Looping Music, Beethoven, computer games and dances

July 4, 2009 — Tags: , , , , , ,

When I was a kid, I played an educational computer game named Treasure Mountain. It was made by The Learning Company, and, like most of their games, featured classical music pieces as background music in midi format. Over time, I’ve tracked down some of these pieces, since they were quite catchy and stayed in my head.

And that is how I came to listen to Beethoven’s Contradanse No. 1. On the Naxos recording, it is 36 seconds long, and it doesn’t loop. This, er, threw me for a loop. I didn’t realize how much I was expecting it to repeat over and over until it didn’t. At first, I chastized myself for expecting the original piece of music to loop like it does in the video game, but then I realized that it probably was intended to loop like it does in a computer game. It is a dance after all. I imagine that in Beethoven’s time, if the music was actually used for dancing, then it would have been repeated. Certainly, when I’ve played fiddle at country dances, we repeated each tune several times before going onto the next one. You could probably observe this phenomenon for yourself if you went to a square dance, or ceili, or old-time fiddle dancing event.

So playing the computer game and listening to the looping midi version has given me a rendition that is in some ways more faithful to the original than the modern recording. How strange.

The other implication, which had not occurred to me until I listened to the unrepeated version, is that writing music for computer and video games might present the same types of challenges for a composer as writing for the dance floor. I had experienced both types of music before, but for some reason had not put the ideas together. I had thought of video game music as very much a modern phenomenon with unique challenges, and it is, but maybe those challenges are not so unique or unprecedented as I’d thought. I wonder what I could learn from the techniques that classical composers used on dance music, and just how similar Beethoven’s challenges and techniques were to those of, say, Yoko Kanno, when they worked on dance music and video game music, respectively. Yoko Kanno’s music for Uncharted Waters is also quite catchy, and loops in my head in a similar way, especially the waltz.

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