Amanda Palmer: The Keening Moment

I’m not the most musically literate person there is out there. I always heard some of my friends constantly talking about musicians that they love and bandying their name all around. And I never understood it really until relatively recent times. I’m also sure that there plenty of musicians that can sing with the intensity that Amanda Palmer has displayed. But the fact of the matter is that none of the others that I’ve either heard or haven’t bring up the effect in me that she can.

Not to this extent.

I don’t even know where to start: though I do know it is going to be short. There is a moment in a few Amanda Palmer songs, particular songs, where she enters what could be called a climactic phase but what I call a keening moment. For Amanda, and from my limited experience as I am not a fully comprehensive Amanda Palmer listener, it is that point where she builds and builds her tone and pitch to the greatest of passion and it … rips through you.

For instance, take her rendition of the song “Hallelujah.”

While she didn’t create this song, and the piece in itself already has a powerful emotional resonance, Amanda increases this frequency to its nth degree. She sings it for Anthony, who at the time was fighting a particularly brutal form of cancer. Her voice is broken. Apparently, when she was singing this and as she is wont to do as she is always on the move, she was physically ill. But, as if that weren’t enough, she was also in an intense place of grief.

But when she reaches that moment of “Hallelujah” … I don’t even know what to say. It is a scream. It’s a scream that, for me, pierced me right to the quick. In that moment, it was real. It was very real because, quite simply enough, it was. It is the terror and anger of life fighting for life. It is primal and messy and only the surface of what is underneath it. It’s like that moment when you try to detach yourself from what’s going on and you don’t understand, or want to understand what your friend is going through and you hide behind something petty only for that friend to scream that this supersedes all of that bullshit and you will damn well fucking acknowledge it: because life takes precedence over the proprietary.

I’ll be honest with you. It’s makes me uncomfortable: to have that surface of pretend that makes most human interaction ripped away to expose the raw. It is a brilliant, uncomfortable feeling made even more poignant that it is from another person being shared with everyone else.

Yet as potent as this is, Amanda’s “Bed Song” is …. something else entirely.

If her voice in “Hallelujah” makes me uncomfortable in that it reminds me of mortality and my very real lack of power, “The Bed Song,” quite frankly, terrifies me.

I’m not kidding. It scares me. It scares me to the point where after having heard it a few times, I just can’t listen to it or watch the music video. It, too, is far too real. But it’s more than that. It’s worse. It is a beautiful song and an excellent series of visuals and storytelling that captures the essence of a relationship dying.

I mean: think about this. You have two people together who love each other and you watch as time and circumstance erode that connection and friendship between them into distance. Into death. I’m not even talking about the physical death that happens at the end and the retrospection, but the emotional death: the slow rot of the soul between the two people living together, but not being together in any meaningful way.

Neil Gaiman, Amanda’s husband, has created many terrifying creatures and stories in his time. He has made “Cereal Conventions” and Other Mothers and all kinds of terrors with and without flesh. But, if I were to choose, I would say that Amanda Palmer in the context of “The Bed Song” scares me more than Neil ever could. She manages to build up to and capture the essence of a living death and the helplessness of watching it happen and feeling powerless to stop it only, at the end, to confront it … after it’s far too late.

That realization, in and of itself, is enough to drive anyone insane or want the embrace of physical death, but “The Bed Song,” the idea of two people lying next to each, facing away from each other, inches away and dying alone, is all the more horrifying because it is a wrongness that becomes accepted much in the way that someone slowly succumbs to an icy death.

It is a brilliant story. It is a poignant song. It takes the spirit of that lack of communication to the point of “too late” and makes it into art.

And it utterly terrifies me: because it makes me feel something I don’t want to feel. Or it brings out something that I already have. Because that keening moment isn’t just the climax of the song or the pitch of Amanda’s voice, but rather it’s that painful and almost transcendent moment of recognizing these qualities growing inside of your own very self.

I could just leave it all at that. I could leave you here with the feeling of raw grief and a lack of catharsis. I really could be that mean and say that this is what life really is. But I would be doing Amanda a tremendous disservice. The keening moment I identify is not merely in the domain of grief but its very opposite.

“The Ukulele Anthem.”

Sometimes nonsensical, sometimes weird, but oftentimes fun and always, for me, transformative. It just expands to the horizon and becomes liminal. There is darkness but it is the song commands, “Ukulele banish evil.” I can just see a glowing, eternal figure facing the growing darkness and playing her simple ukulele: making the shadows scream and, for a time, retreat from her sheer presence, only for her to hand it to someone else cowering in the darkness, smiling and skipping away to make another one.

So while I like the ferocity and anger of the keening moment in The Killing Type and dealing with the loss of a romance as life goes on in the summery fey cabaret of Massachusetts Avenue, “The Ukulele Anthem” is, for me, a reaffirmation that eventually the darkness will be put in its place as people realize they are not alone and they can make the light grow together even sharing something as simple as how to play ukulele.

