Practical .wav’s

With only a month left until its 1st anniversary, I’ve wanted to write about the significance Audiosurf has had on me. I’m both a visual and sonic artist, but I have to admit my first true love was audio (specifically music) without really knowing. Freud would probably blame it on some subconscious suppression, but I think it was my foolish immaturity trying to convince me that audio wasn’t very approachable in a “video-game”. Maybe the descriptor is the real criminal, but it’s too late to go into that sort of thing now (really, why am I still awake at 2am?)

Surf that .wav!...or mp3, or....

For awhile I was exploring the possibilities of more dynamic rhythm/music games – unhinged from their prepackaged soundtracks and inviting creation into the mix. In no way shape or form did those sessions think up an Audiosurf, Dylan Fitterer did. What he also did was open up a creative dialogue that’s still on the tip of my tongue, and it essentially stems back to level design. It’s these questions of mine that are like a broken record I cannot stop listening to: What is a level? How can you approach making a level? Could you design a level purely through the intentions of sound?

Absolutely you can.

I wonder what kind of level Thom Yorke, Jimmy Paige, or John Cage would make if they knew it would create a digital roller coaster ride. (Below: a hypnotic rendition of Radiohead’s Arpeggi done by Thom Yorke, Johhny Greenwood, and an orchestra).

Audiosurf essentially does a lot of data-mining, and that’s the secret in my opinion. It exchanges the traditional “I make playground. You play in it.” for a sort of one-way sonic Rosetta stone. As long as the file extension says its audio, the game will spit out a level to represent its sonic properties. Being that I write, record, and produce music, playing our own songs in Audiosurf was a real treat. What really got me is when my fellow composers/roommates, while willing to but rarely play games, played the songs too – they were simply awe-struck. One of them mentioned “I wonder what this would be like with that part of the arrangement louder in the mix…”, and it really hit me: you can design sound levels. Of course, music on its own does a damn fine job of being a fun ride, and maybe that’s what the game suits best. It still intrigues me a year later, if that is any consolation.

Bottom line: it opens some exciting doors.


2 thoughts on “Practical .wav’s

  1. I never cared much for AudioSurf, but this post makes the game seem much more interesting. I would however like AudioSurf mor if it was less of a game and more a way to experience music in a different way (though it does so quite well already). Especially seeing your own music in a different light must be an enlightening experience. I will definitely give AudioSurf another try whenever I finish my decidedly hobbyist music projects and somehow record them.

    The video is great too, have you tried playing it in AudioSurf? is a great free and easy tool to get the sound from the video into mp3-form.

  2. Thanks for the response! I would very much recommend riding your own music when you get the chance. While I really enjoy the traditional game/play aspects to Audiosurf, what stood out most was its potential to visualize music. Music can be so rich in color and texture – so naturally I agree that experiencing it in a new way is the biggest catch for me. I’m not sure if you were aware, but Audiosurf does have a mode that is non-competitive, but simply all colored blocks that generate the particle effects. So in that way you can isolate the game into a more passive event.

    Unfortunately I have not taken the chance to try the audio from that clip in Audiosurf. I remember seeing a cleaned up audio track of it floating around from whoever recorded it, but I might be wrong. Thanks for the heads up.

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