Moore Music – Andrew Prahlow and Outer Wilds
If you were listening to WTIP this Wednesday at 2pm, right at the end of Undercurrents, you heard a certain song. A jangly, folk pop tune that seems in line with a lot of their music choices. But I simply could not believe what I was hearing, because this song isn’t from an album, it’s from a video game. Specifically my favorite game ever, called Outer Wilds. So that exposure seems like a good excuse to geek out about one of the best parts of that game, the music, composed by Andrew Prahlow, and why its so compelling and warrants the airplay.
Outer Wilds is a spacefaring adventure where you play as folky alien from a woodsy planet and unravel the mysteries of a bizarre but awe-inspiring solar system. It was released in 2019 with an expansion and effective sequel released late last year, and Prahlow composed the music for both games. According to his website LA musician says his music quote “focuses on larger-than-life, emotive soundscapes…hoping to create a sense of nostalgia and familiarity for the listener”, a style that could not be more perfect or powerful given the setting of the game.
Prahlow’s mixture of warm analog synths and uplifting folk instrumentation gives an incredible warmth and comfort to a story that wrestles with the dark, cold, vastness of the cosmos. It’s a zig where most other sci-fi scores zag. Who would’ve thought to put banjos in outer space? That idea of composing music meant to evoke nostalgia also blends seamlessly with the themes of Outer Wilds. Without spoiling too much, it tells a story deeply concerned with the passage of time, coming to grips with its inevitability, and accepting change.
But Prahlow is also adaptive – Echoes of the Eye, the game’s expansion acts as a the antithesis to the original story, with a much stronger horror theme. Instead of the sense of comfort, he’s able to conjure pure fear through music just as easily. There were times I had to stop playing the game simply because the MUSIC was so haunting, even before I even saw anything truly frightening.
Perhaps Prahlow’s biggest strength is the use of leitmotifs, melodies denoting different characters or themes. Since Outer Wilds is a mystery game, he brilliantly uses those motifs as clues to related elements you discover. And as you put the pieces together those motifs become medleys forming a larger picture. This is even more impressive considering Echoes of the Eye uses no text storytelling. Prahlow is a master of leaving sonic breadcrumbs to make a vast universe and complex, non-linear story a fascinating, mind-bending, and unforgettable experience, and Outer Wilds would not be half the masterful game it is without his talents.