soundtracks and the art of self-archival

I have purchased Dragonborn, and though I fully intend to go through it slower than I did the last two expansions (if one can call Hearthfire much of an expansion…which I suppose I don’t), I did have to sit down and break it in. No spoilers here; I’m only a few minutes into the new content, but already in pauses for conversation and real-life dinner my ears have pricked up at the introduction of new theme music. This is because I am intimately familiar with the music for Skyrim and for Morrowind, the latter of which gets a major send-up in this expansion. Morrowind’s themes were incorporated into the loop of possible themes upon Skyrim’s release, so their reappearance is nothing new. (And these new peregrinations of the french horn may in fact be older themes associated with Solstheim and Bloodmoon; I didn’t play the expansions though Morrowind itself swallowed the entirety of my last month at before college.) But the immediacy with which I pounced on the new audio content—just a few seconds in and I knew I was unfamiliar with it—made me pay more attention when the next Morrowind track came up, and, played against the Morrowind-ish backdrop of Solstheim, rang very nostalgic.

I know smell is supposed to be associated most with memory, but though I may be biased somewhat in sound’s direction (given my paen to pianos in movie soundtracks I think it’s safe to call bias on this), I do find it awfully evocative. Instrumental, soundtrackish music in particular—I’m not talking about That One Song You Drove Down The Highway Listening To With Your First Girlfriend. I’m talking about theme music. Music that shapes a space for you to exist in, rather than demanding you shut up and lay your own thoughts and ambitions aside to listen to it and let it dominate for the next 2.5 minutes.

I was thinking about soundtracks over the past couple of days, when aimless strolling on Spotify turned up this old gem. I used to listen to the Last of the Mohicans theme on audiocassette in the portable boom box (with headphones!) that was my pride and joy. Our family would be streaming over hills and around hairpin curves in rural Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and the theme would curl out over the countryside like a story, carrying with it associations of loneliness and loss, yes, but also allowing for the new imprints, roadtrips and more northern vastnesses than the North Carolina mountains where the movie was filmed. 

I cannot hear the Gladiator soundtrack without thinking of watching rain stream down my backseat windowpane as my dad guided us home through a thunderstorm after the movie—I had purchased the soundtrack, I liked it so much, and I stared at the rainy suburban intersection and thought of Tuscany, those tall broom-like trees, and wondered which I wanted more—a storm-wrought power outage or an empty block of time in which to subsume myself in the soundtrack. Both seemed equally, tempestuously appealing.

I am honest when I say I know little of music, can neither read it nor play it nor speak knowledgebly about it. All the musical knowledge I have is anecdotal, in that it is an anecdote I can personally recall. But there are a great number of those anecdotes. I remember instruments. I forget lyrics, and the names of singers and bands, but I remember the way the notes fall. Or don’t fall. The pauses are as important as the sounds. (Consider the hugely important pauses in the first few notes of Ashitaka’s theme. Would tingling bloom up through your neck into your cheeks when the strings sweep into their main movement without those slow, heavy, ponderous notes and the slow, heavy, ponderous pauses? This is another theme song that slew me the moment I heard it in the theater. I who grew up loathing everything from a viola to a triple-bass now swooned for a cello. Because when I heard it, I saw mountains*.)

And without the music, maybe I wouldn’t see anything. Maybe I’d’ve already forgotten.

*I know this is not the painted backdrop from the actual opening where this theme plays. That is a ridiculously difficult image to find. So I went for a similar one 10 minutes later with cell-art Ashitaka plonked down on it. 

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