I can picture a distant, fantastical place. Snow melts to reveal green pastures underneath. Flowers bloom, clouds disperse, and the sun peaks out. It feels as if you can stretch out your arms and bask in this new warmth. Creatures of all kinds come out of hibernation. Birds fly by. Dragons, too.
For the ambient mix series, Shimmer, whose about page reads, “Sowing the emotional music from everywhere / We shimmer above the cloud as we immersed into the sound,” comes a new mix from Quantum Natives and Eternal Dragonz affiliate, Monofee. It is a collection of mystical tracks, traversing ambient drone, anime and video game soundtracks, and even a melancholy ‘80s art rock song from David Sylvian, former frontman of the band Japan and longtime Ryuichi Sakamoto collaborator.
Monofee opens the mix with the sounds of birds chirping and then a contemplative melodica melody by Sumio Shiratori from the Moomin anime soundtrack. I can picture a distant, fantastical place. Snow melts to reveal green pastures underneath. Flowers bloom, clouds disperse, and the sun peaks out. It feels as if you can stretch out your arms and bask in this new warmth. Creatures of all kinds come out of hibernation. Birds fly by. Dragons, too. Witches on broomsticks find a safe place to land, cackling with joy. A creature resembling a hippopotamus steps out of the front door of its home, excited to explore and play in the fresh spring air.
The mix moves slowly, meandering as if happy to take in the scenery and appreciate its surroundings. The tracks ebb and flow into each other and there is a calmness to its pacing that encourages peace. It is the kind of mix you can put on before bed. You close your eyes, the music serenading you, and in that liminal space between consciousness and sleep, your mind begins to wander to faraway lands where magic and mystery are bountiful. To get lost in the sounds of the mix and allow yourself to follow the thoughts and fantasies they inspire is a welcome relief.
There is a nostalgic quality to the mix, not because these are songs I grew up listening to, but because they capture a specific feeling from a time when I immersed myself in the world of fantasy. Listening to this mix, my mind recalls my childhood, when my imagination was curious, energetic, abundant. When I relished in the bliss of getting lost in fantastical worlds, characters, and stories. I remember reading fantasy books like Eragon, watching the Lord of the Rings movies, and eventually discovering video games, specifically role-playing games. I remember them with immense fondness. There was a safety that they offered, a way to travel to distant, sometimes dangerous lands, immerse myself in the sights and the sounds, and pretend I was the protagonist on a heroic journey. It was a way to escape the boredom of suburbia and the loneliness of being an only child.
As I lose myself in thought while the mix plays, “Whisper and Mantra” by Hiroki Kikuta from the 1993 action role-playing game Secrets of Mana gently arrives. A solitary piano line—a slow arpeggio—fades in. Percussive cymbals ring out every so often and a midi choir joins with an ethereal melody. Strings swell and a celeste twinkles in the distance. The effect is magical, dreamlike, and tranquil. I immediately think of playing Final Fantasy III on my Nintendo DS in bed, hiding under the sheets because it was past my bedtime. I can recall so clearly that warm, cozy feeling, surrounded by soft blankets, traversing open fields, battling dragons and zombies and enemy soldiers on my handheld gaming console, as my eyes became heavier and heavier, until at last I fell asleep.
The mix closes with “Let the Happiness In,” a pensive lullaby from David Sylvian’s acclaimed 1987 solo album, Secrets of the Beehive. A warm low brass section slowly swells. Then Sylvian’s deep voice enters: “I’m waiting on the empty docks / Watching the ships come in / I’m waiting for the agony to stop / Oh, let the happiness in.” It feels like a somber return to the real world, a reminder of the melancholy that persists. But there is still the promise, or at least hope, that joy may come back again. This, too, is a reminder of the power of fantasy, of the happiness that can be generated by the imagination, of the happiness that was generated through this mix. A safe faraway place, a refuge to visit, even amidst difficult times. Monofee’s mix became the ship that brought me to that safe place, that world of magic and wonder, comfort and nostalgia, and though the return to the docks is bittersweet, I feel a profound sense of fulfillment from having embarked on that journey.