“Every pixel is simulated”, reads Noita’s press release, which in game terms means that everything shifts, moves, and changes with each interaction. Every run is variable, and the player is an agent of continual transformation. This emergent aspect means that with every game over there is also a demand for change: it is, in a sense, the only constant. The soundtrack, edited and mixed by composer Niilo Takalainen and played by psych rock band From Grotto, aptly mirrors this very ethos by having a wholly improvised set, performed live in sessions that took place throughout 20 days. That’s not it, however, since the music is also integrated and layered into play, reacting to the player’s actions.
This means that, in play, it returns to psych rock its original vertiginous quality, the prospect of a melting mind and an expanding consciousness within a true feedback loop towards the world itself. That doesn’t mean that on its own there is nothing exciting about the Noita OST, however. On the contrary, its design is grounded on the concept that this journey is not made skywards but underground, deep into the earth, and thus the music seems to spiral downwards into sparsity. The lushness you’d expect from any contemporary psych is here entirely subdued, its spacey sounds and wah-wahs avoiding protagonist roles in favor of harmony and an often elevated role for drums.
One of the most interesting aspects of the ‘neutralization’ of these psych ur-elements is the development of an ambient-like quality that privileges density, sometimes even in the form of electronic noise and classical drones (of the Indian type). It also avoids the onanistic, orgasmic heights of unleashed guitar work, allowing the rhythmic section to shine with impressive shifts into jazz. Falling squarely into meditative states of the kind explored by krautrock bands, Noita strikes an able balance between predictability and its opposite, articulating mantras and repetitive sections seamlessly with freer outbursts of depth. This means that, instead of moving vertically, progressively, its freedom a path forward, it moves horizontally, adding layers upon layers that expand the scope of its sound at all times, in the best of psych tradition.
Not only does this depth make Noita captivating and heavy (in that 60s sense of the word), it means that it is pretty unique. Contemporary psych bands tend towards the emphasis of the style’s inherent, summer-of-love softness (think Tame Impala or Babe Rainbow) or its messier rock n’ roll edges (think Orb, King Gizzard); a few bands, like Dungen, have successfully explored the in-between, but what From Grotto and Takalainen are doing here is developing the older, perhaps more sophisticated German experimentalist approach in an ambient format. The videogame is the perfect medium for such an exploration, in the sense that consciousness slightly expands as it accepts another world with distinct rules and uncanny aesthetics, and the music is crafted in service of such an engagement. Replacing the role of the drug, the mix of repetition and improvisation in the game mechanics is heightened by the parallel soundtrack into a different sort of relationship between trance and climax. The music uses the game as much as the game uses the music, in other words. Regardless, it is the mixture of genres and the distinct vision of these artists, in which stability and uncertainty come to play ambient roles towards density of sound instead of clear resolutions (whether explosive, as in the rock n’ roll vein, or melodic, as in the soft, poppier one), what makes Noita worthy of anyone’s attention, whether you enjoy videogames or not. (David Murrieta Flores)