Saturday, January 3, 2009

musings for the new year

What a crazy, crazy year this has been.

I suppose it wouldn't be a stretch to say that 2008 has been the best year of my life. Some amazing things have happened over the past twelve months, both in my personal life and in my career. Some of those things may lead somewhere; others will never happen again, but I will always remember those experiences fondly and without regret.

It's impossible to say what 2009 will bring, but I'll throw out some predictions nonetheless. My musical odyssey is taking some interesting paths, and I truly don't know where I'll end up, except that I foresee myself composing on commission far more regularly than before. It's nice to acknowledge, for the first time, the actual *possibility* of writing music for a living. Not that it would be easy, or that it would be possible to do exclusively (an ideal which remains, for now, out of reach.) If anything, 2009 promises to be an even busier year than 2008, work-wise -- though perhaps one with less concentrated bursts of insanity.

The absence of any word on "Gooby", and the relatively intense concert music life I'm now engaged in, means that my film music aspirations -- sadly -- will probably have to lie dormant for a while. At least, until I have the head space to pursue that front again.

The wildcard is the videogame music side of things, which may still have the potential to prove promising. For now, I'm leaving that it the capable hands of Aaron, my Lightmotif partner, for whom this project means the most.

As for my personal life...I suppose there's really no use in guessing, but it doesn't hurt either! My gut feeling is that if I'm lucky, I might exit the year with an interesting story or two, but that nothing earth-shattering will happen, partly because I will probably be too focused on managing the chaos of work to really responsibly take care of that side of things, and partly because...well, I'm still healing.

As productive as this winter break has been, I'm still behind, and that's a slightly depressing thought. I've finished the celtic band & orchestra piece, and on top of that a 20-minute string quartet that was commissioned for a wedding (by the same student who originally commissioned my Violin Concerto.) But I have yet to finish "Rebirth", the bass clarinet & piano piece, or the arrangement for my teacher's percussion concerto, and new projects are popping up all over the place. Not to mention my duties at the Mississauga Symphony, the Sneak Peek Orchestra, and...teaching. I've never had so much to juggle all at once.

Still, there's always room for a video game or seven.

I'm getting a bit better at controlling my character in "Mirror's Edge", although I still have the tendency to die in silly ways at regular intervals. The physics of the game are exhilarating -- I just wish I could 'sight-read' a level as proficiently as I could with an old-school side-scroller like, say, Mario 3. I know that it's entirely possible if you have a really well-trained eye for virtual 3D environments. Aaron comes pretty damn close.

The new "Prince of Persia" game (whatever it's called) is fun, amusing (the dialogue is hilarious), and very pretty to look at. It's also extremely easy, even for me. You can't die because you have a sidekick who will rescue you every time you mistakenly jump off a wall into a chasm. The combat is also easy, and slightly ridiculous in that the screen tells you what buttons to press every time you engage an enemy. But I suppose it's meant to be as un-intimidating as possible. The music by Inon Zur (of "Champions of Norath" fame) is as wonderful and as bizarrely spotted as ever.

"Wipeout" is just fantastic. It's a very simple, futuristic racing game (think of the pod-racers in Episode I), complete with weapons (a la Mario Kart.) There aren't enough tracks, though, and it does get repetitive after a while. I am certain that in the future, I will grow nostalgic for this game, because of my current habit of eating instant noodles with Aaron very late at night while playing it.

The multi-player classics, like "Smash Bros. Brawl," still get airtime once in a while.

Then, of course, there is "Rock Band." I still refuse to sing, but I finally feel as though I'm making some progress into developing my fake-guitar and fake-drumset skills. For guitar, I'm comfortable attempting many of the songs on HARD now, and I hope to graduate to HARD for drums soon... It's still embarrassingly difficult to make any sort of real headway in "Panic Attack" on these levels, though.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

current music

About a week ago I finally started composing again. It was the first bit of original music I'd written since May (my solo vibraphone piece), unless you count the "Gooby Suite," which I did in August. Right now I'm working on a piece for bass clarinet and piano, which Julia Stroud will perform at her recital. I actually started working on it last December, and even managed to finish a movement (the middle movement, interestingly enough), but had to drop it for various reasons. Now I'm picking it up again.

