Ethereality News & Weblog

January 9, 2011

New music + New Year’s resolutions for 2011

I finished re-arranging/mixing a track that I originally composed for the Galactic Melee game (a sci-fi multiplayer space shooter). The game was canceled and never released, and I was never totally happy with the original version I did, so I reworked it. Here’s the new 2011 version:
Galactic Melee – Main Title (2011 version)
What was updated:

-Rewrote the string section in the second half with better counterpoint, and replaced all the strings with LASS (L.A. Scoring Strings) except for the fadeout. Although my understanding of counterpoint has greatly improved since when I did the original version, it’s still not to my total satisfaction. I have to experiment even more–especially on crafting compelling dissonances that serves as intriguing tensions before they resolve.

-Completely redid the drum section in the second half, giving it a more prominent acoustic drum kit (using Addictive Drums) sound while still retaining the electronic elements.

-Completely redid the bassline in the second half with CoreCherry fingered bass.

-The synth melody segment in the middle got a drum update that makes it sound like the track is being propelled forward more instead of repeating the same percussion.

-The percussion is now spread out more in stereo and lower in volume, as well as more reverb.

-The middle glitch break is now strings only, and it’s no longer a glitch effect but a simple telephone mono effect.

Overall I’m pretty happy with how the new version turned out–it’s definitely an improvement over the older version.

So, New Year’s resolutions. First, here are the ones from last year, and how I think I did:

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.

This is one of the few times in my life where I absolutely NAILED a goal. The workshop was epic, and I’m now about to teach the fifth of it soon. The first 3 runs completely sold out, and it was so much hard work because I went far above and beyond the call of duty to help the students, to the point of spending up to 8~12 hours on a busy day just answering questions, writing critiques, and updating workshop content. The students were all full of praises and very grateful for the hard work I put into it. The testimonials in the “What You’ll Learn” section convey clearly well how passionately the students felt about the workshop experience.

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

I made two Zendrum videos:

Short performance :

Mapping and playing technique demonstration:

I’ve improved since then, and I’ll likely make more videos in the future.

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 wanted this for so many years and I’m now so close.

It’s didn’t work out quite as planned since the workshop took up so much of my time, but whenever I had downtime, I really did try to devote them to making music, and I have a few new tracks I’ve been working on, and I’ve just finished re-arranging/re-mastering a track, which was a huge improvement compared to the previous version.

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.

I did a lot of planning for this, including writing a detailed treatment for the trailer, but somehow I find myself wanting to continue to focus on the music since it’s been a deterred dream of mine to focus on music for so many years. I think once I’ve gotten a whole new batch of new tracks done and replace all the old/unfinished ones on the website, I might feel more inclined to take on this project (which will be very, very demanding).

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.

I ended up not going because I just didn’t want to go anywhere and wanted to focus on music. I don’t regret it, and it turned out for the best because if I had gone, Elena would not have spent nearly as much time with her cousin, and she also would not have found out about business opportunities while spending all that time with her cousin, and we would not have ended up investing in Japan as the result.

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, and 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.

Ooh boy, I really went full out on this one. I bought the Denon AH-D7000, Audeze LCD-2, and Stax 007mkII (with the Stax SRM-717 amp) and tested them extensively. I sold the Denon since it was too colored, although the bass was very satisfying. I kept the other two. Here are reviews I wrote for them:
Stax 007mkII Review

Audeze LCD-2 Review

Denon AH-D7000 Review

While it’s impossible to match headphones to speaker monitors, the LCD-2 and Stax 007mkII are two of the finest headphones ever made and are extremely good. They did cost me an arm and a leg, but that’s the price you pay for high-end audiophile stuff.

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 my 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.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 my 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.

I got very close to doing it, but I don’t watch stuff in the living room nearly as much as I used to, and Elena just couldn’t care less about this stuff, even if she’s watching stuff in the living room all the time, so this one got bumped down on the priority list. It’ll still happen eventually, but just not as soon as planned.

