Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Turning Off Audiosurf Radio

old-radioIn December of 2008, I launched a regular feature for a fledgling gaming blog: This Week On Audiosurf Radio. My then-newfound affection for an excellent indie music game inspired me to play the game on a weekly basis, sampling the free tracks offered by the game’s developers. No one else is writing about this, I thought. So why don’t I?

Charge Shot!!!’s first regular feature somehow survived the site’s various iterations. The reliability of content made it easy to keep trucking ahead, even as site branched out to encompass the rest of pop culture. Audiosurf Dylan Fitterer and his wife Lebeth – who curates the music for Radio – were also kind enough to embrace my weekly ramblings, giving us homepage billing in the game’s startup screen.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. This Week on Audiosurf Radio is hereby retired.

It’s with a modicum of disbelief that I tell you I’ve been writing this feature for over two years. I’m trying to think of other things in my life that went on that long. I’ve participated in music ensembles for four-year chunks. I attended a four-year college. I’ve been in multi-year relationships. I’ve written for this blog for over two years. Somehow all those things feel a bit bigger than two years of “Weekly Roundup of Indie Songs from an Indie Game.”

That speaks to the inherent allure of Audiosurf. We never reviewed the game proper; it didn’t need it. I played it on a friend’s computer in April 2008 and was hooked. By then, Guitar Hero had come out. Audiosurf gave me my GH fix on my computer, and more importantly, it let me play any song I wanted. Ten-minute choral motets? Check. “Yakety-Sax”? Check. I now had a new way to experience music I was already familiar with. To this day, I can’t listen to “Jukebox Hero” without thinking about Audiosurf.

Audiosurf Radio afforded me the opportunity to experience new music. Lebeth and Dylan have an eclectic musical palette, one that includes everything from straightforward rock to the smaller niches of electronica to Spanish ska. As a tourist in this strange world of trip-hops and dark trances, I initially resisted the urge to heavily discuss the music. I tried to focus on the game of it. How did the traffic fall? Was the song a challenge? After a few weeks, I realized this couldn’t go on much longer. The algorithm wasn’t going to change. But the music was.

I mustered all of the wit I could, paired it with my serviceable musical knowledge and took to reviewing the music. I’m still not sure I did the best job I could. Unsatisfying music left me feeling conflicted. These are indie artists. Do they really need some dude on a blog saying the music’s bad? Furthermore, I had to distinguish between “bad” and “not my cup of tea.” To the casual listener, it’s nigh-impossible to distinguish between the various techno splinter genres. I’d like to think I could articulate the differences for you now, but I’m not willing to bet on it.

Whenever possible, I tried to empathize with the artist. What were they trying to do? Did their particular instrumentation achieve that goal? Did playing the song in Audiosurf enhance or diminish the intended effect? I can’t say I always accomplished my goal, but I did my best week in and week out.

I’ve received kind words from some of the musicians I reviewed, even befriended a few on Twitter, and moments like those really made this special. You always hear about the Internet being a great tool for connectivity, but a few listless hours reading awful comment threads can quickly deflate that sentiment. My experience with Audiosurf lent credence to the idea that there is community on the Internet. Here were musicians gaining an audience because someone with a game decided to share their music. Some of the musicians even competed for high scores on their own songs. Talk about convergence.

However, I have to admit when this feature’s run its course. In the last few months, I could feel myself straining under the weekly grind, struggling to find new things to say about music I didn’t know a lot about, trying desperately not to repeat myself or sound dumb. The aforementioned community kept me going longer than I’d imagined. It’s amazing how a regular, receptive audience can positively affect your productivity.

To avoid running it into the ground quality-wise, I feel it’s time I pulled the plug on This Week on Audiosurf Radio. It’s been a blast, and it enabled me to stay with a game I really enjoy but might otherwise have drifted away from. Thanks to all who read, who linked, and who supplied the music I rode every week.

Happy surfing!