#Writing #Music Monday: Epicentre by Adam Certamen Bownik

23 Feb

Epicentre CoverHere’s a second appearance by Polish composer Adam Bownik, and this one is just as welcome as his first was.

A thing I have been pondering a little bit lately is how truly, truly awful many 1980s movie synth scores were. Leave aside Tangerine Dream, Brad Fiedel, and Vangelis, and you get into some very mixed results. Synthesizers were so badly used and abused at the time that bands would release albums with “no synthesizers used” stickers (often a blatant lie) because people hated them so much.

I don’t have the musical or audio background to give any kind of definitive reason, but two scores in particular went through my head when I was thinking this over most recently: The Princess Bride and Ladyhawke.

(I’ll bring this around to today’s album and artist, just bear with me.)

The score for The Princess Bride is objectively pretty awful, sounding very much like it was done by one man on a cheap synthesizer trying to pretend to sound like an entire orchestra, and failing. And yet, somehow it works for the film. My theory is that, whether composer Mark Knopfler intended it or not, it works for the viewer because it’s the kind of thing the grandson being told the story would be able to do with the stuff in his room. (That makes the opening shot of the 1980s Nintendo game and music a stroke of genius, setting the audience up for the rest of the score of the film.)

Andrew Powell’s score for Ladyhawke, on the other hand, is in itself a mixed bag. Focusing only on the parts that use synth, the dreamier, magic-related portions of it work amazingly well even today. But when it shifts into a jaunty “theme”, it grates on the ears completely. For one thing, given the rather somber story told, it’s way too happy-sounding. But, for another, it sounds like it’s trying to do things other instruments would do better, or more smoothly.

As any fan of 1980s Hong Kong cinema can tell you, using synth just because it’s cheaper lead to lots of very cheap-sounding film scores. But those composers who embraced the new technology and tried to do new things with it, things only possible with synth, the invented new and amazing things never possible to human musicians before. Again, see the works of Fiedel, Vangelis, and Tangerine Dream for prime examples.

And that brings me back to Adam Bownik. I’m not going to claim he’s a genius on the level of those three, but he uses synth to try things only possible to synth. He’s not trying to sound like anything else — except, possibly, to sound like he created these wonderful tracks in the 1980s himself. But they’re original to him, even as he manages not to sound of his own time.

Which is quite a trick, if you think about it.

He says of this album:

One of the most dynamic albums in my discography. Inspired by natural forces of our planet Earth.

Download Epicentre free from Jamendo.

Epicentre by Adam Certamen Bownik released under a Free Art License (FAL) 1.3, also known as a Libre Art License (LAL).

This license is compatible with the Creative Commons Attribution–Share-Alike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) license.

Mid-book thoughts

20 Feb

I have a confession to make: I do not enjoy reading Robert Louis Stevenson.

Oh, sure, I read Treasure Island when I was nine or ten. And as an adult I did manage to get through The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

But I’ve also failed to get through Kidnapped many, many times. And now I’m slogging through The Master of Ballantrae for my reading project, and it’s just irritating the hell out of me.

I’m two chapters in, plus an in-story preface, and while I have a better handle on what’s going on than I did the first time I tried to get through it last year (I’m already further in than I got on that attempt), RLS is still failing to give me much handle by which to grab on and get into the story.

The opening takes place around 1745 and the Second Jacobite Rebellion, which is fairly important to the plot, as it takes one main character away from the others and causes them to believe he is dead.

Let me pause to observe that “Jacobite” and “rebellion” are two words yet to be mentioned in the novel. At all. You’re simply supposed to know what Bonny Prince Charlie’s being around and the year means. No notes, no asides, nothing to help orient the reader.

Look, when Sir Walter Scott covered his fictional Third Jacobite Rebellion in Waverley, written much closer in time to the events it presumed the reader was familiar with, he still managed to give enough detail that I, who am fairly ignorant of those events, had no trouble following his (cracking good) story.

(It is, perhaps, partly excusable in that the story is narrated in the first person, and such a person would assume that anyone reading it would “just know” all the background, but I still hold that it’s bad writing to give readers basically no handle at all if they don’t have the same background as the characters in the story.)

Then there are the characters. The lists and lists of names, and indirect mention of certain characters being referred to by different names or different titles at different times, and again no explanation of why. You’re just supposed to already know, I guess.

There’s also the thick, thick Scots accent he transcribes for certain characters. A lot of it I can work out from my own knowledge of how Scots speak, or from context. But some things are just tae oobscur tae ken fa me Moorcin eyre.

I imagine that RLS is one of the authors who inspired Heinlein to write in his own particular style — that is, to describe things without explaining them, and let the reader work out the hows and whys himself.

But that doesn’t work if you don’t give the reader any way to figure anything out. So far, RLS doesn’t do that.

Also, probably best not to get me ranting on how he gives just as little description or orientation for his fictional places as for real ones, so that all of Scotland exists in a foggy nether realm where things have no spatial relationships to each other in this reader’s mind. Argh.

It’s quite maddening, but I’m going to soldier on, because this is my project, dammit, and I will finish it. Eventually.

