This one takes me back. I can remember my early experiences of navigating “open world” computer games back when they first started to emerge. I remember taking those nervous forays into vast, vibrant landscapes via Super Mario 64 and The Legend Of Zelda, unhooked from the rigid tracks of two-dimensional platform games, liberated from the ruthlessly imposed direction of travel and the requirement to roll monotonously from one objective to the next. Instead, I dithered and ambled. I stopped to examine the details and glitches of my digital scenery, or to analyse the repetitive back-and-forth movements of the game’s civilian furniture. Without the urgency of an objective to complete, open world gameplay offered the opportunity to break away and contemplate the meticulous artistry of computer game architecture.
What with me being about six years old, I wasn’t as enamoured by sound in the way that I am now. Otherwise I may have appreciated the ways in which open world gameplay placed new demands on the dynamic playback and stereo dispersal of sound in these sprawling universes, which were now required to respond to constant shifts in character orientation, proximity and physical interaction, dislodged from a sequence of events that was guaranteed by the restriction to left-to-right movement. Given that players construct their own narrative by moving through three-dimensional space, the soundscape is produced in real time as certain events emerge into audible range. Swarms of flies go from a peripheral buzz to a hostile high-voltage whirr, while the gurgle of the shoreline by my feet blurs into an undulation of white noise as I gradually move away from it. This isn’t simply a case of sounds becoming louder as the object becomes closer – with proximity comes the emergence of previously inaudible detail, shedding the obfuscation of echo to reveal the by-product of tiny flickers and miniature clicks. The sound itself changes form. From the perspective of a code-inept outsider, it all feels incredibly impressive.
On Appropriated Field Recordings From Temporary Data Sources, Philip Sulidae captures the sounds generated during a trawl through an unnamed open world computer game. His accompanying press release addresses the potential parallels between this record and the act of field recording in the real world, which is an important consideration. For one, it’s fascinating to consider the computer game experience as a field recording trip, listening acutely to the ensemble of noises that gather when the character is positioned at a particular point, while using the variable of character movement to produce a form of compositional structure, cross-fading the concrete patter of a leaking roof into the rumble of distant traffic by simply “walking” from one place to another. Essentially it’s a generative composition, reacting directly to the ever-changing behest of the player, inexhaustibly adjusting the listener’s acoustic framing to maintain a realistic sensation of immersion. Computer game soundscapes seem to be intentionally rendered as more bustling and restless than their real-world equivalents, exploiting the enveloping potential of sound to compensate for the unavoidable disconnection between the player and the televised image, doubling the protrusion of the heard in order to mask the distance between the seer and the seen.
Yet the decision to frame this album as field recording has an additional function. The sounds themselves are all the fruits of various sound recordists and editors, while the manner in which these sounds appear, combine and navigate the soundscape is all dictated by painstaking, intersecting streams of human-written computer code. In the real world, field recording captures an assemblage of noises, spaces and interactions that are (for the most part) devoid of one central point of instigation. Yet given the way in which the game code reacts so sensitively to player movement – producing innumerable possibilities for the order that the sounds appear and the ways in which they interrelate – can we really refer to the game designers as composers in this scenario, any more than we must offer artist credit to those captured in idle conversation via a public field recording in the real world? Sulidae seems wonderfully uncertain about this. The use of the word “appropriated” in the album title is both a means of capturing the ambiguity of ownership over these soundscapes, while also paying homage to the wonderful minds that orchestrated these rich, ever-shifting, three-dimensional depictions of industry, mountain fauna, public transport and idle pastoral sway. Field recording or not, it’s a beautiful form of duet.