BAROQUE Original Soundtrack
As one might expect from a score for a horror game, the Baroque Original Soundtrack predominantly features menacing ambient themes. These themes aren't ambient in the way that most Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or Parasite Eve tracks are, however. Most of the themes are based around highly experimental genres and many of the themes don't have any melodies at all. As well as dark electronica, there are prominent appearances of industrial music and noise music (a genre that originated from Japan that uses sampled non-musical sounds in a way considered 'unpleasant' by most people) throughout the score. One might not expect the majority of this to come from Masaharu Iwata, a composer usually known for his symphonic approach to music in scores; in fact, not only is this score completely different to anything heard from him before, nothing quite like it has been heard in VGM before. For this reason, and the fact it is practically a solo score (though John Pee and Toshiaki Sakoda from Treasure Hunter G made minor contributions), this album really allowed Iwata to stand up prominently in his own right for the first time.
The album begins with one of the most inspirational pieces of VGM ever written: "Great Heat 20320514." A mixture of grunge and dark electronica, combining heavy overdriven guitar riffs, a penetrating percussion line, and even some oriental melodies as the piece reaches its climax, the composition manages to sound incredibly oppressive, yet also be electrifying, working in conjunction with the game's terrifying opening FMV well. Dark electronica is heard in other parts of the score, too, most notably with "One Foot in the Grave." This track features a rapidly repeating distorted bass note, which gives the piece rhythmical impetus and an industrial feel. All sorts of sounds are integrated over it, including an eerie glissando from one of the lead synth instruments and lots of industrial booms and crashes. Though a striking melody enters in the latter half of the track, this does not detract from the overall oppression created, since the bass line and eerie sound effects remain. It does, however, open up the soundtrack so that it can integrate more melodic themes in a fitting way. Though both pieces succeed in being deliberately unpleasant and unnerving, both have addictive qualities and have more than enough unique features to keep an open-minded listener entertained. "Into Our Trespasses" and "A Style of Baroque" integrate similar features, too, and are very effective in the game, but sadly offer limited impact on the score; this is principally since each last for about a minute.
The first piece of noise music comes with "Sanctuary." Here, no real melody exists, and an array of strange noises takes its place, including samples of rats, bats, raindrops, footsteps, and heart beats. There is some instrumental backing, including faint piano chords and chime motifs, but the piece is fundamentally noise music nonetheless. Another great scene setter is "Confusion," which suits its name perfectly. It opens with some wind sound effects and the sound of a moving train then enters, becoming increasingly louder as it grows closer to the game character. Eventually distorted voices that sound like they are communicating via a radio enter, fading in an out, as the train noise enters again and becomes increasingly more apparent. Though it is subject to personal contemplation as to whether 'noise music' is an oxymoron, these tracks are undeniably effective within the game and are unique to game soundtracks. Closely related to noise music are certain ambient pieces that combine atmospheric droning with other noise, but also have a degree of harmony to them. "Namu Ami" and "Little" are the best examples of this. In the former, the drone repeatedly echoes and gradually intensifies, creating the feeling of a person's presence; this figure is eventually revealed at the 2:30 with the alarming sound of a man cackling. In "Little," the drone is the sound of a baby crying, and though the drone has a less musically significant role, it is equally unnerving and gives the music an extraordinary feeling. Though other background noise is heard, the melodies from "Iraiza" are also prominent, making it relatively conventional compared to the other ambient pieces. Please note that there should be an emphasis on the word 'relatively' here; this comment is not intended to infer that it is a typical ambient theme, but rather that only a hint of melodic progression would make a theme more conventional in Baroque.
Despite the abundance of ambient music, Iwata manages to create some of the most outstandingly gorgeous themes ever created, while also continuing to convey the surreal atmosphere of the rest of the soundtrack. He manages to combine eerie industrial music with sweepingly beautiful slow-developing melodies in "Iraiza," a heartfelt addition to the first part of the score. Another high achiever is "One," which features the sound effects synonymous with noise music heard in previous tracks together with a lulling and repeated choral melody. The richness and purity of the vocals creates a profound contrast with the shadowy sounds that lie underneath and the way it develops so slowly leaves one completely mesmerised by the end. "Multiplex" is incredible, managing to convey the atmosphere of a dark, empty, and mysterious other world, yet also sounding hopeful thanks to the gorgeous instrumental contrasts and the introduction of subtle piano melodies after the 2:00 mark. The best of the melodic themes is the ending theme, "Hold Baroque Inside," the pinnacle of the soundtrack. The whole theme is based around 'new age' music; this is particularly emphasised by the way the dreamy piano motif from the "One" theme repeats throughout the introduction and lulls gently as synth samples are softly integrated underneath. After the introduction, the piece goes on to recapitulate the "Great Heat 20320514" theme. This time, however, the theme is used in a less unnerving way, though overdriven electric guitar motifs from the original are occasionally heard, ensuring that the theme doesn't entirely lose its edge. After returning to the "Multiplex" theme once more, the theme ends calmly, leaving one in a completely relaxed state. An enlightening way to end the game, creating relief after all the horror before, it is refreshing to hear after all the dissonance and aggression heard in the earlier part of the soundtrack.