Maybe one day, when I am less self-conscious, someone will show me how to play one. In the meantime, I am just grateful that through those keening moments I have another way to relate to music. Perhaps, as Neil’s Erasmus Fry once said, all writers are liars, but I believe that at least some musicians tell the truth.

Photo Credit: Glenn Ross


Sometimes I can still hear it.

It’s the end of the night and Dead Can Dance’s Rakim drifts and rhythmically rumbles through the musty air before the undulating chant of the female singer through the night. The DJ knows what he’s doing. The frenzy of Electric Body Music with its violence of movement and the wry painfulness of clarity that is Alternative Rock have taken their course and had their place in their club.

Now the bar is closed and the black-jacketed, white dressed, neon colour-haired patrons are fewer and dancing with each other in pairs: slowly in tempo with the music. All of reality itself seems to wind out like a wavering road as the woman sings and the man chants in a deeper voice, with stranger words, accompanied by the hollow tap of drums and waves of languorous, synthesized sound.

Everything downtown, far away from where I sleep at the time, unfolds a path in front of me as I watch them dance. I see everything that has happened before and I know that even before being here it had already been in my head: this simultaneity. It gestates through countless songs, and observations, and the weird jerking near-violent movements and pseudo-martial forms that I called dancing. This feeling will continue to grow long after my long bus ride home.

“A million faces, a million lies,”  VNV Nation’s Chrome wavers out before I ever knew its name, accompanied by a weird looping music that somehow taps my heart.

“The streets are cold, the lights go by…”  Like a strange, throbbing, secret whisper it tells me about walking downtown the first time by myself at night, the passing of the streetcar away from Brock, a lost white grin and electric blue eyes, words on a screen leading nowhere, that summer on Euclid Avenue, friends at a Noodle Shop, wishing my friends were there in a bar dancing, a worn convenience store open past three, Higher Ground and Eglinton, cold darkness, past chances, taken chances, lost chances…

When that music comes on, it’s as though my life isn’t linear but multiple-choice: my thoughts fragmenting but somehow being pulled back together again. Then I remember EBM and rock music and it’s as though I’m fighting against the inertia of my life in the epic battle I’ve always fought in my mind: alone and proud.

But then at the end of the night, my favourite night of the week, my Friday night, after dancing through the endless possibilities and talking mutely with people over thundering percussion, I’d see the reality of it. Two men in glistening black leather kilts dance with a white-blonde girl between them. A tall girl moves with a shorter darker one. Then Rakim winds down for the night, the male singer’s last reverberating, “Since forgotten…”

I remember these Friday Nights well as I skirted the rim of the dance floor and danced in the middle of it in my own bubble of space. I interacted with the people much in the same way, just as I still in some ways do. I remember that I don’t relate well to groups. I am like the girl in “Tonio Kroger” that tries to dance like others, on the periphery, but unlike her I know I have my own dance that few can or could care to match. Perhaps I’m getting too old to dance now, too hermetic to move as often. Maybe I already had my chance to find something special in the night.

Yet sometimes, even now, I have this insane urge to contemplate another Gothic Picnic in High Park drinking the liquid essence of fruit salad and watermelon juice alongside white-painted people wearing black leather and lace. Or maybe I’d dress up like the Crow again and go downtown to lose myself in the role while dancing: laughing at those who think I’m Heath Ledger’s Joker instead.

At the very least, I can take comfort in knowing that I can still dance well in one place: through the diaphanous smoke screen of my own words. Right here.

The Crow

Song Hunter

If they listen, they can tell he’s listening to the music again. It beats and wavers from the basement that Friday night as he sits at their computer. Sometimes it is a combination of industrial sounds and chiming. Other times it seems to encompass the night. There are even moments when they can make out voices, though the hard percussion and beats of the music are muffled by the floor between him and them: making the vocals only vaguely decipherable at best.

So they don’t really know what the music is, or what might–or might not–mean to him.

They don’t see him hunched over and cross-legged on the swivel chair. He sits there staring at a blank Google screen. His hands are clasped together and his fingers are entwined in front of him. They feel cold.

He listens to the music and its rhythms: as though trying to find something, trying to go back to the night beyond the basement, to the city, to a club that doesn’t exist, and another one that changed … trying to go back in time.

As he listens to VNV Nation’s “Space and Time” again, he tries to remember the remnants of a train of music. The beats are faint in his head, but they do not translate into words or anything tangible enough to work with.

One, you love the goddess,
two, you bring the night,
three, your song has ended,
and four is the god-killing light.

