Category Archives: Nerdism and Geeky stuff

The Final Frontier: what makes scifi work

But I’m not because Doctor McCoy is right in pointing out the enormous danger potential in any contact with life and intelligence as fantastically advanced as this. But I must point out that the possibilities, the potential for knowledge and advancement is equally great.
Risk.
Risk is our business.
That’s what this starship is all about.
That’s why we’re aboard her.
– Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek TOS ‘Return to Tomorrow’

Watching sci fi, then and now

I watched scifi tv-shows and read fantasy. As a small boy, my options were limited and from a very young age onward I enjoyed whatever was available. Some of it, admittedly, was pretty horrendous. As the amount of tv-channels expanded, I was able to watch dinner-time tv-shows like Xena, the X-files and Angel at some point. You can tell from the titles I’m listing, that it wasn’t all gold at the end of the rainbow.

Now, many years later, the choice is endless. It’s amazing how many shows are available and some of it is really good. I was really excited about a show like Stranger Things for example. Revamps hit the screen, like there’s no limit to available budgets and potential comebacks. That is clearly not always worth your time either. Even the new Star Wars films apparently rely on paper thin storylines and badly suggestive futurism (I have to add that I think Star Wars by now hardly fits underthe sci-fi umbrella, since it has really become knights in space). So what is it, that makes sci-fi attractive? Why is an episode from, what has become my favorite, Star Trek , so much more on point? Why are you on the edge of your seet for the X-files? What makes Asimov’s books still superb?

The three pillars of sci-fi

There’s probably enough written about what makes something sci-fi, but I’m more concerned with what makes it work. For that, I’m relying on a speech by the one and only Capain James T. Kirk. Granted, I grew up in a time, when Star Trek was Jean Luc Picard, but watching the show as a kid on the BBC at a very young age, was what made me fall in love with it (even though I understood little).

It’s about the potential, the possibilities and, obviously, the danger.

Source: thecoolector.com

The potential

One of the key elements of scifi, is its ability to show the potential of what we can be as human beings. Not just that though, it can show us a tiny thought and then inflate it to enormous proportions. It starts with a very simple, basic thought. A suggestion if I may, like the idea of a non-violent society that seeks harmony. Not such a far-fetched idea, we have plenty of examples in our world even. But what if you really let the potential of that sink in. Not the half-arsed attempts that we see in our modern-day politics, but the fully expanded, enormous potential of the United Federation of Planets. What could it mean, if there was a vast conspiracy to hide alien life from us? What potential do interstellar gateways have for us? What if artificial intelligence can truly be achieved?

These are not just phantasms, these are ideas that already exist, which are taking shape as you are reading this (well, you know what I  mean). That’s where the potential lies, in these suggestions, humble beginnings we can instantly relate to. Because that’s what this starship, gateway, android a galactic empire and so forth is all about. It’s why they are there, to allow our minds to explore the potential of our ideas.

The possibilities

You would think that the potential and possibilities are the same, but the potential works through in the imagination of the receiver. To help that along, you need to show the possibilities. For example, Star Trek shows the concept of an intellectual, advancement-pushing civilization that seeks to coexist. That is the meta-narrative, the big idea, but what does that entail? It would be easy to simply shrug and say ‘if only it could be!’ and go on with your life. You need the possibilities, the concrete elements to help you along. What if you could make a machine that replicates whatever you need from basic materials? What would that do? If we could travel at warp speed, where would that lead us and if we could predict the future, where would we end up. Is artificial intelligence life too, but what does it even mean then to be alive?

Questions, that allow us to grapple with the very real consequences of realizing the potential. This is a key element of science fiction because it makes it fully tangible for us. Not just abstract idealisms or imagination, but very concrete examples. This is what makes it fully real to us.

Risk

As said by the exceptional Captain Kirk, the risk is our business. It’s in that boldly going where no one has gone before and even ‘may the force be with you’ has a taste of diving into the unknown to it. Risk or high stakes make it worthwhile, it gives meaning to the story and actions of the characters and gives tension to the experience for you as reader or viewer. It can strangely be in the small things. Star Trek was always a very human series, with analogies to reality taking place in the episodes. Sometimes the whole stream of time is at stake, other moments it is about one single life.

Whatever scifi you check out, if there is no stakes, there is no adventure. If there is no meaning, why would you watch? It may seem redundant info, but nonetheless one of the essential elements.

So keep going beyond…

… keep exploring new things and discovering new stars and let the beauty of this genre of fiction inspire and bewilder you. It’s not without reason we have certain inventions now, that was conjured in tv studios or on typewriters in the past. It’s because people boldly envisioned the possibilities and potential of the future and reasons why we needed to explore those. Risk of confinement perhaps? Anyways, keep dreaming!

Reading of Books #28

Another edition of my book bit, with a lot of new books read. R.A. Salvatore is very present with the last two trilogies of Drizzt, Paul Stanley from Kiss and Duff McKagan from Guns’n’Roses. Totally not geek + music geek edition.

Books!

R.A. Salvatore – The Companion Codex (Night of the Hunter, Rise of the King, Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf)

source: Goodreads.com

In this series of books, we pick up the dark road that the party of heroes seemed to have ahead of them in the inbetween book ‘The Companions’. Drizzt is reunited with his Catti-Bri, his friends Bruenor, Regis and Wulfgar. It seems however, that war is brewing everywhere and the Orcs are marching with support of the drow. The Silver Marches are besieged by the thousands and cities fall. The dwarves are locked in their underground citadels and no one seems to be able to push them forward. That changes when Bruenor Battlehammer picks up his plight as king among dwarfs. When he starts listening to the whispers of the old dwarven gods and the counsel of his friends and fellow Dwarf kings.

