29 April 2012

From the Musician's Archives: Demon Armour Mamori

Didn't I just release an album of brand new songs? Why yes, I did. (See here for info, in case you missed it.) So what's this, new music again?

Well, not exactly new. I was looking through old archives and came upon some old experiments, some of which have never seen the proverbial light of day, and figured they actually might deserve to.

First, a bit of background. In the late 90's I was introduced to a classic piece of software called Impulse Tracker. 'Trackers', according to Wikipedia, are 'music sequencer software used to create and edit module files; they allow the user to arrange notes (pitch-shifted sound samples from the module) stepwise on a timeline across several monophonic channels.' I messed around with the technology a fair amount in those days, both for the fun of it, and as part of game programming projects I was working on around that time (none of which were ever completed).

Since these pieces were made out of samples, which back in those days tended to be small and low grade, due to limitations in file size and storage space, the sound quality isn't very amazing. But of course this does not mean the compositions themselves are uninteresting.

So, back to the album at hand. It's titled Demon Armour Mamori. This was the title of an anime influenced sci-fi tabletop roleplaying game I was planning sometime in the early 21st century. I never actually got round to running the game, and it seems unlikely now that I will, since I'm much more invested in several other gaming projects. Back then, however, I started work on what was to be a soundtrack album, of sorts, inspired by the game. It was never finished, but I had composed half an hour's worth of music. Which I then all but forgot about for years.

The first six of the eight tracks on the album are from that project. Tracks 3 and 5 are actually composed of short segments of songs that were never finished. My notes for the game are a little sketchy in some parts, and I could find no notes concerning the music project, but I tried to write up the main points of the story for the album's web page (it's not necessarily identical in all aspects to what I had in mind back in those days, but that doesn't really matter). A couple tracks had incomplete titles, so I basically had to make up new names for them...

Another old project was a horror computer game concept called Beyond the Bridge. It was abandoned long ago (although I've since used the setting for tabletop RPG's), but I did manage to compose a handful of music for it. Since these were mostly fairly short pieces, I decided to combine them into a single track for this album, titled 'Beyond the Bridge Suite'. I was very much inspired by the Silent Hill games at the time I composed these, and this track, as well as the game concept, could essentially be seen as a tribute to them, and composer Akira Yamaoka.

The last track, called 'Adamant', has no specific context that I can remember. I don't even know why I picked that particular title for it, but saw no reason to change it (anyway, coming up with good names for instrumental pieces is hard)...

I'm not sure how to classify this album. There's a wide range of influences, from ambient and industrial sounds to rock and video games... I touched the tracks up just a little bit (adding a bit of reverb etc.). They could certainly benefit from some more work still, but, frankly, I can't really be bothered. These are a part of my past, not the future.

This one won't go up on SoundCloud, because free accounts there have a limited amount of space, and I don't consider this a very high a priority, or representative of my current musical endeavours. You can grab the MP3's from my website, and they should eventually be up at Last.fm (though as I'm writing this there seems to be some technical problem with uploading). EDIT: You can now also stream the tracks at YouTube!

I've also divided the discography page of my music section into two parts, one for more current works, and the other for these 'oldies' (stuff that differs from my more recent endeavours either stylistically or in terms of quality).

20 April 2012

In Memoriam: Levon Helm

The Band has always had a presence in my life, since I was a kid. Never perhaps the group I listened to the most, and time may often pass between listening to their albums, but nevertheless always there in the background, a very important element in the complex tapestry of music that made me who I am today. Their sound was, for lack of a better word, unique, during their time, and still remains so to this day.

So I was saddened to hear of the passing of Levon Helm, The Band's drummer and frequent vocalist. I can't say I really knew much about him as an individual, but he always seemed like a nice person, and certainly a talented musician.

It's strange to think that only two of The Band's five members are now left alive. Time's a funny thing. And slowly it's catching up with the first generations of rock'n'roll, I guess. Some bands have been so important in my life that I don't think I really even realise, unless I stop to think about it, that I have indeed been listening to their music for decades. Changes must happen in such a long time period. People come and people go. People grow old, and pass away. It is inevitable.

No more comebacks for The Band, then. Even if Robbie and Garth should get together, with all their talent, there would be no more The Band, not without so many of them, certainly not without Levon. It would be impossible to picture The Band without him hunched over those drums, face turned towards the microphone...

But the music lives on.

16 April 2012

Winged

Today I'm proud to announce the release of my new home recorded album Winged!

So, Facebook, eh? Love it or hate it.

Without it this newest release might not have come about, though. Early this year a meme was circulating. A creativity challenge, or whatever. The gimmick was that you promise to create something, with your own hands, for the first few people who comment on your post (with the assumption that they'll participate in the challenge themselves, of course). Since I'd for a while been thinking I should record some new songs, I thought this could be just the thing to motivate myself into actually getting around to it. So I promised all the commenters I'd compose and record a song for each of them and make them a CD of the resulting tracks. As an additional twist, I asked them to request topics for their own personal songs.

