Showing posts with label music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label music. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Periodic table of synthpop

Work and real life have conspired against me, and I didn't make any of the posts yesterday that I hoped to make and which I referred to in my last post.  *sigh*

Today, I think I'm going to punt and talk about something else that requires a little bit less thought and effort on my part as well.  I discovered this interesting little image when it was posted on Apoptygma Berzerk's facebook feed.  Synthpop is really my favorite kind of music.  And it's a bit varied.  There's more than one "style" of synthpop, as you'd expect from a genre that's been kicking around since the late 70s (usually at this point, one points out that the first song generally considered true synthpop is "Hiroshima Mon Amour" by Ultravox! on their 1977 album Ha!-Ha!-Ha!  The first synthpop album is also generally credited to Ultravox (now sans exclamation point): 1978's Systems of Romance.  However, it wasn't long before Tubeway Army, Sparks, The Human League and others were really introducing the synthpop sound, often having arrived at it independently from mixing Kraftwerk and other "krautrock" type sounds with a more poppish flavor.

Synthpop (although not known by that name in the US at the time) was intensely popular during much of the 80s (when I was a kid--hence my love of it) and especially by the late 80s, synthpop bands (often British, but not necessarily so) were regularly charting in the US--Depeche Mode, New Order, Erasure, Information Society, the Pet Shop Boys, etc. is just a taste of what came out in the mid to late 80s and received generally high sales and airplay.  By the 90s, though, synthpop dove sharply underground as mainstream tastes changed and grunge (and other movements) revolted and pushed back against the synthpop sound.  By now, however, the internet made sure that the genre couldn't die, and indie bands were able to reach a fairly high level of sales and visibility thanks to its auspices.  This is the case today, and it is well represented here, by the various splintering of styles and whatnot.

I've never heard some of these labels before (and I expect they were made up for this chart, partially tongue in cheek.  Noble synthpop?  But, somehow, it fits.)  And there's a few bands on this list that I'm not familiar with, but not too many.  I'd quibble just a tad with some placement--why is Assemblage 23 not listed with Futurepop, for example?  And why is Visage New wave and not New Romantic, when Visage almost single handedly created New Romanticism in the first place?  But these are very minor quibbles.

Rather, I think the chart is missing an important component--where is the modern mainstream synthpop?  Stuff like Lady Gaga, La Roux, Owl City, Hurts, The Presets, etc.?  Darkwave is more of a hybrid genre (as is futurepop), so if they're in, why not electroclash?

Yeah, yeah--I get it.  The entire thing isn't meant to be taken very seriously.  But still, I think those are major misses.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Depeche Mode retrospective

So... apparently there's a strong link between gamers and metal.  I've never really listened to much metal, other than a brief flirt with Metallica in the 80s, and Anthrax and a few other guys.  I was always an electronic music guy, and really liked the European stuff in particular.  Stuff like Depeche Mode, Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, etc.  Stuff that today is called synthpop.  Since my audience here tends to be gamers, there's probably a big disconnect when I talk about certain topics--hiking and music being two notable ones.

That said, this is not a monetized blog, or anything.  I'm not looking to build a DARK•HERITAGE brand or anything; this blog is just my little corner to ramble about whatever it is I feel like talking about.  So, here's another DM related post.  I've been listening to enough of Delta Machine now that I feel comfortable commenting on it, but more telling, I've been caught up in a broader DM fever, listening to all kinds of their old stuff, remixes, B-sides, older albums, video documentaries, and more.

I saw a comment from some guy on the Internet--just the commentary page for an actual review of Delta Machine somewhere that had an interesting comment in it--it was something to the effect that Depeche Mode is like the old ex-girlfriend you had from a fun time in your life.  You look back fondly and nostalgically on those times, so you can't help but checking in from time to time to see what she's up to--only to find that she's gone somewhere so different from the direction you've gone that you have nothing in common anymore.  I think he's overstating the case--or at least my relationship with Depeche Mode isn't quite that dramatic.  But he makes a good point.  There's still a lot of that vibe present in my own relationship with Depeche Mode too, and I still see all of their best stuff in the 80s--particularly the material that came out on Some Great Reward in 1984, Black Celebration in 1986 and Music for the Masses in 1987.  After which they took some time off, recorded the best live album ever (101) at the tail end of their Masses tour in 1988, and then came back with Violator in very early 1990, which largely disappointed me, even though it was much more successful financially than anything they'd done previously, and even though it has "Enjoy the Silence" which even I have to admit is gotta be their most iconic song ever.  Violator is, however, a natural enough evolution from Masses, in many ways--it wasn't until Songs of Faith and Devotion where Dave Gahan and others consciously wanted to evolve into much more of a "rock" sound that I felt Depeche Mode really lost me and never quite got me back.  Sure, I have all of their later albums (although I picked them up quite belatedly in most cases) and I still like them well enough--but I don't love their new stuff like I loved (and still love) their older material.  As I've said before, I think some of what I miss is Alan Wilder's influence.  And they've managed to replicate some of Wilder's talent with various hired on producers and session musicians, no doubt, but I still think Wilder was a genius who's talents were--as he himself said--underappreciated in many cases until after he was gone.

And one of the things I most appreciated about the band in the "good old days" was their attention to guarding their privacy.  In the mid-90s, that was no longer possible, after Dave Gahan famously nearly died (more than once) and was arrested for heroin possession (and overdosing).  Frankly, Dave's state was almost a worse crisis for the band than Alan's departure--and when he finally licked it, it's almost like he was using the curiosity of the music press as therapy sessions, talking way too much about what was going on.

I do, actually, appreciate the video documentaries that have come out since--most notably all those that came out with the 2006 remastering and reissuing of all their earlier albums.  Seeing some behind the scenes are interesting, and they've done a good job of keeping their private details private to a surprising degree, talking more about the music and the processes than about their personal lives.  After watching all of them, I'm still not completely sure why Alan left the band, even though he featured very prominantly in the interviews.  Maybe he kept things too private; I'm not 100% sure that the rest of the band really understands even now why he left either.  They seemed to speculate a little bit on that, before admitting that they were speculating and that they should probably quite while they were ahead.  Odd.  I got a better read from Vince Clark in the earliest two documentaries, when he was still around.  They couldn't help but talk about Dave's heroin addiction, since it played such a major role in what was going on during Songs and Ultra.

Now, as part of my own review, I've been hunting down remixes and b-sides that I've been missing from the "golden years"--not that there's a lot I didn't have, because I had a lot of CD singles and even vinyl 12-inches that I'd bought back in the day (and since.)  I also have spent a fair bit of time on youtube watching their old music videos.  The band is adamant that they hated doing music videos until they stumbled across Anton Corbijn who did their last Black Celebration video ("A Question of Time") and almost everything subsequent.  In fact, they're adamant that they felt taken advantage of, seen as a tool for various directors to try out whatever outrageous idea they had and make them look foolish.

Reading a little between the lines, I think what they really mean to say is that Anton was the first director that made them feel comfortable doing something that they fundamentally didn't really like doing.  If that's the case, well, I can hardly fault them for feeling that way, but honestly, most of the older videos weren't that bad (and most of the Corbijn videos weren't really that good either.)  With the exception of "Leave in Silence" and "Get the Balance Right" I actually think most of their older videos are either quite good, or at least par for the course for the period in which they were made.  I even think "It's Called a Heart" may have the best music video Depeche Mode put out (although I'm kinda with the band on the fact that the song itself wasn't anything terribly special.)

Monday, April 22, 2013

DM

Well, I never got around to the third post, on the neighborhoods of Porto Liure.  Honestly, that post will take some work, and I haven't had the time or resources available to me to do it easily.  I've also been distracted by what happened in Boston last week--my boss actually ran in the marathon and finished less than half an hour before the first bomb went off.  He was only a block or two away at the time.  I've been spending more time trawling the news than is normal even for me.

Because of this, I'm not really ready to make that post right now either--I've got to spend a fair bit of time actually developing the content of that post.  Maybe I'll get to it tonight, but I'm not promising that--merely hoping so.

