Tuesday, February 23, 2010

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – The Professor Is Real In Edition

Some bands and artists have great names: Gnarls Barkley, Led Zeppelin, We Were Promised Jetpacks!.  Others have hilariously  bad ones: Shitdisco, Kathleen Turner Overdrive.  And others get by on some really superficial puns.

Professor Kliq is an awesome name.  It registers with me on a visceral level.  I instantly imagine him as some kind of 4-bit video game protagonist – the star of whatever cockamamie, exclamation-point-laden backstory was printed on the back of an Atari game’s box.  “The mad scientist Professor Kliq’s experiments have gone awry!  After the Professor crossbred kangaroos and bunnies, the resulting bunniroos quickly bounced their way out of his secret underground laboratory and are running amok in Metro City.  You must rescue them in the exciting new game Hop To It!

In reality, Prof. Kliq is Mike Else, a twentysomething DJ now studying music at Columbia.  He seems like a cool dude (I inferred this from his website).  And it doesn’t hurt that all of his music’s free.  Thanks, Creative Commons.

We’ve got three songs of the Professor’s after the jump, plus plenty of user comments.  They’re slowly becoming my favorite part of this running feature.

The Songs

“Sewage” is the aural equivalent of an Incredible Journey-like venture into the brain of a British teenage technofiend with ADD.  Is that comparison a little hard to follow?  So is “Sewage,” and I mean that as a compliment.  The Professor refuses to ground himself in one beat for very long.  What starts as a quirky array of buzzes and whirs quickly morphs into a rollicking percussion ensemble.  It’s head-boppingly infectious, a good instigator for some angry, I-just-downed-three-pints dancing.  I tend to furrow my brows at techno tracks with what Audiosurf user JaguarFiend calls “pleasure moans,” but they’re handled here with such whimsy – laid to almost humorous effect over the most barebones loop in the whole song – that I actually enjoyed their reprisal just before the final push.  I’m sure this one will have its detractors.  The ride itself isn’t magnificent, and I could see how the song’s rougher edges would turn away some listeners.  But I rode this one a second time almost immediately.  I paused only to read comments.  Then I went back and played this song a third time.  A fourth is most certainly in order.

“All Control” really comes into its own when the “We have lost all control” loop lurches forward into high gear, complicating the underlying percussion and sending Guile-like shockwaves through the track.  Immediately following this opening salvo, the Professor inserts a little more whimsy.  A simplified version of the main melody (for lack of a better word) sounds as if it’s being played on a pawnshop Moog by a child eager to help out in his older brother’s garage band.  The rhythm is punchy, almost too precise.  User Ko-Tao argues that “This stuff doesn’t even come across as music.”  I disagree.  While the Professor largely employs sounds familiar to stalwarts of the electronica genre, his insistence on constant variation and frequent molting of beats is more musical than most of the trance music I’ve been exposed to.  Will the Text-to-Speech utterance of “We have lost all control” wear on your ears by the end?  Probably.  Just don’t let that dissuade you from riding an excellent song.  And to be fair, my favorite section of the ride was the last uphill that featured, instead of TTS Lady, a random dude who may as well have been spouting gibberish. 

The sprawling length of “Bust This Bust That (2nd Movement)” hurts the overall experience.  “Sewage” and “All Control” felt more focused, whereas here the Professor’s out to riff.  Out to display his madd skillz.  And he has them.  No argument there.  But about halfway through the track, I got the distinct impression he was sampling himself the way Girl Talk samples the broad spectrum of popular music.  Trying to predict even the next ten seconds of music is near impossible.  It’s like playing a game with an opponent of vastly superior skill: the chess genius thinking 35 moves ahead, the tennis champ setting you up three points in advance, the twelve-year-old on Xbox Live programming new glitches while he waits for you to respawn.  Expect a challenge, aurally and mentally.  The ride’s brimming with swathes of red, neatly organized for your matching pleasure.  Just don’t accidentally paint them all away in the madness that follows.  Oh yeah, and a reverse corkscrew toward the end livens things up even more, as if this one needed further complication.

Author’s Note

All songs were played at least twice on the Pro difficulty with the Eraser and Vegas characters.  All user quotes are taken from the Comments section of the in-game post-ride report.  The mob was generally 50/50 on the Professor.  SurfinOnBeatzzz (extra points for extra Zs, my friend) threw his weight behind him, saying “This guy deserves the support right here, he’s got serious talent and ridiculous creativity.”  akaCol, modest as they come, offered a contrary view, “I haven’t got the faintest clue when it comes to music, but this song is awfully terrible and terribly awful.”  As articulate as that may be, I’ve got to side with Beatzzz on this one.