Ethereality News & Weblog

September 23, 2008

Nordic Art & Graphics Challenge 2008

Filed under: Art & CG,Film/TV/Animation,News — Rob Chang @ 9:25 pm

NEWS:
I was invited to judge the Nordic Art & Graphics Challenge 2008 (September 27-November 22), so those of you who are into art contests should take a look (over $5,000 of prizes).

WEBLOG:

Quickie film/TV reviews:

Generation Kill – I didn’t find out about this show until very recently, and since I’m a big fan of The Wire, I had to check it out. Just like The Wire, Generation Kill (originally articles, then a book, then TV series) is all about absolute realism, down to the last tiny little details. I’ve read online comments by numerous marines and they all praised the show as being the most realistic they had ever seen, though the point of view is a bit one-sided since the show is focused on a few characters and paints the commanders in very bad light–to the point of being comical. I personally find it impossible to believe that stunningly stupid and incompetent commanders like ‘Captain America’ actually are allowed to be in the military, let alone lead men. Supposedly the embedded journalist from Rolling Stones who rode with the Recon platoon had bonded with his humvee mates and wrote his articles/book from their biased point of view, and there had been public rebuttals from the parties the book made to look bad. Since it’s docu-drama, the narrative isn’t meant to engage you emotionally, impart moral judgment, or raise intellectual discussion–it simply tells you what had happened over there during the invasion, and it’s up to you to formulate your own ideas and thoughts about what it all means. For me personally, such an approach is slightly dry, but given a choice I’d prefer it to the possible alternative of being melodramatic. Black Hawk Down suffered from being melodramatic, and it could’ve used the same treatment that Generation kill had. The war films and TV series that I think have a good balance of having both engaging narrative and realism are ones like Band of Brothers, Jarhead, Full Metal Jacket…etc.

Wall-E – I knew this would be a good film because everyone I know raved about it–people whose taste I trust. It certainly was very good, as are just about all the Pixar films. I wish it it had been edited a bit slower, since I’ve recently started to feel like today’s films are edited too fast, and try to cram in too much while keeping a shorter running time (The Dark Knight had this problem too). Shots don’t have the proper time to play itself out for maximum effect, and scenes are hurried though like they are trying to check off one more item from the “To Do” checklist. Other than that one complaint, I thought the film was quite beautiful and charming, and very brave for using minimal dialog and actually letting animation tell the story. In a world full of fast-talking animals making pop-culture and fart jokes, Pixar films stand head above shoulders over the rest.

Kung-Fu Panda – I thought the film was entertaining, but I wasn’t blown away by it like most of the critics were. The story was a bit clichéd and I had hoped that Po would learn some really profound lessons by the end of the film, but for the most part the film remained lighthearted and didn’t have enough substance for my taste.

September 21, 2008

China will kill us all

WEBLOG:
I have written about the unsafe foods in China numerous times in the past, and I’m going to write about it again today. I know I said that I should try to not be so angry all the time when writing about China, but how can I not be? Just do a search online with any search engine on topics regarding toxic, poisonous, and unsafe foods from China (not to mention toxic toys, toothbrushes, and a bunch of other everyday items), and you’ll get so many hits it’s not even funny. Think you’re protected from all this because you don’t live in China? Ha! Think again. Read those articles and you’ll see a good percentage of the food you eat in whatever country you live in has been sent to China for processing (or entirely manufactured there) and then shipped back to your country because they are the cheapest option available, even considering the shipping fee. You can’t even tell which products in your local supermarket has been through China because it’s not publicized. Don’t believe me? Go do some google searches and read a few articles. I’ll wait. If you’re too lazy to type in a few words in google, here are some links you can check out:

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1842727,00.html

http://en.epochtimes.com/news/7-5-28/55857.html

http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/07/09/business/paste.php

http://www.crooksandliars.com/2007/08/12/cnbcs-erin-burnett-we-need-chinas-toxic-food-and-lead-coated-toys-to-keep-economy-strong/