Unfortunately, the soundtrack itself seems to reach its climax too early because of the masterpiece "Hold Baroque Inside," as four more tracks are added, all of which pale in comparison. "Deep Interludium," John Pee's sole contribution to the album, is a dark electronica track once more, but lacks the sophistication of similar contributions from Iwata, such as "Great Heat 20320514"; though the use of synth vocals is original and the primary motif used does create agitation, it soon becomes repetitive due to the theme's complete lack of development. Toshiaki Sakoda's three tracks are not much better. "Baroque 204 Forest" has enormous potential, since it provides a stark contrast to the electronica tracks, utilising orchestral instruments for the first time. Sadly, it barely develops, being only a little over a minute long, and no profound contrasts are therefore created. "Baroque 205 Blue" is more inspired, blending tribal ambient drum beats with jarring electric guitar samples. It appears to develop very effectively, especially after the eventual addition of some strange vocal samples; however, it abruptly ends on a suspended chord after this for no apparent reason just as it seemed ready to develop further. The very last theme, "Baroque 206 Black," is intended to simulate the death scene of the game and it combines all sorts of strange samples, such as heartbeats and heavy breathing. The amount of tension in this theme is huge, but it all ends after 34 seconds with the sound of a huge crash. Some might consider it a quaint touch, but strategically placing it earlier in the album may have been more effective, since it sounds very cheesy after Iwata's stylistically refined tracks. It's an original and shocking way to end an album, but not a particularly sophisticated one, and ending it with "Hold Baroque Inside" would have been far more effective.
Though the Baroque Original Soundtrack is arguably one of the most creative efforts in game music ever created, this certainly doesn't mean it will be globally loved. Those who dislike most experimental music, dark electronica, and noise music will abhor this score, plain and simple. That rules out about 99% of the world's population then. Nonetheless, for those people with open minds who are looking for something completely different, this soundtrack is an utterly mind-blowing experience. Despite a few shortcomings — principally Pee's and Sakoda's hollow and underdeveloped contributions — the album otherwise succeeds in being a landmark creation for both Masaharu Iwata and the video game music community as a whole. From "Great Heat 20320514" to "Hold Baroque Inside," Iwata remains consistently excellent throughout this score, barely putting a foot wrong; he certainly shrugs off the image of 'Sakimoto's symphonic-loving sidekick' in breathtaking fashion. eBay and Yahoo! Japan Auctions are the best bets when it comes to buying this album. Be warned, however, that it is rare and it is recommended that any prospective buyers listen to the samples beforehand, as the style of this music really won't appeal to everyone.
In 1996, Squaresoft collaborated with Sting to creates Treasure Hunter G, which was the last game Squaresoft published on the Super Nintendo. While THG sported exceptional graphics, an innovative battle system, and a captivating story, it also featured one of the richest scores ever on the console. This was done thanks to the work of several composers. Seven, to be exact. The four whom had done the most work were John Pee, Hitoshi Sakimoto, Masaharu Iwata, and Toshiaki Sakoda. Pee and Sakoda were from Sting while Sakimoto and Iwata were freelance composers hired to help out on the ambitious project. In 1998, Sting decided to call in Iwata to compose for one of their high profile games, Baroque.
Baroque is classified as a hybrid, which is a mix of two genres. These genres are First Person Shooter and RPG. It is rather merciless in its execution, given the random dungeons and constant race against eventual death. The music amplified the feel of desolation and despair, representing a barren wasteland where no common life forms exists anymore. That was the harsh atmosphere Baroque was aiming for. Iwata managed to flesh out this eerie atmosphere by mixing electronic elements with abstract ambience, while having a few tips for handling the electronic elements from Shinji Hosoe.
