Astroneer (original game soundtrack)
1. Main menu
2. Gameplay 1
3. Gameplay 2
4. Danger 1
5. Danger 2
6. Exploration 1
7. Exploration 2
8. Exploration 3
10. Gathering 1
11. Gathering 2
12. Gathering 3
14. Gameplay 3
15. Gameplay 4
16. Gameplay 5
17. Trailer Track
18. Exploration 5
19. Exploration 5
20. Exploration 6
21. Gameplay 6
22. Gameplay 7
23. Mineral Music
24. Gathering 4
25. Gathering 5
26. Starting Scene
cd/download, December 2016
Stream and/or buy at Bandcamp
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My first (and hopefully not last) soundtrack for a computer game! I'm so glad the developers of System Era asked me to make the music for their amazing Astroneer. I'm not a gamer myself, but this sci fi charm really is wonderful. No shooting and killing, but exploring and building, with fantastic visuals. The music has that sense of wonder, spaciousness and (at times) excitement that fits with the game, and I'm super happy with the results.
In the game, each musical theme has several layers, which are mixed according to the player's actions. So the music organnically builds as you play. On the soundtrack album, these themes are presented as fixed edits.
The music is released digitally and on cd. The compact disc 'only' has tracks 1-16 on it, 'cause the other ones were made later, when the discs were already pressed. These tracks are added with the download you'll get when purchasing the cd though, so you're not missing out.
For more info about the game:
Making a living as any kind of practising artist often involves applying your talents to a wide array of projects, some of which may take you far from your core interests — but with the promise of new creative inspiration and learning, as well as helping you stay afloat financially. Rutger Zuydervelt, the man behind the Machinefabriek moniker, has previously applied himself to film scores, art installations, music for dance performances, and even sounds for a wifi utility app, but “Astroneer” is his first foray into video game soundtracks. The game casts its players as resource hunters on distant future extraterrestrial frontiers, exploring and mining other planets using advanced terraforming abilities.
I wasn’t able to try out the game due to my computer being too wimpy, but Zuydervelt’s soundtrack clearly conveys the idea: epic, euphoric adventure, with plenty of tension and danger, but also mystery and occasional encounters with the sublime. Most of the music here is very conventional by Zuydervelt’s standards, often drawing on standard space-themed rhythms, simple melodies, and four-chord patterns. However, his unstable, wobbling tones add a hint of uncertainty to proceedings, and there are some moments of real beauty: the plinky-plonky drift and shimmering halos of ‘Building’, for example, or the lush and elegiac vocal chords of ‘Gameplay 5’. My favourite piece comes right at the end of the album, where the haunting distant choral voices of ‘Starting Scene’ gust like a breeze across droning bass and twinkling starlight. On this account, SpaceX should be contracting Zuydervelt to score the first Mars landing.
A Closer Listen
A sense of naïve wonder. A sentimental poetic that reflects upon discovery, whether of new spaces or perhaps even new sensations, as the vantage-point of an adventurous imagination.
The music of the ‘last frontier’ that is found among the stars usually betrays a colonizing undercurrent of an exploitative violence that mixes the Romantic thrust towards the infinite unknown with its rationalized domination – you need only remember all those hopeful and victorious sci-fi soundtracks in which a planet welcomes newly arrived humans just like the ‘New World’ once welcomed the ‘Old’. Like No Man’s Sky before it, Astroneer’s descriptions pitch it as a videogame that equates survival with adventure, daring with exploitation, discovery with domination (“like the Yukon gold rush of old, waves of adventurers sign up to launch themselves into a new frontier, risking everything to seek their fortune in the far reaches of the galaxy”). However, the soundtrack composed by Rutger Zuydervelt, otherwise known as Machinefabriek, constantly seems to work against this logic by highlighting the surface of its modernity, that first impression of the unknown, that grand affect that in a landscape sees beauty, not resources.
Perhaps because Machinefabriek is firmly grounded in the field of experimental music, this soundtrack uses electronics not as a way to make a narrative of space exploration tied to a technological moment of progress (ever since the 1970s we’ve all heard those beeps and boops that our time has inherited as the spacey dubstep all too common in currently conventional sci-fi) but as an impressionism in which everything is oblique, perpetually just beyond the grasp of a victorious reason. With its organic, not entirely defined tones and its ever-dissolving background drones, Astroneer keeps affect front and center, the way in which generalized actions and events of discovery (tracks have names such as “Exploration 1”, “Gathering 3”, or my favorite “Mineral Music”) create an emotional landscape that actively resists those very same activities by virtue of its slow, meditative pace.
This is not a struggle against nature, the last consequence of which is the raising of flags, but a contemplation of it that discards survival in favor of enjoyment, a pleasure born of wonder. Instead of an adventure whose intent is to chart the stars (reason preceding emotion), the sweet, twinkling melodies of the album point at the experience of navigating the uncharted coming to articulate an adventure of thought (emotion preceding reason). If the music of a game like No Man’s Sky places a dramatic individual narrative of conquest at its heart, Astroneer’s own goes entirely the other way around by creating affective atmospheres. Thus, if we’d follow the music alone, the question of ‘what is this?’ would have a dramatized economic function in the former, while it would have a philosophical function in the latter.
In this sense, the rhythms are playful, in cases like the “Main Menu” theme almost soothingly child-like, as if they were lullabies. Astroneer’s marvels do not strive towards the future as a finally perfect realization of humanity (something we adults constantly dream about), they provide something else, a wondrous view of the present with which we can let our imaginations run off towards the mysteries of the now, not in order to control them, but in order to let them fill our daydreams with joy. Knowing we know almost nothing is not here then a source of anxiety but one of happiness… who knows what amazements await us at the end of this horizon? What grand questions will the revelations from this place will prompt us to make? These are the sorts of feelings that the particular blend of experimentalism and conventional sci-fi soundtracks Zuydervelt has come to articulate, regardless of whether the game itself lives up to it or not. Colonization might be its premise, but the music holds other promises, other kinds of unknowns that thankfully speak less of survival and conquest than of pleasure and contemplation.
Astroneer is Rutger Zuydervelt‘s first game soundtrack and will probably come as a surprise for those following his earlier work. Using his own name instead of his Machinefabriek alias often (but not always) indicates a difference in music, too: somewhat less abstract, more ‘formally composed’ new music. The closing track, Starting Scene, is an exception to this since it is an adaption of the Machinefabriek track Wold. Also, the fact that this is a collection of short, pointy compositions is one of the surprises of this 26-track album (16 on CD, 10 extra tracks with the additional download because they were finished later).
In line with the game graphics, Rutger chose to use a relatively basic, synth sound palette for his compositions. It’s not 8-bit music – that would have been a few steps too far in relation to the visual design – but the overall sound is definitely ‘retro’. No full-scale string ensembles here, no wide-screen symphonic cinematics, but a sound design firmly supporting the game physics.
The collection features the game’s main themes as well as a lot of atmospheric soundscapes with titles like Danger, Exploration, Gathering indicating their context.
Rutger ‘Machinefabriek‘ Zuydervelt, one of the most prolific artists in the world of experimental electronics, never fails to amaze with every new direction. “And now for something completely different…” must be his basic life motto.
So how does these things go with Rutger Zuydervelt's music for 'Astroneer'? Of course you know Zuydervelt as the man behind Machinefabriek, and 'Astroneer' is a "sci-fi exploration and adventure fame from developer System Era. In the game, the music plays continuously and is reactive to the player's actions. This album presents the musical themes as edited tracks", it says on the cover. Here the CD also starts with a 'main menu', the theme, just like Floex did, and it's the kind of music we haven't heard from Zuydervelt in a long time: a melodic synth ditty, short and very much inspired by the world of cosmic music. Totally different than the bulk of work he put out in recent years, and absolutely great. I didn't know Zuydervelt owned a synth!
The cosmic inspired tunes continue in the other pieces (sixteen on the CD, plus a further 10 bonus pieces on the download), perhaps more spacious and less pop inspired as 'Main Menu'; spaceship drone material, some reverb to suggest the infinite space and sometimes the small melody approach return as in 'Gathering 2'. This is music that is delicate and careful, nothing offensive and I can easily relate it to its space game theme. Like Floex these pieces are very much stand-alone also and yet seem a little less 'ear in ear out, what's next'. Maybe I am biased since I know Zuydervelt pretty well? What helps is that I love that whole cosmic edge quite a bit and that Zuydervelt does something completely different.