Bandcamp and The User Experience

Bandcamp is a website that invites independent musicians to freely distribute their music through it. At no charge (besides a 15% cut from each sale after the fact), a band can set up and customize their own page to stream, promote and sell their songs/albums/merchandise in a number of combinations. Once your music is up and available, you can track statistics as well for how many people are visiting, listening (which is broken down into full/partial/skipped plays too to give you meaningful insights) and buying. You set the prices and, if you’d like, your audience can too. It’s an incredibly powerful tool and it’s only getting better lately, especially in the department of interactive design. Continue reading Bandcamp and The User Experience


Emerald City Blues


The Commonwealth’s first full-length album
Emerald City Blues
is now available:


Three of us, alone, made some noise in our dining room for nine months.
Here’s what the result sounds like.

Souvenir, by The Commonwealth

The Commonwealth’s (that’s us) debut album.

Take something home with you at

Or listen right now

Play on Words


“To play a game is in many ways an act of ‘faith’ that invests the game with its special meaning – without willing players, the game is a formal system waiting to be inhabited, like a piece of sheet music waiting to be played.”
Salen & Zimmerman, Rules of Play


Play is a troublesome word for me, given how pivotal it becomes for the two things I engage in most: music/sound and games. Music is played. Games are played. I started thinking about what the word play really meant to me a few weeks back and this distinction, how we use the word interchangably and yet loosely. How else can this word correspond with itself cross-genre in certain media? How do these two disciplines, approached radically different in form, hold similar substance in mental approach? What does/can a researched study on these psyche say or do for music-game design? This relationship between noises and choices is elevated because of this focus on play between them – I don’t know how to read music as a language, only the experience and physicality of exploring music is what has given it significance in my life. At the same time, exploration and experimentation of the various systems within games is as familiar a trait. It’s by the means of play I not only learn the rules, but how the rules were made, and why.

The distinction I settled on was between the designs & interactivity of both games and music each – leading me to this key characteristic of exploration, and perhaps why modern games have yet to truly capture this experience that’s crucial to what comes of both music and games.

Cards are a good example for this phenomenon, where the medium for play is both the game and the game-engine – the hands of the clock and the gears all visible and distinguishable at once. In that sense, most table-top games are essentially analog gaming engines. Katie Salen & Eric Zimmerman’s book Rules of Play helped articulate this for me when looking at what makes games digital and not. In it references game designer James Dunnigan of both digital and non-digital wargames, in which Dunnigan states that the benefit of traditional wargames and boardgames is that given they demand more initial attention and investment to instigate feedback from the game than a digital one, by doing so they reveal their inner-workings and teach a miniature language to the player. The significance is that non-digital games invite the player to modify them the moment the player understands what defines the game at hand. For example, a deck of cards reveals itself as an engine when its system of symbols, faces, shapes, and numbers creates degrees of value in the different games cards can provide. Modern digital games such as Killzone 2, Crysis, or Fallout 3 do not bother the player with how their engines work – they’re far too complex and indigestible for the player, given how intense it stimulates the senses already. The trade-off is the immediacy that exists from the moment of entering the game, its world, its rules, to exploring it. “Computer games do not reveal their inner-workings”, says Dunnigan, calling the effect the “Black Box Syndrome”.

Where does this “lead-the-band” though? What does exploration, authorship, and the ability to make choices say for games, and their inclusion to music? Are they all that different in approach? More in the coming weeks.

The Critical Thoughts on Games & Art category is being streamlined into critical short-essays/entries that aid the studies and discernment towards my BFA Thesis Project, which spans from the fall until the end of next spring.

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.