Home > Gaming, Music > Anatomy of VGM #17: Jazz Jackrabbit (1994)

Anatomy of VGM #17: Jazz Jackrabbit (1994)

Funny true story – I had a childhood, and Jazz Jackrabbit figured greatly in it, at least when it comes to computer games. Between this, Lemmings, and Populous: The Beginning, I was pretty much the demographic for Home of the Underdogs… but that’s a story for another day.

It took me a while to realize just how lucky I had it with Jazz Jackrabbit‘s OST. In 1994, lots of PC games were still stuck with an Adlib they usually didn’t know how to use. This game, however, supports the legendary Gravis Ultrasound, which… usually was a sign that maybe you could get something more. Epic developed and published quite a few games willing to take advantage of this aural horsepower. In the case of Jazz Jackrabbit, you get a big chunk of Amiga style tracker music, and that’s used to fuel a rockin’ soundtrack full of funk, techno, and a bit of heavy metal for good measure. Nothing here is especially serious, melodramatic, or grim, but when your game is about a cartoon rabbit running around and murdering turtles with a laser gun, you can probably get away with that.

Jazz Jackrabbit‘s music is crammed into a mere four channels of instrumentation. As I’ve discussed before, this imposes specific constraints on what you can do. With a sample based format like the “Protracker” sound modules this game uses, though, it’s a lot easier to pull off some of the polyphonic ornamentation and instrumental variety (who would’ve guessed) tricks that composers can use to generate musical interest. Jazz Jackrabbit makes very heavy use of this – most prominently to build its rhythms, but also to implement sound effects like fake reverb and gating tricks. It suffices to say that the sound quality is top notch for 1994, and only streaming CD audio was really able to challenge it at the time.

However, mere effects aren’t enough to secure JJ‘s position in the pantheon of music I enjoy. The music here isn’t as cartoony or genre-diverse as its successor, but it’s still got a rock solid set of compositions. What particularly stands out to me at this point in time is the rhythm section. It might be the funk/soul influence as filtered through decades of electronic dance music, but there’s some very syncopated percussion here – from the brassy title theme, to the urban swagger of “Industrius”, but also the minimalistic electro of “Technoir”, or the goofy vocal textures of “Orbitus”. The songs here are also lengthy enough to build on their ideas, which is good since Jazz Jackrabbit has large, labyrinthine levels full of secrets and enemies that could very well kill you if you set the difficulty level beyond your skills. The last thing you want is to be driven mad by miniscule loops.

Ultimately, I think the composers here (Robert Allen and Joshua Jensen) did a great job with the music in this game. Admittedly, Alexander Brandon’s work on the sequel exceeded this already very high standard, but he also had a couple more years of experience underneath his belt. I’d go into more detail about his contemporary work if I hadn’t done so already.

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