Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Kind of Music I Listen to, Part 1: Me and the Music

“So uh… what kind of music do you like?” asks my new acquaintance, desperately trying to cling to conversation as the evident common ground between us shrinks with each awkward word. “Surely this ol’ standby can’t fail to ignite debate?” he thinks to himself, “After all, everyone likes music!”

For the longest time though, this universal truth, like so many others before and since, just didn’t apply to my contrary ass.

“Music?!” I would say, my disdainful tone rapidly dissolving any hope of pleasant conversation from my friendly victim’s features, “You mean that whiny repetitive garbage that punctuates the pain of every annoying commercial? That self-satisfied screeching of the bastards responsible for the pointless music videos that so intrusively intersperse my beloved cartoons? That virulent tool of the diabolical Spice Girls that inspired my friend’s older sister to subject me to a unique performance of ‘Tell me what you want, what you really, really want’ in which she threw ACTUAL SPICE directly into my EYES? That shit?”

“Uh, yeah. So you don’t like any of it?”

“No. No I do not. You monster.”

In my defense, this was the late 90s: The likes of Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and the aforementioned Spice Girls had reached a critical mass that granted them total audio dominance until the blessed day that they stumbled drunkenly out of our ears and into the tabloids. The last wheels of Cobains’s mopy revolution were grinding loudly on in a desperate facade of relevance. R&B had gained mainstream appeal. It was a dark time.

Understandably I feel, I went through the first 15 or so years of my life just tolerating music as the inexplicably popular vice of the society that I’d already devoted my existence to abandoning in favor of the “Democratic Republic of Me and my Damned self Alone.” They could keep their music, I thought, just as they could keep their sports and their friends and their unreachable goals of happiness and love. I had my books, I had my videogames, and to the acceptable exclusion of all else, I had myself.

This is about as true today as it was then, with one obvious exception: I have my music now.

I’m not sure when it was exactly that I was born into my new glorious world of audible emotion, but I do know what it was that set me on my way.

I was a listless teenager (as I imagine most of us are as we have our first accidental stumbles into the selves we shall ultimately become), surfing the vast HTML oceans that my new broadband connection afforded me. One of my regular internet haunts at the time was, a site both famous for its Flash Portal that hosts tens of thousands of user-created flash-animations, and infamous for the fact that among these are the birthplaces of the “Numa Numa” and “All your Base” memes. Anyway, one of the prominently featured animations on that day was a fun little music video called “Yoshi’s Island Jam”, which was a tribute to one of my favorite childhood videogames. For me, the most striking thing about the video (aside from the disturbing image of an adult-sized baby Mario bobbing his head to the music while the words 1-UP flashed epileptically across the screen) was the music itself. While I wouldn’t call this little electric ditty anything approaching a masterpiece by my current and (I’d like to think) refined sensibilities, it intrigued me at the time with its clever mixing of melodic layers and its relieving lack of the obnoxious lyrics that had so far soured me to the medium. I clicked on the “audio” link in the video’s credits in hopes of finding a new mp3 to inhabit the barren memory card of my new N-Gage (Disclaimer: I regret nothing), which at the time boasted only Strauss’ Blue Danube, an mp3 that I used solely for demonstrating the wonders of technology to old people. Fully expecting a flood of spyware to ooze forth from whatever dark alley of teh interwebz that this professional-sounding track could be illegally downloaded, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the link simply led to another section of its oft-overlooked Audio Portal.

Much like its Flash counterpart, the Newgrounds’ Audio Portal allows independent artists to submit their creations for grading and categorizing by their peers. The key difference being that users are actively encouraged by said artists to freely download, remix and/or use the tracks in their own flash creations (as long as proper credit is given, via such aforementioned “Audio” links).

