Sometimes video game music transcends its original purpose as a soundtrack. A quick glance at the numbers from any music streaming service is a testament to the fact that certain scores haunt players long after they’ve finished a game.
In my case, Nier achieved the opposite. I was fascinated by its soundtrack even before playing the game. I still vividly remember the day a friend recommended it to me and how captivated and intrigued I was from the first listen. I knew all of the songs by heart by the time I finally dived into the game, and I will forever remember the unique experience of finding out where each of these ethereal songs belonged in the universe of Nier. The soundtrack slowly unfolded in front of me, finding its rightful place in the delicate story, landscapes and characters of Nier, like pieces of a puzzle finally coming together to reveal the big picture. A musical treasure hunt.
I am far from being the only one marked forever by this evocative score. Nier’s soundtrack, composed by Keiichi Okabe and sung by Emi Evans, was incredibly well received and collectively hailed.
Perhaps one of its most unique details was the lyrics coined by Emi, aptly named “Chaos Language”, coined to sound as if our modern languages had drifted apart for thousands of years only to become indistinguishable to us. . “The reason we went with this mysterious invented language is that we felt that as game music, having lyrics that you can recognize and understand might distract you from the gameplay,” explained Yoko Taro, the director. of the game, when I met him in 2017 before the launch of the sequel to Nier, Nier: Automata. “We wanted something that could really serve as background music. If you don’t know what these mysterious words mean, you can’t get left behind. “
For Emi, it was the opportunity to try something completely new. “I have always been fascinated by languages, so it was a very interesting task for me and I welcomed the new challenge.” she wrote in response to a few questions that I had the opportunity to email her. With the new and improved version of Nier Replicant, due out early next year on PS4, it was the perfect time to revisit that soundtrack and her work as a singer and lyricist on this unique project. “Since it was the first time that I created an invented language, I didn’t have a system in place. So for my first attempt, I simply mashed up sounds from every language I had ever experienced. The result was the lyrics for “Song of the Ancients”.
“I was shown a short excerpt from Devola and Popola and told that this must be their theme. It was the very first piece I recorded for Nier and my first attempt to create an invented language. There is German, Hungarian, Welsh, Japanese, French and Latin, plus a few more sounds that I invented myself!
Song of the Elders – Devola
“I was happy with what I wrote, but quickly realized that just mixing random sounds together would give similar results every time. In order to produce different lyrics and characters for each song, I would have to find a new method.
“I shared my concerns and believe it was Okabe-san who had the wonderful idea of basing each song on a real existing language, imagining what it might sound like thousands of years into the future.
Excluding “Song of the Ancients”, the rest of the Nier Gestalt / Replicant soundtrack would be inspired by unique existing languages, bringing a unique feel and flair to each track. Emi started working on the lyrics to every song she sang on the soundtrack, researching each language extensively.
“For starters, if I haven’t already been educated, I decide on a language. Usually I listen to music and then after getting the feel of the song I look for a language that I think would work well. For example, for one song I might think that a soft, smooth sounding language would be fine, for another song I might want to use a harsher sounding language with lots of throaty sounds and harsh consonants. Occasionally I’ll mix two languages together, but it’s usually just one. Once the language is chosen, I then go to YouTube and immerse myself in pronunciation lessons and performances in that language, trying to identify and imitate particular sounds that seem characteristic.
“I write down what I can hear and maybe I collect a page full of the sounds my ears have chosen. Then I piece together everything at random, tweaking the sounds slightly and changing the letters here and there, so that everything matches the melody in a way that I like most phonetically. Then I sing them over and over again, adjusting and adjusting them until they feel really comfortable and natural coming out of my mouth. Then I go back to YouTube and check my pronunciation!
“Since I’m not a native speaker of these languages, it’s hard for me to imagine how they might sound to a native ear, but from the comments I see online, people seem to recognize many of my nicknames. languages, so I must do something right!