In the most desperate situations the united dwarfs of the Forgotten Realms find their brightest moment. They unearth their greatest treasures after millennia. It is not an easy fight though and much will be lot and much must be sacrificed to get there. In these novels, the world turns a bit more dark and grim and many mechanisms seem to be at work. The wheels are turning and Drizzt and the companions of the hall find themselves in the middle of it all, but also in the middle of their own turmoil and demons. Salvatore creates the profound story that looks at a world, where good and evil are not such simple concepts anymore. What is war if one loses all that holds value? What is a war if you forget the values that you fight for?

Paul Stanley – Face the Music: A Life Exposed

source: goodreads.com

Paul Stanley has always been the most mysterious member of Kiss. His biography is one of the most anticipated ones among fans of the band. The singer has always been a bit of a puzzle for most people, but in this biography he is very open about himself. Even though at times it isn’t pretty and some band experiences come out, he manages to touch his readers. Paul Stanley is the first Kiss member to write a biography that leaves him standing as a victor in the end. The book is also not as filled with spite and dislike. I can’t say that for the other ones by Kiss members and that is a pleasant thing to be sure.

Paul Stanley describes his life from his early days onward. Being born with only one ear intact (and working), turns out to be the source of most angst and insecurity in his life. It’s the red threat through his whole carreer and experiences. Reading this, it outshines even all the fame and fortune. Everything related to the ear problems seems to be key in his development. The surgery to reconstruct it, the way he positions himself on the stage and in the end how he starts working for a childrens organisation. Sure, there’s the necessary amount of rock’n’roll extravagance going on as well. You’ll get some good stories about the women, sustance abuse (of others, since Stanley never really was the crazy one on that front) and quite some Gene Simmons. Pauls story is touching and captivating, never free of a good critical look at himself, but at times blissfully unaware of his own being and impression. A joyful read for sure.

R.A. Salvatore – Homecoming (Archmage, Maestro, Hero)

That was the respons I got from mr. Salvatore himself about my earlier thoughts on the series. Now, I did get here and after 33 books I was fearful for quite a few pages that all would end horribly in tears. For the characters, but also for me since after all this time I had become quite attached to the figures in the book. This whole series has the vibe of an endgame. Things are getting serious in here and that makes for some really daunting reads. Some surprising developments and character innovations take place and we all somehow get them together for a final push.

source: goodreads.com

We find Mithril Hall at peace for once, but things are always stirring in the Forgotten Realms. The drow in Menzoberranzan have not finished with their prodigal son. Internal power struggles literally open the gates to hell and demons flood into the realm. They happen to be causing more havoc to the drow themselves than to their enemies. The primordial under Gauntlgrym stirs and Yvonnel the Eternal is reborn. Facing these great enemies are our heroes; Drizzt, Catti-bri and Bruenor. Their other two friends are on a quest of their own, where Regis and Wulfgar will find great challenges and old companions on their road. Artemis Entreri and Jarlaxl site with the heroes…  but things get really interesting when a runaway archmage joins them and a very important priestess of Lolth. But what if your real enemy is within your own mind?

There’s a promise of more to come though. This is good, because I love these books. Unfortunately, mister Salvatore has announced he will not answer any questions on the matter for now.

Duff McKagan – It’s So Easy (And Other Lies)

source: goodreads.com

I’ve never really been a fan of Guns’n’Roses, but when I heard their bass player talk on the Danko Jones podcast about his book. I knew I had to read it. Duff McKagan is the epitome of cool, the laid back voice, the self awareness and self depricating jokes… In his book he is telling the world his story including all the stupid decisions, bad choices and all about the rampant drug and alcohol abuse that brought him to his knees and made him rise up again a new man. The book starts with the McKagan of now. He is walking out of the backdoor of his house during his daughters birthday party and finding two kids making out. He goes through a mental checklist of drugs, sex, alcohol and other things… it’s a funny opener and shows how comfortable McKagan is in writing about himself. Then the good stuff starts.

Duff McKagan is a Seattle-born musician. People sometimes forget that he was in a bunch of bands in the past. It’s good to get some info on that too with his early bands. Also a near death experience at an early eage seems to have contributed to his personality. The writing style is casual, almost off handed as if things just emerge and happened, but sometimes we get back to the internal monologue from the start. Especially when bad things happen. A rock’n’roll book with drugs and alcohol has a lot of grief in it. McKagan never makes light of that. He is funny when he talks about himself, jovial when it concerns weird things that happened to a bunch of guys and cordial when he writes about problems in the band. He always seems  to have the right tone for all situations, never goes down avenues of boring thoughts and just keeps this easy to read. One of the best rock’n’roll bio’s I’ve seen this far.

Dungeon Synth: bedroom dreaming

Dungeon synth is probably not something you’ve heard of if you are anywhere near the cool kids. If things like Dungeons & Dragons, books like Lord of the Rings and other nerdy things are an instant ‘turn back’ for you, you probably should now as well. Unless there’s inside you an unappreciated geek with a liking for black metal and classical folksy, dreamy music. Perhaps this is more for you.

This article is highly speculative, based on what I’ve read and perceived as dungeon synth. Reading about it, I found out there was really very little concrete mentioning and attention for the phenomenon, so it’s merely an attempt to create a basis of a description.

What is the charm of Dungeon Synth?

