Calming, Minimal, and Unique – The Magic of Minecraft Music

C418’s “Volume Alpha” sounds as pleasant as ever, ten years later.

cover art of “Volume Alpha”; A grass block in Minecraft (edited).

Neirad staff

This edited cover art of “Volume Alpha” connects to the track’s soothing tone.

You sit on your bed on a calm summer night, opening a Minecraft world on your laptop, and hear a series of simple but steady chords. The soundtrack subtly narrates your adventures and provides an ethereal and melancholic ambiance. “Volume Alpha” by Daniel Rosenfeld (C418) is a unique track for a unique game and an interesting listening experience.

Minecraft is an open-world video game where players create and break blocks on a three-dimensional plane. The core elements of the game include crafting tools, extracting raw materials, and building structures.

In 2009, the creator of Minecraft, Markus Persson contacted the German musician C418 to work on sound effects and music for Minecraft, which at that point had not been released. C418’s Volume Alpha was finished in March of 2011 and was incorporated into the game as background music. However, calling it just “background music” does not give it justice, as the soundtrack adds its own dimension, and doesn’t “Volume Alpha” doesn’t just sound like an afterthought (unlike many soundtracks of video games). Even on its own,“Volume Alpha” is an excellent listen.

Image of C418
Image of C418 (Daniel Rosenfeld)

Overall, the album is pleasant, relying primarily on strings or synthesizers for the background, bass for low tones, and a piano or another simple instrument carrying the melody. Effects are used to repeat, distort, or build ambiance to the tracks. Jamie Hornsey from “The Boar” said that “It heavily featured dynamically-triggered motifs, sounds and fragments of music.” This is largely characteristic of the volume, with many noises being isolated and simple.

Minecraft is a game where players build structures, so it may be expected that players should expect calm background music. “Minecraft”, “Clark” and “Sweden” fit these stereotypes perfectly. They are named Calm 1, 2, and 3 in the file structure of the game respectively, and as you would infer, they are indeed very calm. They are also orderly, using piano and synthesized strings. They are simple, but some of the best tracks.

Image of Minecraft Gameplay. There is a lake next to a house.
Screenshot of Minecraft gameplay

The next set of songs are titled Hal 1-4, or “Subwoofer Lullaby”, “Living Mice”, “Danny”, and “Hagstrom”. They are somewhat similar but distinctly different from the first three. The chord progressions give a sense of space and bouncy melodies give a sense of weightlessness. They are quite as spooky or eerie as the first three.

Next up are “Oxygène” and “Key”. These are by far the most ambient of the bunch, i.e they do not have an orderly melody and are rich in reverb, and generally contain short bursts of irregular noise. The echo gives me a feeling of scale and the infinite nature of Minecraft.

From what I’ve seen, most people who have played Minecraft for even a brief time can instantly recognize and distinguish “Minecrafty” music from the rest, citing a quality they can’t put into words.

— John Lazarra, 9th grader

Finally, we have “Dry Hands”, “Wet Hands”, and “Mice on Venus.”Dry Hands” and “Wet Hands” are similar as they both only use one instrument, the piano. However, the notes of “Dry Hands” are much more defined than the notes in “Wet Hands”, which often fade into each other. “Mice on Venus” is also primarily based on the piano and has just a few other noises. I don’t see any real theme to them unlike the other tracks, but they are overall just very aesthetically pleasing. They are generally the type of tracks to put a smile on your face on a rainy day. 

Volume Alpha has a different meaning for every person, but regardless of who you are, I would recommend taking a few minutes out of your day to relax and just enjoy this music.