Yearly Archives: 1995

Amusement Parks Are Caked With Sounds (Bad Day on the Midway)

Like that day we had milk and rice pudding for dinner.Who would have thought the music industry would force my hand in giving in to the Cyber Revolution?  With more and more bands releasing enhanced CDs, it’s obvious where the future lies.  I like that it’s a subtler change in that the format is basically the same.  No need to buy new shelves, even.  And since most are hybrid audio/computer discs, consumers can buy with confidence knowing that they can experience part of the album and enjoy more from it when they get around to updating their equipment.  It’s closer to going from mono to stereo than from record to CD.

I have a backlog of various enhanced CDs, but the main instigator of my change is Bad Day on the Midway from The Residents, which is a computer-only disc.  I could tell just from the description on the box that it would take a lot more time to absorb than their previous efforts, so having my own computer was the only reasonable solution.  With my son’s guidance, I now have a Macintosh Performa currently dedicated to enhanced music presentations.

Bad Day is the logical culmination of the group’s earlier CD-ROM titles.  Mechanics-wise it has the open exploration of Freak Show paired with the individual character control of Gingerbread Man.  The carnival setting of the former returns, but the latter’s “setting” of being inside the character’s mind is also retained.  In Freak Show you acted as an outside observer who uncovered the secrets and motivations of others; in Gingerbread Man you became another character for the duration of the song.  Here you control a single character at a time, with the others acting on their own, but you can switch perspectives within a single play.  You uncover secrets from the other characters as well as the one you are currently controlling.

The role of music is also midway between the previous two games.  This is not a strict “play the album while watching interactive videos” experience, nor is it “wander around and occasionally find some music.”  Their recent television soundtrack work has paid dividends here – all of the characters have a theme which plays in their respective areas and also becomes the default music when you enter their point of view.  And the visuals are simply amazing.  Everything is rendered in such off-putting detail, and the use of Clutch Cargo-inspired animation lends a real creepiness to the proceedings.  The leaps of quality are staggering, and I can only imagine how excited the creators are when they think about future possibilities with the format.

I had praised the open-ended nature of their earlier titles, and at first the fact that Bad Day on the Midway has winning and losing scenarios made me lament that The Residents had given in to pressure from traditionalists.  But after playing through it the last few weekends, and even winning a handful of times, I find that this game upsets the idea of what winning means.  Winning in Bad Day is not saving the day or finding a hidden treasure.  Winning in this game is simply not dying – just get through another day and live to see the next.  It’s a lot like life: every day we are winners, sometimes bad things happen, and we feel as if we’ve lost, but we survived and gained experience and perhaps a bit of wisdom.

Knowing The Residents, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a winning scenario that involves your character dying.  Perhaps if there’s a way to kill Timmy that would be considered a win, as he wouldn’t have to grow up to lose his innocence and childlike wonder with everything he encounters.  When playing as Timmy, his thoughts are often nonsensical or even outright stupid, but he is excited about everything and is jaded about nothing, and I envy that.  While I’m happy with my knowledge and experience, there are times I wish I could simply see the wonder of the world again – if even just for a single, good day.

Watch My TV All Alone (Hunters)

Thompson?My wife loves wildlife documentaries.  PBS and The Discovery Channel have been an absolute godsend to her.  I, on the other hand, fail to understand the appeal.  The daily life of a lion on the Serengeti can be very interesting.  And it is… the first time you see it.  But they keep returning to the same subjects time and again, retreading material that David Attenborough covered splendidly years ago.  I don’t pay close attention to these shows but I’ve seen enough that I could probably teach a class on the mating habits of salmon without much trouble.

But it’s what she loves, and I would not dream of interfering with her enjoyment.  If I did, I’d essentially be begging her to make disparaging remarks about the music I enjoy.  Marriage is a kind of cold war that nonetheless keeps you warm at night.  So it is not uncommon for her to watch the television by herself while I retreat to the den to listen to music.  Not often, but occasionally, she’ll come in during a commercial break to let me know the show she’s watching has something new to offer.  And I’m glad of it, because I do enjoy new things.

And so it was a few weeks ago, while I was meditating on the latest Swans release, that Carol came into the den to tell me the show she was watching had “some pretty weird music” that I’d probably like.  The show is called Hunters, and the soundtrack turned out to be performed by The Residents, a San Francisco-based performance group she has begrudgingly learned to cope with over our years together.  They occupy a strange space in my mind, in that if someone were to tell me their music was featured on television every week I wouldn’t believe it, but if I was specifically told it was in a Discovery Channel documentary series, I’d somehow not find that surprising.  Odd, yes, but not outside the realm of possibility.

The Residents attempted soundtrack work in the past with mixed results, but this time it seems they’ve gotten it absolutely right.  The music is subtle enough to fall into the background, but retains enough hallmarks of their particular sound that it rewards the attentive listener.  It doesn’t sound like The Residents, yet remains unmistakably Residential.  I find the narrator distracting though – it seems every time I get to really concentrate on the music, he bumbles in to remind me that bears are dangerous.  I can’t fault him on that though, because the show wouldn’t work without the voiceover.  And perhaps the music doesn’t hold up on its own, and the interruptions actually help it.  But it’s frustrating at times.

Apart from the music, the show isn’t that great.  It has a different theme each week, but even then the subject is too wide to cover in an hour.  It acts more like a primer or broad overview.  This is most apparent when something truly interesting comes up.  In one episode about underwater creatures, it began focusing on sponges.  Sponges are quite bizarre and could hold my attention for an hour.  But a minute later the focus shifted to sea anemones – something else I could watch for a full episode.  Then the focus changed again, and again.  Just a taste, then move on to the next subject.  Which is not unlike The Residents.  They follow one path for a while, then hop onto another when their interest wanes.

So Carol and I found ourselves watching a television show together, but for different reasons.  It didn’t make me appreciate nature shows any more, and it didn’t endear her to The Residents, but that’s not important.  We’re together because we love each other, and we respect and embrace our differences.  But for a little while we got to mutually pretending the other was “finally getting it.”  A little fantasy now and then serves the soul, and it was nice to have this shared fantasy inspired by the same event.