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Soundtrack To A VR Revolution

Posted: Thu Feb 28, 2013 5:04 am
by nateight
With the Rift dev kits perhaps only a month or two away from their arrival, I've lately been allowing myself to get (appropriately?) excited about the possibility of VR finally happening in the way it's always deserved, and I'm attempting to immerse myself in the lore and culture tied to virtual reality as never before. I'm also very near the end of my long quest for a functional digital music studio in my bedroom; I eventually hope to record an entire album exploring my take on VR's potential cultural impact, its promises and failures, and what I'm confident will, one day, be fondly remembered as “this moment in history”. Of course, such an undertaking assumes a wellspring of musical talent and the technical chops to do something with it, so while I see about acquiring one or both of those, I have a playful challenge to put to this fine community:

If this looming VR revolution were something more like a movie, what music would we find on the soundtrack?

Some ground rules should apply – first and foremost, do NOT post Youtube or any other links to any form of musical content that could in any way be in violation of copyright. Take your discussions of the ethics of piracy and the need for evolved business models in a digital world elsewhere, please, and refrain from posting anything you're less than 100% certain is artist-authorized and completely legal. Less seriously, music already a part of a some cyberpunk movie soundtrack isn't exactly something I would consider completely prohibited, it's merely shooting fish in a barrel. I'm looking for music we haven't all already heard by virtue of being VR and sci-fi enthusiasts, so pasting in a track listing from a Matrix movie soundtrack or Ghost in the Shell OST will earn you minimal points if not outright scorn – if it's on this list, don't bother, because we're already aware of it.

I'm also interested in stimulating a discussion about what musical genres and artists have been overtly influenced by stuff like cyberpunk literature, and even in attempting to get closer to a functional definition of what might qualify as “cyberpunk culture” - Wikipedia has a fumbling, slightly schizophrenic entry about this, but to say that the best existent examples of cyberpunk musical artists are Billy Idol, Sonic Youth, and David Bowie leads me to believe we can do a heck of a lot better.

Gong Geer AKA Neverman deserves a shout out for offering his delightfully atmospheric soundtrack work to underfunded indie dev teams toiling away on Rift-focused games, but while both his music and his enthusiasm are awe-inspiring, very little of what I'm hearing there fits stylistically with what I'm looking for; a cursory forum search yielded little else on the subject. A place to start might be Adam Harper's two-part December article for Dummy about the nascent “vaporwave” movement and its darker undercurrent, or perhaps MR P's insightful deconstruction of the same for; both have all the trappings of wanky music journalism, but for once I found myself both agreeing with many of the authors' assertions and being genuinely surprised by the music being explored. Take “Contemporary Sapporo”, by a musical entity at the heart of vaporwave with as many names as albums – it is frequently corporate jazz so smooth as to be puréed, an “are you serious” shining of powerful spotlights on musical wallpaper of the sort usually meant to be perpetually in the shadows, lobby music for a shining chrome shopping complex out of the fevered dreams of some 80s technocrat. You're allowed to non-ironically enjoy it on its sonic merits alone – it comes as close as any other album I've heard to proving that parody and admiration can fit comfortably in the same space – but it is interesting because we all too often live in a world failed by the vision it invokes rather than served by it. I feel it gets right at the heart of my challenge – whatever else “cyberpunk” may be, it is always art created in the present about the near-future, with many of the established works set in (and always made in) what is now the past. This tension would be fascinating even absent the implications of many of cyberpunk's predictions coming home to roost in our physical reality, today.

