Tuesday, March 24, 2009

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – 3/24 – Tickling, no, Crushing the Ivories Edition

This was just too awesome NOT to make this week's photo.

Audiosurf’s Steep tag pays us another visit this week.  For the music-surfing neophyte, song tags allow you to alter how the track-building algorithm treats a particular song.  For more information on different types of tags, see here, but we’ll only be dealing with the Steep tag this week.  Steep is useful for giving chiller pieces more dramatic rides or, in this week’s case, giving impressive piano pieces their due.

The piano solos come courtesy of Yunus Kuru, off his debut album Running Against Time.  You can almost hear the keys threaten to buckle under the weight of his rock music background – suffice to say his playing is…energetic.  Balancing out the classical soloist in all of us with the rave-crawling dancer (that is surely) in all of us are three tracks from DJ iPep, whose stuff can be found on Jamendo.  They’re off the album Home Mix 2007, but don’t be fooled by the year.  Somebody gave his music the “90s” tag for a reason.


This song is really popular. The opening triplet section introduces you to how well this track works, especially with the Steep tag.  While the song can’t possibly give you a block for every note played (that’d be like navigating the Indy 500 with a tricycle), there’s still a large amount of blocks that match up extremely well.  Often, if the upper notes are doing triplet patterns, you’ll get blocks for the start of each triplet – think of how a guitarist might strum a string and then execute a pull-off to get successive notes with minimal effort.  The result is something closer to actually playing the music than what Audiosurf normally achieves.  The bridge section, in particular, is superb.  As the right hand offers short phrases with notes flowing down the scale in waves, red blocks appear.  Just as the pianist must make the most of these flourishes, so must you capitalize on the pockets of red before you.  It’s a thrilling section of a multi-faceted ride.  I can’t help you if you simply don’t like solo piano.  But if you’re a fan (or, at the very least, indifferent to it), give this one a ride.  The bouncing, shifting meter should be reason enough to play this song.

It may not look like a tsunami, but trust me...it's a freakin torrent. Even more so than “Against the Storm”, “Tsunami” sounds like a cross between Franz Schubert and Nobuo Uematsu.  There’s a frantic, rolling quality to the piece that makes me think of the Schubert’s Erlkönig, but its more modern sensibilities remind me of Uematsu’s battle themes (see the bass line circa 1:10 on this FFVII track).  This is not a bad thing, mind you.  I think if you’re going to sound like someone, why not sound like these guys.  The ride itself is a trip.  Sections of a fancy piano fingerwork again coincide with spurts of red blocks, often requiring some speedy lane-changing.  Don’t worry about signaling.  You don’t have time.  Late in the ride, while the theme gets repeated, the song’s beat breaks into a groove for a few bars, which is immediately reflected in the track surface.  The  super-slick downhill surface suddenly starts to bump and buck.  I must say, it caught me off guard – in the good way.  Also, I don’t usually play the game with the sound effects on, but it makes all the difference on this ride.  Because some of the blocks match up so nicely, it’s extra satisfying to let the effects clue you in to how well you’re following the music.  

Other selections (including a tie for third)
I couldn’t decide on a third song out of this week’s five.  Well first, let me tell you which DJ iPep song you should skip: “Can You Dance?”  It’s generic.  It sounds like every mediocre DDR track you’ve ever heard.  Pass. 

The other two get a little trickier.  On one hand, you have “Activation,” which also comes with the Steep tag.  Personally, I wonder if this track actually needed the tag.  It’s got enough going on.  Somehow, Mr. iPep has managed to merge a Mr. Oizo bass beat with a drum break worthy of a Sugarhill Gang sample – and it works.  On the other hand, there’s “Tequila.”  It starts out with a pretty predictable hand-clapping backbeat, foreshadowing three minutes of bland dance music.  Instead, the song gets a little more introspective.  A little darker than the opening leads me to believe.  It’s a tad heavy on traffic, but that’s part of the fun.  Just as the main loop starts to wear on you, the song is fading out.  Magnifique.

Author’s Note
All songs were played on the Pro difficult using the Eraser and Vegas characters.  As per Nhex’s comment last week, I gave a few of them a whirl on Expert, just to get my feet wet.  After trying the Yunus tracks on Expert, I’d probably rank “Tsunami” over “Against the Storm.”  For whatever reason, the sixth color and lack of shoulders makes it all the more menacing – and all the more fun.