Technically still considered part of Olympus Coliseum, the Underworld is a place your character travels to after discovering Hades is up to something bad (shocker!). I personally love this track so much: it is such a harmonically and rhythmically static piece, and the slight variations are so unsettling, but in such a beautiful way. In today’s article, we are going to be talking about a somewhat contemporary genre in the Western music world, minimalism.
Here is the audio for “The Underworld”, which originally appeared in Kingdom Hearts II, and is now used as the Underworld field theme in Kingdom Hearts Union Cross.
Ooh it’s so spooky! I still haven’t beaten Kingdom Hearts II, so this track was new to me when I first heard it in Kingdom Hearts Union Cross. Let’s unpack this haunting track, shall we?
First, let’s talk about the instrumentation of the piece:
- marimba, playing a fairly consistent background melody throughout the whole track
- synthesized percussion, sounds a bit like distorted hi-hat
- synthesized instruments that sound similar to violin pizzicato
- somewhat bouncy lower strings, providing a bit of bass variety
- piano, playing occasional super low octaves
- organ chords, slow-moving and dissonant
- choir, very sparse and faint
Each instrument/instrumental section’s part is very repetitive, and does not do much in terms of movement or development.
Now, what exactly is minimalism? In a musical world full of complex harmonies, intricately developed structures, and catchy melodies—all good things, mind you—minimalism is a type of music that is typically void of all the aforementioned concepts. Now this is not to say that minimalist music never has any of those characteristics… Minimalism often employs very little in terms of chord progressions, large intervals in a melody (unless the same large interval is repeated over and over), and is generally very repetitive.
Some famous minimalist composers include Steve Reich and Philip Glass (among others). I had the chance to study Steve Reich’s music quite a bit in college. For one of our musicianship tests, we were to clap and sing an excerpt from one of the minimalist composer’s lovely Hebrew songs, “Tehillim”:
Like this piece, minimalist pieces are usually fairly long, ranging from 10 minutes to over an hour. With such little variation, and such immense lengths, minimalist music is very easy to space out or meditate to, as it is extremely trance-inducing… o________o
Before we completely lose focus on everything, let’s go back to “The Underworld”! I would classify this piece as being one of the Kingdom Hearts tracks that is closest to being minimalistic, mainly because of its unchanging chords, bass line, and extremely repetitive melodic lines. Also similar to a lot of minimalistic music, the time signature is not so easy to pick up on. I think for the most part the piece is in 3/4, though the downbeat is often obscured, making it hard to tell where each measure begins and ends—a very, very entrancing effect!
What do you think of minimalism? Exciting and transcendent, or just plain boring?? Leave your thoughts in the comments! ♪
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!