Old Fools in the New Schools


The Incompatibility of Old Ideas and New Media

In his 2011 article, Halo and Music, Abraham questions the compatibility of music and interactive media.

Abraham compares time-based media (like film) and videogame music, and encounters a problem when addressing how to compose music for ‘indeterminate duration and behaviour’ (Abraham 2011, p.2).

Hart (2014) and Moseley (2014) identify a ludomusicological[1] framework that examines the history, engagement, technological procedures and analysis of video game music and is a useful tool in a critical reflection of Abraham’s (2011) article.

The Old Fool

Martin O’Donnell, Bungie Studios’ resident composer and music director, responsible for ‘essentially everything the studio produced’[2] subscribes to a Western classical philosophy of music as a medium that ‘tells basically linear stories’ (Abraham 2011, p. 63).

Drawing comparison to old-fashioned Socratic definitions of ‘song’ as ‘words, musical mode and rhythm’[3], O’Donnell is painted as the once-was orchestral film composer, whose practice ultimately contradicts his purpose, hindering his ability to create the Apollonian music[4] he desires- ‘Music [that] creates emotional enhancements’ to support the visual narrative (Abraham 2011, p. 67).

Abraham provides an example of this problem with Hitchcock’s Psycho shower scene, questioning how the music could convey the same meaning in an interactive context.

This proposition is problematic. As a person with an intermediate knowledge of programming and music, I can easily solve this by mapping the audio samples of “stab” music to simple IF, THEN and ELSE arguments in the relevant programming language. Collins further explains this compositional approach:

In this way, the programmer can see exactly how music or other audio elements are to be implemented, and the composer or sound designer can get a feel for what will work in the game. (2008, p.95)

(Jacques 1996)

Abraham’s does not provide such a solution, whereas Hart’s (2014) does.

The New* School

Instead, Abraham approaches the solution from a theoretical standpoint, explaining that that ‘the perceived incompatibility between games and music’ is ‘only an issue for a certain conception of what music actually is’ (Abraham 2011, p. 64).

Abraham successfully deconstructs O’Donnell’s restrictive classifications by describing broader definitions of music, including cultural[5], social[6], and historical; quoting prominent Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer’s seminal work, The Tuning of the World (1977).

Abraham could have gone back even further to Russolo et al.’s 1913 Futurist manifesto, The Art of Noise. An emphatic plead for composers to ‘break at all cost from this restrictive circle of pure sounds and conquer the infinite variety of noise-sounds’ (p. 6), and ‘replace the limited variety of timbres of orchestral instruments by the infinite variety of timbres of noises’[7].

Abraham sides with Schafer and the Futurists, concluding that it is precisely this collaboration of music with sound design that enriches the listener’s emotional experience, enabling ‘a new kind of audio-visual relationship that works exceptionally well in videogames’ (Abraham 2011, p. 10).

Abraham provides a strong argument for the compatibility of music and interactive media which could be made stronger with the inclusion of ludomusicological analyses and Collins’ technological solutions, and the further backdating of theoretical definitions of music, like those of Futurists, to emphasise the actual age of these so-called ‘new’ ideas.

* Just, like, a century old. No biggie.

End Notes

[1] Moseley, R. 2014, Playing Games with Music (and Vice Versa): Ludomusicological Perspectives on Guitar Hero and Rock Band, 6–7 and footnote 17, viewed 23 September 2016, <http://www.rogermoseley.com/Music/ musicology/Entries/2012/1/19_Playing_Games_with_Music,_and_Vice_Versa_Performance_and_ Recreation_in_Guitar_Hero_and_Rock_Band_files/Playing%20Games%20with%20Music.pdf>.

[2] Fahey, M. 2015, How Halo and Destiny’s Composer Got Fired From Bungie, viewed 23 September 2016, <http://www.kotaku.com.au/2015/09/howhalo-and-destinyscomposer-got-fired-from-bungie/&gt;.

[3] Plato, c. 380BC, The Republic, Book 2, cited in P. Shorey 1930, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.

[4] Schafer, R.M. 1977, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and The Tuning of the World, A.A. Knopf, New York

[5] Chernoff, J. 1979, African Rhythm and African Sensibility, University of Chicago Press, pp. 31

[6] Citron, M. 1993, Gender and the Musical Canon, Cambridge University Press, New York

[7] Russolo, L., Filliou, R. and Pratella, F.B. 1913, The Art of Noise: Futurist manifesto, Something Else Press, New York, pp. 11


Reference List

 Abraham, B. 2011, ‘Halo and Music in Cuddy, L. (ed) Halo and Philosophy, Open Court, Chicago and La Salle, pp. 61-70.

Collins, K. 2008, ‘Game Sound : An Introduction to the History, Theory, and Practice of Video Game Music and Sound Design’, The MIT Press, Cambridge, US.

Hart, I. 2014, ‘Meaningful Play: Performativity, Interactivity and Semiotics in Video Game Music’, Musicology Australia

Image List

Jacques, R. 1996, Sonic 3D, cited in Collins 2008 p.95

Header Image composed by Taualai, G. 2016. Composite of two images found at:

Smith, K. 2015, Inevitable Accidents, viewed 1 October 2016, <http://pixel-pushers-book.com/inevitable-accidents/&gt;.

Quora 2015, Can You Think Of A Computer Guy That’s Fat?, viewed 1 October 2016, <https://www.quora.com/Can-you-think-of-a-computer-guy-whos-FAT&gt;.


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