Gamers need to remember to relax more. We've all raged over an unfair bossfight or sent our beloved controllers flying across the room because of the relentless headshots of a cheap spawncamper, and the frustrations that these episodes cause cannot be healthy for us in the long run. Deepak Chopra's Leela is a way to break away from all of that stress, and the stress of daily life, by focusing on chakra-based meditation. Released for the Xbox Kinect and Wii last month, Leela is not so much a game as it is an experience, and the same can be said for its soundtrack.
By assembling some of the most dedicated, if obscure to the mainstream, meditational musicians, Sumthing Else Music Works compiled an ambitious soundtrack to match the equally ambitious game project. The end result is broken down into two discs Play Mixes featuring more upbeat action-oriented tracks and Reflect Mixes featuring traditional ambient meditation music. They combine to form a collection of tracks unlike other game soundtrack I've reviewed to date...
From the very outset of the Play Mixes disc, Leela lets its listener know that they are not in for just another new age album. "Origin" opens with Brent Arnold's surging, sometimes distorted cello layered beautiful and mixed perfectly with electronic temple bells and light percussion. The track progresses at a fair tempo, and recalls a guilty infatuation I had with avant cellist Zoe Keating's deconstructionist take on traditional stringed melodies. Garth Stevenson's "Life" follows next, and is a slower- more ambient track reminiscent of some of Sigur Rós more progressive offerings. The slow build to hand percussion and clapping at the 2 minute market infuses the piece with an energy and relative speed one wouldn't expect from a meditational album, and it climaxes in some wonderful loose and unhurried guitar work.
The deep reverberations of the appropriately named "Power" by Karim So surprises next with a dubstep-inspired ambient piece high in distortion and lower register thumps. It's not something I would associate with deep meditation, but given the motion control aspect of Leela, I can see how it would fit into the more action-oriented moments of the game/experience. East Forest's "Love" brings the tempo of the album back down to a more ambient level with heavy distortion, windchime effects, and a meandering, almost jazzy piano melody layered a simple backbeat. Still a far cry from your mother's meditational music, it's much more traditional than "Power".
Electronic distortion and ethereal vocals drive the ambient "Harmony", which thumps along to a pronounced backbeat which one would expect to hear in an adult film rather than a meditational piece. Once the beat breaks at the 1:45 mark, the piece takes on a far more abstract quality that I found to be very enjoyable and well-suited to the aims of Leela's experience.
"Intuition" comes next, delivering pulsating bass distortion over a melody that sounds eerily similar to the PlayOnline electronic jazz load music I heard during my days logging into Final Fantasy XI, except with a more manic and far less steady progression. I generally found this track to be more distracting than anything else. The 11-minute long "Unity" rounds out the first disc with a swirling shimmer of synth sounds that is as beautiful and subtle as it is relaxing. After the three preceding tracks that are as likely to raise one's blood pressure as they are to raise the listener closer to enlightenment, "Unity" delivers a very ambient, but still modern, meditational feel.
The second disc of Leela features seven tracks named for the seven primary chakras, and offers a far more traditional, relaxed feel. Brent Arnold again opens with "Muladhara", a cello piece that focuses on deep exploration of the vibrato of each individual note and the progression of a tender, velvety melody. While I can't think of another game soundtrack that Arnold would lend himself to, I'd be very interested in hearing more of his work in the future. Garth Stevenson's "Svadhistana" comes next, a slow, six-minute long foundation of distorted electronic droning supports a laconic, playful melody which when contrasted to "Life" on the first disc really shows the diverse range that Stevenson is comfortable composing in.
Karim So returns more restrained in "Manipura", which is still heavy on the dubstep influence but is far more relaxed in its execution. If ever there was a proto-dubstep new age track that you could unwind to in a bubble bath with a glass of wine, "Manipura" is it. "Anahata" and "Vishuddha" by East Forest and Phowa follow next, with the former being the far more enjoyable piece of the two thanks to its demonstrably eastern feel and instrumentation. "Anahata" is not a bad piece by any means, but when bookended by "Manipura" and "Vishuddha", it is simply too atmospheric to standout.
Daniel Perlin's "Ajna" begins the wrap-up of the Reflect Mixes tracks and is a profoundly subtle piece with a pianissimo piano melody flitting underneath of bending electronica reminiscent of very early Engima, without the distracting vocals. "Sahaswara" is the final track of the album, and at nearly 17 minutes in length is quite a commanding ambient piece. Temple bells resonate sonorously with some distortion effects thrown in, and while the piece never achieves a melody or features a discernable rhythm, it is all the stronger for its freestanding, resonating notes. Just don't expect to be humming it under your breath any time soon.
While by no means a typical game soundtrack, or even one with a readily apparent analog, Leela is a rich and comprehensively ambient album perfect for focusing or relaxation. At the times when you'll want unobtrusive music to help you drown out ambient background noise or just to tune out the stress of the real world for a bit, you'll be happy to have Leela at hand. Just keep it separate from your usual game soundtracks, as it might draw some strange looks from your friends when it cycles into your playlists.