Are you someone who thinks back with remorse to those oldschool dungeon crawler video games and RPG’s? You might really be into dungeon synth.Dungeon synth is much a hidden genre, a special gem only for those who seek it. A great quote describing it by Tiwaz from band Gvasdnahr:

I kind of think of dungeon synth as a lone, ancient castle, hidden in a dark desolate corner in the shadow of black metal. Only a few knows it’s there. And out of those few who dares to enter, only a few is capable of finding it’s treasure.

Tracing its roots, its boundaries and offspins is noteworthy hard because of this. The dark tower is an image born out of dreams and fantasy, it’s why I titled this article bedroom dreaming. Much dungeon synth probably never left bedrooms of D&D loving, black metal spinning people.

Dungeon synth has been mocked nad misunderstood a lot. This picture probably illustrates the narrow view of its broadness, its fans and its artfulness. It also holds some truths about the genre. Mortiis is pretty much the Sabbath of the genre. Its roots are very steeped in black metal and there’s a lot of atmosphere and geeky themes to it. But those are things I love. So I’m just trying to convey that

As the quote above says, it’s a very hidden corner of the music world, hardly understood by people who haven’t travelled there on their own. What I mean by travelling there, is either through ambient, soundtracks, game tunes or black metal, but preferably a combination, you come to like, appreciate or even love this sound. It’s not an easy starting point. Not that dungeon synth is complex stuff, but its appeal is rather narrow.

“The door of the tower swings open… A breeze of undisturbed air escapes and the darkness beckons as much as it repels you. The unknown awaits in the dark. What do you do?”

This sort of lines always give me that shiver. If it doesn’t do that for you, return to the tavern and just stay there, you common NPC.

What is Dungeon Synth?

Dungeon synth can be a lot of things and a lot of things aren’t dungeon synth. Dungeon synth, has been described as the ‘pinnacle of basement music dorkery’ by the kind people at Toilet Ov Hell. They also describe it beautifully in the following passage, as a style that is inspired by the mystery and awe of high fantasy or dark dungeons as you explore them in role playing games. Oh, and it doesn’t get you any chicks (though that article was probably published early in the wave of the geek as hot, so it might be different). So what is it like? Let’s look at some cases that might make up what it is.

Theme

It really seems that J.R.R. Tolkien finally has a genre dedicated to him. But not completely, the themes of dungeon synth are… dungeons! But more generally it’s fantasy, though I think it could very well fit in science fiction themes too. It relies on repetition and works great as a sort of background music. Knights, dragons, but also unspoilt nature work pretty well. In it’s origins there’s also the black metal aesthetic, so that is still present now and then and probably shaped the dungeon aspect. As we know, the early black metallers were quite a bunch of geeks and most released records that are the foundation of dungeon synth (like dungeon synth god Varg).
This is not the limit for dungeon synth. Specially in its original form it could embody any theme. Nowadays more realistic themes are often put in the dark ambient category though.

Sound

The nicest way to describe the range of sounds is to go from old DOS video games to something akin to dark ambient or a completely stripped down version of a musical piece with just synths. There’s quit some room for other additions though. Vocals, instruments and effects are all more than welcome in the dungeon synth style.

It’s often very much ‘out there’ music, as in it doesn’t feel like a part of the daily world. I’m switching to a more ‘experiential’ description here. The music is a way of evoking feelings, imagery and situations that are ‘different’. This can be done with film score like tapestries of sound, but it can also be more ambient or more folky.

Roots

The roots of Dungeon Synth are hard to trace, but think synthesizers, atmosphere and black metal. Think of folk meeting black metal in a more movie/game-like setting. So the clearest way to say this is to put its roots somewhere in the early black metal scene in Norway. Inspired by the evocative sounds of their bands, some artists started to search for that sound in synths. Think Jean Michel Jarre, think filk, think Vangelis, think soundtracks to video games. Oh… and Burzum. No Clean Singing definitely puts the roots of the style in black metal. Mortiis is often considered fundamental.

Origins of Dungeon synth

There’s different readings of how dungeon Synth came to be. One would cite black metal as the main driver, the other would focus on the film scores. It’s hard to tell, but what can be told is that there’s a definite wish to bring something to life in the music. The name of Tolkien gets mentioned pretty much anywhere when it concerns dungeon synth.

Norway

Mortiis is generally considered to be the founder of the genre or atleast the first moving in that direction, particularly with ‘Født til å Herske’. The former Emperor member really made a carreer out of Dungeon synth and probably is the most familiar face and master of the genre. Originally he started out with four projects in this direction, which seem to have converged into Mortiis later: Mortiis, Vond, Cintecele Diavolui, and Fata Morgana.
Burzum did some synth albums, of which ‘Hliðskjálf’ to me is the best, while Vikernes was in prison. His influence on the genre is much more profound and the track ‘”Rundgang um die transzendentale Säule der Singularität’ is key listening (on the ‘Filosofem’ album).

Around that time Satyr (Satyricon) did an album with Wongraven, a keyboard based medieval project. Fenriz from Darkthrone contributed with Neptune Towers. Though there’s probably some more influential artists to the dungeon synth genre, these black metal-known faces helped propell it into the world.

