“I’m so sorry, Red. They took your voice. I couldn’t stop them.”
Step into the shoes of Red, a displaced chanteuse from Cloudbank—the iridescent cyberpunk metropolis in which Transistor takes place. The city is beautifully reminiscent of an art deco space station, a blue-green paradise that glows primarily with accents of white, red, and orange. But despite its magnificence, there is darkness at work in Cloudbank. Something is happening to its citizens, and something terrible has already happened to Red. Her voice has been taken, but she is determined to get to the bottom of things. Thankfully, she has Transistor, the massive glowing sword she carries and uses to fight enemies. Transistor’s soothing voice talks the voiceless Red through the game, helping to piece together the overall narrative. The game would most certainly be lacking without him, particularly given his relationship with the protagonist. He has a technical and sentimental role in the construction of the narrative, and so his presence is integral.
However the game would also be lacking if not for the music and the role it plays in the structure of the narrative. Like Transistor, music’s thematic role becomes a technical one in developing the mood of the game and in helping to construct the mystery of Cloudbank. The soundtrack consists of 23 tracks of instrumental and vocal works, though some songs are also wordless. These last are haunting, featuring only five vocals in various formats. The singer (presumably Red) hums and calls these wordless melodies alongside lightly cyber-fied electronic scores. The wordlessness is symbolic of recent events, while the tonality seems to articulate Red’s fall from grace and her desolation in the face of tyranny. Despite this, the vocals retain a certain power that emphasizes Red’s determination and inner strength.
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The moods of tracks are eclectic, combining both low and high-fi processes throughout the composition of layers which include electronically-generated and recorded material. There are elements of light and dark in every song, so that one gets a sense of Red’s current predicament in contrast to her previous role. In instrumental songs, elements are intensified either one way or another, giving a track a whimsical edge in relation to the past, or darkening the composition to signify the danger at hand. In songs where Red does sing with lyrics, music’s role as a vehicle for emotion is again revealed. The bonus track “She Shines” personifies Cloudbank, painting the city as a beautiful but watchful maiden and hinting at the control she has over her own residents. Conversely, Red illustrates the genesis of her disillusionment through the cool and fluid structure of “The Spine,” singing, “Just skin and bones, nothing inside… I see the spine of the world.” In “Paper Boats”, Red illustrates her determination by masking it in terms of a love song: “I will always find you, like it’s written in the stars… you can run but you can’t hide. Try.”
It is evident that Red’s power remains despite her inability to speak, and that the Transistor soundtrack has been designed specifically to illustrate this fact. Music serves its purpose eclectically and beautifully, emphasizing emotion inherent in the overall narrative and making the play-experience even more worthwhile. It is certain that Transistor would not be the same without the work of Darren Korb and the vocals of Ashley Barrett. The soundtrack is available to purchase in full on Steam, Supergiant Games, and Bandcamp.