Ethereality News & Weblog

January 13, 2010

Turned thirty-seven, and 2010 Resolutions

Filed under: Audio & Music,Film/TV/Animation,My Life/Musings,Video Games — Rob Chang @ 2:17 pm

My blog is finally back online. It was down during the holidays and tech support was on vacation, so it took until now to get it running again. Better late than never, eh?

I turned 37 on the last day of 2009, and it feels a bit surreal since I still feel like a big kid in many ways, but at the same time, I noticed that in the last few years, I seem to have finally acquired a little bit of the mature wisdom that someone my age should have by now. Funny though when I look back, I’ve felt like this in the past too, but always ended up doing some stupid shit that proved I still had much to learn and improve on. Perhaps a few years from now I’d look back and think the same. These days I feel more at peace and less anxious about most things, and I pick my battles more carefully instead of banging my head against the wall when it comes to things I can’t change. Right now I really appreciate not having to be in the rat race and can live according to my own pace and do what’s important to me everyday. I have the most amazing wife a man could ever ask for–supportive, loving, gentle, humorous, appreciative, devoted, wise, and very easy on the eyes. Over seven years of marriage and eight years of knowing each other, I can count on one hand how many times we’ve actually argued–it’s like this amazing coincidence that we are so compatible. The way Elena treats me would put 90% of all the wives in the world to shame. In the first few years I would be embarrassed by the way she spoiled me, but now I totally love it and appreciates every little thing she does. Based on the way she tells me how much she appreciates me every day, I’m probably not doing too bad either. I’m sure when she tell me “You’re the best husband in the world,” it must carry some inking of the truth. Or maybe my Kitty Cat is just weird like that.

I remember when I was younger, I never felt excited about a new year, and I was in fact a total Scrooge about all the festivities. Ho Hum, another year of the same crap–whatever. But it seems like ever since I met Elena, I actually looked forward to a new year and the new challenges. I started to actually make new year resolutions and for the most part, have done quite well in meeting the challenges I set out for myself each year. For 2010, my new year’s resolutions are:

1) Get the workshop out there and really help aspiring artists who are passionate and want to learn. Give them the kind of learning experience that I wish I could’ve had as a young pup.

2) Make some killer Zendrum videos for youtube and really show off the capabilities of this wonderful instrument.

3) Make lots of music. 2010 should be a year where I finally get to dedicate a lot of time to music. I hope nothing unexpected will come up and mess with that. I’ve been wanting this for so many years and I’m now so close.

4) Go into production on my long-term multimedia novel project. I’m not sure if I’ll be in the right mindset for it when the time comes, since I might be too immersed in music to want to do anything else. We’ll see.

5) Go vacationing in Japan with Elena and have a great time. I’m actually not as excited about it as I should be since I’m looking forward to living and breathing music with no other distractions (except teaching the workshop), but she’s been talking about going to Japan for a while now, and we’re not getting any younger.

6) Find a pair of full-size and IEM headphones that can hold their own against my Klein + Hummel O300D studio monitors in terms of resolution, neutral frequency response, detail, and musicality–hopefully without costing me an arm and a leg. I’m pretty happy with my Sennheiser HD650 and Westone 3, but they could be better. I know I’m after something that might be physically impossible for headphones to achieve, but I gotta try cuz I’m a PITA like that.

7) Finally upgrade the living room entertainment system sound system to something better. Still not sure if I want to go 5.1 surround or just a good 2.1 setup. I only play games in the studio and I already have a surround setup for that, and surround sound for movies never really felt like something important to us, so maybe just a 2.1 system.

(Links to past years’ resolutions in this forum post).

I’m hopeful that this year will be a good one. As long as there aren’t any unexpected developments that will get in my way, it should be one of the most fruitful years I’ve had in a long time in terms of personal fulfillment.

