Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Music & Games as Shifting Possibility Spaces

I gave a talk last week in Montreal at MIGS, which followed this outline. The points I spoke about were more or less improvised within this framework/sequence, and I'm going to do the same thing with writing now, which is likely going to tunnel some ideas into a less conversational/more solipsistic hole, with things that i could write but might not say.... ohhh, etc.-- 

in any case-- annotations follow each slide, hoping to clarify them-- in general, hoping to to share some useful tactics.

MUSIC = GAMES. My work with music designs, which is what I often call the work I've done in games, has more or less followed this assumption at every step. The belief, or working hypothesis, that there is an identity between music and games as played structure.. Or more accurately-- that it is possible to construct an image of such an identity, the discrete concepts (music, game) themselves being 'meaningless' before they are played in this or any other construction.
I. Trying to find the IMAGE of the music/game identity
II. Lessons learned from specific games.
III. Future directions for research
 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
RULE-of-THUMB / DOGMA ~~~~~ This is KEY ! The precedence for this statement is pretty huge, from the Pythagorean musical-numerical cosmologies (which consider the scaling categories COSMIC music, HUMAN music, and INSTRUMENTAL music-- only the last of which we'd still call by that name), thru all the hermetic tendrils that have flowered out of them..

Adam Harper has written on this here (http://rougesfoam.blogspot.com/2012/06/musical-radicalism-beyond-sonic-talk-at.html), and when the non-sonic image is kept in mind, the beautifully described 'progressive differentiation of Music Space' in his book Infinite Music starts to conceptually bind with the progressive differentiation of everything, more or less, a new Pythagoreanism for today, based on difference rather than identity? New geometries-- scale, paths, wiggles... Recalling some of the more old-fashioned understandings of what music is. Robert Fludd, old English alchemist, writes that:

"Music is the knowledge by which all worldly things are joined by unbreakable bonds and by which like is related to like by equal proportion in any object. This definition fits musica mundana, humana and instrumentalis"
I like this! That music is the connective tissue of things, the principle of composition, assemblage considered broadly. The ground of things, insofar as Aleister Crowley's equation 0=2 can be read as ground...

But even without going into cosmologies, the simple existence of musical scores puts our belief in the primacy of sound in music to question.

Old men who are into musical aesthetics are very concerned with The Musical Work, which is this more or less wholly computable string of information that we are given in the score^^. There's the work and the performance, which are tangled but discrete, and the Work somehow manages to exist independently of sound-- this, regardless of whether it's intended to eventually guide the production of sound or not.

Ballet, too, considered apart from its 'soundtrack.' simple dance choreography above. I remember hearing about John Cage / Merce Cunningham collaborations, and how they would often work on the sound & dance components independently and then just sit the pieces on top of one another, letting chance decide the audio-visual-haptic synchronicities, letting the musical connective-tissue just happen, being receptive to the mutual creation of juxtaposed parts, each already complete unto itself..

This is a painting of Wassily Kandinsky's. He was always quick to call his work music.  ~ ~ In his theoretical writings (Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Point and Line to Plane) he regularly references the sounds of a picture, which are lo, hi, bright, dark, wet, dry, etc-- he was a famous syntesthete but it shouldn't be thought that he had a special capacity for the blending/dissolving of the senses that others aren't capable of. Instead, his work can function as a teacher for us-- i.e., PRACTICE: allow the line connecting our pupils to the picture to be the 'avatar' or 'player character' in the playspace. "Line of sight", "Line of attention", etc... Drift intentionally, from one spot to another, and feel the light-affects change as zone of the picture you are focused on comes in and out of focus. The matrix in the upper-left corner can be massaged with the eyes somewhat, like flicking fingers through the teeth of a comb-- brlrlrlrlrlrlr -- rhythms slowing down some as gaps between lines increase, speeding up as they close together-- maybe pitches changing likewise (faster rhythm = higher pitch, when zoomed into). Looking at other sections may feel totally different-- colors to me often feel more like harmonic zones, whereas lines feel like rhythmic contours. It is worth spending some GOOD TIME with these pictures, like the amount of time you might spend with a little flash game, and to drift through them and feel the music/affect of the different points and their interrelations (recalling Fludd's definition of music).

So, this is the music design TACTIC that the last hypothesis prepared the ground for. Just like we were starting to read Kandinsky's picture as a score, and just as we could do the same with dance notations-- it is possible to read ALL GAMES as dynamic scores already complete with the necessary time-structures, rhythmic information. The picture above is a clipping from the mario 64 manual, showing a handful of the core jump-mechanics. Anyone who has played can recall the different rhythms of different jumps. The triple jump, for example, where the rhythm is elastic-expansive, air time increasing with each additional hop.. Rhythm looks something like J - - , J - - - - , J - - - - - - - ..... Where "J" is for jump, and the dashes are airtime. It would be possible to create a spatialized notation of interactions in a game in this way, even if a bit absurd, as we would quickly require many more than the 2 dimensions that the page allows for, if we wanted to account not only for the time-structures of isolated interactions (which may often be accountable for using only 1 dimension, the path they follow), but also the more important combinations of mechanics that emerge in play, which will require a stacking N+1 dimensionality.

In any case, just based on the sequence of events and processes in a game and how these relate to the broader space of all possible sequences --from this, we are given the new 'meter' of game design, which has little to do with the evenly divided 4/4, 3/4 etc of much linear music-- rather, composed of metric 'downbeats' which are placed seemingly arbitrarily, by a kind of willful chance, the player's activity.

Music design takes this basic temporal architecture of any game, and 'hugs' it with a material-vibrational SKIN which is called the 'soundtrack.' This is just like a 'skin' for Winamp or whatever, in that it's at least in theory totally replacable -- the game organism can fully survive a skin graft without suffering any pain.

The skin needs to 'eat up' two concepts/disciplines to be counted as One -- sound design and composition. Musicality should exist in the the haptic-responsive aspects of the sound design as much as responsiveness/touch/immersion/nonlinearity should exist in the compositions.

TOUCH is the thread that holds these components together.

For this reason I add "game feel" to the list of things music design ought to be wholly tuned into. Game feel describes the concept of input-microrhythm, more or less, that Steve Swink has written about in his book. It is the game's time-architecture-- but zoomed in deep, where a whole rhythmic composition can unfold in 1 second or less-- how does the ground respond that is covered in honey? in ice? How quickly do we slide down a sticky wall in Knytt?

The game feel is like the musculature of the game-organism, which, being so close to the surface of the skin itself, makes itself known, haptic/visual, through the skin, and acts as a medium between the external world and the hidden internals, like the skeletal frame, which corresponds to the macro time-structures considered broadly

To treat ALL of these components musically can send us down a sometimes confusing path. We are trying to integrate the a meaningful aesthetic of both pieces of music and of instruments as if these were One Thing. Something that has beautiful sequence (regardless of the order of seqence) in addition to beautiful TOUCH/response.

Beautiful TOUCH has not been often acknowledged as one of the most important parts of music, because it is always tuned into from the PLAYER's perspective, much moreso than the listener's (even if listener-projection into the player is a very real thing). But the player knows well the importance of touch, and that, indeed, there are countless pieces of music that, while beautiful in their touch, for those involved in playing, did not seem so to the audience members who were not implicated in the causal source of the music in the same way (The opposite is also true-- beautiful sound-affects, ugly touch-- and this is especially true of much computer music today).

