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Ark and The Unspoken (Gareth Coker)

November 4, 2018

So, let’s talk about Gareth Coker for a moment; or rather about his music. I don’t know him personally, so it’d be rude to start rambling on about the guy. If you follow Synchrotones at all, you’ll know I’m much enamoured by his work for Ori and the Blind Forest (and needless to say, I very much enjoyed the additional music that Coker released via BandCamp). There’s a reasonable body of work to explore, but two scores in particular caught my ear; and those are ARK and The Unspoken.

ARK is in Coker’s own words a “gargantuan soundtrack, a beastly work“. I cannot disagree with that. It’s huge; it’s like Ori on steroids. Right from the start Coker draws you into his world via an earworm of a main theme. It’s a solid tune that’s epic without going over the top; it strides on confidently and is easily remembered for weeks on end. ARK is a large-scale orchestral work (recorded by the 93-piece Philharmonia Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios. ), augmented with electronic elements. Production values are high, the recording is nice and clear, and there’s some seriously good writing on display here. Aside from the stunning main theme, Coker treats us to some hard-hitting action music full of racing strings, snarling brass and thundering percussion. That may sound fairly standard, but if you know Ori, you know that Coker has a few more tricks up his sleeves. As with Ori, the orchestrations are colourful and varied with influences from around the globe. In between action-cues, ARK is every bit as ‘ethereal’ as Ori. Both share an earthy, ‘forest-y’ sound (through percussion and winds), even if ARK is considerably more action packed.  At 74 minutes, it is quite a long album, but there’s so much going on that you’re not likely to get bored. Highlights, it must be said, are those cues that include the main theme, particularly “The Southern Islets” and the jubilant “Ascension”. Other outstanding cues include “Not So Plain and Simple” and “ARK Battle March” (the latter has some very cool string writing).

The Unspoken couldn’t be further away from ARK‘s orchestral carnage if you tried. Here Coker seems to channel Orbital or Unkle in an EDM-inspired electronic score. The Unspoken is an Oculus Touch‐enabled VR action game that pulls players into a hidden world of spellcasting and magicians’ duels. Manipulate the environment around you with the powerful arcane forces that flow through your fingertips, summon unfathomable monstrosities with your bare hands, and rise up through the ranks of an urban magic fight club. After a short opening track, the album presents the first of several lengthy cue. “Spiritus Cultris” measures just over 7 minutes long and its fragmented ‘melody’ and wordless vocals remind me of Orbital. Coker seems to have collaborated with several people on this album… Tina Guo and her cello appear on one cue; three cues feature Bonnie Brooksbank on violin; and three others feature Mimi Page’s vocals. Last but far from least, Matt Laug adds live percussion. On his bandcamp page, Coker describes his score as “a mix of ethereal mysticism, rock, electronic, with driving beats to underpin the styles.” Production values are again top-notch, and the sound is crisp and clear. Despite all the electronica and rock influences, The Unspoken possesses an earthy, fusion-like character which may well be Coker’s trademark, as Ori and ARK too have ‘world music’ characteristics. I think it gives Coker’s music a very natural/acoustic sound even when synths or electric guitars take the lead. Again, it’s a long album at around 75 minutes. I’m struggling to recognise a central theme if there is one, but Coker manages to keep things coherent through his orchestrations/arrangements, recurring sounds, percussion and the odd motif. Fans of ‘traditional’ orchestral scores may struggle with this one, but I think anyone who’s into progressive rock and EDM will find plenty enjoy.

Reviews by Pete Simons (C) 2018 Synchrotones

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