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“Critical Mass” Reaches The Masses

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So I’ve been hinting at this for a while – I released a full length album for the first time on August 1st, 2017. People release debut albums all the time, yes, but this is still a pretty major milestone on my end. In the interest of having more vaguely promotional material on the internet, Critical Mass is getting a blog post. Just to get it out of the way – your best bet for purchasing this is on Bandcamp, which has the lowest default price, but lets you pay what you want if you’re so inclined. You should be able to find it on a variety of other vendors, though.

A few bits of trivia you might not already know about this album, even if you’ve been good and purchased this album in order to support its creators:

  • Most of the actual composition/arrangement/recording work took place in early-mid 2016, and the decision to compile things into an album came about a year after that.
  • After doing pretty much nothing in the way of covers through the rest of my career, I started doing a chunk of those as I worked through the content for this album, and several of them lead to DAW/sonic advances that are present on Critical Mass‘s actual songs.
  • This album almost featured some more remasters and remakes from early 2015 or so, but I decided to leave them off in favor of newer tracks once I decided to seek out professional mixing/mastering services. Not to disparage myself too much, but I had good results with that route in the past (read: the Polyhedron EP), so I figured I’d give it a shot again.

With that in mind, some notes about the future:

  • I’m probably going to take another shot at finding bandmembers to expand Planepacked with sooner or later. Massachusetts is pretty damn good for metal, and I’m conveniently located to get people from all over New England by being close to its center of population.
  • Unless something changes, the next major creative project you see from me is probably going to be another book. I wrote 50,000+ words of one for NaNoWriMo 2016, and progress has continued on it since then, if admittedly kind of slowly. I’m hoping to pull off something of a sprint to fill out some of the chunks of that. I’ve already written a teaser for the content of the book, which you can read if you want an idea of the content.

Your normal review schedule will return on August 12th… unless I decide to write an Anatomy of Video Game Music post or something. You usually know what you’re going to get on Invisible Blog, but you can’t deny that there are exceptions.

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How I learned to love arrays – featuring Tracker2D

Tracker2D Publicity Shot 11Recently, I’ve been working on a huge update for my pet programming project. Since development is still pretty steady, this probably isn’t much of a surprise – recent commits have included a teleport tile that can send bugs to arbitrary points on the canvas, improvements to the style of menus, limited UI customization functionality, and so forth. I spent much of the last week overhauling Tracker2D’s audio ‘system’ by more comprehensively exposing the HTML5 Web Audio API’s various audio convolution and filtering features. This has been quite a task, and I thought writing about the process would be interesting as well.

Read more…

News Update – Tracker2D

Tracker2D is a program where a bunch of smiley faces run around a field of colorful dots and cacophonous noise plays.

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This screenshot should be at least representative of the program’s general functionality.

It occurs to me that the summary I just wrote for this program may be intentionally inaccurate. Whether Tracker2D is a toy, a digital audio workstation, or a visual programming language, it’s still a browser-based music creation program I’m working on that you can check out here. As of today, it is in very active development with new features being added all the time.

If there’s any one philosophical point underpinning Tracker2D, it’s the idea that a musician’s output is shaped by… well, the shape of their instrument. A pianist is going to have a different approach than a guitarist, or a violinist, or a percussionist, and so forth. More subtle, however, is the influence of your composing tools. Having written a lot of music, I’ll note that I underwent pretty massive paradigm shifts when I made big changes to my workflow – from notation in Sibelius, to step sequencing with Famitracker/OpenMPT, to piano rolls in REAPER, and so forth. Even subtle things like how these programs map keyboard shortcuts to editing functions have probably altered elements as fundamental to how I work as, for example, tonality and rhythm.

