Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Player Piano 2.0

I think that like many of my friends, I have gone through this experience in my late '20s where music has come to play a smaller part of my life. Since college, I don't keep up on the new releases, I don't get to too many shows, etc. I catch as catch can and poach new music off the year-end best-of lists on Pitchfork. I don't always take my iPod with me, the way that I kept my minidisc player on my person nearly every time I left the house at Brown. You feel a sense of guilt about this, a sense that you are impoverishing yourself allowing an important part of your life-- the love of music-- slip away as you get older and lazier.

I heard a story on NPR recently about the demise of creativity and imagination in American culture. The piece was annoying in its yearning after the good ol' days, seemingly blind to the fact that new forms of media inspire children in much the same way old ones did. (When I was a kid, I had a sketchbook full of designs for a video game I had made up-- little drawings of ships and cars whose offensive and defense capabilities were fleshed out in minute detail. I'm pretty sure it was meant to be a more complicated version of Defender.) Anyways, one caller talked about how his family used to gather around a player piano with neighbors and sing along to recent pop tunes for entertainment, and he despaired that this habit of social music-making has gone by the wayside.

When I heard the caller reminisce about this experience it reminded me of Rock Band, which I have been playing obsessively with my roommates and friends nearly every day for months. While the game can't replace the experience of mastering real musical instruments, what it really does realize is the experience described by the caller-- the social experience of getting together with friends and participating in music that you could not, strictly speaking, create by your own means without a good deal more training. If you can put aside the absurdity/shame of having numerous prosthetic musical instruments in your living room (it helps to think of them as synthesizers), the game is straight out fantastic. (Our band, “Just the Tip” has t-shirts. I have yet to make a t-shirt for my solo project, “The Guermantes Way.”). I spend so much time crooning tracks from the game to myself at work these days (the game really unearths my heretofore undiscovered lust to croon) that my coworkers probably know the game's setlist by now.

I think the success of Rock Band and Guitar Hero among casual gamers, and my many many friends who would otherwise avoid video games, shows that the player-piano spirit is alive and well. When I'm old I'll call into NPR , and I'll look back on Rock Band with a sentimental fondness that will annoy the youth.

1 comment:

sarahsouth said...

love this post.

absolutely love your tee-shirts.

you are amazing