Posted By Robert H. about 4 months, 4 weeks ago
For every video game composer whose name every gamer knows by heart, such as Nobuo Uematsu and Koji Kondo, I find that there are many more who simply nearly as well-known, even if they deserve the credit just as much as the popular candidates do. One such composer, at least in my opinion, is Grant Kirkhope. Although his recent efforts haven’t really been associated with any specific company, he is most well-known for composing the music for almost every popular Rareware game on the N64, minus Conker’s Bad Fur Day. I’ve already discussed his work once already with the fantastic Banjo-Kazooie, but there are more of his games that deserve equal amount of credit, such as the subject of today’s article: GoldenEye 007.
As I stated in my Banjo-Kazooie article, Grant Kirkhope is a master of taking a clear central theme and interspersing it throughout a soundtrack while still managing to give every track its own unique identity. In this case, considering the game in question is a licensed game for the movie with the same name, the theme used throughout is the classic James Bond theme. Some portion of the beloved track is used in nearly every song on the soundtrack, if not all of them. This constant gives the entire soundtrack a clear and singular identity that helps to identify both the music and the game itself as distinctly Bond.
However, this isn’t to say that the James Bond theme overpowers every single song on the soundtrack. While songs such as the “Military Intelligence Archives” are practically an energetic and impressive mix of the original, tunes such as the Severnaya Installation level themes don’t carry quite so obvious an influence. Snippets of the main theme can be heard within both tracks, but the lonely, slow instrumentation of the themes for such a cold place clearly separate the tracks from their roots.
Speaking of slower songs compared to faster ones, the multiple uses of the main theme to create entirely different moods is also impressive. As with most great video game music, each theme fits its respective level perfectly, despite using very similar instrumentation even beyond the main theme. In fact, GoldenEye 007 may have the most consistent instrument use throughout its soundtrack that I’ve ever seen in gaming.
Although the consistency is noticeable for practically every song in the game, there are some pairs that really highlight how this aspect of the soundtrack doesn’t cause monotony. For example, “Subterranean Caverns” uses very similar tones and sounds when compared to the aforementioned “Severnaya Installation 1” theme, but the construction of the theme and the resulting mood are completely different, with the first having an air of finality and the second containing clear emptiness. The same can be said for the intense “Byelomorye Dam” and the epic “Frigate ‘La Fayette’.” The latter’s slower pace and stronger accents giving the stage a greater feeling of importance while the former gives its stage a much stronger sense of tension. The different usage of so many recurring instruments gives the soundtrack one of the strongest identities in the medium.
As you can no doubt assume from Kirkhope being one of my favorite composers in the industry, I have some clear favorites in the soundtrack that deserve praise. One song that everyone seems to remember from the soundtrack is “Chemical Warfare Facility,” and for good reason. The song may have one of the best incarnations of the Bond theme in the entire game and a relatively slow progression alongside the well-placed note drops makes for the perfect song to accompany sneaking around a building. Another favorite of mine is “St. Petersburg Streets,” the song for a very short level that may cause some to unfortunately pass over the song for the more consistently-heard tracks. The track sounds like a military march and I absolutely love the mournful horns used alongside a strong snare drum and the slight tinkling of the Bond theme. Of course, my favorite from the game is “Antenna Cradle,” shown above. The song just has such a strong and energetic instrumentation that it is instantly memorable, and the best usage of the Bond theme in the entire soundtrack doesn’t hurt either.
GoldenEye may also not be my favorite collection of compositions by Grant Kirkhope, but no one can deny the clear quality on display throughout. Movie-licensed games don’t have the best of reputations in the industry, and their soundtracks even less so. However, GoldenEye 007 is a game that flies in the face of all those expectation. Of course, I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Graeme Norgate, who worked on a fair amount of the soundtrack as well, including the awesome Severnaya themes and the much-loved “Aztec.” In the end though, regardless of who composed the themes, GoldenEye 007’s soundtrack is one that is still admired by gamers today and will probably continue to be admired as such for years to come.
Music Mondays is a weekly column by Austin Yorski and Robert Heck dedicated to discussing the most interesting audio experiences in electronic interactive media. Tune in every week for more original game soundtracks that you need to hear. Feel free to disagree with, add to, or question everything. I welcome your feedback.