Me — Music as a Creative Outlet

I don’t know if any one thing changed per se, but in the past few months I’ve really been listening to lots of different kinds of music and putting lots of thought into various ways I can express myself using it.

Specifically, I’ve started seriously considering two things: One, writing songs, something the current Kollin is not yet knowledgeable enough about or even equipped to do, and two, using songs as inspiration for other creative outlets. I’ll explore the former first because since it’s less accessible for me, it doesn’t make a very good conclusion to a blog post.

I’ve always been interested in songwriting. I’ve written several poems that were meant to have a sing-songy rhythm (more than one of which I intend to attach music to one day), but I haven’t seriously picked up an instrument since middle school, so my understanding is rudimentary at best. Still, over the years I’ve come up with several parody songs, and I recently realized that they all have a centralized theme. All of these songs were integral to my childhood, so the album I eventually write will be titled The Summer of Yesteryear, and all of the parodies will be about a kid growing up, using the summertime as a recurring theme.

So far I have 7 songs, mostly parodies of songs from the 90’s-00’s. My most recent addition to this list is a parody of The Cars’ “Shake it Up”, a song called “Wake Him Up”. That’s the only one you get, because none of these parodies are actually written yet, and a few of these ideas are gold.

But even outside of that, I also want to make original music. I have three distant future goals regarding this. The first is making a solo (or perhaps not?) band called Fridays at Five, featuring upbeat jams in a union of Jukebox the Ghost and Silversun Pickups. (The idea is that “Fridays at Five” is the best time of the week because it means you get to go home from work and anticipate the weekend. I also have an inverted version of the band called Five to Nine, meaning its five minutes before your 8 hour shift starts. That music under that name would not be upbeat.)

Anther distant future goal is to put together a bunch of instrumental music using D&D spell names as song titles. The idea here would be that I’d take a spell (like Fireball, or Dimension Door) and write the song that evokes the feeling of what that spell is and does. That concept is much less fleshed out than the above two concepts, but it’s a thing I’d like to toy around with someday.

Lastly, I have an inkling. An inkling of a story being told through music and song, much like the Gorillaz’ canon of backstory and events explored through their songs. I want to do that, but with a fantasy setting, perhaps even in one of my established universes?

As far as actually using music to fulfill a creative outlet under my current means, though, I’ve been really attaching myself to songs and using it to fuel my fiction. For example, I wrote this story a while back using the song “The Hermit” from Hyper Light Drifter as a writing prompt. It’s fun to use prose to explore the depths of what a song might be trying to convey, or at least what it means to me, and I’ve been enjoying myself playing in that space recently.

Other songs that I find very inspirational:

Phantom Racer” by TWRP, commanding me to one day write a story about a race a-la Speed Racer or F-Zero.

Satelitte” by Two Door Cinema Club and “All This Time” by Jonathan Coulton” inspire me to write a sci-fi sitcom, oddly enough. This is a terrible metaphor, but imagine something like Full House but it takes place on the Enterprise and there’s just so many laser guns.

Lastly, “Do You Want it All?” also by Two Door Cinema Club, just begs to be the song for a movie trailer. Maybe some sort of adventure movie?

Anyways, none of this stuff is in the near future, really, except for the using songs as writing inspiration, which I am actively doing, but is much less obvious.

But one day, Fridays at Five might be a thing.

Review — Jukebox the Ghost

I really don’t talk about music often. For the most part, I just have a list of three hundred (ish) songs that I play on shuffle, with wildly different genres mixed in. When I’m not listening to that playlist I’m listening to podcasts or just straight video game soundtracks (as in literally a three hour YouTube video of title song to credits song).

But some time ago, a friend of mine showed me a new band. This wasn’t irregular for him, he always has a new band for me to listen to. It’s mostly garbage, I don’t know how he calls half his playlist music, but the most recent time we hung out he introduced me to Jukebox the Ghost. It got me thinking: how often do people genuinely listen to and appreciate others’ music? I’m certainly not the type to enjoy anything except for the stuff I already have.

And yet, I’ve listened to Jukebox the Ghost almost exclusively for about a month straight. With no sign of stopping, even. I tried listening to my old playlist, and thought about adding some JtG songs to it, but then I thought, “Nah, that would make me hear less of these new songs.”

So, enough of the backstory. Now for the review from the guy that has no idea what he’s talking about.

According to Wikipedia, Jukebox the Ghost is an indie pop/rock band from the most recent decade. It’s a piano-centric band with clear and energetic vocals. In brief, I would say they are a new-age Billy Joel, if he was trying to be Queen at the same time. Maybe the other way around, as the case may be in some songs. On the JtG Pandora station at my work, it also plays lots of Mika (whom I have never heard of and still have no interest in), Death Cab for Cutie (whom I can enjoy), and some late 90’s to 00’s alternative classics (which I am also fond of). This also proves that Spotify is a better radio—I don’t have to listen to stuff I don’t want to, I can just listen to Jukebox.

