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What I’ve Been Doing 22 Aug 2011 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Aug 22nd, 2011 by Dan

Music guitar

Music joins WIBD!

Well, “music” of a sort. I have a last.fm thing that is linked to my tumblr that you can use to see what I’ve been listening to, artist-wise. No, unless a new awesome album comes out, the point of this is to talk about audio programming I’ve been listening to.

Movies

Morning Glory – This one came off the girlfriend’s Netflix queue. I had some interest in seeing it myself, but I didn’t realize just how much of a chicklit movie it was. It’s not actually based on a chicklit book, but I still got that vibe. Really didn’t do it for me. Also: full bangs are terrible.

TV

Weeds – My favorite part about this show is how it gets Nancy into these ridiculously complicated and difficult situations so I can watch her try to extricate herself from them. Hard to imagine something worse than what she just got involved in!

The Hour – I haven’t finished the first episode, but a few thoughts. 1. The BBC tends to have a house style that makes everything look kind of same-y. I don’t really appreciate that. All the comedies have the same “look” and all the dramas have a different, but similar “look”. 2. Idris Elba and Dominic West are so entwined with The Wire in my head that it blows my mind every time I hear their native English accents. 3. America has its share of class-based struggles with rich and poor, but I feel like England still has it a lot worse with where you went to school and nobility.

Retro Game Master – This week’s game was a golf RPG, Battle Golfer Yui. The best part of the show was how the computer kept losing by making bad shots and giving up. Definitely one of the funnier episodes to date.

Music

All Songs Considered – As a response to the “Songs That Make You Cry” episode from not long ago, All Songs came back with “Songs That Make You Feel Good“. I’m not done yet, but the episode has had a great Stones song along with that catchy whistle tune by Peter Bjorn and John and Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over”. They should rename the episode “Songs That Make You Speed” because all of these are so fun and happy that it made me worry about tickets.

Books

One Hundred Years of Solitude – Read the beginning while waiting for my replacement car window. Seems cool. I like Melquiades and I can vaguely see some of the connections between this and Mother 3.

Collected Stories – Finished that other short story. It was an interesting look at an identical twin whose brother died. He felt like he was choking on the smell of formaldehyde and mused as to whether his dead brother was dragging him toward death too or he was dragging him toward life. Kind of interesting. We’ll see if the rest of Márquez’ stories are as obsessed with death.

Ultimate Fallout – (the rest of these are comics) The mini-series ended with this issue. Set up some neat plot points to go from in the future. I like how much Fallout is differentiating itself from the 616 continuity. Can’t wait for the new stuff to start this week.

Spider-Girl – Very action-y with not a lot of substance, but that’s cool with me. It was fun. Good to see female characters around.

Venom – Supposed to be really good, but it was just kind of meh to me.

Daredevil – My favorite book of the week. Good art, fantastic writing, and great attention to detail. You should check this book out.

Video Games

Dragon Age 2 – I think I’m somewhere in the 50-60 hour range with this game now. I was not expecting it to be this good. The decision to scale it down and focus it on a single family and city was pretty brilliant. It allows for a more character driven story. There’s also a nice benefit to making it about a different character in that I get to meet old guys from the past games and talk about my old char. Mass Effect is slightly different in that you play the same guy and they’re reacting to you. If they continue the series past 3 and Shepard isn’t the hero I hope they still keep some of the ME chars around.

Team Fortress 2 – I had one of my favorite rounds of TF2 yesterday when both my brothers and Lee were in a game with me. This game is just fantastic. Really great stuff.

Left 4 Dead 2 – Played a half hour with Dave until his net connection crapped out. Maybe we’ll finish the Dark Carnival tonight.

A Life Told Through Media [GO, F, BT]
Aug 6th, 2009 by Dan

The taste of Cuban food, the smell right before a thunderstorm on a summer afternoon, the sound of disco music, the oppressive feel of summer heat, and the sight of a pink building all remind me of my childhood home. Everyone knows that the senses trigger strong memories. It’s also common sense that the media we take in over our lives can have a profound effect on our memories of our past and development. From the simple books of my childhood to the games and music I played and listened to along my 23 years of development, there are certain pieces of media that are just inseparable from the circumstances surrounding their initial consumption. They range from the simple joys of childhood all the way to the angst of high school and the harsh realities of adult life, but I wouldn’t trade these associations for anything.

