D2 Sketches 2

D2 Sketches 2 Album Title:
D2 Sketches 2
Record Label:
First Smile Entertainment
Catalog No.:
FSCA-10109
Release Date:
December 10, 1999
Purchase:
Buy Used Copy

Overview

Developing on the tenets applied to the first D2 Sketches release, D2 Sketches 2 was released a scant several days before the Original Soundtrack finally came out, right around the end of 1999. D2‘s brand of survival horror is less about fright scares or images that haunt the player into the night — the focus here is on the sheer inhospitality of traveling across the north Canadian wilderness, and on the ever-changing character dynamics and terrifying plot (terrifying in a Rocky Horror Picture Show fashion, rather!). D2 Sketches 2 further develops this concept through its eclectic, meaty selection of recorded material from the game’s soundtrack.

As with the first release, Eno continued to integrate his raucous drum-and-beat grooves, full of nightmarish caprice and psychotic episodes. There are also a number of softer, minimal chamber music pieces that add color and lucidity to a game and mythos that, otherwise, would be consumed in its unconventionality and surprising fluctuation in mood and defiance of context. Also included are a group of cutscene-specific Interludes, ranging from brief piano cues to more interesting variance on the piano-based riffs used in cutscenes and in-game, in addition to providing transitions between more-developed themes. Whereas the original D2 Sketches focused on prevalent themes that pop up throughout the more important moments in the game, D2 Sketches 2 features up to twelve tracks that have less prominence and frequency in comparison — yet, much of the same can be heard across both albums, which is welcome given the consistency and musical maturity of the first album.

Body

For a bit of recapitulation, the “Main Theme” is played in the form of a piano arrangement, which reintroduces the minimal melodic style that will be reused throughout the album in various sketches. Yet, from “Rhythm Sketch #6” onward, this second look into D2 offers fire to the first album’s wood, with longer dance music and more brief chamber selections, ultimately bringing forth a more accessible variant on Kenji Eno’s musical style. In fact, the first piece starts and ends under its own pulsation, with its cave echoes and mesmerizing synth textures giving way to motivating percussion and techno-rave modulations. While it doesn’t necessarily feel like a piece worthy of featuring in D2, one must understand that the constant development in mood and controlled caprice in such a piece as this is still present, augmented by greater depth in arrangement. New to the album’s song structure, however, are the minimalistic interludes used frequently in-game, almost always featuring a lone piano marking a scene with its lonely tones and never overstaying its welcome. “Interlude 1”, as will be the case throughout, focuses on dissonant piano chords alongside intermittent tones, while a snowy synth backs it up.

More interesting and relatable is the development of “Sketch #6”, the first of a number of chamber sketches focusing on, quite literally, coloring the emotions in a scene — this “Theme of White” takes advantage of its slow waltz form to offer a romantic ballad, where solo interjections between piano and violin underly a simple peaks-and-valleys melodic motif that connects the whole homely heat of the track. And this interplay between strings and winds is certainly welcome, following an album that was more considerably dominated by the stalwart piano/violin combination, and both a clarinet and guitar join in before an abrupt change in tempo sends it all out. Thus far, all of the elements that made this album’s senior work splendidly have made their return, now refined and at their best yet.

“Rhythm Sketch #7” is yet another appearance on the album that breaks the conventions established prior, instead moving from less-typical instrumentation and textures to a conventional mix of drum ‘n’ beat rhythms, melodic interludes, and the reprise of the “Fear Theme” from D2 Sketches. Synthesized choir is just as welcome here as, say, bass-heavy backing riffs and more electronic distortion put in place for good measure. After “Interlude #2”, another distant and dissonant event piece, the listener gets to listen to another interpretation of one of D2‘s more common 3/4 melodic motifs in the form of the “Theme of Gray”. Here Eno implies that any bleak-sounding, terrorizing riff or lick can easily be turned into something beautiful and quaint — a grey area rarely explored in many game music albums, and one masterfully achieved here. Of all the sketches on the album, it’s by far the shortest — and, in turn, it’s brevity is a real strength, allowing the album to wade past more shallow streams of monotony. The eight rhythm sketch is a perfect follow-up on the melody study heard prior, showing the direct opposite of what the motif could do, a purification of the tension and climax that was previously restrained.

The three aforemnetioned pieces have relatively-similar instrumentation and percussiveness overall, but they each have different approaches, the third of which is shorter. Unfortunately, this is yet the most creatively-stagnant portion of the album, as the same fast-tempo, hectic action of these rhythm sketches loses its luster after hearing it repeated for a reasonable amount of time. And having listened to this part of the album extensively, I can’t claim that it has a similarly-creative level of development and experimentation compared to what was heard earlier — while still great to listen to, without a doubt, not quite as effective on the ears and mind as before. Handily, though, the album begins to pick up spin heading into the latter half of the track selection.

