Siddhartha Barnhoorn: Antichamber

barnh_antichI’m sure it’s not uncommon in the instrumental-music world these days, but Siddhartha Barnhoorn’s Antichamber is the first game soundtrack I’ve ever been asked to review. Based on the award-winning video game of the same name, Antichamber offers up 90 minutes of music that ranges from straightforward ambient drifts to electro-acoustic blends. Barnhoorn notes that “Inside the game itself the music is made up of layers which cross-fade into each other, creating an evolving piece of ambient music which never has the same elements / layers on top of each other.” I have to assume that sounds quite interesting, since these nine pieces are very engaging on their own. To sort of simulate the concept, I have listened to the disc straight through and on shuffle, and also played with having the music open in both Winamp and iTunes, working myself through admittedly clumsy cross-fades. The cross-fading was an excellent exercise, as it pointed up how Barnhoorn keeps most of these pieces tonally similar to enhance the flow regardless of how they’re heard, while still providing them their own identity. The result is a multifaceted piece that can redefine itself with each listen. Both sides of Barnhoorn’s musical equation works. “Antichamber Suite I” and “The Final Puzzle” are the showcase pieces for the softer side, perfect ambient constructs content to glide through the space, shifting tone carefully across time. “The Final Puzzle” is the more melodic of the two, with Barnhoorn pulling a melody out to develop at a graceful, dreamy pace. The electro-acoustic side is exemplified by the centerpiece of the release, “Antichamber Suite II,” a 22-minute work that eases in and out of a hushed tribal tint. As he guides the piece through its several passages, Barnhoorn underscores his drifts with hand percussion that comes and goes, and floats in flute and piano. It creates distinction between moments, and each transition is smooth and simple. “Black Tile” picks up the echoes of that long piece and pumps along on a delicious overload of percussion. The sharp rap of the tabla carry the high end against throbbing bass lows. To close out, “Dying World” is as dark as the title suggests. growling its way along on heavy industrial pads that crunch down until the closing, post-death-quiet pads. I must say I could do without the bonus track, “The Garden,” that’s tacked on after this. Here, Barnhoorn plays with a chop-up scheme that comes off sounding less like a planned effect and more like my download went horribly wrong and I’m missing data. It’s the only thing that takes me out of the pure, shifting flow that comes before it. Antichamber overall is a deeply engaging work from a very skilled composer who understands how to cull feelings from sound.

Available from Bandcamp.

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