The first album from the Emo rock band ‘Panic! At the Disco’ has been stamped into my brain to such a degree that, if I can’t quite remember all the words, I can certainly always sing the melody. Also, whenever it’s played, a strange phenomenon occurs in my brain as it stirs up memories of a place far, far away from anywhere I have actually ever been. For me the album ‘A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out’ will always remind me of the crimson shores of Bloodmyst Isle, and a young Warrior in his low teens named Davetwo.
Back in the day I was a pretty serious WoW player, spending as much as 10-12 hours a day playing if given the chance and while I was levelling up my third character towards the goal of level 70 I also fell head over heels for Panic! At The Disco. The album was on massive high repeat, not entirely unlike the act of ‘grinding’ for XP. As an indication of just how much I listened to that album at the time, for a period of about a month I would often lie in bed awake at night listening to the album just because it was so infectious. I am frequently go on what Dan Bruno has called ‘bingeing’ on media (he originally applied it to games, but I think it’s an idea that has wider applicability also).
So when I put it on again just the other day it felt like being back there grinding on Blood Elves for XP. The sensation of being in that place was just below the surface, like having a word on the tip of your tongue but for a feeling of place. My response was almost one of synaesthesia in that the music becomes the sensation of ‘being there’ again. Of course, this album is by no means the only example, there was another in particular that also reminded me of Un’Goro Crater (another World of Warcraft zone) which I can’t recall right now but will probably recognise instantly the next time I hear it. And if this sort of thing is purely the result of the confluence of music and game levels then Metronomy’s ‘Nights Out’ album will remind me of my GoW2 marathon of the other night…
But I suspect Metronomy will be saved from that rather unfortunate fate for the time being. For starters, GoW2 wasn’t memorable enough (more on that a bit later), and there probably wasn’t enough repetition to ingrain the ‘location’ with the music into my brain. And in that sense, WoW is perhaps a stellar candidate for this kind of musical/locational imprinting because a player often spends long periods of time in one particular location doing highly repetitive tasks.
Another album that reminds me of a game level is ‘Lost in the sound of separation’ by Underoath (possibly the best album to Audiosurf to ever). There is a particular part in the 4th track of the album, where the cacophony cuts back to primarily the sound of the hi-hat beating out a straight rhythm. After having been barrelling along at 100mph the track comes to a period of relative calm (a flat area in the track) and it undulates up and down beneath you in time to the hi-hat. It’s quite memorable to the point that now whenever I hear that part of the song I see the track hopping up and down madly in time to the hi-hat in my mind, even if I’m not playing Audiosurf. However, Audiosurf is probably unique in that it renders levels unique for each song in a way that is generally representative of the song itself. Whether this improves the chances of imprinting the level/music combo, I have no idea, but the game also encourages replaying songs over with its scoring system.
I’m sure if I took the time I could think of a bunch more examples of non-game music reminding me of a place in a game, but the important fact is that the phenomenon happens at all. Videogame ‘levels’ are as real to my brain as ‘physical’ places.
Care to share a similar occurrence of game bingeing mixed with music bingeing? I’d love to hear about your own extra-game musical experiences if you have any. Let’s see if we can’t find some patterns about when and how they occur and whether it really is just as simple as plenty of repetition.