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'Plink' Connects Us Through Music

So, I tried Plink the other day.

Plink is a free online multiplayer game that lets you make music in real time with other people. Pressing the “Start” button puts the player into an environment with two or three other players-- strangers-- and a four-on-the- floor bass drum pattern. All one does is cooperate with the others to make music.

It’s really simple, players only get a few options. They can choose between a few instruments to play and the notes are arranged in a grid based on the pentatonic scale, meaning any note automatically sounds good with any other note. The rhythm is simple, too: only four possible divisions of each beat. Holding down the mouse button on the grid sounds the notes in real time.

I’m not saying Plink is a serious musical instrument. Games tend to sound the same and there is no expressive subtlety at all. Nor is it a typical gaming experience. There are no points, no levels, no winners or losers.

But in a small way, Plink counters the passive and isolated way we normally listen to music in the digital age. It put me inside the music, interacting. It was fun seeing if I could match what the others were doing. Everybody tended to mash down their buttons-- I tried to get the others to play more minimally with a groove. We were able to cooperate and communicate with each other only by using musical gestures, which seems to be the whole point.

Mark Foley is principal double bass of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and professor of double bass and head of Jazz Studies at Wichita State University.