"Time's Scar," Part III

My analysis/review of Yasunori Mitsuda’s Chrono Cross opener, “Time’s Scar” has spanned two post so far, and with this one I intend to close the book on it. You’ve probably listened to and seen the video thirty times now, but I implore you press play again to take in the work as a whole before I begin.  Once more, with feeling!

In the first post, I covered the “Introduction” (0:00-0:57), the low-key, nostalgic, and folk-like setup to the second post’s “Transition” (0:57-1:14), a high-energy section comprised of multiple layers that serves to burst from the introduction and build into the third section, which I had deemed the “String Melody” (1:14-1:49).

After having been bombarded with instruments that serve to rush the listener and to push the music forward, that listener is suddenly yanked back by a crying violin and flute combo that soars above the other instruments.  The pairing is beautiful—the flute that the listener heard dancing around earlier in the piece smoothes out its howling violin partner. Unlike its string companions, Mitsuda decides that this pair need not play fast lines to incite adventure and excitement into the listener; instead, it leads an eighth-note pickup into a note held for a beat and a half.  Normally, a beat and a half is nothing to a listener, especially at a quicker tempo—but when placed in a den of instruments that have been playing sixteenth notes for the last seventeen seconds, it seems like it lasts an eternity.  The space reminds the listener that, amidst all of the adrenaline of an action sequence, there need be deliberate clarity and thought.

Mitsuda does not condemn the pair to be solely agents of the creation of space.  In the second measure of this C section, Mitsuda makes the pair try and play catch-up with the background.  He teases the listener with a hold that is a beat longer than the first and that stretches into the following measure.  The listener knows, though, that the note has to break because of the pressure put on it by its place in the harmony, so Mitsuda ruptures it using sixteenth notes and follows those sixteenths with unraveling eighths.  The pattern is repeated in the next phrase, but this time ends on a note that lasts two and a half beats.  These four bars are played again so that the listener may bask in these melodic phrases before the melody switches gears.

At 1:32, things open up even further.  Although it still has quick interjections to break space a little, the melody line starts to consist mostly of notes even longer than those of the previous phrases.  More importantly, though, are the lines that the instruments in the background play.  The guitar drops out while the strings play more stretched, more flowing lines than the swift, rigid sixteenth notes that have dominated their parts up until this point.

One could say that these lines provide the most interesting support in the whole piece.  Notice how the melody and countermelodies interact rhythmically.  The parts are basically playing games with each other—as one rests, another one moves.  The listener can hear that the moving parts push down on the harmony and make the unmoving parts continue to take action, and sometimes they meet rhythmically to generate gorgeous harmonies.  Take note, even, of how the supporting violins almost read the mind of the primary melodic instruments as, at 1:37, they anticipate the sixteenth note flicker a second later (or, conversely, how the melody responds to the support, though the former seems to make more sense due to the main melody’s nature of leading via sixteenths).

Other changes in the C section as a whole take place in the rhythm section.  First, pay close attention to the triangle.  The listener will hear that as it runs through the section, it starts eliminating beats from the pattern that it had been playing (reference "Time's Scar" Rhythmic Examples, given in Part II of the analysis).  After 1:24, it only plays the offbeat eighth notes of the old pattern, leaving space.  This space unintuitively creates a bit of rhythmic tension by absence, but not for long as the triangle cranks back into its original pattern to reinstate its drive at 1:32, the mark at which the melody leaves more space.  Meanwhile, the shaker, which has been steady since the B section started, suddenly convulses at 1:34.  Instead of providing a strict base of sixteenths, it rattles as if it were affected by the triangle’s release back into its old part.

Lastly, the bass is also active throughout these measures.  Leading into C, it rips a fill that continues over the bar and into the section, and then on beat 3 continues its previous line.  At 1:32, it counters the pull of the long notes by locking into a steady, moving quarter-note triplet groove.  At times, it unsurprisingly splits from the new groove, like at 1:36 and 1:44, only to land back in it.

Overall, Mitsuda creates rhythmic exchanges between the flute and strings and the rhythm section.  As the melodic instruments lead with notes of comparatively shorter length, the triangle opens itself, and as the melodic instruments rely on pressure put on by lengthy notes, the triangle ramps up, the shaker combusts, and the bass pushes.  He furthermore keeps the listener’s interest by interjecting small divergences from the static lines being played.  Time and time again, the listener hears that Mitsuda wants to ensure that the listener is engaged from beginning to end—and the next section certainly highlights that as well.

