Jazz, with its preference for improvisation and syncopation, is an exploratory type of music. Other types of the art—usually the most popular—are often structured with near-identical bones: verse, chorus, verse, perhaps a bridge, and then on and on. I’m sure most of us have felt the tension and elation of expecting a chorus and then belting it out when it arrives right on cue. There’s a form of universal pleasure in that type of musical structure.
But a lot of jazz goes out of its way to eschew this repetition, instead demanding your utmost cerebral attention with the almost frenzied changes in its density. It’s an established feature of jazz that the performers might want to play with new tones mid-song, or break out in impassioned tangents as if courting their instrument. There are those out there that will tell you that it all comes from the soul—that, and years spent feeling out rhythms with an experimental ear.
The auditory concentration required to absorb each micro-song, as it were, is why jazz listeners sometimes close their eyes; blocking out a sense to enhance another. It’s this abstinence that Nate Gallardo and Danny Gallagher’s interactive interlude, Prowl, reflects as it forces you to sit motionless in the back seat of a car.
First off, you’ll notice that it is night. This is due to the darkness being so dominant that it is as if light has yet to be invented. Beyond that, your attention will be drawn to the picture that rolls past your window, as it is faintly illuminated, and the rapid motion of the hissing rain—which falls by the sheet—is immediately distracting. Out there, you’ll see lamp posts and houses with staircases leading to their doors, or so it seems.
If you look out the window for anything more than 10 seconds you should realize that these houses are endless and ever repeating. You’re trapped in a single moment, it replaying perpetually, inviting an interrogation of each of its components—it’s like a looping puzzle waiting for you to slot in the last piece. What this repetition does is provide the reliable backing rhythm that a bass player and a drummer would in a jazz orchestra, so that the brass and strings could weave a complex play over the top.
With that established, you can then turn your attention to the inside of the car, where you’re given a few more suggestive elements with which to construct the scene. There’s a light on the roof you can flick on. Doing so will confirm any suspicion you might have had that there is no visible driver. Either, this is a self-driving car (which do exist in our reality), or it’s a ghost. The latter seems more fitting of Prowl‘s tone.
There’s also a switch on the right-side passenger door that you can press to lower and raise the window. It’s achingly slow as the window hums to its operation, the sound of the rain adjusting in volume appropriately as the aperture is opened and sealed. Behind you the tail lights of the car drown your trail in a bright red as if lighting a stage. You’ll also find a small slot that slides down at the car’s center that might be an ash tray, or something similar. Lastly, a briefcase sits on the seat to your left, which can be opened and shut. It’s empty, but the contents might be guessed at based on the shape of the nest at its inner center.
All you can do is look around and press a couple of buttons. These interactions, and swiveling to catch different angles of the same scenery, soon loses appeal. This is when you learn to sit and listen. What you’ll hear is Duke Ellington’s moody jazz tune The Mooche playing on the car radio. Interestingly, the entire track has been slowed down so that the shrill down-scaling oboes become haunting in their wails and whimpers. Likewise, the growls of the plunger-muted trombone become chilling, bassy moans. It’s as if the music is being sung by a miserable ghost.
It seems to be the intention of Prowl‘s creators that you listen to this music to take in its eeriness. With this, you can then try to imagine the role you play in this repeating scene. You need to concentrate, as jazz demands, so as to write your part in this piece stimulated by the vague visual cues around you. It could be that you’re the master of a haunted mansion out for a midnight drive with your ghost butler. Or, maybe, you’re a mafia hitman looking for your target, the briefcase that hides your gun next to you in preparation (side-note: the videogame Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven also used The Mooche as its soundtrack).
It’s up to you as there’s no definite answer, only clues. The biggest of which is the jazz song as it evokes the most feeling, even in its slowed-down state. It becomes the soundtrack to your imagination, each of its sound sculptures housing a new line of thought, perhaps even guiding them with its musical whims. The result is a vignette that invites you to play a solo with the inventions of your mind, just as a pianist or trombonist would to the same rhythms. It’s all guided by feeling, by soul.
You can pay-what-you-want for Prowl on itch.io. It’s available for Windows, Mac, and Oculus Rift.