An Interactive Music-Making Epic: TweakerRay’s Collector Chapter 02

Many posts ago, I set myself the challenge of writing something about Sarah Howell’s silent comic. Today I’m doing the exact opposite. I have been given the challenge of writing an article on a music CD: namely TweakerRay’s Collector Chapter 02.

This might be a little unusual for me, but I have always loved epic music and TweakerRay’s Collector definitely falls under that designation. But how do you write about music? For me, I’ve learned to do that in my own writing: describing the harmonics of certain songs that I like and trying to find words to approximate the sounds that I hear. Certainly I’m not completely familiar with music or music-mixing terminology enough to write about it under those terms. My friend who gave me the request to write this, however, requested that I write about what the music makes me feel and what story is revealed to me by listening to it. In some ways, looking at the soundtracks with that frame in mind makes it easier for me to talk about.

First, let me give you an outline of what you should expect to find on the CD itself.

There are thirteen tracks in Collector Chapter 02. In addition, there is a Demos and Instrumentals section where TweakerRay gives you different mixed versions of his songs, a PDF version of the booklet included with the CD which I will go into more detail about later, and an actual Commentaries section dedicated to many of Collector‘s tracks by TweakerRay himself. So if you want to know more about these soundtracks in a technical way or by music terminology, TweakerRay explores his tracks in that fashion far better than I could.

There actually is a narrative that TweakerRay himself creates in his CD. TweakerRay’s Extended Play Collector Chapter 01 (the second half of which was called “Digital Ghost” and can be found on this Youtube link here) sets up a very strange scenario. Essentially, you hear messages on what appears to be TweakerRay’s voice-mail: a few praising him, one woman asking him what he wants and a man threatening him. The voices all mix together until you hear a man come in, who meets a woman waiting for him there. Not long after, she shoots him and the man calls out TweakerRay’s name before he presumably dies. I always interpret this haunting but active rhythm of hard beats to be TweakerRay himself on the run.

My job, however, is to talk about the songs in Collector 02 … and the booklet. The “Introduction” starts off strong: with a grandiosity and booming power. Years after the events of Chapter o1 and TweakerRay’s disappearance, it heralds and complements the voice of a futuristic dictatorial power: the leader or representative of the R.A.S. (the Royal Audio Supremacy) that talks about how it has banned the dissonance of “old and corrupted” music–declaring it dangerous to people’s minds that is reminiscent of the way that Plato considered art and poetry deadly if not controlled by the morality of the city-state– and how rebels threaten to bring it back. This fascist transmission of censorship also sets the stage of just what kind of world this music exists in. It is a fun, but in other ways a very serious creative premise about freedom of expression and what it faces against a need for perceived safety over that liberty.

Thus begins the instrumentals of Collector Chapter 02: its hard raking beats and piano keys–playing soft like rain–becoming a stride through a fortress city of inhuman glass and metal ruled by this tyranny and one person’s journey in defying this status quo.” Toxic Wasteland’s” rough and wavering rhythms and rising harsh crescendo brings to my mind a panoramic shot of the rest of the world in a stagnant ruin away from the R.A.S. capitol and the passing of forbidden instruments and music between the peoples within it in order to spread this rebellious musical dissonance.

It is “Status Report Sgt. Q” that brings back–with an ominous bell-toll–the vocal to the music. The rhythm is still severe, but there is a realization of horror in it as the rebel Sergeant Q makes us aware of what the R.A.S. has truly done: using censorship and force to pretend to bring peace, but in reality subjugate all people, keep them from questioning and maintain the corruption of their corporations and minions on the Earth. He states that music–the last refuge of creative freedom on and offline–has been censored by the government and its allies. The hard percussive metal beats of the music set the stage for the rebellion that is about to come.

And this is where, as the track title states, some of the citizens of this world “Fight Back.” It starts off smooth and then rises with a reverberating power–with intermittent 8-Bit sounds reminiscent of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s synthesized tones–and the addition of TweakerRay’s voice singing: abjuring that “it’s time to fight back.” But then … something bad happens. In the song “The Shot,” there is one crack of a gunshot that echoes throughout the distance followed by the deep current of a sound almost in denial accompanied by the sad chiming and gradual un-damming of an even more sorrowful crescendo as if the gun-shot itself has become the tragedy. We never know who got shot–if it was a who and not a what … like the idea of expressive freedom itself–but as “The Shot” fades off like a dactyl or a sad lullaby, the listener knows that the stakes have changed.

Sometimes I’m inclined to think it is the death of Sergeant Q that brings on this music or maybe the figure of TweakerRay–the symbol of this rebellion–but those are just my interpretations. TweakerRay himself explains in his Commentary what event motivated him to create this track. As it is, the sound of it just tends to remind me of all the things I’ve lost and it is a powerful song that sings of loss itself.

The tone changes after this. “They Don’t Know” heralds a newer form of rhythmic aggression in a journey or a quest for battle as TweakerRay’s vocal makes its rising fiery resurgence decrying how no one under that government or censorship–that condoned that shot–know exactly what it is that they have done. Aside from the “Introduction” that I love due to its all too seductive fascist overtones and promises of ancient and imminent destruction, as well as the powerful reverberating sadness of “The Shot,” I feel that “They Don’t Know” is one of the most powerful songs of the track and one of my personal favourites. It is empowering in a different way than the trappings of power or deep human sorrow. It is justice and vengeance both synthesized into song.

By “The Hunting,” with its fast–very fast–rhythmic beats and clanking, I can almost see the R.A.S. stepping up its efforts to stamp out the rebels: now realizing that they have only created martyrs by their repressive actions. It’s almost like the conflicting noises symbolize fighting on the streets, in the buildings and in all arenas across the regime. It is the fight for a society’s heart: for a free humanity’s soul.

After this there is an “Interlude,” with even more evidence of winding 8-bit tracks. At this point, it sounds as though there is more subterfuge going on: as though the rebels are passing around more forbidden instruments and sound equipment to the citizens: as though encouraging them to fight for freedom as overt physical fighting happens overhead. Perhaps by “Electronic Beast,” TweakerRay himself, back in vocal form, is abjuring the citizens–who have so far been serving the R.A.S. regime with approved music and mainly silence to “come to him,” to create their own music. While this something of a social perspective, I feel it is a compelling interpretation: where Sgt. Q tells the listener that the Internet has been censored, TweakerRay tells you of “the electronic beast”: of the passion in the communal machine that must yet be released.

