Maenam - Jami Sieber

This song makes me self conscious. It makes me feel mysterious and powerful, as if I were about to do something amazing or influential, but also as if I didn’t know how to go about it, like how a fire hose may try to fill a teacup but will end up just blasting it away into useless pieces.

It is the opening song to a game called Braid, a game that explores science, lust, and frustration. At least, I think. I don’t know exactly what the game is about. It is one of those mysterious and powerful experiences that defies clear descriptions. I can’t just say it. Trying to explain what it’s about is like trying to hold water in your hand - you will end up losing most of it, dripping all over the place; it is instead far more constructive to just find a body of water and point out your discovery, to show others what you have found and help them figure it out for themselves. Some people may see more of what you are pointing at; some less. The point is that you were able to share something mysterious and powerful.

This song, called Maenam, doesn’t beg for your attention through danceable beats or any sort of melodic rankle. Instead it whispers politely for it: nothing about it is outstanding or especially noticeable, but it is not neutral. It plays patiently, expecting something from you.

Listening to it I feel a responsibility for some sort of intellectual discovery, and that scares me. Am I good enough to explain this? Where is the deeper meaning I’m supposed to pull? I sometimes get the feeling creative analysis is just a bunch of different people bullshitting each other about something. Are there definite answers about the world, or are we supposed to flit around, theory to theory, bullshit to bullshit? Can we reconcile the two approaches? I don’t know. I think it’s possible. But can I tell you why I think so with a cupped hand of water?

I can explain only so much of why this song is important to me. So instead I’ll point to it. I’ll let musician of this piece, Jami Sieber, express it and let others hear it for themselves. Maybe they’ll understand more than I did, maybe less.

Princess Mononoke - Joe Hisiashi

I have weird memories of this song. When I was living as a Page in Washington, DC, I had to live with three other boys in a packed dormitory for five months. As Pages, we were to up and ready for school in the Library of Congress by 6:45 AM every day, which meant waking up around 5:30 AM everyday, which, in my mind, meant earlier bedtimes. My roommates, however, did not share my fastidious philosophies; they saw wisdom in partying late, loud music, sharing deodorant, and walking around in underwear whenever the least bit acceptable - hardly a fit environment for peaceful sleep.

I took to my iPod. At first I just stuck earbuds in and pressed shuffle, but little of my music really facilitated sleep. I ended up just skipping each song, searching for something peaceful or soothing. It wasn’t working; in fact, I got less sleep.

The next day I started compiling a playlist of sleepy songs. I muddled through my library each night with experimental playlists of every genre, determined to find something that would give me the gift of a good night’s sleep. I ended up on a collection of songs I hadn’t even considered: the Princess Mononoke theme song.

Princess Mononoke is a Japanese Anime film about a warrior’s journey through feudal Japan, and its music is intense but orchestral. I hadn’t considered its theme song because most of it is booming and loud, nothing that would make you feel like sleep. But still, upon trying it, I was asleep within minutes. I’d finally found a Sleep playlist.

My memories of this song are strange because it has accompanied many dreams, dreams strange and awkward, adventurous and wonderful, grand and irrational. Listening to it, I get quick glimpses of those experiences I had while sleeping, and that is a very uncomfortable feeling, like groping around in the dark. You don’t know what you’re going to find.

Hardware Store - Weird Al Yankovic

I would be remiss if I didn’t include some sort of Yankovic song in this list. Weird Al’s Poodle Hat was the first CD I bought when I was nine years old while living in Oregon. I’d just moved there and I hadn’t made any friends yet, nor I didn’t know anything about music.

Weird Al isn’t especially talented, not in his music nor his voice talent, but he is clever. In this song he very quickly enumerates the contents of a hardware store’s inventory, hardly stopping to take a breath. I thought that was hilarious, and I tried to replicate it out of sheer amazement. I remember sitting next to my stereo and rewinding that part, trying desperately to replicate his talent. I could never do it.

Into Dust - Mazzy Star

This song is incredibly soothing and understanding, but I’ve come to hate it. It’s supposed to be reflective and supportive of something deep and introspective, and to me it once was. But now it feels manipulative.

Mark Twain once said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” When I was a sophomore I participated in Challenge Day, an all-day activity adopted by my school in an attempt to curb their conscience about bullying and uncomfortable school atmosphere. From the beginning I was leery about the event: apparently it had been touted by mainstream media as the thing “changing” and “helping” schools everywhere, always supported in anecdotal specifics.

