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Ed Halter, whose book From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and Video Games we'll be discussing at BookCourt in Brooklyn tomorrow night (y'all come!), referred me to this discussion at Henry Jenkins' blog about video game criticism and the topic of "why don't games have their Lester Bangs or Pauline Kael?" You could substitute "electronic/digital art and music" for games in that discussion and most of it would be relevant: that the critics will emerge in a generation from the ranks of kids consuming the products now, that criticism does exist but mostly on blogs and chatboards and not the established print publications, etc. Games have a different problem in their climb to mainstream acceptance, which is that, as one commenter pointed out, the experience varies so much from one consumer/player to another--and not just for the usual reasons of "the squishy subjectivity of art" but because the game has decision trees that could result in completely unlike experiences for the novice and the advanced player. In an earlier post I described the pleasures of watching my nephews playing Super Mario 64. They're experts so I got more out of being a spectator than I ever would have gotten as an inept player. The "game art" Halter describes in his book that I think I'd like best are the pieces that take apart the games and reassemble the fragments as "objects of contemplation," for example, Workspace Unlimited's Diplomatic Arena, which consists of world leaders and villains indiscriminately slaughtering each other to a montage soundtrack. Some earlier thoughts of mine on the "problem of interactivity" are here and here.
Bern, of the 8-Bit rockin' duo Bodenstandig 2000, on why he doesn't like the iPod:
We know that mp3 is part of our relative poverty, but Apple's proprietary digital rights management is an extremely stupid answer. I am the engineer-like type of guy (or at least an engineer-sympathizer) and I still canít get over these now-so-common crippling of technical possibilities. Appleís iPod? Yes, they look good and maybe they are the last bastion of classical brAun-like industrial design vs. chinese-turkish styling-trash for pimps and bitches, but still: They are crippled and I donít buy one.I agree with this. As a nascent mp3-making musician, I would rather get the product out there via "the chinese-turkish" free mp3 sites that link to me than use iTunes. At home I use Winamp to play music by others, because it doesn't stink of some kind of monopolistic capitalist scheme. Information wants to be free. (What a quaint idea!) The extent of my own capitalism is, send me 10 bucks and I'll send you a CD-R with as much music as I can put on it. For the money you get higher res recordings, the music all in one place, and no time-consuming downloading. You can rip the songs, whatever, just don't pass it off as your own work. My address is on my faq page. Check or money order to "Tom Moody."
1. You cannot just copy a song to an iPod and play it, youíll need iTunes.
2. If you buy a Bodenstandig-song at iTunes, you cannot play it on every mp3-player, you need an iPod.
"Aruba '85" [3.1 MB .mp3]
We're having sort of a heat wave here: nothing compared to Texas summers, but I'll go along with it. In honor, this piece has kind of a jazzy, tropical, Latinate feel. I wrote the melody fairly quickly a few days ago but felt it still needed something, so I busted my hump writing some harmony parts. I wish I could say I learned something about chord theory but I'm still doing everything mostly by ear. The challenge was to write additional notes and variations on the main theme without losing the original syncopated character of the verses. On the third iteration there's a kind of barrelhouse thing that's not very Latin, but it's interestingly quirky and lilting so I left it in. The "bass" is the characteristic Mutator twang bending some tuned drum notes--it stays constant through the piece, maybe too constant, but it's only 2 minutes. The rest is percussion from various sources.
Update: I guess I should mention that just because I said the piece "has kind of a jazzy, tropical, Latinate feel" doesn't mean it is jazzy, tropical, Latinate song. I think it's an "art piece" in that the repeating electronic bass line is static and trancelike in its textures and the jaunty electronic piano parts seem to be imparting forward momentum the piece doesn't have. Thus those iterative piano parts hang like fruit in jello to be individually considered for their simple but rather classically fabricated harmonic structures. The song is supposed to be problematic but also fun and pleasurable in a way I think a lot of 20th Century music wasn't.
Update 2: I took out the griping in the above update--that's a constant temptation with a blog. Thanks to Pierre for listening and documenting the process of recording this piece on his end--he is turning surfing into a Fluxus event with his series on listening to music.
Hate to poop the party, but y'all really need to find someplace besides MySpace to blog and be creative. It's evil now.
Next week, Wednesday, July 19, I'll be guest moderating a talk at the Brooklyn bookstore BookCourt; the featured speaker is Ed Halter, Village Voice critic and author of the just-published book From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and Video Games (Thunder's Mouth Press/Avalon, 2006). The announcement for the event is a here, on the book's blog.
After exploring the intertwined histories of combat and play, from chess to modern "war game" exercises, Halter probes the nexus among the US military, academia, Hollywood, and the gaming industries that led to the development and promotion of such popular games as Full Spectrum Warrior and America's Army. I almost wrote "unholy nexus" but that's probably not the phrase Halter would use. He has a deceptively calm "just the facts ma'am" style that lays out all the information and leaves it to readers' heads to explode. As in, how sick is it that these "fun" games are both a recruiting tool aimed at the poor and impressionable and a trainer of hardened killers to be sent into the Iraq/Afghanistan meat grinder? How ridiculous is it that our tax money is paying for laboratories that explore "subtle effects of light" that heighten a game's realism? The book then ends with descriptions of projects by creative types with a bit more leftist, activist slant. I'm just starting the last chapter and taking notes as I go--doubtless I'll have additional placid thoughts up on the blog as next Wednesday approaches.