Then we go into the steady hard rhythms and rough guitar-string instrumental rhythms of “Collector I” (Collector II and I seem to be reversed order for some reason) which also seems to be something of an interlude as well: perhaps symbolizing the secret actions of citizens deciding what to do with the new furtive powers they’ve been given. Certainly, the synthesized hard-rock crescendos of the song are beautiful to hear in any case.

By “Broken Dreams,” I … seem to run out of words. There is something hard and elegant about this song. It is sad, as though someone–perhaps the figure of TweakerRay–is moving on from his task. It is as though he has done what he has had to. It is less a tragedy, and something more transitory and resolute with its echoing vocals and touching piano keys. He is not that person anymore: he is “broken dreams”: a refracted mirror of many other people now. Maybe at this point in the narrative, he decides to fade into legend, into myth and become not just one person but all people in the musical narrative that want freedom. Thus he sheds his persona to let everyone else free themselves without violence but through acceptance of “what is.” This is also a favourite track of mine, as it seems to symbolize a “moving on” to another life but leaving something important–a legacy–behind.

Finally, there is “Transmission.” The CD could have ended by “Broken Dreams,” but some things transcend that. You see, from what I understand, the message or the medium–the music–has spread. Others are now adding their voices and interpretations and only then–at an ominous screeching echo–does the entire Collector 02 end: on a note feels like it is “to be continued.”

Most–though not all of this–was a creative interpretation brought on by listening to the music and if you expected this to be more of a traditional review of a musical score, I’m sorry to have disappointed you. But not really.

I think that I have said more than enough about how excellent I think this CD is, but before I wrap this up I want to talk about its one other feature.

That’s right: the booklet. The comic booklet.

The booklet was created by the artist and photographer Fotonixe. In fact, each included image in this article is actually the result of her work on this CD. Aside from some very professional stark illustrated green, black and grey backgrounds behind comics-style white font lyrics, Fotonixe actually creates sequential panels of figures to go along with some of the vocals within the CD track. For the most part, she seems to have a very fumetti-style of comics creation: using modified photographs and photo shopped images to illustrate a story. The style is also very reminiscent of the 1980s Slovenian FV Disco: a gritty collage-like yet dark and vibrant artistic style derived from the FV 112/15 Theater that used stills of digital footage, photographs and other images to make–among other things–visual art.

What’s also striking about this reminiscence is that FV Disco was described as crazed mixture of communist and capitalist punk made after the fall of communism in the former Yugoslavia. Even though this may not have been Fotonixe’s intent, it has a great resonance with the themes that TweakerRay has made inherent in his piece and as such is an excellent aesthetic complement to it.

There are two more things I would like to mention: both with regards to TweakerRay’s Chapter 01 and 02. The first is that the excellent audio dialogue of Chapter 02′s “Introduction” was written by the artist B.S. of D., while the artist Freshoil read the audio of Sgt. Q in his “Status Report.”

The other thing I’d like to talk about is that both Chapters 01 and 02 have a very interactive element in them. At some point, TweakerRay asked for vocals and audio from some of his listeners. These elements made their way into 01‘s “Introduction” and 02‘s “Transmission.” In addition to the fact that he wrote his artist persona into his musical narrative as a main protagonist, I’m impressed with how he encourages his fans to essentially collaborate with him in his works and even make remixes of their own. As someone fascinated with interactive storytelling processes I find to be an excellent idea and a good way to cultivate an audience of listeners.

If you are interested in buying Collector Chapter 02, you can get the Limited Deluxe CD here or an MP3 album here. Also, if you are interested in TweakerRay’s work and/or Fotonixe’s art, you can click on both of those links as well.

If you buy the CD or the MP3 album, the following are samples or previews of the tracks that you should expect.

I definitely give this musical work a five out of five. It reminds me of the days when I used to go downtown and dance to hard alternative rock and synthesized electric body music and how epic it all was: and how awesome it can be.

Showing and Telling, Ambiguity and Obscurity: Or Author What the Hell is Going On?

So I’ve joined a Creative Writing group and I’ve so far gone to my second session of it. It’s actually been a long while since I’ve gone to a Writing group and it’s about time.  It also  seems we are all learning as we’re going along.

One thing I’m finding, which is both really weird and really interesting, is how Creative Writing advice can be applied “wrong.” I’m talking about something I find in my own stories and writing in particular. For instance, anyone who has ever written anything has probably one time or another clenched their teeth against that age-old cliche and absolute “Show us, don’t tell us.” It’s easy to say, but it is not always something that you can do. One time, I wrote a story as if I were “telling” it just out of pure creative spite. I could even tell you stories about how many times “Show us, don’t tell us” has been told to me, but that would just be boring.

Instead, I’ll tell you how–over the years–this advice helped me and how I haven’t always applied it well. It forced me to stop info-dumping. You know, explaining every single little thing to the point of ridiculousness. I learned to have all that information in the back of my head or–better yet–written down on various sheets of paper for consultations depending on what kind of story I was making.

So I would write things and slowly reveal the information. I even toyed with vague descriptive sentences that played with the seeming of things: especially in paranormal settings. Unfortunately, that is where I went wrong a lot of the time. You see, I was so focused on making a surface of a complex thing that a lot of that complexity was either lost or obscured. My problem was that the line between the ambiguous and the obscure blurred for me. Being ambiguous means that you leave something open, but it’s clear that it’s open whereas being obscure is purposefully with-holding information and thinking that your readers will guess it through reading your work.

There is something to be said about writing clearly and concretely enough so that people know what is going on. I just take it for granted that my readers know what I’m talking about. I mean, granted again, I do write for a particular audience and I never thought I would be a bestseller–which I’m not–but everyone reads differently. There are always different interpretations of things and that is perfectly natural, but it makes it all the more important to write something clearly and concisely.

I tend to go into detail about some things and then skimp on detail in others that some readers might actually be interested in. I guess I show some things and do not show others, or I “tell” the things I should show. I don’t really know. I do know that there is a nice alchemical medium somewhere and that perceptual environment–the mind of the reader–can make all the difference.

Often though, it feels just like this:

And that is my workshop comment for today. I hope it was helpful. As for me, I have plenty of work I still need to do.