Back? Now you see what I mean? This is unacceptable! China is slowly but surely killing off the entire fucking planet because its current social climate has fostered a nation of people who have no moral compass in their hearts, and any bullshit they pretend to believe in are just for show so they may appear to be ethical and civilized, but deep down inside they are cruel, selfish, and greedy. They could tell the global press that they are doing all they can to stop the production of toxic products, but then turn right around and accept bribes from all the unethical companies. No, this time I will not hold back. My anger is very real. I’m not going to sit back and say, “Oh, I need to try and see the good in people, and I shouldn’t be so judgmental.” Yeah, go and tell me that again when you discover you have cancer because you’ve been eating unsafe food products, using toxic toothpaste, and your pet has died while your infant child is dying–all because you are feeding them food products made in China. There is no excuse. One does not make toxic products knowingly for financial gain, PERIOD. Even if you don’t believe in religion, you should at least believe in the very basic moral foundation that guides human civilization. It is a vicious cycle, because a man may warn his relatives and friends to not use the poisonous products that he produces, but if everyone else is also making poisonous products, then WHAT THE HELL WOULD HE FEED HIS FAMILY? Grow your own food in your own backyard? What if you don’t have a backyard–aren’t you basically fucked?

We looked through the list of 55 toxic food products from China and we had to throw away a bunch of stuff from our kitchen because they were on the list. But how do we carry on from here? How can we know which products are safe and which ones are toxic? We must do something fast. One day we’ll all be diagnosed with some terrible illness or terminal disease caused by all the toxic products from China, and that’s when it’s all too late. But what can we do? These are some of the most powerful people in the world controlling the world’s economics, and they are all making backroom deals and benefiting from unethical practices. The percentage of all of the world’s products that are made in China is so high now that if you tried to boycott products made in China from your life entirely, you’d be left with almost nothing. When I was in the States I had thought I was safe from it all, but that’s no longer the case–China’s toxic products is everywhere, no matter what country you live in. We must demand our local governments to take action–to force China to live up to the moral standard that all human beings should abide by, regardless of religion, race, culture, or politics. I wish I could do something here in China, but we’re talking about a country where they can make you disappear off the face of the planet if you pissed them off–you’d be locked away in some jail and get tortured everyday until you die. What the hell can I do?

We’ve been doing some final shopping for our new home to finish off the construction. Pretty much all the electrical wiring, brick/concrete, plastering, cabinets, tiles, plumbing, windows…etc are done at this point, and we just picked out all the drapes, wallpaper, flooring, stair steps, and lights, and those will be installed in the next week or two. I also finished designing all the acoustic treatment for the studio and have ordered the glassfiber panels. I’ll be lining all the wall to wall and wall to ceiling corners with superchunk broadband absorbers, plus I have a storage room where I’ll have the door be one giant bass trap, so I’m pretty sure this new studio will sound pretty damn good in terms of bass response. Of course I’ll have all the first reflections covered with panels as well–all will be 4″ thick with 6″ spacing from the wall, including not sealing the sides of the panels for maximum performance. I can’t wait to get it all done so I could start enjoying the new studio.

A friend of ours sent us photos of this amazing mobile furniture set, all fitting into one box (it’s called the Casulo, designed by Marcel Krings & Sebastian Mühlhäuser):

It basically goes from this box:
Casulo

To this full setup:
Casulo

Here are the missing steps, plus a video demonstration.

Although I’m pretty sure it won’t be the most comfortable room since the design did not aim for best ergonomics–you’d get back aches from the chair and the bed, but it’s hard to beat for for mobility.

The computer-based musicians are currently going nuts over the much hyped Omnisphere Power Synth from Spectrasonics, and all that attention is well-deserved, since the main man behind Spectrasonics products, Eric Persing, has a long history doing some of the best sound design work behind many of Roland’s synthesizers. One of the major selling points of Omnisphere is the clever psychoacoustic sound design approach they’ve taken, and I was very happy to see a developer taking that route, since it was something I had wished for back in 2006, although what I had described was even more advanced–actually being able to control articulations of imagined instruments. I mentioned this to Eric and he said it’s now on the future wishlist. I really hope they go for it because we need this kind of forward thinking in the world of musical instruments. It’s absolutely boring as hell to see another classic Gibson or Fender classic guitar re-release, or the same Rhodes or B3 organ. It’s time to move on and explore new sonic territories! (Although I say that, I’m certainly not immune to beautiful sounding classic instruments, but we do need to look forward while preserving the best of the past.)

