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Jessica Curry: A musical journey towards [Everybody's Gone to] "the Rapture"

by Pieter Smal on 03/31/16 02:29:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

1. Introduction

My own fascination with female composers started at high school when I was exposed to the choral music of Mia Makaroff. Upon playing Dear Esther (2012), I was delighted to discover that a female composer wrote the soundtrack for the game: a British woman named Jessica Curry. I followed Curry's output closely, with her following oeuvres including Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs (2013) and  Everybody's Gone to the Rapture (2015). Curry's music evoked my interest in the usage of religious (particularly Christian) music in video game soundtracks. In correspondence with Curry, I enquired after her religious affiliations. I quote her response with permission:

"I am an atheist who absolutely loves church music (try and unpick that one!) They say that the devil gets all the best tunes - well, I would disagree."


In this article, I am going to "unpick" the extraordinary music of Jessica Curry: Christian music for video games by an atheist composer. My study will focus on her entire soundtrack output for video games, with emphasis on the vocal music for Everybody's Gone to the Rapture.

Religious music could be grouped into three categories: inspired music, sacred music, and concert music. Inspired music could contain religious texts or musical references, but the music has a non-spiritual purpose [1]. Sacred music is used within a religious context, whilst concert music is composed for public performance on the stage [2].

2. Christian lyrics in video games

Curry is not the first composer to use religious texts as inspiration for her video game compositions. Religious (specifically Christian) music is heard in video game music. An early mention is Civilization II (1996) which quoted a setting of the Credo by the Italian composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Christopher Tin used a Swahili setting of the Pater Noster as the main theme of Civilization IV (2005); this composition of Tin is known as Baba Yetu. Troels Folmann used various Latin texts (from the Catholic Mass) in Tomb Raider: Legend (2006) and Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2007). Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's setting of the Lacrimosa (from his Requiem Mass in D minor) was used in a trailer for Tomb Raider: Underworld. (Smal 2013: 33 - 35.)  The 2013 game BioShock: Infinite also incorporated an arrangement of the hymn Will the Circle Be Unbroken.

Christian music in video games could be used for various purposes. The music that used Latin religious lyrics in Tomb Raider: Legend and Underworld are inspired music, whilst Will the Circle Be Unbroken was originally composed for religious purposes. Being of a choral nature, Baba Yetu could be sung as concert music. Although this preliminary review is not complete, further research could establish how Christian- and religious music is used in video game music.

3. Jessica Curry as a Christian composer

Before analysing the music of Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, it is essential that I present a background to the composer. Since I only know Jessica Curry via limited correspondence I can distance myself from the subject, objectively interpreting Curry and her music.

The most troubling question that came to my mind was "Why would an atheist composer write Christian music?" Since Curry is a British citizen, it should be of no surprise that she has a Christian worldview. The Church of England [3] retains connections with the British government (notably the Royal family and the House of Lords), establishing a Christian worldview in the Brittish population (even if individual citizens are not of a religious conviction) (The Church of England: 2016). I do not know the history of Curry's churchgoing experience, if at all. But I know that Curry would have been exposed to Christian music through the Church of England.

Curry wrote a sombre soundtrack for the 2008 game Dear Esther. Although this game did not contain any religious music, it was her first collaboration with The Chinese Room (the company that created Everybody's Gone to the Rapture). During this time, Curry also wrote the soundtrack for The Second Death of Caspar Helendale, for which she composed a setting of the Kyrie (from the Latin Catholic tradition). This composition is both inspired- and concert music, being performed at The Royal Opera House in 2009 (Griffiths 2009). 

Video 1: Kyrie from The Second Death of Caspar Helendale

  

In Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs (2013), Curry moved away from Latin Catholic lyrics and moved towards the Greek Orthodox tradition. "Kyrie Eleison Christi" can be heard in three tracks: Christ Have Mercy (track 34) (video 2), A Machine for Pigs (track 46), and This Little Piggy (track 50) (Amnesia Wiki: 2015). The vocal compositions in the Amnesia soundtrack are inspired works that cannot be separated from the game. Curry's most devout video game soundtrack was her next collaboration with The Chinese Room.