Austria/Germany

A part that can’t be overlooked when it comes to the roots of the genre is the follow-up the genre had in Austria. The band Summoning, known for their atmospheric Tolkien-inspired black metal is definitely a massive catalyst for the genre thanks to their synth heavy sound. Directly linked to this group is the act Pazuzu, who’ve definitely left an impact on what has become. German act Depressive Silence should also be mentioned for their pioneering work in the genre and possibly its connection to the DSBM genre later. There’s a logic to the German connection. Dark music, synths and such you see in the kraut movement already, which was moving into realms of fantasy and mystery. Acts like Bethlehem embraced the depressive side. Gothmog ‘s ‘Medival Journeys’ is considered a key work in the genre.

Edit: Two names that I have to add to that are those of Grimrik and Murgrind, two current dungeon synth artists from Germany, who have released influential records. You will find their work linked at the bottom with suggestions for listenig.

Other origins

Looking at early releases in the genre, it’s clear that countries that adopted black metal were quick to sprout dungeon synth acts. Greece (Erevos), France (Moevot), Sweden, Finland, England, the Netherlands and ofcourse the United States (Cernunnos Woods) soon sprouted their own acts. Russia has given the genre a spin of its own and it seems to be one of the most active scenes out there. To really put your finger on origin stories is hard, because dungeon synth by its essence is a hobby project, it’s bedroom dreaming at best and much stuff might have never come out.

Games

Dungeon synth now

As a genre, dungeon synth is rather limited in what directions it can move in. Experimental acts like Trollmann av Ildtoppberg (check them here) get lost in a drone/doom environment, where others slide back into minimal black metal or simply ambient. A noteworthy act for me is Fief, who seem to have found a more lighthearted sound away from the oppressive, dark dungeon sound.  Til Det Bergens Skyggene is another remarkable act, who’ve veered into experimental electronics in the ’70s it seems. This list of records really gives a good feel of the scope of the genre.

So Dungeon Synth hasn’t got that much room to grow or develop. On the other hand, acces to things like bandcamp or other free sharing services does allow for the genre to really become an online phenomenon. It is clear from my explorations that lovers of the genre, to which I like to subscribe, are a global group. Listeners in the direct region of the artists might not be enough to sustain production, but the global reach of internet makes it possible for this to really become a thing. The 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons is probably a great help as well.

Some very productive acts, that seem to thrive in this day and age:

Рабор

This Russian act has really captured an audience with their combination of synth and Slavic folk tunes. The fact that everything is in Russian ofcourse adds a flavor of mystery to the whole thing. Even their merch comes with hand-painted cards and traditional dolls. That sort of immersion is what makes this genre tick. The folk parts are mellowed down in the mix, which makes it easy to acces.

Sequestered Keep

This act from Utah in the US is one of the most insanely productive ones out there. The music of Sequestered Keep is simple, catchy and melodic. Though it works for fantasy, it seems to have more roots in the real world, maybe referring the lost magic that our lands had before the industrialization and such. This depends on which of the many records you listen to ofcourse.

Ranseur

I wasn’t sure about including Ranseur from New Jersey at first. The sound here is much more 8-bit oriented, simple and functions more as an ambiance sound when gaming. It really fits the bill as a soundtrack. Molding that out of padding drums, noise and synths is a craft, the artwork is also something quite special. The idea of this record is Goblins playing and dancing. I get that.

Elric

Another interesting adition is Elric from the United Kingdom. Elric is a character from the Michael Moorcock books. I’ve not read them, but I get how personal and direct inspiration can be. Swooping synths are the soundtrack for that inspiration in the work of Elric. It’s strangely minimalist, but doing exactly what it needs to; create that aura of the fantastic (but remaining warm).

Barak Tor

Greek artist Barak Tor is one of the more polished acts and sounds much closer to an actual soundtrack on this album of barbarian dungeon synth. It demonstrates how far you can push it when it comes to quality with this music. Though I’m personally a fan of more simple and dark sounds, this is a pleasant intro to the genre and good soundtrack to roll dice to.

Nazgal Dracul

What if you add to the game sounds, that remind me of Final Fantasy to be honest, some proper beats. This Norwegian act is as diverse as it gets in the genre and well worth a listen. I like the black and white artwork a lot.

Mystic Towers

Well, this is a lot of purple, but the whole look and feel of the work by Mystic Towers evokes images of early day D&D game play and adventure modules. The slow pace and long tracks make for a fine soundtrack for things that take time, like reading.

Erang

Erang from France is to me one of the current day high rollers in the genre with sublime quality, top class production and an expensive thematic reach. Their recent ‘Anti-Future’ even delves into the blossoming synthwave movement of Perturbator and Gost. Still, their sword and sorcery stuff rules.

Grimrik

German artist Grimrik is staying close to the Burzum-esque sounds of dungeon synth with his ‘Eisreich’ album. A release from 2014, but a great introduction to the music genre. Grimrik also runs the Deivlfrost Label.

Murgrind

Collaborator of Grimrik, with a series of fantasy inspired releases that maintain a black metal feeling to it. Music to completely submerge into, to forget yourself for a little while. The production is really good and creates an almost filmic effect.

How to become a Kiss fan for people that don’t like Kiss

So, it turns out that over the last couple of years, I’ve become a staunch supporter of Kiss. Yes, the band with pyro and make-up on stage, with that obnoxious, unbearable singer that tries to trademark the devil horns.

That’s just one of the challenges that faces you as a person who is into Kiss. Let me tell you how to get over the things that make you not want to like Kiss this far in your life.