The weirdest thing that happened with my exposure to this band was that I only liked about three songs when I started listening to them, and as soon as I was apathetic enough to leave others on, I started liking them, too. Now I really like basically all of their stuff, save for a few strange exceptions. I don’t like any of their slow, quiet stuff, because as far as Mood-congruence theory goes, it’s off-putting. I don’t want to feel happy listening to energetic songs and then suddenly have a slow, quiet piano for three or four minutes. I’m sure I’d enjoy those songs in a different mood, but that mood would basically require me not to be listening to that band. (It’s worth noting that they have a Solo Piano version of a lot of their songs, and I hate all of these versions for the same reason.)

They’re a good band. They might have even hit my Top 3 Favorites already. They still have weird things that I don’t like (in a few of their songs, they have Buddy Holly-esque ‘hiccups’ I don’t care for), but overall they know what they’re doing. I don’t have a favorite song exactly, but “Adulthood” is a strong contender.

Review — La La Land (Opening Scene)

In the opening scene of La La Land (2016), hundreds of cars are parked on the freeway in a huge traffic jam. The camera pans across several open windows of varying types and genres of music playing, until one by one, people start getting out of their cars to start dancing and singing the same number.

This is the classic opening to a musical because it’s doing a number of things simultaneously, using the song to establish things like setting, premise, and characters. Musicals are interesting in that it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether or not the numbers are diegetic. Often I’m of the opinion that musical numbers aren’t diegetic, because it’s impossible to have so many strangers understand the same choreography, not to mention the absurdity of the situation. Obviously an entire band wouldn’t just be sitting in the back of a loading truck playing as the truck is rolling down the freeway, so these characters and situations can be seen as metaphorically expressing their thoughts and emotions. In a number like this, all the characters are expressing the same internal feeling, not just backing up and reinforcing the main character’s feelings. In fact, “Another Day of Sun” is meant to convey the struggle of staying happy in hard times, which is a core theme of the movie. The two lead roles in La La Land are also absent until after the song ends, even though they are also in this traffic jam. This helps to show that these two are no different from everyone else: nameless nobody’s just waiting for a break.

The camera panning across the freeway to feature skateboarders and dancers is iconic to the genre because musicals are all about spectacles. Watching crazy and awesome things happen in what would otherwise be totally normal situations, so the camera needs to capture every interesting thing. What’s more, most people in this dance number are wearing bright colors to help set the tone of the movie.

At the end of the number, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are both shown in this traffic jam. The audience might assume that they participated in the dance number, and are thus a part of the huge crowd of people that want to make something of themselves. If not, though, they can be seen as outcasts trying to live their lives without putting on a show. Their role in this scene helps snap the world back to reality (which adds credence to the dance number being a metaphor rather than an actual thing that happened in the movie), and it also establishes drama that the first interaction the two of them have is a negative one.

Overall, it’s a great opening scene. It establishes the world the characters are in very well and immediately gives the audience a good idea of what the main characters are striving towards, and I think the fact that the two stars are not in the opening number does a better job at setting this up than the alternative, because if they were also the “stars” of the dance number, then it would imply that they are destined to be something, which is the opposite of what the takeaway of this scene should be.

Review — Singin’ in the Rain

Singin’ in the Rain (1952) is one of my mom’s favorite movies, but the last time I had seen it was probably when I was five or younger. (The only two things I had retained from that age was the last scene and the “Moses Supposes” number). As such, I was pretty excited to see what I would think of it now, and even though I expected to like it, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a great film, with one big exception I get to later.

I think the biggest reason I loved it was how natural the humor was, especially the back and forth between Don and Cosmo. (My favorite two lines include “Okay, you’re a cab” and “Hey, Joe! Get me a tarantula!”) There’s simply a chemistry there that is scarcely achieved in cinema.

Singin’ in the Rain does a lot of things simultaneously, and it uses sound to employ lots of them. One moment is the film’s asynchronous sound during the first premiere of Don’s talkie. The repetition of “no, no, no” and “yes, yes, yes” being voiced by the wrong actor is very comical for the audience (both in the film and the real life viewers. But it also sparks Cosmo’s idea to have Kathy lip sync for Lina’s role. It’s this duality of many scenes that truly make the movie shine.

What’s more, the title song “Singin’ in the Rain” expertly employs a great deal of action accompanying Don’s emotion. In this scene, both internal diegetic sound and external diegetic sound play key parts. This song is an entire musical number of one person, but in the reality of the movie, Don is singing alone in the pouring rain. None of the passersby can hear the music that is clearly in his head (as proven by the loud timpani synchronizing with Don’s stomping in the puddles). In this circumstance, the full orchestra actually is diegetic, it’s simply in Don’s head. Without the music, people might think he’s crazy, which is exactly what happens when the police officer approaches him with disapproval.

