FDOM Wrap-up & Thoughts

File Apr 30, 11 23 06 PM

It’s been a pretty odd semester for me in terms of classes; I didn’t really enjoy any of them besides the one I began writing this blog for. In a way, getting to write about music and draw my way through the semester help me maintain some sort of consistency and a small thing to look forward to. The main thing I found useful in running and maintaining a blog was the simple act of putting together reviews for some of the things I live that fell concurrently with this time in my life. I also think my (admittedly) small social media following ultimately helped my blog garner some minor level of outreach on the things that I like to write about and that make me happy. I’m also very orderly when it comes to statistics and online reach, so the stats page kept me mildly amused and entertained, as well as showing that my words can matter, even in the massive world of the internet.

Most of the things that I didn’t find very effective related to the widgets and various “extras” WordPress has to offer. I’m not sure if I just didn’t see how important they are to a blog or if I didn’t use them effectively, but ultimately they were the least beneficial in my mind to keeping my blog looking good and producing good content. I would ultimately like to improve the aesthetic appearance of my blog. For example, I love that this blog helped me to become better at drawing, color theory, and the like, but I would have also loved to have a high quality camera and a mini studio to get better images for my blog. Additionally, I’d like the layout of the blog to be a little prettier, which may come with upgrading to the Pro version of WordPress, or acquiring more knowledge in HTML and CSS.

Ultimately, this blog helped my want to pursue music writing in a more professional manner. The strongest week I had was when I wrote my post about the newest Legend of Zelda game, Breath of the Wild. I ultimately garnered 14 views from 10 separate visitors that week. My most popular posts were the reviews on Migos’ latest album and the 100% Silk labels’ compilation album, Sensate Silk. To me, that maybe stems from that artist and label having a very specific type of listener, which may have led to other people’s interest in reading what I had to say about them. I hope to be able to continue said interest in my writing as I continue on in college and beyond.

The Active Ambiance of Breath of the Wild

File Apr 09, 8 24 24 PM
Breath of the Wild by Tre Simmons

Breath of the Wild is the latest iteration of the successful The Legend of Zelda franchise, and it has succeeded on so many accounts (even becoming the 2nd best reviewed entry in the series) by combining the disparate parts of its predecessors into a fully functioning whole. It contains the cel-shaded beauty of Wind Waker and Skyward Sword; the constant movement and scheduling of non-playable characters in a similar way to Majora’s Mask; and it retains the open world and “choose your own order” feature of A Link Between Worlds. Much like all of the other games in the Zelda series, Breath of the Wild also boasts a beautiful set of sounds and music that fully ensnares players into its fantasy world. Nearly all of the other games in the series include creative takes on 8-bit soundtracks, as well as heavy orchestration and occasional other instrumentation to flavor key areas or games in order to stand apart from other entries. Breath of the Wild does something similar; while still containing past themes and motifs in the many places the protagonist Link can visit, BotW is the most ambient, utilitarian and (in my opinion) beautiful music in the entirety of the Zelda oeuvre, in part because of its sparseness.

Ambient, as put by the musician Brian Eno, is music designed to be “as ignorable as it is interesting.” This is to say, ambient music should be able to blend into the background and become one with the rest of the world as it should be captivating and intriguing in its own right. Breath of the Wild succeeds on both fronts; when traversing through the massive region of Hyrule, players can easily become lost in the many quests and enemies there are to triumph over. When facing down a troop of Bokoblins, for example, you can become so wrapped up in defeating said enemies and having weapons left over that the music can become entirely unnoticeable. However, in giving equal or a majority of attention to the soundtrack found within BotW, a Bokoblin fight can become that much more catchartic and triumphant.

Where Breath of the Wild differs from most Zelda games is its heavier use of piano in contrast to prior entries. When riding a horse, for example, a broken, ecstatic melody plays; in the interim during both the day and night, individual notes play in a protracted manner that, when put together, spell out major musical themes of previous Zelda iterations. In effect, it combines a little bit of both old and new music to the Zelda franchise that becomes its own idiosyncratic musical language. Older themes can also be heard when visiting the various horse stables found throughout the game, which hearkens back to Epona, the silent hero’s trusty horse companion. Various piano and accordion melodies can be heard everywhere throughout Hyrule that lend each sub-region its own distinct identity.

The spare melodies of the soundtrack also continuously change as you face certain trials in the game. Battles against one of the most fearsome enemies, the Guardians, begin with a dissonant piano before leading into a driving, tense 6/8 melody. Said music ends in a literal explosion only once a Guardian has been defeated or trails off into the more serene day or nighttime themes if Link is able to move far enough away from the range of the enemies’ laser attacks. Many other sounds spark interest and keep players on their toes in all areas of Hyrule. One can be taken aback by the sine wave sound leading into the common day and night variations, sparked into action by a puff of smoke which introduces a certain enemy, or simply bask in the field recordings of various real life creatures thoughtfully placed into the background of beach, field and jungle regions.

Simply put, Breath of the Wild takes a lot of care to fully envelop you in its world through stunning visuals, carefully wrought gameplay and its minimalist choices in sound. It has become one of my favorite games to play because of how placid and rich its sonic territory is. The density of the sounds hear never rises beyond three or four elements at any given moment, yet there is a world of depth and attention to detail that busier works can never even fathom. In this way, it reminds me of some of my favorite minimalist works of music; The xx’s debut album, Visible Cloaks Reassemblage and ANOHNI’s version of Oneohtrix Point Never’s song “Returnal” come to mind. Breath of the Wild took core elements of the Zelda world and filtered them in a way where an entirely new idea of the series has been created, and they have amply breathed new life into an already amazing series.

