Three Things for Friday

Prologue to today’s three things:  I’ve had an incredibly stressful week, day job-wise, and yesterday was perhaps the roughest of all.  I was in no mood to make music; I kinda just wanted to play with my kid, have a drink after he went to bed, and then sleep.  On the bright side:  I did end up making music, AND I had a drink, AND I played some games and read.  But I was not in the best of ways, I guess you could say.

GAMES:  As noted above, I was in a rough mood.  I did happen to come across Patrick Klepek’s video/article about Grow Home during one of the quieter moments during yesterday’s storm, though, and that did seem to be the sort of thing that might alleviate some stress.  For those of you that don’t know – Grow Home is an experimental game that Ubisoft just announced only two weeks ago, a prototype thing that they were working on based on procedural animation techniques (and which we’ll probably see an adaptation of in the forthcoming Assassin’s Creed games, I’d bet), and in it you play as a charming little robot named B.U.D. who climbs a gigantic plant.  I was certainly charmed by it, though for some reason the game wasn’t working with my 360 controller, and so I had to use mouse/keys, which was a bit more difficult and not particularly intuitive.  Nevertheless, it was a welcome breath of fresh air; pure platforming, exploration, minor environmental puzzle solving, charming art style and sound design.  Hard to pass up for $7.

After a music session (which I’ll get to in a second), I then ended up finishing Far Cry 4; well, I saw the credits roll, at least, though I still have the very last fortress to conquer and a Golden Path epilogue to watch.  (And all the other side stuff to do, of course, none of which I will be doing.)  Kinda screwed up the ending, though.  I’ll try to talk about it in as non-spoilery a way as possible:  after the climactic battle, I was given the opportunity to confront the big baddie, and then, after a speech, I was given a choice to either do something or wait a bit longer, and because I was tired and a little impatient and perhaps somewhat distrustful, I did that thing instead of waiting, and now I kinda wish I’d waited.  I’m certainly not going to go through all 30 hours of that game again just to get the preferred outcome (I’m sure I could look it up on YouTube) and I don’t necessarily regret my course of action (as I simply didn’t care enough about the plot or the characters), but I do kinda wish I’d been a little more open to the idea of seeing what might happen.

What can I say about FC4 that I haven’t said over the last 2 weeks?  It is the same exact game as Far Cry 3 except more bland and far less risky, filled with superfluous side content that doesn’t really mean anything, some occasional, unnecessary nudity that somehow feels more obligatory than gratuitous, and a whole lot of shooting people and animals until they die.  Now that I’m more or less done with it, I’m sure that the only time I’ll ever think about it going forward will be when Far Cry 5 inevitably arrives.

MUSIC:  Again, as noted above, I was in a rough mood.  Really didn’t want to work on music; all I wanted to do was space out and relax and not be required to think.  But eventually I did relax, and realized that I owed it to myself to stick with this RPM Challenge thing and do it anyway, especially since I’d be missing tonight and tomorrow.  To that end, I decided that instead of working from scratch, I’d try to reinterpret one of my older songs that had never been given a proper recording.  This particular song is a bit tricky, given that it goes from 7/4 to 4/4 a few times; it’s also tricky in that I’d always played it on guitar, but decided this time to try it out on piano.  I only laid down one verse and chorus; I never figured out a bridge for it in the past, and in any event I’m not sure if it will make the final cut.  At the very least I’m glad to have learned how to switch time signatures in Logic.

BOOKS:  I remain flummoxed by the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy; that’s pretty much all I can say at this point.

More on the creative process, and etc.

As in my last post, three topics to discuss.

MUSIC.  It occurs to me that, as I glance down the calendar, I’m going to be losing quite a lot of recording time over the next few weeks due to being out of town on the weekends (which often involves travelling on Friday nights, too).  I’m still sticking to my plan, though; at least one loop a night, with no mixing or tweaking or editing or even listening, until Sunday evening.  On Monday night I put down 2 loops; last night I only managed 1, but I think it’s a strong one – or, at least, it probably has some potential if I sit down with it and work with it, though I won’t be doing that until Sunday.

