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A Virtual Reality Experience Gave Me Synesthesia

A Virtual Reality Experience Gave Me Synesthesia

Genuinely new experiences are rare; even new works of art, intentionally or otherwise, reference past artistic creations. But when I entered the latest version of SoundSelfRobin Arnott's multisensory Oculus Rift experience, which fuses sound, vision, and vibration into one sublime biofeedback loop, I had to discard everything I'd seen before to describe what I'd experienced. The closest comparison could be a combination of six hours spent in an isolation chamber, a visit to La Monte Young's Dream House, and an eye-straining optical illusion— as far as personal experiences go, the term sui generis doesn't even cut it.
As Arnott lowered the new Oculus Rift onto my head, fixed headphones onto my ears, attached two microphones around my voice box, then positioned my back against a flat, soft subwoofer, I didn't know what to expect. This wasn't helped by the facts that SoundSelf began with a black void, and that the ambient sounds of the room I was in that could barely be heard through the headphones.
Arnott told me to hum monotones and hold them until I wanted to try out some other notes. If I modulated my voice too much, he cautioned, the experience wouldn't work as well. So, I hummed— and suddenly, a brand new, fifteen-minute cavalcade of kaleidoscopic, geometric shapes and colors burst and drifted into my field of vision, merging with my voice, and the vibrations coming out of the subwoofer.
Some people might say that SoundSelf is a “mind-melting experience.” This, in my opinion, isn't quite accurate. The game, which Arnott describes as something like a trance or virtual meditation, doesn't melt the mind so much as activate and elevate consciousness to a new type of reality. Melting implies mental overload or breakdown. SoundSelf, on the other hand, pulls the user into a beautiful and dynamic multi-sensory reality, one that creates a sense of calm peacefulness.
The word “psychedelic,” in Arnott's opinion, is a horrible aesthetic crutch that's overly used when talking about non-chemical trips. SoundSelf, comprised of original software written in C++ (one that builds the system, the other that visualizes sound), clearly isn't meant to be a virtual substitute for mind-altering chemicals. Since the game is the result of arranged computer code, its new realities are fundamentally different. Arnott's hope is that in a few years developers and users will create a new vocabulary for trance-inducing virtual reality experiences.
“With SoundSelf, it's such a difficult thing to describe, and one of the only things I can try to leverage a little is the 'star gate scene' in 2001: A Space Odyssey,” said Arnott. “So, the way I try to pull that into the description is I describe it as 'an odyssey of light and sound' and try to make people make the connection.”
Arnott, who created sound design for the mind-bending experimental games Antichamber and The Stanley Parable, originally became interested in gaming during his time at New York University's film school, Tisch. In his last year at NYU, the school founded the NYU Game Center, which he describes as the current equivalent of the university's film school in the 1980s. This game center helped hurdle Arnott down his current course in experimental gaming experiences.
Before working on the above games, Arnott created his own, Deep Sea, where the player, underwater and blinded with a gas mask, fights a sea monster that he or she can only hear. Arnott used two little microphones embedded in breath-in/breath-out ports to allow the computer to sense players' breathing.The player aims and fires a weapon, hoping to hear the creature cry out in pain. More often, the only sound the player hears is “their shot disappearing uselessly into the void.”
Deep Sea is ultimately, as Arnott told me, about being “vulnerable.” Though it was very much a game (as well as an installation piece), its concept and design would have a big impact on the SoundSelf development process.
Arnott also explained that his game design background allowed him to think about SoundSelf's user interaction as “flow,” which he said game designers have down to a discipline. Flow can be thought of as a player interacting in the moment with the game system. Side effects of these systems' interactivity, Arnott said, are trance states. So, what he is trying to do with SoundSelf is combine gaming's interactivity discipline with what monks are trying to do with singing bowls or mandalas. A clash of two different technologies, as it were.
Originally, Arnott programmed SoundSelf's visuals himself. Never too confident when it came to designing visuals or deploying color, it took about a year before Arnott felt he was proficient at programming dynamic shapes and movement. Eventually Arnott enlisted programmer Evan Balster to help broaden SoundSelf's current visual palette through C++ programming, which had to visualize the game's music as geometry in a generative way.
