Can a video game influence the music industry?

26 03 2009

So I’m looking forward to Edgefest.  May 9 for those wanting to watch me acting young.  The band I want to see most is All That Remains.  It’s hardcore, but not in-your-face hardcore, and they’re gathering quite a following.  I mentioned the band to one of my students the other day and he said he recognized the name from Rock Band.  “That doesn’t make any sense,” I said.  “They haven’t been well-known for very long and besides, who could even try to play their stuff even on imaginary instruments?”  Turns out that not only was he right, but the band owes some of their success to the Rock Band franchise…

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I watched this and pondered about the odd dichotomy between the video game industry and the music biz.  We all know there’s a strong connection that’s formed between Hollywood and musical artists.  Sometimes a band will lend a song to a movie in order to get people who like that song to think the movie might be good (think Say Anything).  Sometimes a song is written specifically for a movie — and I don’t mean the musical score — I mean a song that can become popular on its own without people having to associate it with certain visuals (Philadelphia, Daredevil, Lion King … Flashdance anyone?) though they certainly invoke the memories of that magical movie moment when the movie basically turns into a short music video full of emotional close-ups and gritted teeth.

But can video games bring new artists to the masses?  The soundtrack to GTA: Vice City includes Judas Priest, Mötley Crüe, Blondie, Flock of Seagulls, and even Rock Box by Run DMC.  Who was this soundtrack supposed to appeal to?  Me?  ‘Cause it does!  But what does this new generation think?  These songs don’t hold any special meaning to them like they might to people my age.  Even the sequel, San Andreas, doesn’t have any songs newer than a decade old.  But here the developers are going with something they *know* people like and aren’t taking a risk on artists the players *might* like.

Except for Rock Band.  And Guitar Hero.  They may have started with the safe strategy of licensing older, popular songs and have done wonders introducing this generation to 80s metal in a golden light.  But they’re target market is the 15-26 year old demographic.  Those ‘persons of interest’ want to hear music that *they* remember from that night of driving around aimlessly listening to the same new greatest song ever over and over.  Which means that the programmers have to take a chance on licensing untested music.  Looking over the DLC list I see that there are some recent bands listed I don’t really know much about, but still I’ve heard of all those bands.   But what I think might actually happen is that a lot of kids stand the potential of finding some really great music that they wouldn’t have found otherwise.  Especially — and I say this from the bottom of my heart — if the folks who make these games have the foresight to start allowing the music industry, and even private musicians, to create their own downloadable content for the platforms.

Think of this:  Suppose I have an up-and-coming band and we’re really tight.  I believe we could make it but our hits on MyFace haven’t been spectacular.  I’ve got a few days waiting for our next gig, so I download a free app that lets me create a Rock Band set for any song with total creative freedom.  I create a set to one of my songs and post it for download somewhere.  I haven’t hurt sales for Rock Band titles in the least (’cause in the end people really just want to try rockin’ out to their favorite songs anyway, so they’ll be willing to pay a few bucks to get the songs they want) and I haven’t hurt my own record sales, either (’cause the most important thing starting out is getting people to notice you).  In fact, I’m betting this would actually boost sales for the Rock Band main game and instruments because folks could get at a variety of songs specifically for them.  Plus you never know if you might be about to stumble over that unique sound that just knocks your socks off. Of course, if the set you create for people to download isn’t just spectacularly awesome, no one is going to want it.  Hmmm, I’m thinking this could be set up along the lines of Neverwinter mods, where folks could create their own content for upload with certain websites devoted to weeding out the good ones.  There were amateur-created mods of legendary status because of their quality, and in some cases these amateurs were hired by the software company to start creating content for them!  See, it’s win-win.

Way to go, All That Remains!  I’m glad this has given you some well-deserved attention, and I hope this paves a way for a paradigm shift in the rhythm genre.

[Okay, yes.  I can see a lot of legal problems popping up like crazy if everything isn’t handled just so.  But paradigm shifting isn’t for the weak!  …or really for me.  Look, I’m just the ideas guy.  Now you need to find an action guy to make it so.]


The Real Real Genius

22 03 2009

So Northrop has finally developed a weapons-grade laser!  This is the stuff that sci-fi was made from.


According to their own press release, it can turn on in less than a second and hold a continuous beam for more that 5 minutes.

For building blocks, the company utilizes “laser amplifier chains,” each producing approximately15kW of power in a high-quality beam. Seven laser chains were combined to produce a single beam of 105.5 kW. The seven-chain JHPSSL [Joint High Power Solid State Laser] demonstrator ran for more than five minutes, achieved electro-optical efficiency of 19.3 percent, reaching full power in less than 0.6 seconds, all with beam quality of better than 3.0.

They claim they can add an eighth chain bringing the total output to 120 kW and hold it for almost 1.5 hours.  That is just an insane amount of power!

Northrop pretty much only deals with death and destruction, contracting for the military.  But they also make parts used by the aerospace industry.  So now if they could just get some MIT nerds to polish a nice parabolic mirror and hook this to a tracking system inside a bomber…  And then re-program it to fire at the world’s biggest Jiffy Pop…  Cue awesome Tears For Fears music and you’ve got yourself a beautifully crafted cinematic masterpiece!