Two quick comments instead--one of them off topic and one of them on.  First the off-topic.  In the wake of the release of Delta Machine I've been listening to a lot of the more recent Depeche Mode--particularly that one and Sounds of the Universe, which I never allowed to grow on me when it was new, so I hadn't really liked it or listened to it in a long time.  Delta Machine right now is kinda in the same boat--I haven't heard it much yet, but I'm not exactly loving it.  I'm trying to keep a more open mind, because listening to Sounds now, I don't think it's all that bad.  It's also, however, not that great.  It reminds me greatly of Exciter, when I was really hoping for something that reminded me more of Playing the Angel.  For my money, Depeche Mode really lost their way when Alan Wilder left.  I read a review recently of Delta Machine and one thing that the review said finally clicked with me why Depeche Mode has largely lost me.  It didn't make any reference to their music as synthpop.  I had thought that that was maybe because synthpop is an esoteric indie genre label that the writer was either unfamiliar with, or didn't want to use because his audience would be unfamiliar with it, but the more I think about it, it's because Depeche Mode's music really doesn't resemble synthpop very much at all anymore.  I'm not just talking about the preponderance of guitars (that's been true since at least Violater maybe even Music for the Masses, and didn't fundamentally change the nature of the music too much.)  I'm talking about how Depeche Mode has largely morphed into a bluesy alternative band that uses synthesizers and samplers somewhat as a legacy element of their electronic music past.

Needless to say, I was a huge fan of Depeche Mode as synthpop. To me, they were key in defining the sound of the genre. Depeche Mode as something else is still interesting to me, but I don't like it nearly as much.  The evolution is somewhat gradual, so maybe there's not a lot to be gained by trying to determine a cut-off point, but I see the departure of Alan Wilder as the defining moment when Depeche Mode became a band that I was significantly less interested in than I had been.  This isn't exactly fair, because I thought both Violater and Songs of Faith and Devotion were disappointing.  To say that Ultra and then Exciter were even more disappointing is just evidence of that continued arc, and regardless of the presence or not of Alan Wilder, that arc was probably still happening.

Playing the Angel was kind of the "back to basics" album for Depeche Mode, but it now looks more like an anomoly than a change in direction.  A momentary throwback, or something.  Of all the post-Wilder albums, it's the only one that comes close to matching even the least of the pre-departure albums (and the least of the pre-departure albums is probably A Broken Frame which was made before Wilder was integrated into the band in the first place.  The more I think about it, the more I think Wilder was hugely instrumental in making Depeche Mode into the band that I loved in the 80s and 90s, and his absense is keenly and disappointingly noted.  Repeatedly.

The on-topic comment.  Being older doesn't necessarily make one more mature when it comes to role-playing games.  In our ongoing Star Wars game, in which most of the party is playing jedi knights (newly minted, in fact, as knights), we're still capable of causing comedy of errors type chaos; real Keystone Kops moments.  This weekend, while walking through an open black market of sorts en route to our actual objective, we got distracted by lots of cool loot.  One of the Jedi was smitten with an assassin droid that folded up into a briefcase, a la Iron Man's armor.  Lacking money, he decided on trying to figure out a way to con or cheat the salesman out of his stuff.  Simultaneously, one of the non-Jedi members of our party was smitten by the wares of a weapons salesmen.  He didn't have any money either, but the dealer he was talking to said that finding some way to get rid of his competitor who was flooding the market with stolen thermal detonators would be worth a couple.

The poor GM, at this point, saw the entire affair, which was only meant to be a colorful little description on the way to somewhere else, go completely off the rails.  While my character and another Jedi staged a fake lightsaber fight as a distraction (echoes of the Michael York Three Musketeers running through my mind), someone else set up a spot where he could pick off the corrupt arms dealer with a sniper rifle, and two other Jedi were running a con game in the droid shop.  The distraction proved to be a little too good when the market was flooded with the better part of twenty guards, and the droid guy clamped up and told his existing battle-droids to be on the lookout for potential theft.  Things weren't looking good, so my character, now doing an extremely quick scan of the dead arm's dealer's kiosk/tent made an somewhat impetuous decision that another distraction was needed to extricate ourselves from our dilemma.  Setting a thermal detonator with a short timer on a crate that I presumed was full of stolen thermal detonators and then running, a massive explosion killed six guards, blinded almost everyone in the entire market (including the rest of the guards and three of the PCs--including the one who was skeptical of this entire affair and holding back.)  The jedi I had been fake fighting took that opportunity to loot a jewelry store.  The jedi attempting to con or steal the assassin droid was getting beat up by the combat droids, so he force jumped out of the tent with the briefcase.  Except... he was blind.  And the tent was on fire.  So, he made a big parabolic arc through the air as basically a flaming piece of tarp with a jedi in it, and crashed into another stand.  Me and the sniper looted the arms dealer's kiosk.   Not the one that was dead--his entire kiosk was vaporized--but the one who initially asked us to get rid of his competitor.

The assassin droid, in the end, was not successfully stolen, and the PC who force jumped in the air with it is now blind and in jail.  We're fairly confident he can beat the rap.  We're also fairly confident that his sight will return.

I'm not sure which emotion was more prominent on the GM's face during the evening... complete frustration, or bemusement.  No doubt, he was struggling between the two extremes himself.  We're also hopeful that Master Luke, who championed our would-be Jedi's cause against the will of the rest of the council, doesn't find out what we did.  That was, after all, just last session...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Depeche Mode B-sides

I don't use the MUSIC tag all that much (because I have another blog that's more specifically all about music) but this post doesn't exactly fit with that blog, so I'm posting it here.  I've been a bit excited about Depeche Mode lately (which has nothing to do with the fact that a new album just got released yesterday and tour dates for later in the year are coming up.  Honestly!)  I'm kind of a "classic line-up" Depeche Mode fan, and wish that they could somehow do a reunion line-up with Alan Wilder back in the saddle, but I'm not holding my breath.  Although one never knows--Wilder's open departure letter obviously speaks to great personal dissatisfaction with the working relationships within the band--but he's done a few friendly get-togethers with them, and remixed a few of their newer tracks. 

The earliest album, led by Vince Clark's vision, is almost a completely different band altogether, and the second album was a strange bybrid of Martin Gore starting to do his own thing while also still trying to imitate Clark to some degree.  The albums after Wilder left have (almost) all been universally disappointing to me (although Playing the Angel was as good as Songs of Faith and Devotion or Violator--both albums that were good, but not my favorites.)  So of the six albums released under the "classic line-up" of the band, it's kind of the middle-set that I see as the best albums by the band, and indeed, amongst the best albums in modern music altogether--Some Great Reward, Black Celebration and Music for the Masses.

Depeche Mode, however, always had a fair bit of non-album singles, b-sides and other non-album tracks, many of which were stylistic variations on directions that their "mainstream" songs were doing at the same time.  I remember being particularly shocked when I heard "Set Me Free (Remotivate Me)" for example--as a lightweight, poppy song as the b-side to "Master and Servant" at the time of Some Great Reward where Depeche Mode arguably hit their lowest, darkest point ever with "Blasphemous Rumours"?  At other times, the b-sides and non-album singles were really good and fit well with the albums thematically that they were closest associated with chronologically, which made me wonder why they were missed (particularly in albums that had a short track-list.  Why didn't "Dangerous" and "Sea of Sin" appear on the 9-track Violator?  If they had, the album still would have been relatively shortish, and they would have been among the best tracks on the album.)  "Martyr" was recorded along with the rest of Playing the Angel and was almost included along with it; almost released as the first single from the album, even--then at the last minute, it didn't make it and got a release as a non-album single.  "Oh Well", the B-side from "Wrong" is among the very best of the songs from the Sounds of the Universe time-frame, and the fact that it didn't show up on the album is significantly to its detriment.

Then again, I was disappointed enough in SotU that I haven't listened to it in a long time.  I probably need to let it percolate and try again really badly.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Depeche Mode "Heaven"

Newly released.  Wow, David Gahan is starting to look pretty old.

I was so disappointed in Sounds of the Universe that I'm not sure what to think about the release of a new album now.

Monday, August 13, 2012

DARK•HERITAGE Soundtrack

I've mentioned this before, but I like to revisit it again from time to time.  I like music.  Lots of different kinds of music, actually.  Because I play(ed) two different instruments (piano and trombone) I came to appreciate music as music, that is, I came to appreciate music that I otherwise might not of because it's doing things artistically and musically that I can understand and appreciate.  I like a lot of 80s music (because I was a kid and teenager during the 80s.  That's not surprising.)  I like a lot of electronic music, especially synthpop and futurepop.  Also, that reminds me of a lot of my favorite 80s music, and I like it no doubt for many of the same reasons.  I like some modern pop music.  I like some few "New Age" artists, although again--it was my appreciation for Enya and her heyday in the late 80s and early 90s with hits like "Orinoco Flow" or "Book of Days" for instance, which made me aware of the genre.