Every bar since the beginning of the tune has been forged as a clear setup for the final section, the “Breakdown and Ending” (1:49-2:24).  After such an exciting force of music post-Introduction that syncs up perfectly with images shown in the video (1:38-1:40 is mindboggling, how well Mitsuda and the CG team timed the image and the music), an entrance by a cello [gracefully and flowingly] slams everything headfirst into an unforgettable scenic view of Kid facing vibrant scenery in the world featured in Chrono Cross.

Time seems to stop here.  Mitsuda strips away all instruments outside of the strings and electric bass and, in turn, replaces the missing ones with the panning sound of the breeze.  The strings play their lines from the previous few measures with the addition of the cello, but the only thing that sounds like it is keeping the music moving forward is the bass.  And, to provide that movement, the bass grooves no longer in these eight bars; rather, its mission is not to lean back and to stay directly on top of the beat—it must keep the tempo locked in despite the freedom that has become prevalent in piece as a whole.

Just as soon as the listener starts to relax and float carefree when the breakdown happens, s/he is pulled back down to earth at full force.  The piece, without warning, erupts, bringing back in all of the instruments—even the ones that were missing from the bars before the breakdown.  It is lead into these last bars by a multitude of instruments that deplete the open feel of the breakdown by playing their own individual, but masterly interwoven, quick phrases.  During the lines, a suspended cymbal crescendos and therefore, with the shaker, fills in a void left by all of the melodic instruments a half a beat before everything riots.  The ceasefire enacted by all of the instruments is immensely powerful because the harmonic movement of the lines tricks the brain into hearing all of the instruments’ next notes, but they simply are just not there (or are too low in the mix to be composed with the intention of being noticed at all).

The ear is then sent into a frenzy trying to catch all of the happenings that are compacted in these last eighteen seconds of the piece.  It knows that a lot is happening, but it can barely catch up to the individual parts due to the abrasiveness of some.  There is, however, method in the madness; in fact, the instruments act as if they were told to play freely during these bars in front of a very stable background that roots the ear to all that it had heard previously.

One may find it interesting to think about how stability is “created” here instead of retained, as it had been throughout the song until the point of the riot.  One can hear the switch by simply listening to the bass.  The bass starts out by reverting to the pre-breakdown triplet groove, but soon finds itself joining the other instruments in the chaos.  Now that most of the old foundation is unavailable (though the shaker still remains solid, and the triangle, though giving into the temptation to “improvise” again at the end, plays its familiar pattern), it is up to the lead violin, viola, and cello to ground the tune.  The irony here is that these were the instruments that seemed the most unstable in as early as the phrases played in the last eight bars since they were all leaning on one another to move the harmony along.  Now, the violin’s melody and the viola and cello’s long tones ensure that the listener does not lose touch with that to which s/he has been listening.

The other perpetrators of the disarray aside from the bass are the second violin, the guitar, the timbales, and the flute.  The flute plays a lot of notes softly around the feral screams it unleashes at times that seem unexpected; the guitar chunks along; and the violin plays lots of sixteenth notes reminiscent to the parts in the transition, but alters the pitches to give itself very cool melodic and harmonic value.  Lastly, the timbales, though playing what it always has played, are so sharply striking that in the thick bisque of sound they command the listener to pay attention to them, only adding more confusion and misdirection to the ear.

And then, when the loudness and confusion is at its peak, the piece climaxes on a single, heavily accented note and—!  Ends.

Yasunori Mitsuda contained this work of art in just two minutes and twenty-four seconds.  Around the simplicity of the main melodies he weaved complex backgrounds and created massive amounts of creative interplay that forge distinct sections and keep the listener engaged in the strictest scene of the word.  Furthermore, the work rises to the pinnacle of audio/video interaction as the video beautifully and forcefully makes the gamer completely aware of the aesthetics of the game for which the song was meant through its dexterous locks with the musical time.  Certainly, “Time’s Scar” is a model work from which other VGM compositions like it should be derived.

Thank you for taking the time to read this analysis.  I am sincerely apologetic about having to break it up so and taking so long to write everything, but the more I listened, the more I heard and the more the parts engaged me, thus making me write more.  From here, I will try to use what I discovered in “Time’s Scar” to write my tunes more effectively.  And, I will absolutely point out that which I think was influenced by Mitsuda’s masterpiece in my posts about my compositional process.