The half-imagined refrain of “spread the lay, Judgment Day …” faintly thunders like echoes or receding footsteps through his mind. He can’t find the song’s name: not through the typing of half-imagined fragments of lyrics on Google, or sifting through Electric Body Music on YouTube. Sometimes he wonders if the song and the dancing pale bodies were just figments of a long-standing delusion: the same one on which he had been out of this house, out of this basement … dancing …

Spread the lay,
Judgment Day …

Somehow, he thinks if he can find that song it will all come back in some way, somehow … the bouncer with the golden eyes, the concrete stairs, the welcoming dark beat …

Old dark nights two years gone sit like uneasy ashes in the pit of his stomach, rustling the occasional word, the remains of a memory, when all of it was still real …

Huddled in his sweatshirt and old sweatpants, he tries to remember the feel of black leather on his shoulders, and the luminous lights of downtown and clanking tracks, and the anticipation that far outweighed the anxiety.

And then, clicking on the mouse in one chill hand, he finds something. An 8-Tracks.

It belongs to a DJ that went to a club he knows well, though it was long gone before he ever walked the streets of Toronto on his own.

It’s music from Sanctuary.

That is when he knows. He can’t skip too many tracks: the application won’t let him. Instead, he sits and waits it out. Each wailing note and synthesized tone brings him closer. Queen Street. Floor-length black leather coats. Floating must. The night bus on the way home. A girl’s head on his shoulder.

But music creates videos inside his mind: replaying scenes that may or may not have happened. He isn’t sure yet. He isn’t sure …

Then there is the silence. And the hollow beat. He checks the list to see what it is called.

Front 242’s “Headhunter V1.0.”

Finally. Finally, he knows its name. He knows who made it. He can call it up on YouTube and the Web with impunity. He can play it whenever he wants.

And he plays it. He waits until the song comes to its crescendo and he finally–and truly–hears it.

One you lock the target,
Two you bait the line,
Three you slowly spread the net,
And four you catch the man!

As the song tells him to “Lock the target, bait the line, spread the net, and catch the man,” over and again, he listens to the rest of the music. And, for a few moments, he’s back.

He takes the bus the bus from his apartment, to the subway and to the Spadina streetcar. Sometimes he goes to the Velvet at Queen but usually it’s the Neutral Lounge. He goes there every Friday night. Sometimes he’s there with friends, sometimes meeting friends but more often than not he goes there alone …

Except for that night when he got off the streetcar. He’d been reading Soseki’s Kokoro–a novel about an old man eaten away by the shadow of guilt and youth being the loneliest time of all–when he met an unexpected Cheshire smile, electric blue eyes, the inside of a red car smelling like cigars, and something wonderful.

Until it and everything after was eroded by shadow.

Lock the target, bait the line,
spread the net, then catch the man …

Something dead stirs inside him as he finds himself back in the basement. While he is reminded of the freedom that going to that club first held for him, he also recalls the disconnect of watching the beautiful people dance and hearing nothing but the music, the fear that he would lose this place, and the emptiness underneath it all. It never seemed real. He never really belonged.

He will never dance there or anywhere as he once had. The music of the clubs is now regulated to the speakers of the computer that doesn’t belong to him and his once aggressive movements have become the nervous twitches of a burnt-out recluse. But even as the pang of what he lost reverberates through him again, he remembers the hollow feeling and the fleeting nature of happiness, and how even if he could go back–even when he could–there is nothing waiting for him there now.

Perhaps there never was. Perhaps he was just as alone there as he is here, as he was in the apartment that the people upstairs helped him take apart that last night.

Perhaps it was all sound and fury, signifying nothing. Maybe it had all meant nothing.

So he sits in that basement, listening to dead music from a dead life, staring at a blank screen and reliving glory days that never happened, still remembering–like Lucifer–the time when he thought he was an Angel but always knowing that his own fall had been a slow and gradual matter of becoming an unmovable object colliding against the unstoppable force inside himself.

The real and imagined lyrics of the song he looked for, for so long, begins to coalesce in his head now: the real words hard, and his own become shadowy echoes interlapping with one another inside the dark core of what he now knows what he truly is.

One you lock the target,
one, you love the goddess,
Two you bait the line,
two, you bring the night,
Three you slowly spread the net,
three, your song has ended,
And four you catch the man!
…is the god-killing light…

Spread the lay,
Judgment Day …

Photo Credit: Sevres Babylone

What is FV Disco?

Disko FV

All right, so it’s been a while since I have really challenged myself to do something different. This challenge, however, has been a long time in the making and I’ve been trying to find the best way to go about it. It won’t be perfect and I’m sure that there is scholarship and writing out that is far more accurate and well-written on the topic, but really this is just a possible answer to something that’s been nagging at me for a while now.

Anyway, two years ago I read a really cool graphic novel called Kenk: a comics biography of the infamous Torontonian bicycle thief Igor Kenk. It deals with his possible psychological motivations for his actions, his own personal philosophies, and how his background may have influenced the man he has become. The comic was actually conceived and produced by Alex Jansen, written by Richard Poplak, the photographs and filming it was based from–along with its design–created by Jason Gilmore, and Nick Marinkovich was integral in illustrating and creating its aesthetic. I wrote a review on this at Amazon: with very little understanding of the choice of art-style at the time.

