BioShock Composer Garry Schyman on Top Score

by Emily Reese
May 24, 2011

Listen Top Score: Garry Schyman (May 24, 2010)

Composer Garry Schyman added a beautiful soundtrack to the first two games in the BioShock series, developed by Irrational Games. Schyman called on complex techniques of 20th century composition to enhance the setting for BioShock - a city called Rapture.

The story of Rapture is complex. Rapture's creator, Andrew Ryan, wanted the city to be a haven for free-minded individuals; it was to be a capitalist society post-World War II free of a government and free of religion. Ryan wanted a utopia.

As history demonstrates time and again, Rapture didn't turn out well.

The backdrop is this sort of really beautiful Art Deco city that's just bloodstained.
- Composer Garry Schyman

Citizens of Rapture discover a drug, a human enhancer, inside a sea slug. The drug, Adam, gives humans more strength and gives them special powers, but it also deforms them and makes them crazy. A shortage of Adam develops into chaos - citizens killing each other just for more Adam.

"The drug trade becomes everything to the people of Rapture, and the world sort of decays into civil war essentially, and it becomes a nightmare," says Schyman. "It's pretty horrific."

Outside and inside, Rapture is a beautiful city. You, as the player, enter Rapture in 1960, two years after the onset of the civil war. As you play BioShock, you can walk through halls of windows and see the Art-Deco-inspired city spread out along the floor of the ocean. It's quite beautiful, with fish swimming by and plants flowing in the water. The interior is beautiful as well, with theaters and vibrant, elaborate decorations.

"The backdrop is this sort of really beautiful Art Deco city that's just bloodstained," Schyman says.

But of course, there are crazy people on drugs everywhere with super-human strength and powers, and your character needs to survive.

Schyman's music is as complex as the city of Rapture. He used aleatoric elements (think Charles Ives, John Cage, Witold Lutoslawski or Krzysztof Penderecki), as well as musique concrete techniques developed in the late 1940s. Aleatoric music, or chance music, allows performers a certain amount of improvisation, but improvisation that is guided by the composer and conductor. Musique concrete combines real world sounds (like a car horn, a breaking window or a pencil tapping) manipulated electronically.

"It creates some very eerie and very scary sounds from the orchestra," Schyman explains, "Not your typical scales and such."

His score mirrors the city: beautiful but scary.

"I think the licensed music, meaning the songs that were licensed from the era, also played into that aesthetic as well, where you would have 'How Much Is That Doggy in the Window,' that old song, playing while you're killing."

Schyman also got to write a stand-alone piece for the first BioShock game, called "Cohen's Masterpiece." You can download the sheet music from his website, or view dozens upon dozens of videos of people performing it on YouTube.

You can hear the entire interview with composer Garry Schyman on Top Score from Classical Minnesota Public Radio. Download here on our website, or visit iTunes to subscribe.


  • INTRO: BioShock 2 - "Pairbond (BioShock 2 Theme)"
  • BioShock - "The Ocean on His Shoulders (BioShock Main Theme)
  • BioShock 2 - "Waking Up in 1959"
  • BioShock 2 - "Ten Years Later"
  • "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window"
  • Peter Tchaikovsky - The Nutcracker: "Waltz of the Flowers"
  • BioShock 2 - "Entrance to Eden"
  • BioShock 2 - "Eleanor's Lullaby"
  • BioShock - "Welcome to Rapture"
  • BioShock 2 - "Grace Under the Ocean"
  • BioShock - "Cohen's Masterpiece"
  • Dante's Inferno - "Donasdogama Micma"
  • George Crumb - Black Angels
  • Dante's Inferno - "Redemption"
  • Dante's Inferno - "The Second Circle"
  • Alban Berg - Violin Concerto
  • BioShock - "Welcome to Rapture"
  • CREDITS: BioShock 2 - "Send Him Howling Back to Hell"