SPATE – Mike Raznick


Original Review by Alan RogersSpate

Spate is a platformer game from Ayyo Games set in a surreal “steampunk” world. Visual artist Eric Provan, creator of Spate, has come up with a game that focuses on creating great visuals, mood and atmosphere to support the story. And a major contributor to making the game as arresting as it is is composer Mike Raznick, who has fashioned a score that envelopes the listener (whether they are playing the game or listening to the album), drawing them into the world of Spate. The plot is a simple one: you are Bluth – a private investigator – hired to find out what’s happened to a businessman last seen entering “The X-Zone”. The X-Zone is a group of islands that have been shrouded in mysterious clouds and rain for a number of years. To complicate matters, Bluth’s daughter was one of the many people who went missing (and are presumed dead) when the rains came. As the game progresses, Bluth becomes increasingly haunted by the death of his daughter. Things are not helped by the fact that he is addicted to absinthe and it becomes increasingly difficult for him to decide whether what he is experiencing is real or drug-induced. Composer Mike Raznick has contributed music to over 500 game, film and television projects. Spate is an excellent score featuring a 50-piece orchestra and using string quintet (including cellist Martin Tillman) as the main colour to add mood and atmosphere.

As well as a small string ensemble, oboe and bassoon and haunting vocals (Holly Sedillos) are all used to great effect to create a “modernistic score”, dark and ambient using string clusters, off-key brass, dissonance and atonalities to emphasise the claustrophobic feel of the game. Musical ideas flit in and out of the soundscape, mirroring the appearance/disappearance at various points in the game of a variety of surreal images (upside-down trees, whole buildings and even top hats floating in mid-air, weird-looking creatures and half-glimsped figures). Scratchy, tremolo strings, ethereal voices and low electronic percussive rumblings all vie for the attention, disappearing as quickly as they appear only to surface again at some point later in the score. Spate relies heavily on Raznick’s score as there are long periods of gameplay when there is little for the player to do except move through various scenes to get from one “task” to the next. Whether it is canoeing across an expanse of water, wading through a fast-moving river or crossing a seemingly endlessly long bridge, these passages of play could seem devoid of interest, be boring. However, the visuals and the music of the Spate world make these sequences interesting; the visuals and Raznick’s music keep the senses focused, priming the player for the next weird image.

Rather than featuring full-blown themes, Spate features a number of recurring musical motifs. There’s a descending motif that recurs at several points throughout the score and it is passed between various sections of the small orchestra: horns (e.g., ”The X-Zone”), strings (”Venetian Dream”) and woodwinds (”Surreality” and “The Cave”) each take their turn stating this brief musical idea. Although they are brief musical ideas, their appearance become important since they are introduced over the relentlessly downbeat mood set up by the ambient music. Beautiful ethereal solo vocals add an otherworldly, ghostly feel to tracks such as “Venetian Dream”, “Skybridge” and “Ascension, Pt. 2”. Raznick’s use of higher register strings is a key feature of the musical palette used in Spate and offers some respite from the incessant rain of The X-Zone. Featured most prominently in the tracks “A Dedication To Rain” and “A Choice”, the appearance of the upper register strings in “A Dedication To Rain” corresponds to the first appearance of what could be considered to be a “proper” theme. This string idea (theme?) seems to be associated with the detective’s memories of his daughter. This earlier time – before the rains – are happier times for Bluth and this is communicated through the use of the higher strings. This association between music and mood is more concrete in “A Choice” where we get a glimpse of his happier past. The music here is the score at its brightest, most optimistic.

Mike Raznick’s score for Spate is difficult to describe in a way that makes it sound particularly appealing. It’s not a score that is full of hummable themes. But it’s a score that holds the attention for almost an hour nonetheless. Game creator Provan’s ability to take away the life-giving connotations of the appearance of rain and replace them with the rain being the bringer of oppression and death summarises how dark Raznick’s score needed to be. And rather than composing a few choice cues and cutting-and-pasting them into the game at relevant places, the composer has created almost sixty minutes of original music. Careful consideration of how to use the limited resources available to him in ways that serve the gameplay has resulted in the creation of a score that’s of much interest away from the game. Although sparse, ominous, moody in style, Spate immerses the listener in a world that holds you for the length of the album, if you are willing to be taken on the journey Raznick has created. It’s a great little score and I look forward to hearing more from the composer. Spate can be listened in full and/or purchased from Bandcamp.

Rating: ****/*****

  1. Prologue (3:58)
  2. The X-Zone (4:02)
  3. The Swamp (3:54)
  4. Venetian Dream (5:02)
  5. Dangerous (3:32)
  6. Surreality (3:55)
  7. A Dedication To Rain (2:30)
  8. The Graveyard (5:43)
  9. The Cave (4:06)
  10. Skybridge (3:10)
  11. Ascension, Pt. 1 (3:53)
  12. Ascension, Pt. 2 (4:03)
  13. A Choice (2:34)
  14. A Splash of Absynth (2:17)
  15. Bluth’s Rain (2:14)

Running Time: 54:59

Mike Raznick (2014)

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Trackbacks

  1. […] (Nik Sakellarides), Que d’Amour (Philippe Jakko), Farfars Fabrik (Eric Väpnargård) and SPATE (Mike […]

  2. […] Additionally, here are some reviews and interviews associated with my soundtrack release: SPATE Original Videogame Score Sumthing: Insider Blog Composer Mike Raznick and ‘Spate’ on Top Score Interview: The Haunting String Quartets of SPATE PixlBit Interview REEL MUSIC: SPATE review by Alan Rogers […]

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