Composed by
Garry Schyman


Published by
Take2 Games (2007)


1) BioShock Main Theme (The Ocean on His Shoulders)
2) Welcome to Rapture
3) Dr. Steinman
4) The Docks
5) The Dash
6) Step Into My Gardens
7) Dancers on a String
8) Cohen's Masterpiece
9) The Engine City
10) Empty Houses
11) This Is Where They Sleep
12) All Spliced Up


- Game website
- Composer website


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Review by
Oliver Ittensohn


The underwater city of Rapture lies in ruins. Built in the 1950s by a multimillionaire, it was supposed to be the first real utopia. ‘No Gods or Kings. Only Man’ stands written on the banner that hangs above the city’s entrance. Yet, ten years later it’s no more than a phantom city haunted by monsters and fallen into decay. The player, just having survived a plane crash over the Atlantic Ocean is Rapture’s first visitor ever since its mysterious downfall. It’s up to him to uncover the story of the city and its people, and to unravel a hidden secret buried deep below the sea. Such is the fictional setting of BioShock, an action adventure game released by developer Irrational Games. Both video game enthusiast in general and fans of the genre in particular were amazed by BioShock’s intense atmosphere, intriguing storyline and intricate gameplay mechanics.

The musical underscore for BioShock basically splits into two distinct components. First, there is the source music: popular songs from the 1950s strewn throughout the game to capture the sound of its specific period. Secondly, there’s a full-fledged orchestral score composed by Garry Schyman and released by publisher Take2 Games for free download. Schyman’s original score is the definite highlight of BioShock’s soundscape. It’s apparent from the beginning that he had spent a lot of time finding a unique musical expression for the game. What he eventually came up with is an incredibly intriguing and sophisticated sound canvas.

The first cue on the album entitled “BioShock Main Theme (The Ocean on His Shoulders)” presents in a nutshell the two ingredients that make up Schyman’s approach. It opens up with an orchestral cluster. To get the eerie feel of the game right, Schyman used a compositional technique that actually emerged out of the mid 20th Century called ‘aleatoric’. What it means is that he would define pitch material, duration and playing style, but the performers were not required to synchronize their performances within those parameters. The result is a very random, unpredictable and uneasy musical tone. This state of uneasiness in the first couple of seconds of the cue is soon overtaken by a very solemn, string-led melody. This thematic motif seems to focus on the tragedy of the city itself. Schyman also made extensive use of solo violin and cello to convey profound sadness. These two compositional and stylistic elements are further explored in the rest of the score. Both “Welcome to Rapture” and “Dancers on a String” work with string arrangements and evoke the same sense of mysterious drama as for example in James Newton Howard’s The Village. The most beautiful cue on the album is undoubtedly “Empty Houses” with its emotional orchestrations. The game’s scary moments take some interesting turns, too. “The Docks” is the most engaging experiment in this respect. On the backdrop of a seamen tune, Schyman lays dissonant harmonies and uneven instrumentation to distort the upbeat melody into an uncanny piece. “All Spliced Up” finally is a fast-paced, all-out action cue with driving percussion and snaring brass eruptions. There remains one absolute highlight to mention: “Cohen’s Masterpiece”. It’s composed by Schyman, but used as source music in the game when the player witnesses a recorded transmission of a composer performing his piano concerto in the underwater city. The cue is written in the orchestral style of the 20th Century (Rachmaninoff comes to mind) and not only fits the atmosphere of the scene perfectly, but is a true gem to listen to on the album as well. It’s these inventive ideas, the stylistic focus and the engaging overall compositional quality that make BioShock stand out.

The score has two disadvantages, though. First of all, the cues on the album are rather short. Indeed, most of them run no longer than one minute. Whether this was a requirement of the developers or a flaw of publisher Take2 Games’ soundtrack release remains up for debate. Nevertheless, longer cues are sorely missed especially in regards to development of thematic ideas. Secondly, the score demands attention from its listeners. To get the full potential out of BioShock’s music, you’ll have to listen attentively, transport yourself into the underworld of Rapture and engage in the unique atmosphere of the score. Otherwise, you won’t get much out of it.

Nonetheless, Schyman has written a truly masterful score. Even though it has its best and most immediate impact in the game itself, it’s a rewarding and fascinating listen for all those who are willing to dive deep into the ocean and discover a lost city in its depths.