Quickie movie/TV reviews:

Heroes (Season 2) – It’s kind of hard for me to truly fall in love with this show, since all the situations are just too familiar to anyone that’s ever read X-men as a kid. The powers from genetic mutation, the feuding between factions with self-righteous aims, characters switching sides, the fight for the greater good vs. personal agendas…etc. But it’s still quite entertaining, and season 2 actually proved to be a little less annoying than season 1, since we’re now done with all the exposition and have kicked into high gear. Usually that’s when a show gets really good–when you already have the premise firmly established, and just start dazzling the audience with the sheer talent and audacity of the writers. One thing that annoys the hell out of me is how writers always just have characters start kicking each other’s asses before they even trying to listen to explanations. I’d like to think that most people have the capacity to listen to others do some explaining before going off on them? Or maybe one of the side-effects of the mutation is lack of rational judgment and being a hothead? I much prefer conflicts borne of genuine difference of values, as opposed to rash decisions and misunderstandings.

The Dark Knight – I loved Heath Ledger’s performance, but I think the film is overrated. As serious as it tried to be, it still has remnants of that comic book feel which I generally am not a fan of. There have been other films based on comic books that didn’t have the comic book feel, such as Road to Perdition, A History of Violence, 40 Days of Nights…etc, and I much prefer that approach. Some of the situations in the film also felt just a tad too contrived and too crammed full (trying to edit the film down to shorter length), lacking the sense of gravity of better crime dramas. Maybe it’s the style of the direction, acting, and editing, but overall it just didn’t blow me away the way it did with many others singing its praises.

The Office (Season 4) – I finished the last few episodes (the ones that came in after the writer’s strike ended), and what can I say? I just love this show to death. I can’t imagine this show ever getting bad–as long as they keep doing what they’ve been doing. Pam is officially one of my favorite fictional female characters. She’s sweet, creative, has a wicked sense of humor, and cute in a quiet, subtle way.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Season 2) – I enjoyed the first season a lot (you have to watch it from the very beginning to get into the “feel” of this series), and the first episode of season 2 really blew me away because of the emotional elements involving John and Cameron. The idea that John could be emotionally attached to a terminator has been touched upon in the 2nd film (the father figure angle), and now we have the girl friend angle. The fact a terminator would scream out that she loves him and knows that he loves her too–wow. It was just too intense.

Dexter (Season 3, episode 1) – I really liked the first two seasons, but the first episode of season 3 sucked. I just couldn’t get into it. There was nothing compelling about it that makes me want to find out what’s going to happen for the rest of the season. I hope season 3 picks up or I might have to drop this show.

Entourage (Season 5, episode 1) – This is another one of those shows that you just can’t get tired of because it’s so fun. Watching it is like hanging out with your buddies–you don’t need to do anything special–just kick back and enjoy the company.

Harold & Kumar: Escape from Guantanamo Bay – If you liked the first film you’ll probably like the second one. It’s got the same kind of low-brow humor with some socio-political messages thrown in, starring an Indian guy and a Korean guy. We really need to see more minority leads in films like this. I’m still waiting for a Hollywood romantic comedy starring an Asian guy. I wonder if it’ll ever happen in my lifetime.

Avatar: The Last Air Bender (Season 1) – I had heard a lot about this series, and I finally checked it out. I’ve only watched a few episodes so far, and I could see why people say it’s the most authentic western-made anime there is. Is IS basically anime, except created by westerner that grew up on anime. If you dubbed the show in Japanese then no one would even be able to tell that it was created by westerners. It’s a quality show and although I kind of feel like I’m a bit too old for this show, it’s still enjoyable.

September 9, 2008

Synth1 preset bank

Filed under: Audio & Music,Film/TV/Animation,My Life/Musings — Rob Chang @ 8:00 pm

NEW:
I’ve been doing some sound design lately, and just uploaded a Synth1 preset bank. You can find it in the Sound Design/Synth Programming section of the site.

