Ludo 2013 Abstracts

We are proud to present the following papers to be included in the forthcoming Easter Conference.

Tim Summers (Oxford University): ‘Wagner, Kant and a Metaphysical Rubber Chicken: Perception and Interaction in Adventure Games’
This paper begins with two examples of Wagnerian aesthetics in LucasArts adventure games: Loom, in which the player manipulates objects within the gameworld through performing melodic fragments on a musical instrument, and The Dig, a science fiction game that uses a dynamic musical score formed in part from samples of recordings of Wagner opera preludes. I use an investigation of Wagnerian aesthetics as a way of exploring music’s role in perception and interaction in the adventure game.
The functionality of iMUSE in Monkey Island 2 invites parallels with Wagner’s own ‘dynamic system’, and his philosophy of composition grounded in transcendental metaphysics. Monkey 2’s Wagnerian/Kantian score extends human perceptual apparatus in a simulated way beyond the ability to perceive mere ‘appearances’. The re-framed perceptual boundaries in the adventure game architecture, together and through the musical score, place the player in a superhuman perceptual point-of-experience: the distinction between the phenomenal and the noumenal is redrawn. Game music provides a way of understanding aspects of how the player is constructed in adventure games.
Beyond the specifics of the arguments, this presentation serves a further purpose. This is a critical examination of game music using materials that have usually been seen as the exclusive domain of art music scholarship. This paper seeks to demonstrate that aesthetic appreciation of ‘low-art’ pop culture texts need not avoid conceptual frameworks hitherto applied to ‘high’ art music. As a critical discourse surrounding game music is created (‘art-ifying’ game music), such concepts are indispensible, and applicable whether our hero wields Nothung, or a rubber chicken.

Keith Hennigan: ‘The Use of ‘Classical’ Music in Final Fantasy
Since the early days of video games, ‘classical’ music (used in the catch –all sense, rather than referring to the Viennese Classical style) has provided a rich source of material for game audio. Modern orchestral scores for big-budget titles still draw heavily on classical ideas, in a similar fashion to music composed for film.
Within this paper, I propose to examine instances of pieces written in a deliberately classical style, within game scores which may or may not exhibit similar traits. The way in which such pieces are handled may present us with an interesting perspective on the wider field of game music.
Specifically, I will focus here on the well-known and highly influential Final Fantasy series of games, each of which has had music composed by Nobuo Uematsu (beginning with the original in 1987, he has worked on most of the series up to the present day). Uematsu had little musical training, and cites Western pop as his major influence; how, then, does he handle the composition of pieces in a classical style? How do these works sit within the context of the game scores?
I will attempt to answer these questions by looking at two particular pieces: the ‘Aria di Mezzo’ from FFVI, part of a four-song opera which is staged within the game’s narrative; and ‘Waltz for the Moon’ from FFVIII, a typical Classical waltz which holds a central place in the game’s score. This will serve, I hope, as a starting point for further research.

Kyle Roderick: ‘Mass Historia: Rewriting (Music) History in Civilization IV
While many strategy games (both real-time- and turn-based-) use a fictionalized Earth history as a backdrop for their ludic elements, few seek to faithfully represent the progression of music history via the use of pre-existing music. Soren Johnson’s Civilization IV stands alone as it presents a thorough retelling of music history, with representative works from the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Modern Eras, including works by Josquin, Palestrina, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Dvořák, and American minimalist composer, John Adams. The game’s lead designer and AI programmer, Soren Johnson, personally selected each track included in the underscoring playlists. Drawing heavily upon new interviews with the game designers, this paper explores Soren Johnson’s personal representation of music history, analyzing in particular his use of John Sheppard’s Media Vita, Saint-Säens’s Cello Concerto No.1, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, and the works of John Adams. I also discuss the implications of Johnson’s personalized version of history and argue that we can identify him with auteur film directors. The paper also addresses the potential for Civilization IV to educate its players in genres they may have been unfamiliar with, helping them contextualize and appreciate previously unfamiliar musics.

