Soundtracking a game about paper figures trying to avoid shadowy threats and fire, Papetura swaddles a sombre set in diaphanous layers of keys and strings. It’s the product of Czech producer Floex, fast becoming something of a mainstay in the VGM space and who appeared on our pages in 2018 with the exciting (non-VGM) A Portrait of John Doe, a brash meeting of electronic and classical with pianist Tom Hodge. Papetura pairs the same elements but much more gently. It imparts an ambient tale through modern composition voices, piano and violin occupying the higher registers and cello and synths the lower. Faintly choral-like textures occasionally add the ghost of humanity to this strange world.
The composer/producer wields his several instruments sparingly, rarely elevating more than a couple of voices in the mix but always interchanging between them. The result is a set whose dynamics are subtle and textures plentiful ~ yet that nonetheless feels dynamic and even, in places, restless. Like the game itself, painstakingly crafted from paper and glue, the tranquility of the surface belies the intricacy of what is composed beneath. (Watch the behind-the-scenes video below for a true audio-visual treat.) None of the nine tracks comes close to six minutes but most feel satisfyingly longer, a virtue of their sedate pacing and use of two or sometimes three distinct movements. “The Light” starts with raindrops of piano falling on a choral bed, until the violin and cello take over in swooning embrace before quickly yielding to a languorous synth. But the piano and strings haven’t quite left the stage yet, returning for a meek farewell. “Branches” follows in similarly restless yet quiet abandon. Even in a more settled track, such as “Cave Pond”, a vacuous cello eventually fades to silence and a second, busier movement of arpeggios and percussion emerges. Only in a couple of tracks does a simple motif or rhythmic idea linger for their duration.
Married to the intricacy and sheer tangibility of the game’s production, each track in Papetura conveys a diorama in which tiny figures act out a small portion of the narrative. And a foreboding atmosphere prevails over their tale, which hangs heavily in the air despite Floex’s sparing use of instrumentation ~ a reflection of the flimsiness of the paper protagonists and the weight of the threats before them. But shafts of respite and even hope do pierce the flimsy canopy ~ most notably in the plucked guitar of “The Edge of Light”. What follows is the loudest and most conventional track of all, “Pape And Tura”, a wonderfully cathartic release of legato cello melody and staccato violin that becomes increasingly synth-like as it crescendoes. And so Floex completes his captivating fusion of orchestral and digital. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)