My earliest conscious memories all come from the modest house in Hialeah we lived in as children. The memories come flooding in as I think about the years I spent growing up in that house, but some of the most vivid come from the John F. Kennedy Memorial library. A giant, two-story behemoth of a building, I spent many a day browsing the books with my parents and in library camp during the summers. In the corners of my mind, I can recall watching a movie about a mouse who had a race car, but I know it wasn’t Stuart Little, it was far too early for that. I remember reading books about a purple monster (El Monstruo?) with my dad to practice Spanish, I remember watching Bob Ross videos (“Happy little trees”!), and I remember the joy of getting my own library card, even though it had a single-digit limit on check-outs, but most of all I remember checking out Three Investigators books. This, initially, Alfred Hitchcock-supported trio of detectives were the main characters in a book series that my father used to read as a kid. Knowing that I enjoyed mystery books, my father recommended them to me and they quickly became a favorite of mine. I can still remember the corner of the library where I used to look for these books. He may not realize it, but those books have stuck with me to this day and they will forever remind me of my father and my time in Hialeah.

While I have plenty of memories of playing the NES in our family room or Eric’s room in Hialeah, the first gaming system that was truly mine was the SNES that lived in my bedroom from 1992 until we moved. The story behind the Christmas I got it is colorful and fun, but Super Mario World sticks out beyond that in my mind for one simple reason. I specifically remember playing that game in the corner of my room, my television sitting atop my dresser, requiring a bash or two to get the colors just right, throughout that year and the next. It was conquered several times in two different parts of my room, with David watching me or playing as Luigi.

Memories of that bedroom are also carried within the bytes of King’s Quest VI. My father brought home the game at someone’s recommendation – this was when my father still played games on occasion – and began to puzzle through its depths at night after completing his homework. His obsession with the game became so great that he would often sneak peeks at strategy guides within computer stores during his breaks or on the way home from work so that he could get unstuck that night. My memories of the game develop from fear to delight as I grew older. You see, the King’s Quest series was not like the adventure games of Lucasarts, you could die at a moment’s notice. The realism and the grisly deaths combined to make me actively fear the game as a small child and I used to cover my ears so as not to hear the inevitable phrase “Tickets Please” uttered by the gate man of Hell itself as my father as Alexander perished yet again.

I would brave the depths of King’s Quest VI years later with Eric when we had moved to Tualatin, a small suburb of Portland, Oregon. With the help of a guidebook so detailed it included a novelization of the game’s events, we easily conquered Alexander’s quest and that of Graham and Roselia in the games immediately preceding and following. Much stronger media memories from my Oregon days come more from my original playthroughs of both Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI. My Chrono Trigger story was already documented pretty well with the 16-bit All-Stars, but what wasn’t as well documented were the days spent sitting on the floor of Eric’s room as we played. Poor David was relegated to spectator status as he watched me trek through the 16-bit time travel saga, but he got his money’s worth as he asked me to read and act the character’s parts aloud as I played, which I happily did for him most of the time.

An epic nine-day rental of Final Fantasy VI will always remind me of the family’s first big screen TV. I fondly remember powering through the game, grinding in the desert as we leveled up each character in our repertoire to prepare for our battle against Kefka. Since FF VI featured a two-player mode, David was more than happy to play along through battles as we forged our way through the epic story of my favorite in the series. I can still picture the position of the television next to the fireplace in our living room. I can still remember the Hollywood Video we used to go to where we rented the game.

After a few short years in Oregon, we found our way back to Florida and I found myself in my freshman year of high school. It was in that last year in Broward county that I have my strongest media-related memories. Eric started reading books by Neal Stephenson when we were living in Oregon and he got a hold of Cryptonomicon around the year 2000. I read the book in the back of my computer programming class during the spring of 2001. My desk was in the back of the room and I finished programming assignments so quickly I always had time to read. I even remember one of the assignments, a tic-tac-toe game coded in Visual Basic.

My memories aren’t completely limited to games of the video variety, the card game Spades, a game I learned also in the spring of 2001, is forever associated with being 15 and playing water polo. Coach Childs worked somewhere else in the district and he had to travel to the high school for practice every day. To pass the time before his arrival and our usual stretching routine, my friend Scott Huntley and other members of the team would play an informal variant of spades where the first to seven books won the game. Those spring afternoons playing cards in the amphitheater on the red mesh lunch tables of our outdoor cafeteria were great. I took the great card game of Spades with me when I switched schools the next year, introducing it to as many as I could and I played at the end of the year almost every year, but it could never beat those afternoons before practice.

