Archive for April 27th, 2008

The sounds that go with me

Posted on April 27, 2008. Filed under: Games, Music, Philosophy |

If you’re at all like me, you have sounds playing in your head all the time. I have little tunes that accompany me wherever I go, and which change depending upon my activity. Did you know that if you walk down the street humming your personal sound, it protects you from dragons?! 😛 My personal tunes do not include songs with words, except for one, in Hebrew. As we come to the close of the celebration of Passover for the year, I am reminded of the best known Passover song, Dayenu. This word can’t be translated, but if it could it would be something like “If God (universal life force, or whichever term you like) had given us only this one gift _______(fill in blank), things would be great, but God also gives us more!” I like Dayenu because it’s peppy, has a good beat, and gets me to do things quicker so I can go on to enjoy more of those gifts from the Universe. So, I play that tune in my head when I’m washing dishes, or the car; brushing my teeth (I have to get to the end of the song before I stop) or on the rare occasions I’m tidying up my workspace. 😉 So, in my own weird way, I celebrate Passover the whole year long.

There’s my exercise music, as well. If I’m not exercising along with a video, I’ll play the theme from the movie Rocky in my head. I’ll bet lots of us do that.

Another is my walking tune, or what I refer to as The Deck Walking Tune, but is really called Out on the Deck.  This was written by Deirdra Kiai and is one of the many wonderful musical works she included in her great adventure game The Game That Takes Place on a Cruise Ship. I say more about that game here. To get to the music I mean, you have to start up the game and then walk out of Gert’s stateroom, take the elevator up one or more floors, and then walk along the deck. This is important (!) because I’m not referring to the first music you hear on the passenger deck (although I like that too, and it’s related), but to that on the upper decks. This music has refused to get out of my head although I haven’t played the game in a couple of months, and I’ve certainly heard other music since then. It has become “city stroll music”, for when I’m walking in town, looking in shop windows perhaps, or on my way to somewhere but not in a hurry. (I don’t have hiking music. Somehow when I’m in a natural setting, the sounds around me are the music.) I had to do a little bit of analysis to discover why I find this particular tune so compelling. It’s a seemingly innocent little tune when you first hear it, meant to be filler, I guess, for the gamer to get from one adventurous location to the next. But there is an edge behind that innocence.

I played it through on my keyboard, and began to analyze its melodic structure as well as I could given the length of time between my music theory classes and now. Let me say right off that I did not study jazz, and Ms. Kiai uses a lot of jazz motifs in her work. It could be argued that the basic melody line is in natural minor (the “sad” sounding scale, also known as Aeolian mode) with a few jazz changes thrown in to, well, “jazz it up”. From my medieval musical background, however, I rather think it alternates between Aeolian and Locrian modes, which gives it a freshness and exuberance beyond the obvious.

I won’t go into a lot of detail, here, but of the seven modes—or scales—used in most western music, the Locrian is the least used. Look how it’s been defined: “the ‘ugly duckling’ mode; so unstable and unsatisfying that most composers consider it unworkable.” I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but Kiai has taken these tones and made them workable, while at the same time their instability contributes both to the wobbly experience of walking on a ship’s deck, and to the precariousness of the game’s situations. In retrospect, I really believe this has subtly influenced my choice of walking music, as I tend to feel instability in the nature of reality wherever I go. This is not a bad thing. I enjoy watching reality form and re-form itself around me, and it’s good to have appropriate musical accompaniment on the journey.

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