After guiltlessly listening to the Yoshi’s Island track (actually called “All of the World”) to exhaustion and downloading it for what would prove to be years of use, I checked out another of API’s (the author’s) more popular works, which was another techno track called “Paradise on E”. Now I know what you’re thinking, but I opted to ignore the song title’s colorful serving suggestion and immediately find what wonders the track would hold for my tragically dope-free mind to soak in.

I’d say this was about the point that life became worth it.

This track, a fantastically paced and coordinated mix of measured anticipation and intense euphoric release, was my first pure experience of beauty. I mean, before that I had a vague idea of what beauty was supposed to be: the pleasantly coalescing features of the women who scorned me, the epic vastness of nature that I could never quite force myself to forget was just air and sticks and dust, a singer’s sincere vocal expression of a love I would never hope to understand, let alone feel for myself; the reason the true nature of beauty always seemed to elude me was that it was always something that belonged to someone else. But as I sat there, listening to the beautifully inhuman melody glide from the quietly emboldening set-up to the masterfully controlled explosion of unrelenting joy over and over again, each time focusing on a different melodic aspect or layer of sound so as to experience it with renewed virginity, I knew I had found a beauty that was mine. The track forged a connection to my ever waning acceptance of my existence that has since been an invaluable conduit for the world’s redeeming features to pull me back from the brink. I had discovered a fundamental truth about myself…

I fucking love Techno.

Not the mindless obscenely repetitive droning of three-note tunes, brain-boring phrases and clumsy, artless bass that tragically seems to represent the genre in the wider public sphere, mind you. I’m talking the proverbial good shit here. I’m talking about a natural evolution of classical music that uses modern tools and sensibilities to produce art with the same intentions that Mozart and Pals had when they defined their cultural eras: music whose myriad audible aspects are meticulously crafted to convey the purest representation of the artist’s emotions and musical talent, while remaining unrestricted by petty lyrics that would tie our interpretations down to a single perspective that only the artist could ever truly embrace.

Like you, I love my music, and like you, I want to share my music and the feelings it invokes in me with the rest of the world. Usually one could just trust the radio or MTV or whatnot to do this work for you since most genres are given a fair shake by the mainstream media, giving the casual listener enough opportunity to whet their appetite for the really good stuff even if said stuff is pushed into obscurity by the auto-tuned whumphing horror of Lady Gaga and her ilk. As I’ve mentioned though, techno has been unjustly misrepresented by the polarizing mindless extremity of the bass-drenched 20 minute atrocities and keening Europop gibberish (which I imagine could only be marginally enjoyed through a filter of nigh-fatal doses of ecstasy) that you’re likely to think of when someone tells you they’re into techno. This is an injustice I hope to help correct.

So join me as I present The Kind of Music I Listen to, one artist/style at a time, and listen as I describe just why each track is as amazing as it is. Each part in this ongoing series will contain a set of mini-reviews for individual tracks that I feel best represent a particular artist (or particular style if one artist’s work isn’t enough to go on) starting with my current favorite artist, NemesisTheory (whose list of freely and legally downloadable music is linked) next week sometime.

In the meantime though, here are links to the musical libraries* of some of my favorite artists (in no particular order) if you’d like a taste of their greatness before I cover it with my own strange definition of depth.

*All music is uploaded personally by independent artists and intended for free distribution and even sampling provided full credit for the original artist is given in either case.

Nemesis Theory











>Next time, Symphonic Storms and the majesty of NemesisTheory

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Splunk’d: The Many Failed Lives of a Spelunky Player. Life 1