But maybe first… Why the hell am I bothering with this? I never was into Kiss as a kid much. I dug their looks, I liked the footage I saw and the comics that were out, but the sound just wasn’t up to par with my expectations. Years later I rediscovered the band, finding that my original snobbism was unfounded and ultimately uncool instead of cool. Kiss is a band that always puts the fans first, regardless of the offstage antics. Having seen the band live recently, I was blown away by the show they put on. I was in awe of the entity Kiss and its dedication and love to what they do, even 40 years down the road. Kiss is a lot of things, but they definitely don’t suck. Kiss also isn’t Gene Simmons patenting the Devil Horn (that is really Gene Simmons on his own). As Kiss, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer are out there to please you as a listener, fan or visitor. Regardles of all the other crap, that is Kiss. That’s a band you can fall in love with.

Well, that and Danko Jones’s podcasts that turned me onto Kiss.

Make-up, show and weird suit. It’s so silly…

Sure as hell, fans of loud music have this demand for authenticity. I don’t mean by that the uniqueness and originality of a band. I mean that a band is genuine in what they do. The history of Kiss has been well documented and though it always seems that the band are more savage business men (Read: Gene Simmons), their concept was always about a cohesive band that was really together as a group, who delivered a show to remember full of spectacle. Even after all the trouble with the band, with members falling out, adding new ones and so on, they remain true to that image as you can see in the documentary ‘Kissteria’. Sure, it is well orchestrated, but they never did any different.

Another great source are the biographies of the band members, to really feel the concept, the genuine passion behind what has become the biggest band in show business. Paul Stanley describes Kiss as a band that makes you forget your troubles: “You’re troubles will be there in the morning, but tonight we can party” (sort of what he says in ‘Face the Music’). Music is after all an emotional experience, as soon as you let go of that and enjoy the fact that you’re watching and listening to a band that is genuinely catchy and that looks like superheroes, you’ll be alright. Did you go see the latest ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘ film? Then you should probably not complain, you’re a grown-up watching men in tight costumes be superheroes. Just enjoy the band.

But I’m a serious music fan, their simplistic muck doesn’t resonate with me.

Give me a break please. People love making that sort of claim about Kiss, that their music is simplistic. And you know… the silly show and all, they would not be about the music. This is a great statement if you didn’t list Ghost, Rammstein and Slipknot among your favourites. Even more underground bands like the ones in the black metal scene are all about theatrics. Theatrics are part of rock’n’roll and Kiss simply is the best that pushed this to the maximum level. If you sell out stadiums, it is hard to argue with the success of that and people would not go see the band if their songs didn’t resonate with them.

That being said, you can write the most technical, complex music and be playing for two people that don’t have anything better to do. That can be really cool, but it was never what Kiss wanted to do. They make songs that resonate with people,  songs that you can sing along to and even sing in the shower. The make music that is simply catchy. This is an art form in itself, because most of the things in this world that catch on are those that stick around. And is it really so that you want to listen to microtonal, experimental black metal based on literature set to a special translation key on your friday night in the pub? No, you want to ‘Shout it out Loud’, ‘Rock’n’Roll all Night’ and so fort. Yes, you do.

They made ‘I Was Made For Loving You’…

You know all the words to that one, you probably do a little dance when it comes on. Shut it and sing a-long. Let it go, they also did a grunge album, hair metal album, heavy metal album and something that sounds like a Disney soundtrack actually.

The endless drama in and around Kiss…

That is quite an easy one to tackle, we all love a bit of drama. We’ve been relishing the Guns’n’Roses drama, we loved the ‘Some Kind of Monster’  Metallica and the same goes for Kiss. Did you hear about the 5 Finger Death Punch show a few days ago, where the band members (well, the singer) didn’t come on to the stage and left early? There’s some important distinction between that band and Kiss here. Kiss would never bring that drama to the stage (well,  not counting the days they were dragging Ace and Peter along, but that was different).

There’s a difference between the entity that is Kiss and the members that make up Kiss. That is the undeniable force of the band and has been for more than 40 years now versus a set of individuals with some obvious flaws. Gene with his money (read his books, it’s all valid), Paul with his dalliances and air of arrogance (read his book, it’s really different), Ace with his substance abuse (yeah, his book reads as a trip) and Peter (haven’t read it yet, is apparently well worth it). Creating those individuals mentally really helps to separate them from the entity itself. It also offers a wide range of entertaining material.

….but Gene Simmons said he was patenting the devil horns and Dio…(And they’re old and all).

Yes, yes, yes… Dio also joked that Gene Simmons would one day claim he invented breathing. Paul Stanley jokes in a similar way about Gene. About the first time he met Gene, Paul said: “Gene seemed to believe that only Gene Simmons, John Lennon and Jimmy Page could write a song” (again, aproximate quote). Gene Simmons spends 24/7 promoting Gene Simmons. Gene has brought his own persona to the absolute hilarious point of patenting the devil horns, just like Dio sort of predicted he would. The result? Everyone is talking about Gene, and probably that is exactly why he started this thing in the first place. Gene is not the totality of Kiss though…

If you look at individual Kiss members, you are bound to pick a favourite and see the others as jerks. Especially this is true for the original four. This is part of the charm, but the same thing  goes for Gene. The problem with Gene Simmons though, is that he actually is everything you imagine him to be. But… There’s one thing though, that people often forget. Gene is 67 years old. You might have family members, grandparents or such, who are way less vital at that age. Gene is still spitting blood on stage, getting shot up in the air and breathing fire. He does that for his fans, he is still touring for his fans and Kiss never plays a shit show. I’ve seen bands in their young days, who couldn’t do what Kiss does for a week. Gene is part of that, so Gene may be an absolute prick, but like his band members, he’s still going strong for you. Kiss must really love its fans, because why else would they still be doing their insane stunts on stage.

