GAMES ARE ART
Behind the music of Journey
How the Grammy-nominated score found its voice.
Set in a mysterious land of shimmering sand dunes and crumbling temples, the lush indie adventure game Journey has earned countless honours – but none as groundbreaking as its 2013 Grammy nomination for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media.
It was the first – and only – videogame score ever to be nominated.
The game itself is a radical experiment in collaborative play, and the soundtrack reflects that. Featuring soaring strings that mesh seamlessly with the action, Journey’s music isn’t merely incidental; it serves as the game’s narrator, says composer Austin Wintory.
No words are ever spoken, but the score’s plaintive cello gives voice to the enigmatic hero.
“It has a beautifully melancholic and lonely sound,” Wintory says. “I have a very specific cellist I love writing for named Tina Guo.” (She happens to be the string-shredding powerhouse behind Wonder Woman’s stirring theme song in the DC movies.) The music isn’t static. It adapts to how you play. Collaborate with online players during your travels and different parts of the music reveal themselves. “Certain instruments – the harp and viola – lay dormant in the mix until you connect with another person,” says Wintory. “If you’re alone, it has a more lonesome and kind of desolate quality.”
Wintory’s toughest challenge was composing “Apotheosis”, the track that accompanies a player’s euphoric ascension in the final level. “We were struggling to make the ending satisfying, to ensure it delivered the emotional punch we were after,” he says. “Then I shut the game down and wrote based on my memory of it. I let the notes find themselves, and that’s what ended up helping me – and the game – get where I needed to be.” You can listen to the 18-song soundtrack, performed by the Macedonian Radio Symphonic Orchestra, on Apple Music and other streaming services.