February 9, 2006

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Electroplankton
Nintendo DS
Nintendo

Uhhh ... I don’t get it. OK, well, I kinda get it. You poke the screen and stuff moves and music is made. And it’s pretty. But why?

Such may run the thoughts of DS owners who have “played” (is that even an appropriate term for this “game”) Electroplankton, which is ...
(A) ... a collection of mini-games?
(B) ... a work of multimedia art by Japan’s Toshio Iwai
(C) ... a musical instrument
(D) ... all of the above
I suppose the answer is D.

Electroplankton presents the user with ten planktons to choose from. Each is a unique visual interface for creating, modifying and sequencing different musical clips, beats or rhythms. While that may sound like a simple artsy interface for ProTools it’s far far stranger.

First, while one does generate music with Electroplankton it is by no means a free roaming affair. The snippets of sound and rhythm loops are predetemined and alterable only within a defined range of tones, pitches and speeds. Secondly (and most sadly) there is no way to save, record or advance through the “game.” You can only experience the act of creating a sound array. Which, I would suppose, is a purposful omission on the part of the artist to reinforce the immediacy of artistic interface. Oh. Sorry, my Media Art/Philosophy degree slipped out for a sec.

Stranger still (as if the very operation of this delightfully odd experiment could become weirder) is Audience mode, which takes the “game” away from you and begins randomly creating sound/music through the various planktons.

As you might guess this can get a tad boring. Especially on some of the more limited planktons (there is one in which all you can do is activate a half dozen sustained tones) but I doubt that long-term entertainment is really the point here. So, if it’s not a game, and it’s not a proper music program how can you judge it? Are any of us ready to experience games as works of art (and I do not mean exceptional games,iconoclastic games or artisticly influenced games)? As more than fine entertainment but as a purely artistic expression of the form and phenomena of being a game? Probably not, and Electroplankton probably isn’t the Duchamp, Warhol, or Rothko of it’s media. Still, it’s pretty freakin neat. B+

— Glenn Given

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