And I've always been a fan of classical music.  By classical, I really mean the "Romantic" era stuff--Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Wagner, Liszt, Dvorzak, later Beethoven, Mahler, etc.  That kind of stuff.  And, I've been a fan of good musical movie music scores.  Of course, given my age, I barely remember a time before John Williams and the Star Wars score, which really changed movie music forever.  In fact, I still consider the Star Wars music amongst my favorite music of all time.  I bought the two-disc (each) Special Edition soundtracks when they were released years ago.  Great investment.

In fact, I got a bit carried away picking up movie soundtracks a few years ago, and while I'm arguably still carried away, I don't buy as much as I used to.  Movie soundtracks are, I've also found, great to play in the background while gaming, or while working on gaming, or while writing, or while developing, or whatever.  Most movie soundtracks are scored specifically so that they can emulate a tone and theme.  Sure, moods may change within the course of a movie, but picking a movie that has the same kind of "feel" as you want your gaming to represent, and then playing the music for that movie in the background, is a great way to make sure that your game has the right feel too.

DARK•HERITAGE, being a setting that has pluralistic influences, naturally needs a pluralistic soundtrack, and no single movie or series of movies even, can hope to give me everything I want in terms of tone, feel and theme.  But I have taken several stabs at creating the "ideal" soundtrack for DARK•HERITAGE.  For various reasons, I've decided that I will only accept as much music as I can burn on a single CD-R (as mp3s), so depending on file size and quality, I can get between 7-12 or so soundtracks on it.  Ten is usually the target I'm aiming for, but if there's still room, I'll add some more.  CD-Rs are very convenient for me because they are easily portable, really cheap (so I can redo them if I feel like it later), I can play them in a variety of devices, and because of their constant size (700 Mbs) it keeps me from getting carried away and adding more than I need.  Plus, I can play it in my car, in my DVD player, in my stereo, and on my PC.  While I can mostly do that with my mp3 player too, it's not as convenient as just throwing a CD-R in.  It's the perfect solution for me.

Because I'm always picking up new soundtracks, I find from time to time that I need to adjust my DARK•HERITAGE soundtrack--or if I don't need to, I want to because some new soundtrack fits so perfectly with what I want my game to "feel" like.  So although I haven't yet burned a CD-R with this new listing, here's what I'm thinking of doing for the "new" DARK•HERITAGE soundtrack, when I make my new CD for it.  For now, it's eleven soundtracks long, but with some judicious editing of tracks, I can probably fit some more stuff in too. 
  1. Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End
  2. Pirates of the Carribean 4: On Stranger Tides
  3. The Wolfman
  4. Sherlock Holmes
  5. Sherlock Holmes 2: Game of Shadows
  6. Red Dead Redemption
  7. The Mummy
  8. Prince of Persia
  9. Batman Begins
  10. The Dark Knight
  11. The Woman in Black
Stuff to add?  I also have some tracks from Pirates 2 that I'd like to fit in.  I have the new Dark Knight Rises soundtrack, but I don't know if well enough to know if I feel like I need to add any tracks from it, or if the earlier two already cover that territory.  Signs has some nice creepy songs that I'd like to add, as well as Bram Stoker's Dracula.  And there's a few tracks from Stargate, Cowboys & Aliens, and maybe Predators that I think would make a great addition.  A main track or two from The Godfather would be brilliant.  But any and all of those additions are subject to space limitations--like I said, I could get really carried away and easily double or even triple the amount of music that I accept, but if I do that, then I lose my focus and defeat the purpose of trying to limit it in the first place.  No, I want to make sure I can keep it to a single CD-R in length.

If you look at the list, you'll notice a few themes that are represented more than once.  Westerns, although darker revisionist Westerns, not heroic stuff (I could have added The Magnificent Seven, for example (great themesong, by the way) but deliberately did not), I've got pirate-sounding music, I've got a bit of Victorian Gothic type stuff, I've got "Arabian Nights" sounds, and there's a strong vibe of horror.  Frankly, the new Batman soundtracks sound like horror soundtracks rather than superhero soundtracks, which makes them perfect for my purposes too.  James Newton Howard is brilliant.

Now, any given game within DARK•HERITAGE might not hit on all of those themes.  It would probably be rare for a game to focus on both pirates and cowboys, at least at the same time, for instance.  But I don't want to get into themed variations, I want a "one size fits all" DARK•HERITAGE soundtrack that I can always use and which always works.  I think this soundtrack fits that bill nicely.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Ramundet del Fraysse

Before I begin, let me make an aside--which will later be at least somewhat relevant.  Many players of D&D are big fans of metal.  I don't know how many times I've heard the assumption that D&D players are into Black Sabbath, Molly Hatchet, or more esoteric and poorly known metal bands.  I, however, am not.  When I got old enough to really pay attention to music, I became a New Wave fan.  New Wave, as we called it in the late 80s in pseudo-urban central Texas is slightly different than New Wave as the British music press used to use the label a few years earlier; for me, it mostly meant that I liked a lot of synthpop dance music.

In 1988 when the single "Chains of Love" was released, Erasure came to my attention.  You have to remember back then that there wasn't any internet to get more independent or underground acts to my attention, and since I was a teenager living in a relatively small town, I didn't really have much of any other venue (like happening night clubs, or anything) to get stuff other than word of mouth from fellow fans, or hearing a song on the radio and going and searching for the catalog of the artist.  I could occasionally get reception for more "New Wave" oriented stations out of Houson, which brought more to my attention than the Top 40 and Country (and Oldie) stations that were more local.  But "Chains of Love" was a Top 40 success, and in short order, I ran out and bought The Innocents on cassette tape.  I liked Erasure quite a bit, and got their (still fairly short, at that point) back catalog in short order--but not before picking up a CD player.  So I've always had Wonderland and The Circus on CD.  I also ended up getting The Two Ring Circus as a used CD not too long later.  And when it later came out, I got Wild!, Chorus and the next two albums beyond that on CD as well.

But that was an interesting time for me and music formats.  I also bought Crackers International when it came out, but I got that on cassette.  Sometimes I bought cassettes because I could buy them used really cheap (such is the case with Book of Love's Lullaby for instance.)  But sometimes I got them because you couldn't get everything you wanted on CD yet, and you couldn't listen to CDs just anywhere (it would be years still before I had a CD player in my car, and I had Walkmans for a long time before I had Discmans.)  Sometimes, though, I bought stuff in different formats because that's what it was available in.  I liked remixes, but  you still had to buy 12" singles in... well, on 12" vinyl.  I had actual 12" singles for "A Little Respect," and "Drama" and I had cassette maxi-singles for "Star" and "Blue Savanna."  Seeing that the future was CD, though, I managed to get "Chains of Love" on CD maxi-single, but those were fairly hard to find still in the early part of the late 80s.

And of course I was right; cassettes and vinyl became obsolete (in fact, although I still have some of both, I have no machine that will play either anymore.)  CDs that I bought nearly 25 years ago, on the other hand, still play as crisply as they did the day I walked out of the store with them.  As many people my age or thereabouts have done, I ended up having to rebuy much of my non-digital collection.  That, of course, has become easier now that you can download digital music from Amazon or iTunes (although I staunchly refuse to join the Apple cult myself.)

And the final point, other than to ramble about music that I like but which probably none of the readers of this blog do, I decided recently, after "rediscovering" some of my 80s CDs that I hadn't listened to in quite a while, that the CD format is kinda clunky after all for me.  I listen to a lot of my music these days on mp3 either through an mp3 player or through my phone.  I do, however, refuse to load entire albums on either (most of the time) and because my car (where I listen to 90% of my music nowadays) has the capability of playing back mp3s off of a data CD-R, I decided to archive my entire run of Erasure music on a single CD-R.  I couldn't have done this, of course, if I didn't make a few sacrifices.  I was able to get all of the actual album CDs ripped and archived with no problem.  I had to rebuy Crackers International as an mp3 download from Amazon.  And I cherry-picked remixes that I liked from my 12"s and maxis also as Amazon mp3 downloads.  I took off the live songs from The Two Ring Circus and left off a bunch of remixes that I didn't like and all of the b-sides (none of which particularly appealed to me, so I wasn't missing much.)  When I did this, and ripped it all at 192 kbps, I found that it almost perfectly fit on a standard 700 Mb CD-R.  I may have had room to fit 4-5 more tracks, but what tracks would I have bothered with?

