Feel like jamming AC/DC but also want to play pinball? Sony offers a virtual machine that rocks the Australian rock band's songs while you play pinball on a table with as much action and immediacy as a tabletop version. If AC/DC's not hard enough for you, the machine is also available in a Slayer version.
Sony has also started releasing an Open Mic series of karaoke-style games featuring, among others, the tunes of Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson and David Archuleta that allow fans to sing along with their favorite artists and score points for hitting notes. These games, however, don't allow you to open up the music and futz around with it. They're passive musical experiences more akin to video game soundtracks than interactive musical experiences.
For futzing and for learning how to be a superstar DJ, the two-turntables-and-a-mixer app Djay, made by German company Algoriddim, transforms the mechanics of DJing — mixing, beat-matching, sampling, scratching, looping — into skills that can be mastered in an afternoon rather than a year and opens up a world in which songs can be carved, mixed and matched together on the fly to create new combinations.
Think that's a not a big deal? Until recently, to play music at a club or a backyard party, you needed two heavy turntables, a mixer and if using a computer, an interface — not to mention crates of records and/or CDs and a trunk big enough to fit all of it in. Now all you need are an iPhone/iPad, your digital library, an amplifier, a few rudimentary skills and good taste.
The first time I got my two Technics turntables and mixer at the end of the 1990s and tried to beat match — the act of locking the beats of two songs into a single rhythmic groove as a way to transition into and out of songs (and keep the party poppin') — I pulled out Hank Williams' "Greatest Hits" and the Chemical Brothers' "Exit Planet Dust" and tried locking various tracks from each together to create a primitive mash-up. And tried and tried, failing miserably to not only distinguish between the songs' different rhythms simultaneously but also to get them at the same speed at the same time.
That same experiment took about five minutes of fiddling to create on Djay (long enough to determine that a Hank and Chemical Brothers' mash-up wasn't a very good idea). What was way more fun, though, was creating on-the-fly remixes. Curious how one of drummer Dale Crover's monstrous Melvins breakbeats would sound paired with the Wu-Tang Clan's "Gravel Pit"? Find a groovy Crover rhythm, loop four bars of it, sync it up with the Wu-Tang track and bingo, instant mash-up.
Other than to offer yet another pleasant diversion while you're waiting in line for a Pink's hot dog and snapping pictures of butts to perform a Mix Makeover on, how does this world of interactivity change the art of listening?
It's too soon to tell, but assuming that creative technologists and musicians continue to brainstorm new methods of untethering notes, melodies, verses and rhythms from their foundations and using them not only as music to appreciate but also as tools for sonic construction, the act of homage will continue to converge with montage and assemblage, and from them will spawn … whatever it is that's next on the horizon.