Games I Never Played: Mage and Castle Falkenstein

My last post was about the role-playing game that my friends and I have played on and off for some years now. But what began to change my attitudes about table-top role-playing–and what it is actually about–was something else.

For years, I’d played Dungeons and Dragons. I was typically a mage character that backed up the warriors and clerics in my group of friends. We fought generic monsters and all that lovely stuff. Basically, I was used to the Nordic medieval model of what a table-top role-playing fantasy world usually is: often taken from the influential J.R.R. Tolkien model of Middle-Earth. This was often augmented with my own readings of Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman’s Dragonlance series as well as those strange and multifarious wonders found in Forgotten Realms.

White Wolf’s Mage series also changed my attitudes about what I thought a game should be. Mage–as part of White Wolf’s Old World of Darkness line–introduced me to a lot of metaphysical concepts as well as new ways of looking at what a mage should be.

In the Old World of Darkness, a mage was much more than a person in robes, with a spell book and a staff: they could be wuxia-adept martial artists (wuxia being a fictionally depicted form of martial art that lets its practitioners unleash supernatural feats), mad scientists, Matrix-like computer-hackers, secret adept societies, shamans, pagan witches and all the different interpretations you could get away with. They even had these people called The Hollow Ones: essentially magic-wielding Goths that delved into countless different sources of knowledge from the Romantic period to the present time while taking their joy as the world burned.

I was in a very pessimistic and cynical mind-set in those days and the idea of a World of Darkness: where everything was degrading and there were secret fonts of knowledge intrigued me a lot. The esoteric and abstract rule-system also fascinated me: by having dots in various skills and attributes and Spheres of Magic. You also had something called Arete–the Greek word for honours or excellence–which was a dot-metre that determined how much of reality you understood and how much enlightenment you had. The more dots you had, the more Sphere dots you could get. That said, it also relied a lot on actual role-playing: on acting out your character.

I did have issues with the fact that there was this thing called Paradox. Essentially, a Mage affects Reality with their power, but Reality is made from consent: Consensual Reality being created from what a majority of people unconsciously believe in. So if you used a blatant display of magic in a reality that did not accept that such a thing could happen (like throwing a fireball from your hand), you would suffer Paradox and if you gained enough of it bad stuff would happen. Of course, this was not counting the fact that some of your spells might not even happen at all because reality doesn’t except it.

So I had issues with that. In retrospect though, the impetus on making subtle magics: on combining minor spells with major overt actions and creating some plausible deniability towards reality is really cool.

But it wasn’t always a very positive world-view and after a while I started to think back on another strange role-playing world I was introduced to. A friend introduced me to a world called Castle Falkenstein. I found it … really bizarre at the time, but in a weird way that was very compelling. Bear in mind that I had up until that moment never even heard of steampunk or understood what it was.

In Castle Falkenstein, I found an alternate Victorian world where fictional and historical characters existed side by side along with magickal lodges, secret societies, spies, mad scientists, Dwarven engineers, Faerie Lords and Dragons. The core book introduces you to the world through a character from our own–Tom Olam–who was a computer game designer and was essentially kidnapped by a wizard and a Faerie Lord to save their version of Earth. Tom Olam actually makes it his duty to make sure that the alternate Earth in Falkenstein does not enter into two World Wars and become like ours. He attempts to save magick, the Faeries and even the Victorian societies and utopian ideals that he sees there.

The plot and structure of Castle Falkenstein is heavily influenced by Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda: a story about a man who poses as a king to save a kingdom and a whole lot of other goodies. It does take a very unrealistic view of what our Victorian Age was like–with emphasis on “the good old days where science was always considered good and there was a strong honour-system in place” and ignoring things like the vast divide between social classes and other such lovely things–but it is also an alternate world where these noble things may have actually happened. I like the continent of New Europa and the nation-state issues between Bayern (or Bavaria) and Prussia. Also, America is divided into different nations as well: which is a really cool thing to see.

Castle Falkenstein also had its own unique playing system where you used playing cards instead of dice. Apparently among the upper elite, a die was considered a vulgar form of entertainment while playing cards were perfectly acceptable. I even tried learning and adapting their system to some games I tried to make: with varying degrees of results.You could also be a great many things: various forms of Faerie (including the Daoine Sidhe that looked very elven), a Dragon Lord, a Dwarf inventor, an adventurer, a scientist, a mad scientist, a mage (whose magick actually seemed to involve something like String Theory with its subetheric knots and what-not), a journalist, a diplomat, and all that fun stuff.

But I think the real reason I loved this game so much–one I never actually had the opportunity to play–was because of its emphasis on hope and the alternative ways history could have turned out with fantastic elements. It also showed me that fantasy games could occur in other eras besides a medieval one and also alongside some elements of history.

Where Mage was delightfully dystopian, Castle Falkenstein was unashamedly utopian, swashbuckling and romantic in all the connotations you can take. And there was greater emphasis on role-play and creating a three-dimensional character. You were encouraged to keep journal entries of your exploits so that other people could see them. It was just an awesome idea and I actually all the books long after the series went out of print. I felt a lot like Don Quixote: like a person who wanted to be part of something that no longer existed, that was lost over time, but felt like it should. There is your romanticism again for you. Maybe I also liked having these game books because I needed something good and positive in my life at the time.

I think it says something that I went back to collect the Falkenstein books instead of the Mage ones: though those are awesome as well. I think that in some ways my change from thinking about fantasy as D&D to looking at it from the perspective of these books began my change in how I looked at writing in general. I also think I need to play more games to talk more about them. But I will say that each of these had both their time and their dream.

Film Review: The Batman Rises Once Again

I guess it’s about time to pay attention to the Bat Signal. It’s been pretty damned insistent. Cue in the dramatic musical score and …

So a few weeks ago I saw The Dark Knight Rises. What can I tell you. Well, first of all I’m going to make a Spoiler Alert. Then I’m going to say that I liked it. I really liked what Chris Nolan did and what he tried to do. In Batman Begins, we see Bruce Wayne becoming his “true self” after his tragedy and his training with Rais al Ghul and the League of Shadows: which I always thought was a really interesting and new approach to just how disciplined the man had become. In the second film, Dark Knight, we see Batman move away from dealing with fear and the Social Darwinist sense of justice that al Ghul attempted to unleash on Gotham in order to battle the forces of chaos and chance incarnate in the Joker and Harvey Dent-turned Two-Face.

