Winifred Phillips’ score for the Nintendo Wii video game begins with a brassy heroic theme’s filled with the brassy swagger of a swashbuckling actioner, and yet there’s a contemporary rock edge that also gives the theme plenty of pliability throughout this lengthy and invigorating album.
A major plus it the theme’s strong development, which Phillips keeps exciting with some string improv on electrified violin, waves of tones from a wordless choir, and a percussion ensemble that isn’t overbearing or filled with the bombast typical of a Hollywood action score.
By holding back a bit of edge, bass, and heavier rock sensibilities in some cues, Phillips allows subsequent theme variations to really stand out when there’s a need for pulse-pounding action. The opening track is a fusion of orchestral rock, with classical flourishes, whereas “Spore War” is a great marriage of prog rock and classical. The most important element of the cue is a fat bass, as well as Bondian harmonics that give the cue an unstoppable urgency. Brass figures give the impression of tight turns and fast curving roads, and a brief segment with electric guitar and snare drum provide some contrast to the cue’s dense rock orchestration. “Beast Brawl” is similarly kinetic, but Phillips uses brass, marimbas, and woodwinds, plus a few cartoonish sound stabs.
Most of the orchestral sounds are samples, and the score would have tremendous punch if it was performed by a large orchestra, but the writing is first-rate, as are the sharp orchestrations which allow for many subtle nuances to shine when the action gets very busy.
A big surprise are the meaty cue lengths, and some eclectic tracks that are sometimes exotic, classical, or ambient. The lyricism in Phillips SimAnimals’ is also evident in tracks like “Sporabilities,” with an opening statement on didgeridoo, and percussive sounds on water-filled pots, keyborards, and woodwinds. Flowing woodwinds and an urgent tempo are at the heart of “Sporabilities,” and there’s lovely fleeting ornamentation from flutes as well as sudden slides into unsettling harmonies and dissonance reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
The album’s strongest qualities are rich cues written with an infectious energy, and a flair for vivid orchestral colour. The heroic theme isn’t easily identifiable in delicate, mordantly witty cues like “Creepy Things,” nor the chamber arrangement in “Sporeward” which morphs into an ambient, pulsing variation that drifts and reflects like an echo in a large, watery cavern. “Wanderment” is also unique for a balance of light orchestra, woodwinds, an ongoing sense of mystery, and a sly wit channeled through plastic woodwind samples treated with electronic vibrato.
Phillip’s punchy writing allows for a really vivid journey through the game’s characters and their adventures, and once again shows off her skill in melding sounds from various genres and idioms into a winning score.
To read an interview with Winifred Phillips, click HERE.
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan