Reviewing and Analyzing the Music of: BioShock Infinite (2013)
(Review by Vanessa Yip)
WARNING: Contains some spoilers to the game.
BioShock is a popular video game franchise. Its most recent game in the series, Bioshock: Infinite (2013) won many awards for its beautiful design, intricate and extremely fun gameplay.
What I really appreciated the most was the game’s soundtrack. Mainly composed by Garry Schyman, the music and songs in the game really reflected the game’s world and plot.
You see, the game’s world is set in 1912. The main character, Booker DeWitt, is on a case to look for a certain girl named Elizabeth for his clients for reasons he isn’t sure of yet. little did he know that he would be set up to a city in the sky called Columbia. It was originally a floating city built by its leader, Zachary Hale Comstock, to be a floating World’s Fair and display to the rest of the world the success of American exceptionalism. However, the city of Columbia and the American government later had disagreements. It against America’s wishes fought brutally in the Boxer Rebellion, causing havoc. the Government demanded that the city be returned to the soil, but Comstock seceded and took the city even further into the sky. This world is disguised as a militant Psuedo-Christian Utopia. The society that has grew in this place worship Comstock as a high and all mighty prophetic figure, and also worship the Founding Fathers (you know, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, those fun guys) as religious icon. But this utopia is clearly a dystopia, proven by the widespread of institutionalized racism and elitsm.
The music in the game deeply reflects on Industrialism. During many of the tracks geared towards action and fight game plays and scenes, you can hear the mechanic influence within the pieces. Such as battle for columbia 1 (8:57) and Songbird (12:53) to name too. I remember playing the game and fighting off enemies, and the music got me pumped up, nervous and excited all at the same time. It fits so well into a steam punk-ish type of world. Songbird is actually one of my favorite tracks on the soundtrack. You can hear the sounds of the DeWitt’s Sky Hook gliding on a metal sky line, and the pace of it causes much urgency and the need to run away and get away from a mechanical-ish bird who’s chasing you to take Elizabeth back.
A big part of the game is Elizabeth. Elizabeth is a mysterious girl locked away in the Tower of Columbia for unknown reasons in the beginning. You find out that she has the power to rip open tears in the atmosphere to create portals into different worlds and times. She is a character who starts off as naive and innocent. But as the game progresses, Elizabeth is shown to be more aware of her world around her and more mature. One of her tracks is “The Girl in the Tower” (10:13), and the music very well reflects her state at the time, an innocent beautiful girl who’s blissful to the outside world’s deceit. A girl who is whimsical and dreams of going to Paris and explore. The sense of sadness in Elizabeth is also indicated in her character’s theme (10:51) She is tired of being locked up
The role of science also plays a big part in the game. There are a pair of characters called the Lutece Twins (Robert and Rosalind Lutece). They show up out of nowhere in certain areas, and a silly yet mysterious music is played for them when they are seen and talk to the character in confusing riddles. (Lutece 6:12). Rosalind is the one responsible for researching on Time and Space Travel paradoxes and portals, which is the reason Comstock has made Columbia so advanced for its time.
There are certain tracks in the soundtrack that are directly influenced by a certain song, “Will the Circle be Unbroken?” is a Christian hymn originating in 1907. It was composed by Charles H. Gabriel and sung by Ada R. Habashon. In interpretation, the song is a hymn that could be talking about how people are waiting for their time to see the loved ones they have lost thus, breaking the circle of life. In this game, however, it can be interpreted to be more along the lines of different timelines and worlds created. Elizabeth shows DeWitt there there are a million worlds that are created through different actions of the same events, and everything will get the same result unless you stop the event at its source. So I believe this theme fits perfectly into what the game is about. The song has been covered by Johnny Cash, Ralph Stanley and many other artists.
For BioShock Infinite, the song is covered by Courtnee Draper (The voice of Elizabeth) and Troy Baker (voice of DeWitt). This song won Song of the Year at the Video Game Awards in 2013.
There is also a traditional choral version of the song by Maureen Murphy. I guess it was a religious song for the…Founding Father religion or something.
There’s a track called “Welcome to Columbia”(0:28) In which it starts off with the adrenaline rush and confusion DeWitt faces when launched into the sky in the weird contraption at the light tower. It then calms down when there is a view of the city from his pod, and the music that plays is the melody of “Will the Circle be Unbroken”.
There are a list of songs in the game that haven’t been featured on the official soundtrack. http://bioshock.wikia.com/wiki/BioShock_Infinite_Soundtrack this site contains a list of all the songs in the game. But here some of the ones that I have enjoyed very much:
“St. James Infirmary Blues” (1928) by Duke Ellington
“Just a Closer Walk with Thee” (original in 1941, covered in this game by Courtnee Draper aka Elizabeth)
“Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1983)” Original by Cyndi Lauper, covered by Jim Bonney
“God Only Knows” (Originally by the Beach Boys in 1966, covered by acapella group The “Bee” Sharps (A Mighty Wind)
The music is proof of the power that Comstock had and how he built his turn of the century giant airship full of sky racists. It indicates his connection to taking advantage of the time portals that Rosalind Lutece discovered. he was able to take things before his time and implement them into his own society.
This is a video of the whole game adventure to use as reference
Overall, I very much admire the great work the developers of Bioshock Infinite put into this game. They’ve really given the feel of the game to the player through its music. Gary Schyman influenced his composed tracks by the world given to him, and gave a sense of the game’s themes. The developers also wanted the players to understand the addition of time and space, which would make the addition of songs and music that is ahead of 1912’s time perfect sense. I’ve really enjoyed this game, and the music really helped that as well.