“Precious Stars in the Sky” is a simple, lovely piece of music that plays in the Quest Selection menus in Kingdom Hearts Unchained X. The original version of this piece was in Kingdom Hearts I, but this exact arrangement of the piece was actually also used in Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix HD, though I am unsure as to where exactly it was used (probably in a quest-selection sort of area as well).
First, let’s listen to “Precious Stars in the Sky”:
Before we talk about “steam iron” modulation though, let’s briefly talk about what modulation even is. Modulation refers to any time where the tonal center/key of a piece of music changes. For example, if a song is in the key of G major, then it switches to D major, that change in key is called a modulation.
Examples of very obvious modulations occur commonly in pop music, typically between the bridge/channel (middle section after the 2nd chorus) and the final chorus. One of my favorite examples of a super dramatic modulation in pop music is in “She’s Gone”, by Super Junior (epic modulation at 3:46):
…Wow, I hadn’t heard that song in YEARS. That modulation has brought tears to my eyes almost every single time I have listened it. Whew. ANYWAY…!!
A specific type of modulation that’s sometimes heard in pop music is called “truck driver’s gear change“, where a song changes key abruptly, without any sort of preparatory chords or transition, similar to a truck shifting gears. In some songs, there are multiple “truck driver modulations”, where the music will just keep changing keys, up and up and up… Like in Beyoncé’s “Love on Top” (truck driver modulations from 1:44 to the very end):
This song modulates a total of four times at the end! It’s a great effect, and really showcases Beyoncé’s vocal range, especially at the “yo-o-o-OU!” part—listeners are keenly waiting to see if she’ll really hit that high note this time.
Now usually, when a piece of music modulates, it will stay in that key. In the case of the truck driver modulation, when the key does change again, it’s to another, different key that is higher.
But, here is where we finally return to “Precious Stars in the Sky”. The piece has one main melody that repeats endlessly, but is in two different keys (C major and Bb major).
When this piece modulates however, it does not stay in the same key—in fact, it modulates back to the original key. And so, we are left with what I have deemed the “Steam Iron” modulation, where a piece of music simply changes keys back and forth and back and forth and back and forth.
Somehow I don’t find this track annoying at all, even though the loop is not even 30 seconds long. In fact, I have had the menu screen open, music playing, nearly the entire time I’ve been writing this article, and I’m not tired of it. Well done, Shimomura-san, well done. ^_^ ♪
Stay tuned for more Single-Track Analysis Articles of tracks from Kingdom Hearts Unchained X / Kingdom Hearts Union Cross! One article every day in the month of April 2017!