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A Simple Refrain Full Review

A Simple Refrain Review

 

Hi there folks, today we have the long awaited full track-by-track review of Robert Holmes and Roger Hooper’s magical collaboration that is indeed a refrain, but anything but simple. Since this review is quite extensive and in-depth, Rudy from Sierra Chest will help out and he will be discussing the “Sierra” tracks on the album. Whereas myself, being a fan of Gray Matter and on the development team for Moebius: Empire Rising, will cover those tracks respectively. Without further delay, let us dive right into the world and mind of Robert Holmes.

Grandma Knight

Rudy:
I like this tune very much in the original Gabriel Knight 1. It gives a sense of warmth and love, both of Grandma Knight herself and the love Gabriel has for her, being raised by her. At the same time it also gives a feeling of nostalgic sadness, possibly by the fact that the Knight family has suffered so much tragedy in the past. The best part of the song is the moment where this feeling of sadness is contradicted at the interlude about halfway into the song, offering contrast to the rest of the tune and giving a sentiment of hope. Great composition overall. The 20th Anniversary remake song is quite similar, with the main difference being that acoustic guitar chords accompany the piano. The Simple Refrain song sounds even sadder, probably because it is on solo piano, but also that contradicting interlude isn’t as present as it is in the game version.

Branden:
I love the Simple Refrain version of this track the best because it is so deep and raw. Putting the game to one side, you can certainly feel the pain behind each keystroke. I believe there is some inner pain that comes out in this piece which Roger understands and translates beautifully, and having the track be solo piano as Rudy said makes it all the more powerful.

 

Compare:

Original:
Listen
20th Anniversary:
Listen 

GK3 Main Theme

Rudy:
As far as I’m concerned, the GK3 Main theme sounds like a song that could have been composed by Vangelis – synthesizer with lead piano. It is also quite repetitive after some minutes into the song to be honest, and doesn’t quite have the same emotional feeling that the other Gabriel Knight themes deliver. The Simple Refrain version, on the other hand, really brings out the beauty of this song, cutting out all the synthesizer stuff, starting slowly, gradually building up all the way to an explosive finale where I could not help but wonder how many extra hands Roger Hooper has to play it on solo piano.

Branden:
I actually somewhat agree with Rudy in regards to this track being over-synthesized originally, and the Simple Refrain version does indeed bring out the song more. I think both versions convey the same message, and for me that message builds upon the Grandma Knight track. It moves from a sense of inner pain and sadness, to a sort of uneasy renewed hope that feels bittersweet, as if to say, “Where will these crossroads lead me? What is my next journey?” It feels much like a “Dust in the Wind“ type of track. I should also note that as a main theme, it was meant to have climatic and Hollywood style flare, along with repetition and intensity. But with that need gone and the piece now in its purest form on a Simple Refrain, its already present deep emotions are brought to the forefront.

David

David’s theme is a piece that, much like Robert’s early work, deals with sadness. This track, however, feels darker, more mature, more haunting. It is simplistic, but in its simplistic nature I feel a deep sense of longing and waiting for something that never comes. Like searching for that one missing piece, or leaving the light on and sitting by the phone for that loved one who never comes home. In its simplicity, it weaves a complex wave of emotions that will leave you with tears as it slowly fades, and that final note rings. The piano version has a much more intense and darker tone than the version on the OST, but this is really hard to compare, because unlike the prior tracks in this review it’s one of the few tracks on this album that has vocals in the original.

 

GK2 Epilogue

Rudy:
Ah, the final scene of the Beast Within with Gabriel and Grace overlooking Neuschwanstein from the nearby hang[ing sp?] bridge. Which Sierra fan wouldn’t want to visit that location in real life, stand on the bridge, and say “Gabe and Grace were here”? Except of course they weren’t… ah, the wonders of blue screen. The music itself gives a sentiment of relief that the werewolf case has been solved, but at the same time the player can’t help but feel sad that Von Glower died. Or did he? He does appear again in the Gabriel Knight Temptation novel. The Simple Refrain version is quite similar to the game version, but fleshed out a bit more. I like both versions of the song.

Branden:
This is one of those rare occasions in this Review Series that I completely agree with Rudy. The song resonates and reminds me of sad moments of reflection in the Casper movie soundtrack by James Horner. It’s a song mixed with a sense of peace, but also sadness and reflection. As I go through these songs, I feel like Robert’s true skill and versatility is overshadowed by the pigeon/pit [?] that is game music.

 

Rector’s Antiques

Branden:
This interesting theme. It gives the impression of contentment in loneliness and reminds me of music you might hear in a Sherlock Holmes film, particularly “My Mind Rebels at Stagnation” from 200’s [?] film. Granted, that is done with strings, not a piano, but it’s the same feeling for me. It’s hard to cover Moebius-based tracks because I was directly involved with its development. At any rate, I believe that the story was limited by various technical and artistic issues, so in this case I admittedly feel the soundtrack for Moebius is better than the product itself. Rector’s Antiques is not the best track from the title, that will come later for me, but it does trigger both somber and bittersweet memories of its development. That said, the main character was as likeable as a hangover on the day one becomes of drinking age.