Video 2: Christ Have Mercy from Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs

 

4. Christian music in the soundtrack for Everybody's Gone to the Rapture

Released in 2015, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture is Jessica Curry's most pious endeavour. Although fifteen tracks in the soundtrack are sung, I will only discuss four tracks that contain religious text. All the Earth (track 1) immediately quotes Christian holy scriptures in Curry's vernacular language: the King James Bible. All the Earth is sung by the Welsh soprano Elin Manahan Thomas in the style of a plainsong [4] without accompaniment, making this composition Curry's first sacred song.

[Psalm 19:4] Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun.


Video 3: All the Earth

Finding the Pattern (track 2) features orchestral scoring that accompanies the singing throughout the piece. A SATB choir first sings an extract from Psalm 13:1 (below) before the plainsong from All the Earth (now accompanied) is quoted (02:22 - 03:08).

[Psalm 13:1] How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? Forever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?


Video 4: Finding the Pattern

A longer quotation of Psalm 13 is sung by Thomas in The Sleep of Death (track 4). A violin joins in a duo (00:33) with choral accompaniment joining for verse 3 (01:08).

[Psalm 13:1-3] How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? Forever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me? [2] How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? [3] Consider and hear me, O Lord my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;


Video 5: The Sleep of Death


Curry recycled the text of Psalm 13:1-3 for track 5, For Ever. This composition features a new setting sung by SATB choir.

Video 6: For Ever


5. Conclusion

Jessica Curry wrote religious music for video games in all three categories described in the introduction: concert music (The Second Death of Caspar Helendale), inspired music (Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs) and sacred music (Everybody's Gone to the Rapture). A spiritual progression can be traced in her music, moving from concert- and inspired music to sacred music usable within devotional services. Curry's selections for lyrics also encompasses a broad overview of the Christian faith, including Latin texts (Catholic), Greek texts (Orthodox), and English texts (the King James Bible associated with the Protestant tradition). Avoiding "Halleluja", or "Gloria in excelsis Deo", Curry chose grave texts for her music like "Kyrie eleison" (Lord have mercy) and the Psalm 13 text "How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord". A superficial reading could describe Curry as "depressed", although a blogpost for The Chinese Room describes her personal turmoil:

[...] I have a degenerative disease that simply won’t do what it’s told, and anyone who knows me is aware of just how stubborn I am and how hard I try every single day.  A couple of years ago my doctor said to me “if you try to fight this disease it will win” and I nodded like a good girl but actually at the time I just didn’t get it.  Having a progressive illness is not like cancer, or a stroke or a heart attack. [...] I am going to get worse- that’s a simple fact and no amount of medication, wheatgrass, mindfulness, positive thinking or acupuncture is going to change that.

(Curry: 2015.)
 

Although the exact details of Curry's degenerative disease is not known, it is public knowledge that she is not in good health. Curry's choice of religious texts represents her acknowledgement of mortality: the struggle with her own physical wellbeing. In a single sentence, Curry connected Everybody's Gone to the Rapture with the memento mori motif: "I wanted to create something timeless" (Stuart 2015). The closing choral song for Everybody's Gone to the Rapture encapsulates Curry's peace with her degenerative disease. Dan Pinchbeck wrote the lyrics for The Light We Cast (track 28), which follows:

Now everything has come to rest,
The end has come and I am not afraid.
We travel on towards a new beginning,
We slip away and we are unafraid.

We're born apart; the waters carry us,
An endless dark, the sovereign galaxies,
The light we cast creates a bridge
And guides the way; across the ageless deep.

I see them all, I see them dancing
In the endless numbers of the light.
I love you in the ebbing of the tide
I love you in the quiet immanence
I love you in the patterned butterflies.

