Sunday, September 30, 2012

Musical Potatoes and Painted Shoes.

Sometimes it's better to see the strings.  Sometimes it's better to have asteroids as potatoes and painted shoes.  If you're making a movie, and all the setting and non-human characters are created by computer, if the star of the film is sitting in front of a monitor someplace manipulating images, it's likely to pull down the film.  When I think of my favorite movies, Where the Wild Things Are, The Neverending Story, and the original Star Wars movies, most things were made of costumes, models, giant sets.  A minimal amounts of green screens.  Actors nowadays will never know how to interact with their settings, as they are all acting in front of a screen made to digitally manipulate images.  I mean, why shoot a film out at the ocean? Just create the scene, put sand on the ground, and get the right sound effect files from the studio  computer.  Jaws would (and is, have you seen the Syfy movies recently?) be so much easier to make.  No need for skinnydipping scenes and blood and the sound of actual orchestras.  Just create the sounds of the cellos on computer.  We don't need the flute players anymore.  They should go get a real job.

Of course, I'm being highly sarcastic.  Star Wars would be nothing without John Williams and his brilliance.  But maybe, just maybe, if Yoda were a puppet, and the city of Naboo had been made in some set in Brazil, maybe the new movies would have been better.  Heck, people might have actually enjoyed Jar Jar Binks, instead of finding ways of killing him.  The same thing goes with the music of any movie.  But usually movies have budgets big enough to have a big name composer create a score for it.  What happens when you are trying to make a video game, and it's the 1980's, and the technology isn't there for orchestral works, and your budget is slim?  Well,  you make your musical scores out of potatoes and painted shoes. Lets go for a musical adventure through some of the video games that I dearly loved as a child, not for the game itself, necessarily (although they were all great games), but for the music that artists do not get enough credit for, even after leaving tunes in people's heads for years.

There is no one who lived during the 1980's, and picked up the Nintendo controller, that can't instantly recall the theme for Super Mario Brothers.  But let's go back farther than that, to the days of the Commodore 64.  I must say, before I start this, that without the people that use Youtube as a place to store the history of mankind, from videos to TV to music to historical events, like Yeats' Graecian Urn, most of these pieces would be forgotten.  Let us hope that Youtube retains its function as a time capsule for future people to experience the amazing things that our generation has created.

Dig Dug  The melody track has basically two notes, with the other tracks going around it.  Dig Dug took the annoying siren noise of Pac-Man and turned it into something worth listening to.  And don't tell me that the modern day games are hard... they're nothing compared with the primitive AI of the Dragons that like nothing more than to breathe fire at you before you can blow them up.

        Another version, played on the piano.

Necromancer, by Synapse Software, was amazing, if you kept an open mind.  Grow trees to crush spiders, so the spiders won't grow and attack you while you fight the evil wizard.  It's the beginning song that makes the whole game, tho.

Or if you want to play the game, click here:

Star Soldier and Gyruss.  Nothing like space shooter games, where the space ships can bomb and blast everything in the air and on the planets below.  Actually, I loved Zaxxon from the C64 days, but when the Nintendo came out, these two were the best space games made, in my opinion.  Power ups, spaceships that are everywhere (think Galaga), but you've got to have the stimulating music to match the weaponry, something to activate my ADOS (Attention Deficit Oooh Shiny!).  These both do it well.....

And speaking of stimulating, you can't go wrong with the Intro Theme of Double Dragon. I was never any good at fighting games, but the music on this one was amazing!


And before I leave Nintendo World (which, honestly, I could go forever about Zelda and SMB...etc...), there is no video game company which was better at combining graphics, music, and, well, everything, than Capcom, especially the Mega Man series.  Mega Man 2 I would play just for the music.  I'll put the Bubble Man stage here, just because it fits so well with my next point about video game music. 

There's something about water levels and video game music. The 3/4 time of Super Mario Bros, level 2-2 is among the first actual "water" levels that I remember. When 16-bit music came out, composers used the water levels in games to let their ideas shine. The water levels were the soothing, ambient levels, where you could take the level, put the music on loop, and chill for an hour or two. Take Donkey Kong Country, for instance. I'm going to include a track on here now that is actually a remix from OCRemix which amplifies the original score. Just listen...

Perhaps the best water level music comes from the Playstation, from Final Fantasy VIII, the Fisherman's Warf level. Also check out OCRemix artist Tepid's version of it, which I have put on loop in my car and listened to it while I drove: You'll have to click here to listen to it.

