Each playthrough of Ed Key and David Kanaga's Proteus (2013) presents players with a new, randomly generated island to explore. This unstructured exploration is accompanied by a procedurally generated ambient soundtrack that incorporates both harmonic textures and melodic motives, and abstract musical representations of environmental sounds. In the absence of clearly defined goals—except to progress through four distinct “seasons” of the game—the player's relationship to the soundtrack becomes a core gameplay element, and a playthrough of Proteus becomes, among other things, a kind of improvised performance art.

Viewed from this perspective, Proteus's combination of free exploration and chance strongly evokes ideas from mid-twentieth-century musical modernism, including the graphic scores of Cardew and Cage and the “mobile form” works of Stockhausen and Ligeti. Proteus further complicates analysis by concealing the mechanisms that produce particular musical fragments and by eliding the roles of listener and player/performer. This article examines the tensions inherent in the complementary actions of playing/performing Proteus and listening to/analyzing it, and argues that the game challenges the distinctions between creator, performer, and observer by vividly embodying the most deeply ingrained metaphors of music analysis.

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