Posted by: Yorgos | May 4, 2008

Text 17 – Audiosurf

I downloaded (legally…I paid for it…) recently a very interesting program/game called Audiosurf. What it does is analyze the music that you feed to it (basically any song in your mp3 collection), and turn it to a sci-fi race track, where every parameter is defined by that particular music: intensity, rhythm, speed, beat, everything plays a role in how the track will be formed. I don’t think I can explain it well enough, so anyone who is curious about it, should look it up on youtube or metacafe or any other video site.

I have spent hours and hours playing this game and all of them were enormously fun. Trying to keep up with the intensity of Take Me Out by Franz Ferdinand is a demanding task which needs very good reflexes. There are, however, some observations I would like to make. Even though I love playing it, my biggest objection towards it is the way it makes us experience music. First of all, it turns it into a visual experience (there are colors flying everywhere), while music is the art which has the remotest relation to vision than any other art. Even cooking has more to do with the visual outcome than music. This is, of course, the wrong way to listen to music; this change of focus can take away a lot of what makes music an enjoyment.

On the other hand, this visualization can show you a lot of things about the songs you like. Classical music, for example, plays poorly on this program which was apparently designed for rock and electronic music; until we use the pieces of the greatest composers: Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky. The richness of their music surpasses even the design incompatibilities and produces a track of unparalleled variety. Yet again: is this the right way to listen to music and, even more, to classical music? Just as it happens with the mp3 player with which we can carry our favorite songs anywhere and listen to them under any circumstances, using good music (be it classical or jazz or rock) in that program is to trivialize it, to make it another form of entertainment.

I will continue to play, though (as I will continue to carry an mp3 player wherever I go). It’s just so much fun. I am trapped in that world of mass media and I take part in the fact that we are “amusing ourselves to death”. I am smoking the entertainment industry…


  1. i find your objection to the game making music visual interesting. wasn’t this already the case with music videos, laser light shows, media player skins, movie soundtracks, etc, etc? who can listen to footloose without associating it to a mental picture of kevin back dancing? or what about the wall — isn’t the full experience of the wall virtually inseparable from its visual component?

    sounds like kind of a fun game!

  2. and by “kevin back” i meant “kevin bacon”… man, i should really edit before i publish things rather than after…

  3. The problem I find in this program is that it does not rely on a concept conveyed by the music and tries to turn it into a different form of medium; every song seems very much the same, even though it plays differently. Music videos or The Wall try to give a more complete experience of what is already there…maybe even try to add things. They are man made, not a mechanistic program that analyzes frequencies and rhythms. If Audiosurf was doing that, this would mean that I would have to criticize the Wagnerian concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk, and I really don’t want to do such a thing. I am also supposing that media player skins have more to do with the software than the music; we can still use the skin, but it is of no importance when we listen to music with Firefox on the computer screen.

    But this is so much different. It is the music itself gone visual. It provides tons of fun, but it spoils the music and its internal elements, by visualizing it in a computerized way.

    In any case, you should look it up and play it. Is downloadable from Steam and it costs 10 US dolars.

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