Most of my compositions are single-movement works. The ones that aren't -- the violin concerto, string quartet, an early violin sonata -- have typically been quite serious, and ambitious in scope. I think this one fits the bill. "Fountain of Dreams" this ain't.

The Violin Concerto was film music on concert steroids; the String Quartet was my avant-garde lullaby. This piece, tentatively titled "Rebirth," brings in a new influence: Dream Theater. Yep, I'm throwing progressive rock & metal into a soup that's already saturated with film music, hardcore modernism, and Bach.

It should be a fun ride...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

November update.

I suck at blogging, it seems. Or at least maintaining any kind of regular updates. My excuse, as always, is that the last couple months have been busy. Not as busy as last year, though. I've had plenty of downtime; I just tend to spend it doing constructive things like watching TV and playing video games. C'est la vie...

Well, I'm pleased to report that things are, for the most part, swinging along. It looks like the UofT Symphony Orchestra will be performing my piece "Fountain of Dreams" in January, which is fantastic news. Of course, since this is my eighth year at UofT, I'm careful not to feel too has been a LONG time coming. This was the first official orchestra competition the Faculty has offered during my time here, and I'm glad I was able to take advantage of it (though I spent a good deal of September kicking myself for not preparing an original submission...I guess that didn't matter in the end.)

I'm now juggling a few other projects -- a bass clarinet & piano piece for my friend Julia, a wedding commission for string quartet, an arrangement of Celtic tunes for Celtic band and orchestra. Cool neh? This is on top of my usual assortment of photocopying, programme-writing, arranging, and setup duties for the Mississauga Symphony. Not to mention my Saturday teaching and my 'directorial' role in the Sneak Peek Orchestra, which is actually starting to snowball -- not in a bad way, just in a slightly-out-of-control-yet-potentially-exhilarating/terrifying sort of way.

Through it all I managed to do things like beat "God of War 2," which took an astounding 22 hours (astounding not because of how long or short the actual game is, but how I managed to sink that much time into my self-proclaimed "busy" schedule.) The gameplay was about as fun (and, at times, as frustrating) as the first, but I was super impressed with some of the level design and cinematics this time around. The pacing was amazing -- you never felt like the game was segregated into action, puzzles, and narrative, as a lot of things were intermingled. Story was pretty exciting too.

It was also extraordinarily therapeutic, in a way only games like that can be. You'll know what I mean if you've played it.

Aside from that, I've also tremendously enjoyed "Order Up" and "World of Goo", both for the Wii. "Order Up" is a cooking game. You start off as a chef working at a burger joint, flipping burgers, frying fries, making omelettes, that sort of thing. There is brilliance in the design, both in terms of the physicality (how you use your Wii-mote to complete tasks like flipping eggs, dredging fish, chopping tomatoes and peppers, grating cheese, etc.) but also in the sense of urgency generated by these tasks, since time and quality are always a factor -- you want your customers to like your food so that they'll give you higher tips. The difficulty increases as your food becomes more and more popular; more customers begin to order, and at times you'll find yourself juggling three or four separate recipes simultaneously, forcing you to multitask quickly. As the game progresses you 'graduate' through a variety of restaurants until you end up working in a fancy motel, making filet mignons for snobbish clients with sensitive tastes. Awesome stuff.

"World of Goo" is a low-budget game designed by three people, and necessarily simpler, but also more difficult to describe. Basically an exercise in architecture and quasi-physics manipulation, your goal is to string together strands of 'goo' to build massive structures toward a certain goal. Each piece of goo forms the vertex of a triangle, and it is with these vertices that you can build infinitely varied structures. Of course, your structures are subject to various obstacles (gravity being the chief one), and so a certain amount of visual finesse is needed to figure out what kind of structures are ideal for achieving a certain goal. Again, hard to explain, but incredibly engrossing.

A sample of couple other games I've played recently:

"Mirror's Edge" (demo) -- fantastic premise and even better controls; basically a virtual obstacle course that's justified by a cool story, you basically run around the rooftops of skyscrapers, evading enemies and doing other cool shit. For some reason I'm not very good at controlling the camera angles on console games, so some of the effect was lost on me, but I'd definitely give it a second try once the full version comes out.

