A saturated grassy hillside against a soup of blue and white. Toru replaced his computer five years ago but hadn’t bothered to change it off its default wallpaper.
He didn’t do very much with it anyway.
Facebook. Reddit. Instagram. He was a frog dipped in daze, leaping back and forth with no destination. Travel blogs for countries he had no interest in visiting. Cooking channels with ingredients he could never access. Gaming forums for games he didn’t even play.
There had to be something on his screen. Something for his fingers to type and eyeballs to track. Something to fill that devastating lull of time when he wasn’t all that sleepy.
Unfortunately for Toru, he was not an easy sleeper. Hence, the lot of his daylight was spent decomposing on this very chair - until he had to get up and change for his next shift at the local konbini.
He had more at one point. Objectively speaking. He wasn’t a bad university student. He was in a few social circles - many of which he continues to be friends with on Facebook. He saw their shimmering new job titles, relationships and anniversaries, all their birthday wishes on each others’ walls.
Nobody wrote on his wall.
His last post was from five years ago. It was about a job he was proud of. A project, actually. It was successful. Wildly successful. It was nice, selfishly nice - being on a podium, elevated, successful, respected. It was a coincidence, though. It wasn’t his doing. He enjoyed it while it lasted.
He knew it wouldn’t.
The noise was so uncharacteristic, it was almost jarring. It had been a good few years since Toru had heard a notification sound that wasn’t the default Samsung alarm or the animated cry of a character from the gacha games he frequented.
It was a bigger surprise to see a Yahoo Mail notification. He had almost forgotten what it looked like, which was troubling, given it was one word off Yahoo News, a site which he bombarded himself with almost every day - with no interest in the insights it provided. Regardless, it was a message received by his old account which he was fairly certain he wiped off his phone.
(In reality, he never bothered to check on it. When his old computer encountered a fatal driver issue and needed to be discarded of, he assumed that everything related to that account evaporated into the digital wind.)
Pages and pages of unopened messages dating to at least five years ago. All except one, a short little email received just a few seconds ago. Toru did not recognise the address.
Subject: Thank You
Toru was hesitant. It had an attachment. He read a few articles recently about scams and viruses contained in unsuspecting emails, ransomware that could be used to steal your identity and destroy your devices. He sighed, glancing towards his computer as if it could tell him the answer.
(It probably could, but he didn’t have the energy for it. Suddenly, the idea of lifting his right hand from the arm rest to the mouse was terribly exhausting.)
Tapping with a thumb required far less energy, so he decided to do that instead. With screen-blurred eyes shuttered behind his overgrown hair, he read the stranger’s email message.
hey dj ronin! I'm darma from indonesia and only recently discovered your music. its absolutely incredible. i dont know if u still u still make music or even use this email but i just wanted to say ur music bangs and id love to hear more of it.
cheers mate :)
p.s. i made a remix of Flow which ive attached the mp3 of here. i dont think its that good but it would mean the world for me if you gave it a listen
Toru cringed at first. The briefest mention of 'DJ Ronin' triggered a fight of flight response, but to reference one of his oldest works in 'Flow' was an even more unnerving.
Though, he couldn't help but feel a little refreshed at the interaction, like saying hello to a childhood friend who you once shared pillow forts with.
Toru wondered where this Darma character, all the way from Indonesia (where was Indonesia, actually?), was able to find one of his oldest tracks. He never published that one. Were they uploaded to YouTube or Napster without him knowing?
Flow (Darmz Remix).mp3 sat anticipatingly in Toru's inbox. An unexpectedly delivered cherry, ripe for the picking.
Toru still had his concerns. All it took was one fateful day, one unfortunate mishap, and his life could be sent into a terrible downward spiral. When he lost everything his dreams were made of; downloaded assets from the darkest depths of EDM forums, cracked music production software in FL Studio, documents choked full of notes and ideas and music theory and hundreds - hundreds - of experimental project files.
These files were his children. He knew them each by name and chord and melody. Sure, most of them wouldn't make it to release but they were still his most prized possessions. The same way a painter could have a museum of canvases, a writer and their bookshelves of manuscripts. Losing them, all of them, due to chanced negligence - it slaughtered Toru's aspirations in ways he could never fathom.
A bird with clipped wings. Toru, who once flew so naturally, was chained to the earth by the weight of expectations - the success of his prior works - successes he could not hope to replicate.
