Infinite Undiscovery Original Soundtrack
Infinite Undiscovery Original Soundtrack
October 8, 2008
Buy at CDJapan
When I first heard about Infinite Undiscovery, I was very excited. An orchestral and baroque score from Motoi Sakuraba? The thought of it just intrigued me. I’m a big fan of orchestral music for the most part, and I find it refreshing when modern composers write in a Baroque style. And then of course comes Sakuraba’s reputation, although recently it seems he’s been taking on too many projects for all of them to be of a certain quality. It was an uncertain album to be sure, but when I heard it, I realized… it is perhaps the most qualified score I’ve ever heard of the term “mixed bag”. That term does not refer to styles and genres, but specifically the quality of the work. As you will see, much of the score is quite easy to sum up.
“Supernal Epic” starts us off on the right foot with some truly epic orchestral writing with mourning, powerful strings and ethereal choir. The brass tends to stay more in the background, more for enhancement than for melody or anything. There is a wonderful sense of mystery to the piece. Then things really get going; the strings start sawing away rhythmically and the brass comes to the forefront, grunting and blasting heavy dissonances. The next section sounds almost like typical Hollywood soundtrack music, in the best of ways. It is epic, as the name suggests, and quite longing. The best part of the piece is when the orchestra drops out except for an ethereal, distant piano. Now that I’ve described the first track in detail, I could very well simply copy and paste this description of Sakuraba’s heavy-handed orchestral music for most every track in the score. Come to think of it, “copy and paste” is a fairly apt description of Sakuraba’s orchestral music throughout the score. That is what I meant when I said this was a mixed bag at best. The orchestral music is thrilling at the beginning, but after you’ve heard “Procession of the Order”, “Soaring Blade”, “Blue Horizon”, “Divine Wings”, “Cries of a Twisted World”, “Cleaving Blade”, “Ferocious Valor”, and “Onslaught”, to name the tiresome and eventually bland orchestral writing on the first disc alone, you will most likely have the same reaction that I had upon first listen: “if I hear one more orchestral piece, I’m going to jump off a cliff.”
Luckily, there are still a few orchestral pieces that are salvaged, although they are definitely in the minority. The upbeat, albeit still heavy-handed and string-dominated “Step Into a New World”, the baroque gothic “Hymn to the Headless Knight”, complete with organ, harpsichord, and ominous choir, and the peaceful “Bless the Bountiful Land”, bringing in woodwinds to the orchestra for one of the first times, are all noteworthy additions to the score. “The Crimson Emir” is another interesting piece, mixing the dominating sounds of brass with ethnic string instruments and percussion. On the second disc, “Towering Behemoth” is notable for its excellent use of choir and intricate string writing, while “Pure Alabaster” brings in a newfound sense of mysticism to the score with chimes, soft electronics, and pizzicato strings. “Cavernous Corridors”, while it eventually falls back into the usual mold of chugging strings, low brass and percussion, has a few moments of great emotion via strings and piano.
Usually when this score gets loud, it means that Sakuraba has assembled the cinematic and orchestral clichés for a rousing battle piece — the kinds that happen to be the downfall of the score. That is why when something comes along that is different, the results are usually splendid. “Misshapen Form” certainly does get loud, but it is a marvelous piece simply because it abides by none of the other orchestral pieces on the album. It is brash, discordant, and bordering on atonal with shrieking strings, brass blasts, pounding timpani, and quite literally a banging piano. “The World Awaits” is at the opposite spectrum in that, for once, Sakuraba takes the drama a bit more lightly with soft brass and wind solos amid steady strings. It is a softly heroic track that stands out because, ironically, it does not draw attention to itself. Another piece that does this splendidly is the very muted, eerie “Lingering Shadows”, relying on high strings and wandering piano. The third disc begins with one of the finest pieces on the album: “Recollections in the Water”. The gentle strumming of harp and a longing flute solo create such an epic yet lovely and pastoral masterpiece.
From there on, the orchestral music is more of the same until you get to “Another Challenge”. At last, a battle track that actually feels threatening and urgent. Why does the piece succeed? Because Sakuraba doesn’t stick solely to the orchestra. In the first rock / orchestral fusion of the score, Sakuraba has created another standout track. What is interesting is that, while the electric guitar and drums are ever present, the strings remind us of the Baroque influence on the score (that I will get to soon). “Endless Struggle” is another fusion, although slightly less successful because it is weighted down by too much drama and does not keep the momentum up. “The Endless Stream”, the longest piece of the score and assumedly the finale, is another piece where Sakuraba pulls his act together. The strings are lovely and the drama is lightened with the use of solo woodwinds. Finally, the brass gets to join in with the melody, instead of its usual employment of the harmonies (and volume). Also notable about this track is that, of all the other orchestral tracks, the choir is featured most prominently in this piece. It is at first powerful, and then soft, building in intensity again, with the help of more flute solos, until the rousing, earth-shaking finale. What a way to end a score! There is, however, a postlude track. The minute-long “Evening Star” is soft enough not to detract from the greatness of the past track, with its soft, high strings and winds and chimes rising to another powerful climax with full orchestra and chorus. Ah, but as great as these pieces I’ve singled out are, there is still the fact to be dealt with that most of the orchestral tracks on this score do not have enough momentum or interest to keep the listener’s attention. It fades into being loud, musical wallpaper. And as good as the pieces I mentioned are, they are not, however, the saving grace of this album.