Joshua Rayman: ‘Composition using virtual instruments and aleatoric principles in video games.’
As the quality and public profile of video games increases, attracting with it Hollywood-movie sized budgets, improving and implementing suitable solutions for dynamic music will become an inevitable requirement, particularly in more non-linear games. Whilst games usually rely on either checkpoint film-score derived cueing, repetitive loop music or subtle generative electronic music, I am currently exploring the possibility of alternative approaches.
Aleatoric music appears sparingly in video game music discussion (Collins, 2008) despite being present for the entire lifespan of the field, and being a potentially viable solution to non-linear game scoring with an amount of co-operation between the game code, audio code and composer.
In addition, the recent emergence of mathematically-modelled virtual instrument simulation (such as Pianoteq, released in 2006) which aims for the sonic quality of a traditional instrument (without the usual data overheads of carrying an extensive pre-recorded sample library) indicates another opportunity. Traditional instruments, such as an orchestra or piano, are sounds valued in the cinematic film score tradition which many video games (particularly in narrative/emotive experiences) still aspire to replicate.
Combining these two concepts presents a path towards being able to present a real-time, live, adapting score which reacts to the player’s actions within the game, and make game music less dependent on loops or checkpoints.

Joseph Jones: ‘Musical Authenticity and/or Exoticism? Non-Western Instruments in the Game Scores of Bear McCreary’
Bear McCreary (b. 1979) is one of the most innovative composers of television and video game music in recent years. A common thread runs through his body of work: eclectic combinations of instruments drawn from the Western classical orchestra and those from other musical traditions of the world. For the reimagined TV series Battlestar Galactica (2004–09), McCreary prominently featured the Armenian duduk, Chinese erhu, and Indian sitar. His score for the game Dark Void (2010) incorporated the Russian balalaika as well as the Indian tabla and Japanese taiko. More recently, McCreary made extensive use of a gamelan ensemble to help situate SOCOM 4 (2011) in Southeast Asia.
While critics have identified McCreary’s music as “exotic,” “ethnic,” and at times “foreign,” little attention has been paid to the ways in which unconventional instruments contribute to the musical narrative of each project. As its starting point, this paper considers the composer’s own commentaries on his creative process, which include numerous insights on instrumentation. Following Eftychia Pananikolaou’s suggestion that the music for Battlestar Galactica “may carry unequivocal ethnic significations [but] it is almost impossible for the perceiver to construct any culture-specific meaning,” I argue that the tension between idiomatic writing (e.g. non-western instruments used to suggest their native regions) and unidiomatic writing (i.e. non-western instruments used in uncharacteristic ways) produces a kind of multicultural exoticism that is central to McCreary’s compositional style across various media platforms. It is both a source of his popularity and an easy target for criticism.

Kevin Donnelly: ‘Videogame Music, ‘Audiovisuality’ and Medium Specificity’
Late inclusion.

Iain Hart: ‘Meaningful play: A performative analysis of video game music’
Video games are a challenging object of study for the musicologist because they are never played the same way twice. As interactive texts, they lack the static and repeatable form of other audiovisual media. Furthermore, the timing of musical events in video games is dependent on both player interactions and conventional cues, and the analysis of these musical events must be able to account for a dynamic context of reception. The relationship between the pre-composed music of video games and interactive gameplay is consequently difficult to analyse. However, through an understanding of interactivity as a performative act, we can treat the musical experience of gameplay as the text to be studied—a text the player has a non-trivial role in creating. The player’s unique series of actions during gameplay evolves into an interpretation of the designers’ complete, preconceived game experience. Similarly, although music is received in a series of unique contexts during gameplay, the player’s actions shape the music into an interpretation of the musical experience envisioned by the composer.
This paper discusses a video game music analysis which incorporates a performative approach to interactivity. It examines the types and sources of meaning found in video game music, with particular focus on the player’s role as a producer. In doing so, it argues that video game music exhibits a twofold semiosis, the analysis of which must contextualise both the music’s initial composition and the player’s interactivity in relation to the complete musical experience.