I didn’t think much about Nick Marinkovich’s unique art at the time, aside from its strange sharpened and accentuated angles, the occasional blurry lines, the really incredible contrast of the white stark outlines of people and objects containing an inner gritty grey and black, and the pastiche feeling of it until I watched this interview: conducted by QTV on CBC1 Radio with both Richard Poplak and Alex Jansen. Poplak himself talked a little more about the aesthetics of the graphic novel. First he stated that he and the graphic artist Nick Marinkovich used the fumetti comics medium form: which is basically comic book that uses photos or arrangements of altered photos to tell a story. There is a wikipedia entry and other information on the fumetti form.

However, Poplak also mentioned that he traveled to Slovenia–Igor Kenk’s home country where he grew up–and found another form of art: which the Pop Sandbox team ended up using for their creation. When I first heard him say the name, I didn’t understand what he was talking about. I actually missed the word several times before rewinding the video and hearing it again. Now, I pride myself on finding out as much about the comics medium and associated art forms as I can and this bothered me: the fact that I didn’t know what this word was.

Finally, I made out the word “Faeve” or “Fauve.” But then after some more online digging I came across the Kenk book site and I found out that it was FV Disco that Poplak had been talking about. It was in fact the definition that Poplak provided here and on 12:17 of his QTV Interview that I used when describing the style of Fotonixe’s artwork in my entry on TweakerRay’s Collector Chapter 02: the idea of a gritty-collage like arrangement of photos and images with a dark punk-like atmosphere. As I said in my previous entry, Fotonixe’s style reminded me of this and wasn’t necessarily derived from it. But this did get me thinking.

Because I can tell you that I have tried to google FV Disco several times–specifically as an art form–and I didn’t get very much. It also took me ages–in fact very recently–to realize that FV was in fact pronounced as “fauve” or some equivalent and wasn’t an acronym or a pair of letters. A little while ago, I figured out that the term FV Disco seems to have come from an influential Slovenian alternate theatre turned counter-cultural group or club called Theatre FV 112/15: a group that turned into a movement in Ljubljana–the capital of Slovenia–in the changing former Yugoslavia of the 1980s: where Poplak says that FV Disco itself came from. I found out the name of the group by finding an article on a Goth Rock and Electronic Body Music group called Borghesia: that was apparently formed from some of Theatre FV’s original members.

It was greatly involved with video art as well as music and as it transitioned from an amateur theatre group into an alternative club that made a space for sexual, social, and artistic differences: or so this article here claims.

But very recently I found out what “FV” or “Faeve” is might mean. I found–or perhaps–rediscovered an article by Katja Praznik called Theatre, Emancipation and Political Power: Two Cases From the Past in which she explains that FV “refers to France Verbinc’s (FV) local, frequently used Dictionary of Foreign Terms, page 112, entry 15, where we find the following: C’est la guerre – This is war, that’s how it is in war.” In other words, the group’s name seems to have been derived from a citation or a quote that is appropriate given the climate in which the group was created. This was during the time after Tito’s death where Yugoslavia was beginning to change–to separate–and there were great artistic expressions of socialism and capitalism occurring.

Richard Poplak himself argues that this was what was occurring in Igor Kenk’s formative years in Slovenia and it affected him. There is one element of this movement that Poplak pays great attention to when he discusses it in the above synopsis. He states that the primary medium of FV Disco–what seems to be the artistic as opposed to musical and performative aspects of it–was the photocopy machine: “an agent of democracy because it put publishing – which was until then state-run – in the hands of the people.” It is interesting to note that when I’ve looked at Kenk, the images did seem almost like propaganda posters and pictures rearranged into a different collage form entirely. I can see how–as advertisements for FV Disco’s musical and social scenes and as art in itself–just how subversive it was in that changing environment. Add to the fact that there was a “a gritty punk” element alongside it makes for a really interesting aesthetic and atmosphere.

I think what I find most fascinating about it, at least from what Poplak describes, is how FV Disco takes old ideas and objects and rearranges them: in fact recycles them.  But it’s more complex than that. Praznik in her article likes to state that Theatre FV wanted to create “spaces” or alternative realities in a rapidly changing socialist environment where people could express themselves. She also mentions that one objective of this movement, and those like it, were to blur the line between the performance and the viewer: or art and reality.

In a way, Theatre FV was one of those responsible for creating new wombs of artistic culture and reality and I can see–in that sense–just how all the above might have affected Igor Kenk’s philosophies. He liked to recycle and “hoard” things that North Americans apparently take for granted. The man was also aware of how economic and political systems can change rapidly and the crafting of his own world-view and indeed his life, seems like a haphazard collage of grittiness and innovation. Even Kenk’s own “performance stage”–a Bicycle Clinic filled with so many bikes that he had to spill them from the space of his shop into the streets just to open the door–did not separate itself from the rest of Queen Street West Toronto or the sphere of people it brought in.

