Alex Burnett‘s score to the La Belle Games / ARTE video game may be based on Mary Shelley’s novel, but not the part one expects. The narrative covers the latter section, in which the creature (who is not named Frankenstein), roams the earth, hoping to discover meaning, beauty, wonder, and perhaps a place called home. The game’s art, based on 19th century paintings, is a huge draw, as is the pensive nature of the search. This is not the horror story to which many have become accustomed; nor the strange superhero saga of the DC Universe.
As philosophy and modern composition make perfect partners, the elegant score fits. Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? While Burnett can’t supply the answers, he provides a sonic companion for the search. “I Awakened” comes across as a cold wind, a precursor of the creature’s trek through the Arctic Circle. The early notes are few and far between, like burgeoning thoughts. Wind chimes and piano provide encouragement. The score contains dozens of such cues, frequently bordering on frigidity, a metaphor for loneliness. Late in “Now My Wanderings Begin,” cello and mallet instruments offer a serenade, building then receding in tempo.
Siren’s voice, glockenspiel and birds inhabit “Among the Trees,” continuing in the subsequent piece along with the sound of children (uh-oh). And yes, just as expected, sinister strings inhabit “Chase Away the Beast,” a theme found in unnumbered cases of bestial misunderstanding throughout the ages. This segment reaches its apex in “I Will Cause Fear.” The creature is starting to come to terms with how he is received; and it hurts.
The music box at the very end of “The Apparition of the Monster” is a reminder of the childlike nature of the creature, along with its lost innocence. The tempo speeds considerably in the next piece, like a racing heart. Will there be a happy ending, or is the creature fated to a solitary existence? Burnett will never entirely discard the music box, a tender touch. Despite its wanderings, it will experience times of peace, partially led by the player. “The Secrets of Heaven and Earth” provides one such respite.
Like the readers of Shelley’s book, the listener begins to feel sorrow for the creature, to identify with the universal emotions of rejection, confusion and loss. One is tempted to turn inward, to hate one’s innermost being; or to lash outward, to protect one’s self with an armor of uncaring. Burnett seems to care for the creature in the same way as Shelley, exuding protectiveness. Will the creature find peace? Will the moments of beauty and rest be enough to soothe its soul? Will the narrative continue into darkness, or head toward the light? Which aspect of the creature will the player embrace?
The ending of the book is more open-ended than many remember (thanks to cinematic depictions). Without spoiling it here, we’ll simply mention that the title of the finale (“The Sea Is My Grave”) may measure intention more than actuality. Just as the creature is a sponge for human moods, reflecting and ultimately growing, his creator is not. Who is the hero? Is there a villain? Can we learn from life? Even separate from the game, Burnett offers the listener the opportunity to philosophize ~ to write, play or imagine an ending for the creature and for one’s self. (Richard Allen)