[linux-audio-user] Thesis: Playing and making music

Rob lau at kudla.org
Sun Dec 10 15:47:11 EST 2006

On Sunday 10 December 2006 08:48, Dave Phillips wrote:
> Sorry, Frank, but I'll call bull-hockey on this statement. I
> respect the talents necessary to become a good gamer, but I
> reject the comparison to instrumental skill, it's simply not
> on the same order of complexity and intention.

Yeah, I've been a gamer all my life (almost literally... the 
first home videogame came out in 1972, when I was 3, and my 
parents bought it... and I got my first job 9 years later just 
to have quarters for the arcade.)  I've been playing and/or 
writing music for most of that time as well.  I enjoy Guitar 
Hero and DDR and the ocarina parts in Zelda, as simple as they 
are.  But there's a huge difference between even the most 
complicated controller with two joysticks and 16 buttons, and 
the 88 velocity-sensitive keys of a piano or the six strings and 
innumerable chords and techniques of a guitar.  

On the other hand, except for improv or maybe the kind of playing 
where you have to sight-read something without having rehearsed 
it first, there's really nothing in music that requires the kind 
of response time necessary to play the more twitchy videogames, 
like shooters and fighters.  You're executing a predetermined, 
practiced performance of something that's been previously 
scripted, for the most part, and it's your interpretation of 
that performance that makes it art rather than mimickry.  You're 
not responding to new and unexpected stimuli except in the 
above-mentioned cases.

I think that videogames are easier to master overall, though, 
because they have clearly-defined success and failure 
conditions.  You can play a musical passage to absolute 
perfection and still have people going, "I dunno, it seemed 
kinda stiff."  

With games, you just have the computer judging you either through 
your character living or dying or by more direct performance 
criteria ("Perfect: 227!  OK: 8!  Miss: 1!"), but with music, 
you just have your audience and yourself.  This is why I think 
computers are an ideal start to music education, since they give 
immediate feedback and you can make a DDR-like game out of it, 
but with current technology you need more than a computer to 
evaluate you.

In the end, the two fields of endeavor are just different, even 
if some of the basic skills may appear similar.  Video games may 
have more in common with music than, say, a real life game of 
basketball, but I think the thought processes are still closer 
to sport than art.

I bet that the Wii remote will make an awesome (but still not 
right-on) virtual theremin possible pretty soon, though.  Then 
we'll start seeing how you can mix musical performance and 
videogames in more meaningful ways than "press the buttons in 
time with the lights."


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