HIDDEN GEMS The Sinister Symphonies of Adrian Rew’s “Slot Machine Music” By Shy Thompson · Illustration by Ben Hickey · April 12, 2023

Stepping into a casino feels like crossing into another world. They are dens of iniquity manipulated for maximum pleasure on all senses, down to the carefully controlled temperatures and warm, unobtrusive lighting. Some establishments even concoct soothing artificial scents to deploy through the ventilation systems. And, of course, the acoustics are engineered to reduce friction, too; game designers traditionally compose their music and sound effects in the key of C major, so that everything in earshot rings together in unity. In 2013, Adrian Rew was writing his senior thesis on French philosopher Georges Bataille, whose musings on mysticism and the human desire to pursue decadence often touched on gambling. To find some inspiration, Rew visited casinos in middle America with an Olympus LS-11 recorder tucked in his pocket. Slot Machine Music is the result of his investigation.

In these realms of altered reality, Rew found more sinister forces at work. Machines convert inserted cash into “credits” with a satisfying ding, abstracting the value of money into something more difficult to understand. Clocks and windows to the outside are nowhere to be found, leaving only endlessly looping arpeggios to mark the passage of time. Walkways bend into subtle contours that lead away from exits, ensuring you’re never far away from a stimulating symphony. “The only way out was up,” Rew writes in an essay for The Wire, “but the path of least resistance would lead me straight to a game.”

Following Rew along these scripted tracks, it’s easy to hear the allure of the casino’s sonic tapestry. Fast-paced pings and bite-sized jingles phase in and out of focus, sometimes stacking into a complex filigree, but never hitting a sour note. At times, Rew was reminded of some of his favorite ambient albums; more melodically active moments recalled the cascading strings of Laraaji’s Day of Radiance, while the drone of a slot machine mid spin resembled New Age pioneer Iasos’s Inter-Dimensional Music. Whether you let it all blend together or pick something to train your focus on, there’s always an interesting interplay of harmony.

Appropriately, the only discordant sound on Slot Machine Music comes from outside the casino. As Rew finally finds the exit, the blaring horn of a passing train brings him back to reality. The spell is broken. However, Rew acknowledges that he was never fully under the influence; without any cash in his pocket, he’s merely a tourist in this zone of excess rather than a willing participant. That suits him just fine, though—it’s completely fair game playing a trick on the tricksters.

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