Category Archives: Gustavo Santaolalla

When the father hen calls his chickens home


Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us was one of the milestones in 20JFG travails through the lands of fiction last year, and proof of how history and gameplay can come together in a video game to immerse you fully in the lives of others – in this case, worn-out smuggler Joel and teenager Ellie cruising the ruins of America after the apocalypse. It wouldn’t have been the same without the outstanding soundtrack by Gustavo Santaolalla, whose compositions for the game were beautifully organic and grim, like flowers sprouting from the mulch of decomposed bodies, perhaps your friends, perhaps your family?

The part where he is featured in the bonus documentary for The Last Of Us, ‘Grounded’, showed Gustavo building makeshift instruments for the soundtrack, which fit with one of the core activities in the game – scavenging for supplies with which to patch your wounds, and shank the cannibals and infected out to get you. Which makes sense, for the music didn’t just feel as it had been made in the world it was conveying, if felt as if it was an important tool to help you survive in it, by providing the rhythm for a massacre, and the poetry for a process of beautiful decay.

In ‘Left Behind’, the downloadable content that finishes the Last Of Us story released a few weeks back, the emotional intensity is ratcheted even further as Ellie flashes back to her exploration of an abandoned shopping mall with her friend Riley.

The soundtrack is, once again, by Gustavo Santalaolla, and it is as amazing as what he produced for the first game. Just check Fleeting, which gets under your skin like a John Carpenter theme tune with the emotional tonalities flipped about– green instead of grey, intimacy instead of alienation, a glockenspiel delicate like an Ennio Morricone music-box standing in for synthesisers that have gone mute, in a world where the power has gone out.

Gustavo Santaolalla – Fleeting

You can get the soundtrack here, but only if you live in the US (WTF).


The 12 songs in Novi Svet’s retrospective Doce, cover 12 years.

But in what sense?

12 years in terms of the time over which they were produced? [This is true, bit only part of the story]

Or in the sense of erosion, abrasion, despair and enlightenment that they convey? Snakes shed their skin several times each year, what about humans?

Perhaps it is in the weird warp they open around you, as if you had taken a wrong turn in a road-trip and entered a barren province our of whack with reality, a place where the rules of physics have been replaced with the relativism of surrealists, where emotions melt and stretch like the shadows of a gothic architecture, a nation where the apocalypse happened but no-one noticed, que siga la fiesta.

Think of the premises of a Philip K. Dick short story, implemented in the language of Lynch, spoken in the Spanish of Jodorowsky, which is the patois of super-humans.

12 years? 12 minutes? It depends on where you set off your stopwatch, here or within the dream.

Novy Svet – Punished with Longing

Get Doce from Kill Shaman.

Songs for a dying Earth


The Last of Us is a majestic accomplishment for many reasons. Arching over them is the seamless coming together of history, setting, mood and gameplay.

The game is about surviving in a world wacked out of civilisation by a fungal plague that turns people into mindless, bloodthirsty, craggy excrescence-matted creatures. This leads to societal collapse and anarchy, and authoritarianism, and cultism, and cannibalism. You are Joel, a smuggler going through this collapsed America with teenager Ellie.

It isn’t pretty, but it also is pretty, and that contradiction is captured (and reinforced) across all elements of the game, including the awesome soundtrack by Gustavo Santaolalla, who also worked on Los Amores Perros, 21 Grams, The Motorcyle Diaries and Brokeback Mountain.

We celebrate all of this today.

Why isn’t it pretty? Because surviving in a world defined by a zero-sum situation will never be pretty, or moral. To do it, you have to be willing to become something worse, more cruel and vicious than the other. And you do, and you get to see the consequences. The lizard brain coils and blood splatters the walls.

The gameplay (if you play it in hard, as it is meant to) is all about improvisation and ingenuity, inspired by the action scenes in No Country for Old Men.  Managing resources, scrounging for supplies and ammunition, lurking while you magic a shiv out of gaffer-tape and a handful of scissors, lurking in a sea of shadows where there be sharks, perhaps you become the shark. Santaolalla’s music has a similar hand-tooled feel, as if it had been put together with instruments made of wood stripped from houses where families used to live, and carried inside it their memories, those psychic barnacles with which the human survivors of this world mirror the awful infected.

And why is it pretty? It is pretty precisely because, as a zero sum game being played in an entropic universe,  it converges on an abandonment of the world by the human species, a leaving of the world to its own non-devices, which are forests cracking through urban concrete, toppling skyscrapers like desecrated churches from an abandoned religion, an explosion of green, a smoothing of angles, a filling of corners with water, soil, bones, a world smogless upon which the sun shines with a new clarity, a world with colours that didn’t exist before – slate-colored dawnlight, rosy crepuscule, [or] overcast white tinged with lemon.