The point of all this rambling is that for music fans, the last few decades have been ones of tremendous technology change that radically redefined how we listen to music, and just with my collection of one artist has me touching no less than 4-5 formats (I completely skipped 8-track tapes, though.)  Because I just made this Erasure archive on CD-R (which includes, for anyone curious, 12 folders--1) Wonderland, 2) Remixes (from the 2003 "Oh l'Amour" re-release on CD), 3) The Circus, 4) The Two Ring Circus (minus the live tracks), 5) The Innocents, 6) Remixes of "A Little Respect" and "Chains of Love", 7) Crackers International, 8) Wild!, 9) Remixes of "Drama" and "Blue Savanna", 10) Chorus, 11) I Say, I Say, I Say and 12) Erasure.  Nearly 150 songs in total.) I've been thinking about this concept a bit, and the rapid technology changes that have overcome my music collecting hobby.  And it occured to me... what if there was some innovator, a prodigy if you will, who did the same for magic in DARK•HERITAGE?

You have to remember that in DARK•HERITAGE magic isn't friendly.  There aren't any friendly wizards like Gandalf or Merlin or Belgarath or Fizban or whomever is familiar to you from high fantasy fiction you may have read.  It's also not neutral and utilitarian, like it is in most D&D settings.  Magic is fundamentally unnatural and almost Lovecraftian--anyone who uses it is already suspect to begin with, at best, and wildly dangerous and inimical to life as we know it at worst.  And like in Lovecraftian magic, advances in the art have come in fits and spurts, with devastating setbacks much more likely than advances.  And even if someone does make an advance, they are unlikely to share their work with others, so the art as a whole remains largely stagnant.  Seminal works like the Book of the Black Prince, Prophecies of the Daemon-sultan, The Pnakotic Manuscripts, The Book of Eibon, Cultes des Goules, the Eltdown Shards, The Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan, Inexprimabiles Cultes and a few others make up the body of work on which most sorcerers today base their art.

However, there's a legendary Terrasan sorcerer, who spent time in Tarush Noptii, Simashki, and supposedly traveled into the Forbidden Lands themselves, crossing the Veil of Pnath and walked the desolate and nearly silent streets of Ib, sandwiched on the shores between Tarqan Lake and the slopes of the Plateau of Leng.  This sorcerer, Ramundet del Fraysse, did more with magic than probably anyone before or since, and is rumored to have wielded nearly god-like powers, beyond the understanding of even the most potent practitioner today.  He disappeared about eighty years ago mysteriously; supposedly having transcended his humanity entirely and passed into a higher state of being through his sorcery.

Ramundet del Fraysse
Stories are also told (and suppressed) of how del Fraysse held off and eventually annihilated an entire legion of soldiers and inquisitors sent by Count Varazze, and how the entire town of Spotorno della Cima was destroyed; every single inhabitant's soul stolen to fuel a diabolical ritual.  Even today, the location--even the very existance--of Spotorno is denied and surpressed.  Be that as it may, the memory of the common people persists, and rumors of del Fraysse and his nefarious deeds remain a popular bogey-man type story told in taverns and around camp fires throughout the Terrasan region and beyond.

Despite his stature as a figure of semi-legendry, the real story about del Fraysse is not his accomplishments is the persistant rumor that his notes and journals yet survive, sequestered in some secret location.  Not only do unscrupulous treasure seekers thus scour places he is rumored to have dwelt for a time, committing no small amount of skullduggery pursuing little more than the thinnest of rumors, but even more dangerously, those who aspire to follow in his footsteps are also seeking this secret cache of arcane riches.  If even a small portion of the rumors of the power del Fraysse was able to research are true, then that information in the wrong hands could be devastating.  And frankly, anyone who would want that information is--by definition--the wrong hands.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sonic Legends

I've said before that I prefer actual movie music soundtracks to be the background music for my games, and I've even posted a preferred playlist of sorts for my DARK•HERITAGE setting.

That said, I've spent much more time and money than I really should picking up some other background stuff.  Stuff that, musically, may not be as deft, but as background music, it may be even better in some ways; it fades a bit more into the background, while still conjuring up a mood.  I've blogged briefly about guys like Midnight Syndicate and Nox Arcana in the past (and given the season, they are both appropriate right now.  Both also have new(ish) CDs available; The Dark Tower by NA and Carnival Arcane by MS).

One that I had not blogged about before, but which is kinda cool, is Sonic Legends.  This isn't really a band per se; it's more a collection of loosely associated artists who release stuff.  Here's their website.  You can listen to much of their stuff there, and you can also listen to samples (and buy tracks) at places like the Paizo store, RPGNow or DriveThruRPG.  I've bought them at Paizo in the past, but the price and process is pretty much the same everywhere else.

These tracks are interesting and loopable; on the main website for Sonic Legends, they apparently have provided them for indie computer game use as their primary target, although Paizo sells them as if they were RPG themed.  Really, there's not a lot of difference.  I've got quite a few tracks now:

"Ancient Archives"
"Arabian Bazaar"
"City of the Dark Elves"
"Country Village"
"Forest Journey"
"Magical Spell"
"On the Open Sea"
"The Summoning"

They tend to be a mix of darker and lighter sounds, and many of them have sound effects mingled with the music.  If you're going to use them in a game, you need to be ready to play it on cue, and let it roll fairly quietly in the background, probably from a laptop or tablet PC that you're using as a DM tool.  I haven't quite gotten that fancy, but I'd like to some day.  In the meantime, it works as background music for me while I work, just like the Nox Arcana, Midnight Syndicate and the actual movie music soundtracks do.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Theme music of Dark•Heritage

I've occasionally blogged about my love of movie music soundtracks as backdrops to my game, and I like to "tailor" that soundtrack by picking stuff that fits, is diverse enough to give a broad spectrum of sounds, yet which is unified at least enough by mood that it never feels out of place.  I listen to this "soundtrack" while running the game, while working on the game, while writing stuff on the setting, while working on my novel set in the setting, and while generally tinkering with it in any way.  After some time, I've decided that I've narrowed all my various soundtracks down to a few that encapsulate the setting as I envision it.  I've divided it into "required" and "optional"--with the optional albums obviously giving a more full-bodied and diverse range of sounds and moods.  Although since Hans Zimmer features so strongly on the list, maybe there's not a lot of diversity after all.  And while I say movie soundtracks, and that's mostly true, there is one very notable video game soundtrack on the "required" list too.

Required Listening

• Red Dead Redemption -- minus the "pop country" songs at the end of the soundtrack.
• Cowboys & Aliens
• Sherlock Holmes
• Pirates of the Caribbean (in a pinch, you could just go with 4, or 4 and either 2 or 3.  I have all four, of course.  The first one is the best, but it's poorly mastered, so it actually sticks out when mixed with other soundtracks--I often leave it off.)
• The Wolfman (the newer one, by Danny Elfman, of course.  Not the older original movie soundtrack.  Which I doubt is even available.)
• Bram Stoker's Dracula -- although a bit of judiciousness about the track selection is recommended.  The Annie Lennox song really doesn't fit, and some of the more "romantic" themes are also a bit jarring.
• Indiana Jones (I've got all four, but honestly, John Williams was really phoning in the songs for Crystal Skull.  In a pinch, just use Raiders.)
• The Mummy -- again, I've got all three, but the first one is the one that's really the best.
• Prince of Persia.  Don't use the Alannis Morrisette song, obviously.

In a real pinch, if you had to narrow it down to even fewer soundtracks, I'd recommend Red Dead Redemption, Pirates 2 (or 4), Prince of Persia and The Wolfman.

Optional Adds

• Inception.
• Transformers 3 -- this actually sounds like it wants to be Inception.  The two of them together blend pretty seamlessly into each other if you aren't paying attention.
• Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.  I imagine when the third of that trilogy comes out, it'll be a good fit too.
• Stargate -- has great "adventure" themes, and a touch of dark Egyptian exotica that complements the Indiana Jones and Mummy soundtracks well.
• Last of the Mohicans -- although only the first nine tracks or so.  This CD is bizarrely bipolar.
• A few other of the recent superhero movies have a nice dark action sound to them, and could be used: either Hulk, Thor, the Spider-mans, the X-Men movies, Green Lantern, etc. 
• There's some other really good sword & sorcery like soundtracks -- the newer Clash of the Titans, 10,000 BC, Troy, Gladiator, the newer (or the older too) Conan the Barbarian, etc.
• Master and Commander
• The only point about adding too many of the optional soundtracks is that it starts to dilute the influence of the Required ones.  I'd be very judicious about adding too many of them.  In fact, I prefer to rip the entire desired soundtrack (as mp3 files) to a single CD-R, which naturally limits my ability to use too much, but also makes sure that it stays more focused on the "correct" sounds and mood.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Music

For those of you who followed this blog initially because you wanted to see setting related stuff: I'm sorry, I haven't posted anything like that in quite a while. During a conversation with my boss yesterday, I mentioned that with all the stuff I've had happen at work lately, I was feeling kinda beat down, and she concurred that she noticed that. This kind of mental exhaustion due to things going on completely outside of my setting design activities has left me with precious little energey left to spend on things like... well, setting design. Or novel writing. Both of which require more mental acuity than I'm left with after an exhausting day of work followed by an often exhausting evening at home until the kids go to bed. Which during the summer, quite frankly, isn't all that much earlier than I go to bed.

