snapshot analogies

some years ago i quoted this passage from Issola in my other journal, but it seems appropriate to quote again as it and what it signifies has been on my mind lately.

You know, Loiosh, if anybody had told me yesterday that thirty hours later I would have rescued Morrolan and Aliera, nearly killed the Demon Goddess, and found myself trapped in a prison the size of the world, unable to decide if I was hoping to be saved or hoping not to be saved, I’d have said, “Yeah, sounds about right.”

You probably would have, Boss.

I think this says something about my life choices.

Uh huh.

in other randomness, my brother pointed me to this silly but clever little game called Rom Check Fail. pretty neat, although i wish that the switches weren’t so regular.

a different music video game concept

if you look at the evolution of music video gaming, some of the execution styles may be different (stomping arrows with your feet, playing fake drums or guitar) and some of the judgement granularities are different (guitar freaks gives you perfects/greats/goods/poors where guitar hero is you-get-it-or-you-don’t), but all of them follow a similar model: the performer or performers are executing based on what they see on the screen and they’re being judged based on how accurate they are to what’s happening on the screen.

I never got much into the co-op mode of guitar freaks/drummania/keyboardmania, but i’ve played Rock Band for a couple of sessions now and while i like it a lot, the nature of that particular game brings out a fundamental flaw in all of them – you’re not actually playing with other people, you just happen to be playing next to them.

As in, when you’re playing the game with someone else, what you do has no impact on how they get judged because everyone is keying off of what the game tells them, so everyone is executing in silos with the blinders on. If i’m the drummer and i start to fall behind the beat, it doesn’t matter to anyone else – they just do their own thing.

But a real band doesn’t operate like that, and marching bands/drum corps in particular can’t operate like that. Musicians have to be able to adjust to each other and listen to each other to be able to execute their best. At the extreme level, high level marching drum lines have to learn to be able to adjust and react to what’s happening around them to the millisecond sort of degree or else they sound dirty.

So i want a music video game to have the option to emulate that – to make it so that the judgement that is received is based on how the players are playing in relation to each other.

With something like Rock Band, simple enough. The drummer or the bass guitar or the rhythm guitar acts as the tempo lead, and the video game adjusts its “judgement window tempo” based on what that lead is doing. So if the drummer is the tempo lead and slows down or speeds up, the tracks slow down and speed up with him and everyone else playing has to slow down and speed up with him. Promote the idea of the ensemble truly being an ensemble.

With something like DDR, i had this idea where two players playing the same chart get judged on how closely they hit the arrows in relation to each other, so as opposed to getting a perfect by hitting your arrow within 20ms of the arrow hitting the casings exactly, you get a perfect by hitting your arrow within 20ms of your partner. Then turn on “autosync” (and furthermore autosync the music as opposed to just the visual arrows) so that if the couple slows down or speeds up, the arrows and music adjust with the couple.

If i had to build a piece of electornic music programming from scratch that could do something like that i bet i could pull at least a basic form of it off with some complex Max/MSP work. In an actual music video game that would be more challenging. If i knew the ins and outs of stepmania programming i could probably change the code to measure the judgements based on each other, but i wouldn’t be able to get the “adjust the BPM of the song based on the player’s performance” part since it’s not fundamentally built into the code (and no, speeding up the song in the extended options screen doesn’t count).

fun to think about.

teaching drums without the teacher

yesterday my brother forwarded me an article from New Scientist entitled Robotic drumstick keeps novices on the beat. I’m still wrapping my head around what i think about the whole thing, but i can initially say that even though i’m a pretty big promoter of technology in music and music learning, i believe that there’s more lost than gained from this particular approach over the long term.

at first glance it seems to have potential – the gap that we have in teaching anyone anything physical is the lack of being able to directly influence subtle adjustments of muscle memory. This robotic contraption has the potential to create a consistent approach to drumming between a lot of different players which has practical application to, say, marching percussion lines in which creating a consistent approach to playing the drum is paramount. But that’s a very particular context and one that i firmly believe doesn’t serve to create good musicianship in the same way that giving someone a step-by-step recipe instruction doesn’t in itself create a good chef. and as far as i’m concerned, good musicianship is what should be the ultimate end goal of even the very first steps of music pedagogy.

to me, the development of the mechanical skills should move beyond the process of physical imitation to a process of mental understanding. When serious students initially learn how to hit a drum or breathe into a mouthpiece, they’re translating what they’re doing physically into a cognitive recognition and experimenting based on internal and external feedback to find what will produce the best result. The more times they can say in their head, “this feeling makes this happen, that feeling makes that happen,” the more they can truly comprehend the relationship between what is happening physically, how that affects the sound and their perception of that sound, and what sort of mindset has created that effect.

Having a mechanical guidance system like this feels like it takes the mental understanding aspects out of the equation and reduces instrument learning to a physical process instead of a musical one. The article says that the subjects “learned how hard to hit the drum 18% more accurately than when they tried to mimic a rhythm after just hearing it.” If you treat it like a physical process only, you’re surely more likely to get instant gratification statistics of that nature, but why would we ever want to train a musician to not listen? How many problems do we have already with virtuoso instrumentalists who may be technically amazing but don’t know how to blend with the ensemble or stay in time or move out of time with an ensemble? How many of those who could hit the drum 18% more accurately will become better musicians than those that didn’t? How many could be potentially worse?

Some might argue that a tool like this can at least be used as a source of guidance for those that are struggling, but i think that the pedagogical approach needs to be consistent with what ultimately creates the ideal musician. Yes, there are people who have gaps in their physical technique, but a tool like this seems like it’s a) a cheap and easy shortcut that doesn’t create cognitive retention of the concepts, b) assuming there is only one technique or that that technique cannot waver, and/or c) promoting the notion that understanding the physical aspects of sound creation supercedes the need to learn how to listen.

ultimately i think it stifles the creativity of the performers and what sense of individualism they can bring to a piece of music. if i wanted to hear a technically perfect and literal rendition of a piece of music designed to be played by a live acoustic performer, i’d stick the music into my MIDI sequencer and call it good. i find that the use of this sort of technology in music is far more valuable in other paradigms, such as the silly but awesome Tsukuba Series. If that’s not a good use of music technology, i don’t know what is.