Now everything has come to rest,
The end has come and I am not afraid.
We travel on towards a new beginning,
We slip away and we are unafraid.


Video 7: The Light We Cast

The theme of death, birds, butterflies, and flying appears in other songs in the soundtrack of Everybody's Gone to the Rapture. The words that Curry chose is reminiscent of Butterfly, a choral composition by Mia Makaroff. Although it is not known if The Light We Cast was inspired by Butterfly, the subject matter and usage of the choir as artistic medium is strikingly similar. 

Sweet is the sound of my newborn wings;
I stretch them open and let them dry.
I haven't seen this world before,
but I'm excused, I'm a butterfly.

Sweet is the touch of your newborn wings.
We fly in circles and play with the sun.
We haven't seen this world before;
So fair, so bright, so blue the sky. 

Love me, love me on the leaves
before we say goodbye.
Love me, kiss me with the breeze,
you'll be my lullaby;
Tomorrow I'll die, You'll be my lullaby.

Sweet is the breeze as it gently blows
the day away and the nighttime comes.
Great are the wonders that silence shows.
I fall asleep and dream of the sun
and my butterfly.


Video 8: Butterfly (Makaroff)

Despite Curry's health concerns and physical trails, she gives outstanding advice - not just to people struggling with degenerative diseases, but to all of us:

[...] I have one final piece of advice for you all. It’s very simple: do what makes you happy.  People often ask me (with a tinge of annoyance at times) why I’m so cheerful, silly, full of mischief, always laughing. Well, one thing that you learn when you are degenerating (as we all are I suppose, some just more quickly than others) is to make the very best of every single day.  To see the beauty, the ridiculousness, the wonder, the hope, the sadness, the sheer magnificence of the world around us. I exhort you to laugh, love and really live.  

(Stuart 2015.)

Post-publication note
Curry won a BAFTA award for her soundtrack to Everybody's Gone to the Rapture (8 April 2016).


 

Notes

1. An example of inspired music is ambiance- and world music, often containing elements of Buddhist religious music (such as Buddhist monks chanting). Despite the religious quotation, the music has a commercial purpose (such as "background music" for meditation), instead of sacred ceremony.
2. An example of religious concert music is Felix Mendelssohn's Hör' mein Bitten (Hear my Prayer).
3. The Church of England is known as the Episcopal Church in the Unites States of America, collectively known as the Anglican Church throughout the world.
4. The plainsong is a monophonic (unison) chant, traditionally sung in church without musical accompaniment with text usually based on Psalms (Episcopal Church: 2015).


Sources
Amnesia Wiki. 2015. A Machine For Pigs: Soundtrack. [Online] Available at: http://amnesia.wikia.com/wiki/A_Machine_For_Pigs:_Soundtrack [Accessed 30 March 2016].

Curry, J. 2015. Why I’m (sort of) leaving The Chinese Room [Online] Available at: http://www.thechineseroom.co.uk/blog/blog/why-im-sort-of-leaving-the-chinese-room [Accessed 31 March 2016].

Episcopal Church. 2015. Plainsong. [Online] Available at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/glossary/plainsong-0 [Accessed 30 march 2016].

Griffiths, D.N. 2009. Review: The Second Death of Caspar Helendale. [Online] Available at: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2009-11/30/review-the-second-death-of-caspar-helendale [Accessed 30 March 2016].

Smal, P. 2013. Unifying elements in the Tomb Raider Trilogy game soundtracks. B.Mus. mini-dissertation. University of Pretoria: Pretoria.

Stuart, K. 2015. Everybody's Gone to the Rapture: writing a score for the end of the world. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/30/everybodys-gone-to-the-rapture-video-game-sound-music [Accessed 31 March 2016].

The Church of England. 2016. Structure. [Online] Available at: https://www.churchofengland.org/about-us/structure.aspx [Accessed 29 March 2016].


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