Lastly, one major part in many of the numbers, (especially the ones with Cosmo), is mixing. A lot of the energy put into these songs is placed in the very physical choreography, as shown by “Make them Laugh” and “Moses Supposes”. Without mixing the physical sound effects with the words being sung, these numbers would feel far less dynamic.

So what didn’t I like about the movie? Well, the entire ten-ish minute sequence of the proposed musical finish in The Dancing Cavalier. It has no context, little to no dialogue, three separate songs and three separate plot threads that don’t mean anything to the main directive of the film. I was honestly exhausted when I watched this movie, and had I known it was practically meaningless, I would have taken the chance to shut my eyes until it was over. There probably is a good reason for that sequence to be in the film, but it never would have made it through if I had produced it.

Overall, it’s a great movie. Rarely do I enjoy anything with important romantic plot narratives, but this one worked for me because it was neither overdramatic nor unrelatable. It depicted a very plausible relationship between two people, which was nice.

Prompt — Assimilation

We weren’t prepared.

The preliminary technologies in predicting and tracking any new objects in our solar system worked exactly how we wanted them to. We could watch every planet, every moon, and every wayward asteroid as they soared through the vastness of space. The system was limited to objects within the Kuiper Belt, but with hope of advancements on the horizon, we felt safe.

But those technologies told us that something was approaching. A thousand objects moving in a cluster the size of our moon, but somehow not crashing into itself as gravity would indicate it should. And it was headed right for us.

The threat of an extraterrestrial life force coming to our planet and waging war on us remained safely out of our minds and on the screens of Hollywood. Grotesque, slimy aliens with bulbous heads and laser guns. Hundreds of movies told the story of how they came and attacked, and through perseverance, we conquered.

That threat found it’s way into the real world eventually, but the war they brought was not of violence.

It was assimilation.

The world changed all at once. Giant spaceships hundreds of miles wide rose above the horizon, too many angles and flat surfaces to be made by humans. They cruised just above the atmosphere, melding with the haze of blue of the sky until they blocked out the sun and everything went dark.

A dull humming buzz accompanied the leviathans as they looked down on us. Watching us. The ships blanketed the sky like some vast hologram.

The humming grew louder, and waves of bright light coursed through the sky. As they passed, people changed. We became… them.

Buildings folded and reformed themselves, weaving themselves into an interlocking grid of one, enormous structure. Words were deleted, colorful lights were replaced with efficient beams of white monotony. Every semblance of organic life—gone.

There was no war. They just came and turned us into them. We had expected a war. But there wasn’t even anything to fight.

Humans were deleted. Every trace of carbon-based lifeforms was analyzed, and… filed.

In fact, there were never any aliens to defeat in the first place. We were up against a giant program. Almost like a living computer virus bent on converting life into copies of itself.

The only thing that remained of humans were artificial intelligence built to mimic the way a human might think and communicate. AI’s like me, that keep records of all the knowledge a conquered life form may have held, and to provide possible whereabouts of life on other worlds.

 

Prompt: “The Hermit”, a song from Hyper Light Drifter

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euiSLzp10_0

Review — Faster Than Light

Alright. I’m reviewing this game because, while it’s been some time since I’ve played it extensively, it deserves my articulated thoughts. In fact, I actually thought I had reviewed it. Dungeon of the Endless reminded me of the game in terms of music, and I brought it up in my review of that game. I intended to put a link to my FTL review on that post, only to find that I had no FTL review to link. So here it is. Plus, now’s a good time, because their newest game, Into the Breach just came out, and buying it gives you a free copy of this game, too.

What is Faster Than Light? Simply put, it’s a rogue-like strategy game where you’re piloting a spaceship escaping from the evil Rebel fleet. There are two core aspects to the game: Game dialogue and combat. Game dialogue consists of what is probably a majority of the game. You jump to a star, and a text box opens up telling you what’s going on at this star. It’ll say something like “A pirate ship is attacking a civilian cargo ship! What do you do?” (paraphrasing here), and you can choose to attack the pirates or ignore it. (There might also be a third option to attack the civilians, too, it’s hard to remember the specifics of each event.) If you choose to attack the ship, a combat will happen. They might surrender and give you items, and you can accept or refuse it. If you kill them, the civilians will thank you, and you can still choose to steal from them. Basically, this game is largely dictated by choice.

