I fantasize that one day I could have my songs played in a concert. I would probably start crying pridefully the moment the conductor raised the baton. Music has always been the first medium of expression to hit me in the soft, squishy chambers of my heart, and hearing a tuba bellow out a harmony line, no matter how critical I’d been of it while writing, would melt me completely. Accepting that I can occasionally plug notes onto sheet music and actually like what I'm hearing enough to listen to it hundreds of times fills me with joy.
Except this one. This one I wrote just because I had to unclog something in my brain before I could move on to other things. This is a godawful song. Don’t listen to it.
If I had to conceptualize what this song is about, I would guess that it’s probably a coronation song for a king that is also a bigoted pig. I giggled incessantly while creating it.
I played my trumpet throughout middle school and high school--improvising solos during jazz band performances probably gave me the most capability to write a song largely by ear without really grasping chord structure or whether the instruments I gave parts for a song would even be physically capable of playing it if they tried.
I have another, stronger influence, however, that I have not disclosed while writing for this competition even though nearly all of my early pieces were derived from it. I love video games. I was born only four years after the Nintendo was released, and the blippy-blip sounds and pixelated worlds of that 8-bit system and the 16-bit Super Nintendo that followed formed the axis around which my childhood turned. I moved constantly, so characters from video games were often more consistent than friends.
My songs are also derived from games. I grew up worshipping Nobuo Uematsu, the creator of music from the Final Fantasy series. I will not claim that my songs sound like his, but when I make something that I think sounds decent, it’s Uematsu’s work that frames what sounds decent to me in the first place.
And now, a confession: every story I’ve written with the tag “Deathless” as part of LJ Idol, starting back in Season 9, was written as a part of a sandbox-style game world I eventually hope to create. Writing into that template helped me start with short stories when I had no other experience doing so--it felt safer to create for something that already had a big picture, especially when none of the stories reveal the whole shape of that world.
Deathless is an artificial world created for the last remnants of the human race following an apocalyptic event, which also ended the capability of death in all organic forms. Rather than dying when significant trauma is incurred, life bounces back a little stranger than it was before. It’s like when Mario stomps on a Goomba in Super Mario--will the same creature be there the next time and move the same way just to receive the same fate? Many of story concepts of the Deathless world are twists on commonalities gamers essentially expect in what they play.
For example, the sun itself never moves in the stories, just like how certain areas of games are designed to have the same fixed lighting effect perpetually. In Deathless, whoever relocated the few survivors to this world also gave them a fake sun. People utterly lost the capability of determining time by the angle or absence of the sun, so they’ve created other methods.
The point of mentioning this is that Deathless has hit a kind of phase two. I am now writing songs for areas or moments from that world.
This song, which I originally titled “Frazzle” because I just name songs after whatever initially comes to mind, is based on a moment from this story:
The moment occurs right after the last story break, when Lillian uses what powers she has gained to raid Vaust’s retention facility for the women of the town. The game idea would be that the player character would be able to assist in this event as well, working together with Lillian to become an unstoppable natural force and liberate Vaust’s women from sexual oppression and manual labor.
A place that nearly has a song for it is Coburntown. Three stories happen in or around Coburntown--it’s a place that has spurned knowledge whereas Vaust has spurned creation. Each town in the world has some essential virtue lacking and a shrine that needs to be cleansed in order to mend the respective town. These two pieces best reflect that problem for Coburntown in particular.
The song I’m working on is unfinished. The start is way too rough for my liking--I was trying to do something other than a succession of adding new instruments in every four measures until a whole piece emerged, but it feels too abrupt right now. The melody line has been stuck in my head for the last three weeks intermittently, and it doesn’t adequately convey the danger that willful ignorance represents, especially when Coburntown’s elected leaders encourage it openly. As one the two largest cities in the world, there is a bustle and almost a marching pace to the song that seems to work, so I could fold in a bridge that changes the tune to reveal or imply more of what is going on under the surface.
I don’t know how to do that. Here is what I have so far, rough and misshapen though it is.
The pictured creature is my cat, Basil, who is now a long cat of about twenty pounds. I posted his kitten picture to the song because there was a time when music did not upset him so much that he needed to bury his face in my armpit just to block it out. Also, I used a picture of my cat because I don't have graphics or gameplay footage to show. Phase Three and Four are a long way off.
If Deathless only turns out to be a springboard for other concepts, it’s a success because it let me start creating in a way that made me feel safe, with support from folks such as this LJ Idol community who lavish praise on even fledgling efforts from new writers.
I don’t need to produce work to see it performed by Yo-Yo Ma or published for a massive audience. For now, right now, this is enough of a stage.