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Virtual Direction

Mike Lawson • September 2008 • September 17, 2008

For years, video games have been the virtual enemy of many a teacher and parent as they draw students into a virtual world of action figures, war games, mazes, and other surreal environments. The time spent playing these games has taken far too much time away from homework and, of course, practicing their instrument (as well as other human interactions). As game consoles and technology have advanced, however, there have been developments that are on the verge of reversing this trend, particularly in the music world. The first large-scale game on the market that offered some musical relationships to playing an instrument was Guitar Hero, and not far behind was Rock Band, which pulled together a virtual ensemble of players who need to work together in order to win the game. However, this left a void in the area of classical music. In the near future, Nintendo will be releasing (or may have by the time of the publication of this magazine) a game that will, according to the company, “Command an orchestra in the conducting game where you’ll wave the Wii Remote controller like a conductor’s baton to lead a Wii orchestra through orchestrated music. Make them play quickly, slowly, strongly or gently.” Although early demonstrations of this game show that it is far from being a simulation of a realistic conducting experience, its most pragmatic aspect appears to be the requirement that the player maintains an accurate tempo in order to replicate a musical performance.

The basic game appears to be simplistic and doesn’t require technical aspects of correct conducting movements. However, a Web site, www.fauxharmonic.com, run by Paul Henry Smith, takes the Nintendo Wii controller to the next level by connecting it to a midi controller and tests of the abilities of the system while conducting Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. You can see his demonstration on YouTube under “Digital Orchestra Test with Wii Baton.” He indicates that “the results are promising, but I can easily see that this approach will have limitations as the music gets more complex. For example, when first violins need to be emphasized and then second violins immediately following them, how will the controller ‘know’ which instrument group to modify? We’ll probably have to pair multiple controllers (perhaps Wii-motes) with multiple musicians and computers.”

Technology has helped to improve many areas of musical training and performance, including composition, recording, accompaniment, ear training, tuning, rhythm, and too many others to list here. Although conducting is an area that will take time before the software and human interface are up to the level where it will benefit training, it is not difficult to imagine there will be a time in the near future when this will be part of the standard educational repertoire.

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