You couldn’t come to Berlin for Synthposium. But in this year of the virtual, you can explore electronic media from anywhere, without a plane ticket, at A MAZE. It’s relevant to the moment – and can be relevant to music and visual performance, too.

TOTAL DIGITAL is the theme for the “international game and playful media festival.” But A MAZE. has always been a special place for the radical, the underground, and the musical. It’s about as un-commercial and un-assuming as game events get. There are no stars, no flagship keynotes, no blockbuster game debuts – the hallmarks of even fairly indie- and developer-oriented festivals. And that sets apart A MAZE. even in a summer full of “virtual” game content.

(Pictured at top, below – Fermi Paradox. Artwork by Anjin Anhut.)

Anomaly Games’ Fermi Paradox.

Now, people in Berlin knew this already, even if Berlin is known far more for music than gaming. But the upside of the online aspect is that far more of that experience is now open to the world. And the world is better represented, too. There are multiple panels exploring decolonial practices (and a game design tackling the theme), Black representation in games, and African women (check the Prosearium!), tours of the up-and-coming scenes in Latin America and Asia – and a general feeling that this scene comes alive when it’s out of the shadow of the big corporate game entities. That’s not simply some “identity politics” savvy, either – it represents a world in which gaming is a medium that’s ubiquitous, and opens up to the broadening creativity that results.

I mean, for instance, you get Afrane Akwasi Bediako from Ghana, who is working on this – wow, I’m eager to check this out:

His works explore the idea of augmentation and extensions between technological gadgets and humans. He works with discarded electronic gadgets which he refers to as “amputees”. He refashions and repurposes these amputees into machines and micro-organisms he describes as “TRONS”. These TRONS, become potential platforms and media for reflection, engagement and interactions. His TRONS, stripped bare of their familiar housing become mechanical gizmos subsumed with the consciousness of previous owners of these gadgets and himself.

In other words, it’s gaming as more of a mirror to the changing possibilities in music. Game creation and music creation alike both now have a growing, more democratized population of creators. As each industry struggles with its troubled past, the underground scenes in each might have a lot to learn from each other. If you can even consider them separate scenes – which looking at the representation of music and sound in this lineup, maybe is a thing of the past.

Also, one of the sessions has this disclaimer attached: “Content warning: graphic cartoon depictions of violence, sex, sexual violence, self harm, mental illness, drug abuse.” So if you’re tired of Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley, here you go.

Actually, yeah – that game is Nightmare Temptation Academy. Motto: “Resist temptation while attempting sanity!” Seems to fit. Apropos:

Made before COVID-19, too.

And yeah, Lena NW is talking about her music.

Okay, so what’s on tap? Here are a few picks.

Friday (if there’s still room available), the multi-talented Moisés Horta Valenzuela AKA 𝔥𝔢𝔵𝔬𝔯𝔠𝔦𝔰𝔪𝔬𝔰 who appeared here recently has a workshop on just those topics – deep learning, music, and game engines:

AI and Deep Learning for Music and Sound creation for Video games

There’s Body Echoes, which has a beautiful take on how to embody dance in virtual reality, by Dutch artist Doron Hirsch:

Event Thursday

To this question of the relationship of games and music – particularly now – don’t miss the panel Saturday hosted by CTM Festival’s Oliver Baurhenn:

Video Game kills the Video Star.

Bogdan Vera of Media Molecule will talk about algorithmic music performance in their title Dreams – inspired, according to the description, by live coders:

Plus if you’re just looking for great stuff to play from PC to PS4, you’ll want to check the game awards.

There are some fascinating ideas – rich from a game and music standpoint.

Copy Machine is an interactive music album, involving a… well…

Blockchain Battle dives into cybersecurity.

Also, cooking. Not metaphorically – as in food.

You’ll also get the chance to be treated to new music created in virtual reality, via the innovative environment Patch.XR, thanks to an international selection of designers / artists / musicians who have been working all week. I know, as I’m the host and have been facilitating the online Patchathon. Tune in Saturday.

More on that environment, in development (and I’ll catch you up once we’re all done – but imagine a full-blown VR patching platform):

But out of this week, the one truly essential topic:

How to feel slightly less awkward in virtual and non-virtual spaces

Thanks to Fanni Szilvás and Rita Eperjesi for that one. I’ll settle for “slightly less.”

Check the full schedule. And if there’s good stuff archived, I’ll share.