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Planet of Sound: Talking Art, Noise, and Games with EA's Robi Kauker
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Planet of Sound: Talking Art, Noise, and Games with EA's Robi Kauker

April 13, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

Let me ask you about avant-garde music, noise, and how those influences might work their way into games. I tend to like abstract music, and I don't get that very much in videogames.

RK: I kind of look at it in the same way I look at it in film. If you take Stravinsky from 1920, that was considered avant-garde at that time. Now Stravinsky is pretty standard in film music. You can hear all the influences of Stravinsky in film music today. It took a little while -- Stravinsky even did film music at one point.

So it's a natural evolution. What we are doing today on the bleeding edge of avant-garde noise or whatever it is we call it now has a potential for these mass entertainment products and some of it is going to apply in great ways. I think if you play a game like BioShock you'll hear the influence of Charles Ives. You have two or three little pieces of music playing at the same time, playing different melodies, taking you to different parts of your memory. I think that is a really cool thing.

You're going to hear a lot more of that sort of juxtaposition and layering. You hear a lot of minimalists already. Again, Spore, is a perfect example that goes straight back to Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and Philip Glass.

It will come. It is an appropriate thing. Basically, you need a game space that allows you to explore the strength of that style. When you say avant-garde music, it is very strong stuff. It's not designed to be hidden in a video game, it's designed to grab your throat and get your attention. As composers, and as designers, and as listeners, we have to find the things that allow us to connect with the game. I can totally see doing a war-based game, a space-based game using the music of Harry Partch or the music of some noise artist.

EA/Maxis' Spore

We've already co-opted all the electronic music early on for sci-fi and things like that, totally co-opted rock and roll for all these driving and adventure games. Techno -- you can't do an adventure scene that doesn't have some homage to techno in it, even if it's the orchestra playing it.

It'll come, and it will come in doses, and it will come from independent developers, and it will come from interesting game spaces. I know that it's coming, just like it is coming through the dance world or it's coming into opera, or it's coming into television or film. It just takes a little time to find its spot where it's effective. It will come much faster than it took with Stravinsky.

Have you ever used audio to subvert things on a game a little bit?

RK: Oh yeah. I had a producer come to me once with concern about the Medical Research Center in Sim City 3000. When you click on it there's a sound of a dentist drill and a monkey screaming and the concern was that animal rights people would be upset about it. It was funny to me because at the time I was a vegetarian.

We always subvert things, we always find ways. When you play The Sims, if you play the piano at the highest skill level, it goes to Liszt or Rachmaninoff at level nine and skill level ten is pseudo-Cecil Taylor and you're slamming your forearm into the piano!

We were always doing things like that. The Sims Online has way out experimental electronic music couched under Ambiance. So we're always messing with whatever we can. There's really some extremely cool stuff being done under the name of Ambiance, especially in the space games and horror games, where they get to play around a lot more. But yes, subversion, that's half the entertainment, right!

Just to give you a different example, Chris Brown, who is a really well know composer on John Zorn's record label [Tzadik] makes crazy upside down avant-garde stuff. He wrote a lot of really cool jazz for me for The Sims 2 and the University expansion pack. The Big Band Jazz is all done by players who are better known for their Free Jazz work than their Be-Bop chops. So I like to give these guys things like that and then they give me the cutting edge of how far I let them go. So it's a lot of fun!

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