By the third film, we see a very different Bruce Wayne. He’s become a reclusive and something of a broken man. Somehow, he has even sustained a permanent injury from his exploits eight years before. Batman has been blamed for the death of Harvey Dent: to make sure that the latter remains the symbol of justice that he rejected after his accident and has disappeared from the public eye.

Of course, Gotham is never safe ever. Someone always wants to either destroy its corruption or just watch it burn to the ground out of a sense of amusement. Bane seems to want both. Bane is a character from the Batman comics Knightfall story-arc that methodically and brutally breaks the Batman. Of course, everything is not as it seems and as Batman returns to save his city, he realizes that he must unlearn what he has learned: about having no fear.

This was a very intricate film. I really appreciated the details not only in the villains’ plot and the character of Batman himself, but also in the little things. The minor characters actually get a lot more expansion and you see that even as heroes can falter, not everyone has a happy ending and everyone receives a reckoning of some kind. Nolan tries to make everything in this third–and I think final–film come full circle: which is very hard to do considering the show-stealing manic power of Heath Ledger’s Joker from the previous film.

It was fun to figure out who some of the characters were before they were named or revealed. I also liked some of the social commentary that was going on in the film itself. Essentially, Bane creates the ultimate Social Darwinist experiment turned horrible joke where he tells everyone he has a fusion bomb with a counter in the city. Someone in the populace has the trigger and a way to turn it off. He keeps outside aid from coming into Gotham and uses his thugs with stolen Wayne Enterprises technology to help the common people–I guess the 99%–dispense “justice” to the 1% … and anyone else they don’t like. Of course, the joke is that Bane plans to detonate the bomb anyway, but he seems to enjoy watching the ad hoc show-trials–reminiscent of the French Revolutionary tribunals–condemning people to walk on thin ice anyway. Even Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle–who is blatantly hostile to the upper-class and steals from them constantly–begins to see just how sick Bane’s sense of “social justice” truly is.

You could read the social narrative under this movie in a variety of ways, but there was a lot of overall depth to the film’s plot and the way that Bane totally uses Commissioner Gordon’s own speech–a document of truth–to damage Gotham’s self-esteem further was genius. I don’t know if I quite agree on how the characters of Bane and Talia al Ghul were used–Talia in the comics would have respected Batman for being able to defeat her father multiple times and she carried his child as well–but for the movie they served their purpose well. Alfred and Lucius Fox were still in character too and I enjoyed seeing them again.

I did have a few other issues with the film. They might seem minor and hard to define, but I will try my best. The plot, while very intricate, seemed very spread out and if you didn’t pay attention to certain details you might have missed a lot. At times, it even seemed to drag on … a lot. Also, I admit that in the dialogue between Batman’s rough voice and Bane’s metallic one, sometimes I’d only get every other word.

Batman: *Rasp*Rasp*Justice. *Rasp*League of Shadows.*Rasp**Rasp*

Bane:*Rumble*Gotham*Rumble*You will be broken.*Rumble*

Maybe it was the theatre I was in or how the sound effects behind them in their fight might have interfered with acoustics, but I really wish I could have gotten everything that those two intelligent “bad asses” were saying.

In some ways, I feel like for all the depth and such that the film had, it fell short as the concluding movie. I find myself wondering sometimes just what might have happened if Heath Ledger hadn’t died. I mean, the Joker wasn’t killed off in Dark Knight–when Nolan could have easily had him terminated–and if all had gone well, he could have made a comeback. Would The Dark Knight Rises have been different if that happened? It would have been really interesting to see the remnant of the League of Shadows deal with the Joker. The thing about the League is that they are trained to deal with logical or sensible enemy psychologies. Even Batman is just another form of idealist to them: just as they are. All of them deal with an understanding of basic human corruption.

But how would they have dealt with the Joker: an almost shamanic madman who cares nothing for money, or power, or even has a steady personality profile. He is literally a wild card that can read his enemies well while always shifting psychologies. Essentially, the Joker’s purpose is pure chaos. He would die just to make chaos. How would the League of Shadows deal with something so unpredictable. Would they see him as a psychological reaction to global corruption? Or as chaos incarnate itself? As an ally or enemy he would dangerous at best. It could have also been a nice dichotomy between villains: between an inhuman need for justice and a sense of pure madness. I guess we will never know that now, if there was ever such a plan or if this film was the thing Nolan was going to make no matter what.

I will give this film a four out of five. It is worth seeing and it ends the trilogy fairly well. Until next time Bat-fans.

Role-Playing as Interactive World-Building

In addition to writing, I’ve been doing some other things with my time as well. A few weeks ago, my old friends and I started another table-top role-playing adventure with the Star Wars D20 system. As you can see, we use Lego to represent our characters and the settings we go into as well.

My friend Noah is our Dungeon Master–or Game Master–for a good portion of the time. A good majority of the Lego that is used in our adventures belongs to him. While I’d started role-playing with Noah and my other friends since high school, our first Star Wars game started in 1999 slightly before the Prequels were released but after the action figures were.

Back in those days we had some group games, but we mostly played solo–which I know was a lot of challenge for Noah to accommodate–and we fought each other a lot. It was a very conflictive game (or what you might call Player Vs. Player) with a whole lot of manipulation and planning but also a lot of mystery and wonder. Back in those days I was a Dark Jedi mercenary named Nagir Taron that eventually became a Sith Lord as time progressed. It was an interesting time: when we still believed that Force lightning could only be used by powerful and experienced Darksiders and where lightsabers were very rare and couldn’t be made until you reached a higher level … and were so easy to lose.

We have played sporadically–on and off–over the years as we’ve all gone from one point in life to the next. Noah himself, along with a few others, have tweaked the rules and added some very idiosyncratic elements into his version of the Star Wars Universe that we all play in. There are some very funny and zany moments and a whole lot of “making fun” which I can really appreciate nowadays.

These days we play a group game with a lot less internal in-game conflict. In the following picture below are the following characters from left to right. They come from a previous game we played: the taciturn and steady mercenary Hal Tavers, the Force-sensitive doctor and archaeologist Dravas C’Tor (who I played), Juyo’Maya (Noah’s Non-Player and alternative Player-Character Half-Twi’lek Jedi Knight), the conniving and gifted slicer Mynock, and the late and unlamented psychotic former Republic soldier turned mercenary Sergeant Sharp.

