Creating fragments of memories from fragments of music
An absolutely beautiful puzzle platform game, The Gardens Between takes two children’s memories, shatters them and lets you move back and forth in a circular motion restoring normality again. It’s ethereal, emotional and beautifully put together. Tim Shiel composed the soundtrack for the game but when approaching the actual game soundtrack himself he decided to elaborate from the games actual music itself, creating a hazy mirage between the soundtrack from the game and noodling improvisations with guest performers.
Opening with “Spirit Home” puts you immediately into the mood of the soundtrack. Breezy yet lush chimes, synths, wind and wave effects pitter patter around you. Tim described the work as if your reaching back for a memory but can only remember fragments of it and this entire album is a musical equivalent of that statement. Its ambience is never really fully formed but your mind can piece bits together – it’s so cleverly done. “Where Will We Go” features Biddy Connor’s voice gargling between warped echoes and childlike hums whilst cute electric pianos and old computerised drones buzz in and out around piano and string ambience. As the ambience starts to streamline, fragments become more melodic and “Between Friends” takes bass moogs and synths into a rolling pizzicato string styled ethereal melody. The star here is also the voice of KAIAR and Jacob Diamond whose being manipulated both forward and in reverse and their voice shapeshifts like a conversation back and forth. It’s otherworldly but never creepy – more alluring and enchanting. “Calm Before” is a perfect namesake for a track that sounds a little like your tuning into different frequencies of heavenly sounds. A radio wave twirls and phone dials gently pulsate under warm guitar synths. It also showcases an unusual instrument that plays a large role throughout the soundtrack called an ondioline. It’s an electric keyboard synth that has a tremolo to it so it can imitate stringed instruments whilst having a percussive edge too.
“The Storm” has Liam Gregory on trumpet playing out a solemn bluesy tune whilst gently glistening wind chimes and soft noise bustles in reverse underneath. It sounds like defiance in the rain and transitions seamlessly into “Are You The Same” which lets researcher take the trumpet from before and warp it into a distorted melody where the trumpet itself is hardly recognisable. When researchers voice joins in we have an indie Jonsi at work for some of the most beautiful sections of the soundtrack. “Weight of Air” continues the previous few songs patterns and thoughts but moves into a quiet post-ambience with phasing wind gusts, rumbles of noise and an overall feeling of disconnection that turns to a more pensive tone with the poised “World of 1994”. This track plays around a single motif, slowly pulling it off key for a split moment and then refocusing it. It’s as close to brooding as the album gets and even then you can appreciate the layers of sound going on for its beauty.
“Golden Satin” has an alien quality to it. The piano notes when they hit flick between notes and refuse to sit still as field recordings of birds chirp away and upright basses give a rubbery warmth to all the gentle synth trickles. The track never goes for a melody as such but provides a pillowy ambience to curl into. These synth trickles bleed over into the more electronica-ambience of reversed voices in “Don’t Forget This Time”. It sounds like a Jenny Hval song with the angriness and double the mystery! After all the mystery “Spirit Duet” brings us back to the piano awash in reverb as it carefully unfurls itself with crystalline synths that take on a woodwind effect. The track feels like a wandering improvisation of two separate instruments that are starting to merge themselves together to in sync but the sync happens right at the end and births the closing track “Between Ends” which sees the piano take on its bittersweet melancholic melody and Lonleyspeck’s voice and guitar take over from the synths to provide a call/response closure to what is a magical soundscape of music and wonder.
Tim Shiel takes his idea of fragmented memories as music and runs with it. The result is some of the best ambient warmth and beauty I’ve come across in years. The meticulous layers of instruments, sound recordings and nods to things in everyday life you can hear evoke emotions from within you and whilst the final product may sound simple and together on the surface, you can get lost in the depth of it all in your headphones. A superb collection that any fan of ambient or gentle electronica should pick up instantly.
Recommended track: Are You The Same
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