The “Theme of Green” stands out thusly so, a slow swing whistle that revels in its simple affairs and stands in contrast to the more strenuous musical journey previously laid bare by its orchestration and flamboyance. Eno does a great job at combining his minimalistic influences with other styles: in the case of the “Theme of White”, he gradually developed a slow opening into something more typical of Debussy; for “Theme of Green”, he takes a more verdant combination of blues and romanticism out onto the field. After the fight comes relaxation — the characters of D2 have a great deal of internal conflicts, but pieces like “Theme of Green” and slow grooves like “Rhythm Sketch #10” happen to do a great job of contrasting with much of the earlier material. This latter track combines synth padding and distant piano chords, flowing over a funky drum line — and the final effect has inkings of industrial stylings among more ambient textures, bustling with life all the way through. Carrying the theme of solace-via-piano is the fifth interlude piece, a dank waltz-like piece that fades away into the darkness, much as the “Theme of Black” fades from that same beautiful ambiguity that pervades the whole experience. Though seemingly innocuous at first, the melody takes a more unsettling attitude as the seconds wander by, punctuated by the growth of string lines and pizzicato interruptions, among other additions. Much like the rest of the chamber sketches, it certainly fits its color with precision, funny given the nature of the music on this album overall.

“Rhythm Sketch #11”, the penultimate main inclusion, is the most surprising contrast of all, blaring with a klaxon from start to finish, an interstellar, industrialized, incredible rhythmic tour-de-force. Unlike “Rhythm Sketch #6” — the closest parallel heard so far — this sketch exemplifies everything that makes Kenji Eno’s style of starkness and musical layout work well in the first place. Firmly concluding the album on a rampant turn of events, the monster goes through a series of mutations and subtle changes in instrumentation and structure, blending impromptu synth with rash bass and percussion to create a wide variety of transient qualities. With numerous sections for spacing out the action and letting the listener to recuperate, I was quite impressed at how accommodating the track was overall. Most disappointing of all, really, was how lukewarm I felt about “Interlude 6”, an intolerably-simple series of dissonant chords with blank ambiance in the background.

One can feel the same way, now that the album’s over — or is it? Eno decided to stagger out six more interlude pieces across long periods of time dominated by silent tracks, perhaps to give a jolt to the listener who seriously thought this CD was over — typical of the jokester musician he is! Otherwise, these final tracks would have lost their significance completely, being boring filler meant to extend the album’s length by virtual means. But their obtrusive structuring throughout this final part of the album gives plenty more gravity to the way these moments are introduced, a creative way of filling out the album. After all of this nonsense comes the true conclusion to D2 Sketches as a whole, one more “Bonus Track” for the call. And this is an odd one, throwing in random piano lines and separate ideas into the Fear Theme seemingly at random, though it still manages to maintain some structural cohesiveness from start to finish. This battling of the chords and waves of frequencies is much like what would happen if you stuck your hand in a blender and weren’t prepared for the worst — such is the range of emotion that can be heard in this kind of splattering, whether Eno was trying to make a point or not. On the whole: an interesting experiment and a fun way to goof-off, and perhaps the only finality that an album with music from D2 can really end on whatsoever.

Summary

With that, of course, one must realize that D2 Sketches, and this sequel of sorts, is only a couple of albums that elaborate on the rambunctiousness of Eno’s musical adventure, and all the senses he attempted to imbue in D2. Alongside the previous release, D2 Sketches 2 is filled to the brim with addictive fusions that largely succeed at depicting both an insane game, and a musician gone insane himself. Nevertheless, there are some funny inconsistencies that taint an otherwise-fascinating picture of the world Eno wanted to show in D2 and outside, whether they be the disappointing interludes — brief and short-lived as they may be — and a lack of variety in the former half of the album compared to the constant flow of new ideas in the original. All the style rudiments that made the first album such a winner carried over to a more fast-paced experience quite easily, and with only a few bumps along the road does the album flow. Most importantly of all, though, D2 Sketches 2 retains the out-of-control assurance that defined its predecessor, always spinning towards some unknown destiny that can’t be rendered too easily in an album’s worth of music. It would be up to D2‘s in-game soundtrack to decide what kind of feelings the title would provoke in the actual game itself.

D2 Sketches 2 Leon Staton

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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Leon Staton. Last modified on August 1, 2012.


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