It’s interesting to be working in this way, to just make something and then leave it alone and deliberately ignore it for a specific amount of time; it’s not how I normally work, but then again, I haven’t been this prolific in years.  (And it’s only been 2 days!)  I’m not worrying about if the loops are good or not; my only concern is that they exist.  The thing about loops is that they can be changed and extended and manipulated very easily, whereas whenever I’ve written down chord changes and verse/chorus structures and melodies and such, I have a much harder time deviating away from that script.  (Which becomes especially frustrating when I realize that I can’t accurately recreate on tape what I hear in my head, given my recording and budgeting constraints.)

As I said – I won’t be listening to any of this stuff until Sunday.  Curiously, I haven’t been listening to any other music, either, except at quiet moments at work, and those aren’t really the best conditions to really listen to anything.  I’m curious to find out what happens to my brain after Sunday’s mixdown session, though; will I start obsessively listening to these loops, and thus risk getting creatively stuck again?  Will I start listening to other music?  Will new tunes suddenly pop into my head?  I’ve been very much an empty page this week, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s also created a little bit of a sense of disconnection between me and the stuff I’m recording.

It is what it is.  This is an experiment; it’s too soon to tell if it’s working or not.  I’m happy to be working on a regular basis, though, which is perhaps the best part.

BY THE WAY:  I’d mentioned in the last post that I’d had a friendly set of ears that was going to be helping me out with those Sunday mixdown sessions, and some other friends had piped up and said they wanted to lend their ears as well.  I’m inclined to let them, and you, too, if you want, though I’m probably not going to be handing these out to everyone.  Anyway, if you’re interested, let me know.

BOOKS.  Any concerns I’d had about the first two books in the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy have quickly been assuaged by book three.  There is, finally, action.  Plot!  Things moving in time!  Yes, there are still very long digressions and observational wormholes, but suddenly all these images from the first two books (described in occasionally excruciatingly tedious detail) are becoming relevant and clear and meaningful, and meanwhile the current story has a sense of momentum behind it that had been utterly lacking in the previous volumes.

I’m still highlighting passages by the dozens, though; sometimes these endless digressions contain deeply resonant feelings and ideas, and the translation is quite excellent as far as maintaining the author’s poetic prose.  There’s also this hilarious bit in Book Three, though, that is deeply ironic with regards to the narrator’s endless digressions – here he’s complaining about his boss, who also tends to ramble in tangents:

I wasn’t going to allow him to continue wandering and digressing, not on a night prolonged at his insistence; nor was I prepared to allow him to drift from an important matter to a secondary one and from there to a parenthesis, and from a parenthesis to some interpolated fact, and, as occasionally happened, never to return from his endless bifurcations, for when he started doing that, there almost always came a point when his detours ran out of road and there was only brush or sand or marsh ahead.

GAMES.  As noted before, my game playing is taking a backseat to everything else for the next few weeks.  I did one campaign mission in Far Cry 4 last night and upon its conclusion I was told that I should probably take care of any unfinished business before going to the next mission, which implies to me that I should probably finish those last 3 outposts, do that one last Fashion Week hunt, and maybe do the last 2 Shangri-La missions before finishing outright.

Weekend Recap: Today We Are All Sharks

I am, to my great relief, not nearly as hungover as I’d anticipated I’d be, and my stomach isn’t in terrible shape either; so even though the end result of the Superbowl was a bit of a disappointment, I’m more than happy to call it even.  The NYC weather, on the other hand… the less said about that, the better.

Three topics to discuss today, and which will likely serve as a preview of the month to come here at SFTC HQ.

