Interactive Music: Merging Quality with Effectiveness

Developing an "Interactive" Composition System
Interactive Music
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If you aren't confused by now with the current trends in hardware development, you're doing a good job. The idea of a standard hardware playback system is difficult to imagine. To make development easier the thing to do is make a standardized software development system that works with all hardware, and this is why the IA-SIG is trying to come up with not only Downloadable Sample Standards but an "Adaptive Audio Engine" (AAE), one of the working groups in IA-SIG.

Instead of current methods, involving fading tracks in and out and jumping from music segment A to music segment B, this engine is currently in the first stages of design and uses special scripting methods in computer programs to change the state of music dynamically throughout an interactive application. It is still being discussed as to whether the music should be generated on the fly or composed in segments and then activated in various ways and combinations. It is also a question of whether the listener will be disturbed by or acclimated to constant changes in the music events. Thomas Dolby, of 80s pop music fame and now president of Headspace (a computer music application production company), is an active member of the IAE group with their audio engine development. But he isn't the only member of this group. The list is practically a who's who of the top end of the computer and console music industry, including Mark Miller from Crystal Dynamics, Alex Stahl of Pixar, Michael Land of LucasArts, Donald Griffin of Computer Music Consulting, and many others.

The Future of Interactive Music

To summarize, just where is interactive music? You've heard it if you've played the Nintendo 64 smash hit Super Mario 64, with tracks that were added and faded out as the player went from area to area. You've heard it also if you've played Fade to Black, a game by Delphine Studios / Electronic Arts', where tremendous tympani rolls would sound the moment the player approached an enemy. You'll be hearing it in Unreal, where both of these music transition types take place and more, but in future, despite all the confusion and difficulty in deciding how to organize your music composition in both hardware and software, it will be much more than that. Music for games will be not only interactive but totally dynamic. Whether it is scored beforehand or generated remains to be seen, but the future is certainly going to provide some interesting answers.


Alexander Brandon is currently doing music for Epic Megagames Unreal and Jazz Jackrabbit2. Before joining Straylight Productions in 1996, Mr. Brandon founded Eclipse Productions and composed the soundtrack for Epic Megagames' Tyrian.  Mr. Brandon is the author of over 150 Adlib pieces now floating around the web and has written and released over 50 MOD pieces (in S3M, IT format), some of which are available at www.junimusic.com.
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