So… Kiss loves you, why don’t you love Kiss?

logo source: wikipedia media

Why Rogue One sucks not so bad

Yes, I made a funny title, but I’m really torn about Rogue One. When I watched it the first time, I really dug the film. I had the full on cinematic experience with popcorn and was not too critical. Maybe also because I was celebrating my 5 year relationship (really proud of that). So why did this film suck not so bad?

Rogue One story

The story of Rogue one is so thin, that you can see through it. If you would wear Rogue One in public, it would be indecent. The plot revolves around the Death Star. To destroy it, the blueprints need to be acquired. We all know where this is going, but just not how it’s going to get there.

The protagonist is Jyn Erso, whose dad designes an builds the Death Star. Jyn is as a character not very believable, mainly because there is so little of it. We see Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso, daddy, in a performance that is as convincing as he always is, but also thin. It’s hard to find any sense in the motivation and acts of the characters, which is incredibly sad. Alan Tudyk (Firefly) voices a droid, who is ment for comic relief… Well, atleast it’s not Jar Jar Binks. But do the characters really matter that much? Not really, because the whole point of the film is hinting at the Trilogy and those characters. Shame that Jyn Erso and her compatriot Cassian Andor are just such lousy characters… No clue why they would risk their lives. I just didn’t understand them, nor connected to them.

source: petercushing.blogspot.com, “A display of people who… well, don’t really matter.”

Mind, this is in no way ment to criticize the actors. You can only offer criticism on that, when they are actually allowed to act. Maybe the actors know who their characters are, but they never have the room to bring that across. In a franchise that asts Hayden Christenson as Anakin Skywalker, perhaps character simply doesn’t matter…

Cinematographic spectacle

But the spectacle of seeing Darth Vader in his castle, or seeing Grand Moff Tarkin brought back to life with technology is amazing. Even a fleeting glimpse of Leia made a guy in the row in front of me jump up in frantic movement, simply because the enthusiasm couldn’t be contained. The way they movie makers did this part is absolutely glorious and brilliant.

The huge battles, the explosions and creatures of many different kinds are brilliant and believable. The film has all the spectacle it needs but maybe just a little too much. Maybe a bit of character build up would have made the overal performance of this film better. It’s such a shame, because this part is so brilliantly done. Still, I remain with the question that if the character Cassian carries with him a personal prison, why don’t we find out? Why trivialize the character so much with a mere response to this mystery, that goes like this: ‘yeah, I did some bad things… but I believe in this.’. Grandeur replaces character and that is murderous for the quality of a film.

The Star Wars Canon

A big bummer for many fans of the franchise was probably the fact that there was not a single mention of Kyle Katarn. Kyle Katarn is a character in the fringes of the Canon, who really came to life in the video games and legends of the Star Wars universe. Originally, he was the one who stole the plans of the Death Star. Well… no more.

Though more and more Legends are being reintegrated into the Canon, it’s hard to see what the impact is of the film. Rogue One is in a sense a rather small bit of history, that regarding the progression of the story will have little impact on the rest of the canon. It remains unclear though what this will mean for the further universe and the way it will develop. Rogue One doesn’t open any new doors, just rushes towards one that is wide open and titled ‘Star Wars IV – A New Hope’. It’s from there it derives all its value.

Insignificant

History will call Rogue One an insignificant film I fear. The overall response is that it lacks any real meaning, some real sense of inspiration. All the vibrant enthusiasm it evokes, it evokes by referring to the Trilogy. The highlight of the film is the moment you see Leia. If you haven’t seen it yet, that might keep you to your seat till the end of the thing. It won’t be its narrative brilliance.

So to wrap up the story, it doesn’t suck so bad. Just curb your enthusiasm and enjoy the spectacle. There’s little else Rogue One has to offer. All in all it will be a footnote in the franchise’s history.

 

RIP Carrie Fisher. I’ll miss you, dear princes. 

Star Trek Beyond and Spock: a reviewism

Stardate 24 december 2016, Captain’s log. For those who have read the more nerdy bits on my blog before, you already know that I’m a Star Trek fan. I had not watched Beyond yet and not really penned anything about the death of Leonard Nimoy. Christmas seems to be as good a time as any to do so.

Christmas time is an odd time for me. It’s a moment where everything winds down.  Suddenly the time presents itself to do some things you normally never get around to. For me this is particularly so. So yesterday I cancelt the christmas party at work, didn’t go to two great shows in Eindhoven, but instead crashed on the couch with a glass of stout, a pizza and Star Trek Beyond.

[Spoiler Alert: though I tried to keep things foggy]

Star Trek Beyond

I’m someone who grew up with Generations, not The Original Series, so I have a bit more of a modern view on the show perhaps than others. Also, I did see TOS as a child, so characters like Spock, McCoy and Kirk are as vividly present in my subconscious as those of other childhood heroes from other universes. Still, I liked the intellectual quality of Star Trek. It was a static show, hard to get into sometimes, but so rewarding if you were in the flow of things. It was rather opposite the ‘other fandom’  of Star Wars, with its lightsaber wielding, blaster bursting action.

The rebooted series lacks that static element and is as action packed as any Hollywood blockbuster of these days. I remember reading in Leonard Nimoy’s biography, how he felt that Star Trek gave people something to think of. This was his biggest pride in the series, the fact that scifi changed reality. This part is hard to see on first glance in the new film. The characters, don’t get me wrong, are great picks. They really fit the shoes they’re stepping into. Maybe for me Chris Pine as Kirk does lack some of the bravado that William Shatner has, who did of course make his name as a Shakespeare actor.

