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Keys to Play

Keys to Play: Music as a Ludic Medium from Apollo to Nintendo OPEN ACCESS

Roger Moseley
Copyright Date: 2016
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    Keys to Play
    Book Description:

    How do keyboards make music playable? Drawing on theories of media, systems, and cultural techniques,Keys to Playspans Greek myth and contemporary Japanese digital games to chart a genealogy of musical play and its animation via improvisation, performance, and recreation. As a paradigmatic digital interface, the keyboard forms a field of play on which the book's diverse objects of inquiry-from clavichords to PCs and eighteenth-century musical dice games to the latest rhythm-action titles-enter into analogical relations. Remapping the keyboard's topography by way of Mozart and Super Mario, who head an expansive cast of historical and virtual actors,Keys to Playinvites readers to unlock ludic dimensions of music that are at once old and new.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96509-6
    Subjects: Music
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  1. Drawing on conceptual models informed by theories of play, media, systems, and cultural techniques, this book pursues the significance of play across a panorama of musical phenomena extending from Greek myth to contemporary digital games. In particular, it examines forms of play that have emerged at the digital interface of the keyboard. By situating the keyboard in a range of historical, cultural, and epistemological contexts, Keys to Play explores how it has been played in a multiplicity of ways (and to as many ends) by composers, improvisers, performers, and gamers. Reciprocally, the book makes the case that the keyboard itself...

    • How is music played? Responses will vary depending on where the stress falls in the question. “Howis music played?” interrogates the agencies and mechanisms responsible for music’s coming into audible being. It asks how “play” can operate as a verb flexible yet precise enough to describe the striking of a drum, the agitation of a string, the vibration of a column of air, the depression of a key, and the tapping of an onscreen triangle: in other words, it inquires into the means of music’s embodied and instrumental mediation. Asking “How ismusicplayed?” shifts the emphasis to the...

    • From the clavichord to the Moog synthesizer and far beyond, the keyboard has established conditions under which ludomusical behavior can emerge. Whether instantiated as an ordering principle, cognitive schema, or material interface, it provides a platform on which musical motives, gestures, propositions, and ripostes can be put into play. But in what terms can these conditions and the unfolding of such play be described? At the most literal level, addressing this question entails examining the relationship between keyboard and gameboard, conceiving of both as fields of tactical calculation and action: as we shall see, a thread of historical evidence bears...

    • Marooned somewhere south of the Aleutian Islands, Lemuel Gulliver was relieved at the prospect of rescue by inhabitants of the flying island of Laputa, devoted as they were to the noble pursuits of music, mathematics, and speculative learning. Gulliver was quickly dismayed, however, by the Laputans’ self-absorption and the casual cruelty with which this led them to treat others. In a thinly veiled satirical swipe at British foreign policy, the small island exerted colonial power over Balnibarbi, the land beneath its orbit, by maneuvering into position to launch airstrikes at restive regions— and even to block the sun’s rays from...

    • In 1786, Mozart returned to the Redoutensaal during the Viennese carnival season, this time robed as an Eastern mystic. Instead of performing a harlequinade, he distributed a text bearing the title “ Excerpts from the Fragments of Zoroaster,” each copy of which contained eight riddles and fourteen proverbs he had devised for the amusement and edification of his fellow masqueraders.¹ In contrast to the profusion of equally viable possibilities produced by the rigid mechanisms ofWürfelspieleand thecommedia dell’arte,the ludic pleasure of riddles lies in the distillation of boundless possibilities into a singular solution via a series of...

    • Key 5 Play Again? (pp. 236-274)

      In Beethoven’s wake, the ubiquity of play at the keyboard led to an unprecedented degree both of standardization and of specialization. Despite significant local variation in procedures relating to manufacture and pedagogy, the gradual homogenization of pianistic hardware and its installation across an ever-growing domestic user base allowed for the transmission and mobilization of skills, services, and software that permeated geographical and cultural boundaries. At the same time, the establishment of a relatively consistent playing field placed the onus on each individual pianist to carve out a distinctive niche in what was becoming an increasingly competitive professional environment. Augmenting the...