WEBLOG:
Construction on our new home is almost done, except that my recording studio is still all bare concrete. It’s been a nightmare trying to gather all the needed knowledge in order to finalized the construction details of my studio. I’m not a structural engineer, or an architect, or an acoustician, or even a recording studio designer–I’m just a musician that wants a nice space to make music in. So I have to basically research my ass off to come up with a design that experts in those various disciplines would actually approve of. Of course, I could have hired experts to do all the work, but that is something very rich people do–not folks like us. The fee for an expert would exceed my budget for the entire studio, and that’s even before a single brick has been laid. So that’s pretty much what I’ve been working on–the actual design and construction details. I’d draw a bunch of construction detail schematics, floor plans, wall/ceiling/floor structural designs…etc, then post them in pro audio forums to get feedback from experts (mostly Rod Gervais), and then incorporate their suggestions and do more drawing, then repeat the process until every single tiny detail has been decided on. This process alone took months, not counting the books I’ve read on the subject.

At this point, I’m very close to finalizing all details. I still have to do a round of math to calculate all the weight distribution of the various wall segments and ceiling segments, and then calculate where to place isolation hangers, pucks, sway braces…etc. (Those of you that know me are probably laughing your asses off right now, since I flunked match twice in school.) Speaking of isolation products–even finding the resources to buy trustworthy products from in China has been an uphill battle (importing from elsewhere would cost too much due to import tax). Once again, Rod Gervais has been a Godsend. If any of you ever want to build your own home recording studio, just google his name and you’d find his book. And if you’re rich, you could just hire the guy to do everything instead of suffering through it all like me.

Over the years I’ve noticed something that reinforced my believe that kindred spirits are connected in a specific way. Those that know me know I have eclectic taste in most things, including music. I usually separate musical artists into different tiers like:

Composers – Musicians that compose music for various industries (film/TV, video games, concert halls, theater…etc).

Orchestrators/Arrangers – Musicians that orchestrate and arrange music composed by others, but don’t usually compose original music.

Instrumentalists – Musicians that concentrate on a particular instrument such as the bass guitar, drums, cello, trumpet…etc.

Songwriters – Musicians that write songs in the format that we usually associate with songs (verses, chorus…etc).

Singer/Songwriters – Musicians that both sing and write their own songs.

Singers – Musicians that only sing and do not play any instruments or write any music.

Entertainers – People who I don’t really consider to be any kind of musician, as they mostly sell their looks and dance moves, and their singing is usually not anywhere near the quality that one would associate with a “singer.”

I usually prefer Singers to Entertainers, and Singer/Songwriters to Singers. Once someone enters the world of music writing, in my eyes, they have taken the “next step” in music-making and in a way have “graduated” to the next level. This isn’t to say that people who only sing don’t have my respect–they do, and there are plenty of singers that I love, but my kindred spirits are people who have decided that they want to dive into the world of writing music, and that’s a very different world from singing only.

The thing I have noticed over the years is that the singers I like the most almost all eventually learn to play instruments and start writing their own material, thus “graduating” into the next level of music-making. The strange thing is that when I discover singers that I love, they were just singers, and then over the years, they slowly start to show up on stage with instruments, and eventually start to write their own material and produce or co-produce their own albums. Recently my favorite Korean singer, Lee Soo Young, have started to hit the stage with a guitar, and that put a big smile on my face. Looks like another one of my favorite singers have decided to dive deeper into the world of music-making, no longer content with just singing what others write for her. I love seeing artists evolve and pushing themselves to do better and to do more.

Quickie movie review:

Domino – I know that Tony Scott has fans, and when he’s not editing his films like a madman, I like him, but when he goes overboard with all the crazy camera moves and chaotic editing it just grates on my nerves. I know he’s trying to be cerebral about the way he edits, using certain effects to convey a character’s inner emotions and so on, but there is a line you do not cross, and that line is when you start to make the audience physically ill from too much unpleasant movements on screen. Domino is one of his more grating films. I managed to sit through it, but I can’t say that I liked it. All that jump cutting and stylized presentation just takes you out of the narrative and it’s almost impossible to develop empathy for the characters because you feel like you’re watching a music video or a TV commercial.

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