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.

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