Tuesday, January 11, 2011

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – Eight Minutes of Something Edition

8-Minute-ABS-and-BUNSAccording to HowToGetAGrip.com (a no-nonsense, self-“Suck it up” website), there are scores of things you can do in under eight minutes to make your life a little less crazy.  Take out the trash, load the dishwasher, gather some laundry, wash a meal’s worth of dishes, iron a shirt or two, pay a few bills: all of these things can be done in fewer minutes than you have fingers with which to count them.

You know what else you can do in eight minutes?  Ride one of this week’s two Audiosurf tracks.

Technically, Schattenfell’s ambient track will take over nine, but let’s not split hairs.  Or, if you’d like to split hairs, take it up with them on their Jamendo page.  Poland’s Radek Samson asks for just under eight minutes of your time – though if you’d like to give more, head right here.

Will it take you eight minutes to read this article?  I have no idea.

The Songs

audiosurf nightbreakerUsually, when you fire up a nine-minute-plus techno track, you expect at least one major percussive breakdown.  The oom-pah oom-pah of the bass invariably begins to bore, and you find yourself wishing it were a five minute song not an eight.  The biggest surprise in “Nightbreaker”: there’s nary a drum to be found.   I suppose if you follow the label “Ambient” to the letter you might foresee the lack of percussion, but I don’t take that for granted when songs are this long (plus, I find stuff like Steve Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood” sort of soothing).  “Nightbreaker” opens with a sonic tour of a weird robot bird atrium.  Electronic chirps mimic those of real animals.  Instead of sampling a rainforest recording, Schatenfell created one digitally.  A sustained string-like pitch in the background holds tension as you wander through the wilderness.  The track’s apex doesn’t hurl you into a whiplash-inducing slide downhill, but it does pick up the pace and push you forward just a smidge faster than you might feel comfortable.  Mournful guitar-like sighs stretch out atop a patchwork of syncopated synth tones – and it is in that shimmering background that you’ll find this track’s rhythmic drive.  It’s hypnotic, the way the beats ebb and flow, and there’s just enough activity to maintain momentum.  At times, distinct gestures crept forward, caught my ear, and slinked away into the din; at others, my mind drifted along with the babbling brook while I coolly matched blocks and evaded traffic pileups.  “Nightbreaker” won’t have you bouncing along in your desk chair, but if you play this song, it may well induce one of those “trances” I hear electronica fans going on about all the time.

audiosurf armageumI don’t know that I’ve ridden something quite like “Armageum” in Audiosurf.  I will also confess that I’m vastly undereducated in the world of contemporary classical music (“contemporary classical” being enough of a mindfuck of a term that it’s worth wondering if we might want to go back in time and eschew labeling such a broad spectrum of music with such a narrow term of implied antiquity – but I so clearly digress), so I don’t quite have the reference points I’d like at my disposal: your “sounds like”s, etc.  The opening statement is grand, sweeping.  Imagine Tim Burton were the king of some fantastic dream netherworld (not far from his actual existence – zing!).  Then think of what music he might want playing every time he enters a room.  Horns blare and strings clamber upward with zeal.  Arpeggiated harp chords preserve that dreamy feel even as the song quiets down for the middle phrase.  The shifts from major to minor are felt more strongly in the soft passages; dissonant intervals grind away during the louder ones, partially obscuring the nature of the chords.  It’s all quite competent – the ride’s fun enough and nice to look at, too – but it lacks something.  For a song with so many crescendos and heavy resolutions, I felt surprisingly unmoved.  The music was happening around me, not to me.  My ears perked up toward the end at the whimsical pizzicato in the low strings, mainly because little else felt like the result of musical wit or emotion.  “Armageum,” while possessing some interesting ideas, plays it a little close to the chest for my taste.

Author’s Note

Both songs were played on the Pro difficulty using the Eraser character.  One was roughly eight minutes and felt like four, the other was roughly eight minutes and felt like twelve.  I’ll let you guess which was which.

Thus far, the community appears to disagree with my feelings on these tracks.  Of “Armageum,” Noon wrote “Wonderful! Full of wonders!”  Skiddlywibble found Nightbreaker underwhelming, saying, “Why is it always a calm song when I want a fast one, and a fast one when I'm looking for something calm?”

Different strokes for different folks, I guess.