Losing his work wasn’t what caused his depression — but it was the final chord that truly cemented his musician’s block.
Toru looked up to the dreary monotony of his studio apartment. Unattended laundry and pungent sweat accumulated on unmade bed sheets. Piss-stained carpets alongside decaying toilet tiles. Cups of instant noodles within and scattered around the main trash bin as if it had a mess of garbage children.
Smoke from the ash tray. Grim yellow lights. Only the mechanical whirr of his centralised fanning unit.
What else could Toru lose? He hit play.
A strange resonance filled the room, like a chatter of monkeys gossiping in the trees. A melodic percussion instrument of some kind, a mix between a gong and xylophne - paved way for the bootleg. Toru’s ears perked up in curiosity - he had never heard this kind of sample before.
He would later recognise this instrument as the gamelan, a traditional Indonesian ensemble characterised by sonorous echoes and layered sounds, brought forth by a team of five performers. He would learn about the joyful, bamboo-pitch of the angklung and the shrill whistling tones of the suling. His studies would expand to China with the distinctive two-stringed erhu and the table-sized, harp-like yangqin, into Europe with the aptly named hurdy-gurdy and the true-to-life nyckelharpa. He would incorporate his life experiences, the many places he would travel and the cultures he would interact with, into his musical repertoire. He would learn to play them and experiment with them. Toru would forego ‘DJ’ for just ‘Ronin’, and become universally renown for his hybrid, worldly-inspired style which celebrated humanity itself.
As the beat kicked in, the fans’ use of traditional vocal samples caught Toru’s attention. The haunting melodies in a language he didn’t understand reminded him of a rainforest he never visited. The beauty of the unknown, simplicity in hunting and gathering, strength in collaboration. A sense of awe and wonder, he imagined himself in a far-off land where everything was new and exciting.
And as the remix built to its climax, Toru’s heart raced. He heard elements from the original Flow, the familiar melody he wrote at his then girlfriend’s basement inspired by Japanese 80s city-pop, his mother’s favourite genre to which he grew up listening to. Yet, there was more. Leakage. Fragmentary moments of Darma’s life - the bubbling sizzle of fried tofu and cassava, the honking of motorbikes and cars against bustling streets, the majestic intro to the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer. Toru realised here, between the throbbing baseline and syncopated beats, that this track was not just a reimagining of Flow, but a musical concoction of Darma’s life up to that point.
He realised then that his music, Flow and everything else, was more than just a sorry individual chugging away in FL Studio. It was the laughter and crime that came with playing Mario Kart with this cousins. It was the isolation and vulnerability that came with his first heartbreak. It was the strobe lights and pumping bass that came with attending his first music festival, where he first lost himself in the lively leitmotif of life.
What is music if not the accumulation of our ups and downs? What is art if not a collaboration between millions of strangers across space and time?
As the song ended, Toru sat there for a moment, letting the silence settle over him like vinyl crackling to a stop. It wasn’t a perfect remix, far from it - the transitions were clunky, some the assets used were noticeably lower quality, and the mixing during the buildup was really quite atrocious. However, there was something raw and authentic about it, a genuine, naked showing of what this producer held dear. Despite not having a lick of English or Japanese, it spoke deeply to Toru’s own struggles and frustrations, something he had struggled to communicate with for the last five years.
Toru stood up and walked over to his computer, a renewed sense of purpose in his step, suddenly annoyed at the unsettling quietus of his life. He opened up Yahoo Mail, and with some cross checking with Google Translate, he replied:
RE: Thank You
Hi Mr. Darma, thank you for your email and music. I listened to it. It was excellent. I have not created music in a long time due to my inability to be creative. It was not easy, and because of that, I thought I had just lost my creative ability. I thought I had forgotten how to be creative when in reality, I had simply forgotten my why.
Music does not need to be perfect - it just needs to be your own, and that is enough. Thank you for reminding me that, Mr. Darma.
Would you like to catch up over a Skype call? I think we can make some very good music together.
Toru took a deep breath, an overwhelming deep breath that filled his lungs with oxygen, dust, and determination. It had been a long time since he had felt this full.
He saw himself in his computer screen’s reflection, glassy-eyed and smiling.
And for the first time in years, he opened up FL Studio.