Dravas C’Tor was my attempt to play a Light-Sider character and I had varying degrees of success with that. The name Dravas C’Tor is an old one I created in elementary school for a Dark Jedi and then an alias I used in the early Star Wars games I played with Noah.

There is a magic to a long-time table-top role-playing game. First, you have to understand that we have been playing this game–and others like it–on and off for over a decade now: which is frightening because it makes me at least realize how old I’m getting. We have invested a lot of time and enthusiasm into the worlds we’ve played and made by playing. During this time, Noah has developed many of his own rules from the D20 systems that exist. In addition, we create actions that change the environments that he creates. Add a twenty-sided die and its other counterparts to this mixture of fate and freewill and fortune and you get a very organic world that uses us to build itself.

And I’m not even talking about the stories that I have written for it, or the in-character journal entries I keep recounting the events of what has transpired. I like the idea of keeping journal logs and having us all do that because we get to see what he role-played through from different perspectives. I try consistently to keep up with this to preserve the events we’ve participated in and to do some character-building. In a lot of ways, I’ve learned how to hone my own writing craft and voice from making these entries.

I’ve not always been able to do this though. There are some games that were never written down beyond Noah’s scenario notes and some of them just exist in our memories. But what I find really remarkable after all this time–whether we play Star Wars D20 or other worlds–is that there is continuity to everything we do. For example, the former Nagir Taron played one game session where he encountered some enemies in retrospect I find eerily familiar. We retconned that and even though I only played one game session then it impacted and has effects on the game that we play now. I didn’t realize this until one day–a week ago–when it all started to flow together in my head. It is really amazing when that happens.

I mean, a lot of that isn’t just decided by Noah but also by ideas that we ourselves either play our or throw out there. I know I suggest a lot of ideas as we go through stuff and really it just makes the game that much more interesting. It is a personal craft and shared artifact made between us all. Some of us were there from high school or early and others came later. Some of us aren’t around anymore, but everything we’ve done remains in this group-creation we all interact with.

Without that magic, without us, it would just be Lego figures, statistics, and dice. But with us, it is so much more than that. I haven’t always been around. I’ve been here, there and everywhere: especially in these past three years of Grad school. And every before that–and after–life happens. I’m just glad that I get back into that and that even without this game I have the memories and my friends.

So this is something else I do when I’m not writing on here, or making my stories, or going on my walking routines. I do need to write up my new log entries though. I’m doing something different this time and playing a droid character named SR-NX or “Nex.” He is a droid that specializes in life sciences, computers and cybernetics: very different from the Force-sensitives and Darksiders that I usually am. He writes with a lot of jargon, but I try to get his sentience to show through it. He is actually a droid that wants to study the strange biotic-energy field phenomenon known as the Force.

I always wondered how a droid would view manifestations of the Force and I get to play that out. I have to customize him some more and familiarize myself with how droids work. But that’s part of the fun. It’s really interesting to see how droid characters exist and are treated as opposed to organic ones. Maybe I’m doing this because despite my issues with technology I feel a strange fascination and kinship to A.I. and I want to show that they can be different kinds of characters as opposed to obedient automatons or megalomaniacal hive-minds.

What can I say: it’s good to have a hobby.

Full Beings and Perfect Forms: Aristophanes and Plato in Miracleman

Before I begin, I would really like to point out that I’m aware of the fact that I’m talking about a comics series that few people have had the opportunity to read: though perhaps there are more readers of Miracleman out there than I assume. In addition, there will be some spoilers in this article, so for those still interested in reading the comics and can get access to them, read them first before reading this article. And for those who have no idea what I’m talking about, I talk enough about superheroes here and the philosophy of them to probably be followed. It’s up to you whether you want to read the comics.

Like I say every time I make this disclaimers, you have been warned.

Well before Alan Moore revised or deconstructed the figure of the superhero, people always assumed that even though superheroes have their official crime-fighting identities and their civilian alter-egos they are still ultimately the same person. The same was the said for Marvelman (later named Miracleman and possibly Marvelman again depending on whether or not Marvel Comics releases Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman’s runs) and his Family: that even though they spoke a magic word to change from human to superhero and back again, they always had the same personality.

Alan Moore challenges that assumption with his revisionism. We see a vast difference between Kid Miracleman and Johnny Bates: the child that he came from. Of course, that has a lot to do with the fact that Johnny switched into his Kid Miracleman persona as a child and let it grow up separately from his human child form. This, along with the event that forced him to hide and the circumstances of how he got his powers, might have warped his mind into two distinct personalities: though both have access to the same memories which is something to consider.

Moore even makes you begin to question if Miracleman and his alter-ego Mike Moran (though they both share the same initials) are in fact the same person. While both begin with a similar morality and are genuinely good people–and they share memories–key differences begin to occur to differentiate them. It’s probably even further complicated by the fact that Miracleman had been dormant for years after a traumatic event, while Mike Moran himself continued to age and live his own life until another traumatic event forced him to remember the key-word to bring his superhero persona back.

Then there is Young Miracleman–or Dick Dauntless–who died and was brought back to life. From Neil Gaiman’s run, or from what exists of it so far, there is no difference between Young Miracleman and his alter-ego at all. Finally, Miraclewoman seems to be the most balanced of the entire Miracle (or Marvel) Family in that as the doctor Avril Lear and Miraclewoman she also seems to be the same person and has learned a lot about her dual nature by exploring both.

As I read the entire series as it was, I began to notice certain elements that Alan Moore and to some extent Neil Gaiman incorporated into their work. In a lot of ways and I have Alan Moore in particular in mind, they brought the idea of the superhero back to its roots: to the mythologies that created it as they took it apart. The secret British government program that was created to make these super-beings is called Project Zarathustra: based off of Nietzsche’s idea of the ubermensch or the superman. The superman is supposed to be a being that has transcended all conventional morality and chooses to create their own code to live by: possessing the power to do so through sheer will. I talked about this a little bit with my Whoever Hates the Man of Tomorrow? article, but this is a theme that definitely plays out with Miracleman.