Customers, and pedestrians alike were brought into his world of bikes and junk. I never saw it like this until I did some of my own amateurish haphazard research into the matter. It really made me look at the aesthetic of the Kenk graphic novel even more closely. In his article Portrait of a Serial Stealer, Richard Poplak goes into a little more detail on FV and even talks about how his artistic collaborator Nick Marinkovich creates the style of the piece: detailing some of the work that he did. It also hits home the fact that Poplak and the rest of the team that made the book adapted it from actual photo and video footage produced by Jansen and Gilmore: the latter of which are the most references I’ve been able to find on the FV movement aside from those from Poplak.

What I think is a real shame though, in all honesty, is that FV Disco–or Theatre FV 112/15–doesn’t have its own Wikipedia page or a more indepth English language entry of some kind: because it is a really fascinating social and artistic phenomenon to come from a socialist nation that no longer exists and I never put much thought about it at the time. It makes me wonder just how much it might have influenced other forms of art: not just in Eastern Europe but the rest of the world as well.

One more interesting of note is that there is a 1997 documentary called Staro in Novo or The Old and The New created by Neven Korda and Zemira Alajbegovic: who were, according to the site Zank, apparently leading members of the old FV Theatre group and then of Borghesia. They made something called FV Video where they created this documentary: of which I could only find excerpts on Youtube. Copies of the video cassette do exist in some Universities even in North America but I’m not sure if there are any DVD versions, but apparently you can download it here. But it would be an interesting thing to look at.

One thing that I also find interesting is on the site VideoDokument, Korda and Alajbegovic not only talk about the creation of video art, they mention that “Although the images move and we can hear them, video takes much more from comics than it does from film. It was comics that encouraged sequencing and the combination and movement of images, sounds and stories.” I find that a really nice parallel to how Kenk was influenced as a comics form by video and other media from the FV movement. I should also point out that Kenk is also being adapted into an animated film: perhaps making the journey between FV-influenced film and comics come full circle.

I’ll tell you now that I’m not up to the task of making a Wikipedia article on this matter. I’ve said before that I am no musical expert or even an artistic one. I am certainly no expert in Slovenia or Eastern European culture, but it would be nice if someone did this: because I think it’s important. It’s also a shame I can’t find any FV Disco art online as well and I will probably post a picture from Kenk. It seems that the scholar in me doesn’t die so easily, but I just like to write about things that interest me and go on an adventure to see what I can uncover from them when they are being too stubborn to be found.

Some special notes and thanks: the really awesome and emblematic “Disko FV” image seen above this post is actually a hand-made security ribbon taken from the collection of Dario Seraval: one of the former members of the Theatre FV-112/15 group and current member and drummer for Borghesia. The images from the graphic novel Kenk were very generously lent to this post by Alex Jansen and Jason Gilmore. Believe or not I underestimated how much time and effort making this post and finding images for it would take, but in the end thanks to correspondence with Aldo Ivancic (another former member of Theatre FV and current member of Borghesia whom I talked with about using said ribbon) and Alex Jansen, as well as Richard Poplak, Neven Korda, and museum counsellor Breda Skrjanec of the MGLC (the Mednarodni Grafični Likovni Center), it was all worth it.

Addendum: If you are particularly interested in FV Disco, you can try to track down the MGLC’s art catalogue from its FV Alternative Scene of the Eighties 2008 Exhibit. It has a Slovene and an English language translation as well. The book is composed of photographs, art samples, an introduction, three essays, and a chronology of events and developments in FV Disco.

A Collaboration Project in Progress

So a little while ago, I mentioned I was starting a new project. I know that for some people who know me, that really doesn’t narrow it down a lot. I’m always thinking about short stories still in the queue of my head, the graphic novel script that’s been languishing in my binder, and a few other things as well.

This one is different. A few years ago my friend Angela Jordan, now Angela O’Hara, wanted to do a comics collaboration. At the time, I really wasn’t that skilled with creating comics scripts and–even now–they take more effort to create than a play or film script, or even a short story. Our original idea was very ambitious and I eventually created a very elementary and simple first story that I hoped Angela and I could flesh out into a comic. I had no knowledge of panels then and even now I still have issues with figuring out anything other than some of the basics in my head of how a page layout is supposed to look like.

We went our separate ways for a while: Angela taught in Japan and eventually got married, while I moved out to York residence and started my Humanities Grad Program. Years later we got back in touch and I decided that there was a way we could side-step some of the difficulties we were facing before.

Superhero comics have been done so often that people often see it as the comics medium itself as opposed to a genre. It’s interesting because comics didn’t start out with superheroes–if you look at old slapstick comic strips and political cartoons as examples–but they did gain popularity for the medium.

