Written, recorded, and mixed by Gothenburg, Sweden based composer, Joel Bille, Ghost Giant OGS excels both in the role of standalone listening experience and its primary role of audio supporter to a work of visual entertainment. Comprised of varying combinations of (toy) piano, violin, sousaphone, and clarinet, Bille’s compositional style on this project feels very playful and easy-going, much like the storybook atmosphere presented in the game’s teaser trailer. Reliance on the piano’s often lesser-acknowledged percussive qualities over inclusion of conventional drums or percussion instrumentation, lightens the music’s overall character. Consistent count and flow is easy to feel and follow; Bille doesn’t push any of his pieces forward with heavy defined downbeats or harsh timbres (with the exception of rhythmically directed ambient whip and smack sounds weaved around an otherwise gentle toy piano perpetuating a looping, descending motif in “The Secret Handshake”). Such a leisurely aesthetic sets the tone sonically and emotionally for the world in which“Ghost Giant” is set and the central character with which players interact: A quaint town called Sancourt and a young, initially sad and lonely character named Louis.
While the game itself – which is a turning out to be a highly praised debut VR effort from acclaimed developer, Zoink Games – boasts a trove of satisfying gameplay details, just “Ghost Giant’s” succinct premise reveals how well the music and visuals were made to work together.
“In ‘Ghost Giant,’ you are the protector of the lonely little boy, Louis.Invisible to everyone but him, you can explore his world and help him and the citizens of Sancourt.”
The central driver of “Ghost Giant” is one of altruistic motivation and the intended focal character is a child who starts his story in need of companionship and empathy. Understanding these fundamental aspects, the approachable and fanciful nature of Ghost Giant OGS’s14 tracks makes all the sense in the world. The way each instrument effortlessly embodies either a specific mood, action, or unfolding series of events draws a very natural line to thoughts of other story and character driven pairings like Prokofiev’s timeless “Peter and the Wolf,” Francis Poulenc’s “Histoire de Babar,” or Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite.” Each instrument, each playing technique that draws out a unique sound, every short or longer held note, is like a character all its own; they fill out the actions taken by the game player (in the role of the Ghost Giant) and-or the reactionary dialogue, visual expression, and plot movement from Louis.
Despite the fact that the characters in “Ghost Giant” do have their own voices, the instruments still play an active role in framing them and encompassing the world of the game in assorted emotional airs that support its premise of innocence and uncomplicated support. “Welcome to Sancourt,” with its waltz-like melody, gives the impression of a lighthearted, friendly, quaint town, as the structure of Bille’s three-count tune is kept minimal on notes and dry with sustain. This is a quality imparted on all of the instruments. Everything, from the keystrokes heard on the clarinet in “And So the Days Glide By,” to the plainly recorded pizzicato of the violin in the “Main Theme,” is left to their natural devices. But no part of Ghost Giant OGS is left feeling unfinished or of poor quality. There’s simply an element of trust surrounding execution and the astute musicianship of Bille’s collaborators give each track all the personality they need, without any digital affectations meant to distort or cover up. This approach to performance and recording gives an impression of something a young child might work toward on each instrument – getting notes right but not looking to dress things up unnecessarily and still hoping to evoking a positive reaction after hearing it. Bille’s decision to keep ambient creaking wood sounds between starts and not buff out breath sounds adds another nod to realism, which makes for an interesting contrast in the face of a child’s interacting with a character like a giant ghost.
Truthfully, this blending of the organic and the fanciful is emphasized especially well on several tracks. “The Sunflower Farm,” which is piano-centric, keeps its melody hovering around the mid to upper octaves. Quick flourishes by way of turns and grace notes on the highest of pitches accentuate a sense of tonal sparkle, giving way to a deeper association with literal brightness and an emotional sense of wonder from simpler things like endless rows of flowers in bloom. Here, the score enhances the effervescent color palate for both the general landscapes and the ghost’s glowing ethereal presence via player VR control. Moments like these where the interplay between color, sound, and mental implications from character writing is particularly noticeable, are a treasure. Still, even without the game on hand, the score welcomes all manner of imaginative thinking and emotional reaction outside of canon plot writing. That is one of the strongest hallmarks of a shrewd score composer: That the music can encourage the kind of movement, emotional diversity, and limitless creative inspiration of storytelling, without an explicit script or storyboard being given. It would be just as easy to imagine nonexistent characters or scenarios playing out in front of Bille’s compositions and neither way would feel forced.
Though “Ghost Giant” isn’t so logistically simplistic as to be a game geared toward very young children with flighty attention spans, the niche it aligns with – innocent, colorful, emotion driven, and imaginative – makes kids who are of the age to endure puzzles and longer bouts of problem solving, the perfect audience. There’s a fine line with slightly older children, where things need to challenge them but they also need to be kept age-appropriate. What’s so endearing about “Ghost Giant” as a game, and subsequently Bille’s soundtrack, is that the main source of depth isn’t presented via strictly temporal and procedural aspects of the game, or excessive compositional intricacy in the score. Instead, thought-provoking substance is derived from sentiments built into both. It’s the idea that the game and the music breach certain emotions up front and use the experiences gained from either listening or playing, to inspire new emotional outlooks after-the-fact. For his part in the project, Joel Bille further animates the ever-transforming emotional state of “Ghost Giant’s” world with sound; the music is all about the journey and not just about needing to race to resolution at the end. And for music that’s meant to serve an interactive, linear experience, writing work that encourages one to deliberately stop, consider situations and imagine the possibilities, rather than just “win,” is something worth much praise.
Ghost Giant Original Game Soundtrack is available now.
Find it on Bandcamp.
Stay connected with Joel Bille through his official website and these social media outlets:
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