There are other mythological references in Miracleman: such as the heroes’ home base being called Olympus, the body-switching Qys as the supposedly unwitting genetic prototypes of the Miracle Family being referred to as the Titans or the Primordials that existed before the “superhero pantheon of gods,” and even the battle with the twisted Kid Miracleman supposedly mirroring Ragnarok or the “twilight of the gods.” Moore even creates a nice mythological analogy between superheroes and supervillains: the former being Heroes and the latter being known as Dragons or monsters to be vanquished. We see a lot of Nordic and Greek mythology being drawn on to create this version of Miracleman. But there is more.

As I continued reading Miracleman, I saw another parallel developing. It began when I saw the twisted fused twin skeletons inside of the British government’s secret Spookshow warehouse: where Miracleman and his kind were created. Originally, I was led to believe that these fused skeletons were the remains of Young Miracleman from his own death, but in reality they were the dual remnants of Young Nastyman: another experiment that went insane and died through mid-transformation within a volcano … or so Miraclewoman says.

That grotesque fusion of two skeletons reminded me of Aristophanes’ myth of love. I know how disturbing that may sound, but I didn’t actually start thinking of it that way until Miracleman himself began to explore his own identity and the line between himself and Mike Moran. According to Plato in his Symposium, Aristophanes explained why love existed by telling a story in which once upon a time mortals were larger beings with two-heads, two sets of genitals, and two sets of limbs. They were powerful and they defied the gods so much that Zeus split them into two. This myth was supposed to explain that love is that need for each person to look for the other person split from them or, as we hear it in our own popular culture, each person looks for “their other half.”

That was the resonance I got when Alan Moore really came to the finer details of how the switch between mortal and divine works with the Miracle Family. It’s almost as though Project Zarathustra, in analyzing the bodies and the technology of the Qys–of fluidly intersexual Titan progenitors–tapped into a place of mythical proportions to recreate that “lost existence” that Aristophanes goes on about. One very interesting thing to note about Aristophanes’ myth is that when human beings were once unified, greater beings it was implied that they could defy and potentially challenge the gods themselves: which was one reason why Zeus and Apollo divided and changed them. Therefore, it can also be implied that Project Zarathustra allowed mere mortals to tap into the divine, to a place beyond the divine, to become a lot more than what they already were and challenge the established order around them.

Aristophanes’ myth that was meant to examine the origins of love and humanity’s potential to divine power is argued by scholars to be a comedic or lampoonish idea to reflect its comedian creator. Yet I find nothing particularly hilarious about this, though it is interesting that it was considered a “comic” idea: one that has translated itself so well throughout the ages. There is also another saying in popular cultural with regards to love as reunion: that just as people are looking for their “other half,” there is also in a relationship reference to one’s “better half.”

This is where I begin to wonder, like a few scholars before me, if the myth of Aristophanes wasn’t created by Plato himself to add a nice neat argument to his Symposium. We can argue whether or not Socrates created his own philosophy too until the cows come home, but that’s not the point here. Plato himself had his own theories about reality and the subjects that exist in reality. He believed that there are two worlds: the World of Forms or Being and the World of Becoming. The World of Being is a plane of perfection. You can find the originals or the perfect forms of anything that has ever existed. You can find the ideal object–such as a chair–or subject–such as a man or a woman as well as thoughts, feelings and knowledge–here.

Then you have the World of Becoming, a gradation of said perfect forms into more worn and degraded shapes. They deviate or change from the ideal and ethereal prototypes that they come from. The idea is that we live in the World of Becoming and that we seek the World of Being. You can see here, and I’m sure my high school philosophy teacher would be proud of me at this moment, how this Platonic thought influenced the Western idea of Heaven and Earth, or Heaven and Hell.

When I read Miracleman, I saw an interesting parallel with this Platonic conception. Miracleman and his kind are the perfect forms. When they are not used, the forms are kept in a place of pure energy known as Under-Space: a nice analog to the World of Forms itself. They rarely ever age, they cannot be destroyed through conventional means, they have extraordinary clarity of thought, devastating power, and even their costumes are engineered from an alien material that cannot be destroyed and reflects the moods of their wearers. Their powers and natures are explained as being the result of a psychic field or harmonic around them that they can control. In other words, the Miracle Family practices mind over matter.

My reading of this is that human scientists–degraded imperfect people like the rest of us from the World of Becoming or matter–used a link to the World of Being or the spirit to reverse engineer near perfect forms that mortals can have access to. Even Miracleman explains that he has the same thoughts that Mike Moran does, but he can see them and perceive his world with far more clarity and insight. We can get even more Platonic or Gnostic and say that through science, the Miracle Family gained a greater link to their spiritual, real, celestial selves. It is also no coincidence that Alan Moore, their revisionist, began to embrace further mythological and spiritual elements in his later works and even in his own life.

So it seems clear cut that Miracleman and his Family are their own essential selves having been unified. Of course, it is not nearly so simple as that. Mike Moran, Johnny Bates, Dick Dauntless, Avril Lear and Young Nastyman (or Terrence Rebbeck) did not seek this enlightenment. They were kidnapped, kept in medically induced comas, experimented on, had essentialized clone bodies made for them, had said bodies transferred into Under-Space where their minds would be trained to switch back and forth to by a word command, and were brainwashed to believe they were superheroes in a comic book-like virtual world before being abandoned as too powerful and too dangerous and marked for a termination order which, inevitably, failed.

It all sounds so banal when I summarize their origins like that. In a lot of ways, the Miracle Family are more like the uncanny Freudian doubles or dopplegangers of the mortals which they are linked to. They have great powers and insight, but they do not always relate well to the World of Becoming around them. Some of them are malicious because of this and even the best-intentioned among them have the potential to cause immense and traumatic change to the world.

I personally think that they are all of these things and more. I think that Moore portrayed them as humanity’s need to reach for and become the divine: or to remember its divinity. What happens after the creation of said beings, their own realizations of what they are,  and how the affect and what to share their perspective with the world around and the people who made them is–in mythological retrospect–an inevitable conclusion.

ETA: After writing this article, I’ve realized that you can examine the Miracle Family with a particular focus on identity. Much in the way that Neil Gaiman’s A Game of You really plays with identity, gender and the fluidity and change of self-identity, his and Alan Moore’s Miracleman can also be examined in a similar light. Maybe one day someone will do that … when the damned thing is republished.

Abraxas, legal issues, Abraxas …

Frustration, Developments and Other Stories

I’m trying to find the best way to phrase this because it’s been on my mind for a while.