So the action packed story is great, though perhaps slightly unlikely, but so are the original Star Trek films. Perhaps the near-death experiences are a bit too numerous. Where old Kirk took gambles, that luckily worked out, new Kirk jumps into the fire and rolls out unscathed a bit too often. But that’s part of the spectacle of current day cinema, particularly the fantastic. Simon Pegg was co-writer on this film. Regarding his view on nerd culture, that might be a good thing for the future, keeping Star Trek in line with its past.

To equality and beyond

But to the subtext, are there still provocative elements in Star Trek? Well, though Uhura would be the sexy lady of the film, she is now also a strong, independent woman, not just that one at the intercom. Looking back, that was something new in TOS, a woman in a professional position, but in a way it was a glorified secretary.

Sulu meets his ‘husband’ (implied by the fact the two have a child), which of course still counts as controversial in many parts of the world. It is peculiar to know though that George Takei’s homosexuality was never part of the show (though many will say it was evident). Takei didn’t like the decision, because it was contrary to the characters history and identity, and rightly so. So though it was intended as being forward thinking, the result feels forced and not very sincere.

So what remains? There is a story arch, culminating in a fight between Kirk and a former soldier, who believes war is what shapes us and can’t deal with the peaceful way the federation works. The obvious triumph of Kirk can be read as peaceful means of bureaucracy to be always preferable over war. It suggests that flawed organisations like a NATO or the fledgling EU are atleast attempts at something that is better than the sword. As a friend of mine told me once: “Ask any veteran who has seen battle, they’ll all tell you that to prevent war any alternative is better, any situation is preferable over war…”.

United in diversity… Food for thought for a generation or perhaps two that only knows discontent in peaceful times.

Also, before I forget to mention, the actor who plays Chekov, Anton Yelchin, died before the release of the film in an accident due to a problem with his car. No recasting for Chekov follows in the future.

Spock

One scene that makes an impact, is where the young Spock is informed of the old ambassador Spock’s death. A wordless scene, only briefly a picture of Leonard Nimoy shows on the screen as the elder Spock. There’s a moment that touches you. Nothing needs to be said, but Star Trek itself needed this good bye. We’ve said goodbye to Nimoy and now also to Spock.

The next mourning, I watched Star Trek II: Wrath Of Khan, with the end scene where Spock dies as well in the reactor chamber. It now really hit me that Spock is gone with Leonard Nimoy. Sure, Zachary Quinto is an excellent actor, but he is not Spock. The loss finally really sank in for me and it saddened me greatly.

A legacy

Leonard Nimoy has for me become someone who is larger than life. I read his biography’s and even though he’s just a man with failings, he is also a role model. He did so much in his life, which is hugely inspirational. I love how he spent his latter years exploring poetry and photography and vigorously opposing smoking. His first biography was titled ‘I’m Not Spock’. In this Nimoy is denying the connection between him and the character (check my bits on those books here). This book was difficult and felt like an identity crisis, but also conflicted on different levels. In the following book, 20 years later, Nimoy was free of those concerns. The title is ‘I am Spock’ and in it Nimoy embraced Spock as a part of Nimoy (and I guess of Nimoy as part of Spock).

It shows that unique thing that fantasy can do, which is to change the real world. To affect real people and inspire millions. Spock has become an entity, that used Nimoy as a conduit, or vice versa. He is fictional, but he can’t be, because he impacts the world, no? Maybe our fantasy is much more powerful than we know. That’s what I learned from Spock.

It’s like losing a father figure in a way, someone you truly look up to. Not like a child, blind to the failings of the man, but seeing them as character, like an adult. . I’m glad that there was a good bye moment. I’m not sure if the future of Star Trek will rekindle the fire of passion in me that I felt for it. Let’s hope so though.

Live Long and Prosper.

source: Trekcore.com

[END of Spoiler Alert]

There is a documentary out on the life of Nimoy/Spock, titled ‘For the love of Spock’, made by Nimoy’s son.

 

Lessons Learned from playing Dungeons & Dragons

Not too long ago I started running a Dungeons & Dragons Campaign. Though the game we play is just the starter set of the fifth edition, ‘The Lost Mine of Phandelvar’, you can gain some insights. Though they are crude, I’d like to share them with you.

See, role playing may seem like a fun activity for your free hours, but you can learn a lot and apply a lot of it to, so here’s five lessons I’ve learned from playing D&D. But let me preface that with the fact that D&D’s magic doesn’t lie in the characters or setting, it’s in the collaborative effort. That’s where the magic happens and how that comes to be is not so different to work situations.

1. Being a DM is much like managing

For those who don’t know, a DM is a dungeon master. Essentially you play the monsters, other characters that the players encounter and you judge whether things that the players try to do work out. Most importantly though, you run the story and try to make everyone enjoy the ride. As a DM, more often than you think, you’ll try to guide the players or direct them. However, you shouldn’t, as this is exactly the part that they need to do themselves. As a DM you have to rely on the qualities of the party. You can suggest or hint at things, or throw some extra stuff their way, but basically you’re managing a team of skilled individuals. Trusting them is a challenge.

