The Dig Soundtrack
The Dig Soundtrack
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In 1995, LucasArts and Steven Spielberg took three astronauts into an adventure into space and another world with the PC graphic adventure The Dig. Michael Land, the leading force behind most Monkey Island scores, was assigned to create the score. To depict the scenes and emotions of the game, he chose to hybridise synthetic and orchestral elements, blending influences ranging from Wagner to Vangelis to Bach with his own subtle musicality. The resultant score is accessible yet abstract, simple yet deep. It was so well-received by gamers that, for the first time in LucasArts’ history, it even received a stand-alone soundtrack release.
The opener “Mission to the Asteroid” is the most expansive and cinematic entry of the score. It underscores the opening to the game, in which three astronauts journey to space to destroy an asteroid, yet are somehow warped into another world. Much of the piece therefore depicts the vastness of space using ethereal synthetic samples and rich chord sequences. However, during its ten minute duration, it also enters sections more akin to orchestral action music or dark ambient music, all the while remaining smooth and subdued. Much of the composition conveys beauty and serenity, yet there is a certain tragic element created with the sweeping chord changes and sometimes elegaic motifs, some of which are sampled from Wagner. Whether listened in conjunction with the game or on its own, the composition will take listeners on a very personal journey.
The majority of the soundtrack retains the atmospheric approach of the soundtrack. “Another World” sounds almost continuous with the opener with its slow synthy sounds. Despite using a similar core palette of strings, chorus, and synthesizer, there is a slight shift of timbral colour created, especially with the soft brass elements and resonant bells. In addition, there is a slight transition of emotion from uncertainty towards bewilderment and acceptance. Exploration themes such as “The Ancient City” and “A River Canyon” slowly evolve from near-silence to more substantial and revealing moments. Both slowly shift from hazy electronic elements to incorporate more acoustic sounds and the soprano voice in the latter is especially moving. They don’t seem to go very far on technical inspection, yet the musical choices offered result in such emotional and enlightening music nevertheless.
Despite the continuous nature of the score, there are some surprising examples of diversity nevertheless. Though the shortest cue of the score, “Ghosts” also has perhaps the biggest immediate impact, juxtaposing fantastical dance-like orchestrations with the eerie warped strings heard elsewhere in the score. “Underwater Cavern” meanwhile takes a distinctly impressionistic approach with its watery piano work and intangible oboe melody. As simple as it is, the synth backing only enhances the atmosphere in and out of the game, unlike so many similarly composed pieces in other albums. The last two pieces of the soundtrack, “Dimensions in Time” and “Cathedral of the Lost”, elaborate on Land’s chorale influence the most. They maintain the Vangelis-inspired soundscapes of the rest of the soundtrack, yet take things in a more spiritual direction with their slowly evolving chord progressions and, in the latter, dabs of chorus.
With just a Kurzweil K2000 synthesizer, Michael Land managed to offer something alien yet personal on The Dig. The soundtrack is very subtle with slow seamless developments and faint but effectual embellishments producing rich and revealing soundscapes. It was treated to remain very much in the background in the game and it works wonderfully in that role. However, it is surprisingly fulfilling even on a stand-alone basis and LucasArts made the right decision releasing it on CD. Many have said that the soundtrack is so beautiful that it has made them cry. While it’s never affected me those extremes, it never fails to immerse and fascinate me.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.