Where You Been

Has it really been over a week since my last post?  I’ve said repeatedly that I’m tired of apologizing for a lack of updates, but usually that’s just for a brief 2-3 day hiatus, not a week-long vanishing act.

There are several reasons for this break, I suppose, if that counts for anything:

  1. I’ve been unusually busy at work, which severely curtails my potential posting availability;
  2. I hit something of a wall last week working on music, and haven’t quite re-found my footing; and
  3. I’ve been a bit under the weather, including a bit of a headcold over the weekend and a vicious stomach bug that laid me out all day yesterday.  (My stomach is much better today, but the cold has returned; I’ll gladly take this over the reverse, though.)

GAMES:  I’ve been playing (some might say “rushing”) through GTA V‘s story mode on the PS4; I’m in the middle of setting up for the final heist.

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD (Greg, please skip past this part)

Part of the reason why I’ve been rushing through it is because of this AV Club / Gameological feature about difficult choices; as far as GTA V is concerned, I have literally no memory of being faced with any particular decision (especially because in my post-complete state on the 360, everybody was still alive).  If I had to do it over, though – and I guess I do, given that I’m heading that way – I’m thinking I might pull the trigger on Michael.  As I’ve been going through this second run, I find him absolutely impossible to like.  I loathe every word that comes out of his mouth.  The “family therapy” scene is especially disgusting – I recall it being gross the first time around, and it’s arguably even more infantile and awful the second time.  I do not empathize with him at all, and I try to play as him as little as possible.

END SPOILERS

Beyond that, I’ve mostly been playing Alto’s Adventure on my iPhone – it’s an absolutely gorgeous 2D side-scrolling, snowboarding endless runner.  Obvious comparisons can be made to Ski Safari, another excellent iOS game, but its artistic flourishes recall both the sand-surfing level in Journey and the pristine environments of Monument Valley.  It’s also one of the few games that doesn’t absolutely destroy my iPhone’s battery, which is necessary these days as even just the simple act of leaving my phone turned on during my subway commute can drain the battery nearly 60% by the time I get to work.  I really need to upgrade, but I’m not eligible for Verizon’s discount until June; I’m hoping I can last until then.

MUSIC:  So, yeah – as stated above, I hit a bit of a wall, and it’s entirely possible that the thing below is what broke me.

If you can’t see it, here’s the note I wrote to accompany it:

yeah, so: this probably isn’t going to be on the upcoming album/ep – at least not sounding like this. it’s too long, it doesn’t build, it’s very noodle-y. BUT. my inner prog-rock-obsessed 15-year-old would love the hell out of this. and i might just have to figure out how to arrange it so that it can stay. (It’s not actually in 19/8 – it’s one measure of 7/8, then one of 12/8, but the only way Logic would record and not freak out was to combine it all as one.)

have done some minor tinkering to it since this demo was uploaded, and it now has a better build and a more focused structure, but I might just have to re-record the whole thing in order to get it right, and I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble.

I’ve also recorded some more sketches here and there, but none of them are particularly good, and on second listen a few of them appear to be subconscious re-workings of earlier sketches I’d worked on a long time ago.

I’ve said for a while that I’m treating the RPM Challenge’s commandments as more of a guideline than a rule, and to that end I’m not feeling particularly bummed that I most likely won’t meet the 10 songs / 35 minutes threshold.  Participating in the challenge was really just a way for me to kick my ass into gear, and in that respect I consider this a pretty wild success; I’ve not been this prolific or productive since I was writing songs during classes in high school.  Most importantly, I wanted to establish a routine for myself, which I’ve never really had before; I also wanted to work under circumstances where I could allow myself to record first drafts and just let them be before listening to them to death.  And I have succeeded on both counts, which is why the Challenge was worth it.

And even if I’ve hit a wall now, that doesn’t mean I’m done; I’m letting my batteries recharge and I’m getting back into the studio as soon as possible, which hopefully means tonight (I do have to finish my taxes, of course).

BOOKS:  I finished Richard Powers’ Orfeo, which is a beautiful, beautiful book that has a lot to say about music and art and science and memory and permanence and loneliness, but which also doesn’t necessarily have the strongest characters or a plot that carries any momentum.  And the ending felt… I don’t want to say forced, but it didn’t feel nearly as effortless as everything else.  I would recommend this book to lovers of 20th Century classical and avant-garde music, though, and I’d strongly recommend listening to a Spotify playlist of the music he writes about, and reading along while you do it.