When Arnott finally started offering demos at gaming conferences like E3's Indiecade booth, the input he got was invaluable. It also proved that SoundSelf challenged gamers in ways they'd never been challenged before.
“There is a lot of interesting things to explore other than what it feels like to be powerful, such as what it feels like to be weak,” said Arnott. “With SoundSelf, when gamers come into it they realize that it's an interactive system responding to their voice, and they'll try to take control of it. They'll try to explore it and understand what it does, playing it like an instrument or using it like a gun in a shooter game, and it doesn't work like that.”
Arnott said that this type of gamer will then give up. But when they finally do let go, they find they're able to fully fall into SoundSelf's virtual reality.
Maybe because I am not a rabid gamer, my entry into SoundSelf's latest virtual reality experience was smooth. That I immediately let go might have also had something to do with the fact that I knew the game had close analogues with non-gaming, mind-bending experiences.
In SoundSelf's design, Arnott attempted to reach the six qualities of a spiritual experience: a sense of unity, an intuitive sense of deep truth, sacredness, positive mood, transcendence of time and space, and ineffability. Arnott was interested in how these qualities can be experienced across cultures in a number of different ways, and wondered if it could be done in a virtual environment. While he said SoundSelf doesn't achieve an intuitive sense of deep truth or sacredness, he believes the game hits the other qualities pretty well.
Having experienced SoundSelf, I would agree. While the fusion of beautifully rendered, three-dimensional visuals, monotone singing, and the subwoofer's vibrations was indescribable, it didn't produce feelings of deep truth or sacredness. But this might have more to do with VR being in its infancy than any real faults with SoundSelf's design or concept. In the future, it could be possible for Arnott and other virtual reality developers to reach those lofty goals.
What is encouraging is that there were moments in SoundSelf, especially when the visuals resembled soft or silky holographic shapes, where I felt a sense of unity. In these moments, SoundSelf's synchronized input and output—the humming, the virtual shapes flying around, and the vibrations—combined to produce a feeling that I was in another space, but still simply existing in or seeing just another aspect of reality within the cosmos. 
Equally as important, the game induced a beautiful and seamless trance that made me forgot that I was in virtual reality. Though fleeting, the moments were powerful; something for Arnott and his team to build on in future SoundSelf iterations. The only other way to try and describe SoundSelf is by comparing it to a synaesthetic experience, where sight, sound, and other sensations blur into one.
“Synaesthesia is one of the dragons I'm chasing, which puts you off balance in the way you perceive things,” said Arnott. “With SoundSelf, the hope is that you experience a oneness of self while you're also experiencing a oneness of sensation.”
While SoundSelf is not pure synaesthesia at this point, technological advances in devices that create virtual sensations—from sound to touch, though perhaps not smell—should help Arnott further refine his virtual odyssey. And when the Oculus Rift consumer model comes in the near future, then we can all trip the light fantastic in SoundSelf's ever-evolving world.
For more info and to stay updated on SoundSelfhead over to the game's homepage.

Tom Green Looks Back on 'Freddy Got Fingered,' the Most Underrated Film of All Time

Tom Green Looks Back on 'Freddy Got Fingered,' the Most Underrated Film of All Time

Photos by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete
In 2001, Tom Green was arguably the most popular comic performer in America. He had an MTV show, co-starred in the hit college comedy Road Trip, and somehow crafted a successful song out of the idea of putting your ass on things called “The Bum Bum Song.” He was on top of the world, but as is often the case with these things, it got real messy—like "Rip Torn getting cummed on by an elephant in Pakistan" messy.
Green starred, co-wrote, and directed Freddy Got Fingered, a movie that features Tom licking an exposed broken bone, ripping open a deer and wearing its skin like a coat, and masturbating an elephant to the aforementioned explosive climax. It was not what Hollywood insiders would call a "four-quandrant movie." It was really the only movie Tom Green could make, because it was the only movie Tom Green wanted to make.
Now, with a new talk show on Axs.tv and a career touring as a stand-up comic, Tom invited me to his home in the Hollywood Hills to discuss the creation of a transgressive masterpiece. We talked over expensive Belgian beers for almost two hours, the results of which have been condensed (all of my belches have been removed) into the below.
