August 1, 2019
Austin Wintory, Kevin Penkin, Jeff Russo, & Andrew Prahlow
Today we have a guest recommendation from Bijan Stephen, a reporter at The Verge and music critic at The Nation. Bijan has been a friend of the Flow State staff for years and has inspired much of our writing and listening.
My birthday is in a few days, and, as with every year, it’s got me thinking about the passage of time. Getting older doesn’t feel as linear as I thought it would. The narratives I grew up with all had a defined progression: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Life doesn’t, at least not until you stop and think and narrativize a little, which you can only do in hindsight. (Everyone, go to therapy.)
Lately I’ve been playing a lot of video games for my job as a reporter — stuff like Outer Wilds, a gorgeous space mystery; Gorogoa, a mysterious puzzle game where you guide a child through memorably mysterious cities; and Wolfenstein: Youngblood, which is about killing Nazis. To further immerse myself in their worlds, I’ve been playing their soundtracks. Listening to them, you feel like a protagonist. Walking around New York, where I live, becomes stranger and more magical, a defamiliarized wonderland filled with odd characters and weird happenings. It also happens that music from games is excellent to work to, because these soundtracks are designed to lap unobtrusively (and propulsively) at the shores of your consciousness while you solve the problems the game designers have set before you. The point is to help you continue your journey.
Austin Wintory is one of my favorite composers. He did the music for Journey, which is about a nameless figure taking a perilous journey through a ruined wilderness. I loved the music from Florence, an exquisitely charming game for mobile devices about a relationship, which Kevin Penkin did. Nor can I get enough of the music from What Remains of Edith Finch, an adventure where you figure out what happened to a cursed family by exploring their equally cursed home, which was done by Jeff Russo. Andrew Prahlow’s Outer Wilds soundtrack is gorgeous too, conjuring as it does the feeling of floating alone in space.
Games are meant to create an atmosphere as much as they are to entertain, and the best ones do it so seamlessly you feel as though you’re in another world, at least for a little while. Try capturing that feeling yourself — either while you’re working, or somewhere out there in the world.
Enjoy your Thursday.