I got the Icon iKEY recently, and it’s pretty disappointing. I was so sure that it would be better than the Korg NanoKEY, but it wasn’t. The key action is terrible–inconsistent and lacking reliable dynamics (it’s either too hard or too soft–impossible to hit light to medium velocities with any degree of reliability), and the pitch and modulation ribbons can lose tracking or behave erratically. This is what it looks like:

Icon iKEY

I thought the iKEY would be great for traveling without a big hunk of a normal 25-key MIDI controller keyboard, but at this point, it appears no manufacturer has gotten the mini-sized keyboard controller right. The Korg NanoKEY‘s lack of smooth pitch and modulation control and awkward key layout (black keys flush with white keys, and top half of white keys are cut off) makes it only really usable for triggering percussion sounds, as it cannot be used to play chords that mingles the black and white keys equally, nor could it control pitch and modulation beyond simple on and off positions. The only other mini-sized keyboard controller I know is the Icon iKEY, and it’s not any better (though it’s problems are in other areas). I suppose the Korg microKORG and microKONTROL would be other options, but they are definitely far more expensive, not to mention the overall size isn’t any smaller than normal 25-key controllers (though you do get 3 octaves instead of two). I hope another company will design a mini-key controller that fixes all the problems with the NanoKEY and iKEY. If that happens, I don’t even mind paying double the price.

I’m almost done with the single player campaign of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and while I really enjoy it, I have to say Infinity Ward’s formula of an amusement park ride on a rail still remains a lot of flash without a whole lot of substance. It’s like the Michael Bay of video games–a never-ending bombardment of larger-than-life moments, one after another, until everything just blurs together. Jumping around between different characters also never feels like you are truly immersed in a story, and that’s the thing I like the least about the CoD games. I play single player campaigns to experience a story that has continuity, and the CoD games avoids maintaining a lasting perspective altogether, and simply just have you go through separate missions that don’t have much to do with each other besides fighting on the same side of the conflict. I guess you have to enjoy the CoD games for what they are and not expect more. I don’t play much multiplayer these days since my internet connection sucks, so even though Modern Warfare games are known for their excellent multiplayer experience, they don’t really matter that much to me.

I’ve started playing Dragon Age: Origins, and it feels like the classic Bioware RPG’s. The problem is, I have never really enjoyed those D&D themed RPG’s all that much in the past. To date, I have never finished any of them–not a single one. I don’t know if it’s because the premises don’t grab me or if it’s something else. The RPG’s I do enjoy and go on to finish tend to be the sci-fi ones (Mass Effect, Knights of the Old Republic). Now that I think about it, it seems every single one of my favorite games of all time are sci-fi themed, and even the only one that has fantasy elements (The Longest Journey) had a 50/50 split of sci-fi and fantasy. I wonder why that is. Not that I dislike fantasy–I read novels and watch films in that genre, and I have written my share of fantasy stories. Maybe subconsciously I prefer logic (or the illusion of logic) over something that’s completely contrived and has no reliable governing rules. I seem to also prefer sub-genres of fantasy (horror, paranormal, surrealism) more than the typical high fantasy stuff. Maybe it’s because high fantasy tends to veer into the dorky geek territory and the whole dragons and medieval setting is just one big tired cliché at this point.

Quickie film/TV reviews:

How to Sleep Better (BBC) – I have problems with sleep sometimes (two to three times a week), so I watched this show to see if it had any answers, and according to questions the show asked, I seem to be doing well (I don’t nod off during the day no matter how boring or mundane the activity might be, or where I might be). I expected the show to just reiterate all the stuff I already knew about sleep–all the common facts, but it actually had a lot of new information I had never seen elsewhere–ones like how your DNA could determine whether you’re a morning person or a night person. According to my answers to their question, I’m a total, complete night owl–nocturnal to the bone. No wonder I have always had trouble with waking up early, and I always hated going to bed at night since I feel the most alive at night. I highly recommend you try and find this show online if you have sleep problems.

