Myst & Riven

The music for each game in the Myst series has fallen to various composers. Originally, the Millers believed that any music or sound besides ambient noise would distract the player from the game and ruin the sense of reality; Myst, therefore, was to have no music at all. A sound test eventually persuaded the developers that music heightened the sense of immersion rather than lessening it. Using a plug-in synthesizer and his Macintosh Quadra, Robyn Miller composed 40 minutes of some of the most easily-recognized music in video gaming history. He would also produce the music for Riven. For this game, Robyn created three leitmotifs – one each for Gehn, Catherine, and Atrus. The music of Riven has a rich, mysterious, and tribal sound that incorporates bits and pieces of Gehn’s motif, to reflect the influence he held over Riven. To make this unique sound, Robyn blended synthesizer and real instruments, including some very interesting percussion features. Rather than compose the pieces before seeing the ages and areas of the game, Robyn allowed the game areas to dictate the sound of the music. All in all, there are 54 minutes of music in Riven.

For Myst III: Exile and Myst IV: Revelation, composer Jack Wall created the music, developing a more active musical style different from Miller’s ambient themes. Wall looked at the increasing complexity of games as an opportunity to give players a soundtrack with as much force as a movie score, and tried to create a distinctive sound that was still recognizable as Myst music. In Revelation, Wall adapted the themes for the recurring characters of Myst, and collaborated with Peter Gabriel, who provided a song to the game as well as voicework.

The audio for the game was another difficult task. The worlds of Myst were obviously not real places, but each age had to sound real or else the player wouldn’t be drawn into the game. The Miller brothers, along with Chris Brandekamp, a friend of theirs, began their search for sounds, and found them in some very unlikely places. Because some real-life things didn’t sound real, the team had to find different options – for example, the sound of fire in a boiler was created by driving over the gravel in the Miller brothers’ driveway. The sound of a large clock chime was made by striking a wrench and transposing the resulting ring to a lower pitch. Even the sound of bubbling water wasn’t left out – it was made by sticking a large tube into a toilet and blowing into it!


About Dana Starrh

In the Interactive Audio program at Ex'pression School for Digital Arts.
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