Gaute Andersen: ‘What Might a Meeting of Ludomusicology and Gender Studies Entail?’
Critical musicology has long struggled with the problem of, and great need for, connecting musical analysis with cultural concerns — especially within popular musicology — without reducing obvious connection to causal relations.
A sympathetic account would argue that recent research on video game music has not engaged with questions of gender, sex, femininity or masculinity due to this problem, but all things considered, this represents a blind spot in current research: These keywords are, at the time of writing, absent from Ludomusicology’s bibliography.
As a starting point for further research, the challenge is then to connect popular musicology’s research on gender with game studies’ similar focus, which together suggest critical analyses of how game music participates in the representation and construction of gender, and vice versa.
Illustrating these theoretical points with relevant examples, I will argue that research should take these issues seriously, as they will offer different approaches for new and relevant readings.
Such an analysis of video game music will make it possible to discern how music participates in gendered discourses, how these in turn inscribe gendered meaning to the music, and, possibly, learn more about how video game music functions.
In researching game music, we investigate that critical element, music, which is arguably second only to language in the formation of subjectivity. Avoiding an investigation into how and in what way music participates in these processes, risks an incomplete picture of games, gamers, and video games music.

Geert Bruinsma: ‘Ludorhizomusicosmology: The Interactive Sonic Territory Between Player and Game’
The ability for the player to traverse three dimensional space is considered a major contribution to the interactive nature of videogames (Murray 1998; Newman 2004; Nitsche 2008; Calleja 2011). Focussing mainly on the pictorial dimensions of game space, such accounts fail to consider the acoustic space that is composed by the player and the game in the activity of videogame play.
The proposed paper aims to respond to this omission by addressing the interactive composition of game sound in contemporary video games. Drawing on McLuhan’s notion of acoustic space as a dynamic sphere without fixed boundaries (Carpenter and McLuhan 1960; 67), the paper proposes to appropriate Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of “the refrain” as a means to think about the interactive and dynamic nature of game sound.
Construing the musical score of a given level as a refrain, an auditory claim of territorial space characterised by a rhythmic musical pattern, it is the sonic and musical counterpoints that accompany the player’s actions that work to disrupt and permeate the regularizing patterns of the refrain. Music, according to Deleuze and Guattari, exists precisely in this “active, creative operation which consists of deterritorialising the refrain” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987; 369). Arguably, this process creates a new territory, that of game sound, by which the pre-recorded and fixed score is reappropriated, made dynamic and becomes music through the actions of the player. It is in this sense that the player appears as the conductor of the game’s music.

Ross Aspden: ‘Considering the cultural significance of the radio in the Grand Theft Auto videogame series’
Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto is one of the most well-known and widely-played videogame series in the world. One of the features that makes it so popular is the in-vehicle radio, offering players a choice of different radio stations, each broadcasting a variety of programming. While driving around the immense game world (in one title, GTA: San Andreas, this spanned three cities, a desert, a mountain and even a top-secret government base!) players not only enjoy a large and varied selection of licenced music, they are also entertained by DJs, talk-shows, satirical commercials, and news programs, the latter updating based on in-game progress.
In this paper I will discuss the cultural significance of the radio content within the three most recent Grand Theft Auto titles: Vice City, San Andreas, and IV. Covering both the licenced music and the presentation styles of individual radio shows and stations I demonstrate how the in-game radio reflects the culture of the year in which each title is set (Vice City – 1986, San Andreas – 1992, IV – 2008).

Marios Aristopoulos: ‘Composing orchestral music with generative forms for the Action-RPG video game Apotheon.’
Apotheon is a 2D platform Action-RPG set on the rich stage of ancient Greek mythology currently under development by Alientrap Games Canada. Along with a large single player campaign in a massive open world Mount Olympus, Apotheon will include online multiplayer game modes and is set for release in late 2013 for PC and X-box. As the composer of the soundtrack I have developed a generative music system in order to explore the possibilities of an orchestral score that is varied every time the game is played. Due to the genre of the game, I decided to write a theme-based epic score for orchestra, choir, soprano and various ethnic instruments. In order to ensure that the result is musically interesting, all thematic and motivic materials were composed and grouped in small fixed blocks. However, the game engine is constantly generating and re-arranging these blocks in different vertical and horizontal combinations and therefore creates a vast amount of possible variations of the same material as the game is being played. Each level generates its own soundtrack that retains a specific recognizable musical colour while avoiding the constant repetition of a traditional linear approach. In this paper I will explore how the engine works within the game, how it benefits the player experience, how it adapts to player action, what problems and issues arise, how it influences the compositional process, and propose some future potential directions.