Synth Brittania (BBC) – As much as I like synth pop and synthesizers, the show was a bit of a bore, because all it did was focus on the early synth pop bands instead of actually getting into the details of the synthesizers or how exactly they were used back then. It’s a show aimed at the average person who’s not a musician, so it’s pretty basic. What was interesting was to hear the members of those early synth pop bands talk about the scene back then and how they felt about their competitions. It was too bad the show only concentrated on the UK scene (and even then I don’t know why they left out The Art of Noise, Japan, and other groups that was part of the scene)–I would’ve much preferred a show that covered the entire world, so other pioneering synth artists like Yellow Magic Orchestra, Tangerine Dream, Kitaro, Yello…etc would be included.

The Sopranos (season one) – I had watched season one years ago, but never moved onto season two, and recently I decided to finally watch the whole series. I watched season one again in order to ease into season two without feeling lost, and while I enjoyed season one, I have to say that television has moved on since then. Even though today’s excellent shows are only possible because The Sopranos paved the way by revolutionizing television, they are in general just as good if not better than The Sopranos. If I had been on the bandwagon years ago, I may feel differently, as TV shows back then weren’t as good as they are today. I remember my first time watching the first season of The Sopranos really blew me away, but this time around, after having watched a number of excellent shows in the last few years, the impact of The Sopranos is not as strong. I will still make my way through the whole series though, if simply for the fact that it’s still one of the best television shows ever made, and was the catalyst that changed the landscape of American television forever.

The Hangover – It was quite entertaining, and although it was pretty much mindless fun, it wasn’t nearly as low-brow or cheap as I had feared (especially when these types of comedies usually end up that way). It was a great move to start with the aftermath and then retrace their steps to find out just how crazy they were, and the most brilliant part was you never actually really see what went down, and you don’t even mind.

Zombieland – As a zombie fiend, I so looked forward to this one, and it let me down. The film’s first third was promising, but by the time they got to Bill Murray’s house, it just became idiotic. Once they reached the amusement park, the film dropped whatever IQ points it had left and just dove off the deep end. I guess some people’s talent only lasts a third of a screenplay and had to fill the remaining two-thirds with crap.

The Air I Breath – I can’t remember the last film I saw that was this laughably pretentious and irrelevant. Don’t actors first read the screenplays before they agree to take a role anymore–especially the talented and smart ones? All that effort to tie all the characters’ subplots together but without any purpose–it’s like a bad student film experimenting with storytelling but had no real story to tell, and no profound message to express.

The Dark Knight – I had seen this once before on an airplane, and I wanted to give it another try in a proper setting (my living room), and I liked it much better the second time around. The first time I felt it tried to cram too much into the film and the editing felt too hurried (trying to cut down to reasonable screen time), but this time it felt fine to me, and the emotional impact was much stronger than the first time. I could also hear the score much more clearly this time around, and I think Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard did an excellent job on the score. It felt very modern, but not clichéd, and the blend of electronic and orchestral was totally seamless. It also had a very strong identity unlike any other film score I’ve heard (which is a very rare thing these days, especially for a blockbuster).

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian – I thought the first film was pretty good, and this one was not quite as good, but not bad either. I find that in general, I’m just not much of a fan of fantasy films aimed at the younger audience, because I think fantasy at its best is when it’s very dark and sinister, evading our senses and shattering our expectations in ways that only mature-themed stories could. Children’s fantasy tend to be very tame and not nearly as compelling.

Better Luck Tomorrow I was disappointed by this film. I saw absolutely no point why the cast had to be all Asian, since nothing about the film was about being Asian except the most superficial and already widely known stereotypes. My personal feeling is that if you’re going to use an all-Asian cast, then you better have something interesting and insightful to say about Asian Americans, otherwise, it just looks like a pointless gimmick. If anything I liked Justin Lin’s big commercial film The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift much more. It at least had a strong identity and was far more entertaining.

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