This is one of the greatest challenges of music design in light of musical developments considered broadly. To integrate an aesthetic of immanent touch, and necessarily transformation, into the existing aesthetics of progression, sequence, etc. Perhaps this is something that can only be done in videogames, or in other software spaces considered broadly. Spaces which, are they to become compositions, need to integrate something of the elastic-sequential aesthetics that videogames have really excelled at.

This is the question: can we come to terms with an understanding of instruments and compositions which are not at all describable in terms of a simple one-directional hierarchy?

As is the case today, instruments are used in compositions, and not the other way around. It is much more interesting, it seems, to ask how compositions can be used in instruments...

Scrubbing through samples is a basic way of practicing this idea today, that anyone can do. The instrument is the sample-space, which is the linear strip of information from the beginning of a piece to the end-- but the the instrument's haptic aspect is its capacity to move through this space, not in a straight line, but drifting from point to point, triggering events, new sequences, recombined as parts from the old dissolved whole.  The material that is sampled is the composition that is used as a component part of the sampler-instrument.

Douglas Hofstadter's concept of the Strange Loop, or tangled hierarchy, is predated by the alchemical ouroboros (above^^), the snake eating its tail, and I believe this will prove to be a very powerful conceptual image we might want to consider carrying along with us to navigate these problems..

Once the strange loop is taken for granted, there need not be any difference between an instrument and a composition, because we will naturally assume that any instrument has its compositional aspect, its time-structures, and that any composition will have its instrumental aspect, its degrees of freedom, or haptic capacity to be played.
In the same way, then, we're looking to find an understanding in which music and games can likewise be considered as the same-- the strange loop "Games are a kind of music", and "musics are a kind of game"-- always in motion/dialogue, but being counted together in the loop, effectively functioning as one.


Two spaces: music & games... imagine that they're totally discrete.

Even if we do this, it is impossible to ignore that they are both played, and it is hard not to be curious what is this PLAY that music and games have in common.

Some would say this-- that the shared use-word is deceptive-- that playing music and playing games mean totally different things.

& I do think there's something interesting to tunnel into here, namely the difference between aesthetic play with its unspoken Many goals which may converge into an unspoken One-- and game play with its explicitly spoken One goal, which may be partitioned & micromanaged in terms of a manageable Many...

But-- I don't think this is fundamental. Because I think many games are playable from the aesthetic point of view as much as the gaming pov, and that many pieces of music are likewise playable from the gaming point of view as much as from the aesthetic pov. Exploring these distinctions is for another time

It is enough to say that there is something that is played which is in common between the forms..

So, then, they are both to be regarded as PLAYSPACES, spaces where play happens...

Or, to be more descriptive-- as SHIFTING POSSIBILITY SPACES.

Shifting Possibility Spaces is my best attempt at describing the structural-materiality of this form that game spaces and music spaces are both part of ...

Playspace super-set (space of all possible playspaces??)

Shifting possibility spaces draw on the already very popular "possibility space" concept-- but whereas possibility spaces appear too often from the 'global' (designer) point of view, which deals with the Universal Set of the situation, or the "space of all possible _____ ", SPS can deal with the immediate sense of possibility at play in the environment.

A possibility space is fully spatialized. A shifting possibility space allows for the immanent flow of time to enter its description.

Meaning, it can begin to account for the NOW in the space-- the possibility space is ALWAYS an contingent thing, which is not describable from the outside-- which is immanent to our situation in the sapce, contingent on the flow of time, always destroying and recreating itself..

SHIFTING possibility spaces attempts to put TIME back into the possibility space idea, which is too often satisfying with mapping of time onto space ("time is just another dimension of the space").

That SPS will also spatialize time is a probably a necessity and almost certainly risk-- but to keep this in mind early on, the EXPERIENCE of time, local to the player's experience-- maybe we can avoid some of formalism's pitfalls, even as a new aspect of gamespacetime is given quantitative description.

So what does this immediate experience look like? Constantly changing, of course, but changing around relatively fixed grounds, which are the conventional mechanics/rules/boundaries/goals/virtualities that are used to describe structural possibility spaces as such. For instance, you probably have a wall near you right now, which would be difficult to break through, and for all intents and purposes, it is a fixed boundary, even though you could smash it if you got a sledgehammer or whatever..

A new way of describing these relatively fixed properties of a space may be in order, one which can account for game mechanics, rules, instrumental resistances, etc.. i've been attracted to some of the language in the chaos sciences of emergence/complexity/etc, which seems ripe for reappropriation in the context of PLAYSPACES (PLAY is the entropic elephant in the room in all of that, if you ask me..) .. attractors, topological invariants, phase transitions.... but im getting ahead of myself, just a quick mention if you're keen to follow clues and cruise down those avenues, from the local POV instead of the global...

It is interesting to try to 'map' the possibility space of a given day, which might start out as deciding whether to snooze the alarm or not, and then once out of bed, which branches in insane numbers of directions/dimensions..
What we find at each of these branches is an EVENT of shifting possibility, wherein new possibilties present themselves which we did not account for as possible prior to the transition. Beginning of Ocarina of Time, we are still in Kokiri forest-- we beat Ghoma-Deku, and are given access to Hyrule field. The moment of walking out into the field for the first time is a keenly remembered one for many gamers, I think, in that the dimensionality of what is possible seems to totally explode at that moment-- castle visible in the difference, flying things all around, sun falling in the sky preparing for night... This is a hard-lined shift, from one hard-coded space into another, but we'll find in life that such dramatic transitions, even when triggered by a seemingly discrete event, weave themselves endlessly into past and future, and that indeed these transitions end up being more of a connective tissue in our lives than the supposed fixednesses themselves. That transitions, or shifts, are the ground of the life we're living.. The flux idea, from Heraclitus et. al-- same thing...
So, these are the two poles of the idea-- (relative) stasis and change. The first, stasis, corresponding to the "possibility space" we're all accustomed to spatializing and theorizing about. The second, change, corresponding to the SHIFTING, to the Time aspect of play, its music.

The kinds of spaces we want to imagine, then, are composed of these situational objects (like KOKIRI VILLAGE, or HYRULE FIELD), which are the fixed things of the Idea, and which condition our possibilities as we travel through...

But more importantly for our purposes, these situations are composed of necessarily context sensitive events that act as catalysts, transitioning the space into something totally new. I remember I learned this concept from Conker's Bad Fur Day when I was a kid, explaining the SHIFTY nature of the B-button, which would respond differently based on the situation..

These catalysts are sometimes discrete event-'clicks' like the B-button, but they are just as often rhythmical or tonal/pitched, repetitive, dispersed across a time-field, such as the 'flocking' mechanics that can happen in improvised music, where a little tendril of ornamental excitement from one player might be mimicked and amplified in the others to the point of phase-shift, where the improvisation was once moving in a fixed rhythmic-tonal space, now it's exploded into free-rhythm/non-counted pulses, non-counted tonalities, with its own new set of possible relations/feelings.