I’ve always felt that Spelunky (which some of you should remember as Derek Yu’s magnum opus of randomly-generated runny, jumpy, treasure-grabby death) never did get the recognition it deserved. Despite the fact that Quinton Smith (late of Rock Paper Shotgun) took the time to write a dead-on summary on just why Spelunky is so fantastic, I've never seen true reflection of the game's greatness in the form of a diarised account of Spelunky's true majesty: the countless never-repeated obstacles, heart-seizing discoveries, precious victories and crushing failures that every (probably) doomed venture into Spelunky’s depths entails. Of course, we can probably forgive Quinns his shocking negligence in light of certain other distractions.
In an attempt to bring balance to the universe , I’ve made a diary of a few of my own ill-fated ‘Splunks’ (as I really shouldn’t call them, but do), in which I perform my usual insane practice of roleplaying the kind of ‘Splunker’ (oh god someone please stop me) that the randomly generated blurb on every startup of the game suggests I am.
I have a feeling this will end badly, and since Spelunky’s score screen suggests a 4:273 ratio of things not ending badly, I’m pretty confident I should trust my gut on this one. This never stopped me before though (excepting, of course, the 269 times that it did. Badly)

Life 1: Shot through the Heart, and I'm to blame.

Putting the folded photo in my pocket
I furrowed my brow
And thought of her one last time

A strange breeze swirls around me as I approach the entrance to the place in which I’ll earn her back: cool as the night, but tinged with the faint wisps of desert heat still smoldering in the sand below me. The moon is full tonight, blazing in its own quiet way. It gets me thinking again: Thinking of her and the way she-GAHFUCK! GIANT BATS!

Everything blurs together as I force myself forward towards the cave (though it’s hard to tell what’s forward anymore. Maybe it’s her, maybe it’s the Great Dimensional Leak of ’87, I don’t know. Let’s just say that when I say this crazy direction I’m going in is forward, it feels right). Piercing chiptune screeches fill the air as I run to the cave entrance. Frantically lighting a torch, I search for the secret entrance she told me would be here. The screeches grow louder by the moment but...Found it! I throw down a rope and begin my descent. At least I’ll be safe in the cave, I’m sure of it.

My fears that this would be another profitless bone-hunt are eased instantly as I drop into the first chamber. Already I see a brilliant golden Idol gleaming in the gloom, well within my reach: its only defense a silent stone guardian carved into the cavern wall: probably some kind’ve piggy diety worshiped by the ancient natives. *snort* I’m sure whatever Godless savages arranged this believed the threat of divine retribution alone would ward off superstitious looters. Ha I say! Their puny beliefs will have no effect on my looty lust because I’m a rational, thinking-type genius. I'm a goddamned junior scientist! Bill Nye sent me a certificate and everything!
As I stride valiantly towards my prize, I furrow my brow even harder to more effectively think about how awesome at thinking I am. I think of her. My brow hurts. Hastily picking up my prize and dismissing the ominous click of what I can only assume to be an unrelated geological phenomenon, I rush even valient-lier back to the entrance which is...closed. Completely. And something’s rumbling. Oh shi-*CRUNCH*


*huff* HIIIYUP!
Woo-Hah! Did you see that? Did you fuckin’ see that? I am the freakin’ God-King of badassery over here. Did Indiana Jones ever escape a boulder by jumping over it? No. No he didn’t because he’d have never thought of it because he isn’t me and I am a genius. Who’s the creepy wannabe now, Ford? Ho-yeah! Not this guy!
Err, I mean uh (angst, angst, angst, okay)...Uh, the cold stone rolled beneath me like, uh, like I was one of those circus bears who stand on those big rubber balls and...roll...them...but the ball isn’t rubber, it’s a SKULL and the bear is like, bald, or something because that makes it sad.
Whew, saved it.
I have my prize, but the victory seems bittersweet as I my gaze flits between my Idol and the firmly sealed entryway. As I look around me, desperately searching for a way out, I feel strangely comforted. I hold the idol and I feel the warmth of something familiar, something I thought I’d lost long ago.

It has her smile...
Heartened, I push forward into the unknown. The cave is riddled with equal parts danger and vindication: I find gaping holes to leap over and (adorably) deadly snakes to fight off either with my obligatory whip or with the shrewd combination of gravity and a solid-gold idol. These hazards only serve amplify the rush I get as I scoop up the priceless gold coins and assorted gems littered around every deadly nook and cranny. Actually "priceless" isn't quite accurate. My inexplicably precise sense of appraisal puts my net profits at exactly $2300, not including my Idol which I believe selling would be a bad idea for any number of reasons.
Oh crap.

