A kill screen is a stage or level in an arcade game that stops the player’s progress due to a programming error or design oversight. Rather than “ending” in a traditional sense, the game will crash, freeze, or behave so erratically that further play is extremely hard or even impossible.
This piece is largely about addiction to video games, but also is meant to evoke an enticing and terrifying urban legend. Back in 1981, a select few arcades near Portland, Oregon received a new 8-bit game (similar to the fan favorite Tempest) called Polybius. The game was said to be extremely popular, almost to the point of obsession. Just a short time after it’s release the game disappeared without a trace of its existence. Polybius enthusiasts were said to have experienced several psychological side effects, including horrific nightmares, amnesia, and even suicidal thoughts, according to the myth.
This piece strives to infuse the listener in the experience of playing such a game, as described in each segment. The first section, “Insert Coin”(m.2) is fierce and eager, as a potential Polybius gamer would be. Next is “Nocnitsa’s Dance”(m.19), a demented, off beat scherzo that refers to the Polish mythological spirit relating to the scientific phenomenon known as Hypnagogia, or visions occurring during the transitional state between wakefulness and sleep. The following section, “Psychogenic Fugue”(m.116) is slower and more opaque than the rest of the piece, and refers to the technical term for a form of amnesia involving memory and personality. In keeping with the musical meaning of the term “fugue”, this segment features extensive use of imitative counterpoint. From this we move into “Sense Deletion”(m.170), a reprise of the dance tune, this time with even more drive and force. The title refers to the English translation for the game’s supposed creating company, Sinneslöschen. The piece ends with a chaotic bang in the short coda, “Game Over”(m.223).00.-killscreen-FULL-SCORE-3.24.17
Michigan State University Symphony Band, November 2014, Arris Golden, conductor