 

Ludwig

Rudy:
I absolutely adore the Ludwig scenes in GK2 with the beautiful costumes and environments, offering flashbacks that support the current events in Bavaria. The music reflects his romantic soul as well as the drama and pain he endures. When you play the game, you can almost feel his loneliness and agony of hiding his terrible faith. And who could forget the scene where Grace sees his reflection in the water of the lake where he drowned? The Ludwig tune seems based on the GK2 main theme by the way (or vice versa), which is one of my all time favorite Sierra songs. And the Ludwig theme is just as beautiful on the solo piano.

Branden:
I believe Ludwig is the most powerful and thought provoking track on the album. To this point, I have stayed away from references to the game directly, as that has been covered by my friend Rudy. But with this track, I have to because you really feel his tortured dark soul. In the end, he was pure evil, but like any other illness it was a slow and painful descent into obsession and pure madness. This track reflects the human side of Ludwig, which he lost many moons ago.

Cairo Slow

Branden:
What a funny name for a track, huh? Very unassuming too. This track translates magnificently on piano. It makes you feel at peace with the world. Though very similar, both being piano based, I prefer the version on A Simple Refrain because it seems brighter to my ear and more passionate. It is one of my favorites for easy listening.

Daedalus Club

Branden:
This track is the perfect melody to convey mystery, magic, and sadness all in one. By the time you hear this one, you are nearly done your journey. A lot has happened to Sam at this point too, so she’s tired and wants answers. The music has a way of subtly telling us that as well. It’s a track that makes me think about life; it’s dark, haunting, but also somber and sad.

Bianca

Branden:
This is a beautiful track. This one stands out to me because I can’t really describe it much other than to say it projects a sense of “great sadness”.

 

Grace’s Theme

Rudy:
You know the theme, but which scene is it played in? Well, I may have missed it somewhere, but I believe it is only played in the scene where Grace has a temper tantrum with Gerde after she’s busted in her room, and that scene is so short that you don’t get to hear the song in its entirety. That’s a shame, really, because it’s a beautiful song. I particularly like the church organ kicking in, giving the song much more strength before returning to its tranquil mood. I wonder if the song would have fitted well in the church of Altotting.

Branden:
At this point, Grace feels love, passion, heartache, and a little embarrassment. As rudy said, it’s a shame we don’t hear more in-game, but in A Simple Refrain we get to hear its full beauty.

Super

Rudy

Super: Super is a theme that doesn’t appear in Gabriel Knight 2. Not sure why it was cut out – would have fitted in nicely for the game’s final credits. I believe Robert Holmes once said the title was based on the band Supertramp (of which drummer Bob Siebenberg composed the Space Quest 3 music), but don’t take my word for it. It must have been a tough call to cut it out of the game, but now we can hear it in all its glory by Roger Hooper.
Super (original non-released version): Listen

Branden

Actually Rudy Robert told me the same thing and it’s a beautiful track and after reviewing some supertramp myself i do hear the influences it is a outstandingly unique track though a combination and seamless weaving of every GK track elements before it i guess that’s why it’s called super huh?

GK1 Main Theme:

Rudy
I was hoping this song or the St. Georges Books Theme would also make it on A Simple Refrain, but I guess the Main theme made more sense as the original was also on the piano. I think to many GK fans, this is Robert Holmes’ signature song, the one that kicked off the entire Gabriel Knight series. From the dark ominous opening with the bells to the fast-paced ending, it’s definitely a classic. On Simple Refrain, I think it is also the only song that is not solo piano as additional sounds are added in towards the end. Still, to me personally the original is unbeatable – must be the nostalgia.
GK1 theme (original) Listen 
GK1 theme (anniversary): Listen 

Branden

The Main theme no matter what version it is is truly amazing it starts  off slowly  then explodes into action kind of like the story itself I have a particular fondness for the version found on the anniversary update as I provided feedback and consultation on that version mix and levels. For a simple refrain though I consider it my favorite and in fact the definitive version of the song feeling more connected more passionate and I think that’s the true key here for a lot of these song’s being forced to rely on basic instrumentation to complement the piano truly brings out the magic in each track

Conclusion

: this album is a must have for music lovers and adventure game fans alike do not hesitate to add it to any collection

Roger Had this to say about working with Robert

Working with Robert was great. I hadn’t played any of the games; wasn’t familiar with them. He sent me info about them and the different characters, and the motivations and life experiences that molded the characters. On most of these I did several versions; he’d talk with me about the atmosphere that needed to be conveyed, the emotions, etc., and the pieces would shape shift and eventually turn into the finished project. This is similar to what I’ve experience scoring film projects (whether 30 seconds long or 90 minutes). The producer has a vision, gives me suggestions, and off we go. Several iterations later we’re done. I’m very pleased with the outcome, and am much happier with the final pieces than where I started. He was gracious throughout; think about it: he’s been living with some of these compositions for over 20 years, knowing their foundations, their emotions. Here I come and start trying things: how about this, how about that? He was very gracious; we had a great time working on it. I was sad to see it end…..”

Looking back on the experience Robert reflects 

“Roger is everything as a pianist and musician I am not. Technically trained and extremely capable as both a player and Composer, he has amazing chops, diverse skills, and a broad awareness of all genre’s of music and their history. I always felt odd giving him notes on piano, as I’m really more of a guitarist. But he was tolerant and patient with my input and requests, and allowed me as a Producer to seek an emotional continuity in all the tracks to create a whole that both carried the best of the past forward and breathed new life and energy into the tunes. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s one of the nicest and most humble folks on the planet. We have worked on several projects together, and I always consider it a pleasure and an honor.”

Purchase the music!

The Album

Sheet Music

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