For this blog entry you don’t have to have seen or played any of the BioShock series but it couldn’t hurt. I make no promises about spoilage, accidental or otherwise. I’m a bit of a spoiler whore so if you want someone to police the internet to prevent you being scarred for life for learning things you didn’t want to know, you really need to just stick your head in the sand and leave us grownups to play. What I want to do today is focus on the music of BioShock, and show you how it’s readily available online. First off of course, if you’re the sort who needs to have a physical tangible thing to possess, the soundtracks for all these games are available for purchase. You can go to Amazon dot com or your favorite record or CD store if they still exist. You may have to order them either way. Not sure of the availability but much of this music was made available for purchase cuz the people behind BioShock aren’t in this just for the feels. They gotta put food on the table. However, if you wanna stream this music first to get an idea if this is your kind of thing, or if like me you got more brains than money, I’ll put some personal favorites down below so you can experience the sounds of BioShock for your own self and decide for your own self Would You Kindly the eargasmic pleasure that is BioShock.
Now the orchestral music for the first BioShock game was originally made available for free at the 2Kgames website around 2007. I went there just now and the page is still there but as of this blogpost date, the zipfile is gone. Not surprising, since it was many years ago now. That’s okay though cuz you can still listen to it online if you know where to look… er, or listen. or.. well you know what I mean. Here’s a sampling of one of my favorite tracks. It’s called All Spliced Up. The name of the official BioShock orchestral album is “I Am Rapture Rapture is Me” and its composer is Garry Schyman. The orchestral music often played strategically during gameplay but also amidst “cutscenes” though that phrase kinda doesn’t work in the context of BioShock. Game director Ken Levine was a stickler about not having cutscenes pull the player out of the experience. In other games cutscenes feel more staged and melodramatic. Levine and the other game designers for the BioShock series made a point to make it feel like you are a part of the narrative by lessening the jolt between that instant where you are controlling your experience and the instant where the game takes the reins for a second to show you what your choices up to this point have wrought. These instances are a little cinematic and require orchestral music sometimes to underline the significance and encourage the player to feel emotion. Music in video games is always rather manipulative. If you’ve played the BioShock series, you can probably understand the multiple layers of symbolism and irony to how music is used to control us, just as the characters portrayed in the BioShock series are also being manipulated by antagonists in the stories.
Though BioShock came out in 2007, its story takes place in the early 1960s, and along with the orchestral music there’s a lot of choice popular music from the early 20th century, particularly the period in history after the stock market crash up through world war two. Because BioShock hadn’t been a success yet, the designers were probably keen on picking music that was relatively inexpensive to license for game purposes so it’d be cheap to incorporate the music in the game. Even so, a more important concern for the creative minds behind the game would have been how the music influenced the ambiance and gameplay. So the choices are pleasant and echo the sentiment of the story itself. There’s some big names in BioShock 1’s collection including Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, Bobby Darin, and the Andrews Sisters. The choice above is by a group called the Ink Spots who were popular until the 1950s when the band split up. There were splinter groups after that when various band members tried to maintain their former glory, and others who may or may not have been “official” members wanted to cash in. It’s complicated. Bad breakups often are. The devil’s in the details. No doubt a fan of the BioShock series might see some ironic similarities between the rise and fall of The Ink Spots and the rise and fall of Rapture. No man is an island, whether you are Ryan, Atlas, Long, or Kenny. Or Comstock. Or Lamb. Or Charlie Fuqua. You get the idea. Still. Rapturous music either way.
BioShock 2’s orchestral album is called Sounds from the Lighthouse and it’s also available as of this blogpost via YouTube or for purchase at Amazon or elsewhere. While I’m at it here’s a link to the original score for BioShock Infinite‘s orchestral music. I could probably write an entire blog post about each entry. This music is so lush and inviting. Really captures both the euphoria of the ideas behind this series and the dark somber plight of many of its characters. BioShock 2 continues along the vein of reviving old music in this new way of incorporating it into the story. Though BioShock 2 occurs fictionally about a decade after the events of the first BioShock game, the underground city of Rapture where it takes place is a kind of time capsule that’s slowly being taken over by the elements. So the music used is also kinda trapped in time. Below is a sample of the licensed music for the series.
This version of You Always Hurt The Ones You Love was recorded by The Mills Brothers. It’s a song originally written by Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher, but the song has been covered many times. Even though I doubt Ken Levine had a choice in this because he wasn’t directly involved in BioShock 2, listening to it again I can’t help but note how this song typifies the relationship between Elizabeth and Booker in the third installment of the BioShock series: BioShock Infinite. This song also starts with a kinda haunting acoustic guitar riff that reminds me of Booker’s fondness for playing the guitar in precious rare moments of the game. Another version of this song that has been a personal favorite of mine since I was a child was recorded by Spike Jones and his orchestra. Considering the more violent and downright insane aspects of BioShock, there are times when I think this version might have been a better choice.
BioShock Infinite took this idea of old music in a new vein to a rather disturbing level. In the course of the storyline, time travel becomes possible. Remember at the top of this blog post when I warned you I might slip some spoilage? Well I warned ya. Without going into too much detail, it becomes plausible in the course of the storyline for someone in the early 20th century to hear music coming from the late 20th century. And this less than purely moral person then takes that knowledge and steals music from the future for financial gain. The end result is a feast for the ears, with songs like Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” or Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” being taken for a ride. Here’s an example of a popular song by Credence Clearwater Revival being given a gospel revival backwards in time.
Again I could probably do a whole blog post about each of these tunes, but this gives you an idea the adventures your ears can take exploring, or revisiting the BioShock series from just the perspective of a music connoisseur. Share and enjoy, and thanks for going on this little adventure down to the bottom of this page with me.