By: Erik Satie
In a bizarre childhood twist, I was first introduced to the music of Erik Satie via a video game: Challenge of the Ancient Empires.
My sisters and I devoured games by The Learning Company when we were kids. There were games that taught reading comprehension, basic math, and even ancient history (see above). I'm not sure what the children's educational software market is like nowadays because I don't have any children, except to tell you that Mavis Beacon is probably still kicking around somewhere.
But enough about childhood educational video game nostalgia. The point is that The Learning Company had this great idea. If you don't have somebody on your programming team who can compose music, what's the easiest way to include it without infringing upon copyright laws? That's right, kids. Classical composers. Bushbuck was the same way. You could fly across the globe on a geography learning adventure/scavenger hunt, whilst enjoying Rossini as you watched your plane travel from airport to airport.
Whoops, I promised no more childhood video game nostalgia. Ok, on to Erik Satie.
Like I was saying, I was introduced to the music via 'Challenge of the Ancient Empires', but when I was a kid I thought it was just music composed for the game. Years later, I was listening to CBC Radio in the car, and the Gnossiennes came on...all six of them, in fact. Needless to say, I flipped a little bit when I realized the connection. I'm weird like that.
I went home and immediately did what anybody of my generation would do: I went on Wikipedia and looked up Erik Satie. Then I looked up Challenge of the Ancient Empires, and smacked myself on the forehead. The game played 'Marche Slave' in the Egypt rooms, which should have tipped me off because I've always been a huge Tchaikovsky fan. I should have known the music was all borrowed from classical composers!
I got over it, though, and downloaded an entire album of Satie's music. The best part about the Gnossiennes is that no two pianists are going to play them the same way. Satie composed the music without traditional time signatures or bar lines, leaving a lot up to the interpretation of the performer.
No matter how it's played, however, Gnossienne #1 is a haunting piece; I'm sure you'll agree if you have a listen. It's pretty popular too, and has been played in at least a dozen films. It's a great introduction to a style of classical music that you might not normally approach...and it's one of those great pieces to put on your playlist when you're outside underneath the stars.
Classical has that great ability to inspire because it merely sets the mood - it doesn't demand anything extra by adding words. I think every artist should have a good classical playlist ready when they need some inspiration. I probably couldn't have written Crystal Promise without some help from Vivaldi!
This has been another rambling James Funfer essay. Enjoy the music!