As is often the case with the post-apocalyptic and zombie genres, the survivors are ultimately shown to be the source of evil because they have a choice, perhaps it’s all for the best that their days here are counted, these are the last of them, they leave the stage with a tinge of shame at having blemished the world, also great loneliness, and a final moment of awe at the beauty they leave behind.

All of these feelings are there, in the music, and this is the reason we celebrate it today. And partly why, in spite of everything that has happened, everything that we have done, all the blood that we have spilt, we push forward, because this music is beautiful, and without us, it also dies, in silence.

Gustavo Santaolalla – The Quarantine Zone (20 Years Later)

You can purchase the soundtrack for the Last of Us from iTunes.


III Professor’s (Zelienople’s Brian Harding) Wire and Air overlaps with the above in so ways such that to pass the occasion to incorporate it into this post would have been a sin.

The hand-tooled feel is there, which in part means the imperfections created by the subtle mistranslation of synaptic messages into muscular action, upon wire, through air, and into us.

Also a mood of stasis – and ecstasy, perhaps preceded by apocalypse and bloodshed. This is reflected in the creative process behind Wire and Air, wonderfully summarised in the press release that accompanied it (paraphrasing), ‘a stripping away of everything that is not essential for the song to exist’, which we understand as an evolutionary journey where the accessory is eroded away up to the limit where it feels like these songs could exist without us listeners, like the lullabies that the mountains may well hum to each other after we are gone. Perhaps, we will never be know.

III Professor – Slate line

Go and get Wire and Air from Constellation Tatsu.

Last For Us


You step into a world collapsed. It is as if you were the only thing mobile in the still nature of this city possessed by tendrils of green, sunk under surfaces of water that reflect a clear sky.  It is also as if, allowed to take its time in the canvass of this world in stasis, reality had managed to invent some new colours for you to get lost on. Gradients of fungal grunge in the skin of collapsed skyscrapers, dusk playing a frantic platformer over labyrinths of glass.

There is no-one home, home is so beautiful.

Gustavo Santalaolla – The Quarantine Zone (20 Years Later)

But stasis is an artefact of your senses maladapted to a world marching at a different pace. A pace where the blades of glass trembling, a beetle conquering a hill, the slide of the sun past a murder of loitering clouds, the metronome of water dripping, and the far-away caw of a nameless bird are epoch-defining events, waves of an earthquake that opens rifts into the mantle of epiphanies.

Your heartbeat dissolves into a drone.

Blanck Mass – Chernobyl

When you awake it is night. It is cold. You are alone. You realise that everyone you love is dead.

Every single individual gesture of every single person who ever cared for you accretes into a mound of insurmountable sadness. You know you are walking over the mulch of their bodies after they were hunted by a killer virus escaped from a biotech lab or an evolutionary dead-end. After they were murdered during the chaos following whichever flavour of apocalypse created this world where you now grieve.

Ben Crossbones – Everybody I Love Is Dead

Or maybe you aren’t alone. And maybe being alone wasn’t such a bad thing. Isn’t the ground where you had collapsed a pyramid of  skulls prised open?

First one, then another, then many lights flicker palely in the darkness like evil fireflies. A covenant of witches atop every decayed ruin. Humming of the hymn of a new republic fuelled by extreme violence. You hear a band marching over the rubble to your left, you hide under the skeleton of an office den, and hold your breath.

For a moment you entertain the idea of announcing yourself to them, but then they walk inside the white moonlight.

They look in your direction with blank headhunting eyes, rotting teeth grimace through poorly stitched gashes in emaciated cheeks, everything about them is serrated, implies fine gradations of depravity and pain.

You gasp, they head towards you.

German Army – Communion Arm

You spell yourself into nothingness with Dutch’s Bane, and scamper away.

Ahead of you, two houses.

On the left, there is a compound surrounded with a metal fence garlanded in barbed wire and topped with stern looking totems. Go there.

On the right, a decrepit manor with hollow eyed statues gazing blindly from its shattered portico. Go there.

2013 References

The apocalypse didn’t go out of fashion in 2013. We are starting to get a bit sick of the sickness, but we nevertheless loved the Last of Us (wonderfully soundtracked by Gustavo Santaolalla) and resource-management trek past Zombie-ravaged America in Organ Trail.
Blanck Mass didn’t release Chernobyl this year, but this song sound-tracked an incredible scene in Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England. German Army’s Last Language infected the end of our 2013 with beats which are to dance music what J.G. Ballard is to Sci-Fi. We will probably be re-reviewing it in 2014, just because we can.