VICE: Was there a thing in particular that you said or did that convinced people with money to make a movie that the system would never make?
Tom Green: The hardest part about Freddy Got Fingered is that we got people to go along with it. It was a combination of the success of the TV show, the success of Road Trip, and my stubbornness.
So you just say no, and no is an answer they don’t get often.
Pretty much. There’d be arguments. There’d be fights. They’d call my manager, my manager would call me, but no one wanted to say no to me at every single step of the way. But at that time, people were really excited about the TV show. They really wanted to put the movie out. So I really had some power at that time. I think a lot of people would have rolled over. When fights and arguments got to a certain point, a lot of people in that position, unlike me, had probably grown up in Hollywood and grown up around this "just say yes" mentality. You don’t argue with the studio. You just say yes. We dug our heels in and we did it.
It was the perfect storm of opportunity and desire to make a crazy movie. I was being offered these other movies. I didn’t really want to make them, but I did see the opportunity to make the movie. We would stay after work when we were at MTV in New York, my friend Derek and I. It took us about a month of writing every night. There were 10 scripts sitting on my desk from major studios, and they all wanted me to make them, these piles of paper. And I thought, why don’t we just make a pile of paper, send it to them, and say, “This is the one we want to make.” It was a very unique position to be in. Not many people get that chance to have multiple studios wanting you to make a movie with them.
As you’re sitting there with Derek and you’re going through this late at night, and you come up with ideas that are very out there, was there ever a moment where you thought, “should I jerk off the elephant or not?”
There’s always moments like that. I don’t remember specifically what they are, but I’ve never done anything that I have ethical or moral problems with. We never made fun of people who are less fortunate. We’d rather take on authority. It was more about making fun of movies. The whole point was that we were going to make each scene so over the top.
So, you delivered the script to the studio.
The movie didn’t instantly get made. The movie got bought by a major movie studio. They make all the major movies with all the major comedians. We went in for our first meeting and said I wanted to direct the movie. And they said, “What? You wanna what? You wanna direct the movie? Have you ever directed a movie?” Well, I’d directed my TV show, but that’s not a movie. I said I want to direct the movie, and I don’t want to change a thing in the script. Nothing. And they sort of looked at me, and I think they were kind of confused by that. They’d already bought the script.
Needless to say, the next day we got a call. They said, “We don’t think we can make the movie the way Tom wants to make the movie. We have to change a lot of stuff in this. We can’t do this the exact way it’s in the script.” They said they were going to put it in turnaround. That’s a film term for basically giving you a certain amount of time to sell the script to another studio. If nobody buys it after that, we own the script and it never gets made. They gave us a 30-day turnaround. That was them saying, “Screw you. You don’t want to do it the way we want to do it, so we’re basically going to throw it on a shelf.”
It seems strange to me that they bought it in the first place if they read it and saw this was the movie you wanted to make. They bought it and then wanted to change it. That’s counterintuitive.
You’d think it would be the opposite, but that’s not the way Hollywood works. They buy things and then they change it. The corporations and executives take young talent that’s interesting, bring them in, and then make their movie with them. Not make some kid from Canada’s movie. It’s some kid from Canada in their movie. They were going to make it a cookie-cutter studio movie, and I said no. I had an opportunity to make a movie. We’re gonna make our fucking movie and we don’t give a fuck.
In hindsight, would I have done everything the same? I probably wouldn't have, because I would have known the effect it would have on me and my ability to make another movie. I certainly wouldn't have been as cutthroat in my firmness when it came to creative decisions—like walking away from a studio because they wanted to take a couple of scenes out of it.
To everybody’s surprise, New Regency and 20th Century Fox bought the movie the next day. Literally, the next day. And I went in for our first meeting there and I met this really interesting executive named Sanford Panitch who worked for this really, really interesting man named Arnon Milchan. You can look into his story. He’s a very interesting guy, and maverick in a lot of ways. When I asked them if I could direct the movie, they thought about it for 24 hours and said yes. Initially, at that studio, I wasn’t going to direct the movie.
