Games

The Size and Wisdom of 'Myst'

Myst is a much smaller world than it was 21 years ago.

Myst is a lot smaller than I remember. Recently I went back and played the Cyan Worlds classic from 1993 and couldn't help but notice that simple fact. I originally played it in 1993. My dad had just gotten a new CD-ROM drive for his self-built PC and Myst apparently came with all PC CD-ROM drives back then. For all intents and purposes, it was the first video game that we played together, and it took us months to get through.

I played it to completion the other day in an afternoon. Maybe it's that I'm older or more experienced with adventure games. Maybe it had something to do with how I remembered how the world of Myst worked. In any case, the essential fact remains that Myst was a much smaller world than it was 21 years ago.

For those who don't know, Myst was essentially a large stack of HyperCards with images of the in game world, connected in such a way to preserve the illusion of an interconnected space. Clicking on different parts of the screen would move you around the island, either moving towards something in front of you or turning to either side. The island of Myst itself is a strange place that looks like a Salvador Dali painting. A sunken ship is at the docks, two unconnected massive gears lay in one corner, and a mini planetarium with a dentist chair in the middle sits next to a half burnt library that contains magical paintings that open and close doors. A moving tree controlled by steam power, a music controlled rocket ship, and other such oddities litter the isle of Myst.

But most important are the books. Yes, the are books of the sort that you might find anywhere in our world on the shelves in the library. Most have been burnt, but there are a handful of diaries that contain some of the backstory to this now abandoned place. But there are two other books in the library -- a red book and a blue book. Opening them, one finds a small window to another place. Someone is trying to speak to you from the other side, but there is more static than there is a clear picture. You mange to make out that there are pages missing and that is the cause of the lack of coherence. The two brothers that are the authors of these "texts" tell you to find the missing pages, and at that point, you begin to understand your quest.

Solving the puzzles around the island will eventually reveal other linking books. Unlike the prison of the red and blue books, these are doorways to other islands called Ages. In these ages are the missing pages but also the story of the two brothers. There are scraps of letters and the occasional video recording, but mostly the story is told through the artifacts left in each brothers' rooms that reveal their character. All of the ages are abandoned too. They weren't before as the diaries in the library tell us. Solve the puzzles of each Age, and you will find the book that will return you to Myst. Hopefully with the pages in tow.

While my memory of Myst largely matches up to the geography that actually exists in game, I was very surprised by the reality of the four Ages. My dad and I had to draw elaborate maps to keep track of where everything was. The Channelwood Age consists almost entirely of paths made of wooden plants set on pontoons and water powered elevators that lead to a network of tree houses. My dad and I had to draw a map so we wouldn't get turned around. All that wandering made it feel like the treetop village was an expansive complex network. On replaying the game, I discovered the reality was much different. The world was not endless, nor was it so complex. I didn't need any map to navigate. I did not get lost, nor lose track of the valve switches that were a part of that Channelwood's puzzle.

The Stoneship Age was a single rocky outcropping with a light house and sunken ship attached to it. While there are two long underground corridors, they are straight lines. The Mechanical Age has a rotating center isle that can move its platform to several surrounding isles, but they are tiny and contain only a single clue to return to Myst. And while Selenitic is jagged and requires a lot of turning about, it too is essentially a single straight line around the lip of a large crater. The physical parameters of the world don't match up with the expansiveness that the world impressed upon me in my youth.

Nothing is explained in Myst. There is a piece of paper laying on the ground that gives you your first hint of what to do, which then leads you to a hidden chamber with a voice message from the master of the isle. It establishes the premise of the quest and the brothers spur you on (their deviousness rather obvious), but no part of the world is explicitly explained. There is no character talking to themselves, giving subtle hints as to the next course of action. There are no items to pick up other than the pages. Everything is based on the physicality of the world. There are clues as to what needs to be done, but they are clues based on drawing inferences.

You see the image of several random items and animals on plaques. Clicking on the lights illuminates the plaques. It isn't until you find the star chart that you realize that these images correspond to constellations. But which constellations do you need to choose? There is a planetarium right next to the library. Maybe those dates and times that you found hidden in the search tower has something to do with it?

We knew none of this in our first playthrough of the game over two decades ago. We worked through it bit by agonizing bit. We wandered back and forth all over the islands trying to connect the subtle hints and note repetitions. We became very familiar with the lands and yet at the same time all our wanderings were imbued with a sense of mystery and the sense that there was always something that we were missing. Some part of the world that was inaccessible.

Coming back to Myst, I know the logic and through line of the puzzles. I may not remember the specifics, but I know that A connects with B that will lead to C. There is no mystery on that end. All I'm doing is plugging in the data and going through the motions to open the gateways to the various Ages.

What was also surprising to me was how small scale of the story of Myst actually was. It's the story of two greedy, power hungry sons wanting what is not theirs and abusing the powers of the linking books to rule over the various Ages. Their father does not notice their behavior as he is too busy with his work. In the end, the brothers are imprisoned by their greed. The father locked away on an island with a return book missing a single page. Myst, it turns out, is a sanctuary land. Created by Atrus separate himself from the troubles of the larger world. It is essentially the family's home. His children wanted the special something that was in their father's safe not knowing what it was. Atrus mentions at the end that there is a greater conflict that he has been preparing for and that this was major set back for his work. But that is a story for other games. Myst is all about fixing a book so wrongs can be righted.

If books are our culture's representation of knowledge, then they are the tools used to enact the power that knowledge brings in Myst. Bring the pages to unwise men, as the brothers are that imprisoned in either the red or blue books, and you will become trapped, a victim of their treachery and an unwise person yourself. Give the right page to the father, and the world will right itself. The right knowledge in the hands of the right person can fix a problem. Myst is a game of proving oneself in this regard, of having all the logic and wisdom to both recognize clues and apply them across the Ages to prepare you for the understanding that the correct path is the third one.

Everything had been given to the brothers, and all it did was make them want more. Atrus had to work at the Art to create the books and respects power much more than they do. You are some random person that fell through a crack in the Earth to find a book at the bottom leading to a strange looking island. Had you been given all the pages up front, you could not help but make an unwise choice. Wisdom and knowledge have to be earned in Myst.

Gaining something from the world makes it seem that much bigger. Learning something opens a person's eyes to the possibilities and reality of a larger world. It affects the memory of the place where the thing was learned. The memory changes to match the size of the revelations brought about by the earning of wisdom. In the 20 plus years since I had last played Myst, my mind is a more developed and grander place than it was. Myst itself had nothing new to show me. I was merely retreading old ground even if the specifics escaped me. I didn't need to remember what the dates and times were for the planetarium, merely that I needed them so I could find the constellations to choose the plaques to raise the ship. When you understand everything about a fully scripted world, it can only seem so much smaller in looking back on it.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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