Oblique et coupant l’ombre un torrent éclatant
Ruisselait en flots d’or sur la dalle polie
Où les atomes d’ambre au feu se miroitant
Mêlaient leur sarabande à la gymnopédie
Slanting and shadow-cutting a bursting streamJ. P. Contamine de Latour, Les Antiques.
Trickled in gusts of gold on the shiny flagstone
Where the amber atoms in the fire gleaming
Mingled their sarabande with the gymnopaedia.
Excerpt published alongside Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1.
Modus Interactive has a way with destructive architecture, with digitized runoff and detritus left over from the transmutation of deterritorialized cityscapes. With A Broken City comes yet another imaginative vignette of comfortable desolation, where Satie’s Gymnopédies haunt you distantly as you traverse urban esoterica.
As the sun wheezes, a cryptic chime will occasionally call to you – a reminder that this place, now devoid of context, is timeless. The chime now signifies something else: it is a harbinger of memory leakage in every sense of the term. The music starts to stutter, the floor gives way to a haze of assorted colors, as you find yourself at one source of the song: a golden speaker on a leaning pole, its other half fallen to the ground.
The choice of Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies is a fascinating one. Released between 1888 and 1896, they are considered forerunners to today’s ambient music. This sort of influence is par for the course with Satie’s body of work, which stood prominently in the Parisian avant-garde, inspired much use of repetition in modernist composition, and served as a precursor to post-war minimalism.
In this case, however, the particular (forgive me) ambiance the Gymnopédies impart on A Broken City makes for the most fitting soundtrack imaginable. Unsurprisingly for their influence on ambient music, they lend themselves well to being mangled and distorted as they play from the collapsed golden loudspeakers. As they play in this desolate world, they serve an aesthetic sensibility comparable to the symbolist work of Puvis de Chavannes that purportedly inspired the atmosphere of their composition. The symbolists rejected realism, asserting instead that art should represent absolute truth, through metaphor and suggestion. While it’s hard to say whether A Broken City sets out to express some truth, it certainly provides ample room for reflection. Its surreality prompts odd, dreamlike trains of thought, all with the lucidity of the (presumable) wakefulness of the player.
On the topic of trains, a hint to get as much out of this experience as possible: try and trace where the trains go. You won’t regret it.
Yestin Harrison is a dilettante fascinated by anything from games to graphic design to planetary-scale distributed systems. When not performing his duties as webmaster at Rebind or kicking the site an occasional article, he's found anywhere there's a lark to chase. Reach him on the Web at ylh.io, and on twitter @yestinharrison.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice