*** Welcome to, surely THE cultural event of the year, the second annual joint collaborative teaming-up together-y simulcast post thing with the lovely Sarca Sim. This time on the game and soundtrack to Firewatch. Read a review of the game right here ***
And if you’re wondering where’s my ass been
It’s been cavorting amongst the aspens
Ever since reading the Jack Kerouac story ‘Alone on a Mountaintop’ in Lonesome Traveler at an impressionable age, I have yearned to follow his lead and spend a few months as a fire lookout in the great Oregon woods. I think I’d have enjoyed it all a darn sight more than Jack did too, who I always feel was always a city boy at heart and spent a lot of the story bemoaning his loneliness before unconvincingly reaching a couple of cosmic conclusions to save his embarrassment. I read it at least once a year.
But I digress, in short I want to spend months alone save for a radio, in a wooden cabin, preferably one on stilts, somewhere ineffably beautiful watching for fires. That hasn’t worked out for me yet, but Firewatch puts you right there in my dream. It’s a game, sort of* and without intruding into Sarca’s bailiwick I have to say that the game’s landscape is beautifully, atmospherically rendered in a manner which is at a perfectly balanced pitch between stylized and realistic. The way in which the game developers Campo Santo do this is completely crucial to the experience, you have to believe in and love the experience of being out there, in the fictional Shoshone National Forest alone, because that sets you up for all that follows**.
Integral to the feeling and thus the whole experience of the game is the soundtrack, composed and played entirely by Chris Remo. Mr Remo appears to be one of those gifted chaps who not only composes great soundtrack music*^ but also designs games too – something he shares with my soundtrack idol Jessica Curry.
The Firewatch soundtrack is great and it passes the hardest test for any soundtrack, let alone one for a game, which is whether you would listen to it for pleasure if you didn’t know the context in which it was produced/functioned. Working with acoustic guitar, piano, what sounds to me like a treated Hammond organ and harmonics Chris Remo has crafted a soundtrack that is equal parts subtle and supple. Within the game the music is used cleverly, sparingly and at key moments for various effects – there are tracks here called ‘Something’s Wrong’, ‘Infiltration’ and ‘An Unfortunate Discovery’, go figure.
But the Firewatch soundtrack isn’t all about ramping up the tension by any means, ‘Canyon Sunset’ is as bucolic and lazy as the title would suggest, as is ‘Calm After The Storm’ a brief snippet of relaxation that puts me in mind of Six Organs Of Admittance. The scene setting ‘Prologue’ and ‘Stay In Your Tower And Watch’ set the game and this score up wonderfully well deploying a certain amount of majesty and emotional heft right from the off. Of the more menacing tracks ‘Infiltration’ and ‘Exfiltration’ could be John Carpenter offcuts, the kind of heavy synths that get certain Midwestern reviewers around these parts all a-quiver. The sad ‘Catching Up’ could almost be Godspeed You! Black Emperor in a particularly reflective mood.
I’m taking off for the woods
To a place where there ain’t no shoulds
Don’t need no books, I’ll ponder the ponderosas
Don’t need no lady, I’ll marry the mariposas
Can’t waste no time in gettin’ there
I’ll do eighty down eighty without a prayer
Don’t need no gal, I’ll spruce up for the spruces
Don’t need no pal, I’ll change my mood for the mooses
Firewatch ends with the sole vocal track ‘Ol’ Shoshone’, which is hidden away on a cassette that you can find inside the game. The first two times I completed Firewatch it passed me by completely; I got it last time, just before I got my LP. It is of course, funny and very good indeed – the sort of thing I’d play if I was a very hip busker.
I commend this record to your mortal souls entirely. Chris Remo has done a fabulous job with this soundtrack which you do not need to have played the game to enjoy. If I was a nitpicking sort of guy I would mention that it is only 33 minutes long, but hey, it is a comparatively short game and I can live with that. Campo Santo have done a bang up job with the production of this LP, the sound is great and cardboard sleeve must be the thickest I own; it really is a quality object, possibly the first 160g LP in my collection. Now I really do feel like taking off for the woods, ass, aspen and all.
PS: Excellent NYT article on Kerouac’s cabin on Desolation Peak, here.
*there’s an argument that these ‘walking simulators’ are more a means of conveying a narrative through a gaming device, but I’ll leave that debate for those who care more/have more time at their disposal than I. They’re wonderful and they move me.
**dot, dot, dot …
*^Gone Home is his other game soundtrack triumph.