Thursday, March 12, 2009

the zealot never saves the sacrificial lamb

The world's most overgeared corkscrew verges on Rube Goldberg territory. But my, is it fun to watch.

And a notable new spiritualism site--notable in my opinion mainly for their collection of spirit photographs, many of which--like pictures taken of deceased family members before them--feature authentic Victorian and Edwardian attire, from all social strata.

Moving back into music, we're taking on Chris Vrenna next.

An interview with Vrenna on the Alice soundtrack music explains the search he had to find non-traditional and non-modern instruments to record the score for the groundbreaking EA game. Here's Taking Tea in Dreamland to give you a taste of what he means.


(Game walkthrough of the first section.)

The game, American McGee's Alice, was--and, to some sense, is--a darkly involved chase through a Wonderland changed by an Alice gone mad. It was inspired--and very steampunk, if the darker sort your mythic ancestors never spoke about. The can-do spirit behind most steampunk stories remained in the game, but it was turned more towards what can't be done and why--flesh-sculpting familiar characters, weaponizing toys, merging the animate and inanimate in vivid and disturbing ways.

Through it all runs the soundtrack of Chris Vrenna, with his grandiose assortment of musicians' toys: pennywhistles to zithers, harpsichords to unstrung organs, percussion and random metal sounds, recorded, distorted and played back against seemingly decorous chamber music.


(More of the music in the game intro.)

From the Wikipedia entry:
The game's setting presents a considerably more macabre rendition of Wonderland than that of Lewis Carroll's original portrayal. Wonderland, being a creation of Alice's mind, has been corrupted by her insanity.

The new Wonderland is composed of nine provinces. When Alice falls down the rabbit hole, she finds herself in the Village of the Doomed, the home of the Torch Gnomes. The Village of the Doomed is composed of a network of tunnels and caves, patrolled by the Queen of Hearts' card guards...

All of the music created for the fittingly twisted official American McGee's Alice soundtrack was written and performed by Chris Vrenna. Most of the sounds he used were created using toy instruments and percussion, music boxes (in a short documentary about the making of the game that appeared on TechTV, the music box used appears to be an antique Fisher-Price music box pocket radio), clocks, doors, and sampled female voices (including that of Scarling. vocalist Jessicka) were manipulated into nightmarish soundscapes, including instances of them laughing maniacly, screaming, crying, and singing in an eerie, child-like way.

The music creates an eerie and horrifying feel to the world Alice is in.


(Vrenna's Wonderland Woods, and another in-game cutscene, this one of Looking Glass Land. It's like walking around in Jabberwocky on the grid, isn't it?)

Vrenna may only be known for his connection to Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, but he's acted as producer, sound engineer, studio artist, or remixer for more than thirty different singers and bands, in virtually every conceivable genre of music. He's incredibly prolific, experimental, and by report easygoing, somewhat of a rarity in the world of high-profile stardom (though to be fair, the singer in any band garners most of the attention; hardcore percussion and sound engineer stalkers are rare). He's also provided background music or full score work for easily a dozen videogames, everything from the bouncy Sonic the Hedgehog score to the moody and atmospheric Quake 4.


(Vrenna's Pandemonium.)

The Alice soundtrack is still available; fully eight years after its release it's still purchased. It is in turns gloomy, scattered, and beautiful, crystalline arpeggios of notes tumbling over each other and down to stark booming emptiness, only to be gathered up again and returned to lands of strings and piping. The off-kilter is never more audibly off than in Vrenna's interpretation of Alice's fractured Wonderland; but then, that's rather the point.


(Vrenna's I'm Not Edible.)

Not that I needed to say it at this point, but for this soundtrack, if for nothing else, Chris Vrenna has added to the steampunk music oeuvre.


Heroinhead said...


my blog may interest you... maybe not???

Hope to see you soon...

Take care, Shane.

Rhianon Jameson said...

The corkscrew is priceless! (Well, I'm sure it has a price, and a high one at that.) And to call it a corkscrew just doesn't do the contraption justice. On the other hand, calling it "Rube Goldberg-esque" does it complete justice!

Emilly Orr said...

Strangely, what I most loved about it was that it comes with its own counter-space--because really, when the case for the device is that large why not go the extra step and make it functional?

And yes, with only one hundred of these minted (if you noticed the maker's mark on one of the gears, the metal artist "signing his work"), I'm sure the price is insanely high.