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Journey Music composed by Austin Wintory A Review of the soundtrack album by Mikko Ojala Journey is a 2012 video game from thatgamecompany that has also released such original titles as Flower, FlOw and Cloud, that offer highly unique and visually stunning concepts in gaming. The game is a highly audio-visual experience that blends typical adventure and platforming but places you into a world of where your character, a mysterious cloak wrapped and magical scarf wearing being travels through stunning landscapes, challenges and trials towards a mysterious mountaintop to realize his destiny. One of the oddities in this environment is the interaction with other players, who you encounter on the journey and can aid them but you cannot communicate with them in any way verbally, making for a strange new way of collaborating in a adventure gaming environment. The story is shrouded in mystery, the players allowed to piece together the myth and history of the world that surrounds them from the environment, murals, buildings and tapestries, all the while they perform their pilgrimage to reach the ever looming mountain and achieve their ultimate goal. Thatgamecompany brought in a talented young composer Austin Wintory to score his second collaboration with them after FlOw and he responded to the story and journey with a soundtrack that is both mesmerizingly melodic and ethereally evocative. Austin Wintory whose career has really started in the 2000's has scored a hefty number of films in these few years and also broken into game scoring, earning a whole slew of awards and nominations in his relatively short career thusfar. As he says in his bio on his website, he was introduced to film scores by Jerry Goldsmith's work in the 80's and ever since he has been pursuing a career in films scoring. From what I have heard from the composer I would gladly welcome him a big break in the near future, so convincing is his writing in Journey alone. Journey as a score blends worlds of ambient sound design and beautifully melodic and lyrical writing for orchestra and solo instruments into a fascinating whole, where the said incredients blend and ebb and flow in ethereal and powerfully evocative dance. Wintory's writing is mature, self assured and creative and, as it has become common in game scoring, takes its subject matter seriously much like a film, never downplaying to the medium. Game scoring has become a source of quality music and music making in the last decade and the possibilities of the cinematic qualities and style in games has allowed large dramatic scores to bloom in the genre, whether synthetic or orchestral or both. In Journey Wintory writes for electornics and a handful of soloists, among them Tina Guo (Cello), Rodney Wirtz (Viola) and Lisbeth Scott (vocals) and for a moderately sized symphonic (mainly string) ensemble, the score performed by the Macedonia Radio Symphonic Orchestra under the baton of Oleg Kontradenko, creating a varied and colorful tapestry of sound that envelopes and challenges and enthralls the listener with atmospheric and melodic soundscapes. Wintory treats the soloists as the focal point of the music, cello, flutes, viola and harp often presented with minimal accompaniment or over an ambient soundscape, lending a highly personal quality to the music,yet sometimes the soloists lead the orchestra in fascinating melodic explorations, perhaps the reflection of the idea of a lonely main character in a vast world. The feel of the music is ambivalent in that it does not, out of a conscious effort by the composer, seem to be from any specific culture or cultural area, but embraces a wide variety of music styles and ethnic musical traits. Some alto flute passages conjure with the solo cello images of Far East, yet the percussion and other melodic lines clearly point to another direction, Celtic or Middle-Eastern colorations appearing in the next track, no element becoming too dominating through the running time. This I take (as I have not played the game) mirrors the approach of the world which the main character inhabits and works well on the album as well, providing surprising mixes of colours and stylistics, keeping the listening experience fresh. Ambient textures Wintory uses become backdrops for the solo instruments and orchestral performance, keeping an element of mysticism, scope and ethereal wonder or peril firmly in the soundscape nearly throughout the album. Sometimes these slow, flowing, sparkling walls of sound somewhat dam the flow of the music or threaten to drown the organic elements but on the whole the synthetic material blends well to enhance the overall mood of the music, achieving a quasi spiritual and contemplative effect. Good examples of this are tracks like Temptations, Reclamation and several of the Confluence tracks (of which there are 6 in all). To balance the slower more ruminative moods there are several livelier lyrical tracks like the energetic the Road of Trials with its nearly Celtic pluckiness and sparklingly flowing blend of soloists and orchestra in the Threshold. The composer addresses the more serious threats and dangers on the journey by some impressively challenging modernistic ambience, percussion and string writings, like in the ominous Descent and especially in Nadir, where intensely furious layers of strings and percussion attack each other in a battle for supremacy, both frightening and powerful at the same time. And despite mentioning the word atmospheric quite often in the review I was impressed by the fact that the score exhibits a good ear for melody, the mystical, spiritual central theme of the game and soundtrack presented on soulful solo cello and husky alto flute directly on the first track Nascence, a vaguely exotic winding and yearning melody, well portraying the questing nature of the story, the searching mood captured in the wistful melodic line. After such a well rounded start Wintory anchors the music to a continuous yet often subtle development and variation of this main theme in various guises snippets and fragments through the album, the first few notes wafting through the dream-like soundscapes or string harmonies, the second track Call being a prime example of this, the union of ethereally ambient yet thematic approach. Even though Wintory wisely relies on a strong main theme and melody to carry the emotional weight, Wintory writes individual setpiece themes on several tracks, that seem to be woven from the same elegantly lyrical cloth as the main theme and provide exquisitely beautiful moments along the way, such as the Atonement, the already mentioned Threshold and The Road of Trials and he brings the score into a highly satisfying finale with the glowingly dramatic, poignant and almost bittersweet 7-minute meditation on the main theme in Apotheosis and ends the experience in a beatific solo voice and orchestral resolution in I Was Born for This with Lisbeth Scott lending her amazingly moving and rich voice for a prayer-like end credits song, the lyrics comprised of stanzas taken from many classic texts on legends of questing heroes sung in Latin, French, Old English and Japanese. Journey is a nuanced and highly colorful work, often arrestingly moody in one moment and hauntingly lyrical the next. While its thematic material is strong this music might not make an instant impression but rewards multiple listens if you allow for all the elements, moods and variations to sink in. The album forms a well balanced listening experience without forgetting to form a strong musical narrative along the way, the score charting a dramatic journey of its own through exotic and mystical musical landscapes. Some slight balancing issues between the organic and synthetic sound worlds aside Mr. Wintory has here created a truly impressive piece of work and I certainly look forward to hearing new music, in films or other media, from him in the future. A delightful surprise and for me one of the best scores of the year. 5/5 STARS Music composed, orchestrated and produced by Austin Wintory Featured soloists: Tina Guo: Cello Amy Tatum: Flute / Bass Flute Charissa Barger: Harp Rodney Wirtz: Viola Noah Gladstone: Serpent Sara Andon: Flute Vocal solos performed by Lisbeth Scott; text compiled by Jeremy Howard Beck Percussion and programming by Austin Wintory Orchestral performances by the Macedonia Radio Symphonic Orchestra Orchestra conducted by Oleg Kontradenko Orchestra contracted by Laurent Koppitz