Stephen Baysted: ‘Ferraris vs Zombies: an exploration of the technical, mechanical and musical challenges of contemporary games composition’
This illustrated paper examines two games that together exemplify the diversity and magnitude of some of the most demanding musical and technical audio challenges that face the contemporary games composer.
The first part focuses on my score for Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead: Assault (2012 – Apple iOS) and explores many of the constraints associated with composing a cinematic, hybrid orchestral score for a mobile device. Although the Washington Post, rather generously, judges my score to be ‘… haunting,’ and one which ‘… cements the somber mood perfectly’, the underlying technological constraints were profound, far reaching and numerous. Since conventional, dynamic layer-based compositional approaches for games of this genre (Survival Horror) cannot reliably be implemented on mobile platforms, it became necessary to devise a range of novel constructional devices and workarounds so that the music would at least appear to be interacting dynamically with the gameplay.
The second part of the paper explores aspects of my score for Atari’s Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends (2012 – PC/Xbox360/PS3). The primary challenges in this work were altogether different but no less daunting, and they have their roots in the aesthetic, the cultural and the commercial. With comparatively few technological limitations to contend with, the principal challenge was how to capture, distil and represent the most famous automobile marque in the world with music – music that would, at once, be required to be engaging to the target demographic, be immersive, dramatic and enhance gameplay, and convey something of the intangible concepts of prestige, tradition, sporting heritage, power and performance that are inextricably associated with the Ferrari brand.

Richard Stevens, Dave Raybould, Danny McDermott: ‘Not creepy music, but music for creeping : The challenges of stealth for video game audio’
In games the soundtrack is often relied upon to provide instruction, notification, feedback and orientation to the player, in addition to the more familiar narrative roles established in film.
Music and sound must provide this vital gameplay information to allow players to fulfil their need for mastery, and for them to maintain a motivational state of flow, where their skills are finely balanced against the challenges they face.
Often acting as a user interface type device to compensate for the restricted viewpoint, fidelity, and difficulties of localisation within a stereo, or even 5.1. soundfield, the semantic meaning imparted by the sound or music can take on a greater importance than the nature of the sound, or structure of the music itself, and its effectiveness in communicating meaning necessitates that it is stated in the same form on each occurrence. This puts music in particular in a catch 22 position. By fulfilling a functional role it runs the risk of lacking in musical structure, being repetitive and ‘Mickey-Mousing’ the action in a way that has drawn much criticism in film. However if it does not have a directly informational role then many players will simply switch it off.
This paper will examine these challenges through a detailed analysis of games in the stealth genre, where communication of states like visibility, AI alertness and proximity are particularly crucial. We will discuss the lessons that can be learnt from existing practice and go on to consider the case for an alternative approach.

Hannah Mowat: ‘Living in another age: gameplay soundscapes and the body in Agnès Varda’s moving images’
This paper looks at the French visual artist Agnès Varda’s 1987 film, Kung-Fu Master and an except from her 2011 television travelogue, Agnès de ci de là Varda. Specifically, it examines the game-based soundscapes of each to assess how an image-maker preoccupied with puzzles envisions the sonic world of gameplay not as an alternative but as a ludic complement to – and extension of – the embodied everyday.
In Kung-Fu Master, the eponymous 1980s arcade game provides both a soundscape that choreographs a child’s unconventional rite of passage and a narrative trajectory that supplements a real-life storyline shaped and controlled by adults. The segment of Agnès de ci de là Varda exploring Chris Marker’s studio, meanwhile, introduces us to his parallel domain in Second Life. The ninety-something-year-old artist happily joins forces with the octogenarian Varda to programme soundscapes and populate them with avatars capable of virtual acrobatics that their ageing bodies, if not their enduringly sharp minds, can no longer perform. While the game-based soundscape of the former offers a boy a parallel and essentially adult form of control otherwise denied him, that of the latter provides access to a complementary universe in which self-selected music and choreographed motion can overcome the ravages of old age – a form of ‘second life’, but also a second childhood defined by heightened sentience rather than encroaching senescence. Music in the virtual domain of gameplay offers a means of embodied control that, while ludic in nature, nonetheless succeeds in overcoming the challenges and confines of age.

