What does space sound like? When considering the answer to that impossible question, we must differentiate between two types of objects: physical, realistic objects and cultural objects. Space, the physical, realistic version of it, doesn’t sound like anything. By its very definition, it is soundless; there are no particles in the endless void that can vibrate and, therefore, no sound (science majors, calm down. I know that’s probably a bit too simple to be accurate). However, space the cultural object sounds like many things: the groan of ships in giant berths, the explosions of weaponry, the almost-silent humming of engines, sounds burned into our psyche by decades of literature, film, TV and other forms of art. These cultural sensations and ideas don’t have a strict relationship with the realist one but, nonetheless, they bleed over, coloring our perceptions of the actual object before us.
It is impossible for someone born after the middle of the 20th century to imagine space without instantly conjuring such colors (the blue of ion engines for example) or sounds (the thrum of departure, the whirr of generators, the humming of shields). Thus, when 65daysofstatic were asked to write a soundtrack to space, their task was to tap into this collective (that is, collective in western culture), cultural object and bring forth those sounds into a fully realized, evocative and yet approachable canvas. This would be the backdrop to none other than No Man’s Sky, one of the most anticipated games of the year. This anticipation stems from none other than that same cultural object we had mentioned before: the game garners such an emotional response because it taps into the cultural expectation that our society has from space. Bright, sharp, expansive, endless, dangerous and lucrative, a soundtrack to such a cultural object must be varied and unique. And so it is.
65daysofstatic have long been known for their transition from their earlier, louder days into the lush soundscapes of electronica. Wild Light, their previous release, completed this journey, with its rich, velvety textures and broad perspective. Music for an Infinite Universe doubles down on that sound and expands it far beyond past boundaries. You see, it’s made up of two albums. The first is a more standard release, made up of a traditional and immediately recognizable sound structure. On this part of the release, sweet pianos meld with harsher drums, while massive synths make up the main lines and emotions. “Supermoon” is a good example of that, also used extensively in the game trailers. Listen for the faint guitar line which holds all the wonders of your heart, joined by a classical, post-rock line that uplifts the track into final crescendo.
This first album is also made up of the quieter, more ominous sections which made Wild Light famous. These capture a different kind of wonder. Where “Supermoon” or “Asimov” are the rush of escape, of lift-off, these more brooding tracks are the cold, endless expanses and mighty stars coming over the galactic plane. “Blueprint for a Slow Machine” is the high point of this sound. It’s nothing less than a chilling, vibrant exploration of the atmosphere which synths can create almost by themselves, countless layers dancing, crashing and dying around each other, evoking countless caverns, lunar approaches or plains of stellar ice. In true, post-rock fashion, it also contains an uplifting middle section, shying away from true crescendo but channeling the deep, resounding voices of the beginning through a charged prism.
This sound is also the seed, the nadir from which springs forth the second album of this release. No Man’s Sky isn’t a regular game; an entire galaxy has been procedurally generated within its code, or so its developers have promised. As such, a non-standard soundtrack was required as well; one which would mimic that generation with its own, undulating genesis. The second album, dubbed Soundscapes, are the building blocks of such genesis, the parameters from which the game will create, unfold and bring forth the sounds of space. They were composed with this ceaseless unfolding in mind, aural arms reaching out into a vibrational void. And so, Soundscapes is 65daysofstatic delving into drone, noise and harsh electronica, blending it all into their own, post-rock sound. The result is a complex album which overshadows the excellent, traditional, first release. It contains within it musical moments to last you a life-time, broad reaches of sound through which to explore.
Take “Departure/ Shortwave / Noisetest” as an example. The first movement, “Departure”, is a drone filled wasteland, abrasive humming and searing notes tearing across a desolate, stark place. It brings to mind a ruinous hulk of a ship, decomposing around us as our perspective dives deeper and deeper into its belly, only to find that its engines are still brimming with power. While the exact point of “Departure”‘s end and “Shortwave”‘s beginning is hard to decipher, it is surely somewhere near the middle where the droning shell collapses into a lonely and singular piano line. A voice in the darkness, it shines with bright pulses of sound and warmth. This piano is only brought forth to collapse as well, after an exploration of the different balances and keys contained within it.
“Noisetest”, the final movement on this “track”, is one of the best moments on Soundscapes. It is ushered in abruptly, with a thumping pulse of communication within the darkness which followed it. Like sonar, it calls to us towards some object, some dark gravity well that beckons to our mass. As we fall towards this Great Attractor, our sound and reception begin to decay. The thumps are followed by screeching static, enveloping us in its decrepit husk. This ushers along near the end, where everything suddenly turns sharp, as if we’re in a galactic eye of the storm. The beat from the original thumps are maintained, but synths skitter across their millstones, signalling an end, a death and a cessation.
All of this is a relationship repeated numerous times across the release. The notes contained within Soundscapes and their complex interdependence is the building stones of Music for an Infinite Universe. From it, will be constructed the sounds of space but the raw, primordial ooze from which it will be spawned holds a magic of its own. It holds a special significance for 65daysofstatic as well: it is as if the band’s history has come to roost, finally returning upon the serpent whose girth has always circumscribed their career. Where electronica was before a marker, a delineation of their sound, it is now found to be a pulsing, powerful core. Soundscapes is both the engine and the fuel that 65daysofstatic have been burning in their recent releases and now, face to face with its nascent, primal form, we are met with its full potential. Like the proverbial microcosm, a model for the universe at large, it contains the things our mind burns with when we think of space: wild adventure, hope, defeat, age, death, time, decay and promise. It is a cultural object, distilled, and for that it is a masterpiece that, with time, might surpass the game for which it was created.