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.


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)