The Swapper Original Soundtrack
The Swapper Original Soundtrack
May 30, 2013
Download at Bandcamp
The Swapper is a critically acclaimed multi-platform puzzle game, following astronauts through dark, desolate areas of the universe. The short soundtrack is composed and designed by Carlo Castellano, and is a largely ambient work that brings a variety of moods to the various settings and dramatic events of the game. This reliance on ambience should not lead one to assume that the soundtrack has no substance, for what it lacks in melodic or harmonic content it makes up for in its sound design and attention to detail which is best appreciated with headphones. More than that, Castellano’s soundtrack does a better job at chronicling the story of the game, and works just as well in-game as it does on a standalone listen.
The more typical ambient pieces in the score use sound effects over soft pads and synths and shift slowly in some harmonic progression. “Intro” is a short and effective piece that sets the stage for a dark and empty area with some tense elements to it. The scattered sound effects really give it the ‘space’ feel, and overall the piece communicates the setting well. Later on, “Sleep” is similar but brings in an element of sadness with its pads and soft echoing sounds. It is relaxing and soft as its title would imply, but the mood is stained by the feeling of isolation and emptiness present in the game. “Observatory” furthers this feeling of emptiness with the occasional glimmer, while the closing track “Alt Theme B” finishes the soundtrack dramatically with buildup of sounds that quickly dives into sparse static, then nothingness. These tracks are largely quiet, but are still evocative and reflect the story of the game.
There are some tracks which are little more than soundscapes, but still have merit in the context of the score, helping to bridge from one piece and mood to another. “Cave” is nearly suffocating with its eerie sounds and pads, while “Specimen” is more about the slow build of a looming, approaching entity. Later on, “Xeno” is a very short track with a hint of wind and some higher pitched drone, and “Solar” brings in the feeling of suspension and floating that comes with space and water. There are minimal to no melodic or harmonic elements here, but the tracks have enough going on to keep our attention through their short lengths and carry on the soundtrack.
The most traditional composition is “Recreation”, a full melancholy piano track heard filtered at first as through a low quality radio before coming out to a clear sound. It is utterly distinct from the rest of the score, and yet it fits right in. The left hand accompaniment follows a basic four-note figure throughout that captures the emptiness and unchanging elements of space and darkness, while the right hand goes through a plethora of runs and improvisations that capture the progression of the player’s journey through the game’s landscapes. It’s a very dark, emotional track that is reminiscent of piano tracks from Akira Yamaoka’s work on the Silent Hill series, emphasizing the human aspect of the story in contrast to the hostile space setting.
All of these different elements come together in a select few tracks, which stand out the most in the soundtrack and hold it together. “Theme” is the first track of the score and is the one to introduce the listener to the different elements. A few piano chords and octaves float through bubbly synth elements and some static noise. A bleak theme to be sure, but one that firmly establishes its mood and setting. There other tracks are similarly built but have distinct atmospheres. The hope-infused “Greenhouse” gives the piano small bright phrases accompanied by the soft and soothing sound of waves with small blips and chimes. “Metaphysics” brings in warmer piano chords over soft synths and pads in a peaceful and pleasant repose, and “Alt Theme A” brings the soundtrack to a powerful climax using strong, dramatic chords with a swelling of noise and distortions. These tracks all use the same elements to realize the game’s very different narrative settings, and they do so expertly with plenty of character and emotion.
The soundtrack for The Swapper is an impressive work that perfectly accompanies the game, and expertly leads the listener through it again on standalone listens. Castellano’s sound design captures the emptiness of space and the landscapes of unfamiliar territory, as well as the dangers and mysteriousness of the settings. But even more, he captures the profound human elements of the game through its many emotional ups and down and tough questions. While there are few traditional compositions, the ambient work and soundscapes still have plenty enough going on, and are effective in tying the soundtrack together. It might not be immediately grabbing due to its more subtle nature, but anyone willing to put in some time to hear this soundtrack out (with good headphones) should find plenty to like and experience.
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Posted on November 8, 2014 by Christopher Huynh. Last modified on November 9, 2014.