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No Man's Sky: Music For An Infinite Universe by 65daysofstatic (Review)

posted Aug 10, 2016, 8:37 PM by Kaya Savas   [ updated Aug 10, 2016, 10:09 PM ]

No Man’s Sky is the highly anticipated science fiction exploration game that features a score by English instrumental electronic rock band 65daysofstatic. This one is a tricky thing to approach as the idea of electronic instrumental bands talking composing gigs is nothing new. In most cases we have some rather successful examples from Tangerine Dream, Daft Punk, recently Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of S U R V I V E scoring Stranger Things and of course 65daysofstatic scoring No Man’s Sky. 65daysofstatic is made up of Paul Wolinski, Joe Shrewsbury, Rob Jones and Simon Wright. And the soundtrack here unfortunately here is not really a score. It’s their next album that No Man’s Sky happened to use as their score.

Advertising this as a musical score or a soundtrack to a game should not be allowed, because this is not a soundtrack. If you look at the cover it even does as much as possible to distance itself from the game to be a standalone album. So musically there is no story being told, it is purely conceptual. Which is fine to a certain extent because the game itself is also like that. The game is non-linear and very open to you as the player doing whatever. But even in other open world games like Grand Theft Auto V, LA Noire, Red Dead Redemption, Far Cry, Just Cause, Fallout or Skyrim you have this living and breathing score that is tailored to the game. It's tailored to the emotions you're experiencing as you play the game.

This music was not written for any visual medium. I mean, all the game developers did was go up to this band and go “hey, can we use your next record as our score?” and 65daysofstatic said yes. Paul Wolinski even said in an interview with Metro that “We were also determined the album would still standalone as a piece of work for anybody who didn’t know about the game. We needed it to be the next proper record, not just some sort of soundtrack commission we got on the side.” In that same interview he also said “The brief literally was write a 65daysofstatic record. In the first creative meeting with them, I remember us going to the meeting ready for anything – if they wanted us to work with an orchestra to do some big space opera thing we’d be ready for it. But they talked us down from things like that really quickly, saying ‘don’t overthink it, just write a 65daysofstatic record and that’s the thing which is going to work…’” Now, maybe that kind of approach works for some people but when the music doesn’t feel tailored to the film, show or game it doesn't mesh. And while listening to each track of the guitar and drum heavy electronic rock of this “soundtrack” I couldn't help but wonder what a real composer could have done with this huge open canvass. Well, maybe that’s not fair, you can’t blame 65daysofstatic here as they clearly stated that they did exactly what they were told.

Let’s look at the album, while disc 1 contains tracks that were composed merely as standalone pieces of electronic rock it is in disc 2 you get a sense of some of the soundscapes that were built and used more in the game. But with a game that promises infinite exploration and so many varying worlds, the musical approach is flat and derivative. The music evokes certain ideas and thoughts about an “infinite universe”, but 65daysofstatic did nothing to adapt themselves to the game. It just comes across as an album of music that didn't care how it would play against the images of the game, just as long as they had some great tracks to perform live and it evoked the idea of science fiction and infinite isolation.

I get it, the game was trying to do something different and approach the scoring process uniquely. However instead of ending up with an amazing science fiction game score, they ended up with an instrumental electronic rock album and similar sounding soundscapes to use as background music as the player explores. This is not a score, and it’s hard to blame the band when they plainly said that they came ready to do anything but the game developer just told them to not do anything different and just write an album. For a game that was pushing to be something bold, unique and different I can’t help but think what a boring and lazy approach this was, and a wasted opportunity to do something truly special. When it comes to visual media composition you have to realize that the picture is not in service of the music, it’s the other way around. This game should not have been a vehicle for a band to release an album, it should have been a vehicle for a band to adapt their skills to do something unique at the service of the game.

Here's a link to the full interview I quoted from :