Based on some of the work I’ve seen Chris Ware–a cartoonist who loves creating beings (including superhero figures) of basic geometrical shapes on vast, empty and existentially lonely backgrounds, the strangely small and greater world of Saint-Exupery’s Le Petit Prince and Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman’s Miracleman along with a great many other superhero comics I’ve looked at in my life something started to come together in my head. It wasn’t really until I looked at Sarah Howell’s silent comic pamphlet–reminding me of their power–that I found the form for this thing I wanted to make with Angela.

Yet a lot of the above is stuff that happened after the fact. Actually, the idea for the entire thing–still in development now–was brought on by a video game song. It’s amazing how music can help you visualize certain scenes in your head.

So right now, I am in the process of creating the story for this “silent superhero comic.” I’ve given Angela some sample art to look at as foundations or influences for the work’s potential style while telling her about the scene I made in my head. But right now I need to do more. I’m now developing a bit of the world and the main characters. I think I will have to crudely sketch out what I want them to look like. One thing I’ve learned through making a few “ordinary” comics scripts, is that drawing out a rough look at what the page should look like does wonders to help you and someone else know what it is you want to write about.

The difference this time is that we plan to make this a small pamphlet of sixteen or seventeen pages–possibly double-sided–for each part. I originally wanted this to be a one-shot thing to allow us to brush up on our skills again before doing anything else, but at the same time I can see the potential in some of this.

It’s funny. I once thought I’d grown past superhero comics but I’ve been researching and talking about concepts behind them a lot this summer. They have certain rules and conventions that can be followed, bent or broken. But I’ve learned that going back to the essentials or “the basics” can be very important no matter what else you might do and all the more so for superhero archetypes that are really extensions of the stories of heroes and gods. When you also think of cartoons and children’s illustrations as archetypes as well, you can see where a lot of my influences want to come in. So you can probably see why I’ve had a bit of a superhero obsession lately. Lately. Okay, somewhat.

Basically, I want to post updates of this as of officially unnamed silent comic project or, as Angela put it even more eloquently, this “superhero fairytale” whenever I possibly can. It’s been a while since I’ve written anything besides stuff on the creative process, reviews and articles: but finally I get to begin to play around with some world-building and alongside a really talented artist.

You can find Angela’s work in two of her Deviant Accounts: her Angela Jordan one, her Angela O’Hara account, and her professional artist’s website. Here is one sample of an image she created from our previous collaboration: one I always look at even to this very day.

As for me, I need to keep working and also keep my creative side fresh. As someone might have said, if it isn’t in writing it doesn’t exist. Well, now it is in writing and now, I hope to to do my part to make it happen.

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.

Video Game Review: Terranigma

Imagine a game where you play as a person who needs to create–or resurrect–an entire world. With each challenge you solve, you restore not only continents but the cycle of life and the souls of all living beings as well. Then you find yourself in a battle between good and evil over what you have brought back. You find yourself between two worlds. You find a world awakening in yourself. Things are definitely not what they seem to be and eventually you wonder just what it is that you are fighting for.

You’re not exactly what might be considered hero or saviour-material. In your village, you’re known as a bit of a trouble-maker and something of a brat. You cannot leave things alone and this is what ultimately precipitates your ultimate quest and the strange, terrifying and wonderful places you will find yourself in.

Your name is Ark and your game is Terranigma. Terranigma was an action role-playing game created for the Super Nintendo in the mid-90s. It was never released in America: which is a really great shame, but it was launched in Japan and Europe.

To say I like this game would be an understatement. What I wrote above is merely a summary of a very fun and poignant story. This game has a wide range of emotional depth and covers a whole lot of themes like death, reincarnation, and life itself. I keep thinking myself whenever I think of Terranigma that if there was ever a video game with a Buddhist paradigm, this would be it. I do not exaggerate when I say that you, as Ark, have to create or recreate the world. You also help civilization evolve while becoming a part of it as well.

The character of Ark is interesting because with his mischievous and good-hearted nature and his staff weapon he reminds me a lot of Monkey in Journey to the West: a reluctant god-trickster hero–with something of a magic staff weapon–who is impelled by forces in the outer world to help others. So in some of that sense, Ark does fit the hero archetype. And believe me, this game does not skimp on archetypes or the hero’s quest.

This is also an action game. It is not turn-based and you don’t gain spells when you level up. Instead, you fight. You have to think on your feet and adapt to your enemy. Defeated enemies explode into a satisfying cloud and often leave some gold behind for you. There are puzzles as well and those can be challenging but not difficult. I confess that when I played the game, I looked up a lot of guides to help me through it because I wanted to see how the story unfolded more than getting stuck in places at times.

What else can I tell you? The areas that you visit are great … fond stereotypes of places that exist in our world but they are fun to interact with. I wouldn’t learn history from this game though, just to warn you, but just take it as it is meant to be: a game with its own logic.

