While listening to this atmospheric rendition of the Chrono Trigger 2300 AD overworld theme I began thinking about just how well the medium of video games lends itself to ambient music. Though I enjoy this genre for its ability to establish mood and atmosphere in a vacuum, the explicit visual context, especially an interactive one, really elevates both. I’m curious to hear others’ thoughts about their favorite game tracks or scores that might fall into the amelodic (or minimally melodic) genres of ambient, noise, found sounds, or something similarly experimental. Here are a few examples from more well-known games that I thought of right away:
The eerie opening drone of the original Metroid, scored by Hip Tanaka, still blows me away as such a bold choice for such an early and mainstream game. There are more melodic sections to the track, but the transitions between the heroic main theme and the foreboding bass pulse are striking (and in some way remind me of Faust’s “It’s a Bit of a Pain”)
Going back to the inspiration for this thread, I think it is worth listening to Mitsuda’s original 2300AD track from Chrono Trigger. The sense of ruin and desolation is perfectly captured by the heavy wind sfx and (more memorably to me) these persistent atonal clanking chimes, with only sparse synth/piano accompaniment:
Returning to Tanaka, I must mention Earthbound, from which I could probably draw at least a dozen tracks. I would like to draw specific attention to The Place, which absolutely mutilates a Beach Boys sample for the unsettling penultimate area of the game.
Oh, what the heck, I also definitely need to mention the looping Ric Ocasek-sampling Moonside Swing, which perfectly captures the neon nightmare of one of my favorite locations in the game:
I’ll leave it at there for now, but I am sure I will be back to post more as I think of them! Also, I wanted to make sure to mention a couple ambient recommendations:
Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990 is a great comp put out by Light in the Attic records, I think the title says it all
Does it Look Like I’m Here? is one of my all-time favorite albums, from the now defunct Emeralds (though the members’ subsequent solo work is worth listening to)
Feel free to throw in some non-game ambient recs as well!