The reason that this score carries a decent recommendation is the Baroque and chamber pieces by Sakuraba. “Dewdrops in the Morning Wind” actually reminds me more of Mitsuda’s, or Mizuta’s for that matter, acoustic pieces, relying heavily on the guitar and lush woodwinds. “Town in Despair” lives up to its name being a rather bleak piece, but its use of interesting, yet sparing dissonance and flute solos. “The Azure King” is the first overtly Baroque piece of the album, with a harpsichord and flute duet. Usually I tend to criticize Baroque music as being too prickly, but with Sakuraba’s dramatic sensibilities, he is able to craft pieces that both speak emotionally to the listener while still maintaining, and paying homage, to their Baroque inspirations. “Beguiling Mirages” is an interesting piece because of its use of nearly all ethnic instruments, although not necessarily from one locale. There is a distinctly ‘Arabian’ quality here, to my ears, through the use of percussion and sitar, but it seems the hammer dulcimer and even a didgeridoo are used. “Fire Dancers” keeps this tone going with its use of ethnic string and wind solos. “Colorful Days” features a guitar and clarinet duet, with a flute making an appearance here and there; the piece itself is rather simplistic, almost to a fault, but it is lovely nonetheless.
“Message”, while having Baroque instrumentation of harpsichord and organ, has a very Classical sound to my ears. It is lovely and upbeat; the organ and a harp have a duet, as do the harpsichord and the harp, adding a smaller, more intimate sound to the score. “Home Sweet Home” certainly has a wonderful feeling of familiarity too with its slightly Celtic feel, including harp and wind duets. And then we come to one of the finest pieces in the score: “The Slovenly Serenade”. Some will probably think I’m exaggerating a tad, since the entire piece is an unaccompanied flute, but I tell you that I have never been so captivated by a solo piece. There is a magical quality about the writing and special mention must be made to the performer here — yes, it is a live performer who plays with great conviction. “Fleeing Dog Rhapsody”, “Ballad of the Bony Wolf”, and “Requiem Feline” are all pieces for unaccompanied flute; they have nearly the same effect as “The Slovenly Serenade”, but their melodic content is not quite as memorable. Then “Armadillo Bolero” comes in with quite a different piece for the flautist; it is sprightly and optimistic. Another highlight of the first disc is “Promise” which, besides having Baroque instrumentation, has very little in common with Baroque music. The piece is a great exercise in texture with multiple harps and harpsichords gliding past each other with a mystical quality and unexpected harmonies.
“The Lonely Path” and “Until We Dream” feature piano solos. The former is perhaps too simplistic to generate interest past the first twenty seconds. “Until We Dream” is also simplistic, but has enough intrigue with the harmonies that it still keeps the listener attentive (although one section of the piece reminded me of the chorus from Final Fantasy IX‘s “Melodies of Life). Two other, albeit different piano pieces, are “Gray Harbor” and “Moonless Depths”. The piano stays, for the most part, in its lowest registers, not developing melodically, but rather rumbling away and developing an atmosphere of bleak fear. Both pieces feature low percussion, but the former also adds some occasional brass, ethereal choir and shrill strings. “The Alabaster King” is another very different piece by Sakuraba. It features two vocalists of two very different varieties. One has an operatic quality and the other has a more traditional sounding voice, much smoother and with little vibrato. They hum above sparse writing for harp and chimes. “Abundant Harvest” maintains acoustic instrumentation, but its melodic and harmonic content are quite modern, almost rock-inspired in their presentation. They sound slightly similar to some of Junya Nakano’s work on Final Fantasy X. “Deadly Premonitions” is an interesting piece exploring the harp’s capabilities. The harp writing is spacey, and some very intriguing sounds are produced by the harp in its lowest registers. “Air of Authority” is another wonderfully Baroque-inspired piece for harpsichord and string trio.
With the third disc come some of the most different, stylistically, tracks of the score. “Wavering in the Darkness” adds some spacey electronic effects and ethereal choir and churning piano writing. However, the piece is rather stagnant, harmonically. “Forbidden Ground” continues with the same kind of piano writing and synth effects, but with some enigmatic harmonies and twinkling chimes. “Porcelain Tears”, another track with much of the same soundscapes including sparse piano, high strings, and chimes, affects the listener with its sad beauty. “Tearful Memories” starts out with the same style of piano writing before moving into something more bleak and dissonant. The dissonance resolves beautifully as the piano writing begins to develop some wonderful textures. Moving on, “Prelude to Liberation” is an interesting track in that nearly the entire disc has been summarized by a deep sadness or darkness. This piece is quite hopeful, almost sounding cheesy by comparison to the rest of the disc, with piano, harp and bells. “Lullaby” is the first primarily choral piece of the score, enhanced by some emotionally ambiguous strings and bells. “Bridge to Happiness”, like “Prelude to Liberation”, simply stands out. This piece, however, goes above and beyond “Prelude to Liberation” in its shameless optimism, almost Celtic in style and spirit, with bouncy woodwind solos and harpsichord and harp accompaniments. Pizzicato strings also add a certain flair to this piece that stands out too greatly in contrast with the rest of the disc. However, it is still a wonderfully fun piece that I would gladly take over more orchestral pieces.
Infinite Undiscovery has a definite coherency, although not necessarily in the best way. The orchestral writing dominates the score and is among the most dull, and in some cases clichéd and thoughtless, I’ve heard come from a game. The savior of this album is the smaller, more intimate pieces. Many of them are either Baroque-inspired or simplistic, but lovely, piano pieces. It is a tough call, whether or not the chamber pieces outweigh the orchestral pieces in enjoyability. In the end, it is a slightly above-average album with the occasional standout tracks amongst a sea of bleak orchestral writing.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Duncan MacIvor. Last modified on August 1, 2012.