(This is probably going to be very funny, as the next two novels in the project seem to be rather over-written Victorian pieces, so I’ll soon be bitching about having too much description, after complaining about not getting enough. Call me Goldilocks.)

“One-Eyed Dragon” by Cedar Sanderson

18 Feb

One-Eyed Dragon coverAs “One-Eyed Dragon” is a short-ish story, I don’t want to say too much about it.

It takes place in an unnamed Japanese village at an indefinite point in the past. We follow a tattoo artist who has lived there a short time, and is all but shunned by the villagers for reasons only ever hinted at. A small, mysterious lady comes into his shop and asks for an unusual tattoo. And that’s about all I can say without detracting from the delight that this story offers.

Sanderson’s writing is quiet, and she sets up all the elements of her story with perfect subtlety, all but effortlessly (to the eye of the reader, that is), so well that it makes this particular writer just a little jealous.

The other point that stood out for me is how well she evokes historical Japan. It’s not overt, just implied through detail and character interaction, but it is very effective and came off believably, though I’m not an expert in Japanese history. The only possible quibble is a reference to an artist with an obviously Chinese name (a real historical figure, as it happens, though Sanderson has distanced her story just a tiny bit by altering the spelling of the name), yet no mention is made by the character mentioning him that he is Chinese rather than Japanese. That an educated Japanese man would know about Chinese art does not a surprise, but that he would not make a distinction between the two cultures felt wrong to me. But again, I’m not an expert in Japanese culture or history, and the quibble is excruciatingly minor.

Even including that, I can’t recommend this story highly enough. It is lovely, just lovely.

Creative Commons License
This review of “One-Eyed Dragon” by D. Jason Fleming is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

#Writing #Music Monday: Homeland by SBUT

16 Feb

Homeland CoverI often post an album saying “It’s kind of this, but also a bit of that, but not really like either too much.”

Not this one. This is flat–out dance club techno. So if bass heavy thumpathumpa that’s meant to be danced to won’t get you writing, you probably want to pass this one by.

But — and regular readers know I don’t generally say this about techno — this is really good!


I dance in my chair to this, and look around for hot girls in tube tops. It’s pro, it’s good, and it gets you moving.

SBUT is (yet another) German composer and, not reading German, I can’t tell you too much about him other than that he was born in ’85 and his music is really damn good. He’s been releasing music through Jamendo since 2009, though I’ve only just discovered him (I am a techno-phobe only in the musical sense). He might have begun dj-ing and producing music as far back as 2000 (again, my interpretation of his German bio, so I could be wrong).

Homeland is, at the time of this writing, his most recent release. It throbs. It thumps. It loops and builds and tangents and circles back.

And it’s just really, really damn good. (Especially the “Homeland Girls” track. If you don’t like that, you don’t like ice cream.)

Download Homeland free from Jamendo.

Creative Commons License
Homeland by SBUT is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.

Mixtape for the Lonely and Lovelorn 2015

13 Feb

It’s something I seem to do every year. A mixtape of loss and loneliness for those of us who are forever alone on Valentine’s Day.

Unfortunately, WordPress.com won’t let me post the playlist directly here, so you have to click through. But it’s worth it, trust me.

Mixtape for the Lonely and Lovelorn 2015

#Writing #Music Monday: Simple One by Art Owens

9 Feb

[cover] Art Owens - Simple OneThe excellent Art Owens will serve as our Valentine’s Day artist.

Simple One is one of his last Creative Commons/Jamendo releases, and it is exquisite. While many of his releases have me drooling over his trumpet skills and wishing the remainder of the music had been jettisoned for something a little more soulful and a lot less synth, Owens finds the perfect balance on this album. His trumpet work is as good as ever, but the supporting music holds up to it, everything integrates to cast a spell over the listener.

He says of the inspiration for Simple One:

This album is about a woman with a simple life,and she is every man’s dream, beautiful, smart, caring, loving. Someone you want to be with the rest of your life.

And that makes it our Valentine’s Writing Music album this year.

Download Simple One free from Jamendo.

Alternatively, you can get it from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License
Simple One by Art Owens is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.

#Writing #Music Monday: Back to the Source by Tradmark

2 Feb

Back To The Source CoverHere’s an hour of music that’s not what you expect, in a good way, even as you’re listening to it.

Tradmark doesn’t say much about himself anywhere that I’ve found, but he appears to be a one-man show in the Midwestern USA. His music is an amalgam of jazz, techno, and new wave synth, and it all works together quite well.

Take the first track, “Mood for December Rendered”. Starts off as a lonely saxophone cityscape piece of jazz, but transitions seamlessly into upbeat new wave synth, keeping the sax throughout for texture.

Pretty much the whole album does this, and just as well.

Probably my favorite thing this album does is the way it sets up your expectations as a listener, and then uses those expectations to surprise you. From the pause in “Mood for December Rendered” to the abrupt ending of “Live for Freedom”, to several others I won’t spoil, it’s almost like Tradmark is in dialogue with you as you listen, and keeps surprising you with his wit when you think you have his position pegged. It’s very nice.

Download Back to the Source free from Jamendo.

Creative Commons License
Back to the Source by Tradmark is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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