The soundtrack opens up with "Great Heat 20320514". It initially offers ominous strings, but they're put as a backup sound when the 'grundgy' electronic sound comes up, making up the main melody. This eventually builds up to a slight orchestral motif on which the track ends. Having played the game, this theme fitted the gruesome opening FMV to perfection, as it truly captures the drama and weirdness of the cinematic sequences. Moving on, "Into our Trespasses" features a choir getting louder and louder until a loud orchestral hit shows up; the choir soon dies away with the sounds of the freezing winds closing up the track. "Iraiza" appears to be one of the key characters in the story; the theme is peppered by loud drum beats along with depressing strings. Fitting for a mysterious angel that offers clues in the forms of cryptic phrases.
Baroque is mostly comprised of dungeon exploration, so many of these themes have their own way to stand out and put the listener/player on the edge of his chair, awaiting the next frightful encounter. "Sanctuary", for instancem is one of the more ambient tracks. Virtually no melody exists, but rather a collage of sounds ranging from echoing breath, rats, leaking water, bats, bubbling water, and more. These sounds are effective for creating fear, and they do their part by distracting the player as monsters are closing in from the dark corners of a room. "Confusion" is the most abstract track. It features wind effects, thunderclaps which sound from far away, along with monstrous grunts and alienating sounds. It is soon covered up by metallic clanks which sounds louder and louder as it progresses. I've heard this piece once in the game, and my fate was soon sealed as I let my paranoia drive me into an ambush.
And now on the eccentricities presented here that aren't quite 'noise music'... "Namu Ami" is certainly another oddity. It starts with wavy sound effects and some devilish laughing, and soon the electronic effect shows up and drones as the laughing continues. By the end, we hear a synchronized effect which creates the illusion of wicked, evil laughter, which works as the game is literally mocking you. "Little" is by far the most frightening track. It borrows thunderclaps and eerie bits of music from old horror movies, but its biggest effect is the child-like mumbling, which sounds they come from your worst nightmares. Actually, it's a very bad idea to listen to this track while attempting to fall asleep, as it is quite disturbing. "Alice In" is another of the ambient themes; it has flowing synths and an eerie choir which strengthens the darkness of various dungeons.
There's some relief... "One Foot in the Grave" is one of the more 'optimistic' tracks; the electronic melody coupled with the orchestral overtones fitted the Training Dungeon nicely as it is barely troublesome and there were no random generators except the occurrence of different monsters. "One" is theme which plays when one encounters a holy being, such as the angels or Baroque's own vision of God. The theme carries a hint of hope but remains in the depressive vein as these encounters are often illusions. "Multiplex" is filled with choirs at first, but soon gives way to some orchestral elements but the piano soon takes the lead and plays the theme of "Iraiza", which moves on to a passage with choir which continues the same theme. The ending theme, "Hold Baroque Inside", has all the main themes attached to it. At first, a gentle piano solo evolves to a short version of "Great Heat 20350514", complete with the 'grundgy' electronic effects. The piece then moves forward with a reprise of the last section of "Multiplex".
While Masaharu Iwata is credited for this soundtrack, he was accompanied by John Pee and Toshiaki Sakoda. Pee's "Deep Interludium" is basically a rhythmic choir/beat piece, which flourishes with the sudden electronic pulse and vocal effects, but it merely repeats afterwards. Sakoda has the honor of finishing the album on three noteworthy tracks. "Baroque 204 Forest" is the most orchestra-based and features strings, bells and brass parts, but alas it ends at barely a minute of play. "Baroque 205 Blue" sounds like a battle theme to me; the electric guitar, odd electronic effects, sudden accordion, and vocal effects all contribute into making it 'epic' if such a term can be used. "Baroque 206 Black" seems to simulate the eventual death scene — the rapid heartbeat, the painful breathing, the maniac's laughter, and whatnot all come into a crash — literally!
Baroque ends up being Masaharu Iwata's most original score thus far and demonstrates his affinity for the dark and dreary. People who are just getting into video game music will likely not be able to get the most out of this album due to the lack of experience with horror soundtracks, but those who already know and love the genre will certainly find lots to enjoy. Having being published by DigiCube, Baroque has become out of print and is unfortunately scarce. It may appear occasionally on eBay, but Yahoo! Japan Auctions seems to be a better bet. While not being as 'scary' as Silent Hill or 'haunting' as American McGee's Alice, Baroque still remains one of the freshest entries into the Horror VGM genre.
I use the term "ambient" pretty loosely. Something like the Vagrant Story Original Soundtrack classifies as ambient in my book, as does the non-opera stuff in Parasite Eve. But the true Ambient style, at least as I understand it, is a phenomenon that's more than simply repetitive atonal music, just as Jazz is something more than modal chords and improvisation. The Baroque Original Soundtrack is such a soundtrack. Composed (mostly) by Masaharu Iwata, it is Ambient, to the letter.
