I finally got around to reading the NYT Magazine cover story about The Beatles: Rock Band , and it's fascinating material. Daniel Radosh explores how the video game came to fruition, but also touches on how Harmonix is becoming a consequential player in the marketing of singles/albums and how the company hopes its newest product will help to establish "interactivity" as the next major development in pop music. The piece is far-ranging, informed, readable, and quite entertaining.
Here are several excerpts:
Playing music games requires an intense focus on the separate elements of a song, which leads to a greater intuitive knowledge of musical composition. “When you need to move your body in synchrony with the music in specific ways, it connects you with the music in a deeper way than when you are just listening to it,” Rigopulos went on to say. Paul McCartney said much the same thing when I spoke with him in June. “That’s what you want,” he told me. “You want people to get engaged.” McCartney sees the game as “a natural, modern extension” of what the Beatles did in the ’60s, only now people can feel as if “they possess or own the song, that they’ve been in it.”
So for all the painstaking work that went into, for example, making sure the pockets on the Beatles’ matching suits were properly placed, quite a few of the more complicated facets of the band’s career have been smoothed over to project what Martin calls a “fantasy version” of four lads who were always in harmony. You won’t see Eric Clapton playing on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” or Paul playing drums as he did on some of the White Album when Ringo went AWOL, or any of the band recording their parts separately as they did frequently during their troubled years. Not to mention that the virtual John does not wheel a bed into Studio Two for a virtual Yoko. In the hermetic, idealized world of The Beatles: Rock Band, the Apple rooftop performance isn’t an emotionally fraught grasp at a vanishing past; it’s just a gig — despite the unique opportunities a video game might present. (“Well, there is a death match,” Martin joked. “It’s the breakup. They push each other off the roof.”)
On the other hand, it’s possible the Beatles are simply too sacred an institution to be the catalyst for this new medium to reach its full potential. Rigopulos is right when he says there are no other artists with a broad-enough appeal and a rich-enough body of work to instantly expand the audience for interactive music. Yet precisely because of that, Harmonix had to “dial back” some of the interactive elements of its previous games, he acknowledges. Unlike in Rock Band, the Beatles game will afford players no opportunities to throw in quick drum fills or guitar flourishes of their own making. Harmonix’s earliest creations were about pure improvisation, and though these were unsuccessful, Rigopulos said he didn’t believe that meant interactive music games of the future would be as constrained as they are now. “There’s a spectrum between total freedom and total limitation. It hasn’t really been explored yet.” But if Rock Band took small steps into the future of more freedom, the Beatles version takes some big ones back.