Quantum Break is a much anticipated AAA exclusive for Microsoft’s latest gaming platforms. It’s an action title with a twist in the form of time manipulation – and, being a Remedy Entertainment title, it also possesses a creative setting together with a multi-layered narrative. Developers decided to spice it all up with cutscenes resembling a modern TV series. All of these aspects are reflected in the audio part.
The original soundtrack of Quantum Break was composed by Petri Alanko, while the television-esque interludes were scored by John Kaefer. We will now focus on the former of those OSTs. And because it made quite a craze in our editorial team, we decided to let two editors review this material. Be sure to also check our massive interview with the composer!
Petri Alanko delivered some ‘merely decent’ material?
[Krzysztof Bińczak] It’s been a long time since I felt like this after listening through a video game music album. Right after the first sounds I knew I’ll have to loop the playlist and repeat the experience. Then once more. And again. I also easily spotted my favorite tracks, then immediately started discussing them with fellow gamemusic.net editors. We shared many thoughts, pointed out the most outstanding moments in each piece – and there plenty of those here.
We complimented the sounds, the amount of layers. Since the release of Remember Me OST there haven’t been many albums which absorbed me that much. I’m not going to drift into being uncritical, but still, Quantum Break brought one hell of a soundtrack. Some songs are just terrific, hands down. But I think you listen to contemporary electronic music much more than my humble self, so I wonder whether you have a similar opinion. Perhaps I’m just being over enthusiastic, and Petri Alanko delivered some ‘merely decent’ material?
[Konrad Belina-Brzozowski] Exactly because I listen to way more electronic music on a daily basis, my confirmation of your words should set the seal of approval on them. I’m familiar with tons of hybrid soundtracks in which the proportions of electronic and classical components are more or less equalized, and in each of them it’s usually easy to indicate the sections. Petri Alanko blurred the audible lines between layers, blending the processed orchestra perfectly among the synthetic ones.
And because of this I’m having trouble in picking my own favorites. Soundtrack as a whole makes a supreme story, its narrative transmitting myriads of emotions. I have my own favorite sounds and composition ideas. I’m impressed by the construction of ambient layers, as the filters open and new instruments appear, only collapse into a dark, pulsating abyss. I’m bound to be uncritical, because in my opinion Alanko put up a colossal challenge for all sci-fi game music composers. The upcoming Deus Ex or Cyberpunk 2020 won’t have an easy task ahead of them.
[Krzysztof] Agreed, the bar has been set very high. Now that we’re talking about contexts, I would add Technomancer to that list, because Olivier Deriviere apparently listened to Vangelis and Nine Inch Nails no less than Alanko himself. All in all, it’s hard to deny the music of Quantum Break its unique character. On the one hand, it is kind of a shy resultant of Battlefields 3, 4, and any Mass Effect. At the same time, here we get such beautifully unostentatious moments like in fantastic Dodging Bullets, when a suddenly a ‘disco inferno unleashed’ appears. Not far away there is quite a solid grind in inconspicuous Disappearance.
What do you think about these two tracks in general? It surely takes some impudence to make use of such significative elements. It’s a wild ride most of the time – damn, I’d pay to see the cat’s cradle of cables that he must have woven across the patch panel of his modular synth. Let me once again redirect our tech-savvy readers to our vast interview with Alanko. But in the end it’s the audible result that matters most, and in this case it foremost portrays a mature, complete opus.
[Konrad] This jumping between stylistics is not only intended, but also well-balanced. When a change comes, it surprises you, but in a way that instantly evokes admiration. Firstly, because he dared to do it. And secondly, because after a while it makes you think “yeah, this had to go there”. For me, such moment comes with Campus, when at 2:44 an arpeggio on a heavily muffled synth begins, the notes run upwards and the filters start to bleed. The bleeding process itself is not only convenient to achieve on a modular synthesizer (you work with current, not zeroes and ones), but also incredibly attractive for the listener. Remote Warning, pure poetry, the whole track built around the ticking of a clock, yet it’s the weeping pads that evoke an otherworldly sound. Or the glitched hihats in Still Waters. Those are the nuances which may be elusive, but remain truly satisfying. I’d also love to see the ‘beard’ on his modulars, but even more the projects in DAW. It must have been a tremendous job in post-production.
[Krzysztof] Definitively, those sessions are probably nothing short of grotesque. You see, I have a slight problem with Campus. To me it seems a bit like a fig leaf which Alanko had to use in order to cover a particular moment of gameplay. It still sounds pristine, although I’m not fully convinced. Fortunately, right afterwards comes Suite for Time and Machines – an absolutely flawless track. Everything is in its right place there. Furthermore, the composition is pleasantly long for video game music standards. One could argue whether recording techniques like attaching contact microphones to a beach ball are futile artsy endeavours, or rather a magically modernist way to add something innovative. Nevertheless, whole thing sounds astoundingly well. But let’s move on now – can you find a typical leitmotiv somewhere here? I don’t, although it’s by no means an issue, for the coherence of the material remains intact.
[Konrad] If something is stupid and works, then it’s not stupid. I once recorded a friend who was slapping an empty PC case, and we made mighty industrial drums out of it. As for the differences in particular compositions, I don’t feel that Campus being the softest track is something bad. Good narrative consists not only of a hard-hitting fortissimo or unconventional sound design. In my opinion Quantum Break has a complete musical illustration for every important story point. The lack of leitmotiv is getting less common these days. A good melody often guarantees a success of the soundtrack, it’s like a banner flying proudly over it. It makes you easily recognize music from Ori and the Blind Forest or The Witcher. Petri Alanko took a big risk here, assuming that his music will stand out in other fields. And he succeeded, because I could recognize his style even if someone woke me up in the middle of the night and played a random piece from Quantum Break.
Quantum Break has a complete musical illustration for every important story point.
[Krzysztof] I guess it’s time to summarize our cogitations. For me it’s foremost a soundtrack which I simply want to listen to on every occasion. It defends itself as a standalone achievement without any problems. I’m rather fixated on it now, and probably only NieR: Automata OST will again induce this trance-like state in me during the upcoming months. We praised the composer many times in the above discussion, but damn, he deserved it. The music of Quantum Break is simply a timeless conglomerate of great ideas and perfect execution. The only thing I fear is that not many people will appreciate it unless the game is a huge success in terms of sales.
[Konrad] As I read mixed reviews of the game, I’m afraid the soundtrack indeed might be forgotten, unless my words can change a thing here. I’m absolutely for granting this album our editorial mark of quality. It’s not hard to reach wider audience if you ride piggyback on a perfect title’s back, and this music by Petri Alanko most certainly deserves acclaim and a broad group of listeners. It’s one of those soundtracks which build a complete piece of electronic music art. In a few year’s time it can serve as the benchmark, like the definition of meter from Sèvres. Not only composition-wise, but in terms of conscious synthesis and elaborate automation.