August 29, 2007 8:04 AM | Simon Carless
Been meaning to post this one for a while, though it's more about a feeling than anything explicitly tangible. Nonetheless, I'll try to explain. It starts with me discovering, and absolutely adoring, the self-titled 'dubstep' music album by Burial, on South London electronic music label Hyperdub.
As the release info for the album explains: "Burial explores a tangential, parallel dimension of the growing sound of dubstep. Burial’s parallel dimension sounds set in a near future South London underwater. You can never tell if the crackle is the burning static off pirate radio transmissions, or the tropical downpour of the submerged city outside the window." And that's the key - the static, the fizz, the grit inherent in this exceptional downtempo electronic music.
The extremely mysterious Burial was interviewed on the Blackdown blog early last year, and, while also revealing his entire output is done in sound editing tool Soundforge (!), we get his comment on how and why he uses obfuscating static so much in his recordings:
"Pirate radio crackle, vinyl crackle – I like. But most of all I like rain. Fire. I’ve got recordings of rain and fire crackle that would put most electronica producers to shame they’re so f*cking heavy. That crackle sits over my drums, hides the space between them. When I started making music I could see through it and I was disappointed because it destroyed the mystery for a bit. But when I chuck crackle over it, it hides it under layers, it’s no longer mine. And you get a feel of a real environment."
In fact, this mini audio-clip of Burial track 'Distant Lights' [.M3U] shows this well - other clips are at the bottom of the Blackdown interview, and Burial's entire output is available on Emusic.com with samples, if you want to purchase it, as I did. And maybe it's because I grew up in South London and empathize with the dark feelings, the pre-D&B jungle roots of this sound, I'm particularly enchanted with it. But it leads to a whole other question about what GameSetWatch is about - where's the 'crackle' in games?
What I'm talking about is simple - why aren't more game creators using filters, dirt, and chaos - even on more abstract games - to create more sinister and emotion-provoking kinds of ambience? Why can't there be more grit in games? I'm not talking about the dirt in Motorstorm that (while nonetheless cool) hangs out beneath your wheels - and I'm not talking about photorealistic textures at all. The lo-fi nature of Burial's sound is testament to the fact that less sophisticated solutions can be just as beguiling.
Oddly, I think Japanese creators have come the closest to understanding why grime and chaos is so important - and possibly, it was the texture memory limitations of the PlayStation 2 that partially pushed them into it. Both Konami's Silent Hill series and Fumito Ueda's recently GSW-discussed ICO/Shadow Of The Colossus seem to grok that key to an evocative, memorable game world is a color palette that isn't necessarily rainbow-colored, and a certain level of analog imperfection. These worlds aren't sharp and digital, and that's why we love them.
However, taking it a level more psychedelic, I think that pure digital chaos works too in games - particularly with games such as Xbox Live Arcade's Mutant Storm Reloaded, which shimmers with morphing and echoing shapes and color shifts, even after the player dies, and even the upcoming Everyday Shooter, which shifts chaos and blurriness into simultaneous visual and audio realms. It's still crackle, it's just a more uniquely game-like variation on the theme. And it gives games echo, and emotional resonance, and personal artistic value. So creators, think about adding some crackle to your games. I'd like that, at least.