I’m currently about 2/3rds through Terry Hayes’ I Am Pilgrim, which at first glance appears to be the sort of mystery/thriller you’d pick up in an airport, and which reads very much like the screenplay that will most likely be coming very soon.  It’s great fun, even if it’s not great art, and to that end I’m enjoying it quite a bit.

Weekend Recap: Awards!

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GAMES:  Last night was the 4th Annual New York Videogame Critics Circle Awards, and it was a pretty great evening all around.  I was honored and humbled to present the Best Mobile Game award with my buddy Sara Clemens of Videodame, and was personally delighted to see Threes win that category.

The other winners included:

  • Best Children’s Game:  Mario Kart 8
  • Best Handheld Game:  Hearthstone
  • Best World:  Far Cry 4
  • Best Indie Game:  Shovel Knight
  • Best Remake:  GTA V
  • Best Writing:  South Park The Stick of Truth
  • Best eSports Experience:  Super Smash Bros. Melee
  • Best Music:  Transistor
  • Best Acting: Trey Parker, South Park
  • Best Game of the Year:  Wolfenstein The New Order

In other news, I’ve been super-busy with music stuff (which I’ll get to in a second), and as such I haven’t really had time to sink my teeth into Sunless Sea the way I’d hoped – I had about 15 minutes to spend with it the other day, and the only thing I can tell you is that I need a lot more than 15 minutes with it in order to get absorbed into its rhythms.  It’s a slow, methodical drone of a game, and in the right context that’s exactly the sort of thing I want to get into; I just lack that particular context at this particular moment.

So, instead, I’ve been getting back into GTA V HD, for some reason.  Maybe I’m still in Far Cry 4 first-person open world mode?  Dunno.  I’m trying to not pay attention to the characters and the dialogue, and instead I’m really just taking in the first-person perspective as much as I can.  It makes me wonder if Rockstar is going to implement this view with its other IP – specifically, I can’t help but hope that the Red Dead Redemption sequel will get this feature (and that Rockstar will also incorporate a better screenshot utility than GTA V’s smartphone).

MUSIC:  If we’re at the halfway point of the RPM Challenge, then my current tally is at 9 recordings, totaling 16 minutes.  There’s a few additional sketches that I’ve recorded but haven’t bounced or sent out to my beta listeners; and I suppose I’m cheating a little bit by including something I recorded around 2 weeks before the Challenge technically started.  This album is not going to be finished on March 1, of course, and if I’m honest with myself there’s really only 3 or 4 of these 9 recordings that I’d feel comfortable extending into fully-fledged songs.  Still – that’s a very healthy batting average, as far as my personal process is concerned, and so I’m feeling pretty good about things.

All that said, this last week was a weird one, and yet also productive.  I decided to switch gears and start recording with guitar instead of just keyboard, and while that generated some new material very quickly, it also revealed some computer problems.  To wit:  my Macbook is having difficulty recording both audio and MIDI at the same time – so, if I record guitar and then want to put down a synth track, I have to unplug everything and then restart my Mac two or three times and then hope that it decides to record the synth track.  This is certainly not an ideal way to work, but I’m still making progress nonetheless; there’s one new song in particular that I’d originally recorded several different sketches with guitars, but because of the aforementioned technical problems I decided to combine all the sketches into one take and use keyboards instead, and it sounds fucking great, and now I’m wondering if I should even bother with the guitars at all.

I’ve also started to put together some artwork, and I’m also starting to think about lyrics.  The less said about my lyric-writing process, the better; it’s never been an easy process, and considering how long it’s been since I last tried, I’m honestly a bit apprehensive.  I even started flipping through my old songwriting notebooks (and by old, I’m talking late 90s) and started adapting some of those scribblings into something workable – my lyrics were shitty back then, too, but the difference was that I wrote every single day, and now that it’s 20 years later I can maintain some level of objective distance from them, and despite their relative vapidity there are still certain phrases and concepts that stick out and might work.

BOOKS:  I’m now in the last third of Richard Powers’ Orfeo, which I think I’m enjoying.  He’s an absolutely marvelous craftsman of language; every single sentence is beautiful to read.  And the way he writes about the experience of listening to music is rather extraordinary.  The characters, however, have a tendency to feel like props instead of real people, and I’m not entirely sure I’m all that engaged with the story.  This NY Times review describes a lot of what I’m thinking, actually.  All that said, I’ve been listening to a lot of the music that’s described in the book (there’s even a few Spotify playlists that include each piece mentioned), and the experience of listening to the music as I read along with his descriptions is nothing short of exhilarating – Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, Steve Reich’s Proverb, Messaien’s Quartet For the End of the World.

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