And I won't do any setting design today, either... or at least not in the this post. Better not box myself in just in case inspiration strikes later in the day, huh?

My library apparently did a rush job of processing Jim Butcher's Ghost Story, which was just released on Tuesday and was ready for me to pick up on Wednesday late morning (I had the first hold on it--although I think our library ordered three copies.) I actually didn't start it yesterday; in fact, I feel a little bit intimidated by it, because I know that once I start, it will probably grab me around the throat and not let go until I'm done. Most of the rest of the Dresden Files books have done so, anyway.

So... I can't talk about that until I finish it either. I said last time that I was done with superheroes for a while, and that's true. While I'm still getting some graphic novels and compilations from the library, I'm in some cases just skimming through them, and honestly not really "in the mood" anymore. Instead, I'll talk about the music I've been listening to.

Yeah, it's old music. Yeah, it's 80s music. A couple of years ago, curiously at about the same time, Duran Duran and Ultravox both released all new digital remasters of their "classic line-up" albums (which for both was in the first half of the 80s). For Ultravox, I bought all four double CD issues, which include the original UK track order, and then a second disk of remixes, b-sides, and live performances. I couldn't really care less about the live performances, but most of the rest of the stuff is pretty cool.

For Duran Duran, curiously, buying their three CD reissues doesn't give you everything from their classic years. The song "Is There Something I Should Know?" which was associated with the reissue of their first album in the US is actually available on the second disc of their third album (which chronologically is where it fits anyway), but "Wild Boys" and "View to a Kill" aren't available at all. So, for Duran Duran, I didn't rebuy the first three albums. I have old CDs of all three, which are the original UK line-ups and mixes of the songs, but really what you need for Duran Duran is the Greatest Hits CD or the multidisc The Singles: 81-85 collection. And Rio is one of the best albums ever made, so it needs to be picked up in its digital remaster 2-disc special edition version. Sadly, that kind of makes portions of the Greatest Hits CD obsolete. But collecting classic line-up Duran Duran just doesn't seem to be quite as "clean" as doing so for Ultravox.

I take that back; with the capability of buying individual songs as mp3 downloads from Amazon, you can do it that way, I suppose. Create your own CDs almost. That way you can add the crucial non-album hits as needed, and just make sure that they're in there.

Because they were released at about the same time originally, and digitally remastered at about the same time, and because I bought them at the same time, and because they were both New Romantic hitsters (in the UK, anyway) at about the same time, I've always kind of associated Duran Duran classic line-up and Ultravox classic line-up together. And there's a lot of good reasons for doing so. But they also had a number of significant differences.

First, Duran Duran managed to find the key to cracking into the American market and became big hit monsters over on our side of the Atlantic as well as in the UK and Germany. Ultravox never did, and although they had releases here, they were very obscure. When I first heard of Ultravox several years after the fact, well... it was when I first heard of them. During their heyday, they were strictly a European thing. Given that they had some pretty nifty music videos of their own, I'm not quite sure why that is, but it remains so anyway.

Ultravox also wasn't nearly so imagey as Duran Duran. During Duran Duran's peak, they were as much about style and being teen idols as anything else; which I think kind of irked and annoyed them, but there it was. Before the megahits started rolling out, I think Duran Duran figured they'd be a niche art-rocker type band, and they envisioned themselves being much more serious rather than gracing the covers of teen heart throb magazines. This, however, was exactly where Ultravox did remain. Maybe it's because the band members were a little older, maybe its because they weren't quite as "cute", maybe it's because they didn't dress nearly as flamboyently, or maybe it's because their music was just a bit darker and more serious in tone sometimes, but Ultravox remained what Duran Duran initially envisioned for themselves.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Early character signs

Well, since we didn't end up playing, a few of the guys are starting to rethink their character options. They've got two weeks to figure it all out, after all. Although this is pretty preliminary, it looks like I'm getting a mix of swashbucklers and outdoorsmen. The reports I have so far of intended characters include a jann fighter/rogue, another roguish type of some kind, a human ranger, a hellspawn scout, and a vucari barbarian. Nobody has access to magic--yet--but I anticipate that they will have the opportunity to learn some incantations and possibly some other, nastier things in the near future (certainly at the end of the first "module" when, assuming that they're successful, they'll end up with a copy of The Book of the Black Prince.)

One thing that I'm considering, since I now have the time to do so, is coming up with a soundtrack specifically for this campaign. I've spent the better part of the last few years collecting movie score soundtracks, in part because I think that they're great to play in the background while gaming (but also while reading, while writing, and while doing all kinds of other things, and I even move movie scores out of the background and listen to them for their own sake as good music.) I don't worry too much about matching particular tracks to particular sequences in the game; rather, I prefer to simply look for songs that have the appropriate mood and feel for the campaign as a whole.

With that, I'm trying to decide exactly which soundtracks best approximate the DARK•HERITAGE tone, and heavily use those, editing out a few tracks that don't really fit, perhaps, and filling in with a bunch of other songs from other soundtracks that might possibly add to the mix, even if the rest of the soundtrack they come from isn't really what I'm looking for. That said, I think a dark, almost horror-like feel is definately where I want to start. I described the campaign to my players as kind of "fantasy X-files", and while that's kinda sorta true, that's an oversimplification too. Right now, and actually for a quite a while, my favorite pseudo-horror soundtracks include Danny Elfman's The Wolfman soundtrack, and the collaborative soundtracks by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard for the two most recent Batman movies. Mixing in a fair number of tracks--if not most of the entire CDs--from the three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, a few of the Harry Potter soundtrack tracks, some songs from The Mummy and maybe even Raiders of the Lost Ark, Sherlock Holmes and Prince of Persia and/or the new Clash of the Titans gives me just a bit of an exotic, Arabian Nights-esque action adventure vibe to mix in with the horror and dark fantasy--about perfect, right? We'll see.

We'll see how much room I have, actually--ideally, I'd create a "mix" CD (of mp3 files, so I can get a lot of tracks on it) that I can use as my portable soundtrack for the campaign. That'll be about 9-10 CDs worth of music. So, for all of the soundtracks, I'll have to make sure that I edit it to just the exact tracks I want; I won't have room to pad it out with too much repetitition, or tracks that bring in a different mood.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

King Solomon's Mines, and more

A few scattershot updates on a variety of topics, none of which merit a post on their own.

First, I've been diligently updating my version of the Modern SRD with my own rewrites and edits done on top of a document that's already a merging of the regular SRD and the Arcana extended SRD. While it's not done yet (and won't be for a little while, I'd think) I did also update the wiki that has all the houserules listed. While this isn't a comprehensive document with everything included, it is one that you can refer to with the three books (or the MSRD and d20 Past) to play "correctly", i.e., the way I would like Dark•Heritage run in an ideal world. With these updates, everything is covered while I, in the meantime, keep plugging away at the standalone document that will have all of the rules in it.

Secondly, I watched the 1985 King Solomon's Mines this weekend. The one with Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone? Herbert Lom and John Rhys-Davies as a pair of villains? Yeah, I don't blame you for not remembering it. It's a rather obscure movie; although it did get a brief DVD release back in 2004 (it has subsequently gone back out of print again. I had to get the movie on interlibrary loan.) When I watched it, probably in '85 or '86 at the latest, I was a fresh young lad of 13 or 14, still excited about anything Harrison Ford was involved with (especially Indiana Jones or Han Solo-ish) and I remember thinking that it was a credible Indiana Jones rip-off. It was obviously just that; an Indiana Jones rip-off, but I was OK with that. To a lesser extent, so was 1984's Romancing the Stone, and the 1982-3 television shows Bring 'Em Back Alive and Tales of the Gold Monkey. At that time, I was certainly in the mood for more of that vibe if I could get it.

In any case, I found that my memories of the movie were a little bit gilded. Although it was obviously a Raiders rip-off, it was a rather poor one after all. The characters were cardboard, the dialogue was hoaky and unbelievable, the acting was egregious, the premise was silly, the stunts and action were poorly choreographed and filmed, and the special effects were dated and cheap, even by mid-80s standards. I found myself rolling my eyes a lot, and thinking to myself, "I've been looking for this movie for years, and this is all that it was after all?"

