Ludomusicology and The New Drastic #crassh3c (Isabella van Elferen)


Rock Band – a score or a series of post-facto instructions?

Isabella van Elferen (Kingston University London):

Ludomusicology and The New Drastic

This paper proposes a New Drastic Musicology based on the ludomusical premises of play, multimediality, and interactivity. Ludomusicology offers the exciting perspective of going beyond even the pioneering historical and technological overviews, case studies, and explorations of genre conventions that the study of game music has produced over the last decade. It necessitates innovations in three levels: (1) musical analysis, (2) musicological research themes and (3) musicological critical theory.

Ludomusicology revolutionises the score analysis that musicologists have employed since the late nineteenth century. Since the concept of a score is obsolete in game music, ludomusicology must, rather, analyse the factors cooperating in the musical underlining of game plot and gameplay. I identify these as musical affect (connotation and identification), musical literacy (habituated signification), and musical interaction (play).
The integration of these three factors into musical analysis leads to the genesis of entirely new musicological research fields. How does musical literacy in games relate to that in other multimedial genres? How does musical play in games relate to music-historical notions of play and performance?
These new research questions, finally, evoke meta-critical reflections. Ludomusicology, with its pervasive attention to multimedial and interactive performativity, necessitates a rethinking of Abbate’s notion of “drastic” musicology.
Ludomusicology can alter an entire discipline. Innovating the discipline on the levels of object analysis, research themes as well as critical reflection, ludomusicology can engender “The New Drastic”.

Christopher Small argues that ‘to ‘music’ should be a verb’ (Small, Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening’, 1998). Nicholas Cook asserts that ‘We are all (ethno)musicologists now’. Abbate’s Intervention – Drastic vs Gnostic Musicology (Abbate’s paper – full text).

  • Music as event
  • Play
  • Phenomenology

Ludomusicology (the study of computer and video game music)  – the new Gnostic. Scores are seldom made for game music, so traditional musicology is of little use. Rock Band style graphical ‘notation’ is just a guide for a player rather than a musical score for the work [JB comment – it is also made after the fact of the composition].

Brutal Legend – gaming, musicking, metal corpus immersion or all three?

Game music is ‘live’ in that it must respond in real time to the speed with which the player progresses through the game. Isabella now discusses music games (Rock Band etc) in more detail and discusses the simultaneity of ‘performance’ – bringing forth the music in a social environment [JB comment – even though the controller’s trigger creates only the illusion of ‘bringing forth the music’, as Isabella acknowledges]. She questions the extent to which this is a musical activity, but believes that a dichotomy between ‘gaming’ and ‘musicking’ is unhelpful. In the game ‘Brutal Legend’ the player engages with the corpus of metal music as well as mimicing playing an instrument.

We now look at musical gameplay via ‘Patapon’ and Isabella discusses the extent of player ‘musicking’ in this context.

Similar forms of play can appear in non-music games. In GTA V players can change the radio station on the car (diegetic audio). Choosing a station is a form of playing music (through selection) – it is a form of musical play akin to memory. Assassin’s Creed’s music (Hans Zimmer) is part of the player guidance through the game, and responds in real time to player activity.

Extended game musical play – Chiptunes play with cultural allusion and listener identification. Isabella questions Collins’ view that “interacting with sound is fundamentally different from listening to sound” and champions the phenomenology of listening. Rock Band creates participation in diegesis, extra-diegesis and creates an experience that it ultimately super-diegetic. Ludo-musicking is a phenomenon that needs closer scrutiny.

Rock Band is a multi-layered form of ‘musicking’ where the listener can [arguably] ‘play the music] while clearly ‘playing the game’, creating a multi-layered participatory listener experience.

Paradoxical materialism. Musical performance vs musical text. Phenomenology vs ontology of music – materiality vs immateriality of music.

Isabella ends by returning to Small (1998) ‘Musicking is about relationships‘ [see full paragraph on Google books].

Game music challenges music practice and musicological praxis. True Ludomusicology should ‘play’ with traditional musicology to define a ‘New Drastic’ of eventness, play and performance, phenomenology and epistemology of understanding musical participation.

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