I interviewed five directors to direct Freddy Got Fingered—big comedy directors. When I was interviewing those directors, I was bedridden. They came to my house, two weeks after my lymph node dissection. I couldn’t get out of bed. I could hardly walk for about five weeks. William Shatner was my landlord, just to add an element of absurdity to everything.
How is he as a landlord?
Really cool. He was a nice guy. You can print that.
Did you feel more motivated to have it your way, having the cancer scare? You have this brush with mortality, you need to do it your way and have your big chance to express yourself fully?
I’d like to say yes, but it’s not really true. No. The script had been written already. For about three or four years, I was in a lot more physical pain and stress than anybody knew. When I would meet people, I was kind of standoffish. That was because I was in a bit of a funk. I had a lot of nerve pain from the surgery. I think people might have felt I appeared a bit standoffish. I didn’t realize what was going on other than I was in pain. There is a layer of that that’s probably reflected in some of the movie. In the sense that when there’s guts, there’s more guts. When there’s blood, there’s more blood. When there’s screaming, the screaming is a little bit louder and angrier.
There’s that scene where Freddy’s watching the surgery in his house by himself.
That was my surgery, my intestines. You know how Alfred Hitchcock made a cameo in all his films? Even though I was already in the movie, as the main character, I made another cameo as my intestines.
So the studio sees the cut that you want, what happens next?
The cut of the movie was about half an hour longer. It had a very dark soundtrack throughout. Some of the songs were the same, some different. There were scenes that were removed. A lot of it wasn’t just scenes; it was the length of scenes, the amount of time we held on a certain shot. The tone was completely different. The movie’s choppy now. It was smooth all the way through. Important scenes were removed. Things were made shorter to make them less gross, less shocking, less strange—to keep it moving.
It wasn’t the studio. Arnon Milchan was super supportive of me. We had a screening at 20th Century Fox. Everyone from the studio was there. It was my director’s cut. The movie ended and Arnon Milchan stood up and started clapping. He did a long speech about it being the best movie a first-time director had done in his career. He said it was perfect. He didn’t want to change a thing. It was a great day. Everyone was happy. Then we went to test it. Every movie does it. This is the final stage of making everything as cookie-cutter as possible.
We all flew out to Phoenix to see the movie with all these people who’ve been selected to come in and play film critic for the day. Some guy comes out and says, “Was there too much blood?” Yes, there was too much blood. “Was it too gross?” Yes, it was too gross. “Was it too long?” Yes, it was too long. “Was it funny enough?” No, it wasn’t funny enough. “Do you like this character? No? Then we’ll just take him out.”
They’re always going to say the thing that they think is the most appropriate thing to say. It went over everyone’s head that this movie was not meant to be focused. It was supposed to piss off every one of those questions. Every question on a traditional focus group page, we were trying to do the opposite of what you’re supposed to do.
So they took a whole character out?
Well, the uncle owned the cheese sandwich factory. When I originally got to Los Angeles, there’s a scene with my uncle played by Stephen Tobolowsky, who’s hilarious. He introduced me to the cheese sandwich factory. Then we did the I Love Lucy machine sandwiches thing. But they didn’t like that scene. So we get to the factory and I’m just putting cheese on my head.
And then it’s over.
And then it’s over and it just seems strange, right? So the critics looking at the movie don’t understand the process I had to go through. There’s a much better movie in there that I actually made. The ending…
When the kid gets chopped up by the propeller, he says, “I’m fine.” Was that added after the fact?
Of course it was. He wasn’t fine. He was dead. He ran into an airplane propeller. He was dead. There was an arm that flew into the shot. His arm got chopped off. His father was screaming, then an arm lands. It was more over-the-top crazy stuff.
The movie came out and it cost $14 million. It made $14 million. Everyone considered that to be a failure. The critical onslaught was immense. Everyone said it was the most puerile, offensive, grossest, worst movie ever made. It was very extreme.
What do you do in that situation?
The weekend the movie came out. It’s not the blockbuster people had wanted it to be, but if you do the math, not as big of a failure as it seems. If a movie cost $80 million and make $14 million, that’s a failure. When a movie costs $14 million and it makes $14 million at the box office, then $30 million on DVD—that not been reported by anyone. I have talked to the studio. The movie has actually profited. It’s not a financial failure. Nobody ever says that.
