Tonight at Boettcher Concert Hall, Denver will be graced with the four-part Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses tour, where audiences will see the legendary Nintendo game soundtrack scored by a collection of classically trained musicians. But is this just another gimmick to get people out to see the symphony, a trite beating of the proverbial dead-horse of millennial post-modernism? Or is it the culmination of a nostalgic generation, paying tribute to the 8-bit fantasies of their youth through a timeless medium? Patrick Rodgers and Josiah M Hesse enter our Split Decision thunderdome to debate the merits of tonight's symphony.
The original Legend of Zelda's 8-bit quest for Tri-Force ate up a lot of hours of my childhood; hours which I wouldn't have rather spent playing sports, reading books or otherwise bettering myself. Of the tens of thousands of pieces of music I've heard over the course of my life, the game's theme music is one of a select few that I can recall at a moment's notice. It holds a special place in my heart, but that doesn't mean I'm shelling out almost a hundred bucks for me and a date to listen to video game music as performed by professional musicians.
Video games are the new movies. Over the past few decades, they've expanded from arcades into our homes (just like movies went from theaters to VCRs to instant streaming), grown loyal audiences and spawned their own cultural niche, including gamer-centric magazines, retail outlets and merchandising. Games have big budgets, celebrity voice talent and marketing budgets, but at the end of the day, does that justify deconstructing one aspect of the Zelda franchise to capitalize on nostalgia?
What's next a live dramatic interpretation of Mario Bros. on Broadway? Or maybe the novelization of Donkey Kong? It's bad enough that Hollywood can't figure out how to make an original film worth watching - that we're subjected to this perpetual cycle of creative incest where everything showing on the big screen is a poorly done remake of something else (and actually just a vehicle for product placement). Are there really only two or three good scripts written per year? Doubtful. The problem is a fear to tread on the unknown waters of real creativity.
Are there no composers of interesting music in the world today? People whose lives have been dedicated to the study of music theory, who've endured the rigors of formal education, and who now compose music for to be performed simply for listening purposes (as opposed to dancing, per se)? In the name of developing and elevating our collective culture shouldn't we be using the opportunity to present live music to do more than just re-hash melodies that already have an audience of millions?
We could do better. We could be finding ways to support the great musical talents our time by presenting their creations to audiences -- rather than forcing all of them to either make pop music or write commercial jingles. But that would require risk taking, and in the highly commercialized world of cultural arts production there's little room for error when it comes to making ends meet. Better to play it safe and sell nostalgia.
When Igor Stravinsky debuted the Rite of Spring in Paris in 1913, the rhythmic intensity of the composition caused the audience to riot (they were used to more subdued Classical ballet influences). Now, that great artistic risk is one of the canonical pieces of Western music. It was in Fantasia. Where's all the music that makes people so emotional they riot, rather than just the music that makes everyone think about how much better life was when all they had to worry about was how to beat the next level?
-- Patrick Rodgers
"Can't repeat the past?" he cried incredulously. "Why of course you can!" -- Jay Gatsby.
Like sex, money and war, nostalgia is one of the most dangerous yet most integral components of being alive. In the same way that political fever can distort your view of an issue, recalling the past through the lens of nostalgia makes the situation look different than it actually was. Nostalgia only arouses happy memories, never dark ones -- happy memories spiced with the narcotic warmth of childhood: A time when the world was secure place of understood comfort. This can be dangerous when your considering reuniting with an ex-lover or watching Roadhouse on TBS, but never when it comes to the soundtracks of video games.
When Shigeru Miyamoto created The Legend of Zelda, his primary inspiration was his childhood. As a young boy living in the rural town of Sonobe, Japan, Miyamoto would explore the secluded caves, lakes and small villages surrounding his home, getting into adventures and traveling without a destination. Similarly, the fantasy world he created in Zelda was non-linear and unconcerned with scores -- which went against the gaming trends of the time. It was a slow-paced world of mythical creatures and quixotic indirection. For the name of the princess, Miyamoto chose the wife of one of the greatest nostalgists of all time, F. Scott Fitzgerald's beloved Zelda.
For anyone born between 1976 and 1983, "The Legend of Zelda Theme" draws out syrupy feelings of pre-pubescent sanctuary. Like a pop-culture mating call, the Elizabethan rhapsody that soundtrack's Link's adventures to find the princess and assemble the Tri-Force instantly arouses memories of snow-day afternoons, stuck inside for eight, ten, twelve hours, trying to find hidden passages and defeat the elusive Ganon.
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This is why it totally makes sense to have a Legend of Zelda Symphony. The only two purposes to music are A) to provide a romantic soundtrack to the present and B) provide a nostalgic vehicle to remember the past. Those in the older portion of Generation Y (or "millenials" or whatever) are terrific at this. In his book Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past, Simon Reynolds argues "the first ten years of the twenty first century turned out to be the 'Re' Decade.
The 2000s were dominated by the 're' prefix: revivals, reissues, remakes, re-enactments. Endless retrospection: every year brought an endless spate of anniversaries, with their attendant glut of biographies, memoirs, rockumentaries, biopics and commemorative issues of magazines." He goes on to cite bands like the White Stripes and The Darkness, and television shows like I Love the [Decade] were evidence of our generations overindulgence in nostalgia. But where else, if not in the ultimate retro genre of classical music, can we patronize our neurotic need to be children again?
-- Josiah M. Hesse
Boettcher Concert Hall is located at 1000 14th Street. Click here for tickets or more information.