The Steve Reich Clapping Music app turns a minimalist classical work into a rhythm game. This is a cool idea, but even better, the app is also fun, addictive and SUPER HARD. When’s the last time you heard something related to classical music described as “fun” and “addicting”?
I contributed a chapter to a soon-to-be-released book, Learning, Education and Games (Volume One): Curricular and Design Considerations. I wrote about the potential value of video games in music education. The book will be out in October 2014. Here’s the table of contents.
We’re having a launch party on October 9th at the NYU Game Center, with a panel on games, featuring the contributors to the series. In addition to myself, the panelists will include Elena Bertozzi and Gabriela Richard. The book’s editor, Karen Schrier, will be moderating.
Update: here’s a drawing of Elena, Gabriela, Karen and myself by Jay Boucher.
I’m currently working on a book chapter about the use of video games in music education. While doing my research, I came across a paper by Kylie Peppler, Michael Downton, Eric Lindsay, and Kenneth Hay, “The Nirvana Effect: Tapping Video Games to Mediate Music Learning and Interest.” It’s a study of the effectiveness of Rock Band in teaching traditional music skills. The most interesting part of the paper comes in its enthusiastic endorsement of Rock Band’s notation system.
The authors think that Rock Band and games like it do indeed have significant educational value, that there’s a “Nirvana effect” analogous to the so-called Mozart effect:
We argue that rhythmic videogames like Rock Band bear a good deal of resemblance to the ‘real thing’ and may even be more well-suited for encouraging novices to practice difficult passages, as well as learn musical material that is challenging to comprehend using more traditional means of instruction.
From from Sagan’s highly-recommended 1977 book The Dragons Of Eden:
There is a popular game, sometimes called Pong, which simulates on a television screen a perfectly elastic ball bouncing between two surfaces. Each player is given a dial that permits him to intercept the ball with a movable “racket”. Points are scored if the motion of the ball is not intercepted by the racket. The game is very interesting. There is a clear learning experience involved which depends exclusively on Newton’s second law for linear motion. As a result of Pong, the player can gain a deep intuitive understanding of the simplest Newtonian physics – a better understanding even than that provided by billiards, where the collisions are far from perfectly elastic and where the spinning of the pool balls interposes more complicated physics.
For my grad school thesis, I’m designing an intro-level music education app. I’m operating within the techno/hip-hop paradigm, with an Afrocentric rhythm-oriented approach. Electronic dance music production software had brought me much joy over the years, joy that I’m eager to spread to more people. I firmly believe that everyone is a potential musician, and that the right interface can draw beginners in and motivate them. So as I ponder this project, I’m naturally giving a lot of thought to electronic music interfaces, both software and hardware. And because all interfaces on a screen necessarily involve some music visualization, I’ve been exploring that too. For example, here’s a particularly attractive music interface/visualization, the pitch correction program Melodyne:
Earlier this summer I took Advanced Computer Music Composition, which included a lot of history of the twentieth century avant-gardists. While these people have had a lot of not-so-wonderful ideas about music, they have done a lot of interesting experiments with novel interfaces.
Joshua Pablo Rosenstock. Free Play Meets Gameplay: iGotBand, a Video Game for Improvisers. Leonardo Music Journal, Vol. 20, pp. 11–15, 2010.
Guitar Hero, Rock Band and games like them have done a wonderful service to non-musicians. The games give a good sense of what playing an instrument in a band is like. The interface is simplified, but the overall experience is qualitatively remarkably similar. The games also change their players’ listening habits. A non-musician friend told me that until he played through Beatles Rock Band as Paul McCartney, he had never paid attention to a song’s bassline. Now he hears all those familiar Beatles songs in a new and richer way, and generally has learned to listen like a musician.
There is one crucial difference between the games and real music-making, however, and that is the absence of improvisation. The player moves through the song like a train on a track, and the games penalize any variation from the prescribed notes. Not all real-life music is improvisational either, but there is usually some element of personal expressiveness. Not so in Guitar Hero. Mimicry is the only way to play.
I was reminded of it walking down the street the other day, because someone in our neighborhood in Brooklyn was blasting a dancehall track from their car that sampled the “na, na na na na, na na na naaah na na na na na na” part from “Land Of A Thousand Dances.” Then I got to thinking, this cartoon is actually an inspired recipe for a mashup.
Last night I caught a lecture by David Kirkpatrick on his book The Facebook Effect. This post is going to be about Kirkpatrick’s discussion of the book, not the book itself, since I just got it last night and haven’t started reading it yet. But his talk certainly conveyed the flavor.
Kirkpatrick had one significant advantage over the makers of The Social Network: participation by Mark Zuckerburg. Kirkpatrick loves Facebook and reveres Zuckerburg, so his book isn’t exactly a hard-hitting expose. Techcrunch accompanies their review of the book with this image:
I don’t think Kirkpatrick is wrong; Facebook is an undeniable phenomenon and Zuck is a remarkable guy. I just don’t love FB as unreservedly as Kirkpatrick does.
One night, Anna was watching me Twitter over my shoulder. After a while, she announced: “I get it. It’s a video game where you compete for attention from strangers on the internet.” She’s completely correct. Having a web presence is effectively a real-world immersive internet game. The scoreboard is your stats page or follower list. Like any good iPhone game, Twitter even has a built-in global leaderboard.
Blogging scratches the same itch in me as SimCity or Civilization, except instead of building a virtual terrarium I’m building social connections.
This is not to knock SimCity and Civilization at all. They’re a ton of fun, and they’re brilliant teaching tools for computer science and the concept of emergence. Blogging is a better real-time strategy game, though, because it brings me non-hypothetical real-world benefits.
My taste in video games mostly runs to the cartoony Japanese stuff: Mario, Zelda, Katamari. But I had access to an Xbox and a copy of Halo for a while, and I couldn’t rest until I finished it. I walked around thinking about it whenever I wasn’t playing. Every aspect of it was familiar, except for the fact of all of the sources being giddily combined together without any concern for logic. It’s like a perfect nerd mixtape.