Final Fantasy has such wonderful themes, so I'll put 2 more here and then leave it at that.  What I'm trying to point out is that, while the Orchestral works of modern day games are beautiful and, in some cases, easy to make, the beauty that these composers made with just the most basic of electronic music technology is well worth listening, too.  Discover the songs from your favorite games, and then see if there's any great Remixes done on OCRemix.  Below is Relm's Theme from FFVI and then the final theme from Final Fantasy Legend from Game Boy. For the Game Boy theme, click on this link: This Link Here.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Death and Mass Production (A Book Review and Remembrance)

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I must admit that when I saw this book in the stores, and picked it up, I realized it was the last thing I would want to read.  I mean, just another "kids dying with cancer story," depressing and melodramatic. My mind immediately leapt (the autocorrect doesn't have "leapt" as the past tense form of "leap.") to Death Be Not Proud, which most children have to read during high school at some point.  It's a matter of Pathos, I believe, to read these books where kids (or their pets) die, so that it says 1) "Quit Whining, it could be a whole lot worse. and 2) it prepares them for later traumatic experiences.  I swear I'm gonna rewrite Old Yeller , and make it actually have a happy ending.  Of course, you could always give it a sardonic twist, like authors are doing lately, and instead of a rabid fox biting the dog, you could have a mad werewolf biting the kid, so that the dog lives, but the boy dies.... anyhoo, I'm rambling now.  Back to the book.

But as I was saying, I didn't want to read another "Cancer" book.  My grandmother had just recently died of pancreatic cancer, and so why would I have to go through all that again in the pages of a book?  We want to escape reality, not live it over again.

Well, I was wrong.  Turns out that John Green actually realizes that, to twist a Bob Dylan line, "He busy dying goes through a lot of living." Because as I found out with my grandmother, dealing with death is best done as an affirmation, a recollection, of life.  There's no better way to surround the not-so-pleasant times of dealing with medical issues than to bring forth the humor that surrounds us daily.  My grandmother, as she was being prepared for her aneurysm surgery, was asked, "How do you feel?" She, in her wry humor, replied, "With my fingers."  It was the best thing she could have said.

So John Green picks up on this humorous thread and weaves it through the whole book.  He deals with the emotions of the teenage characters very honestly, with more depth than most Lifetime tearjerker movies.  Hazel, Augustus, and Isaac, (ironic that he's called Isaac, (eye-sic), since he's about to go blind) just roll their eyes at most of the attitudes of the adults in their lives.  They make fun of the "strong fighter kid who is always positive even while they lose his/her hair, limbs, etc....," even, when the time comes, they have to portray that image themselves.

Green picks up on the progression of cancer quite well, even talking about the "last good day" that seems to happen to terminally ill people.  I had one afternoon shortly before my grandmother died where she picked up her spirits and we sat there and laughed and she poked fun at me, before she went so far downhill we couldn't care for her at home.  He painted that scene so well in the book.  It was, to some extent, very cathartic for me.

That the title is based on a line from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (with all the foreshadowing that it implies), or that the book is filled with references to Eliot's "Prufrock" poem, or Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay,"  are added bonuses for those teachers who will inevitably put down the tired Gunther tome and teach this book to their 10th grade English students instead.

One part of the novel I found interesting, because it goes back to one of my other blog posts, was this fascination by Augustus about the Afterlife, be it a Christian based one or those suggested by any of the other religions, or nothing at all.  And it's fascinating because, if we are to believe that the philosophies of the 20th century and the secular material world have phased out the traditional Christian beliefs of Heaven and Hell, then this part of the book, and other references to the Afterlife (see Beetlejuice, or Paul Simon's song "The Afterlife,"  (go to my blog about the Afterlife for these examples.)
) is a desire to fill that void.  When reading this book and reflecting on it, I was pulled to  the band Death Cab for Cutie's song "I'll Follow You Into the Dark."

An amazing song that goes so well with the book, especially the line, "fear is the heart of love," something the singer rejects.  There's so many ways to incorporate songs, poems, TV shows....etc... into this book, it really would be a great teaching tool, if a little controversial.

Since we're dealing with these subjects, I wanted to put here that a good friend I had in high school died this past week. Johnathan Ashley Nix passed away from a massive stroke.  I always loved his wry sense of humor, his unique way of looking at things, his refusal to let all the normal people of Heritage High to get to him all that much, even while I shrank inside myself from bullying.  It was perhaps this that kept me from really making friends with, well, anybody. He signed my yearbook, my senior year, with a long, rambling diatribe about anything, writing it upside-down and right to left.  It took me holding it up to a mirror to read the whole thing.  In the middle is his tune about "Mass Production," a Henry Ford-esque march anthem, much like you would hear in Brave New World.  I still remember the tune he used to sing it.  I only wish I could have been friends with him longer, from when we met in the 6th grade...  He took me to see a truly horrible version of Hamlet at an Atlanta Theatre for school credit (the professor was friends with someone there, I suspect), and so he brought over a ton of Fantasy books that he didn't want.  Among them was The Quest for the Faradawn by Richard Ford, a British author.  Truly a magnificent work, and one of the few I've read where most of the main characters were animals.  Anyway.... I'm just telling the few points in my life where his "thread" touched mine, and so hopefully it will be made fuller and more complete.  Outside of any afterlife or immortality that our souls go into, the memories that we have here are what keep Ashley living on here, inside our own hearts.  I scanned my yearbook page and have it below.