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Prague-based indie games company Amanita Design released their new puzzle adventure Creaks this summer. This time they enlisted the help of Joe Acheson (aka Hidden Orchestra) to create the soundtrack, following in the footsteps of the duo DVA and Joe’s long-time friend and collaborator Tomáš Dvořák (Floex).
For Joe this was a new challenge, which he was able to meet with an outsider’s perspective on the gaming music tradition, as a non-gamer doing his first soundtrack. In this brain-teasing game, players may have to restart levels several times, and the duration of each level depends on each player’s speed at finding the solutions. In order to avoid listener fatigue caused by constantly restarting and looping pieces of music, Joe decided to create an endless ‘living soundtrack’, using software primarily designed for sound effects and atmospheres. By creating numerous variations for every part played by every instrument, and choosing between them using randomised conditional logic, the game’s music is self-generating and infinite, with constantly varying arrangements - while each piece is clearly recognisable, it will never sound exactly the same twice.
The player’s progress through the game also controls the structure of the music, as each piece moves through its sections as the stages of each puzzle are solved. Joe also wanted to reflect Amanita’s trademark marriage of beautiful hand-drawn artwork with technology, which fits neatly with his own approach of using only real instruments and musicians, but treating them with production techniques from sample-based music in order to create an imaginary orchestra.
"Each of the characters in the game is represented by a different instrument – for example, a selection of different zithers for the main hero character. The genres of music in the game reflect the progression through time in the game's artwork" reveals Joe Acheson himself. The musical mosaic on Creaks is very diverse and offers a broad creative spread, which bears the recognisable handwriting of Hidden Orchestra. It offers a kaleidoscope from minimalist improvisations for solo piano, through more diverse orchestrations for winds and strings, to conceptual compositions driven in an electronic background. "We start in a primitive world, where the music is mostly created from simple ancient styles of instruments (zithers, flutes, percussion) and some home-made instruments (tunable chimes made from a deconstructed glockenspiel, a harp made from an egg-slicer). Then we go into a gothic/baroque world, filled with bells, organs and choirs. Then a Classical world, dominated by pianos and strings, and an Electronic world filled with textures, rhythms, bass lines and melodies created on a modular synth, finally ending up in a futuristic dark magical world full of bass clarinet”.
Whilst playing the majority of instruments on the record himself (including piano, basses, zithers, analog synth, flutes, percussion, harmonium and many more), Joe most prominently features the newest members of Hidden Orchestra on this release - Jack McNeill (clarinet, bass clarinet) and Rebecca Knight (cello) - and did not hesitate to enlist his traditional collaborators Tim Lane and Jamie Graham (drums) and Poppy Ackroyd (violin), with brief cameo appearances from Yvo Ackroyd Acheson (shakers), Ali Tocher (bells, zither-box percussion), Su-a Lee (cello), Phil Cardwell (trumpet), and the aforementioned Tomáš Dvořák (clarinet).
A further challenge was found in crystallising this infinite soundtrack, lasting 6-10 hours for most players, into a limited form for the release of a single album. The feature-length digital soundtrack consists of twenty-one pieces - the first fifteen will also get to the physical form of Creaks on double LP and CD. The mastering was taken care of by the well-proven Matouš Godík, who was also responsible for the excellent sound design in the game, and the release of the album is delivered by Minority Records, who have already been working closely with Amanita Design for several years.
Creaks Soundtrack is the fourth full-length studio album from Hidden Orchestra, following Night Walks (2010), Archipelago (2012), and Dawn Chorus (2017). Other notable releases include Reorchestrations (2015), a collection of Joe’s reworkings of mainly classical and folk musicians, 2016’s Wingbeats EP, and several volumes of remixes of Hidden Orchestra material by an extremely diverse array of artists. The powerful and virtuosic live show has toured dozens of countries over the last decade, performing hundreds of shows with a fluctuating lineup of guest players and arresting live visuals.
3. Three Islands
6. Welcome to Towers
8. Learning Spy
10. Releasing Small Wheel
12. Learning Goat
14. Palace End
15. One and One
Digital download bonus tracks:
16. The Wheel
18. Final Battle
20. Learn Step Turned