So what else does a VR revolution sound like? Had the first one taken off when it promised to 20-30 years ago, the then-burgeoning electronic music scene coinciding with the rise of MIDI and the sudden widespread access to okay-sounding synthesizers would have been the clear answer, but I'm no longer sure that applies. Even forgetting that true analog recording has become as rare as handpainted cell animation, nearly every musical act working today is at least occasionally an “electronic music” outfit – synths and drum machines may not yet be entirely blasé, but they are decidedly not “futurey” anymore, and that may be the key test in determining whether a work qualifies to be on our list. I've always felt trip hop artists like Massive Attack and Portishead had a quality that perpetually tied them to a sort of pre-post-capitalist angst while remaining listenable; Björk is cutting-edge in any century; sample-based musicians DJ Shadow and Coldcut have long explored the sonic frontier, the latter going so far as to found Ninja Tune, thereby buoying the careers of such mindscrewingly experimental artists as Amon Tobin; personal favorite Weather Report has occasionally explored what was then the newly-birthed digital revolution (sometimes even with jazz futurist Miles Davis in tow); widely popular acts such as Nine Inch Nails, Orbital, and The Prodigy are tempting to include, but if we can comfortably label an artist's entire catalog “industrial”, “dance music”, or “hardcore techno” it presents a compelling case against mentioning them further; prog rockers such as Yes and Rush are perhaps appropriate for doing the superscience underpinning VR, but from today's vantage point their aspirations to futureiness may be so overt as to disqualify them; post-The Bends Radiohead and everything Underworld has ever touched (mercifully discounting Change the Weather) hit the proverbial nail squarely on its head, points deducted only because they're entirely too obvious.

I'm no musicologist, just an enthusiast whose library is barely deep enough to call himself that. I'm quite sure I've only begun to scratch the surface here, so, please, help me out! At the turn of the 22nd century (assuming humanity and a few iPods survive), what existing music will be considered most closely tied to the VR revolution of which we are very probably on the brink?

Re: Soundtrack To A VR Revolution

Posted: Thu Feb 28, 2013 5:06 am
by nateight
-RESERVED- (just in case I feel ambitious and decide to keep a running list of everyone's suggestions)

Get to work, audionauts!

Re: Soundtrack To A VR Revolution

Posted: Wed Mar 06, 2013 7:28 pm
by Dom
Yes, I agree a good soundtrack has allot to do with immersion and getting focus into gaming VR. I been playing computer games since around 1988, playing the old police quest series and really loved police quest 3. It had the extra focus on sounds that gave emotion and noting that it was not an abuse style of assumptions within the games sound that make you dis pare, like your losing the game.
I also really liked Twinsens Adventure Relentless "Little Big Adventure" soundtrack from Phillip Vachey.

I'd say mostly if you could get a funny and serious tone mixed into the same words for voice, that would be great. For music sound I say having happiness and sadness with the thinking of learning. Most people want to get Off their miserable lives and not have to think about it playing games.

Re: Soundtrack To A VR Revolution

Posted: Wed Mar 06, 2013 9:54 pm
by cybereality
I really liked the music for the SNES Shadowrun. Or more generally, ambient electronic like the soundtrack on Uplink.


Re: Soundtrack To A VR Revolution

Posted: Wed Mar 06, 2013 10:56 pm
by nateight
cybereality wrote:ambient electronic like the soundtrack on Uplink.
Exactly the sort of thing you'd hear in some Hollywood movie while the hacker characters were nonsensically talking about "DDOSing the firewall database" or whatever. It wouldn't be the first mindscrew involved in all this, but I have to wonder if VR achieving mainstream success will mean more games, art, and music about VR and virtual spaces, or less - it's hard to look into a mirror you're inside?

But oh man, I know what you mean about Shadowrun on the SNES. It simultaneously managed to completely nail the atmosphere of the game (no small feat if you know Shadowrun), pushed the limits of what the fairly primitive sound system of the SNES could do, and all but defined its own genre attempting to predict the music of the near-future. Even if mainstream music never really arrived where Marshall Parker envisioned (boy bands and Michael Bolton were better? Really?), that soundtrack definitely changed me. If I ever do get around to producing that VR-inspired album, expect to hear more than a few bass sounds that instantly evoke this game. I may even have to think about doing a cover. :twisted:
Dom wrote:I'd say mostly if you could get a funny and serious tone mixed into the same words for voice, that would be great.
I'm somehow always a mixture of serious and not at all serious, so maybe there's a career for me in music after all! :lol: