Michigan Original Soundtrack
Michigan Original Soundtrack
Scitron Digital Contents
October 20, 2004
Buy at CDJapan
Michigan: Report from Hell is a survival horror game that documents mysterious events occurring at Lake Michigan from the perspective of a television camera crew. Given the game was developed by Grasshopper Manufacture, their resident composer Masafumi Takada returned to offer a range of musical experimentations. By blending orchestral forces, electronic manipulation, and warm dashes of piano work, Takada built a mysterious and immersive accompaniment to the game. However, the result of his efforts is often lost on a stand-alone basis, leaving the Michigan Original Soundtrack a very mixed experience overall.
Much of the Michigan score comprises of minimalistic pieces intended to enhance the atmosphere and tension of the game. Many of the compositions are curious experiments in sound design somewhat similar to that of Resident Evil 4. “Haunted Buildings” is certainly among the highlights of these works. Takada seamlessly blends together a range of orchestral and electronic motifs into an ever-dynamic composition. The result is quite immersing in the game and fascinating on a stand-alone level, yet it also has an impalpable quality too. Tracks such as the “Objective” and “Memorize-X” exhibit similar qualities, but are slightly more edgy, while “The Gate to Chicago City” is an encompassing blend of the ideal for starting the journey. “Drive with Phantoms” is even more weird with its juxtaposition of warped tuned percussion fragments and ghostly wails. As far as ambient works go, it’s right up there with some of Resident Evil’s best. Takada certainly mixed these themes meticulously, but much of the rest of the soundtrack doesn’t live up to the same standard.
For the most part, however, much of the material on Michigan was too repetitive for me to enjoy. An early example of this is “Frozen Lake”. It’s built around the repetition of a plodding four bar pizzicato violin motif with some soft suspended string notes occasionally supporting. The result is initially quite hypnotising and goes some way to representing a deserted frozen environment. However, the figures repeat so often that the track can barely sustain its initial 1:54 playtime, never mind an extended gameplay experience. It’s also one of several tracks in Masafumi Takada’s career that reflect his tendencies to produce overly hollow orchestral pieces. Meanwhile “Encounter” opts for blending industrial percussion with all sorts of eerie string parts. While the upper portions of the theme are quite mesmerising, the sheer repetitiveness and prominence of the percussion part just overwhelms the whole composition. The most effective aspect of the composition is the way it eventually warps out into nothingness and that’s not just because it finally ends.
The piano-based tracks are some of the more effective in Michigan given they also tend to be the most thematic. “Blackout” initially seems as repetitive as some of the other ambient themes, but surprises listeners in its unusual chord choices and increasing treble decoration. It eventually emerges into a contemplative improvisation that is partly inspired by romantic composers, yet also to a lesser extent by jazz composers. It seems like a much more personal expression from Takada. The motifs from this theme are also presented in the opener “Chicago Skyline in the Fog”. In this case, however, Takada blends ambient forces with thematic expositions on the piano. The result is mesmerising on a stand-alone level and perfectly symbolises an emerging threat coming from the fog. Other recollections of the theme occur on intimate small ensembles in “Chicago Lake Breeze Effect” and “Tellin’ Stories”. Many will find the latter comparable to the Resident Evil series’ save room tracks given its between qualities. These four related themes aren’t quite enough to redeem the short score, but at least give it a personality and heart.
Those looking for more of Masafumi Takada’s action themes won’t find theme here. The sheer majority of the score is dedicated to building suspense and there are few uptempo cues. There are a couple of exceptions. “Lake Michigan Hazards” certainly isn’t a positive one, featuring little more than a minute of clichéd tremolo strings. “Counter” is considerably better at the climax of the soundtrack. It is reminiscent of “Encounter” with its percussive focus, but altogether better mixed and more dynamic. That doesn’t mean that it’s interested to hear over four minutes on repeat, though. The soundtrack ends with a recapitulation of the main theme in “Pizzicato of Fear” in unity with the pizzicato strings of “Frozen Lake” and jazz influences of “Blackout”. It’s a very convincing way to blend several threads of the score together and is very nostalgic while the credits roll. Takada ends the soundtrack with the 12 minute electronic remix “909 Miles”. It’s mostly a well mixed and rhythmically compelling track, but suffers from repetition issues even more profoundly than other additions to the soundtrack. It can be quite interesting going to the very end though.
In the end, the Michigan Original Soundtrack is a functional accompaniment to the game, but a more variable independent experience. Takada sometimes goes out to offer us very personal piano-based themes, meticulously blended scene-setters, and engaging cinematic underscore. However, a lot of the other tracks labour simple ideas far too much, shamelessly rip from established horror conventions, or descend into meaningless wanderings. There is an approximately even split of highlights to filler, but given it is a 22 track score, there might not be enough to justify a purchase. Fans of ambient game music may nevertheless find this worth a listening given the gold potentially makes the rough tolerable. Tread carefully.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.