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Adam Parrish

Frotzophone

An interface for the live sonification of interactive fiction: the topography simulated in the game, and the player's path through it

http://itp.nyu.edu/~ap1607/frotzophone/

Classes
Algorithmic Composition,New Interfaces for Musical Expression,Widespread Content: Mapping Narratives


Maps, games, music: what do they have in common?

Interactive fiction has its roots in maps: Will Crowther's original Adventure was a faithful simulation of an actual cave in the Colossal Cave system. Some say that the entire genre consists of "interactive maps," and mapping as a process often serves as the foundation for both designing and playing interactive fiction.

The Frotzophone hijacks a Z-Machine interpreter (a virtual machine originally designed in the 1980s for running interactive fiction on many platforms, and still used today) and extracts information relating to the map that the game is simulating. This information, along with a record of the player's movement through the map, is used to generate music. The music follows the underlying structure of the game, revealed gradually as the player progresses through it; the branching, recursive, rhizomatic structure of the game is recapitulated in the generated sound.

Among the goals of the Frotzophone is to explore the dual meanings of the words "play" and "map." Is "playing" an instrument the same as "playing" a game? What happens when the act of playing the game is the same act as playing the instrument? Is the "mapping" of interface to action the same as the "mapping" of a virtual space? What happens when the map of the space itself serves as the basis of the interface mapping?

Background
A History of Zork
Somewhere Nearby Is Colossal Cave
A Geneology of Virtual Worlds
Quake III Heat Maps

A lot of valuable background information was provided by Nick Monfort's Twisty Little Passages.

Audience
I'm hoping to create a sound that has broad appeal, so the first target audience is people who listen to music. The piece should be of particular interest to people interested in algorithmic composition techniques, retrocomputing, and interactive fiction.

User Scenario
The Frotzophone is intended to be an instrument used in performance. Attendees of the Winter Show will be able to sit down with the program and play for as long as they'd like.

Implementation
The project exists entirely in software: a hacked version of the popular Z-Machine interpreter Frotz sends OSC packets to ChucK, which in turn generates sound. I've also written a Processing applet to visualize the inner workings of the instrument (both as an aid to the performer and the audience).