The REAL Sixth Sense

15 03 2009

So this may start out all blah, blah, blah… but just wait.  About 4 minutes in you might see the future.  Cool stuff.

Found this while perusing  If you’re interested, the blogger at nerdist, Chris Hardwick, also came up with a pretty funny ‘educational’ video about pi day.  To understand the funny though, you’ll have to recognize the phrase, “Send it to ZOOM!”  Ahhhh, you might find it funny anyway!

Happy Pi Day!

14 03 2009

Happy Pi Day, everyone!

Now everyone go out and enjoy one of the greatest foods God gave us.


For me, that food includes apples.  Oh, wait… cherries.  Ummmm, pumpkin?  Chocolate?  Bananas!  Do they make banana pie?  Oooooo, strawberries!  Hawsome!

Not meant to be

11 03 2009

So look at this and imagine my sheer joy and my deepest sorrow…


Yep.  Midnight Oil is performing in the next few hours in Canberra.  It was announced just a couple of weeks ago and since I have received almost 300 emails from the Midnight Oil listserv, Powderworks.  I’m pretty sure I could come up with the money for airfare, transportation, lodging, food, and of course tickets, but I don’t think my marriage would survive it.  Thus, I will have to rely on the internets to bring me this glorious event as it happens.

The concert was borne out of a benefit event for the victims of last month’s bushfires that raged out of control through southern Australia.  Peter got permission, albeit reluctantly, from the PM to join the band he fronted for over 25 years to once again make a difference in people’s lives.  They’ve flown in Bones Hillman from Nashville, and had a brief practice last week (according to ‘reliable sources’.  heh).  The colliseum holds 70,000, and they sold out both shows within hours.  The folks that can make it are going to remember this for the rest of their lives.

The band is even getting the old sound crew back for the show.  Bonzer!  MO’s front office has contacted the listserv and offered to hold some tickets for those flying in from the US.  Also, after some technical chatter, they’re allowing the group to make a professional-grade video of the concerts.  With audio straight from the soundboard.  And that’s why they’re the GREATEST. BAND. EVAH!

To those going — rock a little harder, sing a little louder, and sweat a little more just for me.

Gump in a Minute

9 03 2009

For those of you who have so little time between physics exams!

Almighty Kepler

4 03 2009


[Update:  The mission launched successfully at 10:49pm on March 6.  I have to admit that right at launch the primary ground camera whited out completely and my heart stopped, thinking the whole thing might have catastrophically failed on the ground — but then they went to a better camera angle and the launch looked beautiful!  You can read a nice write-up from NASA over here.]

Everyone, and I mean Everyone is talking about the new Kepler telescope.  So why haven’t I?  Well, it’s just that I’ve been letting everyone else do the talking for me.  Anyone who knows me knows that I would be willing to go on for hours about the whole mess, so it just seems somehow like overkill for me to hit on it too.  But, the bug finally caught me and so I’m too excited to just stay quiet anymore.

My hero, Johannes Kepler, finally gets a telescope named in his honor.  And not just any scope!  This monster is an ultra-sensitive, mega-high-resolution, super-precise, photo bucket.  I’ve been paying attention to the plans since I first heard of it several years ago and the day is finally here for it’s launch.  [I’m so excited!]

This mission is destined to honor the memory of the man for whom it was named.  Kepler’s story is amazing and I highly recommend picking up any biography you can, especially Kepler’s Witch by James Connor. Kepler was, in my opinion, the most brilliant man to ever walk the face of the Earth.  He calculated the orbital ephemeris of Mars in three dimensions without the use of a calculator.  Without calculus, every position required 70 computations to determine.  His final product would show that all his deeply religious associations to planetary orbits could not be maintained, and that a new theory had to be developed.

What history remembers most about this man is his honesty to the data.  Even when he had to turn his back on his own beliefs, facing tremendous persecution from various religions and governments, even losing his home because he was unable to get payment until his work was finished, he relentlessly refused to allow his own convictions to blur the accuracy of the data.  Because of his devotion to pure science, he gets the privilege of being called the first astrophysicist.  And the three planetary laws get his name to this day.

This new telescope is all about the data.  It isn’t designed to give us beautiful pictures or look for exotic headline grabbers.  It will study, meticulously, the proportion of planetary systems scattered in geometric ratio throughout the galaxy.  Something I can easily see Kepler loving very much.

My friend, Davin Flateau, has posted a very cool podcast about the mission on  You should go here and check it out now!  He has a really creative view of the whole thing, which I’m copying here in the hopes someone reading quickly will think I wrote myself:

The Kepler mission will challenge thousands of stars to a staring contest, you know, like the ones you used to have with your siblings when you were younger, and that you have with the cat every once in awhile?  Now with Kepler, just replace your two eyes with the largest camera ever flown in space – a 96 megapixel monster the size of a large litterbox.  And instead of one cat, you’re now staring down 100,000 cats.

Davin goes on to say that all astronomy can be described in terms of improbable animal analogies.  It’s incredibly entertaining and I do hope you all give it a listen to see how a podcast is supposed to be done!

In the meantime, Kepler is due to be launched in the next two days on March 6.  You can watch the countdown here.

…so I skipped out on a lot of the science this time.  That’s cool.  Those links back at the top can take you to all the nerd-core stuff that’ll let you rest well, counting little stars and dreaming of electric sheep.