Tuesday, April 7, 2009

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – 4/7 – Piano Hero Edition

Look!  He's gonna learn how to play the piano. Recently, Radio’s seen an uptick in the number of classically-oriented, instrumental works – specifically solo piano pieces.  I’ve been a big proponent of this (especially when the songs come with a Steep tag), and I’m certainly not stopping now. 

Balancing the four piano tracks are two seven-minute techno pieces.  Both come courtesy of Speedsound, some sort of Brazilian techno aggregator.  Yes, the only way I can think to describe it is by referring to the Gawker family.  In actuality, the individual artists are Prisma and Shadow Dancer, though information on them ranges from scant to non-existent.  As for the piano stuff, it all comes from Torley, whose website is more than a little daunting.  I don’t know what to make of his broad music library (ranging from original piano works to covers of Avril Lavigne songs) or the bizarre sense of humor displayed on his About page, summed up in the opening line: “Friendly greetings!  I amplify your awesome.” 

I wrote about all six songs this week.  Hit the jump to find out why.

This Week’s Techno

A psycho trip is quite different from a psychobilly freakout. I’ve spent a lot of time in this column writing about techno.  So forgive me if I don’t have a lot to say about “Psycho Trip,” a seven-minute techno odyssey.  In the pre-game notes this week, Lebeth refers to it as an Old School Audiosurf techno track, and she’s right on the money with that assessment.  It’s got downhill, uphill, and mild tempo shifts.  Is it a fun ride?  Sure.  But nothing blows me away about it.  There’s no great corkscrew or fantastic beat-matching moment.  If you use Radio as a means to play techno on Audiosurf without hunting for it yourself, then this is right up your alley.  If you’re looking to experience music you may not have ridden before, scroll down to my thoughts on the Torley piano tracks.

I've said this about other songs, but this one looks like a mastodon. Oh, “Overflow.”  What can I say about a song chockfull of bizarre robot noises?  I’m serious, there’s a long stretch of the song where the dominant sample sounds like robots unzipping their pants (something we may not be too far from).  Don’t ask me how I know what robots unzipping their pants sounds like; I’m postulating what robots unzipping their pants would sound like.  Fine, it sounds like some computerized version of pants being unzipped.  Does that make more sense?  No?  Deal with it.  As a ride, “Overflow” is actually plenty of fun.  It goes a little nuts at the halfway point.  The track nosedives and its feels a little like falling without a parachute.  Don’t expect an easy Clean Finish on this one, either.  More than once I reached the end with a stray purple that I couldn’t seem to get rid of.  It’s the damned unzipping robots’ fault, I tell you.

Piano Hero

The four piano tracks are something of a different beast, hence the lack of true recommendations this week.  All come with a Steep tag, making them more of a Piano Hero than a Relax to Music Hero.  None are super demanding, but the Steep tag definitely makes them more engaging rides.  And they each offer slightly different flavors, so I wanted to tackle them as a group instead of singling out one or two that I liked the most.

I'm surprised I didn't have to blur out a bunch of names on this one.  It deserves more riders. With that said, let me tell you which one I liked the most: “Grindstore.”  Of the four, it’s probably the most Philip Glass-y, with a distinct repeating motif and sequences of dense chords.  The overall vibe is a kind of active melancholy (something Glass’s minimalism tends to evoke nicely), though there are distinctly major chords that pass by subtly, never fully announcing their presence.  What makes this ride is the traffic.  The Steep tag generates some marvelous passages, especially in regard to the main motif.  When the theme returns, albeit with a more passionate left hand accompaniment, the corresponding block colors have upped in intensity, with more yellows and reds representing the now-familiar melody.

The end of this song is just as intense as that downhill suggests. “Striding” just feels elegant.  The 6/8 time signature doesn’t have a bouncy waltz sensibility but a more liquid quality – due in no small part to the ebb and flow of the melody in pitch (think gentle waves: three notes up and three notes down).  Not far in, Torley mixes up the rhythm, tossing in a percussive, offbeat phrase, which gets perfectly matched by some red traffic, a rainbow block (usually), and a bright tunnel.  The end has a snowball-rolling-down-a-hill effect, with the notes subtly gaining in frequency – as if a rock was tossed in a gentle stream.  Unfortunately, the end’s rather abrupt, including a stock, cutesy piano ending.  Not my favorite way to close out an otherwise lovely piece.

It is just as soothing as that 137 traffic suggests. If “Grindstore” sounds like a Philip Glass piece, “Apple Trees” sounds like it belongs on the Orisinal site (yes, I know I’ve made this reference before).  It feels simpler than the other songs.  Not in a bad way, but its definitely the most relaxing of the four, to a point where I had a hard time focusing on the actual ride.  I will say that this feels like a good track for chain bonuses, or at least chaining in general.  At one point, I could see that after a set of blues cleared, I would trigger a pretty massive simultaneous clear of yellows, blues, and reds.  At the exact moment those blocks cleared, a warm low chord sounded, reinforcing my success.  Thanks, “Apple Trees.”

I have no idea what the title of this song means. “Mode Storm” strikes a similar chord as “Grindstore,” just not as wholeheartedly.  Perhaps a good phrase to describe it would be “lightly brooding.”  Also similarly to “Grindstore,” its melody is subjected to some fantastic block-matching by the Steep algorithm.  This stands out since the chromaticism in “Mode Storm” is much more blatant, featuring in the heart of the melody.  It definitely helps contrast this from the other pieces; relaxing to this one isn’t quite so easy.

Author’s Note
All songs were played at least twice on the Pro difficulty using the Eraser character.  I was a little pressed for time and didn’t get to go through another time with Vegas.  Hopefully, I’m not offending anyone.  Though it’s funny to think I might.