NMC Guest Playlist #6: Jessica Curry

22nd April 2022

Playlists NMC Recordings

In the sixth instalment of our Guest Playlist series we're delighted to share a playlist curated by composer and presenter Jessica Curry. Jessica is a BAFTA-winning, Ivor Novello-nominated composer of contemporary classical music and is also co-founder of renowned games company The Chinese Room. She has composed the critically-acclaimed scores for games including Google Daydream game So Let Us Melt, and the PS4 title Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.

Jessica also composed She Who, one of the pieces being performed at the New Music Biennial Festival this year. You can download She Who, along with nine other tracks as part of a discount bundle. Read Jessica's thoughts about her selections below.

I’m so pleased to have been asked to curate a playlist for NMC as it’s given me the most wonderful opportunity for a highly pleasurable trawl through some of my most beloved music. These are pieces that have seen me through the best and worst of times and that have inspired me as a composer throughout the years.  

I’m a games composer and people often have a very fixed idea as to that music will sound like. But music for video games, like the games themselves, comes in all shapes and sizes - from intimate, exquisite chamber music to retro synth heaven. There’s 8 bit chiptune, jazz, electronica and epic symphonic music played by some of the finest orchestras around the world. What unites them is the adoration and respect that people who play games have for these soundtracks. Games franchises have often been going for decades and individual games can be 80 or 90 hours long.  That’s a lot of time and a lot of commitment from players. As a result they are some of the most dedicated and loyal fans- I get letters, emails and fan art every day from around the world and it’s joyous. I’ve included just a small variety of games music here so you can dip your toes into this rich and diverse world.

It strikes me that much of this music was introduced to me by friends, colleagues and family and that makes it all the more precious; because music that you love absolutely should be shared and passed on and gifted. The pieces are linked by lush, often dreamy production, their ties to visual media and heartfelt but hopeful melancholy.

1. Lena Raine: First Steps
One of the most loved game scores of 2018 was for Indie breakout hit Celeste and I think this track is the bees knees. Lena manages to balance a really skilful mix of nostalgia with entirely her own take stylistically and she always produces a satisfying, warm bath of sound. 

2. Louis Andriessen: M is for Man, Music, Mozart: The Eisenstein Song 
The films of Peter Greenaway are the reason I became a composer and so all of his films will always be very close to my heart. When I was studying Screen Music at the National Film and Television School a tutor played me De Staat by Louis Andriessen and his work has inspired me hugely ever since.

3. Barry Guy: After the Rain: II. Chorale
This would make a fantastic piece for a game. It’s lush, dramatic and has a big heart.  Action adventure gamers love a huge, romantic orchestral theme and I can see this going down so well in the end scene of a space opera or narrative epic like The Last of Us. I love the dissonance that's nestled in between the thick, warm strings.

4. Steven Wilson: Stoneage Dinosaurs
I’ve never made a playlist that doesn’t include Cardiacs and it never will.  If I could only listen to one band again in my life it would be them. This tender, sensitive cover sums up the heartbreak of Tim Smith’s tragic illness and subsequent death. Dear Timmy: gone far too soon and he will never be forgotten. 

5. Arvo Pärt: My Heart’s in the Highlands
I recently watched The Great Beauty and this sublime piece stopped me in my tracks. Like many others I lost very close family members under awful circumstances in the Pandemic and this music struck me deeply in the solar plexus- it held my confusion and grief like no other music could.

6. Stew and the Negro Problem: Klown Wit da Nuclear Code
I’m very political and have seen a lot but I don’t think I’ve ever been so furious and bewildered as I have in the last years. I first came across this track whilst devouring the TV remake of Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It. The music is accompanied by still images and footage of the disbelief, fear and shock of Trump’s presidency. I gulped huge tears when I saw it but it also made me feel less alone.  One of music’s most valuable and profound functions is that is helps us find our people and that’s what this track did for me.

7. Nanci Griffith: From a Distance
Nanci Griffith – what a voice. And those lyrics: “From a distance you look like my friend, even though we are at war. From a distance, I can’t comprehend what all this war is for.” Thoughts and strength are with everyone who is involved in conflict right now- I simply can’t imagine what it must be like. This song makes me believe in the possibility of peace and gives me much-needed hope in very dark times. Nanci died last year and she is much missed.

8. Berlinist: Gris Pt 1
I do love a dreamy track that builds into epic massiveness and this piece for the game Gris is one of my favourites. It’s a brilliant score and they are lovely people too.

9. Tarik O’Regan: Variations for Judith: Var 3, Diomedes
Even though this piece isn’t written for visual media, O’Regan’s emotive, subtle pieces always conjure up pictures and journeys in my mind and Diomedes is no exception. His music always makes me feel a bit bruised, but in a good way. It always captures something delicate and profound for me about what it is to be human.

10. Takeshi Furukawa: End Titles: The Last Guardian Suite
Speaking of tracks that build and build until your you think your heart is going to burst, this is one of my all-time favourite game cues.  It’s beautifully orchestrated and it’s a ridiculously, unapologetically romantic theme, calling on classical and filmic traditions to create a gorgeous, soaring piece of music. It’s what games are good at: you are the hero of your own story and this piece is huge, magical and simply glorious.  

11. Jocelyn Pook: Masked Ball from Eyes Wide Shut
I love this piece of music so much and it has been very influential on my own work.  Technically it’s incredibly clever but it also packs a massive emotional punch.  It takes what is quite a campy bordering on grand guignol scene in the film and the atmosphere of voluptuous tension and grandeur that Pook evokes elevates it to another level.

12. Bryce Dessner, James McAlister, Nico Muhly and Sufjan Stevens: Neptune
This song has helped me get through the last two years.  Its immersive nostalgia, soulful piano and breathy vocal is all Curry Catnip. I needed gentleness and this song offers it up in spades. Music can really save you - isn’t that such a gift?

13. Michael Giacchino: Arnhem 
Such a moving piece of music and a wonderfully tender vocal performance – it’s sung in Dutch and translates as “Oh my Arnhem, my home Arnhem, hold out Arnhem, hold out, sing loud, sing proud”. Games often get a bad rap but for me this piece captures the essence of a real historical conflict in a very respectful way and shows that games can tackle real world conflict with sensitivity. 

14.  Jessica Curry: Standing Stones for Dear Esther
My first ever game score - released 10 years ago - and it began my career in the games industry.  Within the year my husband and I would be running the BAFTA winning studio The Chinese Room and our lives were unrecognisable from what we’d known before. This score will always hold a special place in my heart as a result.

15. Michael Nyman: On the Fiddle (Version for Violin and Piano) I. Full Fathom Five from Prospero’s Books
The film that changed my life. I’d never seen or heard anything like it and it was an instant love affair. Beautiful fiddle playing in this version by Madelaine Mitchell. I can’t say a big enough thank you to the French exchange students who dragged me along to the Curzon on a rainy Sunday and altered the trajectory of my life forever.

16. Gareth Coker: Ori, Lost In the Storm 
You’re probably not going to find a more banging theme in games music that Gareth’s triumphant call written for Ori and The Blind Forest. Sung by Aeralie Brighton it’s epic, wistful and rousing. Games music is rightly taking its place on the world stage and it’s such an exciting time to be writing for the medium.

17. Sarah Schachner: Legion of Dawn
Epic games music from Sarah and stunning vocoder use. This one is pure sonic pleasure, the kind that you feel in your toes, in the tummy then right up to the top of your head. Blissful.

18. Claude Debussy: Beau Soir L.6
I didn’t know this piece until I heard it on Master of None on Netflix.  I was instantly transfixed.  Jessye Norman’s voice is like an intoxicating siren’s call. I first discovered Debussy as a teenager and this music takes me back to a heady time of magical daydreaming. The past is a different country, they do things differently there…

19. Evelyn Ficarra: Isle (remix) 
I didn’t even know what sound art was until Evelyn came to do a talk at the (then) testosterone soaked film school where I was studying.  She blew my mind and expanded my horizons. Soundscapes play an integral part in my  compositions to this day and my meeting her that day fundamentally changed the course of my music.  A true and long-lasting inspiration.

20. Ryuichi Sakamoto: End from Beckett This cue from film Beckett is so sensitively written and performed. I never fail to be emotionally affected by Sakamoto’s music and this piece speaks to me on a very deep level. There’s something about those high strings set against the warm depth of those low register chords that just completely fells me and brings me to my knees. Some music makes you feel glad to be alive, even though it’s so heartbreakingly sad and this is one of those pieces.

NMC's Guest Playlist series features a broad range of curators who we invite to share their all-time favourite music, with selectors ranging from musicians to artists to presenters to critics and beyond, you can always be sure of an interesting and eclectic mix.

Check out Guest Playlist #5: Rakhi Singh

Buy Jessica's piece 'She Who' and other New Music Biennial tracks

NMC's Discover platform is created in partnership with  ISM Trust.

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