All this said, I feel I should definitely mention that in addition to its lush 16-bit graphics and memorable characters, Terranigma has one other very great element: its music. In fact, its music does what any video game music should: it complements the story and the characters. It is integral to the emotional complexity inherent in the game. The music can be playful, grandiose and conflictive, and sad. Really sad.

But there is something about “Terranigma Sadness” that is different. It portrays this … transitory sorrow, this acceptance of loss and gain as a cycle of life. It–and really the entire game–has this resonance with the Japanese concept of mono no aware: an awareness or an empathy towards the impermanence of life. You can really hear it at towards the end of the main musical theme in the above link. It reminds me of an old man dying peacefully in his sleep under a sunny tree or an unnamed and unsung warrior resting after a long life of battle: leaving forgotten but satisfied by the depth of his life and accomplishment.

As I mentioned before, the spirit of the game has an almost Buddhist nature or a distinct link with some aspects of Far Eastern culture: a perceptual lens which has a very unique way of looking at the world.  Being able to combine these elements with fun gameplay is a mark of genius as far as I am concerned.

All and all, after a few years of not playing this game, I would still give it a five out of five. A friend sent it to me and it only reinforced the fact that I’m glad I got over my reluctance to play old games. No, this isn’t an old game. Games like Terranigma are never old games. No, this game is a classic, and this is what a classic truly is.

I’m going to leave you with this last video. I don’t know how long it or the above link will be on here. The following was a fan video created by one TheStarOcean. I thought it was lost forever years ago and while it doesn’t use the original track, it truly captures the heart of this game. Do not watch if you don’t want spoilers and you want to play this wonderful game for yourselves. If you have played it though, I hope you will enjoy it for what it is.

And While I’m At It …

I figured that this would be an appropriate place to put this. It is a little creative monologue sketch or vignette I made a year ago that reflects a lot on the nature of creativity. It is, fittingly enough, entitled “Creativity.” I hope you’ll enjoy it. I have one more old work to post on here–where more people can see it–before I move on. See you soon.


“Sometimes I have to wonder about what people say about human genius,” he says, before leaning more heavily against the wall.

“Take Mozart for instance. Many claim that the composer wrote compositions completely free of error, blot and correction. He created his music ready-made and fully formed like Athene plunging right out of the temple of Zeus. If so, what a Metis he and others must have swallowed beforehand, if you will pardon the mythological digression.”

He chuckles, and then sighs, “It would sound wonderful to have this ability, wouldn’t it? If it existed, I mean. To be able to create perfection out of your own two hands, out of your very mind itself …” he pauses, “Or would it be so wonderful?

“For instance, imagine everything they said about Mozart was true. Think about making something everyday without making any mistakes in it whatsoever. Consider that you will have done this not just every day, but every year that you’ve been alive and first conscious of your gift. Then put the drive into consideration. Imagine feeling outside pressure and your own inner drive wanting you to make something better than the last time you created something. You always have to be better no matter what.

“But let’s just say you can tolerate — or perhaps even thrive — under these circumstances. You accomplish everything you set out to do and you finally approach the end of your life. Imagine slightly before this happens, you think about everything you’ve done up until this point. You have your old works and manuscripts in front of you and look through them to try and catch just a hint of the glimpse of that place you were in when you first made them so long ago. I don’t know about you, but as good as I would be, I wouldn’t be able to find it again.

“Instead I think that if Mozart really made all his works straight and unblemished from his mind, all he would see in front of him are the mistakes he never made or learned from, the absence of the rough drafts that could have made him wince with chagrin and sentiment, the non-existence of any chronicle of his progress and growth, and the lack of any seed that germinated his very ideas. If any of this is true, what he would have realized at that moment was that the only thing that ever made him worth anything was something outside and despite himself: something crystalline perfect and utterly sterile. And if this were the case, wouldn’t he have realized this much earlier than just at the end of his life?

“What would that have meant? Would there have been any meaning in it for him at all?”

He stares at the wall for a little while before considering his next words, “I would like to believe that this isn’t true at all. I’d like to think that not only is human genius potential in varying degrees, but that it is something that always has room to learn and change. Therefore, I do think Mozart had one or two corrections on his note sheets from time to time, or changed nuances to his music as he performed them for each audience he came in contact with.

“Of course, it’s also very possible that I’m wrong. Maybe he did make perfection and still learned anyway. Maybe there are people who are capable of this and better themselves only in making different and more complex works. But then where does that perfection ultimately come from?

“Maybe, in the end, it was no accident that I mentioned Athene in the head of Zeus. Daimons. Muses. After all, genius was once considered a spirit that made a human its vessel for a time. And if that’s true, just how much — if any  — creative responsibility belongs to its creator? Perhaps nothing Mozart ever made was ever original or his own. Maybe nothing we make belongs to us in any capacity. But would that provide a sobering blow to the human ego? Or tremendous sense of relief?

