Like Boards Of Canada, World War II radio and the desire to break everything fueled the soundtrack to “Oxenfree”.
Like the game for which it was created, the soundtrack of Oxenfree is not at all simple. If you haven’t played the mysterious horror adventure yet or just want to get reacquainted with its magnificent soundscapes before the sequel, listening to the soundtrack is a great way to pass the hour, especially when we are waiting for Oxenfree 2: Lost. Signals to start.
Whatever your reasons for reviewing the score, a convincing audition is guaranteed. Although initially soaked in synthesizers and suitable for radio, it takes a darker turn as Oxenfrey’s plot becomes more disturbing. By the end of the score, you will hear a soundtrack that is as unconventional and durable as Oxenfree itself.
In a conversation with NME, Oxenfree composer Andy Rohrmann, better known as scntfc, describes himself as an “obsessive student”, to whom he attributes the soundtrack’s unique atmosphere.
“I can’t do the same thing over and over again — every project has to have some aspect of expansion and learning, whether it’s a new instrument or a new style of music,” Rohrmann explains. “I always like to add basic musical knowledge, and I think it informs things and makes them fresher for me, but also fresher for the game, it brings a more unique perspective to it… unlike tenth. a version of this thing that I’ve done nine times before.”
However, it was a natural way for Rohrmann to score Oxenfrey due to the setting of the game. The haunted island from the “Night School” is located in the Pacific Northwest, where the composer has been living since the age of three.
“I’m kind of a research—oriented composer — I really like to dig into the game as much as possible before I start working,” he says. “I do a lot of research and study ideas — whether it’s music, instrumentation, themes — until I’m on something. Oxenfrey was just… I understand! I just absorbed it and was able to get up and run very quickly.”
Night School founder Sean Krankel contacted Rohrmann after hearing a mix CD made by the composer 10 years ago and left in a mutual friend’s car. Krankel asked if Rohrmann would be interested in making games, and after sharing playlists and discovering a shared love for Boards Of Canada, the couple realized that collaboration would be suitable.
“We were like… [this collaboration] is really obvious. We’re already on the same wavelength, so go ahead! That’s when I started making demos. The first thing I did — I can’t remember what the song was — [embedded] it in the game. Since Oxenfree’s score is a kind of low-fi by nature, it was very easy to record, mix, perform and do anything, and then send them something – then it ends up in the final game, unlike something orchestral, where I record a demo and I know that later it will be re-recorded with real artists. It’s all because I’m recording through old cassette players and stuff, so yeah, a lot of that is in the game, what you’re hearing is some of the earliest demos.”
As Rohrmann notes, the composer voiced Oxenfree using a number of unique techniques, instruments and equipment. The cassette player in question is from 1978, and as Rohrmann touches on this video, he also connected a World War II radio and 200 feet of copper wire to achieve the ghostly, haunting crackle of Oxenfree.
“One of the foundations of Oxenfree in this universe is the idea of time loops and things that are recorded or repeated,” Rohrmann explains. “Visually, the game uses what looks like video recording failures, static and radio interference, all these things that very much break the fourth wall for the narrative that you are watching. Considering how the music was created, using it as literally as possible was really important. So there is definitely an element of nostalgia. There are these vintage textures, but the idea wasn’t “oh, I’m going to do something on a reel or a wax cylinder,” [it was more of a question], what kind of music is this? How can I create music that not only captures something from all these eras, but also dates back to them?”
“An example of a soundtrack is “Against the Rocks” against “Against the Waves,” the composer continues. “Against The Rocks” is just a song that I played on the piano and then recorded on tape, and “Against The Waves” is a song played at quarter speed with new synthesizer parts superimposed on top of it. This goes back to some metaphors of the game of time loops, repetitions and degradation of textures over time. It happens… if you’ve listened to a cassette, a record, or any other analog medium hundreds of times, it just starts to wear off, or the tape crumples in the player, or you accidentally run a needle over the record [. .]Taking all the Textures and using them, essentially, to help write music is just fun, right?”
Although Rohrmann can’t pick a favorite from the Oxenfree soundtrack, two songs in particular continue to resonate with him a few years later. While “Lost” — a song that the mother of Jonas, Oxenfrey’s character, sang to him as a child—has “sentimental” value for Rohrmann, he says that creating “The Beach, 7 a.m.” was especially enjoyable.
“Since it’s [the song] in the end credits, it’s not played to the end, but it has become the most significant for the players — it’s one of the most popular songs,” says Rohrmann. “But the secret of this melody is that I anticipated it, so wherever I could, I used this melody in other areas of the game. So, a bell rings on the porch of the Adler house, if you listen long enough, you can hear the melody playing — so yes, a lot of omens, it was a lot of fun.”
Although Rohrmann has a lot of material to look back on, he says it was a “trial by fire” to get into game soundtracks because of how non—linear game development can be- a lot of things “fall apart” and get deleted. – but now it fits his style. “I really like it,” says Rohrmann. “Because it’s an opportunity to repeat musically!”
In addition, Rohrmann says that his penchant for experimentation is “evaluated” in the “Night School”, and the studio excels in certain creative areas that are not his strong suit. “They excel at telling stories that are very emotional and [make] you feel connected to the characters,” Rohrmann praises. “It’s something I’m not good at—I’ll never be a good writer or director, I just don’t have what it takes to make that connection, but they’re so good at it.”
“It’s nice to follow their example and then help strengthen those ties,” Rohrmann adds. “They’re really good at it, so I’m doing my best to support it—I like the collaborative element because they’re doing things I know I can’t, but I can do some things that can help improve the whole project.”
Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals — with Rohrmann as sound engineer — is on the way. Looking ahead, the composer says he approached the sequel “in a very similar way,” albeit in closer collaboration with Night School.
In Oxenfree 2, fans can expect much more from Rohrmann’s experimental streak. “Sometimes I just play music backwards,” Rohrmann laughs. “This is the new soundtrack for this scene!”
Rohrmann adds that he was “pretty ruthless” with the loops, textures and glitches of Oxenfree. “If there’s a glitch in the game, I see it as an opportunity to completely throw the axe at what’s going on musically,” he teases. “There’s a lot of meta stuff going on that I think is integrated with the team and has more time to work on the game, which really allowed us to explore more.”
Although Oxenfree 2 has recently been postponed to 2023, the wait (hopefully) won’t be long. As Rohrmann strives to hit all the right notes, it seems Lost Signals is worth the wait — here’s our article on what to expect from the sequel’s haunting themes.
Oxenfree 2 will be released in 2023, and the soundtrack to the first game will be re-released on vinyl on iam8bit.