Although I have to give it credit for being filmed almost entirely on location in Zimbabwe. You can't fake that kind of authenticity. It's almost worth seeing just for the locations, and for the over-the-top villains chewing the scenery. Especially watched back to back with Raiders (which would also highlight all this movie's weaknesses), where you could see John Rhys-Davies play first Sallah and then Dogati might be good for a laugh.

About halfway through the movie, my two younger kids, who are big Raiders fans, came downstairs where I was watching it and watched the end with me. Both expressed an interest in seeing the movie start to finish; it scratched their itch, anyway. It didn't exactly do so to mine. Although while looking some details up about the movie after the fact, I found that there was a made for TV miniseries take on the book (on which this movie is loosely based) starring Patrick Swayze made a few years ago. If nothing else, watching this movie made me very curious to track down a copy of that and see if it's any good. There's also an Asylum Allan Quartermain film that came out in 2008, no doubt to coincide with the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (The Asylum is infamous for releasing cheap movies with a close resemblance to big blockbusters that are due at about the same time.) Although I haven't yet seen anything by Asylum Studios that I liked, including adaptations of some of my favorite source material (The Land that Time Forgot, War of the Worlds and Princess of Mars, most notably) despite everything, I'll probably eventually try to watch it. Heck, it's probably available to stream via Netflix. Most of the rest of their catalog seems to be.

I'm still feeling a bit swamped by material to read. After blasting through about 100 pages of the nearly 800 page doorstopper Iron Kingdom, a history of Prussia, I had to put it aside for a time and read some other material that was more pressing (demand for that book is probably low, so I can renew from the library a few times if necessary.) I also got the first of Brent Weeks' trilogy, The Way of Shadows and Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky (no relaton to the composer. His real name is Czajkowski and he's an Anglo-Polish writer.) In the meantime, I just got notified that the long-delayed interlibrary loan request for Brian Lumley's Necroscope just arrived too. My plan was to blast through the three novels and then turn to the historical tract, and then not check anything else out for a while so I can read some books that I own. What's happened is that my blasting has been, at best, fitful sputtering. I find that my motivation to read is not high. I've only read the first few pages of Weeks' book; not even enough to really say that I've started, and I haven't cracked open either of the other two at all.

Meanwhile, I rectified an embarrasing oversight in my book collection. Although I claim to be a big Lovecraft fan, I'd never actually owned any Lovecraft stories; I'd checked them out at the library or even read them on dagonbytes. Now, I have all of Lovecraft's work --I bought the Del Rey versions with the much better cover art than the Arkham Press versions. I also bought the older White Wolf printings of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories--I didn't get the entire run, but I've got the first omnibus, which is what was published as three separate books (which were themselves collections of earlier published short stories, of course.) This has raised my count of "Books I Own But Haven't Yet Read" to ridiculous levels; so much so that I'm almost tempted to stop counting them if I've read them before I bought them, no matter how long ago.

I'm not sure what I'm going to read next. I'll probably power through the library books and then decide. But I'll review whatever I read here; unless I decide to re-read something I've already reviewed in the past, which is another possibility. Oof.

Finally, for some reason, I've also been drawn back into listening to my Red Dead Redemption soundtrack. I bought that as a download from Amazon a little while ago; when it was new, I guess, and I think it's kinda fun. I included a sample song from the soundtrack here. I think what drew me into it was a combination of things; working on developing the part of my setting which most closely resembles the Old West, seeing True Grit, and dusting off my old Xbox copy of Gun, itself a decent example of Revisionist Westerns (also available on Steam, I'm told.) It's got quite an impressive voice actor cast, including Thomas Jane, Kris Kristofferson, Lance Henriksen, Ron Perlman, Tom Skerrit, Brad Dourif and prolific video game voice actors Dave Wittenberg and Kath Soucie. There are rumors of a Gun sequel, which given the success of Red Dead Redemption might be more valid now than they were before (although Gun was itself a reasonably successful title.) I continue to place the Old West, including some aspects of darker revisionist westerns--especially spaghetti westerns (I'm not real keen on the Hollywood use of revisionist westerns to criticise contemporary American society, for instance), as one of the main influences on my setting, along with a similar darkening of the Golden Age of Piracy. Revisionist pirate movies? Revisionist Arabian nights?

I guess the darker, "noir" take on any genre is one that I take to well... and we're currently undergoing a wave of revisionist fantasy as well. While probably mostly subconsciously, now that I'm aware of it and can perceive it more clearly, it's obvious that I'm just one cog in a greater cultural zeitgeist amongst fantasy fans, turning to a "noir" sensibility, darker anti-heroes, and a "demythologizing" of a lot of our long-standing fantasy tropes and conventions.

Anyway, I included the Red Dead Redemption soundtrack sample below, as promised. Just for the heckuvit.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Prince of Wolves

Dave Gross's Prince of Wolves is the follow-up to some shorter fiction that debuted in other Pathfinder venues, and is also the first novel of the Pathfinder Tales fiction line of Golarion-set fiction. The main characters of Varian Jeggare, half-elven Pathfinder venture-captain and scion of a noble house from Cheliax, with a heritage that predates the rise of the diabolical House of Thrune, and his tiefling (technically hellspawn, since tiefling is a trademarked word by Wizards of the Coast) bodyguard Radovan were described in the serialized novella Hell's Pawns as "Half elf Holmes with tiefling Watson". That novella was bridged by the serialized web fiction The Lost Pathfinder, which sets the stage for this novel. Which James Sutter, fiction editor for Paizo, described as "Indiana Jones meets Brotherhood of the Wolf in Transylvania." Which is a fair enough quick n dirty description.

One of Gross's obvious talents is his ability to tell the story in two very distinct voices. Jeggare himself is a noble scion, and an educated man, and his voice clearly reflects that, while Radovan's voice is reminiscent of a fantasy hard-boiled private eye, as if his point of view segments were written by Raymond Chandler. Both are fun voices to read, and Gross switches between them about every chapter. Both characters are also interesting, and reasonably well developed; Jeggare being arrogant and very concerned with the social niceties (and the lack thereof most places that he goes) yet also a driven and occasionally depressed man given to drink. Radovan being a blue-collar former thief, with sharp wits and a weakness for women.

Other than that, the plot is very much as described: a great deal of Brotherhood of the Wolf, a long section that is strongly reminiscent of Jonathan Harker's stay in Castle Dracula, and a sequence near the end that is strongly reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

I did think that the plot kinda ran thin towards the end. The "big reveal" and climax were a little underwhelming. But I had enough fun getting there that I didn't mind too much. Perhaps even more interesting was the strong feel in the novel that it was a "prologue". The relationship between Radovan and Jeggare was often strained in this book, and at the end they reached an accomodation of sorts; the kind that could sustain a long-running series of "The Adventures of Jeggare and Radovan" or some-such.

If that ever did happen, I'd be on board to read them.

Although I hesitate slightly to do so, I do feel like I have to mention the price. This book is roughly 350 pages or so of novel in mass market paperback size, and it costs $9.99. In contrast, the similarly sized mass market paperback version of Fellowship of the Ring lists for $7.99 and when I pulled up Paul S. Kemp's Forgotten Realms fiction, the first one I glanced at lists for $6.99... again at about the same pagecount. The latest Dresden Files to get a mass market paperback release is also $6.99.

Granted, pagecount isn't necessarily the same as wordcount, and I don't know how any of those four books stack up against each other there, but it is worth pointing out that this book is a bit more expensive than competitive offerings. I think it's worth it, because it's pretty good, certainly way better than most D&D or other licensed fiction, and comparable to the better pulp classics, though. But Paizo seems to be running a thin line on the price point; if this book (and subsequent offerings in the Pathfinder Tales series of novelizations set in Golarion) wasn't better than most D&D fiction that I've read over the years, I wouldn't pay that premium to buy it.

I'd still see if I could score a copy from the library, though.

Now that I finished this book (quite quickly, too... I never even added it to my list of "Books I own but haven't read yet" list) I'll probably not replace it until I can finish the Forgotten Realms short story anthology that I've been tinkering with for weeks. After that, I'll turn to something else that's hopefully light and quick to read. Maybe the second anthology of Hawk & Fisher short novels or something.

As another aside, unrelated to the rest of this post, I added the end titles of High Road to China to my "Listening to..." box there to the side. See it? Right there to the side. Below the "What I'm Reading" boxes.

