The Ecstatic Solitude of Hollow Knight
Matt Korvette, the phlegm-jockey that growls for Pissed Jeans, has run a quietly rad music blog for some time which Noisey just blew up. If you want vacuum-tight capsule reviews of electronica and punk rock of every possible sub-genre, Yellow Green Red is the place to go. I’ve been fishing leads from there for some time, so I shouldn’t be surprised when Matt serves up a resplendent musical gem, but I wasn’t really expecting to find the minimal avant-jazz of Arve Henriksen.
Matt’s review nails most of the highlights, to which I will only add that Arve’s Towards Language is a quiet, throbbing record where the trumpet is played near the timbre of a shakuhachi zen flute. Arve whispers through his horn in struggling squeaks with ebbing electronics in the background. It’s an album that demands volume to appreciate the space between grooves, crafting a solitary tremor that feints as thin but provides a grounded sojourn for the listener. Towards Language plays on a sense of loneliness that doesn’t so much meander as blossom, not really with crescendos but steady movement.
Which is why I thought about this album a lot while playing Hollow Knight. This is a long game, the cartography of which Sam Desatoff astutely breaks open in an earlier article on this very website. My experience with Team Cherry’s play on the Underdark has been one of solemn wandering, content to pick at the path ahead without too much concern about those I’ve passed. Of course there are desperate, lip-chewing fights and hairy mysteries nestled in these tunnels and it’s assumed that each will be run through in time. While I delight in these various directions and surprises, my most sublime joy in this game is found as I walk the path of the humble insect warrior.
Hollow Knight charms from the start with its acute near-silence. Though “silence” isn’t exactly right, as with the presence of pulsing air in a dark cave sound still registers. This game drips with a quivering stillness, for the longest time only allowing your own noises to accompany you. And while many delicately skeletal background tracks play throughout the Greenpath, Fungal Wastes, City of Tears and several other areas, the still vast connective routes between them carry a humbling maw of meditative quiet.
These interstices are my favorite zones. Life still teems, clicks, and buzzes, but not the obliterated civilization that once thronged through each winding path. Like the insects roaring over post-apocalyptic Georgia in The Walking Dead, I am reminded that the supreme sentient lifeform in a given space isn’t granted eternal dominion: insects writhing just out of earshot, shadows of wings flutter by as unobtrusively echoes of echoes. Hollow Knight slowly peels back some mysteries, and like many similar games can’t help but fill out the cast with charming denizens also poking through the wastes, friend and foe alike, but threaded through each climax and reveal is a return to that somber traversal.
Towards Language and Hollow Knight are heaped with subtle sediment that demands attentive engagement. There are peaks and valleys but it’s not an overwhelming topography. Rather, these works refuse to deliver constant calorie-packed melodies or combative thrills, which would dismantle the feathered scaffolding that frames them. Each takes the time to inhabit the calm, invisible swarm that slowly reclaims the dirt; both revel in the restorative ecstasy of solitude.