Sound of memories: summer


[Soundtrack: one]

I recently uploaded a track on my SoundCloud. To break it down, it’s an acapella of Where Is the Love? by The Black Eyed Peas, on top of an instrumental I made by sampling The Name of Life by Joe Hisaishi (better known as One Summer’s Day, from Spirited Away). As background, this isn’t the first time I’ve tried making a hip hop beat with One Summer’s Day. The idea came to me about a year ago and I thought it would be the perfect amalgamation of the two very important elements of my life: hip hop and anime (representing my Asian culture). Unfortunately, due to my lack of proficiency in Ableton or FL Studio, I had to give up on the project — well, that is, until a few days ago.

I just knew what to do this time. I’m happy with how the track turned out, and even happier with the fact that it’s something that I feel comfortable in sharing. This is a personal milestone and I really hope that this continues. Although it may seem obvious “practice makes perfect”, I remember being downright scared about losing some of my artistic sensibility when I had decided to quit smoking weed. How shall I describe it… when I was sober, it felt as though I lacked the level of intuition I had with music compared to when I were high. This was deeply troubling and caused myself to doubt. Of course, in hindsight, I know I made the right call because what I eventually came to realize — and I think many artists will agree with me — is that having discipline and consistency is much more important than having passion and creativity alone. Having ideas, no matter how amazing they are, is not good or productive unless you actually do the work in bringing them to life. Here’s a paraphrase of what Mike Monday said in regards to how to make sure music projects get finished:

“Habits are more responsible for what you do and what happens to you than your motivation, desire, excitement, hope, skills or abilities.”

I had mentioned before that I had decided to put faith in God, to give God a ‘try’. Well, at some point, I found myself praying for consistency in my life. I wanted regularity in my sleep schedule, eating, exercise, and most of all, my mood. It’s still a working progress but it’s so clear that I’ve come a long way from skipping all my classes because I felt anxious to go outside. Having a schedule might seem like the opposite of being truly free, but I found that having a stable ground to stand on made it much easier for myself to heal, build, grow, and explore outwards.

In the past, I was very prone to losing myself in certain feelings of sadness or nostalgia. My thoughts often spiralled downwards into depressive states of mind like they were effected by the gravitational pull. And by the time I had noticed it, it would too late and I wouldn’t be able to find the way back up. Hours would go by in these train of thoughts and I found myself profoundly sad. Normally, you’d think that this was terrible, but for me, as an ‘artist’, these feelings felt useful and beautiful. It allowed me to sit in a pool of sadness and bathe in it until I couldn’t anymore. This tendency and attraction towards depression was very difficult to break away from, even when I realized that I was starting to drown in the deep end. This is a topic that I would like to elaborate very much on, but I’ll save that for a future post.

Although the point here — again — is the contrast to the ‘me of the past’, I’m not trying to say that the present me as a Christian is a perfectly happy person and that all of these predispositions are gone. Rather, having faith and accepting that the joy and peace in Jesus is the true reality has allowed me to navigate and explore these messy and dark emotions much deeper than ever before without actually getting sucked into them. Now when I swim in sadness, I know which way is up and I’m not drowning. If this isn’t a win-win then I don’t know what is.

Going back to the topic of music, a song like One summer’s Day would have had plenty of triggers for me of the past. I would get lost in ideas of nostalgia stirred up by the song. What I find interesting is that this feeling of nostalgia brought on by the song seems to be a shared phenomenon (though hopefully not to the same degree). As an example, here’s a YouTube comment that was posted in response to a song called Path of the Wind (from My Neighbor Totoro, also from Studio Ghibli and composed by Joe Hisashi):

“Ever think that these movies have a far-off memory feel like you were actually in them? Like a dream? I feel like I actually met Totoro as a child when I hear this music… such fleeting times they were…”

And comments like these are incredibly common in Studio Ghibli’s music, many of which were composed by Joe. Does this mean there is a certain property of sound for nostalgia? How would that be possible when nostalgia is subjective and complicated? Anyways, I digress.

