Aaron Oldenburg

Invisible Landscaping


An attempt at spatial composition, Invisible Landscaping (2011) is game that allows the player to garden an audio terrain, trimming down larger, identifiable ambient sound and water and growing small, abstract, subterranean sounds. By distinguishing sounds within noise, the player is able to create a new soundscape. It is partly inspired by John Cage's dichotomy of large and small sounds, and his methods for searching for them:

"small sounds were to be detected through a supple direction of attention and more often using technological means, whereas loud sounds were to be found through a peripatetic trek that would place him in the vicinity of a loud sound. Small sounds were absolutely everywhere; loud sounds dwelled in certain locations and drew Cage himself in their direction, as if by gravitational pull of their mass" (Kahn, Noise, Water, Meat).

Video games, whether two- or three-dimensional, are largely spatial in their interactions. In an article in the new media art magazine neural, Matteo Marangoni states, “Sound installations frequently dispense with linear musical time by means of spatial arrangements. In the work ‘another soundscape’ by Chung-Kun Wang, linear time is reintroduced and represented spatially following the model of western musical notation” (2010). The interactive triggering of diagetic sounds in games, in combination with ambient sounds that are outside the player’s control, can work together to form a spatially composed music or sound art piece.

Using game mechanics to expressively proceduralize experiences such as sound and using sound to break apart the visual-centric space of games opens up the potential to create new expressive forms of gameplay. Game design also gives artists who work with sound or experimental music the ability to focus their creative decisions on creating spaces and rules for sound to emerge, incorporating surprise and the player and audience's external environment in compositions that reinvent themselves whenever they are performed. Audio experimentation in game design can influence in both directions: sound art composition through gameplay and game world space expanded through the influence of sound properties, as well as our relationship with sound inspiring a game mechanic which in turn encourages us to examine the ways in which we engage with audio.

There are many aspects of game environments and narrative that are represented for the player and have never been proceduralized. It is worthwhile to explore how to make each element of a game resonant in the manner unique to games, through their mechanics. Much as visual artists are encouraged to look at the world, to observe it in unfamiliar ways, upside down, focusing on light and color contrasts rather than distinct objects, game designers should focus on a heightened awareness of their moment-to-moment actions and the ways in which they engage with their environments. It is here that there is a wealth of not only novel game mechanics, but mechanics that could resonate on a deeper level with players.

(excerpted from this article http://gamestudies.org/1301/articles/oldenburg_sonic_mechanics)


Aaron Oldenburg is a game designer and new media artist whose primary interest is in game rules as an expressive medium. His video and interactive work has exhibited in festivals and galleries in New York, Berlin, São Paulo and Los Angeles, including SIGGRAPH and FILE Electronic Language International Festival. He teaches game design as an Associate Professor in University of Baltimore's Simulation and Digital Entertainment program and has an MFA from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. In October 2003 he finished two years as an HIV Health Extension Agent for the Peace Corps in Mali, West Africa.