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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Pursuit" captures how I want Halloween to sound

The industrial instrumental's dark, chilling nature makes it a great fit for the holiday — but it also isn't exclusively an October track.

It's Halloween... and I don't know whether I should feel bad for not really caring all that much.

Don't get me wrong, I once did thoroughly enjoy Halloween, as most if not all children did. I spent some October 31sts as a pirate, as Harry Potter, as Luigi, as a Baltimore Ravens player... but I seemed to be quicker than nearly all of my friends to stop caring about dressing up and really feeling the Halloween spirit. Maybe it was because I didn't live in a great area for trick-or-treating, just because of its location on a hill right off the highway. Maybe it was because I moved a couple cities away from my friends; while I stayed at the same school, everything outside of school hours was more of a chore to get to, and without a car of my own or being a real partier, I just didn't have the literal or figurative drive in me to do much. I'd show up to high school on Halloween wearing a jersey and a cap, take it off when I got home, and call it a day. Now, in college, I don't even do that... especially not this year, considering I'm still tired from commitments on Friday and Saturday.

Yet tonight, I felt a bit of regret in not taking part in any way — the first time I've felt anything remotely like that in at least four years. While I can't exactly pinpoint why that is, I wonder if part if it is just a desire to be socially active again after, as I and others put it, "the world ended." One way or another, I decided to get into the spirit by writing about a track that made me feel the way I wanted to feel this Halloween. I wanted to capture the typical dark, sPoOkY aesthetic, but I also didn't want to do it with the old standards. For example, "Thriller" is a classic and one of Michael Jackson's best, but after hearing it all month I wasn't feeling like listening to it today.

I found what I was looking for in an electronic instrumental from 2013 which I hadn't listened to in multiple years, but I somehow remembered when thinking of what tracks captured the aforementioned mood. "Pursuit," by French producer Gesaffelstein, is much more on the dark side sonically than it is spooky, but it also evokes another aspect of how I want to feel today through its driving, club-ready beat. If there were any day for me to go out and do something, whether it be to a house party or a bar or a club, it would be today, when people are their most outwardly expressive. In short, dark + hard-hitting electronic = both my musical mood and "Pursuit."

(Note: There is an official music video for "Pursuit," but it's age-restricted, so I'll simply link to it here. It's a very abstract video, and it seems to hint at the dark side of power getting to a dictator's head, ultimately consuming and perhaps killing them. It is not a video for the faint of heart, I shall say, simply because of the aspects of it that warrant age restriction.)

Like much of Gesaffelstein's first studio album Aleph, "Pursuit" is an industrial techno production built up from a few powerful loops. This sort of sound became associated with Gesaffelstein (real name Mike Lévy) through his concurrent work on (then-)Kanye West's album Yeezus (2013), for which he was involved with the production of lead single "Black Skinhead" and album cut "Send It Up," alongside Mike Dean and fellow Frenchmen Daft Punk and Brodinski. Yeezus and its minimal, but abrasive style definitely rubbed off on Aleph, "Pursuit" included. I really hear it through a few key sounds, including the chain-like sound on beats 2 and 4, the grunt-like battle cry — which I found out is a sample from Call of Duty: World at War — and the main synth. Those same sounds are also the main ones I hear as giving the track the sort of sound I had in mind for Halloween: dark, brooding and creepy more than spooky. I still get shivers down my spine when that battle cry comes in.

Before the battle cry, though, there's the the main synth line, which may be considered to be both the melody and the bass. It's two interlocking lines which together hit on every sixteenth note, but the higher 'melody' synth is a tad more prominent and its pattern is syncopated, instilling "Pursuit" with an inner-level groove inside the larger backbeat. The syncopation is felt from the beginning, but it becomes much more impactful when the thunderous main beat comes in. We all dance to the main beat, but without syncopation and other elements to break up that beat, the rhythm would feel far too straight and cold.

If there's one moment in this track that screams Halloween to me, it's right at the halfway point, when all the prior elements drop out in favor of a loud, low piano note and a synth pad that initially gives off the impression of an organ. The very lowest part of a piano has long been a go-to creepy sound, as has the organ — think of the ominous, vampire-driven connotation given to Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. As the pad increases in volume and the main synth begins to creep back in, something else about the pad changes too: slowly, but surely, it begins to rise in pitch. This rise legitimately spooked me when I heard it again today, having forgotten about it in the couple of years that passed since my last listen. It was at that moment that I knew "Pursuit" had to be the topic of today's post, and I spent the rest of my non-coursework hours figuring out... well, how to write everything you've read thus far, and a bit more still to come. This article marks my first time writing about an instrumental, and I was nervous about doing that, but I clearly found a lot I could discuss.

"Pursuit" may get a bit too repetitive for some, and I understand why; I really like all the theory and discussion behind loops, but people who prefer older music (think 60s and 70s in particular) tend to be more interested in tracks which have more chord changes and more of a narrative to them. When I first heard "Pursuit," I feared I'd have a similar reaction as the final section approached, but those fears were quickly allayed when the synth and bass lines changed their melodies — not dramatically, but enough to keep intrigue. It's amazing how much a new bass note or a little displacement of a line can do in the latter part of a track to keep things fresh all the way to its conclusion.

As Halloween nears its conclusion, and the tenth month turns into the eleventh, I'm glad I found and channeled a little bit of the day's spirit into my musical choice. I'm also glad "Pursuit" isn't a track that's thematically locked into the season, or any time of year for that matter. It fit my mood today, October 31, but today is also just another Sunday, and good music free of calendar affiliations could feel right for me any time of year.


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