/ Leigh Alexander / 6 am Fri, Sep 18 2015
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  • Panoramical will change the way you conceive of sound

    Panoramical will change the way you conceive of sound

    More than a "music visualizer", the widely-anticipated new project by David Kanaga and Fernando Ramallo is practically synesthetic, treating sound as a place to explore and customize

    The world is dark save for a faint horizon. You can hear a low, sonorous hum, a wavelength of music lying low, waiting to be born. You gently nudge one single node, and thin spines of light twinkle into being along a rolling hill. With them, color enters the sound you hear; you touch another node, and the suggestions of alien clouds sprout in your sky, bringing with them a low and laughing bass impression. Turn the sparkle up, and the thin spines along the landscape sprout into something like flowers.

    To call Panoramical a "music visualizer" would be doing it a disservice. The widely-anticipated new project by David Kanaga and Fernando Ramallo is practically synesthetic, treating sound as a place to explore and customize. Each portal you enter is a different sonic landscape, and you have nine components under your fine control. One might weave a choral hum through your world of bright lights and ticking beats—will it be full-throated or thin, soft or loud?

    As you decide on the hue of the tone, visual elements melt and evolve before your eyes; you are traveling through the song you are weaving, or you are painting a picture using complex and beautiful noises. The visuals offer just enough familiar hooks that you always feel essentially like you are looking at a world, a place. There is the suggestion of a storm over the ocean, clouds trumpeting and congesting together. Colored streamers in a garden, or perhaps they are little red fish playing over a pond. It is more than "making music" or "creating your own song", as you experiment with the intensity of different sonic elements. At times it defies description—I reach for words to try to describe the Panoramical "levels" I played, and there are none. Is "played" the right word, or did I "make" or "find" instead?

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    Musician David Kanaga's game projects generally prefer to defy description. He is perhaps best known for his work on the award-winning Proteus, a simple, sonic procedural adventuring space that produced something like outrage from video game formalists. That game is defined by its gentle defiance; afterward, Kanaga worked on Dyad, a sort of musical tunnel racer that I found as intense and terrifying as a bad trip. Dyad's famous final stage blurs into a shrieking convergence of speed and light, more music visualizer than "video game", and Panoramical, in many ways, picks up where it left off.

    Panoramical, too, will instill in you a healthy fear of sound. Sometimes its elements are too intense, overwhelming, dissonant, like the bite of an orange with a strong cheese alongside, and the visuals throb like the aura of a migraine. It feels as if you're always on the verge of tumbling into the center of a star, and in a sense there is a "challenge" there, to use your ear, to forge through those dark places.

    But then also comes the delight in being able to command a cream-colored blanket of lunar craters to lie over the sound of jangling nerves—it's all up to you. When you need a break, you can turn down every node but one, watch a single element sparkle mutely.

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    Although you can take snapshots of your audible lands, it seems there's no formal way to record your creations, which gives these "places" a wonderful, deeply-touching transience. You "enter" each through a pinhole of light on a sort of abstract radio dial, and when you're finished you withdraw— as you watch the world you created pull and retreat away from you, you are aware you will never visit that precise configuration again.

    Panoramical, which features levels by renowned collaborators like Baiyon, doesone, Jukio Kallio and others, is available on PC and Mac for a very modest and worthy $9.99. There is also an exclusive edition for DJs who want to use Panoramical's soundscapes and visuals in their performances, and a limited 18-dial controller has also been produced. For purchase and further information go here.

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