With the SPS idea formalized, it should be possible to describe the spacetime of a given situation, which is curved by the objects that populate it, just like our spacetime.

This is done, first, by simply identifying the objects and processes at play (which OOO counts as objects, too, and indeed as long as they are functions this is the case).

Second, by PLAYING them, and working out internal relations (music) from this experience, bottom-up, local SPS, as opposed to top-down, global PS / Universal Set.

The way we each, individually, choose to engage objects in spacetime, describes the curvature of that spacetime, and it will be DIFFERENT for each player, because we are attracted to different things with differing degrees of intensity. Thus, a probabilistic description of the gamespace is doomed, as it attempts to map a sequence of different playings onto space and to then divide this space into a statistical average, forgetting the attractional & repulsive vectors of experiential time which qualified the space as such in the first place.
Objects, processes, constants, variables.. etc ! So, programing proves to be an immensely useful tool for conceptualizing these situations.

But is not THE theoretical answer to shifting possibility spaces, by any means. This should be obvious! This is not 'code-level formalism', even if it uses concepts from code to articulate the structures of immediate experience.

This is part of why SHIFTING possibility spaces are used in contrast to straight up "possibility spaces" -- as long as the space is forever shifting, the particular instance of it that we are experiencing right now cannot be counted as a mere repetition, and is always a unique natural occurence. We must tune into the play experience, to experience even the same computational "game state" as two totally different things when we encounter it at two different times in our life... Allow our body to be the medium...

It's the same with music situations. And I can see RIGHT NOW that maybe the whole talk should have focused on a zoom into this slide, to articulate the means of objectifying music spaces, to count the contours of situations, etc., and to speculate as to relations between these objective contours and the means of transitioning between.

But for now let me just point you to a couple books:

One of which is Adam Harper's excellent Infinite Music, which describes the 'progressive differentiation of music space', how musical difference happens.. Ethics of variability-- SHIFT.. It is a beautiful kind of new-Pythagoreanism that I'd hope might reinvigorate interest in the relation between musical, geometrical and metaphysical structures as has been so popular throughout much of pre-modern history... That new geometries is required is obvious (the old musica universalis being based on the integer harmonic series and an incorrect mapping of this to planetary motions)-- Harper's geometries flow very nicely into those of much of the speculative flux-philosophy that is popular today~~ like that of Gilles Deleuze, Alain Badiou, Manuel DeLanda, Alfred North Whitehead.. following, too, the pre-hyperdub qabbalah of the Nick Land/kode9 etc's Cybernetic Cultures Research Group, and the possibility of liberation numerologies.. A new geometry of mereotopology (parts and whole relations and their interlinkings), navigating by the local drift / nomad, etc... This is an image that is so exciting to me, a music theory that does not stop at sound, and thus which does not stop at anything-- returning, perhaps, to that old-fashioned theory of musical connectivity, which I think will prove immensely useful ! 

I read David Byrne's new book recently, too, and it is less explicitly theoretical, but comes from a similar point of view, that all music is contextual, situated, and describes this position with a kind of everyday ease that some might find lacking in Harper's more coded/ scholastic style. Bryne's objects are VENUES, MONEY, SOFTWARE, STUDIO, ENO, OVERDUBS... etc ! These will curve the experience of spacetime just as much as anything else.
The goal with music design, then, is to MAP game spaces onto music spaces, or vice-versa. Or back and forth, etc. To identify objects/processes and the curvatures of played spacetime that they suggest (ways of playing they invite us into), and to show how two sets, one music and one game, can be corresponded to one another by allowing their constitutive objects to play similar roles.

And the most simple example of how this is implemented is the idea of MICKEY-MOUSING, which plays a musical event for every haptic/visual game event.

This is the most simple AND the most complex tactic, according to the relative complexity of the gamespace itself.
It is THE music design tactic. Which should not be looked on as gimmicky, as has been the case in movies.

In movies, the mickey-mousing is not involved in turning the movie into a musical instrument.

In games, mickey-mousing always serves this function. Because we are in haptic contact with the game, when events are given musical skin, we become hyper-attuned to the possibility of playing those events, and this is how a musical instrument is born in the first place..
So ^^^ this is a dogma that I used for a whole

But of course, the dogma need not be heeded. Leaving some game elements un-scored will have the effect of amplifying the attention we give to other parts, which is useful in any number of ways.

The Assassin's Creed example that I put up here last year does this, where only footsteps and murder are given corresponding musical elements. And murder is only a chord change.

Are they?

It was a rhetorical question all along!

I've found the concept useful, and will probably keep exploring it, but the point is not that this is a fact, an objectively TRUE proposition.. This all depends on how you want to understand games and music--
Rather, the point is that it is a useful one if you are interested in doing things that play with the ideas of games and music existing in any sort of pairing, and that it is useful for moving past this too--

Now, the avoce-- I believe THIS IS a true proposition.

Videogames are called games by habit, but this habit has put us in a funny place, because the structural requirements of the game theoretical GAMES we are used to calling games (which can be played optimally) are by no means a material requirement of this medium.

Even when games are apparently very game-like, it is not that they are actually games, with rules that we follow, etc. We are led through a system of bifurcations in the computer, of branching paths, sometimes the paths insanely dense with branches, and we are given end states every once in a while,which tell us that we've lost, or that we've done well, or whatever.

If we choose to follow the rules that are suggested to us, then the game feels very much like the optimizable games that we have known.

But if we don't choose to internalize the rules, these screens often can feel absurd, out of place.

The game is IN US. If we want it to be a game, it will be... but if we want otherwise....

Then we can just drift.

And the fact that free-and-easy wandering is possible AT ALL in videogames, no matter how much we're told not to-- the fact that MOVEMENT cannot be avoided -- this seems to me to suggest that the drift is a more fundamental aspect of videogame materiality than any sort of relationship to game theoretical optimizable games.

We can move or play in videogames-- not much more can be said definitively. I am interested in a formalism (yes! all the better since everyone is jumping the ship, it seems) that builds from this premise, that regards this movement in much the same way that musical movement is regarded, which has meanings, but meanings which are unspeakable, which are living in the material itself, and which mean very little when divorced from the context.
So, really, this is how I'd originally thought the idea of "shifting possibility spaces"-- that it's just the most reasonable way of describing what a videogame is, when confronted with the inescapable truth that a videogame is not, or need not be, a game.

Game-naming politics will go on, but I'd like to try to imagine a future where things have settled down and either everything or nothing is allowed to be a game-- where the fact of playing takes precedence, and the materials that are playing back-- and that the game is still regarded as a conversation like Chris Crawford has said, but that it emphatically one of mutual receptivity, rather than one of control/persuasion--

I like to imagine that a point of view from along these lines could be regarded as more realistic than that of the GAME OBJECT image and its corresponding representational-boxes sculpted by the designer from the top-down/Universe who has God's perspective, where all the shifts are part of an unchanging whole in His control.
And the same thing with music.

We're still living in the age of the music object, and there will be more of this still, but the sooner that we can respect that OBJECTS ARE SPACES, I think, and that we can play spaces-- the sooner we'll be on our way to allowing all the connections that are possible to be forged between these concept-groups.

