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Paper Session
Nov 21, 2021 04:00 PM - 04:50 PM(America/Chicago)
20211121T1600 20211121T1650 America/Chicago Elements of Play AMS 2021 ams@amsmusicology.org
Traumatic Recall: Main Themes, Character Themes, and Thematic Disassociation in Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy Soundtracks
Individual Paper 05:00 PM - 05:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 23:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 23:50:00 UTC

            Trauma and memory error are both crucial narrative devices within Japanese Role-Playing Games. The Eastern Kishōtenketsu approach to story-telling helps to slowly reveal the protagonists' motivations and backstories, which are often rooted in memory-altering traumatic experiences (Kowert 2020). This is perhaps best exemplified in the Final Fantasy franchise: many of the stories involve characters who experience significant memory error and a crisis of identity due to some traumatic event from their past (Kelly 2020; Hughes and Orme 2020). Unsurprisingly, Nobuo Uematsu's leitmotivic scoring highlights these tragic experiences by blurring the rhetorical boundaries among character themes, main themes, and idée fixes. This results in a form of thematic disassociation, which bears significant-and often unaddressed-interpretive questions regarding the symbolism between the game's narrative and its soundtrack.

            Here, I identify four compositional techniques that provoke such thematic disassociation, all of which are present in Uematsu's leitmotivic Final Fantasy soundtracks: eponymous omission, associative troping, motivic networking, and the double idée fixe. Pairing each technique with different Final Fantasy titles, I demonstrate how purposely obfuscating musical identity may lead to a stronger understanding of the game's central theme by inviting more hermeneutic analyses of the musico-ludic structure (Bribitzer-Stull 2015). Uematsu's careful manipulation of musical topics, tropes, motivic development, and harmonic complexes depicts the psychological trauma that protagonists experience while simultaneously revealing the story's true underlying narrative slowly over the game-long trajectory (Phillips 2014). Ultimately, these dissociative techniques allow players to experience large-scale cinematic and musical tropes that elevate the discourse of the game's narrative to higher expressive dramatic planes (Hatten 1994). I conclude by advocating for more integrated approaches to leitmotivic analysis that include psychological character analysis, demonstrating the power of both association and disassociation.

Presenters
RA
Richard Anatone
Prince George's Community College
Piranhas, Volcanos, and Turtle Shells: Coherence and Congruence in Mario Kart 8's Enigmatic Sound World
Individual Paper 05:00 PM - 05:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 23:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 23:50:00 UTC

Nintendo's Mario Kart 8 presents a vividly imaginative virtual world in which players race in tiny go-karts through enigmatic racecourses and across disparate gaming universes using objects including bananas and turtle shells to derail competitors. In contrast to the 3D environment and gameplay, music establishes a sense of normalcy. How does sound create coherence (an essential quality for player immersion) in an incongruent world? This paper builds on existing scholarship that explores the relationship between music and games with exceptionally unrealistic gameplay by exploring the sound world of Mario Kart 8 - arguably one of Nintendo's most outlandish games. The present study draws from research by scholars, namely Andrew Schartmann and Guillaume Laroche, whose works have focused on the evolution of the musical themes composed for Super Mario Bros and its subsequent iterations. Isabella van Elferen, Elizabeth Medina-Gray, and Tim Summers have produced invaluable literature on ludomusicological topics, including immersion, modularity, and world-building. My research involves a detailed discussion of the modules and virtual environments of the "Piranha Plant Slide'' and "Grumble Volcano" racecourses. I argue that the coherence and congruence of the objects and characters in Mario Kart 8's nonsensical environments are established through the players' musical literacy of past Nintendo scores, the evocation of musical affect, and musical interaction through the dynamic sounds found in the diegetic and non-diegetic spaces. This study is unique in exploring the music from the Mario Kart series and contributes to the discourse on music's role in establishing congruence within imaginative virtual worlds.





Presenters
JH
James Heazlewood-Dale
Brandeis University
Self-Organization, Simulated Improvisation, and Vernacular Mathematics: Toward a Ludomusicology of Eighteenth-Century Dice Games
Individual Paper 05:00 PM - 05:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 23:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 23:50:00 UTC

Eighteenth-century musical dice games have been well studied as windows into compositional practice, applications of Leibniz's ars combinatoria, and precursors to twentieth-century algorithmic composition. But scholars have avoided examining these games on their own terms: as artifacts of ephemeral ludomusical practices popular among middle-class amateurs. I argue that, in offering players access to specialized mathematical and musical knowledge, these games owed less to Leibniz than they did to vernacular gaming treatises like Edmond Hoyle's wildly popular 1742 Treatise on Whist. Following Jonathan Sheehan and Dror Wahrman, I situate this popular interest in gaming and probability theory in the context of a growing need to account for experiences of contingency and risk that arose from an emerging economic order based in speculation on stocks, credit, and insurance annuities.


What can this nexus of economics, vernacular mathematics, and play tell us about musical dice games? Firstly, it urges us to reconsider the scholarly consensus that these games produced only an illusion of chance. I analyze a previously unstudied anonymous game that admits a great deal more harmonic variability--including chance occurrences of deceptive cadences, applied dominants, and harmonic modulations--than do the games scholars have studied thus far. More broadly, I argue that the possibility of failure was an integral part of these games' ludic appeal. 


Secondly, this context illuminates these games' entanglement with self-organization, a promiscuous concept that gained traction in the eighteenth century as a way to understand the emergence of complex phenomena from simple parts. Musical dice games allowed players to experiment with both mathematical and biocognitive phenomena of self-organization. The emergence of musical order from the games' chaotic number tables evoked mathematical interest in how orderly patterns emerge from chance events. Simultaneously, the act of producing this music allowed amateurs to simulate the improvisatory partimento practices through which experienced musicians drew on their embodied knowledge of stock musical formulae to spontaneously produce coherent musical wholes. I thus reframe these games not as static artifacts of compositional theory, but rather as dynamic texts that exist on a playful continuum of risk, controlled variability, and reward.

Presenters
EW
Etha Williams
Harvard University
Prince George's Community College
Harvard University
Brandeis University
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