Ultima IX – “Stones (Chamber)” (George Oldziey)February 21, 2010
“Stones” is one of the most endearing vgm songs ever composed – in fact, it was memorable enough to have its own fansite, which contains many versions of the song. The original version was written for Ultima VI: The False Prophet (1990) by David Watson (Ultima VII, Stonekeep). (David is represented by the character “Iolo” in the game.) As a rarity for vgm, this piece also contains lyrics penned by Watson’s wife, Kathleen Jones (“Gwenno”), though they are not sung in any of the official versions. This rendition is from Ultima IX: Ascension (1999), the series’ ill-fated swan song and was composed by George Oldziey (Wing Commander 4, Red Faction: Guerilla). I can’t say which version out of all the fan mixes is best, but I happen to like this official version the most.
“Stones” is a medieval elegy or lay, played on flute, harp, and strings. It has a deep sense of nostalgia but also loss and sadness for beauty and the past. These are reflected in the lyrics, which ask and mourn for the builders of mysterious Stonehenge-like structures that stand on the plains of Wiltshire, though these lyrics are unnecessary to communicate the song’s sadness. The recording of this piece is pretty high quality as you can hear the breath of the flutists before they play. Reportedly, it was performed by a 50-piece orchestra.
Ultima is one of the most famous and groundbreaking RPG series ever produced. However, because it was a computer RPG, many console fans have never been exposed to it despite its profound influence on the genre. Some of the other tracks on this album have a great medieval feel, and some are reminiscent of music for Christmas time, particularly “Britain Positive”, due mainly to the instrument selection. “Valoria Ships” is another of my favorites from this album.
Finally, here are the lyrics. The poetry itself contains a great deal of emotion, but also a reference to the deep history of the game’s world, Brittania – and also, perhaps, a sense of the lost history of our own world. It makes me wonder what our own civilization will leave behind, and if anything is left, what people 2500 years from now will think of us. You can either sing along or imagine a famous bard telling the tale:
Long ago ran the sun on a folk who had a dream
And the heart and the will and the power:
They moved the earth; they carved the stone; moulded hill and channeled stream
That we might stand on the wide plains of Wiltshire
Now men asked who they were, how they built and wonder why
That they wrought standing stones of such size
What was done ‘neath our shade? What was pray’ed ‘neath our skies
As we stood on the wyrd plains of Wiltshire
Oh what secrets we could tell if you’d listen and be still
Rid the stink and the noise from our skirts
But you haven’t got the clue and perhaps you never will
Mute we stand on the cold plains of Wiltshire
Still we loom in the mists as the ages roll away
And we say of our folk, “they are here!”
That they built us and they died and you’ll not be knowing why
Save we stand on the bare plains of Wiltshire