Those who are following the Battle Bards podcast will have heard me mentioning my love for “jester tunes” several times now – a term I use to describe an intriguing subset of melodic tracks within the more spooky, playful and magical box of videogame music. While it’s almost impossible to verbalize this theme accurately, and listening to a few tracks is clearly the best way to go, I’ll make an attempt anyway at describing jester tunes and why I am so fascinated by them in particular.
Depending on whether one studies the character of the jester from a more historical or fictional viewpoint, portrayals will range from what the Royal Shakespeare Company (see also on Wikipedia) calls the “natural fool” (often physically or mentally disabled men turned into town clown and abused for public entertainment) versus the “licensed” fool type who was invited by nobles and kept at royal courts where they were granted free speech by decree. I say “kept” because royal fools were basically property and while they served the function of a political and social critic, sometimes acting as the people’s voice, they lived in constant danger of giving too much offense and being physically abused. To romanticize the status of jesters in this context would most certainly be wrong and there are those who question whether they ever indeed held positions of much importance.
The more likely jester, the one we know best from stories, is a creature of many colors: a sharp-tongued trickster, a singer and teller of tales, an acrobat and performer flamboyantly clad in the brightly colored uniform of his trade – the motley. An enigmatic, almost uncanny air surrounds him in many a tale, where one can never be quite sure of a character so shrill and free, so unpredictable and hence mysterious. Not surprisingly some developers (see Kefka for an example in videogames), authors and movie directors have expanded on this image and turned the fool (or clown, or joker) into the stuff of nightmares: a many-faced, fearsome and demonized character. Nothing is quite as spooky as a killer with a smiling face and make-up.
I love the duality and ambivalence that lies in the fictional jester, where he stops being a real person and becomes much rather a creature of legend or myth. A daredevil persona with the potential to serve both very selfish or altruistic goals, to speak scandalous truth delivered with an innocent face, unmasking evil or acting as its messenger. The fool stands essentially for chaos which is why he remains unmeasurable and scary. That said, I like my jesters to remain on the more harmless side of things!
Jester tunes convey all of that complexity: a playfulness and frivolity combined with spooky undertones. A characteristic use of disharmonious elements adds special flavor to this music and transports the notion of chaos. In short: I’m having a ton of fun with these tracks, I can never quite get enough of them! I hope you enjoy!