Tom Ellard on "Hauntology House," His Pioneering Online Musical Toy

Tom Ellard on "Hauntology House," His Pioneering Online Musical Toy
Hauntology House
(Tom Ellard)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to immerse yourself in a purely abstract environment where vision and sound act together as music? Australian musician Tom Ellard did – and went to extraordinary lengths to bring his vision to reality in the form of “Hauntology House,” an incredible pioneering online toy developed for Australia’s Adelaide Festival in association with ABC Arts.

Created by Tom Ellard, a pioneering sound artist who is best known for his role as front man and creative leader of seminal Australian electronic group Severed Heads, “Hauntology House” or just [HH] is a musical toy for your computer – and so much more. “The indie game scene is starting to compare their work to music albums. As a musician I'm coming back the other way - I always wanted to make a music album which you could play like a game,” says Ellard on the ABC Arts website.

At its essence, HH is an album where you walk around inside and operate some of the music yourself. You won't die, or kill, or get stuck solving puzzles. But there is a goal, and the first step is learning about the game world.

“HH is really just a musical toy,” Ellard explains.  It's for people to listen to an album by walking inside it. Here, music is the living space rather than the walls, and in that space lives a collection of machines, animals and tunnels – the ghosts of my musical ideals.”

To enter the three-dimensional interactive abstract environment is to accept an invitation from Tom Ellard to tourist around in his head in this exhibition of a music album. One moment you might find yourself reassembling old tape machines while the next could involve a face to face experience with manic rabbits. Sounds interesting? Then head to the ABC website and start playing the game here

To find out more about “Hauntology House,” ARTINFO AUSTRALIA got in touch with Tom Ellard and asked him a few questions. This is what he had to say.

What led to the development of Hauntology House?

HH is a music album, and the identity of “the album” is under constant revision. I wanted to make something like this in the late 1990's but there have been too many technical and life hurdles for a self funded musician. When approached by the Adelaide Festival for 2103 it became the 'put up or shut up' moment that I needed to start. The technology had evolved, the game design scene has blossomed and there was a place for it. Making the game took just over a year part time.

Describe the concept behind the "toy"

In game design “a game” is a very specific form. There is a hero, antagonists, and a struggle to achieve a goal. It's the most pure manifestation of the Campbell monomyth. I've never been very interested in conflict. I like to explore landscapes at my own pace, and so I have made what is technically “a toy” that can be picked up and played without any hard goal in mind.

What do you hope people will experience when interacting with Hauntology House?

People that play HH have quite a few options. They can be a tourist and wander around an exotic place. They may try to piece together a narrative about the maker of the world and her dealings with “the princess.” They can treat it as an eccentric musical instrument. Being a toy it lends itself to all these things. “The princess” is a reference to the mysterious things that can be found in games in general, and if the player has not encountered this world it can provide some fascination. Some people might even like my Easter in-jokes.

How did you successfully combine visual and musical elements?

I am not sure that any part of HH is or will be successful. It's idiosyncratic unless there's an obvious usability issue, and even then there are all kinds of elements that make no sense. Like any music album it alludes to much but explains very little. Quite honestly I made it to please myself, and if others like it then that's a bonus. The player will hear music and make music based on devices that are available in the game space. The main intention is play – so it’s a toy not a game.