Strings attached

(or, the harpbeat of the city: some notes on a game for igfest).

Look at the wires radiating from a telegraph pole: imagine what chord would be struck if they each sounded as an aeroplane flew behind them.

Two people are ends of a string: they agree on a sound and when something passes between them, they each make the sound. If the obstacle dwells between them for a while, the sound could be long. If it moves on rapidly, the sound might be short. Both ends of the string should make the same sound (though perhaps once players are adept they might be able to be the ends of several strings, having to keep watch on more than one connection: another game).

The string could move itself, being plucked by stationary objects as the two ends race past them (so a pair of players could pass either side of a series of lamposts or pillars, varying their speed to produce different rhythms), but I think a more rewarding experience would be given when the ends are stationary and something outside the players’ control plucks them: a boat, a convoy of buses, a crowd of people.

So that’s the basic mechanic: two people making a noise when the line between them is broken. What can you do with that?

I don’t think it would be practical to assume any confidence in pitching a note, or in musical theory, or even in singing in tune, at least to begin with. So perhaps the first game is just to stand in a line, each string choosing (or being given) notes of a recognisable tune, or even a scale, and the game co-ordinator walking along it at different speeds, to give everyone a chance to practice.

Once that’s lost its novelty, perhaps the game is for a group of strings to arrange themselves in a way that means a third party plays them: watching for someone walking purposefully across the square and taking up appropriate positions in time for the song to be heard. This isn’t a winning game: the satisfaction comes from having created something together, in having used the constraints of the game (sing this note, don’t voice until something external plays you) to produce a melody.

That’s one game on its own: perhaps there’s an igfest theme, a tiny music of five notes (think windows startup or the Close Encounters motif) that people can perform, listening to each other as they look for a walking plectrum in the crowd.

If we’re assuming no particular musical talent, though, for us to be able to use different notes reliably we need a cue, some kind of pitch-pipe. Perhaps one on people’s phones? Could be an mp3 on phones, could be an app generating tones.

Once they know what note to sing people can do chords! If you find people with tshirts/markers that match yours, you can get together and sing your notes only to discover that together you are Jazz and do-wop all rolled into one amazing creative ball.

There’s another possiblity: planning a sound, if the urban activity near you is regular enough. Take an afternoon to decide on your sound, then place your strings so that when people move they play you: turns a singing/performative game into one with some strategy and planning.

It’s late: time for bed. Sure there’s something in here to uncover.

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