Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Kid A Mnesia Exhibition is an unsettling and beautiful Radiohead art exhibit

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The simplest description of Kid A Mnesia Exhibition is that it’s essentially a virtual Radiohead art museum featuring music from Kid A and Amnesiac. If that’s enough to pique your interest in the slightest, I highly recommend you stop reading this and just play the game, which is available Thursday for free on PC, Mac, and PS5.

Calling Kid A Mnesia Exhibition just an art museum doesn’t really do it justice, though. Sure, much of the game is spent navigating through hallways of Radiohead-themed art while clips and bits of songs from Kid A and Amnesiac waft in and out of your consciousness. One room, for example, is piled high with televisions with constantly changing images while unnerving yet familiar versions of melodies from “The National Anthem” warble around you. It wouldn’t feel out of place at a modern art exhibit.

But then you can do the extremely video game-y thing of walking right into an amber column in the middle of the room to bring up the song’s iconic drum and bass lines, which were previously absent. When you step out of the column, the drum and bass fade away, and the unsettling warbles return. There are a lot of moments like that.

Now just imagine that you’re hearing “The National Anthem.”

That said, Kid A Mnesia Exhibition isn’t a traditional video game. There are no enemies. You can’t die. The only actions you can take are to zoom in on things, move around the world, and up your pace from a slow walk to a gentle trot.

I was still surprised to find the experience unsettling at times, though. You’ll see the sharp-toothed smile from Radiohead’s logo all over the place. Wisps of pixels will float across your vision like ghastly spirits. Living stick figures wandering the halls will silently appear behind you as they take in the art. The music, even if it is ingrained into the folds of your brain after years of repeated listens like it is for me, can be dissonant and uncomfortable.

But it wouldn’t be a Radiohead project without some awe-inspiring beauty. In one room, papers covering the floor and ceiling will whip in the wind to deconstruct and reconstruct the room around you. One striking sequence is like an interactive music visualizer. And my favorite moments in the game were spent with a little devil-like creature and watching clips of old Radiohead live shows.

The game is full of strikingly beautiful rooms.

To see the best of what Kid A Mnesia Exhibition has to offer, you should take your time. My first trip took a little over an hour, but the rooms evolve in some remarkable ways that you might miss if you rush through. Putting down the controller to observe how the music and the exhibits shift and change is very rewarding. While writing this article, I left the game idling in a few different areas, and I saw and heard a lot that I had missed.

If you’re a Radiohead fan, Kid A Mnesia Exhibition is an excellent way to experience two of the band’s iconic albums in a new format. But even if you haven’t memorized all of the lyrics on both albums, the game is still worth checking out as a very literal expression of the idea that video games can be art. Sometimes, it’s nice to just sit and listen to some music.

Kid A Mnesia Exhibition is available Thursday as a free download for PC, Mac, and PS5.



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