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Classical Notes

Video Games and Classical Music - Industries in Parallel?

Posted at 5:04 PM on April 5, 2011 by Hans Buetow
Filed under: Musical philosophy

Late last week I was reading a blog entry on Game Theory, a video game design site that I read frequently (I am a not-so-on-the-D-L Gamer.) The blog entry was by Nadia Oxford, who contends that social games (the newcomers to the video game world, often centered around mobile play and short gaming experiences,) suffer from Bad Imitation Syndrome because they aren't given enough room to breathe by the established giants of the industry (so-called "hardcore games" - long-play games on console systems.)

After finishing the post it occurred to me that this debate is familiar. On the suggestion of a co-worker, I paused, copied her post, and did a word replacement search to change phrases like "social gaming" to "New Music", and "game developers" to "musicians". After editing for grammar, a very familiar commentary on the New Music debate emerged in front of me.

New Music: Too Many Imitators
Originally Social Games: Too Many Imitators by Nadia Oxford, cut-up by Hans Buetow


There is a significant divide between core classical music listeners and New Music listeners. Though the latter doesn't pay much attention to the former, core listeners tend to regard New Music with scorn.

One reason can be narrowed down to a mild case of xenophobia. Our unfortunate human nature causes us to bristle when we believe someone is intruding on our territory and changing the landscape in ways we don't regard for the better.

But there's one other reason behind the criticism of New Music, and it's a valid one: Some of the more successful New Music ape ideas that were done earlier and better. Imitation music is inevitable regardless of the platform. But it's disturbing to see blatant rip-offs breed because New Music is in its infancy, and original ideas in the genre are already rarer than baby unicorns. Though it's not popular opinion, New Music deserves the chance to come into its own and flourish. Clones are certainly popular, and will make money-but they won't do much to help New Music grow to become a strong, healthy genre brimming with must-play music.

But it's also important to remember that there are musicians who sincerely love the idea of New Music. They want to help the genre grow, and they want to do it using their own ideas.

"We are not like them, and we do not come from that world," said Brenda Brathwaite, the COO of Loot Drop. "Like you, we want good music, we want compelling experiences, we want casual, and we want hardcore. We want to make great music for the 43-year-old Facebook Mom, because - damn it - she deserves great music, too. We are not the ones making what some of you call "evil music" but rather the first wave, the Marines storming the beach to take our medium, our culture, and our potential back."

"And as you look upon these musics and curse them, know that we look upon the very same horizon and see a great space of possibility. I hope you will someday be the occupying force."

Regardless of how you feel about New Music, it's going to stick around for a while longer-probably forever. And if you're worried about clones and copycats, fear not. Musicians who matter know the state of things, too, and they've decided it's unacceptable. Hopefully their works will rise above the undulating sea of imitators and deliver the medicine that will help ease New Music through its growing pains.

It is interesting, I think, to note that classical music is not alone in its debate to reinvent itself. Even something as ubiquitous as video games - arguably one of the largest cultural forces of the late 20th century - goes through the same arguments, trials, and growing pains.

And change can be difficult. Blockbuster games, the huge, multi-million dollar productions involving villages of developers, are scared of losing the stage to the younger generation of developers with small development teams, different aesthetics, and different ideas on form, vocabulary, textures, audience, and distribution methods. It's a debate familiar to Classical and New Music fans alike.