Release date: May 5, 2023 (digital)
October 6, 2023 (physical)
Composed and produced over the course of nearly three years, Spencer Doran’s original soundtrack for SEASON: A letter to the future underpins the highly-anticipated meditative exploration game in which the main character must save memories of a civilization on the verge of collapse. A lush collection of transmissions from this warmly fading world, we hear a culture and ecology through the sentimental ear of their last witness.
Doran was an early collaborator in the making of SEASON, helping define the game’s imaginary world and emotional tones. His past work in music has taken many forms including site-specific audio installations, compiling the acclaimed Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990, and his own humanely futuristic work as half of Visible Cloaks. Each pursuit found relevance within the soundtrack of a video game that takes place in an invented culture living out its final days.
SEASON is about what it feels like to be alive in a certain time and place, and to capture that feeling for the future. The protagonist of the story, Estelle, is a photographer and sound recordist, working with her microphone, camera, and journal to uncover the complexity of an environment facing erasure. This documentation is not mere salvage anthropology, but a key to understanding Estelle’s own past, and also a meditation on our present.
Sound and music factor heavily into the interactive and narrative aspects of SEASON; the character is equipped with a free-form audio recorder used to capture and playback any sound heard in the game and trigger revelations about the world around her. These sounds are at times musical, and we hear them interwoven with Doran’s score throughout the soundtrack: an organ played by mountain air, a ratchety mechanical music box echoing out communal “sleep music” for a village, an aeolian harp played by gusts of valley wind, imagined exotica cranked from the hi-fi of an old monk.
Rather than simply composing songs and placing them into a 3D context, Doran worked with SEASON’s audio team to arrange the soundtrack for an abstract and evolving experience within Audiokinetic’s Wwise, a software designed for managing complex systems of audio for gaming platforms. Within SEASON, the environmental music uses what Doran refers to as a “Venn Diagram model” for tonal layering, where “different modular layers of various pieces are dispersed across wide areas and overlap with each other as you traverse the landscape, with randomized elements creating continuously different combinations”.
The score functions as “musical wind” – sound fragments that drift and swirl around with the same behavior as the acoustic biome of the landscape. As a composer writes for each instrument in an orchestra, Doran writes with the voices of landscapes, gusts of wind, esoteric imagined instruments, and drifting radio broadcasts. The music renders an unplaceable specificity of feeling, like German Fernweh or “far sickness”: a homesickness for somewhere you’ve never been before. We can hear the influence of early 20th century impressionism, Ravel, Satie, Debussy, Déodat de Séverac, particularly in the piano pieces. Elsewhere, other historical instruments are heard: viol, harp, flute, portable organ (petite orgue), celesta – all within the crisp hyper-real space Doran is known for exploring in Visible Cloaks.
Boundaries are blurred between the natural world and the non-diegetic score, functioning not as a superimposition on the sound world but rather an extension of it, drawing from composers that worked adjacent to the field of acoustic ecology like Hildegard Westerkamp and R. Murray Schafer, as well as research by Steven Feld and José Maceda about, according to Doran, “the mirrored reflections of the natural world heard within traditional music forms.”
Condensing these rich, changing networks of sound into a traditional soundtrack release presented a challenge to Doran, but this is music to live in and explore, regardless of the format it is expressed. The songs seep into your bones. You may notice with some concern that they, in fact, were already there.
Spencer Doran’s SEASON: A letter to the future (Original Soundtrack) was released digitally on May 5, 2023 followed by double LP and CD editions on October 6th. SEASON: A letter to the future is available now for Playstation 5, Playstation 4 and PC from Scavengers Studio.