So, ultimately SPS feels useful to me as a SPACE in which to dissolve seemingly disparate played categories. Like a bucket to pour materials into, which can be mixed up with water (quintessential SPS substance), and  turned into a new whole of some kind, a time-irreversible process of making mush out of categories that, once mushed, can no longer be separated and counted as properly discrete units.

SPS operates on the hope one day maybe it wouldn't be very strange at all to talk about games and musics and all other PLAYSPACES as one substance-- composed of many, but all of which can easily speak to one another and listen, because of their shared structure in time, which is concerned with immanent possibility and its contigency on the particulars of the situation which are ALWAYS going to change, even if some more gradually than others.

New Wholes from Mush.
Here are some particular strategies/ things I have learned while working on different games.

I've learned a lot more, too! This is just a little brain-dump, trying to connect design pragmatics/particulars to the theory that I've covered up to now.

Panoramical's 18-dimensional phase, controlled by 18 parameters on a MIDI controller or other, seems to me to be a PERFECT starting model of these ideas, and how they could be connected both to concepts in playsapces that are so easy that infants (infantile!) or animals could play them (all you do is touch, slide), and to concepts in math (the 18-d space itself), and how, building from here, mathematical concepts might be used to enrich N-dimensional spaces in such a way that animals can still play them.

Panoramical is ready-proof that a HIGH-DIMENSIONAL system is not really so confusing when we encounter it locally, knob to knob.

Even without connectivity between dimensions, a high degree of complexity is possible, the local states of which are determined by the point in phase space represented by the current values of the parameters, and the line which leads up to that point, which dances in some or all of the 18-dimensions. The relations between dimensions are the sorts of harmonic relations in this space, pointing to a connection between an SPS of this sort, where all is given in advance, and say, the piano keyboard as SPS---we would not consider it to be a 'dynamic' game, the piano, but the harmonic combinations we channel through it alters our own sense of possibility, and indeed when we have been playing on the white keys for a while, stratifying habit, the black keys do not attract our fingers so strongly-- habit, too, is an object which curves spacetime.

"Architecture is frozen music"-- via Goethe and others

Now, it is possible to create these architectural spaces that are rather LIQUID than solid, as Fernando Ramallo has done in the visual environments, and it becomes interesting to plug this new empirical evidence of liquid architecture back into the equation, which now reads:

"Architecture is music" (which, I guess, can be SOLID (frozen, traditional), LIQUID (videogame), or GASEOUS (4chan?).

I have no idea how to do a dimensional model of Dyad-- there is a lot going on!

Even without being able to wholly count the full dimensionality of the system at play, though, it was possible to tune into all the micro-rthythms of the game, to separate them into Classes of events, interactions, etc., and to put together a list of 'homework' to get done, all of the parts needed to adequately account for the progressive differences at each moment of playing...

What was KEY with Dyad, was being comfortable producing TONS of stuff.. WORK WORK. And to be happy doing this, to treat the work AS PLAY.

To not judge the work, but to just get it done. There was some judging, to be sure, but it was mostly playing, with the belief that it didn't matter so much what the particular content or SKIN of the game's soundtrack was, but rather than the skin hugged the muscles/game feel nicely..

Much of the Dyad work with Shawn McGrath is the most intensive 'music-organism' shaping I've done, with lots of attention to detail, little volume fluctuations at every point of played contact-- so many details, you zoom into one and lose track of the others, and what is achieved is a strange hyper-intensive messiness/ornamentation which gives particular affective potency to different mechanics in different situations, such that the original CLASSIFICATION of them into groups becomes more difficult, each particular is its own thing..

Finally, Proteus-- It used again, similar mickey-mousing type techniques throughout, for animals, environment, seasons, weather, etc..

What I want to emphasize in Proteus work, though, which is very much reflected in the existing rhythm of the final product, is the GRADUAL work that went into it.

Slow work. Non-work.

Ed Key had been working on it for a year before I came on board already, but even once I joined up, a lot of time was spent discussing themes, possibilities, this sometimes more than actually putting in any new content.

The shared mood that was created was the PLAY of making the game, and there was work, too, but this, at its best, amplified the play, the non-work, rather than negating it..

The WORK is key, too, but the energy for work was nourished by a taste for non-work ~~ it will be important to nourish work on videogames in general from things outside of those games.

Some of the most powerful experiences I had with Proteus were the early builds I played, before I had put in any music. I just loaded up the game, and played in silence for a few hours. Imagining the form of the music, the mood of it, the structure of its possibilities, even if I didn't imagine any musical themes in particular. This brings us back to the Kandinsky painting from earlier-- and the possibility of listening with other organs than the ears.. Listening with the eyes, listening with the fingers/touch-- these have felt like KEY tactics throughout all of this work, and by no means am i a clinical "synesthete"-- I do think this is a kind of mood or way of playing that can be entered into by trying to amplify receptivity.

And thus, the non-work. Being receptive cannot be a strong-willed WORK because it requires a silencing of the will that is that active agent which allows work to happen in the first place..

It is possible, too, to balance work and receptivity, and I have managed this on a few occasions-- but I have not figured out any consistent method for doing so.

Where to go with these ideas?
Following Darius Kazemi's pretty aptly titled "FUCK VIDEOGAMES"-- I'm enjoying taking this image of SPS or playspaces broadly and studying all the variety of forms it takes outside of videogames proper.

I do think there will be a strong role for videogames to play in our lifetimes (RE: Ludic Century), but I'm certain that they're still not there, having not opened up to inspiration from the space of all playspaces, and the possibility of finding mechanism-independent structures in these that can be computed in videogames without full loss of meaning (with NEW meaning, at least, where the old has been lost).

So, i'm interested in looking at these playspaces outside of games, but then-- slightly contrary to what Kazemi wrote-- to attempt to integrate them into a zoomed out framework of shifting possibility spaces in general, such that what is 'outside' of games is not thought of as being essentially outside, but rather accidentally so.

I listed some examples of these other playspaces above, a list that I've not really seen any attempt to integreate into the 'ludological' framework.

I mentioned earlier the desire for an SPS formalism-- this is probably quite an unpopular desire right now, at a time when games-formalisms are being rejected all over the place, but it feels to me necessary in some way. I see the shadows of the the canonic game thoeretical formalisms even in those games that critique the dominant formal strategies.

It seems to me that it's not a question of IGNORING the existing formalisms, but of LEARNING from them, and DESTROYING them in LOVE, blending them up (like we DESTROY a mango for a smoothie we want), in order that they might be recombined, particle by particle, into a formal framework that does NOT stop at game theory, but which allows for analyses of all playspaces, whether this be done musically, mathematically, etc.. almost certainly pseudoscientifically.

So, lists of other kinds of playspaces ought to proliferate, and we ought not be afraid of the potential this category has to blossom into a new kind of everything (this is what the proper meaning of ludic century would blow open into, in my opinion).