This was a great kinda sorta Raiders rip-off from the mid-80s, starring Tom Selleck in one of his more under-rated roles (a role that is similar to Indiana Jones in some ways, highlighting how interesting it might have been if he had taken that role as Spielberg and Lucas had initially wanted. As a bit of Hollywood trivia, Selleck agonized over the choice of Magnum PI vs. Indiana Jones, and took Magnum PI due to his sense of integrity--he had signed that contract first. Ironically, the start of Magnum PI was delayed six months due to a writer's strike, and he'd have been able to do Indiana Jones after all if he'd known that would happen.) Anyway, I remember always thinking that the soundtrack was really good, and something reminded me of it recently and it turns out buying used copies of the soundtrack CD via Amazon isn't hard or expensive at all. I still really like the soundtrack now that I've got the whole thing. It's a bit repetitive, but the main theme is beautiful enough that I don't really mind too much.

Sadly, the movie itself remains unavailable, unless you have a multiregion DVD player and score a copy from Australia or something. It never got a North American release, which is shameful.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Music

I just bought the soundtrack to Prince of Persia from Amazon's mp3 download store. This slates nicely with some other soundtracks that I have, that I'll group together as a "vaguely Middle-eastern" in sound, including the Indiana Jones soundtracks, the Mummy soundtracks and Stargate. Granted; the last Mummy soundtrack had a more Chinese rather than Egyptian sound to it, and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Temple of Doom also lack the characteristic "Middle Eastern-ness" of the others, but I still think that together, they form an iconic collection of action/adventure scores that can play nicely in the background for most of my games, where I'd want a slightly exotic (but not too much) flair.

I've already grouped some other soundtracks as part of a "Sword & Sorcery" grouping, but the soundtracks for Troy, Gladiator and even the newer Clash of the Titans and 300 would probably fit well in this group too.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rimsky-Korsakov

I don't often step out of my gaming related posts other than for book reviews of fiction I've just finished, but I'm going to make an exception today and talk about some classical music. Bear with me; I probably won't do this again, and then I'll be right back in either a review of a Paul S. Kemp Forgotten Realms novel, or a gaming related post by tomorrow.

See, when someone says classical music, they usually mean that in a fairly broad sense. Strictly speaking, the classical period of Western "art music" is much more specific, and is nestled between the Baroque and the Romantic period. Most my favorite "classical" music is actually "Romantic" music, i.e., belonging to the same movement of Romanticism that influenced the art, literary and intellectual world. Oddly, the Romantic period of "classical" music does not coincide well chronologically with the artistic and literary periods, being offset from them by several decades--some of Beethoven's work is considered the earliest Romantic music. The age starts at about 1815 and lasts until, at the latest, 1910.

Despite this offset in dates, the Romantic period of music really hit the same themes as literary and artistic Romanticism; a romanticisation of the past, a rejection of the Age of Englightenment and the Industrial Revolution, a celebration of nature, culture, nationalism, and emotion as opposed to the classicist celebration of reason (although the classicists were certainly guilty of romanticising the past as well; just a different era of it, typically.) Especially as the period started to wane, nationalism became a huge part of the Romantic era music,

This is what makes this kind of music fun for me as a listener; the classical masters are too clinical in their approach, and the modern composers are all over the map--some of them hearkening back to romanticism while others reject it and focus on dissonance and other practices that make the music more difficult to just enjoy. Neither the post nor pre Romantic composers (to me) really involve me in the music as a listener, and they don't take as much plain joy in the music. Ah, well.

I have been a fan of Romantic era classical music for a long time, and know many of its composers fairly well. Or, well, at least I know their best known works. A lot of my favorites are the Russians of the era: Tchaikovsky and the "Mighty Handful" or the "Russian Five." And while I've said for a long time that I like the Russian Five, I honestly only knew Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov and Mussorsky relatively well, not Cui or Balarikev. And even then, I only knew their most well-known works.

For example, I had thought I was reasonably familiar with Rimsky-Korsakov, because I have the Cappricio Espagnol, the Russian Easter Orchestra, and his 1888 symphony 'Scheherazade' as well as knowing that he had orchestrated some of the works of his buddy Mussorsky (specifically 'Pictures at an Exhibition' which was originally written for the piano, not a symphonic orchestra.)

I recently discovered some other works of his, including 'The Tsar's Bride', a musical story of Ivan the Terrible. Actually, I only have the overture, since the entire work is opera, and I'm not a huge fan of opera. I also discovered his 'Fantasia on a Serbian Theme' and his first two symphonies, including the 'Antar' symphony.

It's strange to me that a stalwart supporter of Russian nationalism through music was able to write much of his most famous music about cultures other than Russian--both Antar and Scheherazade being Arabic in character. Through the strange vagaries of what nationalism meant to people 130 or some odd years ago, that was Russian nationalism, though, and specifically a rejection of the German/Austrian heritage of classical music.

The 'Antar' symphony is actually based, in many cases, on traditional Algerian and Arabic melodies that Rimsky-Korsakov then orchestrated and filled out. The result is that although possibly less polished than 'Scheherazade', at the same time it feels more authentic, which is a big part of what the "Russian Five" were always concerned about so much anyway.

Also, it slides right into my recent preoccupation with Arabian Nights and orientalism in the old-fashioned sense as an important influence on sword & sorcery in general. In fact, Antar and even Scheherazade would be perfect background music to listen to while reading Thomas Beckford's Vathek, a novel that was written at the end of the 18th century, and which was highly influential on both H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. CAS even wrote a short "sequel" to Vathek, and Lovecraft is believed to have modeled 'The DreamQuest of Unknown Kadath' on Vathek with a healthy dose of Lord Dunsany for tone and feel, as well as his unfinished novel fragment 'Azathoth.'

Here's a youtube clip of the first movement of 'Antar.' I'm not sure if it will successfully launch the other three movements when it's done or not, but it will if you watch it on youtube itself.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Was I Wazir?

I was! Heh. References to Broadway musicals and the Howard Keel movies that they made of them in the 50s aside, one thing that disappoints me about our modern day is that the west and the near east have been pitted each other in some kind of culture war. Or, at least, there's a strong perception that that's true, which is a shame. Not least because Kizmet won't be playing off Broadway as often, but also because the romanticized view that we used to have of the golden age of Arab civilization (the time of the Rashidun Caliphate) was hugely influential on our modern conception of fantasy.

This has been partly forgotten nowadays, though, and since Tolkien wasn't interested in The Arabian Nights (at least not as far as I can tell; he certainly doesn't seem to have incorporated any themes or ideas from them in his work), the influence of the Arabian Nights "vibe" has gradually faded from a lot of fantasy over the last few years.

However, with even a cursory look at writers like Clark Ashton Smith, Abraham Merritt, and especially Robert E. Howard, shows that the Arabian Nights were an enormously influential and important influence on Sword & sorcery from the very beginning.

There are reasons to believe that the Arabian Nights influence is still with us, of course. The upcoming release of Disney's Prince of Persia (not to mention the continued success of the game series on which its based) will be, I hope, nice fodder for fantasy fans. Paizo, proving as always, that they are tapped into what makes fantasy tick, has released several products that have an Arabian Nights tone and feel, especially Qadira but also Katapesh and the entire Legacy of Fire adventure path. During the second edition era we got the Al Qadim setting, which was more successful than TSR had expected it to be (and was therefore extended an additional year and more products were scheduled and released before the line ended.)

Anyway, I bring this up not just because I just bought the recently released mp3 download from Amazon of the movie cast soundtrack to Kismet (although I did) but also because I've really loved the Arabian Nights vibe in fantasy. I think it's an integral part of the genre as I know it, and I want to see it preserved and even actively encouraged.

Oddly since it has nothing to do with the Arabian Nights or anything, the music for Kismet is heavily based around classical music by Georgian/Russian composer Alexandr Borodin, which was re-arranged and layered with vocals and a few jazzy touches. There are parts of the soundtrack, however, which remain untouched Borodin; from his String Quartet No. 2, In the Steppes of Central Asia, Prince Igor and other works. Rimski-Korsakov's symphony based on Scheherazade was not used.

There's your pop culture trivia of the day.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Metal and D&D

This video of an Afrika Bombaataa remake/remix of Gary Numan's "Metal" is tongue in cheek for a variety of reasons (one of which being that turning the song into a club-friendly pseudo-rap song kinda defeats the whole purpose, theme and tone of the song in the first place--the other being that this kind of music is anathema to metal fans) but hey, I can occasionally throw a weird non sequitur out there, right?

