“This is a present from a small distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts, and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe.”
-Message on board Voyager Spacecraft by Jimmy Carter, XXXIX President of the United States of America
In honor of the extremely awesome NASA Juno space probe which successfully reached orbit around Jupiter this past Monday, we present to you our musical countdown of July: “Space themes”!
This was actually suggested by our own Green Screen Mage. Good call! We’ve tackled some heavy musical themes thus far with much mystery and much majesty. But we’ve kept our feet on the ground, tethered to our earthly sphere, only climbing so high as the heights of the clouds. No more. There is little more mysterious and more majestic than space, the infinite, hostile void. The darkness behind the stars.
As Adams put it:
“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”
So how do video game Space themes capture this strange element of indifferent vastness, “the realm of God and His angels”, the final frontier? Musically, the Space theme evokes technology with a focus on synthetic sounds and industrial percussion, in some cases. At the same time, that modern tonality is punctuated by classical instruments like the violin, the cello, or the piano to represent the stars. The voices of the choir muttering the language of aliens intone the scale of the universe and its religious awe and wonder.
The result is something wholly unique and peculiar. Won’t you come and leave the Blue Planet behind, and explore the interstellar with us? “Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”
#20. “Space” – Terraria
Strangely, a track from a video game with a title referring to the terra firma kicks off a countdown of Space themes. But even though the game is Terraria, and it involves plumbing the depths of the earth for jewels, gemstones, and minerals, there is indeed this track called “Space” which plays when leaving the atmosphere. Terraria’s “Space” is the perfect introduction to the Space theme for our purposes. It includes atmospheric sounds, synthetic tics and warbles, echoes, electronic beats, and a sense of vastness. That’s everything we expect the Space theme to be like.
#19. “Aquas” – Star Fox 64
How could Nintendo’s attempt at Star Wars with anthropomorphic animals not come in on a list of Space themes? The Star Fox franchise may have been largely miss rather than hit since its impressive debut on the SNES, but this track off of the N64 adventure fits right in with other Space themes. Sure Aquas is an ocean planet and the song plays underwater, but the planet is in space. This could swing for both an Ocean theme and a Space theme, cool and placid and mysterious with a hint of threat.
#18. “Star Planet Theme” – Grow Home
I was pleasantly surprised by Grow Home fairly recently. It was a quickie, but a delight to play. B.U.D. is a robot tasked with collecting specimens and intergalactic gardening in this cheery and acrophobic procedurally-animated gem. B.U.D.’s climb up the alien beanstalk into the awaiting cerulean zenith is accompanied by the playful romp of this “Star Planet theme”. It’s an electronic antiphony of childish voices and sound clips bouncing around among the sparse clouds the higher he goes. Grow Home is about heights and this track conveys it. If I ever go skydiving… this’d be song #1 on my boombox.
#17. “Mercury” – Mega Man V (Game Boy)
The Game Boy Mega Man V was an entirely different and exclusive game than the NES game of the same name. MMV on the Game Boy told of a time when the world was suddenly plagued by Stardroids, each of them named after the planets of the Solar System. The boss bot Mercury had the best track of the OST, easily. While typically fitting in comfortably with the energetic rock of Mega Man’s roots, it’s repeating motif evoked a sense of blasting through the void at high speed, avoiding asteroids and space debris. This is something some space-pilot would crank on their tape deck while making the kessel run. It’s spacey. It should be. It beat out other appropriately named space-bots from other Mega Man games like Galaxy Man. This extended version is merely clearer audio than the original Game Boy could produce, but it’s the same song.
#16. “Welcome Aboard the U.S.G. Ishimura” – Dead Space
Humanity fears the unknown. Space is a scary place and Dead Space is here to remind us of that fact. It’s a hostile environment, possibly the most hostile environment to human life there is, and it’s totally indifferent toward us, toward your existence, toward whether you breathe or not. Space don’t care. Space would just as soon vaporize all the oxygen out of your blood than look at you. There are several games that capitalize on the horror of the mind-melting size of space, but it’s Dead Space’s brooding, almost John Williams-esque at one point and Stephen King the next which fills space not only with zombies but with the dread of the inky blackness our tiny oasis planet spins in. This is a brand of the Space theme that leans toward the darker and the primordial. It is our fear of the dark blown up a billion times over. Fear of the dark is really just the fear of space. Expect to see more like this.
#15. “Battle Against a Machine” – EarthBound
Another ironic title. Like Terraria, Earthbound is a title that would make you think it had nothing to do with space. And though the nearly entire game is set on earth, Ness and his friends are attacked by space aliens, the Starmen, and a horror from beyond. Earthbound is a wacky game and an unorthodox RPG, with comparisons being made between it and one of the greatest sci-fi space movies ever made: 2001: a Space Odyssey. The game makes use of several peculiar tracks, particularly as battle music, and this track which plays when fighting mechanical and robotic enemies utilizes classic B-movie space alien sounds to produce its techno-funk. It’s the Space theme of an alien invasion from the 40’s and 50’s with enough of a modern flair to make it timeless.
#14. “Cosmic Cove Galaxy” – Super Mario Galaxy 2
Oh Nintendo. Why are you so great? Super Mario Galaxy 2 has everything going for it. A spacecraft-planet shaped like Mario’s head. Yoshi. Unique gravity physics. The word “galaxy” in the title. This song is so peaceful, and it bridges upon the Ocean theme as well, which maybe brings up an intriguing epiphany that Space and Ocean themes share similarities perhaps because of the way we think of space as a kind of limitless ocean and the ships of both mediums as identical. Swimming among the stars. That’s “Cosmic Cove Galaxy”.
#13. “Title theme” – Metroid Prime Trilogy
There are so many possibilities for this countdown from the Metroid Prime series, which revolutionized the Metroid franchise and took it to beyond the infinite. But I decided we’d murder three stones with one bird and pick a song that encompasses the entire trilogy off of the Wii re-release Metroid Prime Trilogy. This plays over an amazing opening sequence of shifting mechanics inside the barrel of Samus’ arm-mounted cannon and sets the tone of isolation and awe that is distinctly Metroid. It’s a look at the Space theme from the perspective of being alone in the universe.
#12. “Protoss 3” – StarCraft
The RTS that defined PC gaming for years, StarCraft boasted a soundtrack that could’ve put almost any song on this list. Instead, we decided to opt for this Protoss track, nixing the gurgling, guitar-riffy Zerg and the space marine Terrans. The Protoss are like high elves in space. Ancient, steeped in tradition, arrogant, psionic, technologically advanced. They are space-farers, the firstborn of the universe. This song is full of the noises and music of aliens, of a culture removed from our own: magical, pious, sanctimonious, contemptuous. It’s not every day we get to listen to the music of an alien race.
#11. “Uncharted Worlds” – Mass Effect
Let me make a confession to you. This may come as something of a shock, but as of July 14th 2016, I, the Well-Red Mage, have yet to play Mass Effect. I’ve played none of them. I know what they’re about, a bitsy, but this track was suggested for our countdown by none other than the Black Humor Mage. God bless his widdle heart. Mass Effect is all about dat space (I presume) and “Uncharted Worlds” opens up the universe to us with a sense of exploration and adventure, waiting dangers and waiting wonders. I need to get my Well-Red self around to this franchise. It’ll be a new frontier for me.
Want more? Be sure to keep your eyes to the heavens. The next part of our countdown will invade soon. But what song will make it all the way to number one? Use your psionic abilities to tell us the future in the comments below!