All these practices involving free movement -- PLAYSPACES -- the question is to find the practices that we LOVE and VALUE the most, and to NOT limit these to videogames-- and to immerse ourselves in these practices, to learn from them what we can, and the possibly, if we feel the desire to do so, to bring back our love of these things to games. To count aspects of the processes in such a way that they can be computed with-- but to not disrespect that thing we came to love in the first place.. Not to gamify it, but rather to learn from it what a game actually is, to learn its pattens of movement, the parts of the body and social milieu that it engages, et etc.

So, with this I become a dogmatist again-- shifting possibility spaces as a 'fixed' idea to explore the interrelations between these categories, a ceaselessly transforming substrate or matrix on which apparent differences can be thought and combined/reconciled in action.

Is there an SPS Realism that we could imagine? It doesn't seem too far-fetched.. I can't think of anything that does not fall under the umbrella.

Now, what is useful about this is precisely the possibility of dispensing with the graphical and other shallow 'realisms' that games are obsessed with today, and to tune into their rhythms, and the shifts of context that they employ, and the relations of these shifts to those that we experience in life.

From this perspective, it could be possible to design wholly 'abstract' games, with no representational elements, that are nonetheless SPS-realistic, having something to say in their time-flows that reflects the time-flows and harmonies of our lived experiences..

haaaaahhha, but it's TRUE. 

The question for videogame-pragmatics is to stop trying to read games as art, and to start trying to read arts as 'games' (broadly considered), as played things, from the creator's POV (conscious or reconstructed fiction), or the viewer (tho only insofar as viewing is creating)-- to find out what these things mean, not as things but as active ways whose gravitational pulls we enter into-- as flux-worlds, chaos-cosmos, process-organism, shifting possibility spaces.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Favorite Game SOUNDTRACKS, Part 2

I was slightly caught off guard when I tried to put together a list of my fav game soundtracks for an interview with Dazed & Confused, which is posted HERE --

I mentioned some other games in addition to these, but since I think Dazed wasn't wanting to confuse its audience too much with border-case inclusions like Cobra or Infinite Sketchpad + Samplr, I'd like to add some notes here on those EXCEPTIONS which are important to me--

These are games or software/play-spaces more generally that have been some of the most inspirational to me as to how I think about music & interaction as a dissolved/whole touched unit-- I suspect all of these exist on some as-yet-unnamed continuum composed of a gradient of these software-instruments+ways of playing fading into the strictly computational videogames I mentioned in the link.

My interest in games comes as much from fascination with and love for these other playspaces/softwares and working/playing methods as it does from videogames proper. There's no easy 'edge' we can point to separating these categories games/other, and i think the boundary line is an interesting place to play around…

So-- here are a few more of the entries I'll put on my 'favorite game soundtracks' list, allowing the edges of the "game"-idea to broaden up some, and allowing 'soundtrack' to be approached from a player's perspective, rather than a listener's, with the necessary recognition of touch in the music.

0. Playing Music & Not recording

I've often had the thought that all of the very best pieces of music can never have been recorded, because they are literally impossible to record in their touched aspect. A musical happening really only ever happens once, and even when accounting for the supposed fixedness/objectivity of recordings this fact remains, because recordings leave a 'remainder' that is not recorded, and when recordings themselves are played back-- listened to, danced to, cut/drifted in-- they facilitate yet another temporally unique music piece/game/situation which will leave a remainder with any attempt to record it. So! I like to play these improv games and, at my best, to record their output as little as possible. Psychically, once the objects we're playing with begin to solidify structurally as recordings, the perceived contingency and fluidity of the improv space can be difficult to get back in touch with. Materially, it is a fact that a recording does NOT record the full touch of the music, but only the sound-spectrum vibrations on an analog-digital line/sequence producing in us virtual images in sound, where our ears are meant to make up for the experiences not granted to all of our skin and internals, the touch of keys, blow of horns, group dynamics & ESPs etc.

A. Group Improvisation

Group improvisation is the most fluid-- and in this liquid-sense, game-like--of all the musical games, in a way. It is the game which holds all the others as parts of itself. Any group improv is going to be a complex ecosystem of personalities, instruments, moods, spaces, powers etc. Just like Dungeons & Dragons (& other non-digital RPGs) with rules interpreted freely is sort of The Ideal Game for those that are into free-play imagination games, group improv music is an Ideal Game for those into free-play music games-- it is endlessly generative and compelling as long as we come to it with the energy to dive in and listen and move.. The group improv model exists in the same game-space as a D&D game that has abandoned prescribed rules in favor of communal generative situational-architectures, which taps into a kind of utopianism in games like that of New Babylon etc. The sense in which they are real movements with real psychic effects, etc. The improvisations catalogued at the ilinxgroup bandcamp hesitantly break with the "no recording" game-- the sense in stopping this game is in allowing recordings themselves their full material capacities-- maybe they could be instructive listening 'maps' for recreating images of the shifting games that were happening, moving between total disengaged banality and collective ecstasy, sometimes within a span of a few breaths. ILINX means "vertigo" and is the play-aspect of change in music and games and rollercoasters in general, and is something like a guardian spirit of VARIATION in improvisation (which is itself the working spirit of composition). Presupposing in improvisations a ground which is motion itself or constant variation is a useful working hypothesis for research into new game forms that are inspired from the intuitive flows of music and which cannot yet be counted as structure/software/computation..

1. Cobra

This is my favorite structured group improv game I've played. It's by John Zorn, a piece from his set of "game pieces", he calls them. It allows for a really unique element of high-level structural control from the bottom-up, something which is typically either not present (in much free improvisation, which is so good at forgetting past and future, and rarely maps time onto space), or reduced to top-down elastic-linear block structures "on-rails" (a la "Free Jazz", "Ascension"). In Cobra, there are a bunch of mechanics that can be called out by individual players via body cues, which are then relayed by a conductor/prompter such as to instruct the playing of the entire group. This is a really BEAUTIFUL means of giving radical structural control of "top-down" (State) infrastructure to the "bottom-up" players.. The particular set of improv mechanics themselves are beautiful, too! Favorites: Memory cards, Cross-fades, New York rule (middle finger at anyone instantly stops them). Unfortunately John Zorn doesn't encourage folks to play the game away from his presence, because he still thinks of it as a "piece" more than a "game."  But luckily, the rules are around, thanks to some pirate, linked above "Cobrea Score": highly recommend getting together friends, musicians & non-musicians whatever, and trying this out.. Usually takes a few hours of practice to learn & internalize the rules (even w/o the Guerilla Tactics, which I've not played with, but seem very interesting, too, an amplified bottom-up dissolve/multiplicity contrasting with the clean democratic-fascism of the prompts), and then once you've learned, new things coming up in playing really can last forever..

2. Flux Game

Very BASIC archetypal game, maybe has also gone by other names. Using a similar structure to Cobra, where the bottom-up is given instantaneous control of the top down in a sequence of singular-transitions-- this game is like an abstraction all of Fluxus scripts counted as one "space of all possible ______ ". Players at the beginning write a bunch of 'scripts' or prompts for the group; these are all thrown in a bucket; game begins when anyone feels like it, they ding a bell that has been set next to the cards, draw a card, and read a prompt; everyone does what is called for by the card, there are no guidelines as to what a card can present as a rule, this goes on indefinitely; whenever anyone feels bored, they are to immediately go to the bell, ding, and draw the next card. The game loops on this pattern until the final ding and then it's over. It can be a very strange experience, with really positive and really uneasy feelings both (the negative, often an empathetic result of enforcing or not enforcing change, as it can feel overly controlling to ding when the rest of the group is enjoying themselves). This is basically a music game, but music's territory is expanded radically and this is its relation to flux(us)-- its commitment to all materials, sound-making or not, as manifesting a temporal musical aspect that can be played. This leap, where structure and materials are musical independent of their sound-making aspects, has been really important for me in 'reading' videogames, where their existing non-sonic architecture can already rightfully be thought of as a piece of music, simply-- missing its sounds.