"Stranglehold" -- based on the John Woo movie, you play Chow Yun Fat, which is reason enough to try it out. The novelty of this game is that while you're shooting (and dodging) bad guys, you can actually activate and control the slow-motion effects that John Woo pioneered for the genre. Too bad I really suck at this kind of thing. But for those of you who, unlike me, can actually walk and look around at the same time, heartily recommended.

"Uncharted" -- this game is divided into two kinds of gameplay: shooting bad guys, and exploring. I LOVE the exploring part. The visuals in this game are on par with the imagination of Shadow of the Colossus, but they're rendered in greater detail because of the PS3 engine. Think Heavenly Sword. Unfortunately, as you all know, I can't shoot anything, which puts a damper on my progress.

"Rock Band" -- no need to get into this one, except that I'm determined to get better at the drumset, and I still won't sing.

"Unreal Tournament" -- almost as therapeutic as "God of War 2", and slightly more demoralizing, which is saying a lot because I f#$*ing wept like a baby while getting my ass kicked by Zeus. Seriously, I've played this online a couple times and what amazes me is that, unlike "Uncharted", "Stranglehold", "Call of Duty", and pretty much any other game that involves walking and looking around at once, I can actually handle the multi-tasking involved here, and yet I STILL get murdered. Yes, I know, the people who play online are living off doritos & nestea in their mothers' basement (wait, how am I any different??), but it's still discouraging to see ratios like "19 kills, 42 deaths" pop up at the end of a game.

Aside from all this, I've been revisiting Star Trek (TNG and DS9, mostly) and being very impressed.

This is unexpectedly long. Clearly I had a lot to share. Well...enough for now. I'll be seeing Quantum of Solace in a week and I hope to update then, along any of my musical progress.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

I'm back!

Yes, I decided to start a blog of my own, for various reasons. First off, I haven't posted any public journal entries in about a year and a half, and I was starting to miss doing so. I do have a separate journal -- a private one that I've been typing in, on and off, since about 1996 -- and until recently I hadn't touched *that* one in almost a year. So there was a decent chunk of my life where I wasn't writing anything at all, which is actually somewhat strange for me -- my life is so deeply entwined with my writing that it's easy for me to get psychologically disorganized if I'm not doing it. Even my most mundane entries allow me time to reflect upon things in an organized manner. But I had good reasons for this hiatus: I was undergoing some pretty dramatic changes over the past year, and while most of them have been positive, the grimmer ones were things I realized I needed to work through on my own, without the benefit of words. And work through them I did.

I spent a good deal of today reading my old LJ posts and copying them onto my hard drive. I'm at the beginning of 2005 now, and there's still quite a ways to go, but the file's already some hundred and thirty odd pages long. Where did I find the time to write all this?? I must have had LOADS of time on my hands...[flips to all the entries which begin with "I'm swamped" or "I'm so screwed for next week"]

The second reason, obviously, is that Livejournal seems to have been largely abandoned by our particular circle, which I suppose is just part of the natural course of things. I'm sure in time these we'll leave these blogs behind too...for now, though, I feel the primal urge to post stuff, in a slightly less outdated forum. And stuff I shall post.

The title of my blog suggests that I'm nearing the end of my academic career at UofT in music. This is true, but only if you look at it from a relative point of view: I'm entering my eighth year at UofT (eighth! oh the madness!) and so, two more of years in addition to this one doesn't seem so far away. Three years from now I will have completed my doctorate in music composition, on top of my master's and bachelor's degree (both obtained from the same institution.)

How do I feel about that? Well, actually, pretty damn good, considering how insecure I was about the whole thing just a few years back. For me, it was never a question about whether staying at the same university for three degrees was the smartest thing to do academically; it's not, and I've always known that. Aside from my teacher Christos, whom I now consider a friend (beyond just a phenomenal mentor), I've pretty much milked everything I can from my studies here. It was about whether a more varied and stimulating academic experience elsewhere outweighed the potential opportunities I had in Toronto. After one year of doing my doctorate at UofT, all I can say is: I'm glad I didn't leave!

Anyway, I will continue this some other time. It's getting late, and my eyes are droopy. But there will be more to come...