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Hands-On: Ecco: Songs of Time Music Collection

Genre: Music Developer: Spencer Nilsen Publisher: Sega of America Released: 11/8/06

Hands-On- Ecco Songs of Time Music Collection 1One of the benefits of the Sega CD was the promise of enhanced Genesis games. Using the audio and storage power of the medium, Sega stated that Genesis games would ship with CD quality audio, longer and more levels, video, and other additions to make the $299 add-on worthwhile. Sadly, few games materialized as enhanced Sega CD editions, and the ones which did often trailed the original release by several months. Thankfully, one man made the wait worth it, since while the Sega CD versions of Ecco the Dolphin and Ecco: The Tides of Time did include a handful of additional levels and frivalous video segments, the real draw was the upgraded soundtracks afforded by the Sega CD.

Spencer Nilsen’s orchestrations for Ecco the Dolphin and Ecco: The Tides of Time are absolutely fantastic works, fully deserving of a CD soundtrack release. Ecco: Songs of Time includes 18 selections from both of the Sega CD Ecco titles totaling over an hour’s worth of densely layered and beautifully textured music. While the soundtrack can best be described as “new age,” that title is too misleading as the compositions and instrumentation are far too sinister sounding to be misrepresented as some relaxing aid. Nilsen’s score for the Sega CD Ecco the Dolphin games embodies the mysteries and danger which lay in the game with every note.

For example, The Desert Below begins innocently enough with its light chimes and calming rhythm, only to have the guitar and horn melodies soon enter, adding a sense of urgency. A deep, low rumble is heard, then retreats into the background but never disappearing. Something is wrong, and the panic sets in. Then there are songs such as The Machine, which uses cellos and violins to invoke the dread and ominousness of its namesake level. Every note reverberates in your body; the horns and marching drums carry you through the darkness, sending you off to some horrid fate with its conclusion, no doubt involving some alien monstrosity. Subtitled A Musical Journey Beneath The Waves, Ecco: Songs of Time makes for an incredible listening experience.

It’s fitting that the disc be named Songs of Time since the bulk of selections are picked from The Tides of Time. The first 12 songs on the disc are from the sequel, with the final six pulled from the first game. Since the theme and direction more or less remained the same in both games, the songs mix well together, and there is no sense of separation among the two games’ music. In fact, the CD is mixed such that songs will often flow from one to another, creating a seamless audio experience and enhancing the mood of the disc. The compositions really do feel otherworldly, a testament to Nilsen’s brilliance as a composer of music, being able to match the atmosphere of the game without resorting to typical bland “underwater” music cliches.

Composed entirely at Sega Music Group Studios, Nilsen’s Ecco CD soundtracks make the Genesis score sound just awful in comparison. Though he was part of the Genesis games’ music team, it’s difficult to understand how someone capable of composing such an amazing score for the Sega CD could do so terribly on the Genesis. I can only imagine that the system and/or memory limitations forced him to work in buzzes and static, since the Sega CD songs sport an entirely new and improved instrumentation and arrangement over their Genesis counterparts. It may have been nice to hear arranged versions of the Genesis tracks instead of lifting songs directly from the Sega CD games, but that would do a disservice to what is presented on the disc.

Unfortunately, this could be a problem for some, as other than some minor mixing and blending, the songs available on Songs of Time are no different than those on the Sega CD games. With the Sega CD games’ music being encoded in redbook, that means you can pop in a disc and play the songs in any CD player (skipping the data track, of course). Thus, as remarkable a soundtrack release as Songs of Time is, it would be a redundant purchase for those who already own both Sega CD games. Despite the nice packaging — with a color CD and brief but interesting linear notes from Nilsen — there is nothing new here. In fact, Songs of Time is missing twelve of the Sega CD games’ redbook songs, though a number of those missing pieces are either variations on existing themes are not as interesting as what is showcased here, so it’s no major loss.

Hands-On- Ecco Songs of Time Music Collection 2Nilsen mentions in the linear notes that he had wanted to do a vocal theme for the Ecco soundtrack but was rejected, saying that producer Ed Annunziata “reminded [him] of all the painstaking effort [they] put toward creating and maintaining Ecco’s non-human fantasy world…then vowed to fight [him] to the death if [he] dared breach that sacred pact.” Annunziata wanted Ecco’s world to be devoid of any human influence whatsoever, and Songs of Time illustrates it perfectly with its organic arrangements, tribal rhythms, and unique instrumentation. Coupled with its Q-Sound recording technology (which uses “phantom” audio placement to emerge the listener into the music with enhanced stereo separation), Songs of Time is a perfect complement to Ecco the Dolphin, documenting his extraordinary quests with an epic score. The CD offers listeners a challenging ride through an underwater paradise full of terrible danger and glorious reward for those willing to experience the journey.

Track Listing

1. Abyss
2. Botswana
3. The Desert Below
4. Deception
5. Deep Marjimba
7. St. Gabriel’s Mask
8. Heart of the Giant
9. Trancended
10. Mountains Below
11. Treefish
13. Lonsesome Search
14. Friend or Foe
15. Motione E
16. The Machine
17. Sounding Echo
18. Time Forgotten
Total Time


Rating (out of 5): 

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