There are some composers whose music instantly transports you to a particular place and time. Aaron Copland had a gift for capturing the American West in his music, and Vaughan Williams was able to recreate the English countryside. In her soundtrack for "Dear Esther," BAFTA award winning composer Jessica Curry takes us to a bleak island in the Hebrides and in "Everybody's Gone to the Rapture," she creates nostalgia in an abandoned village in 1980s Shropshire.
Curry hadn't even played any video games until she wrote the score for the Chinese Room's "Dear Esther," a ground-breaking game that came out in 2012. In fact, she said she was "dragged kicking and screaming" into the process of writing a score.
"My husband, (Chinese Room co-founder Dan Pinchbeck) asked, 'Can you stick a little bit of music on this experimental thing I've done?,'" Curry said. "I wrote the music, and it was incredible, the response we had — right place, right time, right game."
Curry's "little bit of music" is an ethereal, otherworldly series of pieces of chamber music that unfold as you explore an abandoned island, and try to find out what happened to the narrator, who accompanies you on your journey.
I had a chance to talk with Jessica about her process of writing music, and you can listen in here:
Exploration is a key element in "Everybody's Gone to the Rapture," released by The Chinese Room in August of 2015. It's up to the player to try to piece together the monumental event that must have happened to make everyone in a small northern English village disappear.
The first thing I thought of was how much Jessica's music reminded me of Vaughan Williams and Gerald Finzi, and although Jessica said they're two of her favorite composers, she didn't listen to their music on purpose to make sure that the pieces she wrote for Everybody's Gone to the Rapture sounded like her own work.
As you explore the village, and listen in on residents' conversations, it becomes clear that something catastrophic must have happened, but because all you hear is the sound of birds, the wind in the trees, and gorgeous music, it gives you a sense that whatever happened, it was all very cozy and reassuring.
"I suppose the message in the game is that life is incredibly short, but it's also magnificent. Even though Rapture is about the end of the world, it's also about joy and love and connection," said Curry.
Jessica's score for the Victorian Gothic horror game, "Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs" is anything but cozy. It's a terrifying sound world of tense strings and mysterious sounds. The music was a big departure from Jessica's usual style, and not easy to write.
"I worked with noise-cancelling headphones with my back to the door, writing this absolutely horrific music, and someone would come in and say, 'Do you want a cup of tea?' And I'd scream because I'd freak myself out!" Curry said.
Now that Rapture is finished, the Chinese Room studio will perhaps take a different path and stop exploring such dark themes.