B. Solo Improvisation

I like to think that even "solo music" is not at all solo. There is always the dialogue between player and instrument to account for. I heard somewhere of some group that believes instruments are human beings, and I like this! Whether or not we go this far, the idea of an instrument as personality or organism is not difficult to feel when really get into it, constantly listening & responding to the physicality of the instrument, which seems to have its own will/desires, its receptivities and resistances both. Like a snare drum roll-- you drop a stick, and there's a ch-ch-ch that speeds up into a buzz; the process of sustaining this buzz as a pseudo-equilibrium is pure body intelligence/haptics. The relation of singing to breath-rhythms (see breathing rules for "music for 18 musicians" for interesting speed-harmonization technique with this rhythm) is a similarly tangled relation between the player's body and the 'musical information' we are used to accounting for.

1. Ableton's Simpler

One of my very favorite '1-player' musical games to play is just cruising through samples, and triggering them on the keyboard, playing back at them, letting them 'play' me with their hard-coded rhythms responding to elastic stretchings/compressions. here's how I play:

With a) a start position variable to scrub with (VISUALLY is best, so I use the one with the triangle-head (pictured TOO FAST in the above gif), so that I can move to where I want in the sound a la soundcloud etc; b) with a keyboard triggering samples c) drifting around octave fourth and fifth key-relations, or planing by smaller intervals for rave block progs.

It is key to remember that the sample is VISUALIZED this whole time, which makes this process fairly different from, say, sampling off vinyl, which is more linear, less spatial (with its own advantages (scratch/pitch-zoom)). In constructing our internal model of Simpler's "soundtrack" structure, we want to think of the interface and its visualized virtual-haptic waveform-space + manifold variables as the 'game' which is being soundtracked by a variable AnySoundWhatever, given its 'skin' by plugging in any existing recording.

In this space, across the surface/skin/waveform, I 'visit' different areas of a sample, and 'drift' through them, quite literally, a path/driftway connecting disparate zones that could be drawn out with lines following the play-head which is either moving continuously, or discontinuously cutting to a new position. Based on how often a sample is retriggered, more or less of a zone/subset of the sample will be in the 'field of view', the 'attention' will be focused there (visually and sonically) and this is the equivalent of a kind of ZOOM into the music, exploring its textures and relations as they exist isolated, repeated and recombined at different scales. Samplr (below) is even better with this zoom-feel, but simplr gives simple intuitive access to both START-POSITION and PITCH (keyboard), which allows it to function as connective-process between sample-play and keyboard-play, the latter which I enjoy very much on its own, too:

2. Keyboard White-Black Organism

"The keyboard-game's soundtrack" -- What does this feel like, what does it look like, and what are the relations between its sounds and its feel/look? 

It's sometimes embarassing for professional musicians to play on all white keys or all black keys, "being limited to C Major / F# Major pentatonic and their cousin modes is such a severe constraint" the thinking goes. But I have a keyboard, as do many others, that can transpose its layout-key relations, such that any diatonic music (which is the superset of the intervalic relations exhibited by the white keys), can be comfortably played on all white keys, or restricted to the pentatonic fundamentals on all black keys (where B and F whites can be added to the palette for access to the more dissonant perfect fourth and major 7th relations, respectively), and thus much of the practice required of musicians in conventional training, in order to gain facility across all keys, is automated by a simple shift in my input/output relation to the instrument, pitch-shifting up or down, to play in all keys. Black & White: I see & feel these as the polar "gravitational centers" of the keyboard, because they are the most clearly differentiated 2 subsets of the instrument, when we look at or touch it and begin to count it as a composition of parts. White and black, everyone knows this about a keyboard. This in how my attention immediately grasps them, and this is the sense in which white & black keys function in the music as game, outside of reducibility to sound-information, always embdedded in the instruments physical design and my bodily perception of it in sight and touch. I prefer the black keys to the white because of the greater differentiation of feel with the raised height and 3+2 grouping, a sense of difference which is not possible on the white keys unless we scoot our fingers up the keyboard such that they brush with the black (otherwise, all white key spacings feel the same). Starting from the pentatonic relations on the black keys, then, it is possible to play even more harmonic complex music with the strong haptic grounding of octave/4/5-identifications in the 3+2 touch-rhythm, 'drifting away' from the centers at will, allowing the white keys to come into play, but specifically as a tension or deviation from the consistent ground of the harmony, rather than as manifesting the potential for free-modulatory movement the keyboard was built for in the first place. This is the main constraint with this style-- its tendency toward non-modulation, and the possibility of transition liquidation in harmonic movement, a style, or game/way of playing, which reached its apparent potential for smooth change of gravity in late renaissance/baroque styles, and has largely been ignored in recent pop/recorded music. If we desire to retrieve and transform that style, however, the possibilties of music space-automation suggest that we may be able to bypass conventional models of learning technique, rather playing with another player/game/space that thinks these things for us, as a gift. An added bonus is that a proper reproduction will not be possible with new automations-- it will be corrupt, accidental, and from these accidents it could be possible to count the grounds of a new grammar/framework. A basic trick I've played with along these lines is to automate pitch-shifting along the circle of 4ths, changing every few seconds, allowing for the strangeloop model of transposition, where by traveling in one direction around the circle's edge we end up back at where we started. It is possible thus to play "black key" music ontop of a constantly-transposing automation system, which allows for a consistent set of relations between sight, touch, & pitch-interval-distribution, that merely shift their ground under you, with no foresight required, only response. And if you do this for hours and collect the data, I haven't tried, but I'd guess that the statistical distribution of 'pitch-class' information (all octave Cs, all octave Ebs, etc.), will look very similar to that in a serialist piece of music, which has proceeded by repeating a pitch class only after all of the other pitch classes have been played-- the measure of entropy stays (roughly) the same viewed at this level. Considered broadly, black key music has become serialism, but of an altogether more intuitive sort, that priveleges touch and low-integer harmonic-relations, whereas the serialists almost uniformly privileged counting and the principle of universal-relative consonance.. Following this, and you come away with a kind of serial-pentatonic pop-music..