Life Moves On; Thoughts on Death in Music

File Mar 12, 6 44 20 PM
Life Moves On (St. Vincent) by Tre Simmons

Death hovers in the edges of our peripheral vision; it is a constant neglected force, always taken for granted until the moment it hits bluntly and without grace. We smush ants underneath our shoes as we trudge to and from work and school; we see roadkill and think nothing more or less about it, unless we’re forced to smell it or wash it clean. We fawn over our loved ones in equal measure of the time we spend forgetting about them as we become enveloped in ourselves. And then people die. Best friends, lovers, long lost compatriots, a favorite teacher, your sister’s childhood bestie, and so on. When it hits this personally, however close or far, the impact skews reality just a bit; no longer do we walk a linear path. That trudge to walk becomes a little harder; the world becomes a little darker, more vibrant, more psychedelic, more stressful. Such is the effect of having multiple deaths in a year that mean a little and a lot.

Beginning with David Bowie isn’t easy, even as someone who only ever saw him in his influence. I love St. Vincent; she channels Bowie and Prince and Byrne with such grace, such panache, and yet she still stands resolutely herself. I still don’t know what Bowie sounds like, even after going back and listening to his greatest works. He’s there in influence and stature, but to me he works in the corners and the channeling of himself through others. It’s fitting, as he’s meant to be rock’s greatest chameleon, always wearing different suits to see what he fancies and dashing them off when he’s summarily perfected it. And even up to his death, trumpeting nefarious jazz under the guise of ‘Blackstar,’ an album I’ve barely listened to, he worked with grace and the ability to streak himself across the stars, shining the brightest among many. And now he’s gone.

Prince was the one; Michael Jackson was the one for many, Whitney Houston for others, but Prince meant and still means the world to me. Overlapping raw sexuality with gender fluidity and performative promiscuity, while still maintaining an undying charisma, humor, wit and the ability to shade with the turn of his eye and the slight tilt of his brow. He did all of this while being a straight black male, and while I’m prone to not give credit to those in privileged positions, Prince did everything in ways no one expected and continues to be a shining beacon for the outcast, the sissy, the art damaged weirdo, the kid discovering their sexuality and gender and race in a world that doesn’t see it for them to succeed. ‘Kiss,’ ‘I Would Die 4 U,’ ‘Planet Earth,’ ‘Raspberry Beret,’ and so on and so on and so on; Prince eviscerates the jagged corners of identity always and forever. And the last we saw of him, on the most humorous and idiosyncratic note I can think of for anyone, is him riding down a street on a bicycle, with purple flowing cloth draped over his lithe frame, afro high and firmly intact. He was the one. And now he’s gone.

And Leonard Cohen, what can I say? The iTunes album description for ‘You Want It Darker’ depicts him as a man who was “at 35, old; at 82, eternal.” His voiced stretched into abyssal bass ranges, his producers mastering his baritone for perfect head rumbling effect. His voice reached into the depths of death and love; he smiled back, lit a cigarette, and proudly proclaimed, “I am ready to die.” Cohen is a champion of the Grim Reaper, and even more so infatuated with love, the elusive thing we all seek to drink from, to know, to encompass, to spread with every fiber of our being. He’s not Prince; he might be a ladies’ man, but imagining him as a sexual being at all doesn’t calculate in my mind. Rather, Cohen embodies the smooth corners and longing glances out of a window, scanning the hills outside as you wait for your loved one to return (in some grim world, they never do; in reality, they return routinely and you cook pasta with them.) Cohen is the art we see in a near-extinguished flame, flickering back to life and closer to death with every step it takes. Cohen knew what it meant to be human; death and love are all we have to look forward to. He knew this probably better than anyone, and he shone most bright when he asked us if we want it darker. And now he’s gone.

And Travis Green. He’s one of my best friends even though I only knew him for two and a half years. The empathy, the hilarity, the weed trails and wine breath having Travis Green. He searched for love and friendship and success and legend when he could, and he surrounded himself with elite talent. Off On A Tangent and Vintage are his children; we continue on in the hopes of becoming that which he never truly reached, as his life was cut short by what I can only imagine to be irrecoverable love lost. He likely felt alone; he felt the cold and numb of a biting, uncaring world. He got himself out of the way and he left us without hope. And then we situated ourselves and realized there’s always hope, in his presence and absence. He exists in every memory, every song, every melody we sing, every play we write, everywhere and everything. He’s gone of this mortal coil, and yet he’s in the soil, the trees, the campus, the spoken word. He’s never gone; nor are Cohen, or Prince, or Bowie, or anyone else who’s dead. They don’t simply not exist anymore; we’ll see them again. It might be awhile, but they’re around.

And this is what it means to be human. To see death, to see love, to see a world where people are resolutely dumbfounded with the idea of being nice to one another and yet are willing to sacrifice everything for people who need it, and all of the things in between these two extremities. We are born; we live; we die. And in the transit between these states of being, we experience. We love; we laugh; we mourn; we bawl; we yell; we enjoy. Death hovers until it can remove, but we linger endlessly.