MUSIC:  Given that yesterday was the Superbowl, and that in addition to chasing a toddler around a small apartment we were also hosting a small-ish viewing party of sorts, I have not yet started recording anything for this year’s RPM Challenge.  Tonight’s the night, however, where I do get started.  As soon as the kid goes to bed, I’m getting to work.

I’m going to try and do it differently this year than in years past – not just for the RPM Challenge, but for my creative process in general; I’m just aiming to record at least one loop every night, without judging it or revising it or mixing it or converting it to mp3.  If the loop turns into something else while I’m working on it, that’s fine, and I certainly won’t stop myself from adding sections if they’re coming naturally and organically.  But I’m more interested in working in such a way that I can make this a daily routine, rather than a chore that I struggle with.

I may or may not have talked about this before in this blog; I’m sure I’ve talked about it on my retired journals.  But my creative process is in need of a serious shake-up.  I have a tendency, when working on loops and stuff, to end up stuck; I’ll finish a loop, it’ll sound pretty neat, and so I’ll mix it and convert it to mp3 and put it on my iPhone and I’ll go around and listen to it for a few days, and then it’s all I think about, and I think about what I’ll add to it and how I’ll re-arrange it, and then I never actually do any of that stuff, and the loop ends up just the same as it was when I started it.  And then instead of going back to record the next day, I put it off and put it off and then 6 months go by and I’ve got nothing to show for it.

Instead, I’m aiming to simply record and record and record and then, every Sunday, listen back to everything and then make some sense of it.  I’ll be sending out the week’s collection to a friendly set of ears, under the caveat that everything is deliberately and necessarily raw and unfinished and underdeveloped, and this set of ears may or may not offer feedback; the feedback isn’t necessarily as important to me right now as just the idea that someone else is keeping tabs on me and making sure that the work I promised to deliver is there.  At the end of the month, if all goes well, I should have 20+ recordings and sketches of varying quality, and at that point we’ll listen to everything and see how we want to proceed.  The RPM Challenge may end on March 1, but that’s not my deadline, nor my destination; I’m mostly interested in what happens over the next 28 days, given that I’m going to be building stuff from scratch.

I was asked if there’s any particular idea behind this album I’m working on; that’s hard to say, given that I don’t yet know what I’m going to be recording.  But certainly the feelings and emotions and memories that got stirred up from my aborted NaNo attempt are still very much lingering in my brain, and I’d imagine that whatever music I end up making is going to be colored by those feelings – regardless of whether I write lyrics or not.

Unlike NaNo, though, where I was feeling incredibly intimidated by the blank page, I’m feeling very energized and psyched and ready to do this.  Unless I already have a song assembling itself in my head, I tend to work best when I’m building from scratch, and because I’m trying to produce a ton of stuff without paying attention to quality, rather than obsessing over each 45-second loop and making sure it’s perfect and then realizing that I’ve done nothing else for a month, I’m hoping that the sheer act of daily work becomes its own reward.

GAMES:  Because the music stuff is going to be taking priority for the next few weeks (and also that there’s not much coming out in February that I’m all that excited about), it’s doubtful that I’ll have much to offer in this particular area.  For whatever it’s worth, I’m around 5 or 6 story missions away from finishing Far Cry 4; I’ve hijacked every radio tower, and I’ve only got 2 or 3 more outposts to liberate; I’ve crafted every item except one, and the only side stuff I’m paying attention to are propaganda posters, death masks, and mani wheels.  It has become a pleasant grind, even as the narrative remains dumb and everything else remains silly; I’m letting it be my post-recording reward, to unwind for 45 minutes or so and slowly turn off my brain before trying to fall asleep.