8 ) Get a life-size humanoid opponent body bag and really put some effort into getting in shape. I don’t mind using the exercise machine while watching a DVD, but I think martial arts punches and kicks would relieve tension and stress more, and also improve self-defense skills.

I did:
upright sandbag + exercise mat

But I’m not using it nearly as much as I had hoped. Turned out even that kind of action gets boring without real life opponents. I did improve a lot on my punches and kicks though, and my left arm no longer feels awkward and I can attack with it as smoothly and confidently as with my right arm.

What I learned or thought about a lot in 2010:

-As I get older, my drive to fulfill my ambitions becomes weaker and weaker. I’m now more likely to just do stuff I enjoy instead of suffering through stuff I don’t enjoy for the sake of a goal. I don’t know how this will affect my trajectory in life in general, but I do know that all the things I’m passionate about are creative endeavors, so no matter what, I’ll continue doing what I love, but whether I push myself to make them commercially viable is a whole different question.

-Some accomplishments are only impressive to the world if you achieve them while you’re young, and once you start inching towards middle-age, achieving the same goals would not impress anyone anymore, because people expect you to be that good at your age. For example, playing an instrument. A young person kicking ass on an instrument is far more impressive than some balding guy playing the exact same thing on the same instrument.

On the other hand, some achievements are likely respected more when you achieve them later in life, such as writing a great novel full of insights and wisdom. A young person achieving it will always raise eyebrows because most will feel that the person has not lived long enough and the appearance of insight and wisdom are but conjured up with imagination and intelligence, as opposed to authoritative voice borne of life experiences. Historically speaking, I think very few writers write their best works when they’re still very young, and most seems to write their most compelling and respected works much later in life.

It is only because I’m inching towards middle-age that I’ve begun contemplating these thoughts, and it really makes me feel the gravity of aging. There are goals I had when I was younger that I haven’t achieved, and working towards them now will carry less meaning. But as long as it’s goals that I really enjoy spending time achieving, then that’s all that matters.

-How you choose to make a living and what you enjoy sometimes are best to remain separated. I’ve always known this, but the older I get, the more it seems true. Each time I try to make a living at something I love, there’s always negative ramifications like dealing with the business end of things, clients, compromises, commercial limitations, deadlines…etc, and they ALWAYS end up eroding your original love for it. The most ideal situation will always be creating on your own terms and then make the results available as commercial products (such as writing a novel and then getting it published). If they do well, then you can rely on them to make a living, but if you try to force a living out of doing things you love just to put food on the table, it’ll take away the joy. It’s better to do something else for a living and keep that love alive. (Or maybe that’s just how it feels currently, when I’ve had the luxury to not have create on demand to make a living.)

Other things of interest for me in 2010:

Visiting Taiwan for the first time in fifteen years

Getting the IK Multimedia ARC System

Getting the Panasonic Lumix LX5 as a vacation camera

Getting the Logitech Z-5500 Digital 5.1 Speaker System

Resolutions for 2011:

1) Continue to focus on music when I have the time and elevate the quality of my work to the next level and replace pretty much everything that’s currently on my site with better, newer, improved tracks. Also redesign the music page on my site so it’s more streamlined.

2) Create a new workshop since the current one has run its course (after repeated runs). I have a list of topics I’d want to focus on, and it’ll be hard narrowing it down to just one. Also, I’m very meticulous and a perfectionist, so it’ll likely take a while to create. The current workshop took me over a year and half to create, so this is really serious hard work.

3) I’ve gotten some good writing done in 2010–stuff that actually reads back satisfyingly, as opposed to making me cringe. I think this is a sign that I’ve matured and grown as a writer, and I suspect it’s getting close to that time where I concentrate on finishing a novel or screenplay and send it out there to meet publishers/studios.

4) I’d love to spend more time working out, but every single year I fail at this. Will 2011 be any different?

5) If I happen to finish my current batch of music before 2011 ends, I might change my focus the multimedia novel project again.

So, what are your resolutions for this year?

