Friday

Portals

Have you noticed how 'portal' technology has basically driven first-person shooters? right from their 'true birth', doom, the plot was:

Scientists were messing around with teleportation technology and accidentally open a portal to a dimension full of evil. The army comes over to sort things out.

This is the plot to doom, quake, and half life. What half life did differently was have you playing a scientist instead of a grunt.

But there's something else in doom that has lingered in the background of first personers: have a look at the doom box art:

A bloke, shooting a pistol at a bunch of imps or demons or hell knights or something. I always thought that one in the bottom left looked a little out of place. He breaks the fourth wall of course, his tongue breaking out of the picture and looking at YOU, the hero of the game.

(Still, not as 'I don't remember him from the game' as UFO: Enemy unknown:
)

But let's go back to doom. As always.
Have another look at the art. I thought I knew that picture so well, but I only just noticed that doom guy's left hand is curled up in a 'bring it on!' gesture, while the flash I always thought was from a second gun, is in fact from a demon's fireball.

I just noticed else: another doom guy, at the back, running to help.
This is because doom was originally envisaged as a co-op game from the start. The original level was Deimos Lab, in it's original Tom Hall design state. As far as I remember, and I can't find a reference for this, it was meant to be a four way co-op game, about as likely in 1992 as finding 3 other people willing to bring their stereos round to listen to Zaireeka with.

But while co-op was included in doom and its imitators, it was overshadowed by deathmatch. I guess for all of its many faults, at least Gears Of War had strong co-op, although I maintain that game had more in common with streets of rage than doom.

But now, we have Portal 2. Still with the portals, but in a completely different way; but half the game is given over to dedicated co-operative play, levels that you simply can't play solo, much as you can't really play team fortress solo.

As someone who loves a good co-op game - it's more fun working together against the game than working with the game against each other - I can't wait to get stuck in to the co-op side of Portals (as I call it). Valve have already built a following around action in co-op left 4 dead, which I'm happy about, but this time, we have a problem of waiting for someone to commit to playing it with: I need someone who can commit to not playing it with anyone else, because it's a puzzle game and playing with someone who knew how to complete it would suck. But also, I only have time for the odd casual blast, being a father-thing. So that's been tricky, but I have found someone. It's nice to commit to things.

really lost my way with this i tihnk.

30 day song thing: day 2, your least favourite song

Gosh; that's a hard one to nail. Despite talking a never ending stream of rubbish about 'things I hate' on this blog, I find it very difficult to come up with a 'least favourite' song. Not least because I'm not sure if that means the song I hate the most, or the song that I have least opinion of. You might be surprised that I can't think of either one.

It's hard to think of a song I have no opinion of, but my head is so full of songs i love that I really can't think of one.

I just asked the long-suffering, 'can you think of a song i really can't stand?'
She said, 'oh yes...' and she sang:



How can I hate a song so much from a musical I love so much?

You guessed it: I'm going to try to answer that question.

Fiddler is a really great musical, and I say that as someone who dislikes musicals generally, as a genre. At one extreme you've got 'Blood Brothers', a musical that takes itself far too seriously, and at the other end you've got pap like 'half a sixpence.' The only type i can stand is usually the knowingly silly but not stupid ones; Unless they don't take themselves seriously, my general take on musicals is 'why are you singing?

The hollywood trend around the time FOTR was made was to 'diageticise' musicals - for instance, Cabaret had it's non-stage songs cut, and consider the wedding scene in FOTR - rather than singing 'Sunrise, Sunset' out loud, the song is played as an internal monologue at a pivotal time. I'm not enough of an expert on 1970s musical films to comment much on this, but "films about actors, dancers or singers have been made as successful modern-style musical films,[examples needed] with the music as a diegetic part of the storyline."

So for me, Miracle of Miracles is the annoying side of broadway musicals, sunk into the classic, transcendent musical that is FotR. It's a cheesy slice of jolly shit pie. Not that FOTR, a multifaceted gem, can't cope with the diversity; it's a story of light and shade, and light in shade. But MOM's exactly wrong for me. I can't even watch it now; It's firmly in the hatefully delirious side of the musical tradition, that otherwise FOTR so perfectly skewers and eschews. It's so, well, happy! We hateses it, precious!

Oh, and how could i forget everything by the black eyed peas? they're SHIT.

Saturday

Transitions from object to persona: Layers of Reality in The Muppets

Dear Friends,
Two days ago, I watched the muppet movie, eating croissant and nutella. Today I started watching the great muppet caper, for the first time in years, unlike the muppet movie, and there was something very different about it. It got me thinking...

SO.

The muppet movie is a story of how the muppets got together. As such, all the muppets play themselves. It is framed as a film made by the muppets in cannon with their television show; the only homage to reality is the substitution of ITV's Sir Lew Grade with the similarly named Lew Lord, played by Orson Welles. The only clue as to how accurate the story is to the canonical story of how the muppets got going is the appearance of Sweetums at the end of the film, as per the story they had just shown. Of course, this is a contradiction, because Sweetums had been part of the muppet show for years at this point. TMM has the backstage elements as the framing story - the private screening of the recently-completed biopic.

