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The greatest videogame music created by non-industry composers

I spent most of my lunchtime today listening to the soundtrack for this year’s big Christmas flick Tron: Legacy. I’m a bit of a Daft Punk fan, so I was curious to see what the French electro-house musicians would bring to a theatrical score. The pairing of symphony orchestra overtures, crescendos and accelerandos with undulating synths and vibrant sparks of electronica is impressive indeed. It may sound very Hans Zimmer-y at times, but Daft Punk use their own eclectic brand of pop-meets-house-meets-rock to personalise to soundtrack and create something wholly unique.

It got me thinking about videogames. How often have composers from outside the industry tried their hand at writing videogame music? Surely composers are drawn to the challenge that interactivity presents when creating immersive music? Here are the best examples I could think of:

Trent Reznor

Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame tried his hand at the videogame business quite early on, scoring the the soundtrack for 1996’s Quake. He worked on this project during Nine Inch Nail’s The Downward Spiral years, and it’s telling in the game’s music. It sounds like a steel refinery that’s been turned into a pit of despair and torture, all metal grinding on metal, weird whirring sounds, and forceful synths. We love it.

Amon Tobin

Experimental Brazilian DJ and electronic musician Amon Tobin tried his hand at videogames in 2005’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. Dark and insidious, it’s a great soundtrack that suits the game’s subject matter brilliantly. This was also one of the first – or at least one of the most prominent examples of – dynamic videogame music. Each track was broken down into four parts depending on their level of intensity, meaning the music could change depending on the actions of the player. The album was released on Ninja Tune, one of the coolest record labels going.

Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer has created some amazing soundtracks; his work with Christopher Nolan on the rebooted Batman series and Inception being recent prominent examples. He’s not just about creating bombast and spectacle either, he’s also willing to experiment with new ideas. His brand of loud, exhilarating music was a great choice for the Call Of Duty series, for which he composed some of the music for Modern Warfare 2. It helps that he’s also worked on the music for films like The Rock and Black Hawk Down, which have a clear influence on Infinity Ward’s game. And The Lion King, of course.

Nitin Sawhney

Nitin Sawhney’s work has a very multicultural feel, combining traditional Asian sounds with elements of jazz and electronica. There’s a very spiritual ambiance to his music, and that’s exactly what he brought to Team Ninja’s Heavenly Sword and Enslaved, pairing heavy, tribal beats with silky, haunting vocals. He has a brilliant talent of making music that’s both exciting and relaxing at the same time, as evidenced in the video above.

Bear McCreary

Dark Void was a bit pap, but Bear McReady’s soundtrack made things feel invigorating even when things were at their most tedious. If you’ve watched the Battlestar Galactica series (the reimagined one, obviously) you’ll know how capable McCreary is of making epic battle music, and then at the opposite end of the scale creating lingering songs that really tug at the heartstrings. Like Nitin Sawhney there are a lot of global influences in his music that really make Dark Void’s soundtrack stand out.

Bill Elm and Woody Jackson

Composed by Friends Of Dean Martinez member Bill Elm and ex-member Woody Jackson, along with contributions from various other musicians, Red Dead Redemption’s soundtrack is utterly unique. Elm and Jackson used a variety of obscure and strange instruments to capture a very earthy, authentic feel that contrasts with the digital-only soundtracks we’re so used to. Like Amon Tobin’s Splinter Cell score it was also created dynamically, meaning the music can increase or decrease in intensity depending on player action. The original songs created for the game by José González, Jamie Lidell and others are worthy of a mention too.

Harry Gregson-Williams

Forget God Save The Queen. If we really want something to make England stand out we should have the above song as our national anthem. Just listen to it. Nobody, nobody, would fuck with England if that was our national anthem.

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  • KeeperOfTheWord


  • Chris McMahon

    We should definitely start an online petition for that.