After weeks of anticipation in the midst of quarantine-fueled boredom, SoundSelf finally released today. SoundSelf pioneers the self-styled “technodelic” genre of games, and is the first to launch to a wide public audience. Technodelics harness the power of technology to create integrated experiences at the crossroads of psychedelics, meditation, song, dance, and music visualization. They are highly atypical “games”, as they do not have strategy or narrative, but for the most part they can be run on the same gaming platforms, virtual reality in particular. SoundSelf harnesses your microphone, speakers, and display to create a meditative tunnel of light and splendor that echoes your own ahs and oms into a session like you’ve never experienced before.
SoundSelf should receive praise for planting a tall flag in the technodelic turf. I must, say, however, that I was not blown away. I’ve been following technodelics for a year or two now and virtual reality for over a decade, so I’ve been itching to get my hands on those new experiences that I know are possible. What I want is to close the sensorimotor loop of my head, larynx, shoulders, knees, and toes on the one hand and my visual and auditory fields on the other. I want rich feedback between playful fluctuations of voice or step and color, flicker, timbre, beat, and fractals. I want to sing my way through the Mandelbrot Set and dance a virtual sun over a scintillating Dalí horizon. What I want is clearly much more than I could ever have expected SoundSelf to deliver today, but I was hoping for maybe 10% of it.
SoundSelf is essentially a meditation enhancer. Many of the features and constraints (like the smooth-spoken tutorial every time you launch it that you can’t turn off and the 3D perspective that resets whenever you move your head too far) are clearly built in to accommodate that one use-case. There is only one tunnel you can go through. You can’t modulate or change the gain on how your voice affects the visuals. You can barely tell what your voice is doing to the visuals unless you run careful and flow-destroying experiments lasting minutes at a time (I want to hum “ee” instead of “oo” and see something change—I’m not sure what, maybe a triangle turn colors—before I take my next breath). You can’t change the echo interval. You can’t change the music. If what you want is to lie back and be somewhat passively and mindlessly entertained, SoundSelf will work for you, but what I wanted was a vocal technodelic: nimble and pulsating audiovisuals responding to my every formant, susurration, yodel, and yawn.
Do I recommend SoundSelf? I definitely recommend putting technodelics on your radar, and SoundSelf is currently the best way to do that, and there’s no way to know what they’re about without experiencing them yourself. The creators are eager and energetic, so I have faith that they will continue to expand the experience, but keep your expectations tempered, and take it for what it is: a first impression on the debut of an entirely new art form. Throw in a few dollars with a friend and try it out, it’s definitely worth the cost of a theater ticket.