“Silence! Allegro, allegro! Da, da, da, da, da, da, presto! Presto! No! NO!” -Sander Cohen
Fans of BioShock are all too familiar with Sander Cohen. The madman behind the blood stained curtains of Fort Frolic. Cohen is an artist and his canvas is the fleshy substance known as humanity. At this point you are probably wondering why Sander Cohen is making an appearance in an article claiming to be about the effective use of music in gaming. Sander embodies the very finest integration of music and the gaming experience. Allow me a brief moment to convince you.
In the BioShock world Sander is the music man and the developers gave this character more depth than you might ever really know. As you are introduced to the character Sander Cohen you find yourself presented with a theatrical madman. In fact, you are almost immediately exposed to him hog tying a poor tortured artistic soul to a dynamic piano performance. Quite literally you see, Sander has plastered the dear boy Kyle Fitzpatrick to the bench of a piano filled with dynamite and insists that he play the piece titled “Cohen’s Scherzo #7” and dubbed Cohen’s masterpiece. When Fitzpatrick fails to perform the piece to the specifications of his mentor he erupts in a concussive concerto and exits the stage via angelic wings. Rest in pieces my dear Fitzpatrick.
Making the Music and the Story Connect
While certainly an interesting demonstration of madness one doesn’t quite realize the depth to this scene until they study the composition of ‘Cohen’s Scherzo #7’. I have taken the liberty of plotting the music notes for this piece on sheet music.
Beautiful, Brilliant, Fantastic! There are no words to describe the exquisite composition of this piece! You disagree? Look closer! The piece is actually composed by Garry Schyman and it artfully demonstrates how a good game can be made great with a little musical theatricality. For those of you who aren’t musically inclined the difficulty of the piece might totally elude you. You see, Garry Schyman has composed musical torture for those unfortunate individuals who wish to learn to perform his piece. The flow of the piece is interrupted by a distinct lack of rhythm, chord progression or melody. It is a monumental task to endure through the intricate nonsensical and mysteriously beautiful torture presented by a performance of ‘Cohen’s Scherzo #7’.
Are There Cost Effective Alternative?
Perhaps the developers could have spared the time and money of new composition and had the unfortunate Fitzpatrick perform a rendition of ‘Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata’ but a considerable dimension would have been robbed of this delightful interaction with a lyrical madman. Because the piece performed was designed as physical & mental torture for a pianist it made the whole scene a delightful expression of a game where music becomes as much a part of the experience as the plot or mechanics.
This one piece turned an entire character into a myriad of dimensions that could be explored by players long after their encounter with him and that is why music should be artfully chosen to enhance the gaming experience. Looping background music that lacks soul or meaning will no longer suffice in this domain of the flourishing gaming experiences.