So, people were saying mean things in the paper the weekend the movie came out, which baffles me to this day. If you’re a writer who writes about movies, and every weekend ten movies come out and they’re all exactly the same, then this thing comes out which is like an aberration. It’s not the movie you wanted it to be in your mind, but at least give it the credit that it’s different. Don’t be so unrelenting with your criticism that you can’t admit that it’s different.
I actually consider all of that more successful than I had anticipated. It pissed off more people than I thought it was going to piss off. It pissed off everybody. I thought it would piss off half the people, but we got a lot of joy when we’d go to screenings and when I’m swinging that baby around. Right when I bite the umbilical cord and the blood comes out, four old ladies would get up and walk out of the movie. Me and friends would be screaming into our fucking hands.
But you saved the day.
Exactly. But we loved it when people walked out of a movie, to get that kind of a reaction, where people get angry. Who makes a comedy movie to try to piss people off?
So I got a call after the reviews came in, and the box office receipts were counted and it was a call from Arnon Milchan. He said, “Tom, I want you to know you should be very proud of this movie and that I made a movie once called the King of Comedy. When that movie came out, it got bad reviews. It didn’t do well. Roger Ebert gave it a thumbs down. 10 years later, people looked at it different. Now it’s become a classic film. It was the only movie at the time Roger Ebert revised his thumbs down on. Be proud of it. In 10 years, people may come to you and say they liked the movie.”
And sure enough, the only other movie he changed his mind on was Freddy Got Fingered. He didn’t 100 percent change his mind, but he did come back five years later and he said, basically that it was ambitious.

System Focus: Fandom Music Is As Underground As It Gets

Minecraft players

System Focus: Fandom Music Is As Underground As It Gets

From Minecraft to My Little Pony, an explosion of fan-made music is challenging what it means to be a "real" artist

One of the major drivers of underground music culture is sincerity. The underground seeks musicians for whom making music is an art and a passion, rather than a performance or a get-rich-quick scheme. You might have heard a lot about 'The New Sincerity' or 'post-irony,' ideas dating back to the 1980s which have been applied to music with a notable level of (usually positive) emotion and innocent frankness. But the search for sincerity goes back as far as its perceived opposites in, say, industrial capitalism go—back to the Romantics and beyond. That's not to say that all underground music culture is sincere. Irony and satire are arguably stronger than ever as the underground re-engages with hi-tech modernity, shunning the ubiquitous, twee, and now almost empty sincerities of the indie aesthetic. But to find music today made from pure positive passion alone, try an online DIY music almost completely outside the remit of the hip underground sites: the music of fandom.  Fandom is one of the earliest impulses of underground culture. After radical politics, fandom of science fiction was one of the biggest factions of the underground press in the early-to-mid twentieth century, earning homemade magazines on any topic the label 'fanzine.' Traditionally fandom has been associated with science-fiction and fantasy franchises: Lord of the RingsStar TrekStar WarsDoctor Who, Marvel and DC comics, Harry Potter. Lately, fandom has extended to games, anime and online forms like websites and podcasts. Nowadays, when you're deep in Web 2.0, you can't move without encountering fandom. Famous fandoms keep coming up on Tumblr and Twitter: New WhoThe Hunger GamesStudio Ghibli filmsSherlockFrozen. But then there are recurring fascinations with weirder things you might not have heard of: animes like Attack on TitanFree!, and the classic Evangelion, the game Animal Crossing and the mock-wyrd-gothic podcast Welcome to Night Vale. Some of these highly active subcultures count their members in the millions, but barely crack the surface of pop culture.So what makes a fan besides watching, playing or listening fanatically? Creativity that reflects their fandom, or what's often called 'fan labor.' You've heard of fan fiction. There's a musical equivalent and it's all over Bandcamp, YouTube and Soundcloud. And we're not just talking covers and remixes of the relevant music—there are parodies, tributes, new soundtracks, and whole new compositions.

