I am a damp rag of exposed flesh, my limbs ill-defined blobs drifting in some undetermined direction as I float through space – wet steak in a wormhole. But then there’s a parade of translucent boxes against this surrealist-nightmare distorted planet, and a triumphant series of chime rings out. A clear pattern is articulated from the murk, a rhythm emerging from the disarray.
No, no – hold on, don’t stop reading, I’m fine. I am actually describing to the best of my ability the experience of using one #$(&*ing insane browser music toy created by our friend Sam Rolfes.
It’s online. It’s at Adult Swim (those kids are giving us a lot of presents these days).
It’s … really weird. (It takes a lot for me to say that.)
And yeah, I know you’ve seen this “fly through the step sequencer” model and drum machines in browser before. Not like this you haven’t. Let me quoth the online help:
“Darkness engulfs you as you lose consciousness and the surrounding world begins to fade…”
Yeah, I knew I was staring at that new track a bit too long.
The actual beat mechanism is pretty conventional: you get a beat grid floating in 3D space. It’s the ragdoll physics that start to add some twist (literally), because you have to fling this limp body into the blocks to make sound. And what elevates this to being a beautiful immersive experience is Sam Rolfes’ design – the trippy neo-Dalí meatscape combined with clever sounds and retro cyber aesthetics make for an experience that bring me back to the days when we popped Voyager CD-ROMs into computers. (Just dated myself as a kid of the multimedia 90s. We’re still catching up to those heady days.) It’s an escapist treat.
Lars Berg added development chops and co-designed the game. Kudos, sir.
Sam tells me:
Basically it’s a drum machine sequencer that I took that and expanded into 3D, played by flinging around fleshy ragdolls around the environment, flying and smacking into sample cubes that play the various sounds when they hit! The XYZ coordinates of the ragdoll collision change the pitch of the sound as well. Part novel instrument, part art project I suppose.
There’s three different environments which each have their own character and set of beat-making sounds, and the URL changes based on the rhythms you click in so people can just share their beat by pasting the URL in.
https://github.com/Tonejs/Tone.js for sound.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three.js for 3D graphics using WebGL.
Part of the joy of developing things is seeing what other people do with them. Sam notes that you can copy and paste rhythms just by sending people URLs. And he picked three favorites so far (you’ll spot the details right there in the URL):
One made by Nick Weiss of Teengirl Fantasy:
We have some beautiful artwork from Sam here, too:
Have a go: