Tag Archives: article

Published: Hard Boiled Music

My article “Hard Boiled Music: The Case of L.A. Noire” has been published in issue five of the online journal Screen Sound: The Australasian Journal of Soundtrack Studies. It’s related to a paper I gave at the MSA/NZMS conference 2013 and the inaugural North American Conference on Video Game Music in 2014. It was fun to write — I’m a pretty big fan of Raymond Chandler’s novels so drawing links back to his work and style was pretty great.

From the abstract:

Comparing L.A. Noire to notable examples from film, television and literature, this article discusses the game’s explicit attempt to be an authentic jeu noir and its musical accompaniment to crime and justice in 1940s Los Angeles. By exploring the origins of the game’s musical aesthetic, this article determines L.A. Noire’s relationship with the noir tradition. Although the game’s strong links to period noir film are unsurprising, L.A. Noire’s nexus of period style and open-form gameplay connects the player to film noir’s earliest influences, allowing exploration of both a constructed history and the notion of ‘noir’ itself. Accordingly, L.A. Noire should be considered as a progression, rather than a derivation, of the noir tradition.

Go have a read! Also, Screen Sound is open access and is one of the few journals to focus on screen media music studies in this part of the world, so check it out while you’re there.



My article “Meaningful Play: Performativity, Interactivity and Semiotics in Video Game Music” has been published in Musicology Australia, the journal of the Musicological Society of Australia. It follows directly from a paper I gave at the Performative Voices conference at the University of South Australia in 2012, and which I also gave (slightly revised) at the Ludo 2013 and MaMI 2013 conferences.

From the abstract:

Through an understanding of interactivity as a performative act, we can treat the musical experience of gameplay as the text to be studied—a text the player has a non-trivial role in creating. The player’s unique series of actions during gameplay evolves into an interpretation of the designers’ complete, preconceived game experience. Similarly, although music is received in a series of unique contexts during gameplay, the player’s actions shape the music into an interpretation of the musical experience envisioned by the composer… Video game music exhibits a twofold semiosis, the analysis of which must contextualise both the music’s initial composition and the player’s interactivity in relation to the complete musical experience.

The article can be found online here. If you have institutional access, go have a read!

Satisfaction in abstraction

I’m increasingly aware of a preference I have for the study of abstractions. In its current form, this is manifesting as an enjoyment of musical semiotics, which I’ve been studying for thesis and prospective article purposes. This isn’t a new thing for me, I think. When I started to find undergraduate physics too hard because I’d forgotten how to do integral calculus in the year between school and uni, I majored in pure mathematics instead. I’ve always found the application of mathematical models to real-life situations a bit challenging; on the other hand, algebra for algebra’s sake is satisfying, pure geometry or topology fascinates me, and set theory permeates my thinking about anything quantifiable.

Musical semiotics is a little controversial. On the surface of it, music doesn’t seem able to convey meaning; you can’t say, for instance, that middle C signifies a tree, or love, or the number 231. On the other hand, you could say that music can convey meaning within the external framework of a shared musical pedagogy. In that instance, a perfect cadence could convey a sense of satisfaction if there’s a socially-acknowledged precedent of perfect cadences representing satisfaction. But if this is the case in the Western tradition, there’s nothing to say it must hold in other musical traditions. Furthermore, some have argued that it’s possible to distinguish between a ‘meaning’ and a ‘significance’; that is, what a thing means in and of itself, and what significance external factors can give it in people’s minds. It’s fairly broadly accepted that music can connote — it can be made to signify something within its immediate context — but can it denote, or refer to something outside itself? Some say “yes” and some say “no” (and it sometimes seems that each answer is also followed by “of course, that should be obvious”).

This is barely scratching the surface of the question of musical meaning, let alone how (and if) music in games is meaningful. I know it is meaningful, at very least through its context within the audiovisual text, and I’m pretty sure there are even multiple ways in which it can bear meaning. But proving this in my thesis is shaping up to be a significant (and hopefully quite satisfying) challenge. I’m part way there with my current work, but every new text I read seems to open up further avenues for investigation. I guess I’m just glad that I can include some abstract theorising in my studies. Being able to look beyond the texts I study to the bigger issues, the things that inform, shape and permeate all such texts, and even beyond those things to the small glimpses one gets of how humans work through what they create; this is what, for me, makes this study worthwhile.

On the Writing of Words etc.

I’ve just finished up an intense period of writing and revising (potential) articles. It’s a bit of an intense process that mixes analysis, written creativity, formatting precision, and the uncomfortability of putting yourself out there to be judged. I generally like each of the first three when experienced separately, and I do admit that the combination can be engrossing when I’m getting into it. It’s the latter that gives writing its pain.

It’s a completely different kind of writing to what I’ve done previously at uni/school or on my own time. When you write for an assignment, you submit yourself to the judgement of your teacher, tutor or lecturer, but their judgement is usually final. Your only recourse is to do better next time. Conversely, the writing I’ve done on my own time has either remained unpublished (and thus not judged), or been published informally on a blog. And we all know that caring about how people respond to a blog post misses the point.

Writing for publication, though, requires you to submit yourself not to a judge you know, nor a public you ultimately disregard, but to a process. Strangers read your work, presumably think about it for a little while, then apply their own expertise to the task of correcting you. Publication (or the aiming theretowards) requires a great deal of faith in this process, which is only a rational faith if every scholar involved the process is equally dedicated to the maintenance of its integrity. In this corner of the world at least, the increasing responsibilities placed on scholars of administration, teaching and publication quotas in addition to their research is providing a fast-firming basis of doubt that the process can maintain itself. Who, after all, has time to read other people’s work carefully when their own institution is breathing down their necks? I am speculating here, of course, but it does seem logical that since humans and their attention spans are finite, increased responsibility in one area lessens the ability to meet responsibilities in others.

The safeguard is, then, to write as accurately and clearly as possible. But that’s complicated in a new field. I’m doing my best to write in a way that can be understood by someone who’s never studied (nor even played) video games, but it’s challenging. There’s a great study I found recently by Berger & McDougall (2013) that examined the use of L.A. Noire as part of English classes in the UK. It found (among other things) that although teachers could grapple with video games as texts, their students were both more willing and more able to consider these texts on an equal footing to films and novels. This appeared to go beyond what could be explained by familiarity alone, to that which I suppose is more akin to fluency. I do worry that I’m failing to articulate the nuances of the medium that I know to people who may not be as fluent in video games and their music as I am. I guess I’m not in the best position to know, but still, it’s kind of doing my head in.

Nevertheless! I’ve had a good couple of weeks of family things and working on my car, and now I’m back into research with a bit of teaching on the side. I’m looking at EVE Online with a bit more of an academic eye, which is coinciding with my corporation’s move into wormhole space — helpful for getting to know all of EVE‘s music. If there’s one thing studying L.A. Noire taught me, it’s to play all of a game before you write about it.