You might be wondering what this has to do with the actual software at this point. Tracker2D is nonlinear by design; you cannot determine the order of execution for musical events you input into the software simply by panning your eyes in one direction. Instead, your musicians (“bugs”) travel over a two dimensional field and can end up all over the place depending on what sort of instructions you paint on the field. At this point, there’s even some basic programmatic ability with counters and teleporters; at some point, you’ll be able to create relatively complex musical machines of a sort; how Turing-complete these are depends on how much work I’m willing to do in the future. The entire visual<-> sound relation concept is inspired by Toshio Iwai’s work, especially Simtunes. Tracker2D is intended to be more complex and “useful”, though – it’s going to implement a larger soundset, bugs aren’t tied to specific instruments, you can have up to 8 simultaneous channels instead of merely 4, and so forth. Then again, Simtunes was explicitly marketed towards children, so it was kind of simplistic in a lot of ways. The people whom I’ve discussed this with probably know what I’m talking about.

Anyways, I might end up sharing some devnotes on the software through this blog, so if that sort of thing interests you, keep an eye on this. You might want to follow the Facebook page, too. If you’re REALLY interested and want to actually help out, check out the GitHub repository and maybe contribute some code. Tracker2D is written in Javascript, with HTML5 Canvas/CSS markup for the UI, and runs best in the latest versions of Chrome or Firefox.

Second Contact Is Worse – Character Art

Another facet of advertisement reveals itself! I hired an artist to illustrate some characters for Second Contact Is Worse, and he recently completed the job, so I figured I’d upload them so that they’d be on the internet. That’s a reasonable course of action, right? These illustrations were made by Łukasz Juśkiewicz from Poland. If you like them, be sure to check out his deviantART page… where you can also see the cover art my book’s going to have upon publication. He’s also open for commissions, so if you think his style is appropriate for your own works, I highly recommend you look to him for work. The artwork you’ll see after the jump (assuming you read this from the front page and don’t click directly through to here) is legally his property, although I made sure to get usage rights, so if you want to do something with this art for whatever reason, please contact him instead of me to get permission.

Hold your mouse over these images for character descriptions. Shrewd readers will note that I do this for pretty much every image on my website, although I usually don’t upload this much text.

Read more…

“Second Contact Is Worse EP” now available!

folderMy music composition efforts have taken a rather thematic turn lately. Every day, Second Contact Is Worse gets a little closer to release, and a couple of songs I’ve released recently have taken ideas from it as inspiration. I figured it’d be sensible from a marketing perspective to bundle them together, and that’s where the idea for the ‘EP’ came from.

This is going to be a free digital release, like all of my musical efforts so far. Four of the songs I’m planning to include are already available on my Youtube and/or SoundCloud accounts. A fifth is under construction, and will be EP-exclusive for a while in the hopes that it gets the thing more downloads and buzz. It’ll eventually go up in the usual places, but if you want it available to the mass public earlier, you’ll want to flood the internet with buzz for this work, and that especially includes putting this icon I’ve made in every corner of the internet.

June 1st update: The EP exists! Download it here. It comes with cover art, liner notes, and losslessness due to FLAC formats.

Teaser: “Twilight Emperor”

While this project is still in its early stages, I’ve decided to reveal it on the grounds I may turn it into a multimedia project, as vaguely hinted at the last time I did a teaser for a book I’m writing.

Twilight Emperor is currently set to be my third novel. Compared to the First Contact Is Bad For You series, it’s going to be more realistic – it takes place in an alternate 1930s Europe, with some jaunts to the United States of America and perhaps other parts of the world. The point of divergence is close enough to when the book takes place that Europe is slowly but assuredly sliding towards cataclysmic war. In the middle of this is Lawrence Walker, the main protagonist; a foreman at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Georgia who makes the mistake of vacationing in in Belgium when the French are crowing about nationalism and the restoration of their country’s glory.

Currently, there are two side-projects I am seriously considering in addition to the novel (which is currently at approximately 12,500 words):

  • A mod for the game Hearts of Iron III, which is a strategy game where players take control of countries during World War II and attempt to rewrite history in their favor.
  • An academic paper relating in some way to the actual historical events that inspired me to write this book. By engaging in research to make this book more detailed and plausible, I’ve acquired enough texts to get started. The academic work of Robert O. Paxton is playing a major role here, and I would recommend his book, The Anatomy of Fascism to anyone who is interested in understanding interwar Europe.