It should be obvious to anyone who's talked about D&D online before, but there are a lot of folks who play D&D who infer a serious and thorough link between Dungeons & Dragons and metal. Metal the music, I mean.

This inference is really bizarre, in my opinion. Other than the fact that a handful of metal bands have Frank Frazetta art as album covers (or Frazetta clones) I'm struggling to see any link at all. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that at a certain point in the 80s both metal and D&D were saddled with a similar image problem; linked with Satanism and all kinds of other bizarre claims. Both of these links were equally absurd, but is that enough to explain the bizarre fixation many gamers have with linking metal and D&D?

For my money, metal is just about the worst music I could play during a session. For metal fans, it would be distracting. "Are we here to listen to your CDs, or to play D&D?" For metal non-fans, like me, it'd be distracting in a different way. "Can you turn this crap off so I can hear what the GM is saying?"

This is true of any music with lyrics, though: it tends to be distracting. There's a reason that most movie soundtracks are orchestral music; or if they're not, the volume of the soundtrack goes way down when characters are talking. Lyrics are extremely distracting.

But used appropriately, music can add greatly to your session, just like it does to a movie or TV show. Some people swear by having certain tracks queued for certain types of activities in-game. For me, that would be distracting as a GM; too much effort. Rather, I tend to find soundtracks that give me the basic ambient "feel" I want for the game, put them on shuffle, and let them rip in the background while playing.

Although their musical acumen is perhaps a little bit suspect, you can't beat outfits like Nox Arcana and Midnight Syndicate for pure mood. They've both made their names for themselves primarily around the Halloween music circuit, but they both have a lot of stuff that's highly appropriate as background music during gaming. Heck; Midnight Syndicate even made the official Dungeons and Dragons Soundtrack, fer cryin' out loud. Nox Arcana's Blood of the Dragon is a direct answer to that CD, combining the same vibe with a synthesized Conan the Barbarian and Braveheart soundtrack. And for that matter, their Halloween themed music is still pretty darn appropriate for most games I've ever been in and certainly every game I'd ever run, since I really enjoy a dark fantasy twist on my fantasy gaming.

For my money, though, the best music to listen to while gaming is actual movie scores. I've mentioned before that I've managed to amass a fairly impressive collection of movie scores over the years, and this is exactly the reason why: to play in the background while reading, writing, or gaming.

Here's a (partial) list of some of the soundtracks that I've used and continue to use for my gaming, reading and writing sessions, as well as during game preparation. This is meant more to give you a flavor of what I listen to than to be complete. I don't espouse or recommend any of these movies at this point for anything other than their musical scores.

Raiders of the Lost Ark
Batman Begins
The Wolfman
Dracula
10,000 B.C.
The Mummy
Pirates of the Caribbean
Gladiator
The Fellowship of the Ring
Clash of the Titans
Van Helsing

All the links above go to Amazon, where you can hear samples, and for most of those, you can also buy them as mp3 instant downloads.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Listening to...

I added a new box under my "What I'm Playing" and "What I'm Reading" boxes called "Listening to..." I wanted to call it "What I'm Listening To" to match the format of the others, but it didn't fit, and was getting cut off and looked ridiculous. So, anyway.

This isn't meant to be a twitterish update where I change it every hour or so as I finish listening to one thing and then move on to another. Rather, certain bits of music will have a "faddish" heavy rotation in my schedule for a while, and when that happens, I'll put it on here.

For a few years now, I've been pretty interested in orchestral movie music soundtracks. I've always had an interest in orchestral music, but mostly I listened to classical music when I was in that kind of mood. A few notable movie scores always stood out, but we're talking about Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark here pretty exclusively. I'm not quite sure at what point I really noticed movie music soundtracks again: maybe it was when I got Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings soundtracks on CD?

It occured to me that movie music scores were great background music for when I'm reading, writing or gaming. In the last... oh, five? six? years or so, I'd gone and bought quite a few of them. I hadn't realized how many of them I had until just recently. For gaming, reading and writing all three, it was more convenient to rip the CDs to mp3 and archive them on data CD-Rs so I could fit eight or nine soundtracks on a single CD and listen to them that way. This way I could throw a single CD into any player in the house and get many, many hours of uninterrupted music without repeats. In many cases, I had done this ripping with my soundtracks. In some cases I had only done some of the tracks, not all of them. In other cases, I had subsequently lost or given away the original CD. In others, I hadn't ever ripped them, so I only had them in regular CD audio format. All in all, my music collection was very poorly organized, and it was starting to give me headaches again because my archive CDs didn't make much sense. Why, for instance, did I have Somewhere in Time and Atonement on the same CD-R archive as 10,000 B.C., Conan the Barbarian, Gladiator and Alien vs. Predator?

So, I've spent a few evenings on the PC, re-ripping all my CDs, and copying all the mp3s for which I no longer have the original soundtrack. I removed a few tracks that will actually be distracting if they ever come up. My wife was getting a bit annoyed that I'd been monopolizing the computer every evening for several nights, especially as I just bought myself a netbook and could, in theory, do most of what I wanted to anywhere in the house, not on the main PC. (This was the exception; my netbook, as all netbooks, doesn't have an optical media drive.) When I told her that I was "organizing my music" she opined that I was obsessed with music. I pshawed that notion until I had everything all ready to go and compiled into a folder called Soundtracks in my My Music folder. Each soundtrack was in a unique folder, and all of the other tracks where I only had one, two or three from a given soundtrack where tossed into the main folder.

I had about ninety complete (or nearly so) soundtracks, and bits and pieces of a good two dozen more.

Maybe she was right! I didn't realize I had gotten that carried away in buying them. I blame the internet. Buying mp3 "CDs" is addictive and you don't realize how many you've bought sometimes, because you don't have anything physical to look at and say, "holy crap, I'm starting to get a lot of these..."

So, I've been reorganizing and reburning into more sensible archive CD-Rs that I can throw into the DVD player, or anywhere else, and listen to more easily. So far I've only done a few of them, but that'll keep me busy probably well into next week too.

One thing that also occurred to me is that I had bought so many soundtracks so quickly (I've really only been on this soundtrack buying kick for five or six years) that some of them had kinda fallen through the cracks and I hadn't ever really stopped to appreciate what I had. Some of them I had only listened to all the way through a few times, and it's even possible that I had a few that I had never listened to all the way through!

Another thing that the project brought home to me is that I want to slow down and appreciate what I have a little bit more instead of jump out to buy the next hot thing. There'll be a few exceptions, of course---since I already have all the existing Harry Potter soundtracks, there's no way I'm not going to get the next two as soon as they're available, for instance.

Anyway, now that they're starting to get better organized, I'm having a look at either my most recent purchases, or those that fell through the cracks. The Wolfman is one of the former of course, being a relatively new movie. The score is by Danny Elfman. It's got a perfect baroque, dark, semi-Victorian and semi-Gothic feel to it that's right in line with the kinds of games that I like to run best. Dark fantasy. It actually has a similar sound in many ways to the soundtrack to Bram Stoker's Dracula by Wojciech Kilar except without all the romantic interludes and without the terrible Annie Lennox song. (No offense, Annie. I love your work. But this song really doesn't fit with the rest of the CD here. Great job with "Into the West" from the Return of the King soundtrack, though.) Danny Elfman is a guy who's career has fascinated me for years. I'm a big fan of his work with Oingo Boingo too, and for him to become one of the most sought after film score composers is just astounding to me, frankly. I've got quite a few of his works in this arena, and some of them are among my favorite soundtracks. Probably because he's got that same dark touch that I like; there's a reason Danny Elfman soundtracks and Tim Burton movies go hand in hand, after all. Even his Oingo Boingo work had that same vibe; have you listened to the full CD of Dead Man's Party recently? I have.

Anyway, here's a sample of Danny Elfman's work on The Wolfman:



I'm listening to The Wolfman a lot, and finding it a good match for what I'm reading and writing both. So I put it on the side of my blog here. I have a feeling Sherlock Holmes will be making an appearance soon too.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Parece un Martes 13

Today is "Martes 13", or Tuesday the 13th. In the English speaking world, Friday the 13th is the bad luck day, but in the Spanish speaking world, it's today.

Now, I'm not particularly (or at all) superstitious about stuff like that, but there is a really cool song called "Parece un Martes 13" ("Seems like Tuesday the 13th") by Argentine band el Signo from a very late 80s or very early 90s vintage that I really like.

Here's a bizarre little youtube clip of the album version of the song, and I've also included a link to el Signo's webpage, where you can download an mp3 of the more commonly heard remix version of the song.

Enjoy!



http://www.elsigno.com.ar/audio.html