It's a well-known fact that the ghost of Tabula Rasa haunts the Massively offices. I think it's because Shawn keeps feeding it ectopellets because he's not quite ready to let his beloved MMO go. The ghost is driving the rest of us crazy because it's constantly switching the labels on our lunchboxes and whistling the Tabula Rasa theme through the air ducts while we're trying to get honest work done.
So while the MMO no longer exists outside of a few forlorn collector's editions picking up dust on store shelves, the music persists. Tabula Rasa boasted a strong score thanks to the work of Tracy W. Bush. Bush is a name you should know when it comes to MMO soundtracks: He had a huge hand in the World of Warcraft score and contributed to several NCsoft titles (which are all dead, but that's probably not his fault). [Edit: Several readers wrote in to let me know that Curse Mackey, Stacie Cline, Chris Vrenna, and Clint Walsh also contributed to the score. Thanks!]
I find that sci-fi MMOs, particularly shooter-based ones, tend to elicit heavier tracks and more synth work than orchestral, and they are sometimes relentlessly grim. All of the above certainly can be applied to Tabula Rasa, up to and including its final surprising track.
1. Main Menu
Speaking of dark sci-fi, here's the main theme. It begins with a deep boom that doesn't relent for the entirety of the track but is joined by a steady beat and various spacey sounds. It's not a theme that you can hum or whistle, although it's probably possible to beatbox your way through it. Beatbox -- it's a thing from days of yore. Look it up.
I guess that science fiction shooters feel compelled to sell themselves as "serious business" because we can't have a light-hearted romp through the cosmos, right? Considering that Tabula Rasa was a game about nearly extinct humans fighting back after they were kicked off of Earth, I'll allow the dour tone.
2. AFS Outpost
Even lounge music in this world sounds a little down in the dumps. That's OK because for the most part this track is infectious. It's something you can sway to, at least, with plenty of playful sounds burbling here and there. I think it's a piece that would be right at home in any sci-fi movie bar, tavern, or cantina. Captain Kirk probably grooves to something like this before bedtime.
Another funkadelic track, Cormans makes up for its lack of melody with a multi-layered slice of aggressive trance. The layers are easy to distinguish, from the thumping beats to the electronic skritches to the ambient waves. I could've done without the hammering that is passed off as percussion, but other than that, it's a track that would've been a pleasure to experience in-game.
4. Mount Reverence
If Cormans felt like trance, then Mount Reverence makes the move to flat-out techno. Hey, after dozens and dozens of french horn-infused fantasy soundtracks, sometimes it's wonderful to hear a change of pace for a score. Plus, I kind of like techno. Gets the blood pumping and the fingers itchy to pull something (triggers? other fingers?).
Oh man, what a great piece. There's this bittersweet melody that permeates Sanctuary. It starts out with a simple piano tune that is taken and run through instrumental filters, taking it from innocent to growly and back. It feels as though there's a story to this song, one of loss but also one of forward motion. This would've been a much more laid-back track without the beat constantly pushing it forward, although it might've been a lesser track too. As it stands, it's the highlight of the score. If you're looking for some music to underscore your Tabula Rasa tribute video, I'd suggest this.
6. Blue Turns to Grey
As far as I know, this is one of the very few (if only) tracks composed specially for a game's shutdown. Also known as Tabula Rasa's swansong, Blue Turns to Grey is the tune that players heard as they stormed back onto Earth to fight in the final hours. Against a soft beat and a grim piano, an electric guitar wails and wails, almost as if being defiant. It's not a cheery tune, not even close, but there's a strength to it that makes it memorable.
For those of you who played Tabula Rasa before it closed, what do you remember of its tunes?
MMOs aren't just about looks; they also have great soundtracks that often go unnoticed. Heroes don't stand for that! Every Tuesday, Jukebox Heroes will check out a game's soundtrack and feature the best tunes to share and discuss. Your DJ for the hour is Justin Olivetti, and the request line is open!