Jonathan Herrick: ‘Spatiotemporal Relationships in Videogame Soundtracks: Challenges to Existing Notions of Diegesis’
The rise of videogame research over the last decade has seen many academics attempt to define what a videogame is. For many, a game’s interactivity with its audience is a primary component. However, the notion of interactivity creates problems for videogame composers and sound designers, who can often not rely exclusively on linear compositional methodologies.
In addition to ideas of nonlinearity, the role of the audience with regard to videogames can be considered more participatory than existing media as players interfacing with the videogame can affect the soundtrack. As a result, relative to media such as film or opera, it is often more difficult to establish the boundaries of the ‘world’ experienced by the characters in videogames.
Recent scholarship, such as that by Grimshaw and Jørgensen, has been fruitful in showing how existing diegetic theory from film music studies can be extended to videogames. As a result of nonlinearity and the differing relationships it has with its audience, the function of diegetic audio in videogames frequently departs from the theories of film music scholars such as Gorbman and Chion. This paper will evaluate both the possibilities and limitations in extending existing diegetic theory to the context of videogames with a view towards establishing the potential for a new critical framework.

James Barnaby: ‘The Reception of Repetitive Audio in Videogames’
A common criticism of videogame audio present in both the popular consciousness and in written commentary is its tendency to be repetitive and, as a result, annoying. Techniques such as “looping” – where a piece of music is constructed so it is able to be repeated indefinitely – are often seen as being at the heart of the problem.
Bioshock series composer Garry Schyman has commented that “In games repetitive music can get turned off…and can easily get boring…”. Similarly, author and software engineer Steven Rabin has also cautioned against repetition in game music stating that “the music can quickly become annoying and turned off by the audience”. However, such assertions are rarely reinforced with any further consideration or empirical evidence, and are seemingly at odds with the enduring popularity of many videogame melodies amongst players.
By drawing upon theories related to wider audio-visual media and examining several case studies, this paper seeks to critically approach assumptions concerning the reception of repetitive audio in games. In doing so it looks to provide a more nuanced understanding of the implications of using such music in various contexts.

Elizabeth Medina-Gray: ‘Modularity and Dynamic Play: Video Game Music and its Avant-garde Antecedents’
One of the most critical—and critically challenging—aspects of video game music is that it is fundamentally dynamic; this music is “changeable,” and it “reacts both to changes in the gameplay environment and/or in response to the player” (Collins 2008, 139). More specifically, nearly all video games employ modularity as a fundamental basis for dynamic music. Gradual changes in volume, tempo, or other parameters may also yield dynamic effects, but the actual musical content we hear while playing a game arises mainly from a collection of pre-composed pieces of music—that is, modules—which get triggered in real time as we play.
This paper contributes to our understanding of video game music and its particular analytical challenges by placing this music within a larger conceptual context of modularity. Collins 2008, Kaae 2008 and others have previously noted that game music’s flexibility bears similarities to some other types of Western music, but this paper is the first to treat video game music as specifically modular. Starting with a concept of modularity adapted from Saunders 2008, the current paper explores how video game music fits into this broad framework, and uses modular music of the 20th-century avant-garde as a constructive foil—this comparison reveals ways in which game music is similar to other types of modular music, and important ways in which it is unique. To conclude, this paper identifies two main directions through which we might productively analyze video game music together with its dynamic qualities, thereby opening this music to further close study.

Michiel Kamp: ‘Background music in video games: a phenomenological approach ’
Claudia Gorbman’s classic thesis (1987) that film music is “unheard” has been critiqued and nuanced over the last twenty-five years, but there is no doubt that on many occasions, music in audiovisual media retreats to the background of perception. Psychological approaches to the phenomenon of background music usually speak of how it “affects” or “influences” the listener, but this does not help us understand better what the experience of background music is like. In this paper I want to take a phenomenological approach to music in video games, drawing on the work of Don Ihde (2007), Andy Hamilton (2007), Robert Fink (2005) and Nicholas Cook (1998). Our experience of background music in games differs from background music in other situations, such as underscoring in film, muzak in a supermarket or listening to the radio while driving or working. While there are some similarities, such as low volume, a lack of distinguishable melodies, and pitches outside the range of speech, the background status of music in games is uniquely determined by the intensity of player (inter)action, and any textual analysis of video game music should take this into account. Through a series of short case studies of games such as Bastion (Supergiant Games 2011), Starcraft (Blizzard 1998), and Tetris (Nintendo 1989), I want to chart the different situations in video games in which music moves between the background and foreground of experience. These case studies will be juxtaposed with the use of background music in everyday life, to show similarities and differences, and suggest the embeddedness of video game listening practices in a larger context.
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