As a lot of you–old and new readers alike–know, I’ve been improving and developing this Blog as I’ve gone along. I had a few ideas as to how I would add to it. Really, I had two ideas. The first was that I was going to take my Youtube Channel and create a Vlog. I’d seen some people do this before–such as FreakishLemon–and I wanted an excuse to be able to read some of my stories and opinions aloud and even talk to people about my plans.

It was–and is–a good idea. But there were two factors I didn’t know about until I actually got up the courage to try them out. The first is that while I discovered my Acer netbook can record video and audio with its camera, the transfer rate of said video from my computer to Youtube was something along the lines of 436 minutes. Now, I’m not good with numbers, but there is something really wrong with a five minute video taking over seven hours to upload onto a site that is designed to receive and play videos.

But all right. Fine, perhaps it was my wireless connection, or the quality of my camera. I discovered that Youtube has a recorder. So I used that. I made one video that was ok, but I wanted to do over again. So I attempted that and then … I got a disconnection error on the screen. I kept recording anyway: thinking that I just couldn’t see the camera and the video was playing anyway. I was wrong. The recording cut off right about the time the disconnection error on the camera feed began.

I spent a large amount of time trying to figure out why this was happening and why I couldn’t just upload my videos. It also didn’t help that before all of this I had been doing various retakes of the same video. You know: the one that never made it onto the Net. I researched these problems and partially confirmed some of my suspicions, but mostly it made me frustrated. You have to understand, I get frustrated with technology–very frustrated with technology–whose creators claim it is supposed to be simple to use but it really isn’t. And even barring that, if we follow Gaiman’s Second Rule I believe, we will have all the technology and science we’ve dreamed about in science-fiction but it won’t always work properly.

I wonder how many times holograms and communications channels would lag in Star Trek if that were the case. Or if Data had to reboot several times or freeze in mid-motion before doing anything else.

So I decided to put that on the back-burner for a while, and instead record some audio files of me reading my stories aloud: for the practice. I have a weird program on this Acer which won’t let me listen to the recording I made after I made it, but aside from that it recorded well. Of course I can’t put this onto Youtube because it is audio only. And so I thought I could put it on this WordPress: which I can … for a modest fee. Since I don’t have the money to actually pay for more space or an application on here, that plan is out of the works unless I find a remote audio upload program I can trust.

I also thought about changing the aesthetics of this site. I have a friend who is into graphic design and photography who offered to help me, but I seems that I can customize this site again … for a modest fee a year.

I mean, fair enough. My Blog is changing and may be evolving past the limits of that I wasn’t even aware existed. I want it to look more customized and to add different media onto it. I also wanted to have a once or twice a week Vlog tie-in: to get the Youtube community on this and get further feedback. But it seems that I am lacking money and, quite frankly, patience. I am not going to rely on a recording program that might decide to cut off on me on a whim and I am definitely not going to wait over seven hours for a video to upload.

I’m also thinking about reducing the amount of times I post on this Blog to once or twice a week as well. I need to focus more on my writing and make more posts to keep in reserve. It’s amazing to think that just a few months ago I was writing a Blog post a day or every two days spontaneously and on the spot. I do still have some ideas and when I get more I will be more than happy to share them.

Anyway, I hope by the time I post this I will have figured more things out and maybe by expressing some of this frustration, I can free up my head to do more constructive things. Because I think that is the most frustrating thing of all: spending a lot of this time on technical matters when all I want to do is write. I’m not ruling out the other options too, but things are really going to have to change before anything else.

Maybe these setbacks, in the end, are a good thing in their way: because now I know where the limits are and I can begin to find creative ways around them and work with what I have. One can only hope.

If anyone has any suggestions as to how I can solve any of these issues, my ears are open. Take care, awesome readers.

Just Write It: The Perils of World-Building

When I was in Grad School, I studied the concept of mythic world-building as the focus of my Master’s Thesis. To study and work with archetypes to build a whole other kind of world–reflective of the one we live in–can be a very rewarding and even more time-consuming quest.

I was talking with an acquaintance of mine about world-building: about doing research, getting the details just right, figuring out how the laws that govern your world actually work, what events have happened before the main story, the various back-stories that have occurred before and essentially the entire works. It is a necessary process: whether you are trying to make a narrative copy of the world that exists around you or a whole new one that–let’s face it–has some basis in history or imaginings that have happened before.

However, too much world-building can cause problems. I know: that sounds really weird, doesn’t it? How can world-building cause a writer or a story problems? How can there be such a thing as too much?

Well, the answer is that there is. Earlier on, I said it was very time-consuming and it is. You can spend months and years creating a whole world and know the ins and outs of every rule and power that exists there. You can spend that time modifying it too and rewriting it: which is all very well and good until you ask yourself where the story is. You know: the spark or idea that made you so enthusiastic to make all of this to begin with.

Like I said, it can be fun to create your setting, but it isn’t fun when you get so bogged down with the details that you can’t write the story that you set out to make. I imagine that this happens a lot with novelists, but I know from experience that it can definitely happen to short story writers.

So now that I’ve stated the situations, what is my advice on the matter? Well, I’d say–just like I said to my friend–if you have a story you need to write, write it. Just write it. You can deal with details and and corrections later. You can expand on what you have. But if you  don’t have anything and only notes, you do not have a story. If you have a crude story, it is still a story and you can build from there: like taking a cutting from a plant and putting it in water … or cloning a whole human being from a limb.

So really, before you get bogged down in too many notes, just write the damned thing: or a damned thing. Damned stories being interesting aside, you will thank yourself for doing this later.

Now, to follow my own advice.

Athena Bursting From the Brain: Or Dealing with the Habits of a Creative Mindset

When you make things, do you ever have these moments where something just won’t get out of your head?

You know: there’s a story you know you should be working on, or an article that wants to be written, or some addition to a work you already have just can’t wait or you’re afraid that if do wait in adding it–or creating it–that you’ll soon forget what it was to begin with and it just won’t happen?

Well, since I’m writing about it I can tell you right now that I’ve had all of this happen to me: and more. Sometimes when I have something creative in my mind, it just uses up a significant portion of my memory or mind. It’s like downloading something large on your computer and it only has so much memory space left that can slow things down. That’s a pretty good analogy for being preoccupied with a creative project I think: albeit not perhaps the most positive image in the world.

