The Wailing Wall: Bastion’s Music Live

By Adam Smith on January 6th, 2012 at 9:40 am.

Musical Squares

The headline doesn’t refer to an extravagant orchestral rendition that you’d have to pay money to see, but rather a short video containing two of Bastion’s most glorious audio treats. I’ll never find these songs as powerful as I did when they first drifted in, just as the structure of the world and the melancholy of the situation slotted into place around my gun-toting kid, but I still get shivers up my spine when that vocal starts. An intimate performance by audio director Darren Korb and vocalist Ashley Barrett, this is a lovely way to start a Friday, or any other day. Pretty good way to end one too. Listen down yonder.

The word ‘effortless’ popped into my head when I watched it for the first time. Stop being able to sing so well while sitting on a couch when I struggle to hit a single note at any time was the next thing I thought. Of course, there’s usually a lot of hard work and practice behind anything that looks effortless so I’ll let them off and assume they work at this music business every waking moment.

‘Effortless’ is a fairly good description of how the world-building in Bastion felt as well. It’s an odd place with odd creatures that fulfilled sometimes uncertain roles, but the game doesn’t draw attention to the weird. That’s an aspect of the narration that’s as or more important than all the gravelly tones money can buy – delivering exposition through a weary insider perspective provides scope to make subtle almost distracted reference rather than flashing great signposts. It’s a world built on fragments in so many ways.

Fragments of music are fragments of culture. These songs were written for that world but we are also supposed to believe they were written in that world. When we hear them, oftentimes the kid hears them too. The Hobbit trailer uses music in a similar way – not just as an emotive backdrop but as part of the texture of Middle Earth. In both cases, the audience isn’t simply being treated to something intended to be pleasing to the ear, they are being told that these are the songs that these characters sing and bear witness to, the melodies and lyrics that inform their lives. It’s a device I’m keen to see more of in whatever worlds I wander, or wend my way through.

Hey, Stampede, how ’bout a poem?

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26 Comments »

  1. Agnol117 says:

    Brilliant.

    And I’d have to agree: Barrett’s ability to sing that well not just while sitting, but while sitting in a manner that would be compressing her diaphragm is impressive.

    I also have to agree with the bit about The Hobbit trailer. I’ve watched that trailer dozens of time, all just to listen to the music.

  2. Quasar says:

    Vaguely related: Anyone aware of any good guitar tabs for the Bastion music? I’d love to learn ‘A Proper Story’ in particular.

    • Gap Gen says:

      The chords to Setting Sail, Coming Home are:
      Cm / Fm / Eb / D
      Eb / D / Eb / D (a combination of these 2, you should be able to figure out where they come in)
      I haven’t looked at any others, though.

    • mouton says:

      I would tell you what chords are in Proper Story, but all I can hear is pure glory.

    • Fondue says:

      for Spike In A Rail just tune to drop D and then mess around with open D, A , D and G and the 3rd frets of said strings. One finger is needed to play the whole song. A Proper Story is going to be a little harder to figure out.

  3. mondomau says:

    I love this song, though it’s the most downbeat of the lot. I originally bought the game without the soundtrack and spent months kicking myself. Then that insanely generous Warner Bros. deal hit Steam and it popped up in my inventory. All was right with the world.

    • Chicago Ted says:

      It’s surprisingly… threatening, if you think about it from a Caelondian perspective.

    • Fondue says:

      The threat is why it’s so good, the overtones of “we’re coming to get you”. You can imagine it being played in an Ura tavern.

    • Snidesworth says:

      It’s straight up foreboding.

    • frymaster says:

      I didn’t read it as threatening, more an expression of endurance: “eventually the wind and rain will erode your wall, but we will outlast your artifacts”

      which I thought was quite apt for an oppressed people

    • vecordae says:

      “Build that wall and make it strong/ ’cause we’ll be there before too long.” Is pretty a pretty clear threat.

      EDIT: I don’t even know what words are for, apparently. I just slap them together in a rough approximation of human communication. That is the only way I can explain that last sentence.

  4. Jody Macgregor says:

    Godddamn, they should go on tour. I’d go see them.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Seconded. They should at least do the full score with a band at PAX or something with a decent gaming audience.

  5. ArcaneSaint says:

    This song always brings a tear to my eyes. That was one of the most beautiful moments in the entire game*.

    *The other most beautiful moment being all the rest of the game.

  6. povu says:

    The combination of Zia’s theme and Zulf’s theme in ‘Setting Sail, Coming Home’ is amazing (the second half of the video).

  7. Coccyx says:

    By far my favourite song in gaming. Beautiful.

  8. The Dark One says:

    Zulf’s song was the reason I had to save him again on my second playthrough. I went through it trying out different weapon combinations and wanting to see what the other ending was like, but I just couldn’t leave him there. (

    • Verio says:

      I always thought the way they did this was one of the heavier things I’ve ever experienced in gaming. That they didn’t make it easy. That you had to struggle (or experience the illusion of struggle), that it was slow and a little arduous, that you had to shrug off blows. It made that moment incredibly powerful.

  9. frymaster says:

    Dammit, I could sit here for hours just listening to her singing her shopping list

  10. udat says:

    I loved the music in Bastion so I really enjoyed this. My comment however, is to thank you for the I76 poems link. That game came free with my Sidewinder Force Feedback joystick and is still the best Force Feedback implementation I’ve ever played. You could feel which side of your car was taking hits, or which wheel had a flat tyre just from the feedback. It also had incredibly immersive music and atmosphere which those poems were a big part of.

  11. Aankhen says:

    Fantastic. Thank you for the link!

  12. durns says:

    Adam – your writing is excellent. I mean it as a compliment that I so often say after reading your articles, ‘oh, this deeply thoughtful article was written by Jim’ or ‘huh, that piece of genius wordplay must mean Quinns came back’.

    I then scroll up, and it was written by you. Well done sir, well done.

    • BrokenSymmetry says:

      Agreed with this. No need for word-punnery or jokes, just a very well-written, even emotional article. More, please!

  13. Edawan says:

    Now I can’t get it out of my head.

  14. PJ says:

    Superb stuff!