Tuesday 6 October 2020

My Vision Is Augmented

It's been a while since I sat down and nerded out a bit about a soundtrack, so let's change that. Video Games were a very important avenue for a young me, being one of the few ways I could get exposure to electronic music both licensed artists and original works. Deus Ex was one of many influences on me at that time (and one of many that I would later credit with my love of Cyberpunk), and it's soundtrack is nigh perfect. Cue my surprise when I stumbled across this: Conspiravision: Deus Ex Remixed, headed by original OST composers Alexander Brandon and Michiel van den Bos. Let's have a look-see.

I must admit I had some doubts based on the cover art that it might be a complete synthwave fest. Not that I don't like the genre but I feel like it's a very tired 'cyberpunk' genre at the minute thanks in part to a certain other upcoming game. And I wish folk would explore a little bit more: industrial techno, electroclash, deep house, trance and more can be equally if not more befitting of the genre. But I digress, those doubts were put to rest a bit by the fact it was the original composers doing the mixing.

I dove right in with one of my all time favourites, the UNATCO theme. And Michiel's new treatment of it did not disappoint: the high-tech vibes of the original freed from the limitations of the tracker soundtrack of the game and extended out to a massive 10 minutes, though it certainly doesn't feel like it. The whole album is very sedate to start with, the first 4 tracks are all kind of in this vein which I am happy to see, Deus Ex's OST had plenty of pure ambience in it and it's nice to see that legacy preserved: here, it's a good 5+ minutes before elements of drums are introduced. I can see the slick production of this one turning some people off, and I can certainly see that as someone who's loved the artefacts of the technical limitations on the original, but I adore this rendition, albeit with me being admittedly slightly biased as it's one of my favourite OSTs of all time.

Continuing with another of my favourites, this time the NYC Streets theme. The original was incredibly atmospheric for Deus Ex's vision of a decrepit New York, and the remix here most definitely carries that torch also. Though it has a more... filmic edge to it, probably again due to the freeing from tech limitations and the good 20+ years of Brandon's experience in the meantime. Saying that, parts of it do give me pangs of nostalgia for 90's electronic - specifically the kind of chillout trance I've been digging into as of late, so I am very much into it. It's also not as completely desolate-sounding as the original theme either, there's certainly a more hopeful sound lingering in the background and it even briefly goes full synthwave complete with synth noodling around 3 minutes in.

Interesting one next, as Michiel remixes a track that was neither his nor Alexander's in the original, the BGM for the Paris nightclub. And the result is quite different from everything else so far, Fittingly for the club BGM, this strays from the more soundtrack-y elements so far, firmly planting itself in Drum & Bass territory. I really like the breakdowns here, they are also giving me real 90's trance vibes as mentioned previously, and as you should all know I have a colossal weakness for euphoria inspired breaks. It's a little short compared to the other tracks here but it certainly does a lot with it's limited runtime.

And to nerd out a bit for my final choice; Deus Ex had a (fairly simple by modern standards) dynamic music system - if you entered combat the track would seamlessly(ish) transition into a more uptempo version of the current theme, which means if you stealthed your way through the whole game there would have been tracks you never heard which I thought was neat. This is also why a lot of the soundtrack is fairly ambient, so this transition can happen. Anyway, it's good to see that Brandon and Bos haven't neglected those theme variations here, there are a couple sprinkled throughout the album but my favourite is yet again the UNATCO one. It strikes a nice balance between the all-out dancefloor vibes of the Paris club track and the soundtrack, Bos did a fantastic job of updating some of the more retro-sounding elements of the original while still keeping it identifiable - the whole thing sounds a lot more smoothed out, the MIDI-like stabs of the original swapped out with lush pads instead. It takes a little while to get going, but I love every bit of it once it does.

The whole album is pretty solid if you're at all familiar with the soundtrack, but I think my selections especially stand just as well on their own. I've skipped over a couple in this quick overview but be sure to check them out if you like what you've heard here, I'm very impressed with Brandon's remix and update of The Synapse, a fan favourite of the original OST that sounds very dated now. And as well, I'm more than happy to support Brandon after enjoying so much of his soundtrack work over the years, I realised off the heels of this that he has a bunch of solo album too. So as with many of my others posts I'm making a mental note to check them out in future too. As always - Stay safe and Enjoy the music.


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