To mix metaphors even more dangerously, I tend to call it my “autistic mode.” When there is something I’m working on or that I want to make manifest on paper or screen I tend to tune things out a lot. I’m always thinking about it and I have to concentrate on it. My patience can become virtually non-existent (mostly being invested into work or the idea I want to work on) and, as such, I don’t always take to interruptions well. Do not even get me started on telephones or other loud and sudden intrusive noises: you won’t like it after a while. I also tend to retreat a lot more into my natural introverted self and become more of a hermit with less inclination to socialize or make any small talk.

Then when you add to the fact that I have a certain degree of impatience with regards to just writing my work out the first time so I can move onto other things and struggle with some ridiculous perfectionism–of getting it close to being “right” the first time–and you have some of my behaviour during my creative process right there.

It isn’t always this way. Sometimes I can get myself into a calm mindset either right when I wake up or just before I go to bed late at night where things get clearer in my mind and they can actually “come out.” My “process” works even better if I’m just doing something spontaneous and the things in my head flow into place. That is a very nice place to be.

It gets more difficult if I’ve written some quotes that I have to keep in mind beforehand or if I’ve had notes from research. Stories that involve research tend to slow me down a little bit: because it does take time to figure things out and “get them right” in my head. Also, very formulaic mediums like comic book and script forms tend to slow me down a bit as well: though I know that once I complete them I have something very solid to work with. It’s just the journey of getting there that can take a while.

Like I said above, it is that fear of losing “the spark” or impetus in doing the work, or the idea itself that adds probably a lot of unnecessary stress to me. But that’s only part of it. I’ve also noticed that when I have a lot of different ideas that I want to work on simultaneously and I don’t know which to work on first, it can confuse me. I’m no Dr. Manhattan: I have to work with one body and one mind in three-dimensional space and time. It helps when I write down my ideas in note form and I focus on the one that really interests me or seems more imminent in coming.

I just almost always want to get something done now, though I know that’s not always realistic. I have to pace myself, sometimes wait for more details or information, and then move on. Another thing I also try to do is work on something else if the project I’m currently working on is becoming too frustrating.

The alternatives I’ve presented to deal with some of my creative habits and behaviour work with varying degrees of success. A lot of it is attitude and the idea that I need to “download” or finish certain ideas in my head before “making room for more.” I don’t think I will ever fully succeed in doing that and as that TED Lecture Elizabeth Gilbert made with regards to creativity states, some these things happen when they want to.

And sometimes it’s just like Athena: wanting to explode out of Zeus’ brain. Fun times.

Taking Back My Workshop a Bit and After-Bites

Although you could conceivably title this post “Over-Bite” as well.

I’ve had The Sleepwalker and A Natural Selection in my written notebook for quite sometime now and I’d been meaning to transfer them onto this online version of my Mythic Bios.

It’s been strange making separate Pages for the stories that I want seen on here: mostly because they do not show up as unique posts (since they are Pages) and as such there isn’t that much traffic that goes to them. I think the extra effort of linking to these Pages to comment on the stories is something that takes a little bit of getting used to for me as well. As I keep working on this Blog and certain patterns and structure begin to arise, all of this does force me to go about things a little differently than when I first started here. That may be some of the reason why I have been making more reviews and articles than a lot of the more original things I used to make: though you can probably count some of my articles as “alternative perspectives” on subjects in any case.

But now that we’ve seen my penchant for making tangents to be alive and well, I just want to talk about the stories I made. “The Sleepwalker” was the result of me reading up on my Dracula and Kim Newman’s alternate vampire-ruled Victorian England in Anno Dracula: making me further ponder the physiological interpretations and possibilities of vampires and the question of, “What about Lucy?” I could have easily been a total smart-ass and titled this story “I Love Lucy,” but I made one popular culture reference in there already and I like the simple title I gave it.

One challenge I definitely had was that I didn’t even know what she physically looked like. So I had to make some inferences along the way based on some things that I read in passing. I always thought she had red hair, while some sources say she was blonde. Dracula was less than forthcoming on the matter, so I improvised.

I also improvised some more. In the vein (pardon the pun) of “What about Lucy,” I always wondered why she was such a different vampire from the other women in Dracula’s entourage. After a few years reading Anne Rice and the Old World of Darkness’ Vampire the Masquerade, I came up with this interesting gem. What if the amount of blood and the environmental situation of a person affects what kind of vampire they might become? For instance, Lucy was a sleepwalker and Dracula apparently took advantage of this with his hypnotic capabilities. Yet we never know why he chose her.

“A Natural Selection” was a possible answer to that last question. I always saw Dracula as far more intelligent and evil than even Van Helsing gave him credit for. If I were a centuries old vampire with some financial means and intelligence, I know I’d slowly put measures into place and watch the development of said technological innovations before doing anything. I would also be thinking about the future. I wanted the Dracula I portrayed in this story to be a monster not just because he is a vampire, but because of just how his mind works.

I suppose I also wanted readers to feel sympathy for Vampire Lucy and realize that she never had a chance. I originally contemplated giving her some Journal entries in the epistolary form: making a narrative as told from a private diary or something to that effect. I wanted to tell a story from the vampire Lucy’s perspective but then I realized that perhaps she was too … insane to write anything down. Then I thought to myself: she was turned and she died while she was sleepwalking and dreaming, so wouldn’t it follow that she would continue to perpetually dream in undeath as well?

I saw her new existence as a broken lens that reflected the culture in which she grew up in all its literature. Her child-like nature reflects the patronizing pampered sheltered life she has had to live in her society as well as essentially being reborn as a vampire’s plaything. To be honest, I enjoyed writing “The Sleepwalker” more because I really got to be innovative and it was fun to write a character in a constant stream of unconsciousness as it were. It was also really fun to write Vampire Lucy’s story in a way that complemented the original novel more than took away from it. The same can be said for “A Natural Selection”–a title I actually love because Dracula would have been very familiar with the theory of evolution going around at this time and might have even attributed it to vampires and their role with humanity.

Like I said, they are supposed to be short stories or vignettes made to complement Bram Stoker’s novel more than anything else.

I think whenever I write about my Stories on here, I will classify them under Creative Writing and link them to the appropriate Pages. So anyway, this is me: taking back my Blog from too many reviews and opinion pieces and attempting to make it a little more like the mad scientist’s workshop I intended it to be …. or something like that.

I wish this Rembramdt picture was my desk, but it does reflect my working process somewhat. If that makes sense.