As for me, One Summer’s Day feels like… a day in summer. More specifically, I picture a summer’s day in the Korean or Japanese countryside. There’s a feeling for longing, dreams that seem just out of reach, with little heart breaks here and there. Curious feelings, stream of water flowing, a coming of age. Waking up in the morning and thinking about the night before. These are some of the feelings and ideas of memories incited by the song. With this as a segue, I’m going to mention a few other examples of what summer sounds like to me.

Kikujiro no Natsu (1999) is another movie that Joe has composed the soundtrack for. The title of the main theme is simply called Summer. With this one, you can picture a countryside, where the sun is out, and you’re biking around. You can feel the wind flowing around you and everywhere you look, you see the beautiful mountains and the far stretch of farmland. I have a memory of watching movie as a kid back in Korea.

It was summer, of course, and I was sitting in my grandparents’ living room which was also my bedroom for the summer. My family and I gathered around what must have been a small, ~20″ TV to watch this movie. I don’t remember the details of the movie but it was about a child and a middle aged man adventuring together to find the child’s mother. But even without the plot, I can still vividly remember the feel of summer the movie captured on film. I think this was also one of the last times my family watched a movie together.

When it comes to the seminal sound of summer, it must be the sound of cicadas (you know, the sound from Evangelion). I don’t know about you, but my summers really did sound like this while growing up in Korea. This is the aspect of summer that is blazingly hot. T-shirts and shorts. Time seems to slow down. The sun is overwhelming and the stillness of heat can feel incredibly stagnant. For me, this is a very prominent aspect of summer.

There is a track called Peace Reigns in the Land (Tenkataihei) from Kare Kano‘s soundtrack. It feels like laying down on a green patch of grass staring at the bright blue skies — no clouds in sight. It feels exciting. This is the time during summer when you’re just so happy that the sun is out, and you want to spend your whole day outside. It feels opportunistic. Maybe go to the beach, maybe walk down the streets, or maybe tell that person how you really feel. Why not, it’s summer. And as the track nears its end, it really sounds like the day is getting darker and darker but it’s okay; there’s always tomorrow.

From Nadia: Secret of Blue Water‘s soundtrack: Electra’s Theme. This is an aspect of summer that is slow and kind of enchanting. Pictured is bright reflections of the sun on the ocean as the waves come slowly in and out of shore. You just lay there in the warm sand and just not think about the world for a while.

The last song/piece I want to mention is Vivaldi’s Summer. Other than its title, the iconic movement of Summer, “movement 3: Presto”, reminds me of the sudden and powerful downpours that happen in the summer… in Korea. As for Vancouver, I guess it’s not something that happens here.

Instead, in Vancouver, it rains in the winter, like right now. But even though my immediate environment has been terribly cold (for me) lately, listening to these songs bring me back into summer. This property of music is so interesting and has been applied quite extensively for me. Over the years, as I’ve discovered new genres over time, I’ve inadvertently encoded certain memories and feelings of the time period onto specific sounds. For example (approximately), metal, classic rock, and 80s pop were the sounds of early high school, jazz and progressive rock was late high school, EDM (of the time) was 1st and 2nd year of university, hip hop was 3rd and 4th and… so fourth. But I guess everyone experiences this, so much so that even Alzheimer patients can recall memories of their past when they hear music.

One of my favourite perspective of art is to view it as the process of bringing something into this world that only existed to the artist. As for music, music has the potential to influence, encourage, and empower people, and make people feel understood. Music can inspire joy and help us remember that life is more than just our immediate environments. Shout out to dance music for creating space for experiencing harmony and togetherness on a physical level through melody and rhythm. With all that’s been said, and knowing what music can do, I think it’s important to be intentional in creating music that helps us to focus on hope, joy, and peace — because this is promised. Romans 15:13: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”


Image is from Kikujiro no Natsu

Soundtrack one is a generic sound of cicadas