After battling with accumulated dust on my guitars and basses and keyboards, I now pretty much have all of them covered up when not in use. It really kills the vibe of the studio since instead of seeing the instruments, they are either in gig bags or covered with cloth, but it definitely makes it much more pleasant in terms of actually playing. I hate seeing dust on instruments, and hate feeling any kind of dust or grime on the keys even more. Now with all instruments covered, I don’t have to wipe the instruments down every time I pick them up or put them away.

I went on a bit of a shopping spree lately with all the developers having a big sale at the end of the year. I was never quite happy with my bass libraries, so I picked up the Orange Tree basses (CoreCherry bundle, Pear acoustic upright, and Jaco fretless), Scarbee basses (Jay-Bass, Pre-Bass, and M-Bass). I like all these basses a lot, and it’s wonderful to be able to play a sampled bass expressively in real-time on the keyboard and have it sound close enough to the real thing that I almost don’t feel the need to pick up one of my basses when I’m writing basslines. The real-time legato slides, hammer-on/off’s, and other nifty features like a graphical fretboard that shows you which strings and frets and articulations are being played really takes the whole experience to the next level. Now I can’t even go back to any of the previous libraries I used to use, because I’ve been so spoiled by the Orange Tree and Scarbee products.

I can’t say the same for guitar libraries though. I’ve tried Orange Tree’s Evolution Electric Guitar Strawberry and Vir2’s Electri6ity recently, and despite valiant efforts on the part of the developers to make them as intuitive and playable and realistic as possible, I find that the guitar as an instrument is just too complex to be played on the keyboard with any kind of intuitive ease. Also I think it’s because the guitar’s typical range of playing techniques are much more varied than the bass, so it’s far harder to implement such a wide range of articulations with such limited number of MIDI controls.

Quickie movie/TV reviews

The Walking Dead (season one) – My friend Jason recently said that he’s so sick and tired of anything to do with zombies, because the media is just over-saturated with it. I don’t know if he watched this new series, but I suspect if he did, he’d have really liked it. The man behind this series is Frank Darabont of Shawshank Redemption fame, so right then and there I just knew it had to be of high quality.

I tried reading the graphic novel this show is based on in the past, but I couldn’t really get into it, despite being a zombie apocalypse fiction fanatic. I think there are just certain things that the medium of comic book can’t do very well, and a visceral sense of urgency is one of them. While sequential art can suggest the 4th dimension, it is still only a suggestion and cannot convey what full-blown 24 frames per second could.

While it’s true that all zombie apocalypse fiction share more similarities than differences, it would be wrong to assume if you’ve seen a few, you’ve already seen them all. That’s like saying if you’ve seen a few shows about cops, lawyers, doctors, or family drama, then you’ve already seen them all and no need to watch anymore. Every single creative vision is different, and The Walking Dead is the first and only TV show about the zombie apocalypse that really tries to treat it as seriously as it would treat any other subject matter that are deemed to have artistic worth. I’m a firm believer that genre limitations are arbitrary and it’s up to the creator to stretch beyond those limitations and transcend the stereotypes associated with the genre.

The Walking Dead, like any good zombie apocalypse fiction, is all about the story of the survivors and how they cope in a world that’s gone very wrong. How you depict the drama involving the survivors is what will make or break a good zombie fiction–it’s never just about the gore and the scares, and unfortunately, that’s where so many people get it wrong. Frank Darabont gets it. He’s crafted a fine piece of work, and I’m happy to say it is now one of my favorite on-going TV shows. Six episodes is extremely short for a season, but you know what? I’m not complaining, because having six awesome episodes is far better than not having any at all. It wasn’t long ago when I had thought to myself that an epic zombie apocalypse TV show could never be made due to the required budget and the inherent horrific nature of the genre, and also there just aren’t enough people who understands what it takes to create a believable, moving, and exciting, and thought-provoking show about the zombie apocalypse.

Apparently, it only takes one, and Frank Darabont has done it.

