Review: Force / Jarboe present The Path (2010)


artist: Kris Force & Jar­boe
release: The Path
format: CD
year of release: 2010
label: Paradigms
dur­a­tion: 66:01

detailed info: dis​cogs​.com

Artists act­ive in dif­fer­ent media work­ing together on new con­cepts often achieve fas­cin­at­ing res­ults where they com­ple­ment each other’s forms of expres­sion. Soundtracks are a per­fect example of this, where music and sound design ideally works in tan­dem with the audi­ovisual exper­i­ence of a film, or in this case, a digital video game. The Path was developed by Bel­gian inde­pend­ent digital artists Aur­iea Har­vey and Michaël Samyn, pub­lish­ing their work under the name Tale of Tales. The game was pub­lished in early 2009, and went on to inspire strong reac­tions in the inter­na­tional gamer press and com­munit­ies. If baffled or infuri­ated some people who were unable to deal with its unstream­lined game­play and its con­tro­ver­sial and chal­len­ging them­atic con­tent. At the same time, many people were won over by the game’s power­ful vis­ion and atmo­sphere, as well as its psy­cho­lo­gical power.

In short, The Path is about girls grow­ing up through trau­matic and life-shaping exper­i­ences. This psy­cho­lo­gical premise is cast in a sur­real­istic game of explor­a­tion and hor­ror, wherein the player guides six incarn­a­tions of Little Red Rid­ing Hood (ran­ging in age from 9 to 19) through the forest towards Grandmother’s House, or towards their doom: the Wolf. Under­tones of death, loss, ill­ness, self-destruction, sex, nos­tal­gia, and trauma abound in The Path, which is not for the faint of heart. Ulti­mately, though, I believe it is a life-affirming and power­ful exper­i­ence, and a test­a­ment to the pos­sib­il­it­ies of digital art as a medium.

The game’s artistic suc­cess has a lot to thank to its aural com­pon­ents, which is why it’s very nice that the soundtrack was released sep­ar­ately this year. Work­ing together here are two women with their own unique place in the his­tory of altern­at­ive music. Jar­boe we know, of course, from her period play­ing with Swans and her extens­ive solo and col­lab­or­at­ive works. Kris Force plays with Amber Asylum, and has col­lab­or­ated with Tony Wake­ford on great releases by The Triple Tree and Grey Force Wake­ford, for example. Together they have craf­ted a musical score that is the per­fect under­pin­ning of the unset­tling themes in this game, using a vari­ety of acous­tic instru­ments, vocal styles, and digital effects and samples.

Partly, the music and the game draw upon the hor­ror trope of jux­ta­pos­ing the world of the child with that of the adult. Thus, like the game con­fronts the young­est Little Red with a graveyard-roaming Were­wolf, so the child­ish melod­ies and inno­cent voices clash with dark ambi­ances, harsh dis­tor­tion, and deep rum­blings in the soundtrack. In gen­eral, though, the music presents a vari­ety of themes form­ing a styl­ist­ic­ally coher­ent whole.

Of par­tic­u­lar note are the sweep­ing violin-based “Forest Theme”, which is a bit over­used in the game, as well the wolf themes that accom­pany key cli­matic pas­sages in the game. Each of these per­fectly accen­tu­ates the feel­ings con­nec­ted to the wolf encoun­ters, from the clas­sic hor­ror of the “Were­wolf”, church bells and all, through to the sad theme of “Fey Wolf”, who seals the doom of the eld­est girl with its piano strings. In between there are the calm mys­ti­cism of “Cloud Wolf”, the lost child­hood of “Girl in Red”, the urban theme of “Charm­ing Wolf”, with engines and smoke, and the relent­less chops and moans of “Woods­man Wolf”.

Also won­der­ful, as well as unique to this soundtrack because they’re not in the game - for obvi­ous reas­ons - are Jar­boe’s retell­ings of two dif­fer­ent ver­sions of the tale of Little Red Rid­ing Hood. There’s “Grandmother’s Tale”, which reveals the tale’s strong sexual under­tones, and “Little Red Rid­ing Hood”, which will be closer to the ver­sion of the tale which most of us will have heard as a child; without the happy end­ing, that is.

I can ima­gine this CD won’t be totally impress­ive without hav­ing actu­ally exper­i­enced the game, which can be an issue for many musical scores. One needs the con­text to fully enjoy the music. That said, this is all the more reason to take a look at the game as well as the soundtrack, for both together stand for a unique work of mod­ern art, fus­ing folk­lore, hor­ror, fem­in­ine psy­cho­logy, and exper­i­mental music in a mas­ter­ful way.

Reviewed by O.S.

Track­list:

1. Safe Song - The Path (2:38)
2. Forest Theme (7:03)
3. Little Girls (1:03)
4. Charm­ing Wolf (3:26)
5. Fey Wolf (4:59)
6. Forest Inter­lude 1 (1:27)
7. Woods­man Wolf (3:25)
8. Were­wolf (5:58)
9. Girl In Red (3:15)
10. Forest Inter­lude 2 (4:06)
11. Grandmother’s tale (7:17)
12. Cloud Wolf (6:54)
13. Epi­logue (5:20)
14. Little Red Rid­ing Hood (5:58)
15. Forest Reprise (2:21)
16. EAT (0:51)