So here's a little background for the tracks on Winged:

I was asked for a final boss theme for my comic Escape from Lowresia. Obviously I don't know how the comic will end (assuming it will ever have a proper ending), but the character Vance White has been the main antagonist thus far, so I tried to imagine what might happen if he ever mutated into a powerful monster, as video game antagonists are wont to do. This became the song 'NeoVance'.

A couple of my friends requested songs about their characters in my RPG campaign Tales from the Teya'o Iva. 'Head in the Clouds' is about the captain of a pirate airship, while 'Winged' is about the Ta'oha, a species of winged felines, and their prophecy of a coming apocalyptic war. (I chose 'Winged' as the title for the album mostly as it was suitably simple, and as the theme of flying was present in several of the tracks.) 'Lost Soul', on the other hand, is about an NPC in another RPG run by friends of mine called In Time (about which I've previously recorded a song, likewise titled 'In Time').

The topics of a couple songs were left up to me. For one of them I decided to try doing an instrumental track. The name, 'Take the Skies', was inspired by the fact that there were already a couple songs touching on the topic of flying. (The line occurs in the song 'Winged' as well, although I came up with this title before I wrote those lyrics.) 'She's Gone Z', on the other hand, is a silly little number, the title of which came to me last winter while watching the first Resident Evil movie. I was getting close to the part where Rain turns into a zombie, and caught myself thinking: 'She's about to go Z...'

Musically the album is obviously still not professional quality, but it is probably the most impressive of my recordings so far. The arrangements are more layered, the guitar parts heavier and more rhythmic. There's definitely some metal influence on this one. I'm still not really satisfied with my vocal performances, and there are many, many little flaws if you listen to the tracks closely. (Keeping rhythm is not one of my strong points, and I had to do a lot of retakes on some parts before they felt steady enough. Getting a really clean sound on acoustic parts is also troublesome with my equipment, I'm not exactly working with studio gear here.)

As a novelty, I tried recording violin, but the sound was very unsatisfactory (not sure whether this was due to the mike, my playing, or what). (A bit of violin can be heard on the track 'Lost Soul', albeit with some pretty heavy effects that give it an eerie sound.) I was equally dissatisfied with my attempt at choir-like segments on 'Winged'. Recording many tracks of my voice was quite tiresome, and the resulting sound was too messy, so I gave up any thought of recording more.

I took a slightly different approach with this album than with previous recordings. Whereas the songs I've recorded before have been written, and rehearsed and performed acoustically, before the recording process, I begun this project from scratch, recording backing tracks before writing the vocal parts. The process took about a month in whole, although obviously I wasn't working on it full time most of the time.

As usual, the album is available online for free. You can stream it at SoundCloud. For more options and additional information, including lyrics and artwork, check out the discography page in my music section.

7 April 2012

Life as Usual, A Filler Blog Post of Various Topics

Last night I dreamt about writing a blog post. I can't remember what the topic was, though. Anyway, I haven't been particularly active with the blogging lately. Which mostly boils down to not really having anything that interesting to say.

So, a bit of what's going on in my life.

I finally managed to purchase Final Fantasy XIII-2. The first 15 hours or so that I've played of it have not been un-cool, but we'll have to see how it develops. Thus far it's at least had a lot more NPC interaction and exploration than FFXIII, aspects in which I thought that game was particularly lacking. And I still quite enjoy the battle system.

I've been busy working on a new EP. It's a) gonna suck, like all my other recordings (there's only so much I can do, alone, with my limited skills, equipment, and, most of all, patience), and b) despite that gonna be the coolest thing I've recorded thus far. It should, hopefully, be ready sometime late April or early May, and will, as usual, be posted online for free.

I started reading the webcomic Weregeek. I've run into it before, but for some reason or other never got around to reading it then. I'm sorry I didn't, 'cause it's pretty darn brilliant. Definitely recommended for any RPG enthusiasts. The D&D stuff in it, though, brought on a bit of Pathfinder withdrawal. (It's been a little while since my group's last session, and with IRL stuff happening may be a little while till the next...) It's not that there haven't been plenty of other RPG's in my life, but Pathfinder/D&D does have a.... certain unique feel to it.

Speaking of Pathfinder, I added a few more books to my collection (Advanced Player's Guide, Ultimate Magic, Bestiary 2). I should have enough rules now to last a good long while (basically all the main rulebooks currently out there, with the exception of Bestiary 3, but that's not a very high priority, got plenty of monsters to choose from in the first two volumes)...

And that's about all I can think of tonight. Till next time!