Weeds – Elena and I watched a few episodes and it really didn’t grab us. Being a cable series, it was neither edgy enough nor funny enough, and just didn’t seem to be able to compete against other shows that are more compelling–shows we barely have enough time to watch already. Mary-Louise Parker is certainly very attractive to look at, and that’s about all I can say about the show.

Breaking Bad (season three) -Season three started out kind of aimless, and just when we were wondering if this awesome show has started to slide downhill, it picked up and by the end of the season, we were once again totally hooked. One thing really bothered the hell out of us though, and that was Skylar’s behavior throughout season three. It seemed very natural to us that in a situation like that, she should just forgive Walter and be supportive of his decision–after all, he risked his life in order to take care of his family, and even if it was misguided and foolish, at least acknowledge that it was all done out of love. She was just unbelievably callous and as Walter Jr. said, “being such a bitch.”

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – I can’t remember the last movie where the words “All flash and no substance” kept blinking in my mind as I sat through it. I understood all the jokes and references, being a gamer and having worked as a game developer and a comic book creator, grew up on anime and manga, listen to lots of indie bands, and so on, but despite being part of the target audience of the movie, none of its painstakingly constructed geeky cool had any meaning that was worth noting. If all the pop culture devices were stripped from the movie, it is essentially a very shallow and immature story that has nothing of worth to say. If it was just an over-the-top stupid action flick, then at least that’s enjoyable without it pretending to be something more, but it’s because of the badly written relationship drama that the movie just left me feeling numb and indifferent.

I Heart Huckabees – A pretty original idea, and has some interesting moments, but as a whole felt a bit scattered and unfocused. I don’t think I laughed once throughout the film, and for a comedy, that’s not exactly ideal. I probably was more entertained by the leaked videos of David O. Russell and Lily Tomlin fighting on the set during the shooting of this film.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – I never read the book, and I was surprised that it was actually aimed at a younger audience. It was a pretty harmless piece of entertainment, but nothing that will end up on anyone’s list of favorite movies of all time. I generally don’t enjoy the films aimed at the younger audience nearly as much as the more mature ones, simply because they shy away from certain things and are always capped by this invisible set of limits of how far they can go. The exceptions are few and far between, and I think Pixar is one of the best when it comes to creating compelling entertainment that’s just as entertaining for the adults as it is for the children.

Toy Story 3 – As enjoyable as the previous two, and a very nice way to end the saga. The whole thing about the daycare center is a bit too similar to what happened previously with the brat that abused toys, but there’s enough new ideas to make it interesting. Artistically and technologically, Pixar just keeps getting better and a feast for the eyes.

After.Life – The makeup on Liam Neeson was absolutely horrible in this film, and I have no idea if that was on purpose. He was caked with foundation and it looked so awkward. The film itself had a pretty clever premise, but the execution was clumsy and not totally convincing. In the hands of a much more skillful director, this could be a much better film.

Dragon Ball: Evolution – This is the kind of film I feel embarrassed to even be watching, but I force myself to just so I have a good idea of what today’s cinematic landscape is like, including the awful stuff. And yes, it really is quite awful, and this is the second time Chow Yuen-Fat has starred in a questionable Hollywood flick that would do nothing but tarnish his name (but add more to his band account). Very disappointing. I couldn’t even watch most of it and just sort of fast-forwarded through most of it.

The Last Airbender – As bad as this film was, it’s definitely better than that Dragon Ball crap, but it got trashed by the critics even worse, and I suspect it’s because the critics love to tear apart anything M. Night Shyamalan does. I have only seen the first season of the animated series this film is based on, and I could totally understand why the fans of original were pissed–M. Night stripped away all of the original’s charm and appeal and turned it into dryly implement list of bullet points to film. As a storyteller, he obviously understands the whole “Show, don’t tell” principle, because he demonstrated it perfectly in just about all his past films, but here, he screwed the pooch big time. It’s mind-boggling that this is the same writer/director of a body of works that I mostly liked.

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