“I don’t know,” he finally shrugs, “As for me, I’ll take my good moments, my mistakes, a drink of whiskey and a listening to of Mozart’s Requiem any day.”

Wrong Genius, Music, and Another Thank You

These past two days and Sarah Howell have been very kind to this Blog. In these past two days I’ve had a lot of traffic, new Followers, and a whole lot of “Likes” for my “Onus of Creativity” and “Ice-Nine Days and Vonnegut Nights” posts. I want to thank you–all of you–once again for finding what I have to say interesting.

This Blog is evolving in ways I didn’t actually anticipate. Like I keep saying, it was supposed to be a Writing or Writer’s Blog with more stories than criticism and opinion. But you know, I really like my opinions. I like taking my experiences and knowledge and making new shapes with them: strange, weird little baubles that really just reveal what I think. Really, my Blog seems random–kind of like me–but I’d like to say there’s some underlying pattern that’s still in the process of making itself known here.

And you know, while I’d really like to think that at least I bring a writer’s sensitivities or sensibilities to my opinions here, in the end I just like to state them no matter what they might be.

There is one thing I’ve been thinking about lately. If you read my “Onus” entry, you’ll know that I referenced a TED Lecture by a writer named Elizabeth Gilbert called “On Genius” or “On Nurturing Creativity” in which she talks about the ancient Mediterranean conception of genius as being a spirit that passes through someone: that may or may not give them inspiration. Gilbert talks about treating modern genius like this: that–as opposed to purely being centred within a particular tormented individual–it can be a force that you can accept or reject on your terms to make your life more balanced.

Yet here is a question that has been plaguing me: what happens when you get the wrong genius?

Let me explain. A few times in my life, but one time in particular, I was asleep and dreaming. And within that dream I heard music. Now, I tend to write my dreams down whenever I’m not lazy enough and it was a very compelling, detailed dream. But here is the thing. I am not a musician. I was not trained as a musician. I do not have many–if any–of the tools to record, pattern, or create music.

So why did I get this sound? I tried copying it down in terms of rhythm. I will admit that I had some background playing the drums in elementary school and I even learned how to sing in a religious capacity. My family is a family of singers too. I also tend to listen to a lot of epic music: Classical, modern, Electric Body Music, video game soundtrack and just very eclectic things. So it doesn’t surprise me that some music has rubbed off in my head. I also admit that I am inspired by music and I collect certain tunes I like on Youtube.

But if we go by the hypothesis of the genius, why would it choose me–a non-musician–to make music in? I mean, seriously, the closest I can get is lyrical poetry which, while not completely removed, is really not ideal for its preservation. So do I tell it to go away when it happens? Do I adapt it somehow?

Today on the subway, I was continuing to plod through Lesley Chamberlain’s book Nietzsche in Turin. At one point she goes into some length about Nietzeche’s influence from Wagner: particularly how his form of opera informed the structure of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. From what I understand, Chamberlain seems to argue that Zarathustra is a philosophical opera in written poetic form. Nietzsche also had musical background and attempted to write music and–I believe–librettos as well. Wagner even called him a “failed musician.” I personally think that Nietzsche was one of the most irreverent but paradoxically serious artistic philosophers that we have in the Western tradition.

But did Nietzsche make something new? Did his attention to archetypes, to written leitmotifs and human cycles, and lyrical turns of phrase and conventions make what some have called “bad poetry disguised as philosophy” or did he make something else entirely: something unique in the nineteenth century? Did he make some kind of prototypical medium just as Wagner changed the operatic one: that branches out over several mediums to make something else entirely?

I suppose that is one way to interpret how a genius of music can influence a writer, but I don’t know. Maybe it was the wrong genius. But then I feel music inside of me too. I think it’s in all of us. ln fact, I think one of the most beautiful things about Musicals is that they are art forms that bring to the surfaces the rhythms and sounds that we hear and feel inside of us. They are tonal equivalents of words or brush strokes that can use to mimic our external and internal environments: and only a few people can capture and manipulate these tones well. I am not one of these: unless you count poetry which I don’t do often.

Still … music, by it’s very name is associated with the muses, the daimon, the genius. Music is also structured by symbols: by written notes that are very eerily similar to how mathematic symbols are structured. They are said to have a very similar rhythm. While I have considerable difficulty with math, at the same time I know that it is a construction of ancient symbolic logic and understanding while music utilizes it but has great intuitive and creative aspects.

I guess I really don’t know what to tell you. Maybe it was my left-brain trying to tell me something in my sleep, or my right and left brain-parts trying to tell me a story in a slightly different way. Or maybe I should have more musician friends who can record down something that I can at least hum before I forget it. It’s just really fascinating and I hope that if that genius didn’t find what it needed from me, it went on to someone else he could … or maybe, it did find what it was looking for. I’ll never really know, but maybe I have yet to see.