Glowing red lines approach and evade each other on the black screen. Straight, curved, and jagged edges dance along until letters form from what seemed to be a random mess of black and red. As the camera pans out, a glowing alphabet enters the frame and begins to spell out the now famous title: Stranger Things. The only thing more iconic than the television series itself is it’s soundtrack. Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon’s score for Stranger Things enhances the Duffers Brother’s story by allowing the viewer to observe the characters’ situations by immersing them in the emotion of each scene. While thumbing through the track listing on Spotify, I could imagine the scene of each song title.
Flashlights cut through the dark night as the boys race home on their bikes, putting comic books down as collateral for the bet of who will make it home first. The synth pop tune is light and bouncy, growing in volume and intricacy by the time Will reaches the road where he first encounters a creature from Hawkins Lab. Kids portrays a sense of innocence and hope, while foreshadowing growth in the search for the truth about their friend’s disappearance.
The Upside Down:
The boys huddle around Eleven as she sits in front of the Dungeons and Dragons game board. She flips it over, revealing a black underside, then slams Will’s game piece down in the center. Individual notes play, ascending and descending, each one slightly off key, representing the confusion, fear, and darkness that is The Upside Down.
Joyce attaches Christmas lights to the wall and frantically paints a single letter under each bulb. From the Upside Down, Will lets his mother know that he’s.
While their music can compliment a great existing story, Stein and Dixon can manipulate sound to create stories of their own. As two members of the quartet S U R V I V E, they’ve released multiple EPs and LPs including the 2016 release RR7349. When I find myself drawn to a certain album or song, for the most part I gravitate toward storytelling. The most direct way to break down a song’s story is by reading the lyrics. Whether it’s on an album’s insert or via the internet, reading along strengthens the emotional connection with the art. That isn’t to say that the music itself doesn’t play a role in storytelling, it does, and it does so quite well. With tempo and dynamics alone, music can portray feelings that lyrics cannot.
What the fuck is this? It’s just noise. This is a common response when you aren’t familiar with electronic music, because the evidence there is to help us understand the artists’ point of view isn’t always straightforward. I was guilty of this initial reaction in the past, but once I began to accept the leniency involved in interpreting the meaning of electronic music I started appreciating it, and really started getting into S U R V I V E.
AHB — A Familiar Place
AHB is the opening track on RR7349, and over the next four and a half minutes it will present more questions than answers. The song begins with a sound that resembles a rocket booster either engaging or disengaging. There’s a pop, a rumble, and it fades out to allow the music to roll in. There’s a familiarity to the sound as bass rhythmically bumps behind the droning synth. It makes one wonder if the landscape is that of our own Earth, or a planet in distant space that only resembles the third planet from the sun. As the boom — pat — boom — pat takes a break and starts again, a celestial synthesizer is added to the mix, making stars and other bodies appear in the orange sky, cutting the heat in our eyes with cold specks of white and blue. The rocket in the beginning comes back to mind and begs the question: was that the sound of a shuttle leaving our doomed planet for the far away promise of a new life as we stand in line awaiting the next departure, or are we already in a new world, and that was just the sound of another caravan of new arrivals behind the roaring flame? The tempo slows and intensity grows as the song reaches its end. Now we can only see the sky filled with bright lights from the stars, left to wonder if we’re staring into the quickly approaching future or a not so distant past.
Wardenclyffe — The Future is Electric
Wardenclyffe is the fifth track on the album, and plays for four minutes and nine seconds with a purposeful electricity inspired by the work of Nikola Tesla. Drafting paper sits in the center of a desk, illuminated by a single incandescent bulb. A steady hand crafts the future of wireless technology with a pencil. Parchment turns to loose earth and graphite turns to steel as the duns of the synthesizer drones on. A vision of a madman becomes reality piece by piece while a tower takes shape in a barren field. As the pace of the song picks up, so does construction on Wardenclyffe Tower. The bass that’s been keeping the beat lets up while the steel structure comes to life, spewing plasma into the sky. As our eyesight returns from the blinding light, the tower is no longer alone. Structures like it have popped up for miles: we can see them covering the Earth as we fly overhead, circling the globe before returning to find the single Wardenclyffe Tower alone. Again the bass retreats, and the arpeggio causes the steel beams to deconstruct, falling to the ground with a force that causes the loose earth to turn to blank drafting paper that rolls in on itself and off the desk.
Through years of experiencing episodes of panic and dissociation, music has become an important part of grounding for me. During an episode, it can feel as if all of my senses blend together as one, creating an uncomfortable experience to say the least. One technique I use to combat that feeling includes separating the senses into their five components: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. While it’s unbearable to feel all the senses at once, and although they do exist on their own, combining them by sets of two or three makes music the immersive experience that it is. I imagine little stories and situations like the ones above whenever I listen to electronic music. In the case of S U R V I V E, they tell me how to feel: I decide what I see.