In today’s day and age, the amount of digitalization that pervades through daily life, only seems to grow with each passing moment. Tasks and experiences that previously were perceived as solely analog, now have some form of convenience added to them, by way of digital, cloud-fueled, and-or AI-generated connection. Music and games are certainly no exception from this state of being. In fact, one could say these forms of entertainment are likely two of the earliest activities to be adopted into a shared, digital space by way of streaming and digital downloads of each medium. And yet, with the resurge in popularity of tabletop games – particularly Dungeons and Dragons – it might seem as though some forms of contemporary human entertainment endure outside of the a computer and without need of the internet. Swinging back toward the direction of manual gameplay however, for an activity like tabletop gaming, one can lose the experiential enhancement of background music – an element of game playing experience that accompanies nearly most all other games in a subtle and ubiquitous, but perhaps occasionally taken-for-granted fashion.
Enfield, New Hampshire based company, Borough Bound – a collective of creative people dedicated to the conception and design of fully-realized RPG cities for tabletop game campaigns – took note of this looming void in the physical gaming sphere when they initially launched in 2021. The group subsequently decided that, alongside the steady and painstaking development of their new RPG cities, they would create unique soundtracks, meant to alleviate the impending bouts of silence destined to impact time spent playing through the stories of their bold and original game worlds. Thus far, the company has released three other soundtracks – Meddenfirth, Kadhizi, and Ancora Bay in September, November and December of last year respectively. Now in 2022, Borough Bound and its resident composer Will Savino (who composed, recorded, and produced the music for all the other releases as well) has unveiled another game accompanying soundtrack titled, Vyndurvoht (VIN-DURH-VOH-TUH).
A seasoned composer whose work has been commissioned for various forms of partner medium, including: theatrical stage, podcast, short films, and even for the television network VICELAND, Savino’s compositional style has been the sole creative chisel shaping the sonic personality of Borough Bound’s imaginative game worlds. and in the case of Vyndurvoht, listeners are immediately cloaked in an air of grandeur, intrigue, and a bit of spine-tingling uncertainty – a fitting trifecta for a story set around an accursed library found in the far reaches of a frozen tundra, inhabited by and diligently watched over to dwarves. Opening track, “The Sixth Exodus” wastes no time on a generic up to foster a defined emotional reaction. While the arrangement doesn’t reveal all of its instrumental and tonal cards right away, what kicks off the story isn’t the typical flush of strings, the fleeting high-pitched twinkle of orchestral chimes, or the flourish of a sweeping piano chord, as are favored and familiar in today’s orchestrally-driven game music landscape. Instead, Savino greets listeners with a pairing of familiar and less common: polished strings and toy piano bells, with the latter given melodic leadership over the former.
The opening motif unfurls at a relaxed tempo, with the tones centered around open, crisp intervals of perfect fifths and minor sixths. This establishes an immediate sense of a colder vibe, with the minor tonality evoke a touch of somberness and a touch of mysteriousness, while the clean and open space between the pitches leaves the melody open to a sense of wonder without attached anxiety possibly generated with more dissonant intervals. Both parts eventually give way to leading space for polished horn, deep bass drum thumps, and a gradually increasing tempo that brings with it, bolder percussion. Just like the evolution of a narrative, the music grows and expands to set the scene beyond the initial emotional impression and toward the broader tale, and all of its twists and turns, to come. It’s quite the airtight introductory piece – a very strong overture for the story as a whole. Even without having the tabletop narratives on hand to read with the music, Savino’s score brings the listener along and provides as much of an enticing backdrop without its linguistic counterpart.
This approach of gradual expansion works well for the other five tracks too and Savino employs just as much instrumental surprise, which keeps the melodies of each track interesting while also enhancing the imagined atmosphere of Vyndurvoht’s world. The music of “Permafrost Wasteland (Vyndur)” is lushly cushioned with a layer of open space and reverb left between each audible note and its subsequent decay. The result is a feels of vastness – again perfectly fitting for the visualization of a environment as far reaching as a frosted over wasteland. Bells of a different sort, more wintry sleigh in style – serve as a rhythmic driver and tonal accent between smooth, rounded, deep-toned plucks of a bouzouki and the eventual rise of melodica notes as the bearer of the melodic hook. This combination of instruments, along with another piece being driven by minor key tonality, casts the music in a somewhat medieval-minded light, only further enhancing the idea of long running lore and legend, so common during that time.
“The Things You Do Not Know,” is the one track on the release, the closer to boot, that breaks the instrumental pattern and features vocals with lyrics. A fundamentally monotone affair, the vocals are performed in a distinctly chanting style. This in and of itself is perfectly fine and in keeping with the medieval atmosphere, as well as the mystical lore of the dwarves at the center of Vyndurvoht’s story. However, while much leeway can (and should) be given to game music composers, for use of programmed instrumentation and tones, as not everyone has the means to call up the nearest symphony orchestra to flesh out their scores, the heavily polished nature of the chanted vocals create a listening experience that becomes multiple layers of digitally enhanced or artificial sound and the vocals being so prominent on top, are just enough to break the fourth wall and put a crack in the otherwise beautifully crafted immersive soundscape that Savino builds up to this point. One pauses to consider how the impact of the final track might come across if the chanted vocals were instead left in much more of a natural, organic state. While the tonal difference would indeed be stark, the contrast would be applied at just the right time so that, for the characters (presumably the dwarves in the narrative) whose “voices” listeners are finally hearing for the first time, there’s a retained sense of realism mixed in with all the sonic wonder and tonal color Savino has cast around the fictional environment. Having the vocals align with a nearly matching amount of artificial polish actual serves to make the characters’ impression feel less believable because even if the characters are fictional, just the same as any other set of made up semi-real beings (e.g. aliens in Star Wars, Pokemon, beings in Lord of the Rings), in their respective universes, they are all living creatures of organic substance.
Overall, Will Savino’s Vyndurvoht is a treat for the ears and the mind. As a work intended to enhance the mood of a written activity fueled mostly by the internal imaginations of its players, Savino’s soundtrack stokes enthusiasm for Vyndurvoht’s story-based counterpart with exciting ease.
Vyndurvoht is available now.
Find it on Bandcamp.