Music by fans about what they like dates back to the 1950s at least, and one older kind of it related to folk is known as 'filk.' But can fandom music all be grouped together as if it were a genre? Not really, at least not in the conventional sense. The music of each fandom often takes its cues from the object of the fandom first, whatever the genre. And yet there are certain similarities and connections. Firstly, people often participate in more than one fandom, and musicians are no different. Secondly, there is a particular flavor to some the music of certain fandoms, at least as they manifest online today, and it's something that's rather uncommon in the parts of underground music I normally frequent.Fandom music, especially by the most popular musicians, is very well made. It doesn't tend towards the minimalism and primitivism in some areas of the underground, where too much effort and ability—especially on non-vintage equipment—can get a bit uncool. (But even when it isn't well made in the traditional sense, it's interesting for its surprising results.) In the same vein, fandom music tends to be complex—it often uses the best and broadest tools available to contemporary musicians, and likes to draw on many different instruments, harmonies and forms in the course of a song or album, rather than just deploying a few riffs or loops. And if variety itself can be a characteristic, it's definitely a characteristic of fandom music, which manifests in any and all genres, some which don't even seem to be genres. One of the most tangible qualities of fandom music, however, is linked to its sincerity—it explores a level of emotional or sentimental expression that more cynical listeners would consider kitsch.But fandom music is not just purely sonic. One of the most captivating things about it is the artwork, often made with considerable effort using digital painting equipment. This creates a new and distinctive visual signature that I've learned to associate with musical sincerity while browsing Bandcamp. Often the paintings are colorful, romantically intense and highly detailed, and it's common to find each individual track page in Bandcamp assigned its own painting. Then there's the way fan musicians behave online. They aren't anonymous, scrupulously shadowy, they don't send cryptic tweets. On their pages, they typically make friendly introductions to themselves and their music. Sometimes you can even see their faces, or at least an avatar styled according to their fandom of choice. Overall, the creative world of fandom music is a bit of a refreshing break from what's hip, and I don't mean that as an insult to either party. And actually a lot of this music is only a few heartbeats away from re-engineered and often highly sincere pop sounds more often covered in the underground music press.
So where to begin? Perhaps with a fandom that quite a number of my readers might have encountered: Pokémon. The video game is still going strong on contemporary devices, and NYC rapper Le1f can often be heard rapping and talking about them—a Pikachu mask even appears in his video "Wut." 'Pokémon' is quite a common tag on Bandcamp: you'll find a remix / concept album by Grimecraft [above], an artist with strong links to the greater cuteness network we explored a bit in last month's System Focus. Le1f and Grimecraft epitomize a certain kind of contemporary musician with clear fandom elements in what they do, and you'll find Grimecraft referencing a number of different games throughout his online presence (such as his Soundcloud, where there are nods to Animal CrossingFinal Fantasy and Zelda). But we can go further than musicians who are merely mixing the objects of fandom into what they do. Fortissimo Hall is 'the official music page' of a group on amateur-art-upload site DeviantArt that's dedicated to Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time. Three albums on the page—A Troubled PastA Dark Future, and Lethe Wept—feature the work of various artists, and each track has its own almost semi-abstract rendering of a particular Pokémon or related subject. Like a lot of fandom music, these compilations are stylistically close to contemporary video game music (aka VGM, which is more cinematic than its 8-bit ancestor), but their eccentricities are intriguing. In particular, the tracks by Pengosolvent are quite unlike anything else—contemporary orchestral VGM squashed imaginatively into a jovial, frenetic and slightly disturbing blur. Try the crazy "Breaktime Over," the highly cute "Enamored Regard" (below), or the proper creepy ghost-type "Paved With Good Intentions" (belated happy Halloween).A more recent fandom has grown up around the animated TV-show Adventure Time, a light-hearted and absurd fantasy series that seems to have aesthetic roots in the freak folk of last decade, as can be heard in the ukulele of the show's brief opening theme. You can hear that theme