Be forewarned, some of the stuff is *way* out there. Take "Confusion," for instance. This track could probably be classified in the Experimental Noise genre of music (yes, there is such a thing). It begins with some wind and thunder effects, then in come some rapid effects that sound like running and fighting heard very far in the distance. Droning in the background we can also hear some heavily distorted samples that sound like voices communicating over a radio. The scene reminds me of a battle. As the radio voices fade out, a steady echoing click sound is heard, growing ever louder, and playing at very regular intervals. It becomes rather disturbing when you begin forming images in your mind of what the music is supposed to represent.
Noise isn't the only kind of music you'll hear, however. Several tracks are more of the "droning atmospheric" style of music, quite common in game soundtracks that have industrial themes, such as the Xenosaga games. Pieces like this have some degree of harmony to them, always sustained and sort of wailing in the background. "Namu Ami" is a great example of this style. It begins with sound effects only, something that sounds like a rolling metal oil drum and a bunch of rattles and thuds. Then the drone kicks in, reverberating around the musical space and giving the mood more of a physical presence. At about 2:30, this wicked ratcheting plays, and it sounds so much like a laugh that it's scary. I guess that was the point.
Another great track for atmospheric harmony is "Alice In," which sort of combines the harmony and melody together in a tune that reminds me of the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It must be because it sounds pretty and otherworldly, quite a partner for the underlying darkness present in this piece. Some of the tracks have more of a melody than others, but they are still solidly ambient. "One Foot in the Grave" starts to open the soundtrack up to music that is less focused on sound effects. While it does have plenty of wailing and other good effects, I think the memorable part of the track is the eerie melody.
By no means does Iwata stick to the non-melodic stuff that most of us associate with Ambient. At least half of the tracks on Baroque pull styles from dark industrial, choir chants, and even some electronica. A few noteworthy examples are "Into Our Tresspasses," "One," and "Multiplex". Then there are the first and last tracks of Iwata's work, "Great Heat 20320514" and "Hold Baroque Inside." The former utilizes a grunge-like synth, featuring an extremely distorted guitar and some sound effects that remind me of the NES Mega Man games. The latter is even further from the chaotic noisy weirdness that the early tracks use. It's a piano piece with electronic backup that sounds far too light to be in this beast of an Original Soundtrack.
The last four tracks were not composed by Iwata. "Interludium" is a contribution from John Pee, who worked with Iwata on Treasure Hunter G. It's not anything great, just something that fits in with the more industrial tracks on the album. The remaining three were composed by Toshiaki Sakoda. His tracks are actually worth a special mention. "Baroque 204 Forest" is by far the most conventional piece in the soundtrack, and the only one to utilize orchestral instruments. "Baroque 205 Blue" is a very interesting track that blends elements from tribal ambient and hard rock. And finally, "Baroque 206 Black" is a really short but sweet way to end the soundtrack. I won't spoil the surprise, but let's just say that the repetition in the early part of the piece will leave you unprepared for the little twist at the end. You might want to lower the volume on your speakers before you hit the end, too.
Now, to answer the burning question: is Baroque a good purchase? That's tough to say. If you've tried Ambient before and you know it isn't your thing, definitely not. If you're unfamiliar with the genre, as most mainstream-oriented people seem to be, Baroque isn't a good way to test the waters; I recommend checking out independent artists on the web, or listening to soundtracks like Parasite Eve. If, however, you know you like Ambient, then Baroque is probably a sure thing. It explores many of the sub-genres within Ambient music, but nothing so hardcore that it will turn off an open-minded listener. It's one of those little-heard-of soundtracks that deserves far more attention than it receives.
Composed, Arranged, Mixed & Produced by Masaharu Iwata
* except M-15 Produced, Arranged & Mixed by John Pee (Sting)
* except M-16, 17, 18 Produced, Arranged & Mixed by Toshiaki Sakoda (Sting)
Mastering Engineered by Hiroshi kawasaki (Victor Studio)
Directed by Kazunari Yonemitsu (Sting), YPK (DigiCube)
Sales Promotion: Saiko Fukui
Art Direction: Yoshitaka Sato for GAGA Design Works Inc.
Co-Executive Producers: Hirofumi Nakamura (DigiCube)
Executive Producers: Takeshi Santo (Sting), Hisashi Suzuki (DigiCube), Hirofumi Yokota (DigiCube)
Original Game Design: Kazunari Yonemitsu (Sting)
Special Thanks: Shinji Hosoe
Great Heat 20320514
Into our trespasses
A Style of Baroque
One foot in the grave
Hold Baroque Inside
Baroque 204 Forest
Baroque 205 Blue
Baroque 206 Black
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