Fascinated by the process, I asked Emi to describe her inspirations for a few select pieces from the soundtrack which I think are an amazing demonstration of her voice and linguistic work:
“Okabe-san asked me to base ‘grandmother’ on French. He told me that this song would play while fighting a super strong boss that would weaken you by bringing back your most painful memories. So, as I sang, I sadly opened the back of my throat and gently cried the beautiful high notes. Hearing my voice read on “Grandma” for the first time was one of my most memorable moments in the studio for Nier Replicant. I had just received the track the day before and, as I still didn’t know it, I couldn’t imagine how it was going to turn out. Yet, in a very short time, the song kind of turned into a beautiful, sad track that gave me goosebumps!
The wretched automatons
“’The Wretched Automatons’ was fun and the easiest of all, as I was asked to base it on my own native language, English. I just chained all my favorite sound words together, then edited them to make sure they didn’t make sense, then tried to pronounce them in a “cool” way. I was told it would be used on a large heap of metal scrap where robots would attack you, but the arrangement [at the time] was very simple, without any of the percussion sounds. I had the biggest surprise when the OST came out and I couldn’t believe how much this song had transformed!
“’Kainé’ asked me to base myself on Gaelic. I really enjoyed researching this language and found that something about the vowel and “r” sounds made it look pretty attitude. So later when I was told that the character of Kainé was rather unrefined, but beautiful, I thought the lyrics fit perfectly. “Kainé” is the song that seems to make fans cry the most, especially when I play it live, but for me it will always be an uplifting song full of tenderness and power.
Regardless of the original language that inspired each song, the lyrics Emi coined made the soundtrack feel that much more ethereal. “For Nier,” Chaos Language “certainly worked extremely well in conveying a sense of sadness, hopelessness, peace and mystery, but for other projects I have found that it works just as well for songs full of ‘hopeful and uplifting – even songs that are sweet and joyful. “
“What I’ve learned about using invented languages is that, since they don’t make sense, they completely allow the listener’s imagination to make their own emotional interpretation of the song. I think the potential to evoke deep and personal emotions is much greater than using lyrics with real meaning. Singing in “Chaos Language” allows me to express myself so honestly just using my tone of voice, without feeling like the words are limiting or hindering me. So maybe the catharsis I feel while singing also communicates to the listener in a unique and positive way.
“Recording every song for Nier Replicant and singing in ‘Chaos language’ for the first time, I remember feeling so excited and fascinated to hear every song blossom in the studio. On paper my lyrics were just a series of insignificant sounds chained together, but once I started singing them and layering the pieces together, those lyrics suddenly came to life and took on a meaning and personality that are their own. Hearing every string of lyrics turn like this, almost out of my control, was such a pleasure for me.
Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139…, the remake of the original, will be released in April 2021 with newly recorded versions of the songs from the soundtrack. When I asked Emi how she felt about looking back on this project a decade later, she wrote:
“When I first recorded it was with a lot of uncertainty because I didn’t know how my made-up lyrics or even my voice would be received by the players. Plus, the tight deadlines meant that sometimes I didn’t hear the tracks until the day before the scheduled recording, so I had to familiarize myself with them and write the lyrics overnight. I remember falling asleep in the studio a lot of times and worrying if what I came up with would be good enough.
“So being able to re-record all of these songs, which are so dear to me, confidently through the love the fans have shown over the years, has been such a dream come true. I don’t think my voice has changed much in the last ten years, or the way I’ve played, but this time around I felt such gratitude and love recording every song. Hope this brings some extra depth to the music that fans can feel too! “
Want to know more about Emi’s career and creative process as well as his work on Nier Gestalt / Replicant, Nier: Automata and the upcoming Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139…? Listen to the interview on the official PlayStation podcast.
Did you like the tracks selected above? You might also be interested in the Nier: Theatrical Orchestra 12020. This Blu-ray release features full orchestral performances of select tracks from Nier Gestalt / Replicant and Nier: Automata, performed at the Tokyo International Forum in Japan last March. Learn more here*.
* For local availability of Nier: Theatrical Orchestra 12020, please visit the Square Enix store.