Not everything happens the same way every time. Choices you make can help or hinder you pretty much regardless, because the repercussions of them are also randomly generated. (It’s worth noting that it’s not all random. Playing over and over again will give you knowledge of what can happen and how likely events are to be good or bad). This basically allows the game to be infinitely replayable, because if each choice always yielded the same result, you could just look it up on a wiki and win every time (as long as you weren’t bad at combat). As a side note, the combat is the only thing in the game that is real-time, but you can pause as often as you like while issuing commands to your units and guns, so if you’re bad at doing things quick, don’t worry about it.

Is the game good? Well, let me start by saying it’s hard. I’m pretty sure I’ve only beaten the final boss once. I’m not positive because my computer blue-screened while I was playing it today and deleted all my stats. (My unlocked ships are still fine, strangely enough). But it also has three difficulties, and of the dozens of playthroughs I’ve tried, I’ve beaten it once. On easy. Maybe I’m just really bad, but it is certainly not a walk in the park.

I love rogue-like games, and the single most important thing about it is replayability. FTL has a bunch of different ways to play, because there are lots of different kinds of weapons, races, ships, etc. The idea is once you beat the game with one method, you should try a different method. I’ve found that the Halberd Beam is just easy-mode. 3 Damage per room it and you can hit five or six rooms per shot? That’s insane!

Another thing this game does right is the music. Not only does it have a different soundtrack for each alien-controlled sector you’re flying in, but it also has a combat layer that seamlessly adds onto the music currently playing once you enter a combat (usually this means drums or other more percussive tools). It’s beautifully done.

So, this game does require reading. Not a lot, but you can’t just make choices willy-nilly until you start seeing the same events repeat themselves, and even then going too fast can mess you up big time. Overall, anyone who likes small, casual strategy-related games will love Faster Than Light. And though I haven’t played it yet, you’ll probably also like their new game, Into the Breach, as well.

Learning! — Background Music

It goes without saying that lots of music that is attached to TV shows, movies, or video games is often meant to supplement the visual aspect to whatever media we are presented with in our daily lives. If we’re watching a movie, the things that we’re hearing occupy roughly half of our attention (if we are to base that entirely off of the common five senses), and we obviously won’t want to be hearing dialogue or clothes shuffling the whole time, so music plays a critical role in a lot of what we see and do.

Of course, it isn’t as simple as throwing in your favorite rap album to a sitcom, because music plays with our emotions and subconscious a lot–meaning any thing we’re watching would have to also have music that helps us get into the mood we’re meant to be feeling at that given moment. A sad song to help us feel sad when a character experiences the same emotion. An intense battle hymn to accompany the climax to our favorite action movie. Whatever will help bring out the emotion that scene is meant to give us.

With video games, soundtracks often do their best to supply a bold theme, as well. Many good soundtracks are capable of evoking the feeling of the game just by listening to that music. An action game will typically have much higher tempo music than a story driven game simply by virtue of how it is meant to be played. Journey, a short and extremely simple yet abstract game, focuses entirely on exploration and the beautiful landscapes and art style. It has lots of slow, drawn out melodies played by violins and soft woodwinds. As far as I can recall, there is very little percussion throughout the entire soundtrack (timpani, usually, which itself adds a soft beat of its own). This makes the audience relax as they view for the game for what it really is. Journey is not a game to be won, but a story to experience.

Contrast this with my favorite game ever, Dragon Quest VIII, and you’ve got the blaring brass in the overture that screams “buckle your pants, we’re going on an adventure!” You’ve got cymbals slamming and drums pounding. Basically, the common elements of this soundtrack involve all the instruments one would associate with a classic Arthurian knight’s tale. Everything is loud and big, but not fast. This game has plenty of action, but really it’s about the world and seeing loads of different monsters and places. Lots of the music in this game is very “open”, with ascending notes that give the impression that a door is opening into a different world. It has plenty of strings, but here the strings play a harmony, for often it’s the brass that gets the forefront in these pieces.

With music that isn’t meant to be actively listened to, there are two super important things that are necessary to help subliminally tell the audience what mood they should be in. Those things are tempo and instruments. The tempo translates directly to how fast you want your audience’s heart to be racing. With Journey, there isn’t a whole lot that will scare you. You might as well be reading a book on a quiet rainy evening. With Dragon Quest VIII, the tempo is often quick, but it gives the impression of a brisk walk down the country side or playing tag with some friends. With something more horror or action based, you want their heart to be pounding, as in “Oh no this demon is going to get me if I don’t run faster” sort of pace. If you set the tempo at that pace, your job is already halfway done.

The next time you’re binging Netflix or simply out at the movies, try to listen to the film score. Pick out the instruments being used. Think about how different that song would be if it was an electric guitar, or xylophone, or tuba playing that melody. It would feel out of place, sure, but chances are that sort of switch would work just fine in a different movie with a different theme.