To be fair, Twilight Emperor is (in its current form) driven primarily by its protagonist’s exploits – were it not for his touristy tendencies, the setting would be a backdrop at best. Prospective readers should be happy to know that they won’t need to be familiar with the actual history to enjoy this book.

It might take quite a while to get this out – this depends on a variety of factors, such as the progress of Second Contact Is Worse, my out-of-creative-lifestyle workload, and my overall interest in this project. Keep watching your maps, folks.

Desultor – Masters of Hate (2012)

Another relatively new release. Despite what December 2011 might’ve lead you to believe, I generally do not listen to a lot of new releases as they come out – I’m too busy exploring other veins of music. Technically, this was released fairly early in 2012, but whatever.

“Death metal with clean vocals”, some call this. I would not be so certain. The song structures are almost consistently basic verse-chorus, and the riffs are often modal in a fairly typical way. I’d probably put this down as an extreme sort of power metal that doesn’t really dabble in a lot of the fantasy cliches associated with the genre. Labels are kind of imprecise anyways with this sort of music. The vocalist relies mostly on clean vocals of the “power metal” sort, but occasionally backs it up with mid-range shouts. He’s got a bit of what is most likely a Swedish accent, but there’s nothing innately wrong (or right) about that. It did make this album stick out in my mind a bit more than expected, anyways.

After a while, I realized that the riffs were drawing me back. I do feel they could use reorganization into more advanced song structures, but there are some seriously good riffs on here. They’re mostly very simple, based on intervals and tremolos, but in a way it’s a triumph of minimalism – the guitar parts are memorable and intense, and trace out some interesting melodic lines. They also seem to work well with the aforementioned vocals – on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being complete non-coordination (not necessarily bad) and 10 being John Arch era Fates Warning, this is probably about an 8 or 9; the score would be higher if both were more complex. The vocalist of Desultor does not move around so much in his vocal lines; instead the guitars move around him.

Anyways, this is a rather rapid release in terms of its pacing; it finishes up in about 30 minutes. A few of those are dedicated to fillerish keyboard instrumentals – nothing offensive or cheap sounding like some of Morbid Angel’s attempts, but one could easily remove them from the album. They are the only areas where the keyboardist is used – while it would be difficult to incorporate the synthesizers into what is already a fairly dense sonic package, it could yield good results. In general, work on varied and more complex songwriting would elevate this band (at least musically) into top tier stuff. Whether or not that would translate into increased album sales is questionable, but it’s worth a try, and would definitely be worth doing in an attempt to write ever better music. Desultor remains a fairly young band, and I hope to see a second full length from them.

Highlights: “Caged”, “Division Insane”, “Masters of Hate”

Incidentally, it’s nearly 2013. I hypothesized at the end of 2011 that this year would be the “Year of the Retard”, mostly due to the hysteria over Mayan calendars. However, the intelligence of humanity, despite the many challenges it faced, remained unchanged (mostly due to these challenges also being highly prevalent in 2011). A few bits of planning:

  • Music reviews should continue so long as I am alive, assuming without intentional ending of this blog. It’s not like I’m going to run out of material, even within metal alone, although I may end up doing more solicited demos and independent records if my notoriety increases.
  • Pickup Lines That (Probably) Won’t Work will continue for a few months, depending on the willingness of that author to keep churning them out. Whenever they end, I will probably make my own metal-themed installment.
  • Rise of the Third Rome will be updated as frequently as my work ethic allows for. Unfortunately, unless I really prioritize it, that may not be very often.
  • Your duties for 2013 are to promote this blog voraciously, to the point of fanaticism. What do you mean I don’t have the authority to make you do this?

Either way, it should be a funny year. I will have graduated from the University of Rochester by the second half (slightly earlier, since the semester ends earlier).