I don’t like the look of that carving. A minute or so back I noticed the bloody giblets of a bat flying at me from the general direction of one of these. Plus, I’ve seen bloody arrows of questionable origin littering the floors of the cavern. It doesn’t take a genius to deduce that death and that statue have a few things in common, but I am and it helps. Knowing might be half the battle, but it doesn’t help the fact that the only way onto that ledge is the ladder leading directly into that carving’s line of fire. I’ll need a cunning plan if I’m going to-ahhh yes that’s it. Genius. Seeing as those flying bats got gibbed by these things and no one with any sense of symbolism would carve giant googly eyes onto their death trap if it wasn’t meant to see stuff, I’m guessing the mechanism is triggered by things moving in front of it. I’ll just climb up that ladder, wave my precious but crucially not-me Idol at the trap’s face until it’s spent, then climb up in safety. The plan’s infallible. It’s genius.

Yes Genius, which is why it totally worked and I escaped heroically and the loss of half my health points is completely unrelated and probably due to snakes or type-2 diabetes or something. I am a genius. You know this. Shut up I still have my Idol.
I continue my descent, braving falls and foes too numerous to mention before I hit what seems to be the cavern’s ground floor. My unshakable belief in a fair and just universe tells me that there must be a way out of here somewhere on this floor. Too excited for caution, I blaze forward, sneering at the lesser beasts lurking in the alcove below me as I pass harmlessly over them. It’s about at this point that I notice I’ve run under the hairy horror lurking above.

The man-sized arachnid plunges down towards me like an eight-legged guillotine, its crimson eyes creating a frighteningly effective contrast with its glistening white fangs that I can’t help but admire as I run away screaming. Actually wait, I don’t do that. Well okay I do do that a little but then I stop. I’ve beaten man-sized snakes and bats and giant boulders and that jet-bike level on Battle-Toads. I can beat this.
“Listen here, Bub”, I shout in my flawless Australo-Canadian accent at the surprisingly non-conversational fanged monstrosity bounding towards me, “It’s clobberin’ time!”
All across the world a million nerds are screaming at their monitors in fury. Their hate feeds me. “Suck my Face”, I scream eloquently as I chuck the golden head into the airspace I deduced to soon contain spidery death. However, my perfectly understandable miscalculation of freak-wind conditions in ancient caves leaves my precious careening into the aforementioned alcove of insignificance whilst Arachno the Fangular (as I somehow find time to name him) flies unhindered into my actual face as invited. The pain is indescribable so I won’t describe it, I’ve no time for brutal similes as I dash in what a spike filled dead-end seems to indicate is the wrong direction despite it seeming so right at the time.
Arachno continues his pursuit, his speed quickening greatly as his frenzied leaping sends him ricocheting down the low tunnel after me. In a brilliant manoeuvre, I duck on a ledge as he leaps over me. For a single precious instant I dare hope he’ll impale himself on the deadly spikes in his path, but he lands within a hair’s breadth of safety. I might have the time to flee but no time to get My Idol, this has to end now. Clamouring up into tunnel, I ready my whip-he follows-I strike-he leaps-a shock up my arm and a shower of blood: too much, not all his. He’s done, but the clenching throb of my last heartbeat and the abrupt end to the funky retro soundtrack that has played in my head all my life tells me I am too.
As I lie here in this cave of insurmountable peril, my life’s achievements seeming to flash above me for the world to see, I think of her again. I remember our last conversation where I’m standing over her smashed laptop and asking how I can make her love me again. As it plays out with perfect clarity I remember for the first time how a small pang of guilt crosses her features before she tells me just where to go.

What a bitch.