With computer games such big bucks nowadays, it was surely a matter of time before the music used on them began to punch at a higher weight. With a few exceptions, notably the Wipeout scores of the late 1990s, this genre has pretty much been left alone until now, and if you’ve been following Amon Tobin’s considerable output over the past few years it will come as no surprise to discover he’s put himself forward.
The game in question, Chaos Theory, is the third in Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell series, and if like me you’re unfamiliar with the game there’s still plenty to be gained from listening to its soundtrack.
Amon Tobin’s music is very distinctive, something of a rarity these days, and has always exhibited a darkly cinematic quality. The principal behind it is the digitizing of acoustic sounds, here ranging from a solitary guitar note to a full orchestra, manipulated by Tobin in terms of colour and texture.
This he does with the clarity of a classical orchestrator, securing some very strange sounds indeed. Add to that a mighty bass register, cacophonous break beats and even a few Latin flavourings, and you’re close to the sound of Chaos Theory.
A deep unease runs through the score however, from the fluttering violin tremolos of The Lighthouse to the dread of the clarinet riff in Theme From Battery. The spectre of Lalo Schifrin is often present, with sampled fragments from his and other scores fed into Tobin’s computer, emerging with their melodies intact but their textures thin and wiry, as in the ghastly cello line that leaps out from the reprise of Ruthless.
And then there’s that bass. To fully appreciate it, you’ll need a woofer and some understanding neighbours, as headphones simply don’t do the job! It’s a vital part of Tobin’s style, a floor shaking lower end, and shows the wide melodic range he employs. It will surely make for a thrilling experience if playing the game via widescreen.
Because of Amon’s treatment of disparate themes the ear moves constantly up and down in the sound picture, drawn to the shards of melody that reappear throughout and unite the album. Chaos Theory isn’t the easiest of listens, no doubt about that, but it opens new avenues for dance music makers of his ilk, much as David Holmes did in Oceans Eleven. Enjoy the game!