On the subject of the tv show, The muppet show is a variety show. It is also a comedy about a company putting on a show, but that doesn't detract from the other genuine elements of the show; watching some sketches it is confusing which jokes are meant to be deliberate and which are meant to be accidental. It's a great confusion; musical numbers that crash and burn hilariously are obvious 2nd level jokes, but fozzy's act isn't that he's a bad comedian; his act is that he's a comedian, the joke is that he's bad.


The great muppet caper starts with a different framing technique; here's gonzo, fozzy and kermit with a street dance, during which they announce they will be playing different characters. So this is a story where the characters we know play other characters, admittedly similar to themselves. But this is a muppet production, and for the first time we don't see backstage (although we do see them breaking 'off the script' and talking about 'the movie'). The muppets have always been performers, and we see them both on and off stage, but without the off-stage sections they've now become actors themselves. they've gone a step deeper.



In more way than one, the trilogy of Gonzo, Kermit, and Fozzy that opens the film is reminiscent of the Marx brothers.

Take Groucho; Groucho Marx is an actor, but beneath Groucho is a real actor called Julius Henry Marx. Groucho is a character, who plays parts in films and shows, himself an invention. And this transition from object (puppet) to persona (actor) opened the gate way for the classic Muppet christmas carol, imho their best film. By that time, Kermit was a personality, not an manipulated puppet, credited in films as you'd expect a meat-puppet* to be. There's a similar depth in Garth Marenghi's Dark Place, where each real actor plays a personality who plays a tacky part; The personalities also get off-script moments.

It's a shame that the muppet remake train slowed down with Muppet Treasure Island and fucking crashed and died with Muppet's Wizard of Oz. I'm toying with 'Muppet Pride and Prejudice', matching characters up; The only mistake the otherwise excellent 'Muppet wicker man' made was not having any human guests, so it'd be important to keep that aspect of the muppets: the fish-out-of-water protagonist should have been human, surely.


But BACK TO THE POINT:
The transition is helped by the retirement of many of the original muppeteers, which other actors couldn't achieve. But my main point was simply this point in muppet history, They entered a new depth of reality. Sure, the muppets have always been about screwing about with different layers of reality, breaking 4th walls and so on; for an easy example, take the use of the screenplay in TMM, initially as a throwaway joke, then as a nonsensical plot device in it's own right. But, by stepping in front of the camera and not showing us the backstage elements usually integral to their show, they seem to have ultimately got to the point where their muppeteers weren't even connected to them in the credits. Doing that would break the 4th wall in a way the muppets never could - I don't think there is any point where they even joke about being puppets or less than alive.

*I like to hold actors in low regard, but just joshing. you guys are great.

ALSO:
In The Great Muppet Caper, there was this:

Charles Grodin plays a deadbeat brother, stealing jewels from his successful sister. He just happens to fall in love with Miss Piggy. I can't help but wonder if this is kind of a play on his shickse-appeal Neil Simon comedy 'The Heartbreak Kid' - We all know 'pork', being 'traif' is slang for gentile women. Peter Falk's cameo is a clear riff on Columbo, so why not Grodin?
sadly this is split over two videos, so you'll have to click through to finish it off:

In general, I found TGMC suffers from too much budget, not enough jokes, but is totally worth the watch.

Monday

can a cover song ever be 'better' than the original?

from the youtube comments on Kate Bush's 'Running Up That Hill'*
Placebo version>Kate Bush Version

MY OPINIION

BC1Dan 1 day ago


Just a random yourtube comment I know, but it got me thinking...

I suppose my opinion is, unless the original of a song is either awful or unintentionally good, in which case it can be rescued, it can't be. It doesn't help that in this case, the Placebo cover is a sub-depeche mode-y dirge.

When I think of good cover versions, I instantly think of 'I will survive', performed by Cake.

But That's not 'better' than the original... 'I Will Survive' is a fantastic song, but also remember it was a written song, not a band song.

I'll explain what I mean. Could you take 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' and do it better than Nirvana?

Tori illustrates here that, no, you can't. Even if you do it differently. Two reasons: firstly, part of the song is the performer, and for me the difference between pop and rock is that rock songs are personal. They're not written to be interpreted, as a song written by a jobbing songwriter is. They are written to be performed by ones own self, and that performance is as much a part of the song as... well it is the song.

Back to Kate Bush, this is just fucking shit:

It's the perfect cover in a way, because it takes the original, strips it back to the pure song underneath, and then shits on top of it. It's like a parody-polka or parody-metal version of the song - they're just playing it the way they always play all of their songs. Cake's I will survive is genius because it doesn't sound either like the original or much like a cake song. Cake are identifiable by their unique something, but it's not a certain genre or way of always playing their songs; they have what I think I have, which is a recognisable sensibility rather than a style.

This is a great cover, but it's not better than the original; it's more just a technically great band playing what was originally sequenced metal live, mainly down to Chris Pennie's brilliant drumming:


Secondly, When you write a song, you implicitly create everything there is possible to do with it. By covering it, you're only reducing the potential of the song. and If you add anything - well it's not the same song then. so it's a lose-lose situation.

