A pandemic soundtrack: How video games inspired Brooklyn Rose Future Jazz Orchestra
Over the first few months of the pandemic, Nintendo Switch sales soared. Much like bike and kayak stock flying off the shelves and backorders being pushed to as late as this year, people in isolation were in search of activities that could exercise their brain and body without the aid of others. During the colder months at the onset of the pandemic, video games were a more accessible and easier outlet to distract oneself from the perils of the outside world.
For jazz drummer and math rock musician Brooklyn Rose Ludlow, it was the perfect time to release a four-track EP of her ensemble the Brooklyn Rose Future Jazz Orchestra. It’s packed with sprawling and lively four-plus-minute adventures. But doing so with about a dozen contributors while producing videos and writing analysis for each track along the way? A daunting task even outside of a pandemic.
Right from the jump, our ears are confronted with an F-Zero-esque sequence of “Tokyo Drift 2051,” featuring superb solos by legendary local organist Tony Monaco and NYC drummer Josh Roberts. The barrage of staccatos carry the urgency of the production of Flying Lotus, another jazz-minded musician who has a well-known affinity of Asain pop culture. It also contains hints of the smooth jazz-influenced music of Japanese record producer Nujabes. It’s obvious through her hyperactive EDM storytelling, which takes on many ebbs and flows, that her understanding and knowledge of video game soundtrack structure is at or approaching expert level.
Brooklyn’s job as conductor of FJO took on many lives. One of those included writing instrumental arrangements for her team of talented friends to contribute. On “Okinawa Sunset” and “Dark Beast Ganon,” Devin Copfer is contributing strings, while Zakk Jones adds a plucky bass to the former LUSH track. All of the musicians who assist on “2:30am, I Miss Your Lips on Mine” provide a contemplative lo-fi texture to the most laid-back track of the four.
As effortless as the final product seemed, there were so many moving parts to Brooklyn’s project, which she documented in detail on her blog. When asked about how she felt when it was time to hit the road to record video and audio content for the album, she referred to this segment from her blog: “It was rough, it was scrappy, and it was the essence of life in August, 2020.”
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She elaborated: “It was also freedom. Separated from the backdrop of the pandemic, it was just me and my little car on the open road. We could go anywhere on the continent if we wanted to; as long as I had food to eat, water to drink, and society to distance. The evening I was driving back home after filming, I stopped at the Erie Presque Isle peninsula and just laid on the beach until the sun set. I’d never been, never even knew it was there. But it called to me, so I went. It’s still calling to me, and I’ll go back as soon as I can in the spring. With everything being remote now, it’s an ethereal feeling of being simultaneously untethered to any geographic location but deeply connected to the immediate environment you find yourself in.”
The final track of the EP is a cover of a tune from The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild titled “Dark Beast Ganon.” One of the most popular Nintendo Switch releases to date, I can attest that this game is so good I watched my roommate beat the whole thing. This particular version takes the concept of an open Zelda world and blows it wide open. Watching someone play this game is freeing. The scope of the world seems limitless, unlike most Nintendo games. Zelda soundtracks are Brooklyn’s favorites, but there’s something about her expansive musical reach that makes the choice to cover a Breath of the Wild track a perfect fit. The FJO seems like itself a limitless, ceiling-less project. Its sense of adventure gives both a longing and hope for what the outside world presents us once we get the “all clear.” It’s hopeful in a time when it’s common to be anything but that.