Friday, September 30, 2016

Soundtrack September: Minecraft

Game: Minecraft (2011~)
Platform: numerous
Composer: C418 (Daniel Rosenfeld)

Scoring a sandbox game with very little in the way of narrative is not easy, as Daniel Rosenfeld has said in at least one interview. With limited information about what the player will be doing, it’s difficult to write a score that effectively supports the action on screen at all times. On top of that, consider the fact that music was a relatively new endeavor for Rosenfeld, who was very young and only had a few years of composition experience under his belt when he began working on the game. 

Also noteworthy is that this music, which didn’t impress me when I first played the game, suddenly gains value and legitimacy when listened to on its own. As a work of art on its own (rather than the backdrop for another work of art), however, Minecraft’s soundtrack accomplishes its every goal with grace, mixing piano lullabies with sometimes-soothing-sometimes-eerie ambient electronics. It's so good, my family occasionally listens to it at dinner.

Rosenfeld, who maintains ownership of the rights to all the music in Minecraft, released the soundtrack though his Bandcamp page on two albums, Minecraft: Volume Alpha (2011, containing the soundtrack as it existed at the time, plus or minus a few tracks) and Minecraft: Volume Beta (2013, containing music added to the game in an update).

Volume Beta is so good, it actually coaxed me back into playing the game. In addition to the unassuming piano plinks of Volume Alpha, Beta delves into new emotional territory with lush, swelling strings and dark synth textures. The melodramatic track “Aria Math,” for example, which is used in the game’s Creative Mode, may come across as a bit too serious for the action on the screen, but is a thing of beauty on its own. 

As an elicitor of emotion, the soundtrack’s single greatest triumph is a 15-minute track called “The End,” the aural backdrop for the eponymous final area of the game, where the player fights the Ender Dragon. Built on a thrumming, propeller-like drone, the evolving soundscape becomes an ocean in which other familiar Minecraft themes can be heard drowning. It builds at a glacial pace over the course of several minutes, eventually coming to a pulsing crisis point that seems to evoke equal parts urgency and crushing loneliness – highly appropriate for the apocalyptic floating continent for which the track is named, yet a wild exaggeration of Minecraft’s tinker-toy gameplay.

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