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Auki: Do we use games to play music or music to play games?

Auki: Do we use games to play music or music to play games?


Auki is a new podcast exploring free improvisation, but unlike anything you've heard before.

In a world where musicians are increasingly concerned with questions peripheral to their art (how do I turn a profit from streaming? Should I try to get signed or go independent?), Auki brings the focus back to the essential creative impulse: to play. While the music industry shrinks, desire to create music remains as passionate as ever. Music as a product may continue to lose its value in the marketplace, but that gloom can be partly dispelled by a resurgence in the appreciation of music as a participatory activity. A parallel could be drawn with sports. Once required in the quest for survival, athletic activity is now a leisure pursuit of choice for millions with a thriving industry around it.

The Auki Podcast shifts emphasis from the product to the process. Our primary tool in this is ‘gamification’ - a method of applying game elements to musical improvisation. Inspired by forerunners like John Zorn, who invented his group compositional game Cobra in the 1980s, Auki sessions use fun rules, restrictions and elements of chance. By following and responding creatively to these, the musicians create something that is both spontaneous and coherent.

Gamification provides both a challenge and a framework. Its results are unexpected, but not inexplicable, and for that reason can be highly entertaining. Other art forms, notably theatre and comedy, have excelled in using improvisation this way, giving rise to iconic formats like 90s TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”. While improv comedy continues to enjoy mass appeal however, musical improvisation remains a niche interest with its proponents seeming to eschew every convention that makes music attractive to a wide audience. The Auki Podcast is certainly experimental, but we generally find it more fun to contort the familiar than mine the esoteric.

What sort of games are we talking about? Our ‘three note jam’ for instance, makes use of twelve-sided musicians’ dice, which feature musical notes on each face instead of numbers. Other devices including ‘trigger cards’, newspaper headlines and randomly generated song segments which inspire or instruct the musicians. To gain an interesting outcome from playing these games is worth more to us than a technically correct or flawless performance. The musicians’ evaluations of the resulting music may differ considerably, so our reflective chat on each of the four or five ‘jams’ becomes an integral part of the episode.

Guest musicians from around the UK are welcomed by co-hosts Benedict Johnson and Andy Lowe, two Shropshire-based musicians, who met at an open mic night in the Hop and Friar, Shrewsbury. Benedict had been living in the cultural sweet-spot of Seoul and gorging on the music scene there, while Andy had managed to rack up a wealth of musical experience without ever leaving his home county. Together, they seek to pioneer a new cultural movement, creating reasons to play music for pleasure again, not just for profit.

Episodes are released monthly | Check out for more information | Subscribe to the Auki Podcast on Apple, Spotify or Google Podcasts |

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