Proms 2022: Hildur Guðnadóttir & Sam Slater (arr. Robert Ames) – Selections from Battlefield 2042 (European Première)

by 5:4

As part of the Proms’ inexorable slide away from concert works in an attempt to remain relevant, yesterday evening’s event was given over to orchestral arrangements and reworkings of music from videogames. They included the European première (following a performance by the LA Philharmonic late last year) of Robert Ames‘ arrangement of selections from Battlefield 2042, the score for which was created by Hildur Guðnadóttir and her husband Sam Slater. Together with Chris Watson, the duo previously worked together on, among other things, the renowned soundtrack for HBO’s Chernobyl series. By contrast, taken in isolation their score for Battlefield 2042 isn’t anywhere near as worth getting excited about. It’s a pretty generic exploration of varying forms of atmospheric treading water, occasionally lurching into punchy pulses, or unleashing piercing squalls, surrounded in unsettling, shifting granular textures.

Having said that, Robert Ames’ arrangement of parts of the score in one important respect works better than the soundtrack album. Progressing through a videogame is a lengthy process, and the 2- to 3-minute start-stop approach of the album is far less immersive than Ames’ 14-minute journey through its soundworld. The result is something akin to a tone poem encapsulating Battlefield 2042‘s sonic attitude, reimagining and expanding on several of its key sequences.

Sam Slater, Hildur Guðnadóttir

The lengthy broody opening is really marvellous, Ames rendering it a network of floating string pitches through which discordant flute notes push, with a sense of wind blowing in the distance. It’s darkly beautiful and utterly arresting. Moving beyond this, the music remains nebulous, with twisted traces of melodic shapes heard at the fringes, not even becoming certain when the strings more demonstratively take them over; the flutes’ ongoing bleating makes everything sound desperately forlorn.

As is so often the case in contemporary soundtracks (for videogames and cinema alike), ambiguous music like this tends to pack a more meaningfully powerful punch than the inevitable resorting to barrel-scraping, Zimmer-esque endless repetitions and parpfarts that have become the bog-standard replacement for anything authentically dramatic. Guðnadóttir and Slater’s score has its fair share of this (whose doesn’t, these days?), and this occupies the middle sequence of the arrangement. Ames avoids letting things get too bombastic – climaxing in a mix of deep pedal snarls and high shrieks – instead moving on to focus on another trait of the original score, its aforementioned recourse to treading water. It’s something necessary to the unpredictable world of gaming – where the music ideally needs to react to the player rather than presenting complete set pieces – but out of that context, like so many film and game scores, here it just sounds tentative, going nowhere. And that, unfortunately, is the overall impression of this arrangement as a whole: a fantastically engaging opening that ends up descending into boiler plate, faux-grand gestures and banal circling.

The first European performance of Selections from Battlefield 2042 was given by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Robert Ames.

Incidentally, though it’s mostly disposable, i’d nonetheless recommend spending time with the better parts of Hildur Guðnadóttir and Sam Slater’s original videogame soundtrack, particularly the tracks ‘Orbital’, ‘Irreversible’ and, most of all, ‘Tipping Points’.


Hildur Guðnadóttir & Sam Slater (arr. Robert Ames) - Selections from Battlefield 2042
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