Violett is Polish game developer Forever Entertainment’s attempt at a point-and-click adventure tale in the mold of classic LucasArts titles like Loom or Grim Fandango. With an aesthetic clearly influenced by Salvador Dali, Tim Burton, and the Henry Selick/Neil Gaiman film version of Coraline, Violett received mostly positive reviews from the gaming press and from a public hungry for the sort of adventure games which haven’t been a major market focus for nearly two decades. Perhaps the current, if limited, renaissance in LucasArts-style adventure games spearheaded by Telltale Games has had a bearing on this: it has shown that smaller and independently developed niche games like Violett can still find their audience internationally and online.
For the score to Violett, Forever retained the services of Polish composer Michał Wasilewski. Wasilewski has written for film, television, and other outlets in his native land, but Violett represents his first real exposure to a larger international audience and his only soundtrack release that is widely available. And it’s a really lovely effort that largely belies its (apparently) synthetic origins with vibrant melodies, bold tonality, and many delightfully dark touches.
But first: the elephant in the room. One would expect that a game which draws much of its aesthetic inspiration from Burton and Gaiman might have some temp track problems, places where Wasilewski was asked to closely emulate the quirky and creepy music of Danny Elfman and Bruno Coulais. And it’s true, there are some definite influences: the mechanical, cyclical, occasionally cell-based rhythms underlying many of the tracks are highly Elfmanesque, as is the occasional hint of off-kilter circus music, and the odd way in which voices (or their analogues) are used in places is reminiscent of Coulais (Coulaisian?). But, like the game itself, these influences are a jumping-off point rather than a slavish imitation, and there’s much to enjoy about Wasilewski’s work on Violett that inhabits a similar sonic universe as Elfman and Coulais but manages to sound completely unlike either man.
“Full of Wonders” is the album highlight, combining an attractive melody with mechanical, repeating background cells that continually refresh and change, accented at times by odd, quasi-vocal effects or call-and-response synths and flute. “The Puzzle Called Life” adds a piano to the mix along with twinkling synths and a more downbeat mood, while subtly using fragmented parts of the same melodies (which are largely spread throughout the work, helping to unify it), while “Where Are We Heading” adds a delightfully morose oboe and trades in some of the synths in the background for strings. It’s occasionally dour music but nevertheless very busy and tonal.
The most obvious Elfman influence is felt in the tracks which adopt a “carnival of the bizarre” feel. “A Mystery Laying Ahead,” the album opener, does just that, with a twinkling music box feel before opening up with a synthesized and sinister calliope-style figure accentuated by slurred electronics and other interesting, spooky features. “The Struggle” takes this the furthest, with its overtly circus-like music, though at times the atmosphere gets a little too thick and the instrumental performances seem to be slightly beyond the capabilities of Wasilewski’s synths.
Finally, several songs combine the same basic ingredients as above into moody and ambient tracks that seem the least like Elfman and Coulais as above. “The Miracle” sets off warm synth washes with a cold and sparkling rhythm of the same, resulting in music that’s at once relaxing and unsettling. “Marvel at Me” is more piano driven but still maintains the same atmosphere with the addition of vocal and synth effects, while the concluding “Rhetorical Question” is perhaps the album’s most subtle, ambient cut. It gradually layers on more sounds and more tones to transform a simple ambient drone into an attractive, gentle, Ligeti-like soundscape.
Ultimately, there’s a lot to like about Wasilewski’s work on Violett. While the music has its moments of harshness and the synths are occasionally unable to keep up with the demands of what has been written for them, on the whole it is a diverse and enjoyable album that is sure to appeal to fans of Elfman and Coulais. A soundtrack with 40 minutes of arranged highlights was released on iTunes at the same time as the came itself, and as of this writing is still available for purchase for only $6. Even if you never get around to playing the game, Violett is a rewarding video game listening experience, and one that is at the very least worth sampling.