Shredder’s Suite: Villainous Vibrations

portraits: influences and remembrance
influences and remembrances

I’ve talked about the use of music in magic and the Higher Dark a few times on this blog, but I keep coming back to it. Music, to me, is one of the purer forms of energy, or perhaps an easy way to tap into and flow energy, if you will.

The theme music from Shredder and the Foot’s scenes in the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is clearly written for a villain.

But as you listen to it, there’s no mistaking how it holds so much energy.

Forget what this theme is about, forget the scenes in the movie, if you even remember them.

Instead, dance to this, that kind of dancing that the music tells your body what to do.

The track leads with a deep bass, somewhere between a heartbeat and a thunderclap, that seems to echo through dark corridors, whether of ancient halls of Japan or a network of underground tunnels and darkened warehouses of New York. It is a powerful sound, but a shadowy sound. Anyone who remembers seeing the film will remember this beat, but what follows is just as elegantly crafted. 

Of course, there is a clear ’80s rock influence (and yes I love the Stranger Things theme as well), and most of the tones are produced by synthesizer, but I find it still holds up as a strong piece of music. (By the by, I’d love to hear someone cover this with all acoustic and real electric instruments. Taiko drums and other traditional Japanese instruments, like Shakuhachi (flute) and Biwa (lute), would be excellent! However, you could never replace the electric guitar with its distinctly modern power and New York street life feel.)

There is a vibration of power throughout the suite and a haunting sense of mystery. There is also a sense of action. This is not music to sit in a dark room and contemplate plans, this is movement through the shadows, of agile and deft actions leading toward the targets of your goals, of swift and precise activation and a sense of urgency. You move toward your targets with skill and knowing, when to creep forward silently, when to move like a shadow yourself as if magically dematerializing, and when to rush forward and jump and climb over obstacles, which you do with ease and fluid application of effort. You draw the deep, underground power of the bass notes and the electricity of the guitar notes through your body and use them to drive yourself forward with an energy that is unstoppable, not like a brutal juggernaut, but as a flexible, versatile… well, ninja.

The suite is beautiful and energizing. Dancing to it makes you just feel badass. And it uses every part of the energy, from the bass notes at the core of your spine to the high notes of tingling nerves at your fingertips.

For a theme song, I already mentioned my enjoyment of the Stranger Things theme, but as I was reading comments where I was listening on YouTube, someone also compared it to the Star Wars Imperial March. I would say Shredder’s Suite lands solidly in between these two themes. (I’m abbreviating these titles to SS (Shredder’s Suite), IM (Imperial March) and ST (Stranger Things) for discussion.)

ST is all about mystery and magic, it’s eerie and creepy, washing over you like fog with unidentified flickers of light beaming through it here and there. Throughout, it is driven by a heartbeat that, unlike SS, never really goes away but never really gets loud and thunderous either. It has strong, vibrating bass notes, but it is carried more by the middle notes that linger with you, followed by cascades of sound that rush over you, then drift away again, as if leaving you alone and lost in the dark woods, knowing something’s out there but with no idea where and only the feeling you need to keep moving, to try to get back to the path home, but stay low try not to be seen or heard yourself.

The IM starts out very much being about the might of the Galactic Empire, and how Vader wields it and the Dark Side of the Force with each step that he takes, leading in with the menacing initial build up of the beat before the brass begins the main strains. But then if you listen to the full theme, as it is used across all the movies and scenes with Vader/Anakin and Luke, it later becomes subtle, piquant and emotional, much more comparable to the other two themes. It has quiet woodwind sections that could easily be from a horror movie about bugs crawling through a haunted house, and urgent, fright-filled string sections, but it is most known for the driving force of the brass and cymbal crashes. But while SS has the feel of the many feet of the Foot backing Shredder up, carrying out his will, it does not have that overwhelming marching beat of soldiers in the sense of rows and ranks. (I hazard to say the Foot could take the Storm Troopers any day if it didn’t come down to sheer numbers.)

These themes tell the story as much as the script does, but like SS, that doesn’t mean you can’t use the sounds, vibrations, power and energy to put toward your magic and your targets and actualization.

What if you are not the child lost and confused in the familiar yet alien world? What if you are not the rebel guard facing down the black-armored cyborg, your little blaster cast in the red light of that long, burning saber? What if you’re not a teenager with your three brothers, your closest allies, knocked out on the ground, facing down their attacker as he tells you your teacher and father is gone forever? You can enjoy the story, but not be in the story.

You also don’t have to be a horrible monster. You don’t have to be the Mind Flayer infusing every part of the Upside Down with your spores and tentacles of merciless control. You don’t have to be Vader cutting down and choking out every upstart rebel or failed soldier who stands in your way. You don’t have to be Shredder, using and tossing away the children you taught to be warriors, who called you master and father.

The use of the terms “Destroy” and “UnCreate” isn’t about destroying people but destroying limitations on yourself. It’s about taking your previous creations that aren’t working for you anymore, if they ever did, and pulling, cracking open, pulverizing, all the pure energy out of them, neutralizing it, depolarizing it, so you can use it for something else.

You can take the ground level of the monsters, their power, their energy, their skill, their magic, and you can be the elemental being that You Be. That is the point of the Higher Dark, to tap into power without evil and corruption, to feel the flow and forward movement, the ground under your feet as you leap, the air and sky around you as you turn into shadow, and move through life with ease and flowing energy, and use it to create what benefits you and destroy what no longer serves you.

Also, not in closing, but to plug some of the YouTube creators I like: this post was triggered by my discovery of the One Villainous Scene playlist on YouTube by Nando v Movies and other creators, including the fabulous Overly Sarcastic Productions. If you like villainy, analysis and geekery, I recommend all of the above. Some vids are more quality than others – OSP is always awesome and, in this case, talking about Dracula in the excellent Castlevania animated series – but almost all of the villains featured I agree with, and not all are fantastic in nature, Hannibal Lector is in there, for example. The introduction to Shredder was featured by This is Nathan Variety Show, but he DIDN’T MENTION THE MUSIC, and I couldn’t let that stand.

And another thing/side note, if you like the Suite: I found the Shredder’s Suite theme on YouTube to listen to again. I, of course, still have the original ’90s CD, which I used to dance to constantly and now should probably digitize while it’s still in good condition – not to mention doin’ some 9.95-ing to work out my 2020 rear end. But apparently you can get a CD of the score, if it’s not indefinitely sold out: a commenter posted: random, 2 years ago, “I finally pre-ordered the CD soundtrack from Waxwork records. Cant wait to listen to it. Its long overdue.”

I am a writer/illustrator of various types of speculative fiction but mostly modern fantasy. I have loved magic, and the people and creatures who live with it and use it, all my life, and writing and drawing these people in modern environments makes it all the more real to me. I also like to add an element of Darkness and horror, as well as science fiction, for “flavor”. I am fascinated with everything from unicorns and dragons to vampires and demons.

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