mew mew cube leg
i remember once going to a concert and standing behind two music students, enthusing to each other about the concept of some kind of empty, sealed-off music chamber, of “just leading someone in and having them sit there and listen for, like, eight hours” - and it’s something that stuck in my head, as the figure of a certain kind of avantgarde ideal as well as, inevitably, of videogames. since in many ways this is almost the paradigmatic “experimental” project; the effort to break away from an overdetermined everyday and re-activate senses and perception in the process, the dismissal of easy and inherited forms, the suspicion of ease in general in a society priviliging immediate gratification and recieved ideas, the almost ostentatious unfeasible quality indirectly suggesting other worlds where such a ritual could take place (for example where more people could afford to spend eight hours reclining in a cube). and even the immediate critique, the blaseness around the distinction between those who lead and those who are led, could charitably be linked to a persistent if frequently dubious strand in modernism concerned with supposedly spurious universalisms when applied to human variation (see for example dh lawrence) if not just written off as undergrad glibness. so this terrifying sound cube has quite the intellectual heritage which includes some good ideas, useful ideas, we might not want to discard right away. but in addition to an unfortunate echo of certain interrogation techniques we also have a different immediate tradition at hand to compare it with, that of videogames and their seperate traditions of immersion, infinite experience, sitting down for long periods. and these two views of the cube overlap strangely - one a consciously fringe experimental approach, one the recieved wisdom of a multibillion dollar drably conservative culture industry - and even more startlingly, the two traditions frequently seem hardly even aware of one another, as if each moves in the other’s shadow, or both involved in seperate movements of dialectical expression and antipathies that just happen to find a similar form for different reasons.
i’m less interested in constructing a unified theory of sound cubes or of coming down as pro-cube or anti-cube, listening to music for eight hours is good work if you can get it, certainly more productive than being in an office. what interests me more is the position of “experimental videogames”, or at least some of the traditions and rhetoric around them, in the intersection of these two competing tendencies at once, and the uneasy dynamics that frequently result - using one against the other, the notions of bold changes of format as a way of breaking out of ossified commercial convention, the existence of 2000-hour warcraft digressions as an uneasy complication and critique of the usefulness of “demanding forms”. of course there are also a million breaks between the two traditions and the broad similarities may be less telling than the wider series of micro-breaks and changes of assumption within the ways those similarities are applied. but again that series of alterations can be viewed in the light of some other and more fundamental difference, for example the presence or absence of huge piles of money and the determining influence this can have - on what gets made, for whom, in what circumstances, what claims can it stake, what claims it can exert upon its audience. and this makes it more difficult to talk about whatever distinctions are there as a question of mere form, against the cube or friends with the cube, or even as some indifferent object “cube” blanketing multiple ideologies which try to enact it in different ways and with different priorities and limitations - as this in turn disguises not only the existence of multiple overlaps and soft boundaries between the approaches but also the ways in which the overarching structure, our cube again, can act as a means of reconciling and absorbing various contradictions within ostensibly neutral “aesthetic” ground.
what do we take from the terrifying sound cube. my first instinct is to say that as a specific example, and in the specific context of writing about videogames, it suggests the strange role that the experiential has come to occupy as something both daringly experimental (new experiences, new forms of thought, a refocus on “the body” etc) and stodgily conservative (100+ hours of content to lurch through, anti-theory, all the old narratives of feeling revived ). and that “experimental videogames” effectively being shot by both sides in the uncertain space between the two aspects should have an interest in complicating this idea of experience as uncritically positive - that they have the chance of dredging up and exploring various uncertanties and tensions embedded in the concept which could be useful at a time when experience has become the watchword of tech capital. death to sound cube!! while in general… i don’t know. the way forms can change meaning without changing their shape, like the Thing.