Friday, 26 December 2008

Music to Play Games By

Apropos of nothing: albums for gaming sessions, broken up by genre.


The Predator - Ice Cube. One of hip hop's best albums. Released just after the Rodney King riots, it's all about alienation, violence and anger: "Nobody I know got killed in South Central LA/Today was a good day." You don't get much more Night City than that.

Blue Lines - Massive Attack. The whole thing is infused with urban angst and underlaid with weird, unfocused tension, from the sinister dub of Five Man Army ("Money money money.../The Root of All Evil") to the driving minimalism of Lately ("Summertime always gives me the blues...")

Rhythm and Stealth - Leftfield. An hour of brutal breakbeats and trip-hop to build up an atmosphere of impending, then breaking, doom.

Post Apocalypse

Organisation - Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark. Not just for the opening track, Enola Gay ("Enola Gay/Is mother proud of Little Boy today?/Oh this kiss you give/is never ever going to fade away"), which is perfect for obvious reasons. The album also has a nicely muted, vaguely menacing feel to it - just right for when the bomb has fallen.

High - The Blue Nile. An hour of sparse, melodic background swell, with just enough painful emotion to prevent comfort from settling in.

Beyond Skin - Nitin Sawhney. Like 'Organisation' this one has tracks written explicitly about nuclear war (the final track begins with a sample of Edward Murrow reading Now I Am Become Death, and two others were written as responses for the successful test explosions in India in the late '90s) but even if that weren't the case, the mournful, elegaic feel would be a fine backdrop for a session of Mutant Future.


The Rite of Spring - Igor Stravinsky. It could equally have been The Firebird, but this just pips it as Stravinksy's best, I think - and there was never a more fantastical composer, except perhaps for Sibelius. This is a frenzied, dark, brooding masterpiece for a gritty Lord of the Rings style game. And don't mention the Disney version.

Adore - The Smashing Pumpkins. Not their best by a long shot, but still a great, weird, gothic album for a session of dark fantasy gaming.

Peer Gynt - Edvard Grieg. So well known it's almost a cliche, but it captures the feel of a fantastical adventure perfectly - with In the Hall of the Mountain King the highlight.

Urban Fantasy

Superunknown - Soundgarden. A rock classic, with just a twist of darkness.

Showtime - Dizzee Rascall. Not as raw as the debut but much better for it, this is the sound of Britain in the 2000s - antsy, uncomfortable, frenetic, cocky.

Cole's Corner - Richard Hawley. A gorgeous, lush, night time record which evokes dark cafes looking out onto busy winter streets.


  1. Good list, Noisms! I'd add in the first Tricky record, "Maxinquaye," for cyperpunk, and Burial's "Untrue" could work for cyberpunk, urban fantasy, maybe even modern horror.

    As far as p-a music, OMD's a great choice out of left field -- "Dazzle Ships" and "Architecture & Morality" could work too. However, for some reason I lean toward free-ish jazz: Sun Ra, Sonny Sharrock, 70s Miles Davis.

    Been meaning to thank you for the Superior Scribbler props. That was very much appreciated. Hoping to do a bit of writing over my holiday break, so maybe I'll have a new post or two up.

  2. Thanks for putting me on to Leftfield, noisms - I'll check them out. How about 'Unknown Pleasures' by Joy Division for post-apocalyptic? The world is disintegrated...

  3. I know you said not to mention it, but Fantasia's take on Rite of Spring just makes it more awesome by dint of adding the greatest of all living things: Dinosaurs.

    More to the point, a favorite method of mine is to cobble together a few pieces from the soundtracks of games that have the appropriate feel (less well-known ones, of course. I'd never use, say, the Legend of Zelda theme in a fantasy game).

  4. I want to, I've tried but music during games doesn't work for me. I find it too distracting, start listen to it instead of the players.

    I do play music during prep while everyone is arriving and getting setup, it's a good mood setter.

  5. Fantasy: Conan the Barbarian soundtrack. I know the movie was cheesy but the music was awesome!

  6. Max: I like Tricky but always preferred Massive Attack. I love Tricky's version of Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos though.

    Viriconium: You might know Leftfield already from the Guiness advert, with the surfers, of a few years back. That track is from Rhythm and Stealth.

    Rach: Disney actually changed the Rite of Spring quite a bit for Fantasia. Stravinsky was mightily pissed off. Check out the 'real' version if you get the chance!

    Norman: I can see that. I think it depends on the group, and it's why you need background-type tracks, preferably without lyrics I think. That's why classical and chill-out dance/trip-hoppy stuff works well.

    Anonymous: Very good choice!

  7. Stravinsky and Sibelius are excellent choices.

    Might I recommend Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, and his six String Quartets. Messiaen's vingt regards. Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms. The horrific Bruckner Fifth Symphony...

  8. For fantasy, especially dungeon adventuring: Dargaard. The genre is dark ambient or darkwave. It is mostly instrumental with some chanting.

    For occult gaming: Arcana. It has a sinister, magical feel.

    Ambient in general is good.