in an expanded cover version (on an album of AT covers), in punk tones, and sung by some kid a cappella (do check out the same kid's original song "Carryin Up a Cable"). But intriguingly, Adventure Time is a recurring reference point for some fairly parental-advisory hip-hop—herehere, and here. Then there's Oddpauly, who raps about the attractions of the show on one of his tracks. Pauly also has a YouTube channel featuring a music video of his highlight track "Rain," and a video of him playing Minecraftwhile eating Fruit RollupsOh yeah, Minecraft—now we're really talking fan communities. This video game started out in 2009 and has become a force—it recently featured in an episode of South Park (the kids make their parents answer Minecraft-related questions as a way of locking them out of the murder porn they've taken to watching)—but is otherwise unlikely to have touched the lives of many people over the age of 25. It's not especially a children's game, though. It's a 'sandbox' game, with blocky retro graphics, situating a player in an environment where they can mine various materials and build what they like, all in blocks. There's no other objective to the game, and it leads to the creation of enormous online worlds in which players can interact. There are enough Minecraft players worldwide to fill a decent-sized country, so unsurprisingly, music has gotten involved.There are millions of YouTube videos relating to Minecraft. As well as gameplay videos, something the game provides is a virtual environment for shooting films, or what is called 'machinima'. Machinima (or something like it) is the format of choice for Minecraft music videos uploaded to YouTube, which appear so regularly that some channels run monthly Top Ten compilations (such as this one and this one). The most prominent kind of Minecraft music is the parody—'a Minecraft parody of...'—where a famous song is covered with the lyrics rewritten to relate to the game. Minecraft has its own lingo and set of tropes to use for this, such as 'griefing,' the game's rough equivalent of trolling, or 'creepers,' annoying monsters who approach a player's buildings only to blow themselves up. There are Minecraft parodies for practically any pop hit of recent memory, together with parody videos—there's Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" ("Play Minecraft"), Miley Cyrus's 'Wrecking Ball' ("Wrecking Mob," above) ***and my favorite, PSY's "Gentleman" ("Very Crazy Griefer"— just look at their faces below...)

But then there's the music from the game itself, of course. It's by Daniel 'C418' Rosenfield, it's on Bandcamp, and it's so popular that Rosenfield was able to give up his day job. Like a lot of indie game soundtracks, the music is kind of unusual—in this case a mysterious ambient blend of prone, often reverb-laden toy melodies and pensive harmonies. It appears to have had an influence on a number of other prospective Minecraftcomposers such as MTCT (aka Music to Craft To), Wolfi, and the epic Taylor Grover. And then there's music that's simply made in tribute to the game, such as by MololoSentinus (with an album of '13 songs inspired by Minecraft gameplay'), and in the oddball dance instrumentals of Reshif. There's even an album entirely made from the game's sound effects, which is a bizarre listen. But with a game as rich as Minecraft, there's also music within it too, and this is where things get really interesting. The game has 'note blocks,' which can be directed to play a certain pitch and change timbre depending on what material they're on top of. There's also a form of electrical wiring that can activate the blocks remotely (using a switch) and in sequence, setting off the notes like a pack of dominoes. Thus by placing several note blocks in the right configuration and activating them through the wires, players can create music boxes that can play certain tunes, even polyphonically. Here's a tutorial on how it's done. To really get a polyphonic tune playing for its full length, players have to create vast structures several stories high and almost a kilometer in length, that witnesses can move around inside as the music plays. Then they upload the videos to YouTube. This is music and architecture as the very same thing. A fairly simple one where you can clearly see what's going on is that internet classic, the Requiem for a Dream theme. Then they become gigantic—Pharrel's "Happy" (below) has all the syncopations down, and includes a cart that automatically runs alongside the structure as it plays. The structure for Coldplay's "Clocks" has a glass bridge running over it so that you can look down as you walk with the notes. That one's made by Petraller, a master of the note blocks with a huge repertoire that includes Bon Jovi, Owl City and Scott Joplin. But it doesn't stop at note blocks—one player used an array of other sound-making inventions to recreate (a kind of) dub step.

