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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.

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.

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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.

Notes on Five Years of Blogdom

After five years, it seems that this blog has become one of my life’s longest commitments. If you like reading this blog, you probably think that’s a plus. If not, that’s what we have brainwashing for. Odd veiled threats aside (asides being one of the main themes of Invisible Blog), it’s been an interesting five years, containing most of my undergraduate college experience, most of my musical ‘career’, and a surprising amount of my actual personal writing project time as well! What happened?


 

It seems that the creation processes in my brain only really began to work in any way recognizable to my current self around the age of 16; it was in May of 2008 that I started drafting First Contact Is Bad For You. Years of schooling meant it wasn’t my first attempt at creative writing (and the less said about my earlier attempts around the age of 12, the better), but where I might’ve earlier lost interest in it, I just kept working on it, albeit slowly and fitfully at times due to said times being scarce. I might’ve made some attempts at composing about the same time, but I didn’t really make any significant output until I got my hands on better tools – and with full awareness of what some of the purists might say, Sibelius is better than staff paper.

At the risk of complaining about how my past self didn’t know things my present thing did… my past self didn’t have the (dis?)advantage of future self whispering over his shoulder, complaining about his every pratfall and regret, and therefore had to figure a lot of things out for himself, like how to compose both text and music in a unique voice, and how to make it work. Standards change, and I became incredibly aware of that even during the creation of my earliest efforts. FCB is recognizable as the work it was when I first finished drafting it, but the revisions I made reflected three years of learning, especially aided by the jump in expected standards that accompanied my transition from high school to college. Meanwhile, I experimented a great deal with the limits of stock Sibelius, trying to bend its sounds into heavy metal music, and gradually coming to believe that a composition was more important than how it was performed. Kind of a big paradigm shift after 10 years of piano performance training, don’t you think? Minimalist black metal might’ve had something to do with it.

Then I discovered a little program called Famitracker. It seems that in the average hands, writing chiptunes with Famitracker teaches minimalism and efficiency, and to deny that I acquired some knowledge in that regards would be to deny my musical evolution, but by konsistently ko-opting Konami’s VRC6 expansion chip in to my palette, I found maximum sonar density to be a worthy compliment to my general attempts to avoid repetition. That turned out to be a fruitful approach, although I figured out that I could turn a sparser, cleaner approach into something I wanted to hear – anyone want to record a live version of “Song 31“? I have the sheet music if you’re interested, and it was explicitly designed to be human performable. In general, I feel like 2012, at least in its latter half, was a particularly good year for my creative ambitions – in the case of Famitracker I was writing more coherent and elaborate tracks after a period of deliberately writing ‘video game loop’ stuff, and in the case of this blog, I’d decided I was on a streak of interesting discussions of interesting music. Whether that previous statement is true or not is too subjective a question to answer, but my efforts to improve were still there.

Later years also saw me expanding into new subjects, which is probably why I ended up having a semi-robust ‘humor’ section on Invisible Blog. You’ve probably stumbled upon at least one of the “Bad Ideas” posts, which have steadily grown more elaborate and thematic over the years (although they’re rather less frequent than their heyday in early 2011). One of my buddies read these and insisted I should compile a list of “Pickup Lines That Probably Won’t Work” – when I told him that he ought to write the lines if he were so interested in seeing them exist, it left me with a new feature. Other experiments have lead to a series of little essays on games and game design, a couple of short stories, and the mother of all blog motivations – shameless self promotion! When I publish something, odds are it gets a mention here, since due to its length and consistent output, Invisible Blog has kind of become the unifying force between all my creative endeavors.

As it is, I wouldn’t be surprised if this blog continues for many years – perhaps even decades! It doesn’t get a ton of traffic, but keeping it alive seems to sharpen my skills as a writer, and that has to count for something, right?

I’ve been bouncing around a few ideas for types of posts that ought to be interesting to write about, and you’ll probably see some of those rather soon. The first (and in fact the next upcoming one) is to take the sort of music reviews that are the invisible bread and butter of this blog and apply their methodology to video game music. Unless the universe explodes, you should be able to read the first prototype before the month is out.

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).

Now offering a review service for music!

It’s very simple. If you’re, by your own description, a hard-working metal band that’s trying to get off the ground and want some promotion, send me an email containing a link to one of your recordings with the words “Please Review” in the subject, and I’ll write up 400-500 words on it for here. Mind you, I do not guarantee I will praise your work, but if you’ve been reading this, you’ll note that I’m generally a rather ‘gentle’ critic, so as long as your work is at least decent, you should be fine. Note that I’m trying to focus mostly on metal, although I’m also interested in progressive rock and certain sorts of electronic music (think more Tangerine Dream than Tiesto).

Why am I doing this? It’s basically symbiotic – You get an independent source offering an honest opinion on your music (which is great if you’re good at making music, or at least incorporating elements that I like), and I get some traffic and content for my blog. This comes at no cost to you. I don’t expect I’ll be doing this forever; it depends mostly on the volume of requests I receive. Act fast.

Categories: Music, News Tags: , , , ,

The Visual Arts

Recently, I got my hands on a graphics tablet, which makes it much more practical for me to do artwork. That’s kind of the point, but still.

Anyways, a brief history my experiences with art – despite the attempts of various elementary schools to introduce ‘arts and crafts’ to us when we were children, I never really did much in that regard. My parents did buy me quite a few sketchbooks, which I filled up with all sorts of weird things – I remember at one point being obsessed with geography and making maps of fictional regions with rivers named after levels in video games or something. More importantly, in 4th grade, my parents got me some private lessons. I vaguely remember being shocked at how by following the directions of the instructor, I was able to make an accurate reproduction of Mickey Mouse, and that must’ve cinched the deal for me. Those two years saw me trying a wide variety of mediums – colored pencils, acrylic paint, sculptures, pastels, and so forth. My parents, of course, were pleased and got some of the work framed. But then, our family moved, and the lessons stopped – I don’t think they were able to find a good private teacher in our new locale.

Then, in high school, I decided to take art as an extracurricular for two years, and I had a good teacher for that, too. Added to that were improved motor skills, and I produced some more artwork, of significantly better quality (by my appraisal, at least). It became less a thing of rote copying, actually; I gained a better grasp of the actual skills involved with my various mediums. In my last two years, though, I wasn’t able to fit it into my schedule, which was kind of unfortunate, but by then, I’d further developed my musical abilities (still limited to performance), and realized I’d developed the ability to write well. Ironically, it was my art teacher who first suggested I was a good writer, and that’s lead to this blog, amongst other things.

I’ve expressed my love of the graphics tablet before, check my DeviantART if you’re into that sort of thing. I initially intended to use that primarily for fiction, but it’s a practical place to build up an art portfolio. I would say I’m still in self-training mode as an artist – working on developing my own voice, picking up the techniques required to express myself, etc. Expand the post to see a random smattering of images.

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