portions of the album. While this album may have been only a tentative look into what D2 would go on to offer, the moments featured throughout this final compilation remind me of just how creatively rich and daring the whole project is.
D is one letter that represents many different things: death, despair, depression, destiny, dreams… D2, indeed, has an overall theme of dreams and strange new realms emerging from curious things that just sort of happen, yet the soundtrack applies Japanese instrumental creativity and melody to a Western sense of harmony and minimalistic profundity that, stand-alone, feels like a whole other universe of its own. So to speak, D2 is ambitious enough to take itself a little lightly at times, yet the end result is unlike anything else I’ve ever heard from any other survival horror soundtrack, especially given the context of the game itself and the strange number of inconsistencies that are so masterfully implemented throughout both the game and soundtrack. Even on the album itself, nearly all of the supposed “tracks” are, in fact, just dead silence — the listener is supposed to take these tracks into account as a collective whole, or something along those lines. Eno always did experiment with great curiosity and daring, and sometimes this meant some duds happened along the way too — there’s one dud on this soundtrack, namely, and it stands out as a result. But D2 Sketches is a very successful musical experiment for Eno, and another forgotten memoir of his musical style and vision that, unfortunately, has fallen to obscurity and being out-of-print. That’s all folks!
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Leon Staton. Last modified on August 1, 2012.