The day began by sharing about ourselves, learning about others and being honest about what bothered us and why, and to that I’m not opposed. I liked learning about my peers, their backgrounds and what made them how they were. But toward the end of the day, after the naked honesty and frank a they partitioned us off into groups, made us close our eyes, and told us sad and cliched stories about kids losing loved ones or coming home from school unhappy because someone had said something mean. They played this song during, quietly at first, then louder. I heard people begin to cry. I opened my eyes briefly to see tears coming down faces. I seemed to be the only dry eye in the house.

After that, they passed around microphones to let kids make pledges about making our school a better place or preventing bullying. Popular, influential kids began standing up, tears down their cheeks, preaching about a better world for all. People clapped for them, and I didn’t know why. Anyone can stand up and speak to the injustices of the world, especially in a room of like-minded people. You need not ingratiate one’s self in convinced company.

The whole thing felt contrived, and by the end I felt cheated out of six hours. We’d spent the better part of the day learning to be honest with each other, and that was something rare for us. But it had been spoiled by a sense of manipulation: they wanted us to stand up and pledge to make differences, as if that would solve the school’s problems, and to do that they needed us emotional. “Into Dust” is soothing and reflective, and it went perfectly with their dime-store soliloquizing of injustice and feelings of social anxiety.

Who hasn’t felt unwanted at some point in life? Recounting such stories and then letting us feel like they connected us somehow made us hazy with emotion, perfect for the pledges they needed. Pledges meant success, success meant more funding for the program. Forget checking back up on the school - what matters is that initial commitment, right?

If You Could Hie To Kolob - Jenny Oaks Baker

Religion is one of the most mysterious things to me. The idea that so many people could subscribe to any one theory of their creation with the knowledge of other, competing theories is amazing, and one that I don’t understand. I have never understood the idea that one practice or belief could apply to so many people, people who are each unique in their emotional luggage. It amazes me that something as hazy as where we came from could unite so many people.

There are few times in my life when I’ve felt any sort of connection to a higher being. In some ways I don’t want one, at least not now. It seems like people are so obsessed with figuring out what’s wrong and what’s right, but they want someone to tell them, not to figure it out for themselves.

I want to make mistakes. But doesn’t everyone? Am I the only one willing to be honest?

Isn’t the only way to know the joy of my decisions by balancing it against the misery of my mistakes? Sometimes I wonder if that’s what life is about, is exploring the world around us and learning what it has to offer. Can you do that with a prescribed set of beliefs?

This song makes me think of religion. These are my rambling thoughts on religion.

Beautiful Brutality - Random

I’ve been listening to a Chipbeat DJ named Random. Since hearing Random’s music, I can’t get his nauseating beats out of my head. I’ve downloaded a whole slew of chipbeat music into my regular circulation – most of it from Random. His music beams addictive brilliance from every little melodic beat, and it’s fitting to me, someone who champions video games.

8-bit music isn’t very popular – quite apparently a niche sound once heard. My parents can’t tolerate the harsh bleeps and bloops that constitute the very nature of the genre, although my friends are a little more accepting – we teenagers tend to be versed in the harsh, dissonant freneticism only our savvy web-browsing could unearth – but as genres go, it is more of an acquired taste than, say, catchy pop (though it does have a foot-tapping appeal to the rankle).

I like chipbeat. Despite its esoteric sound, I’m finding it an indispensable part of my already eclectic music library as a writer who draws from the tone of his music. I sometimes listen to chipbeat while writing about video games. Every time I sit down to write a piece on my experience with a particular game, I find myself running into a stifling wall of wondering what the value is of my time spent with the polygonal abstraction. What was the point of what I was doing? Did it have one? Is what I’m doing here really a worthwhile experience? Was it even creative? I can’t correctly impart my experience until I climb that jeering wall.

So I like to play chipbeat music while writing about video games. The sound is harsh, indulgent, and only sometimes worthwhile, it’s true, but so is what I’m writing about. Despite their development, games (or, interactive entertainment) have a long way to go in terms of serving humanity. We’re used to thinking of games as mostly vapid entertainment that lets us shoot people in the face and feel great about it, but the ideas governing our thought are actively changing with each passing year. Earnest developments like the Wii are working to break perspectives and cast new molds that will inevitably serve to propel the medium in a more universally beneficial direction. And the worthwhile experiences are slowly emerging: Braid, Mirror’s Edge, and Wii Sports press forward.

Low-tech 8-bit bleeps and bloops serves as a constant reminder of the progress we’ve made as a community and an industry to realize our own waking potential – our crude, cacophonous origins and our hopeful, talent-ridden future. The iconic chipbeat style of Random embodies that notion to me.

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