Emergence

In a 1996 talk entitled “Generative Music,” Brian Eno describes the principle that formed the basis of his philosophy of ambient music: “the idea that it’s possible to think of a system or a set of rules which once set in motion will create music for you.” While the seeds for this aesthetic had been planted throughout the history of computer music and multimedia art since the 1960s, Eno distinguishes his idea of generative music as being specifically interested in “organic” processes that have a clear sense of “movement and change.” With the rise of procedural generation in video game design, and other forms of computer-generated media, this desire for self-generating “environments” would seemingly materialize in the haptic, multisensory space of virtual reality. Indeed, the core aesthetics of “generative” media—immersion, interactivity, emergence—have been particularly influential to contemporary “indie” game developers, many of whom employ signifiers of biological, ecological, and otherwise “natural” imagery in their visual design. How are conceptions of musicality expanded and/or challenged when generative mechanics combine with the ludic structures of video games? More fundamentally, what is the nature of sonic interaction in the context of these generative “environments”?

Through an analysis of video games Proteus—a self-proclaimed “game of audio-visual exploration and discovery”—and Fract OSC, this chapter expands the idea of generative music in the context of the modular and procedural aspects of interactive media. Like many “indie” games, the lack of a clear narrative structure can be seen as a response to the maximalist style of many major game studios, encouraging a heightened attention to the mechanics of sonic interaction. At the same time, the incorporation of locative, mobile GPS systems and accelerometers into the core gameplay mechanic enhances the players’ feeling of navigating a multisensory virtual space. As a result, the application of generative music to multimedia experiences opens up new forms of human-computer interaction—what I define as “emergent interfaces.” Rather than Eno’s idea of “a system or a set of rules which once set in motion will create music for you,” emergent interfaces encourage a dynamic, relational mode of engagement in which sonic interaction design acts to heighten the players’ ethical sense of embodied self in the fragile ecology of the (virtual) world.