Having spent 10 years in tech and married a fellow programmer, my life is still pretty embedded. For the hubbie’s birthday, I bought him Rockband (http://www.rockband.com/ – and this link is NOT quiet!) for the Xbox 360 and we have been playing for the last several weeks. After some experimentation with vocals, I have ended up on drums as hubbie has focused on guitar. I have never been much of a drummer, but I’m learning fast. The interface is really amazing, I hope they’re working on making it a teaching tool, because I can’t help but learn quickly about downbeat and offbeat. I can choose my difficulty level: so far I’ve explored easy and medium. The key difference is that Easy allows me to play only one beat at a time, vs making me keep quarter-beat times with one hand and throwing in other hand and foot doing some coordinated beat on Medium, where I am playing now. It was the Pixies “Wave of Mutilation” which drove me into practice mode where you can slow the song to as much as 40% of maximum (which I mostly find more confusing to vary the speed a bunch. Hazard of not being a real musician I guess). There I discovered that there’s a little section where the drumbeats fall just ahead of the beat, I think of it like pulling punches. I was able to play just the section which troubled me over and over again until I got 100% of the beats, and then go back to the real song.
There are many clever aspects that make this really fun. First, as long as I play my assigned beats, which are clearly a subset of the real song, all the drumming plays and so the resulting sound is the full song which is enjoyable to listen to. It’s the same with the guitar and bass. They do seem to have especially recorded these songs for Rockband – we found a music book at Barnes & Noble that had the “Rockband arrangements”. Second, there’s a meter that tracks how you’re doing as a band when you play tours, and there are crowd noises. I rarely can tear my eyes off my note-track to look at the meter, but I can totally hear when the crowd is restless and booing, vs when the crowd starts cheering, or on slower songs singing along. It actually gives me chills. On some of the songs with beats that are complicated (for me) I start to feel like I’m a real drummer! It totally creates Csikszentmihalyi’s flow: challenging enough to keep me focused, but not so challenging that I’m overwhelmed (usually!). It really is amazing.
As a fun bonus, a friend forwarded this video of the famous band Rush playing one of their own songs on the videogame. What really strikes me is the look of absorption on their faces. However, playing a music videogame is not the same as playing the real music – most especially for the guitar which has 5 buttons instead of 5 strings, and the show staff started them out on “expert”, so whaddya expect?
This morning Darrin blew my mind by grabbing his iPhone and holding it up to the radio which was playing some obscure song. A new program, Shazam , recorded a 10 second sample of what happened to be playing and shortly reported back the title and artist. Dang! To be able to fingerprint an arbitrary 10 seconds of song, and match it against who knows what kind of database successfully is simply amazing to me. This wasn’t a top 40 hit. Now the fact that recorded music can be reproduced identically helps, vs a birdcall recognizer I once saw that had a pretty impressive hit rate given the challenges. Somehow the speed at which it can do the lookup, and the amount of data it must be indexing against, well, makes me lose my chuckling confidence that of course the government isn’t filtering all our email. Because if there’s the data and processing power to do this song matching stuff for free, I’m not sure I can imagine what can be done with serious dollars and determination.