What if I admit the incorporation of original elements to the song as still being a cover? Well... See this is quite good, but can you really say it's the same song? they've really only taken the words.

I like the track, but really it's a new song with the old song's lyrics over the top. In arranging one track that;s so stuck in one genre for another, they've basically had to fill in the untranslatable trappings of math core with the equivalent trappings of another genre - by writing it again.

This was my cover of The Berzerker's 'Forever', and I'm very proud of it:

I turned the death metal riff into a walking bass line, and strummed the implied chords on two acoustic guitars and a ukelale over the top. Turned it into a twee-folk song. But it is a derivitive work. It can't be anything more than a shadow of the original, I was just emphasising different aspects that were already there.

Now, remixing is different - by dropping a new drum track all over a song, you're not covering it, you're just bringing the different potentials of the original to the fore, but not passing it off as something different. You're collaborating with the source material, or maybe just cynically turning a song of one genre into a song of another genre, so it can be played in both clubs.
That's why I love remixes, but love songs that incorporate the potential remixes into the original song, which is why Radiator/Guerilla-era Super Furry Animals and Bravecaptain were some of my biggest stylistic influences. I had an idea that no two verses should sound the same, they should sound like different remixes of the same song, which is roughly what i was attempting on love and girl in the kid a top.

See what I've notived I do in these posts, is, I start with an idea, then in ranting about it I'm actually trying to work out what my point is.

I think with this one, I've assumed there's a core difference between the jobbing songwriter and the singer-songwriter or band. Is that really true? Have I assumed one is a drone, the other an artist? I don't think so - 'I Will Survive' is a work of art, whether it was written to be put through a production machine or written as an extension of a performer's personality. Or maybe they're all drones. I don't think so - I believe in art, and even if I'm wrong about other people's work being art, If I believe mine is, then it is. La.

*I always get confused between 'running up that hill' and 'cloudbusting', because the video for cloud busting has got a lot of running up and down hills in it. I can't be the only one...

Sunday

30 day song thing: day 1, your favourite song.

This is a good meme, and if it's worth doing, it's worth doing properly.

Whenever anyone asks me what my favourite song is, what's my standard response? Gorky's Zygotic Mynci's 'Patio Song'? Ephel Duath's 'The Passage'? The Dillinger Escape Plan featuring Mike Patton's 'When Good Dogs Do Bad Things?' Humousexual's 'Humous Is Great?'

All these songs I've grown up with and loved. But what I consider to be my favourite song is a strange treat I might never have heard.




see the waters drifting by
on a winters day in the cold
i am the lover of everything
and i walk with a friend of the trees

the trees softly sing to the waterfall
and the water it sings to the soil
and the sky it longs for the sun

living alone on the riverbank
watching the fish swimming by
i am the maker of everything
and i soar with the birds in the sky

the elm cries out for the summertime
and the oak it calls to the birds
but the maker he sits and he sighs

the snow will fall on the empty fields
and will freeze the heart of the soil
i am the melter of everything
and the snow will flow to the stream

the stream it will flow i don't know where
and the time is past and is gone
and i just sing with the trees

see the waters drifting by
on a winters day in the cold
i am the lover of everything
and i walk with a friend of the trees

the trees softly sing to the waterfall
and the water it sings to the soil
and the sky it longs for the sun


'Lord and Master' really moved me. I heard it on the 'gather in the mushrooms' folksploitation compilation (a entry-level guide to the 60's and 70's uk acid-folk scene) which i bought at Borderline records in Brighton because I saw it and though 'I should own that album'. I knew that what I was buying was really a shopping list.

it's just serenely blissful. I don't know any other song which captures the bucolic charm of a babbling brook on a summers day, even though the lyrics describe a winter scene. The plants and rocks sing to each other and long for the summer to return. The 'Master' does not appear to know anything beyond this scene - despite being the 'lover of everything'. It's such a positive conception of a god. How good would it be, if there was a god, and this is how s/he spent s/his time: hanging out with trees and birds? A god who loves the world, who controls nature and will do so when the time is right - and yet knows nothing of the past and future. There's so much implied meaning in the words, and yet so much is mysterious. I could write an essay on what the song means, but the lyrics and music are there, so you could too.

It feels very tolkienish to me: there are shades of Tom Bombadil, master of his domain and one of the most powerful beings in the world (who calls himself 'the eldest' and 'master'; however, the one ring has no power over him, if that's any indication of his stature) - who lives a small, contented life with his darling Goldberry, a river-spirit.

Heron were a band who reputedly recorded their albums live in a field as an all-male 4-piece (although I'm sure I can hear female vocals in the mix, not mentioned in the liner notes but they must have been overdubbed). The self-titled album it's from has plenty of birdsong interludes, picked up by ambient mics, and was reissued as part of a 2cd roundup by dawn records.

Heron are not my favourite band, nor their debut my favourite album (although it's an excellent standby and often in my 'current listening' rack). I don't think this song is technically the best song ever. I don't believe in god, or spirits, or singing trees. But I just love this song, because it makes me realise how much I love this world.

Heron are still going, their products are available at relaxx records alongside 'complimentary therapies'.