3. Loops / Repetition as Objectification-Spatialization

Making music with computers, the possible relations we can have with repetition are very different from those of the oft-mentioned instrumental works of the minimalists, which are supposed to be regarded as ancestral predecessors of computer music today. Instrumental minimalism enforces a very particular kind of bodily-ritual in the process of reproducing the piece-- i.e. tuning into 'infinitesimal approach' phase relation-drifts over long periods (Piano Phase), breathing patterns (Music for 18 Musicians), and generally-- being (bodily) the immanent cause of the repetition throughout performance/play, such that the repetition's energy is always coming from the human-player, rather than instrumental/machine collaborators (Terry Riley's delay-jams and Steve Reich tape pieces being obvious exceptions, Philip Glass' taste for amplification is similarly engaged in automation-research). With computer repetitions, it is altogether different, and this is the mode of music-making I've grown up with, FruityLoops 16-step sequencer is the ground I learned. You can make a loop, and just turn it on, hit play, and it will continue going. And your body has become disconnected from the cause of the sound-making. This disconnection is not desirable in itself, but it is not bad, either. The important thing I've found is that I can remain embodied in the music as long as I just keep playing with it. The more active/willful approach to this can be accomplished by touching and manipulating the sound, as with the 'Simpler' example above, which acknowledges the sound for what it has become, something like a vibrating 2-dimensional tapestry which can be cut, stitched, scrunched, pulled at will-- here we might load the sample in an audio-brick of Ableton's session instead, so that loop is turned on, and we're exploring the changing properties of that loop-- as object, an extensive space, or game, that is played by drifting the playback position and loop-edges and which is soundtracked by the variable skin of the waveform. The more passive/receptive approach is to to let the loop go for a long time, and to stand up away from the computer, and to walk around, listening, stretch/etc, sing, dance-- or to just sit and listen and soak, or to 'walk around' with another instrument on top of the loop-- to keep it the loop automated, going on without change, forever, & to just play on top, learning its contours and ways of playing with those, to engage with the spatialized music object not as displayed on the computer screen but rather in our more fluid memory-flows, which can become very good at predicting and spatializing time-experience, but which are nonetheless always irreducible to space, always renewing themselves, the internal model changing constantly, with every drift, loop, etc.

4. Overdubs & Smooth Time

We don't really need to compose by counting objects onto space anymore, and I never really enjoyed doing that when it interfered with the immediate output of the sound itself. Spatial mapping was the paradigm of Western notation, and really most systems of music, even those that are merely counted but not visualized (all countings are visualized in mental images). There have always nudgings of time-relations in musical performance-- e.g. "stolen time", rubato-- which have pointed toward a more elastic count-- but in the last century, there has been a swarm of radical new time structures that seem to exist entirely outside of the level of 'counted time' we're used to having to deal with in spatialized compositon. The serialist's rhythms, again, loop around and their 'determinacy' meets with the angular contours of free improvs 'indeterminacy.' Again, the computer's capacity for automating/counting behavior allows for new ways of ignoring and yet loving/benefitting from the tradition of systematicity in music. OVERDUBBING GAME: 0) turn off quantization 1) play an improv, whatever; 2) loop if you want to learn to know it as spatialized-memory; 3) play another improv on top; 4) sync events, or not; 5) repeat 2-4 as often as you'd like. // It's remarkable how quickly it's possible to make a piece of music in this way, especially when you choose to NOT sync events-- to allow time to be smooth, even when it is unintentional. If the total piece is 2:00 long, the total processing time for creating the 'track' might have been as short as 4:00 -- one improv + another one immediately after. That's a fun game! It build's on the space explored by tape-overdubbing & delay petals, but the SPEED of the computer adds totally new rhythmic possibilities and continuities if you would like, for instance the above 1+1 overdub which creates a track with length n and production time 2n, and is a continuous stream of events which looks like -- 1. first jam  2. second jam  3. finished track --- all of this, with no gaps to speak of between 1, 2 & 3, which we know well because gaps would cause production time to be greater than 2n, which it's not.

4. Through-Composition: Transition Liquidations

Composition-objects, especially when any loops are involved, often leave us with a hard-edged block of sound (track), with high-level sequence (super-track (finished track, album, etc)) reduced to block after block after block (horizontal) on block on block on block (vertical) . The process of chiseling/melting away at these blocks such that they can be welded together anew, recombined in a continuous form, is called "transition liquidation", where transitions are gradually de-composed from block to block, to several different blocks to different blocks, and with the speculative Ideal always present which reminds us of the possibility of always decomposing into atoms/molecules which flow as slow liquids when 'viewed' from a higher level, and whose flows now become the subject of composition, irreducible to the count of the consistent plane of blocks. This is such a large category as to almost account for all of traditional composition in general, insofar as it is spatialized time which is composed of vertical (texture), horizontal (time/change), and vertical-horizontal (N-dimensional intensive textural calculus ?) parameters and their relations. These transition liquidations exist on a continuum between the DJ mix and its crossfades, and the insanesly involved transitional spaces of so much polyphonic classical musics and free improvs, most all of which are concerned in some sense with dissolving blocks (tracks, harmonies, rhythms, formal ABA~~ patterns etc) at different levels of scale/magnification/distance. The idea of "through-composition" is that strict repetition is dispensed with, that there is little or no repetition without variation. It's like music that has taken a form that we are more familiar with navigating in the written word. 

3. Samplr + Infinite Sketchpad + Pseudo-Mereotopology

Samplr is my favorite sampler I've played with-- it's on the iPad and takes the sample-cruising of simpler et. al into some new territory, where now the visual interface has also become a haptic-connect surface that we play just by touching visually relevant bits, and when we play the sample, we get the sense that even a cat might be able to do this. Samplr has a few different modes of control-- my favorite takes two finger-holds of input pressed on top of a sample, and loops the region between them. By swapping fingers you can easily move between forward and reverse playback, and it is so so easy to change loop size, to the point of it being difficult to sustain tempo-equilibrium even, such that the rhythm of the sample and its relation to both its composition and our body's position in space & connection to the pad becomes all tangled up. This feels not only like contact with another organism-like thing, but even, at its most intimate, a kind of extension of our own body. Zooming in far eventually loops such a small segment of the sample that it turns into a drone on a single pitch, which can be smudged around to discover melodies. 

Alongside, paired w/ Samplr is Infinite Sketchpad, which there is way too little space to talk about here, more soon, but BASICALLY-- it's drawing software (using the same finger-to-pad touch as samplr) that allows for effectively infinite zooming in and out, drawing on a 'fractal blank canvas" which is through-composed, lacking the scaling self-similarity of traditional fractals, with no repetitions whatsoever automated. This seems like a VERY interesting way to think about scores for me (which are, like games, soundtracked by the sounds mapped onto them). Dan Lopatin recently mentioned R+7's composition as 'jams inside of jams inside of jams', which is very much what happens with the overdubbing process being counted as a unit, and used as raw material in the composition of new units. What an image! This kind of SCALING jam-space seems to be a kind of music that, were it to be 'scored' with any visual representation at all, would require using a visualized mereological (part/whole relations) paradigm much like that of Infinite Sketchpad. All samplr jams are going to be "jams in jams" like this-- you put in a sample, which is itself a jam, and then you jam with it, and if you record, this produces another jam, which is different from both the original-object (sample) jam and the played (haptic) jam.

The relations are not so simple as that, though, and an attention to the loopiness of their sequencing introduces some of the potential for structures that can command a kind of  affective disorientation/ilinx (tool for transition liquidation) as could be automated with formal-software models of playing-- counted as a videogame.