BOOKS:  I finished Your Face Tomorrow, Volume 2 this morning and am anxious to start (and finish) Volume 3.  I am racing through them, but not necessarily because I’m enjoying them; rather, there are certain areas where the narrator’s digressions become painfully tedious and repetitive and ridiculous, and they don’t enrich the reading experience as much as the writer thinks they might.  That being said, there is an interesting story starting to brew, and there are frequent insightful and resonant passages that I’ve been highlighting and saving, and so I’m finding myself still invested in the trilogy as a whole, and so I certainly can’t stop reading now.  They are a hard recommendation, for sure, and my 3-out-of-5 star reviews aren’t really telling the whole story; perhaps I’ll have more to say about it when I finish this last one.

I haven’t yet decided what I’m reading next, either, though I suspect I’ll need something to cleanse the palate before diving into something heavy, so maybe it’ll be Amy Poehler’s memoir, and/or Patton Oswalt’s new book.

RPM 2015

So I have officially signed up for the 2015 RPM Challenge, which is something I’ve signed up for several times in the past, and which I’ve never actually finished.  (For those not in the know, the RPM Challenge is the musician’s equivalent of NaNoWriMo – you have the month of February to write 10 songs or 35 minutes of music.)  I’ve gotten quite a few demos and sketches and interesting things out of my previous attempts, but I’ve never actually finished anything.

This is partly because I inevitably run into technical problems that derail the whole thing, but mostly because I tend to pat myself on the back after coming up with something cool-ish, and then I slack off and fail to stay motivated.  (See, for example, the fact that I haven’t done any recording since coming up with that loop from last week.)

What’s different about this year?  A few things come to mind:

1.  First and foremost, I’d already decided to make a new album well before I remembered that the RPM Challenge is a thing, so I’m already raring to go.

2.  I’m going to do my best to limit my technological problems before they get started.  To wit: in years past, I’d sign up for this thing and then decide to buy a new bit of software, and then I’d spend most of the month learning how to use it instead of actually using it.  (In this particular case, there’s a part of me that really wants to buy the latest editions of both Reason and Logic, but that’d be setting me back almost $500 before I even record a single note.)  I do need to buy a new external hard drive, but that’s it as far as purchases are concerned; the hard drive is (a) necessary and (b) does not require me to learn anything.

3.  The last time I tried to do this in any serious capacity was in 2011.  I don’t know what happened in 2012, and in Feb 2013 we were getting kicked out of our apartment while my wife was 7 months pregnant – saying that “the timing was bad” is putting it very, very mildly.  Ironically enough, I did end up putting out Untrue Songs in May of 2013, which I did mostly because at that point my son was already born, and I’d started getting some sleep on a quasi-regular basis, and I felt like I needed to give him some sort of document of who I was, and what I’d done.  None of the stuff on that album was technically “new”, even if nobody besides me had ever heard it; it was basically just the best stuff I’d recorded over the last 6-8 years.  (Actually, now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that at least 2 or 3 of the songs on Untrue were originally intended for my previous attempts at RPM Challenges.)

4.  I’m not sure if I’m going to be writing any lyrics for this thing (especially since recording vocals in my apartment is a very difficult thing to do with a toddler), but I do very much have some things I want to say, or convey, and that sort of thing carries a lot of weight.  When I’d signed up for NaNo last year, I did it because I wanted to do it, but I wasn’t at all prepared for it.  For this year’s challenge, it’s not only about me finally having creative momentum; it’s about having creative intention and direction, which are things I’ve not had in quite some time.  It would seem that I need to get some things off my chest, and this might be the best way to go it.

5.  It’s too early to talk about this yet, but when this thing gets finished (not if, but when), something interesting might be happening with it.  I’ll keep that cryptic for the time being.

Every time I’ve done this in the past, I hem and haw about documenting it; the RPM site has a blog function, and of course I have this blog and my Soundcloud page, and it’s always tempting to document the process (even if I know that nobody cares except me); but inevitably, once I post a demo or two, those demos become “finished products” and then I stop working on them.  So maybe I’ll post some vague progress reports here or on Twitter, but it’s probably just for the best if I keep my head down and stay focused and not get sidetracked by feedback (or the lack thereof).