Morton Subotnik's Playing Music

Morton Subotnik's Playing Music

Written by Lydia Graslie on 11/16/2006 for PC  

Morton Subotnik's Playing Music by Viva Media is like a game made about a children's television show. Its cute, its simple, there are silly characters, and adults will buy it because it whispers the promise of being "educational". In this game children are presented with the opportunity to add "expression" to classical music pieces by adding different tempo, volume, speed, and emphasis changes. These versions are then able to be "performed" by one of three different characters, who all play a little bit differently. There are also some little mini games that are supposed to explain about different elements of expression in music.
 
As a long-time musician, I looked forward to this game with enthusiasm. I've been playing the viola for almost ten years, the piano for six, and singing for three. After all this time I still cannot put words to the rush I feel when playing with an orchestra, the feeling of absolute exhilaration I get when climbing through a thundering crescendo or the quiet melancholy felt during a chair solo. Sadly, I haven't done much music making with groups lately, so I was eager to see if this game was my quick ticket back into that musical high.
 
While Morton Subotniks' Playing Music does have a few somewhat interesting elements to it, its not what I expected it to be. First of all, you do not create music in this game. The player is given the choice of choosing from among several famous composers and their music in order to pick a piece that they like. This music has no additions to it other than the notes, plain and simple. No forte, no piano, no ritards, etc. The player then goes through and adds in all of these elements until the piece meets their satisfaction. Then, the piece is performed in front of an audience by one of three animal performers.
 
Not much else exists in this game besides the element of changing existing pieces. Mini-games about identifying concepts like "loud-soft-loud" also exist, but I found them confusing. It could be that I learned all this stuff the old-fashioned way, through rote and through flashcards, and therefore don't immediately grasp that big dot, little dot, big dot, means the same as forte, piano, forte.
To its credit, the game did have one thing that held me captivated, and those were the videos of concert pianist Frederick Chiu included in the game. Simply put, this guy is good. He succeeds in teaching about musical expression by doing it, and very well. This is something the rest of the game can only imitate.
 
In conclusion, this game feels like a PBS kid's special on music making. It does have some elements that are educational, but kids who don't get it or aren't interested in the first place might have a hard time sitting still long enough to figure out what things like decrescendo mean. And download Frederick Chiu. He is great.
This game feels like a PBS kid's special on music making. It does have some elements that are educational, but kids who don't get it or aren't interested in the first place might have a hard time sitting still long enough to figure out what things like decrescendo mean.

Rating: 4.5 Heavily Flawed

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Lydia Graslie is a crazy English/Math double major and a glutton for punishment at BHSU, which is located in scenic Middle-of-Nowhere. Her age is the product of two consecutive numbers with a sum less than 30. She can often be found reading old-school science fiction novels and pestering professors with bizarre physics questions, such as "Why do rocks make that ploosh noise when you throw them into deep water?" and "How much force does it take to throw a sewing needle through a pane of glass?". Lydia kinda looks like a librarian but has picked up too many swear words and uses them too effectively to ever be one.

A fairly recent comer to the world of console gaming, Lydia's first real system was a PS1. Video games were for boys when she was a tyke. That all changed when she swiped a cousins N64 for a weekend and was quickly sucked in. She got a Playstation for Christmas and caught up fairly quickly to her peers, and now enjoys friendly competition with friends who have been gaming since they were just out of diapers. Playstation is her favorite console, primarily because the controller is far more symmetrical button-wise than other recent systems.

Lydia specializes in action platformers, her favorites being the Jak and Daxter and Ratchet and Clank series. She's also pretty good at DDR and enjoys a good space drama, such as Xenosaga or Star Ocean. However she's not too big on violent games and owns only one title rated higher than Teen. Games with wicked social commentary and moral conflicts delight her immeasurably. P.S. Barbie has the intellectual depth of a bag of microwave pork rinds. View Profile

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