We moved that summer up to central Florida, the greater Tampa Bay area, to be specific, much to my chagrin. The prospect of meeting new people and making friends yet again was daunting, but I had the help of aspiring pirate Guybrush Threepwood to get me through the anxiety of that summer and keep me from worrying too much. My first playthroughs of the fantastic games within the Monkey Island series come from that summer. As I type this on the desk I first got when we moved to Tampa, the memories come flooding back to me. The precise positioning of the desk in my bedroom. I can remember David lying on my bed behind me as we worked through the puzzles and my first girlfriend, Daniela, laughing at the ridiculous jokes in the later iterations of the series, brought to life through Dominic Armato’s voice. Lucasarts adventure games dominated that summer, but the Monkey Island games, by far, left the greatest impact on me. The day that I learned about the new iteration in the series and the MI remake I told almost anyone I knew who would care. They could all vouch for how excited I was. I owe this all to that one summer where I learned the art of insult swordfighting as I got ready to enter a brand new high school in a new town.

I listened to oldies music for the first 14 or so years of my life and, while it brought me my great love and appreciation for greats like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, it didn’t factor as much into my life as pop music did during my later high school years. Predictably, most music associations I have are tied to various girlfriends I had throughout high school. Take Sublime’s tribute to the working girl, “Wrong Way.” I discovered that song the summer of my Junior year when I met and was dating a girl named Stephanie I met at my job at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. She happened to live near the park and was definitely from the “wrong side of the tracks,” so to speak. I’m not implying that she was a working girl, but I couldn’t help but think about the more dire economic situation near the amusement park (seriously, it was in a really crummy neighborhood) as I drove out there to see her after work or on the weekends.

Two songs by the Lostprophets, “Last Summer” and “Make a Move,” were weighing pretty heavily on my mind before I went off to university the summer of my senior year. Read the lyrics and you’ll understand why my good friend-turned-girlfriend Ashley is particularly associated with both of those songs in my mind before we went off to separate universities.

Not all song associations have to do with girls, one in particular, “All My Life” by the Foo Fighters, is actually associated with the swim team, my friend Chris, and districts. The slowly building beat was perfect for hyping us up for our races and Chris and I both gave it a listen before lining up on the blocks to get the heart pumping in preparation. I can still almost picture the tent-like structures pitched off to the side of the pool, the smell of chlorine in the air, and the simultaneous excitement and dull boredom that is a district-wide swim meet.

All that’s great, but I want to end where I started, video games. This past summer was a huge period of transition for me. I was graduating, but the job I thought I had was closed off to me through circumstances I’m completely at fault for. Faced with the prospect of heading back home with my tail between my legs or sticking it out and looking for work, I chose to find a job or starve. I was determined to make it out here and I was lucky to have a very understanding roommate allowing me time to get back on my feet. The days were spent working toward finding myself a new job, but the nights were spent finally indulging in something I had to put off for my final semester at school: Metal Gear Solid 4. Any link between the struggles of Solid Snake to stay alive and determinedly finish one last mission despite his clone degeneration and my job hunt would be ridiculous in more ways than can be named here, so I won’t go there, but I will say that playing MGS4 on the floor of my apartment (we had no furniture at that point) on my teeny 25″ television (we have a 65″er now) will always be special to me. It was the first game I completed after completing my education. The first game I finished after I was set free in the world on my own. It was (supposed to be) the end for Solid Snake and a new beginning for me (I couldn’t resist). Beating it was my first victory amidst some pretty terrible losses that brought me to that point throughout the summer and I’ll never forget the mixed emotions I felt once I’d finished Snake’s swan song. On one hand, the MGS story was done (so I thought) and Kojima went all-out to end his landmark series I was thankfully not alone in a new state (glad to have you around Eric, Min, Duffy, and my other local friends). On the other hand, the finale was overwrought, overproduced, and kind of lame and there I was jobless and left with a feeling of “What now?” thanks both to Kojima’s ending and my situation. It been working out for me so far, but I find that I can’t go back and play MGS4 just yet. Something about the experience resonates too much within me to just replay it in these better days.

That was a rather long-winded way for me to talk about memories of my past. Any of my readers (all three or four of you) have any memories of media strongly associated with their past that they’d like to share? Comment away.

8-Bits Never Rocked So Hard: Anamanaguchi [Feedback]
Jun 2nd, 2009 by Dan

Kids are stupid. It’s really not their fault, how can they know anything about the important things in life without any real-life experience. Take my music-habits as a kid as a prime example. It’s not like I was listening to The Wiggles or anything so terrible, but among the real musical gems that I was listening to (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones) on Majic 102.7 (WMXJ) was some questionable material. Sure, Alvin & the Chipmunks singing country music (Urban Chipmunk, lovingly referred to as “a piece of shit” by Rolling Stone magazine), Bugs and Friends Sing the Beatles, and Kermit Unpigged may have featured music by legitimate artists or actual classics in their genres, but, did you notice that it’s all marketing trash?