One of the most visually striking fandoms online is Homestuck, an epic webcomic about some teens who inadvertently bring about the end of the world, and then get involved with these bizarre troll-like beings that are perfect to dress up as. But don't take it from me—there's a fan song to introduce you to it all. I discovered Homestuck early on in my Bandcamp travels because much of its soundtrack had ended up in the 'experimental' tag and the bizarre digitally-painted visuals and difficult-to-place music caught my attention, even if the music was hardly for Wire magazine. The weirdly great-looking official Homestuck Bandcamp page compiles the soundtrack (made by fans) music and more, and it tends to subtly evade genre, skipping through all kinds of sound worlds, seemingly guided more by emotion (and whatever's going on with those trolls) than form. I've been oddly mesmerized by Erik "Jit" Scheele's One Year Older and the cosmically soppy Song of SkaiaAnd of course other fans have gotten involved too, following the ethereally elusive nature of the official music. Robert Blaker's early unofficial album features the best of the fan art in its individual track pages, while Team Paradox and Sam Neiland have written soundtracks for fan-made adventures. Some of the most interesting Homestuck music has been produced by musicians who seem less concerned with the polish of traditional compositional standards, such as SKAIANET and Eric Beer. Equally, there are moments when strangeness and sculptural control meet, as in "Confinis" by Horizon.
One of today's most notorious fandoms is focused on the latest version of the My Little Pony franchise, Friendship is Magic. When fans of the show are older than its target audience—say, 13 and up—they tend to be called 'bronies,' as many of them are men, but there are plenty of older female fans too. Two documentaries have been made about the unexpected phenomenon, Bronies and A Brony Tale, and it's very widespread, having seen several conventions around the world. The older fan community appreciates the positive messages of the show and are brave to openly celebrate it with their considerable creativity, although their reputation online has suffered somewhat due to a certain amount of overlap with less well regarded communities based in 4chan and Reddit, notorious for fedoras and misogyny. In any case, pony music, as it's called, is a fascinating and diverse reflection of the fandom. And it's huge. To give you some idea, there are several radio stationsdedicated to the show and its fandom. The main site for the fandom, Equestria Daily, has a lively music section. Fan music ranges from remixes and covers of songs from the show, songs telling its stories, and parodies (indulging the community's fondness for puns and phrases like 'everypony') to instrumental albums that draw on the show's imagery or tropes only at a tangent. The fandom has a hefty contingent of Bandcamp customers whose pony avatars can be seen lining up on the pages of the most popular albums. But the music only rarely reflects the child-like aesthetic of the show, often bringing out the darker, more romantic connotations of characters and its stories. Alongside sometimes Friedrich-like digital paintings of the relevant ponies, pony musicians regularly put weighty, grand, maximalist and very technically accomplished music.There's punk rockhappy club soundsambient electronicfunky song-writinghardcoresoft rockepic orchestral, and metal. One of the most popular artists is Eurobeat Brony, who has three volumes of hyperactive 'Super Ponybeat.' Another is TAPS, who has an ear for glitchy vocal science deriving from samples of the show: ponies fractured and suspended in enormous spaces.But one of the things that really seems to mark out the My Little Pony fandom is the sheer sentimentality of much of the music, an unusual space probably opened up by the show and admitting a fondness for it, and like it or not, it can be quite something to behold. Often it's found in cinematic synth-orchestral tracks like those of Dashdub or Radiarc. There's even an artist who does hyper-tender pony-inspired piano improvisations. 4everfreebrony is a technically faultless songwriter who has a 'ponified' version of Pharrell's "Happy" and can really whip up a mood on the album Pink Side of the Moon. And I've found myself listening repeatedly to Australian artist Feather's album In My Mind. It has a parody of "Mad World" (all around me are familiar ponies) and several gentle songs of a curiously and persuasively emotional bent about characters and events in the show. She often weaves in electronics and unusual textures, like the weird vocal manipulations of "Jealousy", and "City Slicker" (below) is charismatic and skilled without a lick of pretension.So yes, I'm appreciating fan music, even My Little Pony fan music. And fan music in itself, not necessarily in relation to the object of the fandom, or because I get all the references. Its emotion might seem over the top sometimes, its obsessions might seem ridiculous, but you know what? At the very least it's something quite different. At the most it's a labor of love, it's honest, and it's real—realer than a top indie artist performing while wearing Google Glass so that one of the world's largest companies can get people to adopt a failing product, and everyone reporting on it. And none of this stuff is 'post-internet' about its online status either—it's simply music on the internet, usingit as the best tool. It's the sort of creativity that's been online long before art and music started to address the digital age in scare quotes. In fact, it's the sort of subcultural celebration that was underground before the underground.


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