The power of representation

My lack of a recording device is more than made up for by pretty much everyone else in attendance. I hope.

I think that being in the fourth row in the presence of an orchestrated Simple and Clean aka Hikari made my month, making this bleak February weather just a little less annoying. I’m going to put in a request for an orchestrated Passion next time.

I may eventually get around to describing more of VGL TO 2008 elsewhere, but two things stood out in their contribution to the fan-made feel of the show. By nature of its integration with music, the performances were all VGMV‘s. And what would VGL be without the typical rabble rousing?

The struggle for cultural recognition is something that strikes a chord for video game fans and anime fans alike. Whether either constitutes art, I’ll defer to others. But I can take a stab at the topic of music.

Back in 2002, having just finished Escaflowne, I called anime one of the few bastions of classical music, most of it Romantic era influenced. This was a bit premature – I only had a sample size of one – and my view has since been tempered. Certainly OST music is plentiful, there (usually?) being at least one OST disc per series. But while pieces take harmonic and melodic elements from the past, it is customary to leave sweeping scope and sheer length at the door.

When looking at the myriad of sub-2 minute tracks available, I’m constantly reminded that a soundtrack does not imply a score. I don’t know if it’s an incidental mindset, where composers write with a moment in mind, and don’t aspire to a more developed ideal. Here, games have a leg up because music is an integral part of the playing experience for RPG’s and RTS’, and longer is better. A more passive experience with pervasive music would be called an opera or musical, although an anime musical may be an experiment worth attempting.

But should length matter? A piece founded on repetition of a pretty theme is no different than just having an abridged version on loop, right? Right? I don’t think so, 4’33” not-withstanding. One of the most important questions that should be asked of a piece is, “Where are we heading?” There is something to be said for conciseness, but an answer that is 2 minutes in utterance can only span so much colour, emotion, and texture, even if it’s being uttered by the Warsaw Philharmonic.

In two minutes and change, there is barely enough time to squeeze in a theme, a contrasting section (maybe), and another run at the theme in typical ternary form. And while that in itself can and is quite enjoyable, the standard that we are trying to hold it up to can consume ternary for breakfast, although instead of breakfast, it calls it exposition. If you’re looking for real development, it has a section all to itself.

Maybe it’s just a matter of united we stand, divided we fall. What I find myself gravitating to are longer pieces, from which snippets are taken to produce the incidental music we hear in an episode. These are strong enough to stand on their own, while serving the purpose that they were created for.

There has to be a critical mass of composers rolling moments into towering works. I don’t know that magical number, if it will ever be reached, or even if it should be. It probably is more economical to write multiple short segments than it is to drop a giant tone poem. The question then is, is music being written for the express service of another medium? Too often the answer is yes, which is why there exists few monuments amidst a mass of lesser structures.