Let's say jamB is a samplr jam composed of recombined elements of jamA-- it has zoomed into some very special nooks and crannies and recomposed a piece from those components. jamC has also done the same thing, recomposed from jamA and is its own jam, its own object. Now, jamD has also been composed, and it is made from some of jamB overdubbed on top of jamC. The relations between these parts is not simply that of parts and wholes, where jamA eats up jamB, etc. Already, the relations are confused, because it is very reasonable to see that jamA is in jamB just as much as jamB is in jamA. The source material is cut, dissolved, its components constituting the makeup of the derivative. At the same time, if we are to ask what the original is composed of, it would not be incorrect to say that, at least some of the components are those that can be found in jamB (jamA's original source, the haptic playspace, lost forever to time). This is the classic Ouroboros model, popular with the Hermetics, and the Strange Loop model, popular with Douglas Hofstadter & AI folks everywhere.

But even this is not enough-- because we didn't yet think about the overdubbing, where jamD is in jamB and jamC, which are themselves reciprocally in and containing jamA, and in jamC and jamC are dissolved parts, irretrievable as such, from jamD. With all of these relations criss-crossing not only between parts and wholes but between jams themselves too, the mereological model, which is all parts and whole, ceases to do the job.

In Alfred North Whitehead's Process & Reality (which I have not yet read-- Modes of Thought is a GOOD intro, tho, P&R is very systemic, seems rough)-- he describes a metaphysical model which  a mereotopological composition. Mereotopology accounts for, not only parts and wholes, but also interconnectedness-- invariance, edges… LINKS, or 'folds' in spacetime, we might think-- we might have some sense of the felt reality of this from playing Portal or Corrypt, too, or reading some D&G rhizome, surfing 'planes of correspondence,' or Hofstadter's other name for Strange Loops: tangled hierarchies.

In any case, the models of our Samplr jams paired with the Infinite Sketchpad model may come in closer to one another once relations between parts are allowed to be still more entangled-- when a whole might contain a cascade of parts, eventually containing the original whole (strange loop), when a part of a whole might contain a link to a part of another part of the same whole, or a different whole, represented by similarity (repetition/identity) of parts, and their persistent realization across space-time.

These relations sound complicated, and I probably tangled them up even more in my own thinking, but these are the concepts and structures that we're presently dealing with more and more when we're making music with computers today, we just have not begun to count them/visualize-- really, in practice of jamming inside other jams with other jams etc, this dizzying structure of relations doesn't really strike us as formidable at all, but rather wholly natural, like a series of rooms filled with objects we can lose ourselves in and harmonic relations between objects in the space that can be dissolved and recombined etc, resulting in slopes and currents generated by the object-centers, and transitioning points of attraction forming a dynamic substrate of structural variation that we can move through at will. The process of composition, or of improvisation, which is felt intuitively even while it is structurally dizzying, whatever, is not so very different from a videogame...

We are familiar with the composition of music objects as "pieces" (albums, tracks, etc), but not so much as touched things, or "spaces" (instruments, group dynamics, etc). Adam Harper's excellent Infinite Music has begun to point toward a plane of consistency where instruments, styles, mp3s are all counted as real materials to put to use in composing/playing music, which points toward a more generalized music or (musick) theory of PLAYSPACES as opposed to works-- or at least, one where works are allowed to be players, just like everything else. To fill out a model of this sort requires accounts of processes/games that are played in composition/improvisation, in order to better reconstruct a virtual image of the conditions in which the object was allowed, in the first place, to be fixed as it has been. Beyond this filling out the model of music space, though, which has its relevant structural correlate in exploring new kinds of videogames and how their musical aspects might 'hug' their structural beams--- beyond this, it's fun just to try playing some new games with music… even just cruising around in itunes, and hanging out in zones of a track that I like, rather than listening to the whole thing, practicing new kinds of repetition, and introducing variation not as accident that corrupts an original work, but as play-- beginning to compose with the materials, to make the fixed a little more fluid.


The way I think about videogames is like this:

They're able to materialize and automate any structures taken from any games (like those above) as long as they're able to be reduced to and represented with quantity. A videogame can be composed as an assemblage of such structures, or a zoom into / recombination of one or another. This reduction ultimately can't account for much of the magic between organism and non-organic player that makes music MUSICK, but it can MAKE the non-organic player itself-- which can then be played, given meaning, in our own games, with our own rules.

I think of "videogames" as meaning: space of all possible software with input/output structures, which opens things up... The SOUNDTRACK has a two-faced meaning. 1) is the structure, where the soundtrack means "the music" associated with the game, which does not require sonic realization, but is instead realized every time the software is run, and felt in the time-structures that it makes manifest. 2) is the sound-layer or 'skin', which ought to HUG these structures, such that the soundtrack has the same relation to the game that, say, a musical instrument's sound has to its mode of operation.

Why call all in/out software VIDEOGAMES in the first place, and not just software, or apps? There's a kind of austere seriousness embedded the design philosophy of so much other software which I think is probably wise to avoid. It's not the sort of 'playful seriousness'/'serious playfulness', or LOVE, which makes things happen, but the seriousness of measured utility and trying to make things happen, which gets tangled up and too-often lost in the engineering process with its goals and metrics and focus groups, too caught up in the abstract virtuality of its materials, its mutability as number-- ignoring the vibrating material actuality, its mutability as touch (and ignoring, likewise, the pre-abstract virtual continuum that this touch enters into).

Many videogames seem to be guilty of these same things-- but moreso than with the ideologies that have built up around other software, it feels like there's some energy in this "GAME" idea that could give way to a design-pragmatics of non-utility, of touched materiality, new games, new forms of inorganic life.

Specifically, the idea that we ALLOW THE GAME TO PLAY ~~

This is, to treat the game as its own player. Videogames PLAY BACK like no other software. Things are kept out of reach, if not by challenge, simply by spatial or sequential distance. When Mario JUMPs into the air, he's unable to jump again, the jump is nonsense, and is not counted by the game, because he's in the air; different activities for different times. Banjo-Kazooie, on the other hand, plays differently, since Kazooie squawks and gives a second jump when jump-button is pressed again in mid-air. This simple mechanical difference opens up the whole space of SHIFTING contexts in games, where an action is not meant to be accessible at all times (which is the working value system of Photoshop, Ableton Live, other 'creative tools', etc), but rather only at given times as conditioned by the dynamic contours of the environment-- an environmental architecture which is truly FORM-FINDING.

It is remarkable how beautiful even the most apparently dull videogame can be when read as music.. the LIFE is there, from the very first gesture/movement.. For me, tuning in like this typically requires playing in silence (but w/visual feedback), and really tuning into the time-relations between events and processes.. but when the tuning-in works, there's this same sort of immersion in this structural-sensuous world that we can feel when we play music..

What's exciting for me is the potential for ANY game to be hugged with a skin-tight (or loose, for comfort) soundtrack, which helps lower the barrier of that 'tuning-in' to the game structure, such that its latent/potential musicality, which without sound requires some focus/ritual to tap into, is immediately, actually sensible as a surface effect of the game, all the more likely that the game might be played as music-- and, the same as this, reversed/generalized-- the more likely that new musics might be played as games.