That was what I spent most of my time listening to, laughing like an idiot and thinking they were the greatest thing ever. Little did I know that I was far closer to musical perfection than I realized by another way I wasted my time. Of course, I apply that phrase liberally, because we all know that spending hours playing video games certainly seems like a waste of time, but is 100% legit. The year was 199X and I was manning the controller to save the world from Dr. Wily’s Robot Masters as they threatened humanity in the year 200X. Did you know that, with an easy gap of a decade between when I last played Mega Man and back in January of this year I can still remember and point out tunes from that game? Wait, did Dan just go and say that the soundtrack to Mega Man 2 is equivalent to great rock music? Just roll with me on this one, I’m making a point (a correct one).

It’s been said that necessity breeds innovation and nowhere was necessity more evident than the 8-bit sound processors encased within the video game systems of old. Ok, it was more evident in the previous generation of sound processors, but I wasn’t alive then and I don’t really care. Necessity bred one of the most kickass soundtracks ever to grace the 8-bit era. Takashi Tateishi, Manami Matsumae, Yoshihiro Sakaguchi made the Nintendo sing. Sure, they’re not quite as iconic as the works of Koji Kondo or Nobuo Uematsu, but they were really catchy, hip, and cool tracks.

That spirit of innovation was a requirement during the days of the NES and SNES, but by the time the Playstation hit most developers had moved onto Red Book audio and if they weren’t shelling out for full orchestras they were using MIDI synthesizers and the like. The art of what would eventually come to be called chiptunes was no longer necessary. We were better for it, right?

Last year I remember listening to an episode of Retronauts and the subject of video game music came up. The hypothesis was posited that in-game music had actually declined in quality and had become somewhat same-y. Iconic tunes were a thing of the past. There are a lot of things that could really affect this, I mean, do we ever really think that new media we come across as better than what we discovered in the past? For most people the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia prevent new, quality media from being better than what we used to watch/listen to/read in our youth. Things just aren’t the same anymore. To tell you the truth, that argument doesn’t even really matter in the context of this post, so we’ll move on.

All I was trying to say is that we, the video game-consuming public, have strong feelings of nostalgia with respect to chiptunes. So much so that musicians began to voluntarily restrict themselves just to see what they could musically produce. The chiptunes scene was born, social networking allowed it to grow, and we’ve arrived at Anamanaguchi.

Let’s face it though, just how much can a genre of music that involves 8-bit chirps, bleeps, and bloops penetrate the mainstream? I love video games and video game music, so something that sounds like it is naturally going to be attractive to me. Anamanaguchi can’t get around the fact that there are 8-bit samples in their music, but what they can do is try to broaden their sound by adding in real drums, guitar and bass. It’s brilliant. Limiting yourself to 8-bit samples will keep the audience equally limited.

There are definitely two names mentioned far too often on this blog, but I’m going to still mention Leigh Alexander of Sexy Videogameland, Kotaku, and Gamasutra fame, because her SVGL and Kotaku articles are the ones that alerted me to this band rising in the Brooklyn indie music scene. Her article mentions that the band has been listed as an up-and-coming band and not just among other chiptunes (or bitpop) artists. They cite their influences as real rockers, not 8 Bit Weapon, and it shows.

Of course, it’s still on the awkward side to share with random individuals who you can’t be sure will jive with chippy music. I picked up the albums this weekend hot off of watching a video, but I balked at exposing my visiting friends to it and opted to play it quietly in the background, but all that did was let the occasional muddled chirp sound through. Definitely not what I wanted anyway, so I just put on some FOB when I got tired of quiet bitpop.

Once I had some privacy and the ability to listen in depth, I found a great punk sound that totally blew me away. There are two small albums available on Amazon.com: Dawn Metropolis and Power Supply EP, with the former being the more recent release. At their website, Anamanaguchi.com, you can listen to all of Dawn Metropolis and you can also check out an interpretive video that plays in the background of their shows at this site. The little videos show an interesting mini-epic that the music is trying to convey and are pretty cool and trippy.

The best tracks to check out on each album are:

Power Supply EP

– “Video Challenge”
– “Helix Nebula”
– “Air Base”

Dawn Metropolis

– “Jetpack Blues, Sunset Hues”
– “Tempest, Teamwork, Triumph (at Sea)”

There’s just a great sound to these discs and I think it would be a definite challenge to keep your toes from tapping to these beats.

Below are some videos, one of “Jetpack Blues, Sunset Hues” and another from Blip Festival 2007

Anamanaguchi – Jet Pack Blues, Sunset Hues from Dr. Limelight on Vimeo.

Anamanaguchi // Blip Festival 2007: The Videos from 2 Player Productions on Vimeo.

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