Ben Lukas Boysen & Sebastian Plano ~ Everything

One of the year’s most innovative video games is accompanied by one of the year’s most innovative scores.  An expansive, 190-minute, 43-track set, Everything is also one of the year’s best albums.

David O’Reilly’s single-player PS4 game was unveiled this spring and is now available on multiple platforms.  Spiritual, intellectual and emotional, Everything honors its name by allowing players to become whatever they’d like ~ a bear, a violin, a paramecium, a planet.  Players experience life through the eyes of their choice, and are invited to change perspective at leisure.  Through it all, they hear the storied narration of philosopher Alan Watts, reminding them that all things are connected.  This “exercise in perception” is a perfect lesson for a fractured world.  Two endearing quirks of the game are worth mentioning, the first being that instead of moving naturally, animals roll like animal crackers.  This slight compromise allows the creator to pack more into his game.  The second is the manner in which the size of one’s avatar adjusts to the proportion of prior choices, making for some unusual juxtapositions (see for example the giant lion or the bear in space below):

The full score casts a spell that runs concurrently with the game ~ in fact, it can produce the same effect even without the game.  Ben Lukas Boysen & Sebastian Plano create a sonic world that one doesn’t want to leave.  The supposed highlights are collected on the 10-track LP and CD, leaving 33 additional tracks as digital files.  We think this is the project’s only misstep, as the album is best heard as a whole.  In imitation of the game, one may choose to magnify the ten or to draw back to appreciate the 43.  The track sequencing is excellent, although the ten highlighted pieces are not representative of the project as a whole; they tend to be the most active, occupying the realm of modern composition, while the remainder of the set moves definitively in the direction of electronic ambience.

Each of the artists has a background in electronic music.  Boysen’s brand is more aggressive, as demonstrated by his work as Hecq.  But there’s nothing aggressive here, only an occasional mild foreboding, an essential element that prevents the score from becoming saccharine.  Plano’s prior works fall into the category of modern chamber, marked by an intense use of strings.  On the primary album, the strings are melded to thoughtful piano treatments, topped by a light electronic glaze.  The effect is one of mingled melancholy and curiosity.  Hints of The Orb arrive in the dub-like “Aalystice”, which begins to stretch the boundaries of the score.  We imagine this as the moment the player tires of earth and decides to head off-planet.  The end of the album proper is akin to that of Close Encounters of the Third Kind as Roy Neary ascends into space, his fate yet unrevealed.

The mood shifts on what we’ll call the second and third discs, the framework set by the delicate comedown of “Reaching Light”.  Already in “Empenular”, the pace is slower, more relaxed.  Other associations come to mind, from the film Baraka to the ground-breaking video game Myst.  Now the patient players and listeners have been separated from the impatient, the focused from the unfocused.  Those who are still here have passed beyond the surface of the game and the most accessible parts of the album.  They have ceased to be tourists, and are now explorers.  Events are free to unfold in their own time.  As the tones elongate and the crossover elements disappear, one begins to delve deeper into the game, the music, and the understanding.  There are lessons here, but in order to reach them, one must broaden one’s horizons.  The digital tracks offer opportunity for meditation and transcendence, the opening of the third eye, a series of slow eurekas.

By the third disc, breakthroughs abound as the listener reaches another level of revelation.  If it all works as planned, those who experience Everything will come away with a new scale of significance.  In one sense, each individual is nothing, hardly a blip in the universe.  In another, the ripples of each individual may affect the entire cosmos.  The happy closer, “You’re Everything”, is encouragement.  You ~ the player, the listener, the living being ~ are part of something infinite and vast, ultimately unknowable, undeniably beautiful.  The game and score converge in a soft explosion of wonder.  (Richard Allen)

Available here

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