The low, wide, buzzing tone that swells up from the depths within the first 15 seconds of Night Call’s “Introduction” track instills an eerie feeling of unease – thoughts of who knows what looming in the endless darkness and only coming closer with each passing second. Then, as if like the smooth flow of an unexpected breeze in a stagnant space, cyclical but light and melodic synth tones emerge from underneath and the initial dread seems less paralyzing, before the grandiosity of slow, long, and deliberate percussive beats blend with synthetic strings to remind listeners the looming darkness isn’t banished with a few friendly tones.
Immediately, one of the most distinguishable aspects of Night Call’s OST is its sheer density. Brasart spared no creative expense in this project, with the soundtrack’s total run time hovering around two full hours of audio and the individual track lengths almost entirely over 2:20 a piece (with some cuts going as long as, or even past, four minutes!). While such a decision inspire concern over unnecessary bloat, understanding that the game itself offers multiple endings, various twists and turns in the story, and a plethora of emotionally textured characters who are only otherwise given life and personality through on-screen text, the commitment to provide musical interpretations for so many scenes, actions, individuals, and emotions without stopping after half a minute and a single compositional motif, is commendable to say the least. The intent not to let the listener and-or player lose immersion because of an abrupt ending or repetitious musical statement shows an appreciation for the full effect of audio and visuals together rather than writing solely from a sonic perspective – a valuable mindset for a game composer to have.
And Brasart definitely does not lack useful perspective for Night Call. A game whose story is based in modern-day Paris, as a Parisian local himself, Brasart’s aural embodiment and personification of France’s capital city isn’t something conjured from afar or assembled from caricatures in media. That touch of first-hand authenticity is appreciated, as one won’t expect to find a barrage of instrumental clichés like melodica, accordion, or slinky saxophone brought on by noir-style expectations or dark Parisian stereotypes. What listeners are greeted with instead, is a carefully arranged bouquet of electronic sounds that range in pitch, timbre, length, and dynamic impact. It’s an interesting approach for sure, as constraining oneself to this collection of sounds is like the audible counterpart tothe game’s decision to visually limit itself to a black, white, and grayscale color palate. Yet in both cases, players and listeners are hardly given a stale artistic experience. Together the audio and the visual for Night Call demonstrate that limitations breed creativity.
Praise being given, considering that Night Call isn’t set in a future period of time – neither realistic nor dystopian and mechanical – the choice to orbit around this arsenal of digital sound can nonetheless prompt its fair share of hesitant disagreement. The mild but noticeable difference in tonal character between the synthesized tones in a track like “Cold Eyes Sharp Words” and “Hazy City Lights,” for example. The former is dressed in a heavier, lower-pitched, sustaining electronica aesthetic that evokes hallmarks of suspenseful 1980s electronica, while the latter uses shorter, cleaner, rounder tones that seem almost too clean and inspire thoughts of settings written farther into a technologically driven future like that of Megaman, Ghost in the Shell, or Akira. Herein lies a source of variation for Night Call OST and though synthesized instrumentation and sound can open the doors to lots of control with sound shaping, it also comes with the baggage of preconceived use and therefore preconceived notions that accompany such contextual precedence in film, TV, and other games.
Still, fleeting seconds of perceived disconnect or excessive disparity in musical aesthetic are far, few and in-between many more appreciable moments of good, flexibly clever application. The fuzzing of already infinitely sustainable tones in “Someone to Talk to” works well as a sort of sonic accent or accessory to the visual idea of midnight fog and dim or dirtied street lights only capable of partially lighting the players’ routes as they, as the protagonist cabbie, transport passengers of unknown guilt or innocence through the winding and circular paths of Paris. Then when the same timbre is applied in “Headspace,” underneath crisply twinkling and much higher pitched tones, the more nebulous quality of the fuzzy-edged bass tones help to play into the idea of opposing states of thought possibly going through characters’ minds in game: Loosely present in the back of a cab and distractedly free-thinking in no specific way as the bass lines floats along, while very specific thoughts, memories, names of people or places, occasionally punctuate characters’ abstract mindlessness like the spontaneous very identifiable twinkling that’s sprinkled atop.
There are of course, some where the titular description very bluntly helps steer association, like “Chasing Shadows” or “A Killer In Your Car,” as both house tones that embody things connected to their respective titles. “Chasing Shadows” boasting melodic but softly delivered notes that grow an diminish in dynamics the way shadows came fade or intensify depending on the light source. And “A Killer in Your Car” delivering slower, deeper, defined tones underneath faster, quieter, and higher pitched pluck-like tones that evoke the juxtaposition of a slowly revealed danger and a rapid panicked heartbeat that rises as a response. While the sonic shaping in these cases is more obvious, the assorted ways in which Brasart channels external situations and internal conflict using nothing but careful changes in dynamics, tempo, rhythm, and tone shape, is nothing if not another show of his excellent attention to detail using limited musical assets. The soundtrack shrewdly reflects the darkness of the story without abandoning all of Paris’s sophistication in the midst of an inhumane thing like murder. Then again, Brasart’s work is a nice reminder of what idealized places can be like in real life (which some of the stories is game are based upon) and when brought back down to Earth. Paris isn’t the unchanging, constantly picturesque getaway people see it as, anymore than New York City is during the wee hours of the morning on an empty, ominous subway platform on the outskirts of the boroughs.
Absent the corresponding gameplay alongside the many tracks of Night Call’s soundtrack, it’s difficult to know if any perceived projections cultivated by the soundtrack are accurate. Nevertheless, the fact that Brasart’s work encourages such detailed accompaniment to begin with, reflects his accumulated experience with film and gaming backdrops for composing and for a work of this magnitude, the results should be well applauded and given as much attention as Brasart himself put into it.
Night Call OST is out now. Find it on Bandcamp.
Night Call is available on Steam and for Playstation 4, XboxOne, Mac/PC and Nintendo Switch.