ambient gaming and me, part 1
For the first half of my gaming life – as a kid and teenager – I never listened to music while I gamed. It just didn’t occur to me. There was time for gaming, which deserved my attention, and time for music, either focused or casual listening. When I went away to college and recruited some other music majors for an AD&D1e game, the music played at the suggestion of a group member. Prog rock, jazz fusion, heavy metal, classical; pretty much anything folks brought to the table and labeled “appropriate for D&D.”
Now, I’m amused to no end by reminiscences of our hobby’s old-timers about playing D&D in the ’70s, shrouded in pot smoke and listening to fantasy-rock like Rush or Uriah Heep. (I’d much rather see a ’70s-themed movie about that than disco, aimless partying, dumb tv-show remakes, or somesuch… Will Dragons in the Basement ever see the light of day?) As much as I would enjoy emulating that scene to a certain extent, I just can’t. Never mind the pot smoke, the music alone is just too distracting. Our group of college music-geek dungeoneers fell prey to that, because inevitably someone – anyone – would inevitably start focusing more on the music, which would lead into a discussion of said music and derail the game. As the DM, my frustrations mounted; after a few sessions of dealing with this, I turned off the stereo. No more music.
Shortly thereafter, my gamer-buddy James and I were in a record store, and I happened to espy a provocatively-titled CD in the used bin: Plight & Premonition, by David Sylvian and Holger Czukay. I had heard of Czukay, bassist and engineer for the cult German experimental rock group Can. Having no money but somehow convinced that I needed to hear this, I persuaded James to shell out the $2.99 for the album. We put it on in the car, and– whoaaa…. The dark, spooky, wavering drone, punctuated by rattles and ghostly minimalist piano… The epiphany dawned as the music conjured images of the PCs exploring the deadly tunnels and catacombs of Undermountain. The atmosphere dripped out of the stereo speakers like cold water off a stalactite, to pool in the cave floor of my brain. Ambient was the way forward.