2. Role playing only works when you are vulnerable

Role playing is collaboration. Collaboration between the DM and the players and between the players. This only works fully, if you manage to be open and trust each other. As a DM I sometimes have to voice certain characters. Since I’m not a voice actor, it can be tricky, so the willingness to engage with my meager acting skills is extremely important for the mutual fun we want to have. Similarly, if I laugh or mock another player for attempting things in the game or imitating a voice, I might cause a big decrease in expression and joy of that player. He or she will think twice before speaking up again.

Do you have one of those managers or bosses that are hyper-direct, blunt and pretty much always right (even when they clearly aren’t)? Pretty much everyone knows the kind of character I’m talking about. It’s that person who chokes the creativity out of any project group or team, the one that makes refrain from sharing ideas/suggesting things. That’s exactly the same thing. Feeling safe and being able to feel vulnerable are key ingredients in any collaboration.

source: Dungeonsmaster.com Click the image for a great article (even though its 4) on engaging your players.

3. Engaging your players is harder than you think.

Apart from that safe environment, there is another huge challenge if you want to get things done. Engaging with your players is vital to the success of a D&D campaign. If they don’t feel invested or attracted to the campaign, they won’t get into it. Even less chance that they do in the way you want them to. In fact, to get the interaction going and the story rolling, you need every single person around the table to be invested. To achieve such engagement, knowing their various strengths and interests is vital.

This, again, is very similar to a project. No one wants to be bothered with a project that doesn’t offer any challenge. Why? Because it’s boring and doesn’t give you those positive vibes of excitement that make you go out of your way to contribute your best/to do your best, etc.. Simply ‘challenging’ someone does not make for a good project. It’s a matter of constantly estimating their attitudes and interest and working that on a personal level. Challenges have to be tailored to the individual. Have you ever been in a project where everyone was agitated and nobody felt like it was really his or her project? That’s the absolute opposite of an engaged group. If you find that exact bit of the story in which the player can excel, it becomes her story. The same goes for work-like situations: if you don’t feel engaged, you’re not switched on.

4. Reward effort, even when it fails.

Your players will attempt stuff, that will be creative, weird or even utterly out of place. Also stuff that you were simply not prepared for. So… sometimes they fail. Sometimes players come up with elaborate schemes and actions, but they roll, you roll and they fail. However, that’s not the end of it: the creativity of the players should always should be rewarded. Just let them succeed or do some accidental good to the players. Why? Because speaking out is brave, trying things is daring. Creativity already is stomped upon way too often in this world of ours.

Again, let me compare this to the bad manager that sits you down at a table and asks for ideas, yet somehow every idea gets ridiculed and mocked. How many ideas would you like to share with this person? None. So it’s vital to reward people that share thoughts, give feedback, offer suggestions and so on, because once that flow of information stops, you might end up having to do all of the work by yourself. For a D&D game, that would suck. For any work endeavor… well, what do you think? Always show grattitude for the input of others and reward the courage to stand up and say whatever you have in your head.

5. You could treat any project like a dragon

Ok, so I kind of added this one for fun, but also to wrap it up. If you spark the interest, engage players and manage to provide that environment where people feel cool and feel that they can be creative, you can do anything. Seriously, ANYTHING! You’d be surprised by how often you see a D&D party beat the odds with daring ideas, out-of-the-box thinking and the creative madness that is born out of the excitement.

You might think: well, yeah, but they’re beating paper dragons… Well, isn’t most of the work we do all just paper dragons. Paper dragons are, at their core, problems that need to be solved. If you can make your team feel like they are facing a dragon and if they get as pumped and inspired as my D&D party, you’ll be surprised by what you can achieve. Really, they might just slay it in a way you had never thought of.

Blue is the hardest colour

Do you know that it actually is true that blue is the hardest colour to see? It’s a physics thing, for real. It’s no surprise that I have a beef with the colour blue. Not like. the color itself, but the blue bouldering routes.

I’ve started bouldering almost half a year ago, after being introduced to it by a friend. I’ve always enjoyed climbing and fondly remember my experiences with the activity in the Belgian Ardennes and secondary school gym classes. Now, climbing high walls is cool, but it requires a partner at all times, so bouldering felt more fitting.

For those not familiar with bouldering, it’s a sport that focusses on the technical aspects of climbing. Short ,technical routes that go up to like max. 4 meters on a straight or overhanging wall. Difficulty is shown in different colours of the routes, to make it easier for you. You climb with just your wits, body and a pair of climbing shoes that fit so tight you feel like a ballerina. It’s funny how that colour thing works When you start, you just see the colour of that level and slowly you find, while your skill advances, your eyes shifting to the next ones…

Very close to my home is a boulder gym, named Monk, which has 3 locations in the Netherlands (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Eindhoven). The staff is friendly and laid back, there’s usually some cool jazz, triphop, hiphop or electronic music playing while you climb. Some people come in groups and chat a lot, but I often go alone and enjoy the solitude of my efforts. There’s a moment between starting the climb and tapping of on the top grip (usuallly there’s an indicated start grip and a finish grip), where sounds fade away and there’s nothing but you and the wall. It’s your physical efforts versus nature in a way, it’s a moment of complete focus and tranquillity.

So for me the name Monk seems fitting, because it’s not about your fancy outfit or cool shoes, not about impressing others (I really think there’s little of the ‘gym flexing’  going on in general). It’s about you and that challenge, which makes it very pure for me. It’s not about succeeding, there’s no points to be handed out, it’s a very solitary, mental thing to me and that’s probably why I enjoy it so much. It cleans away my thoughts.

But still, blue is the hardest color, it’s the wall you hit when muscle and ability have gotten you as far as it can. It’s no longer easy or doable, now it becomes harder to progress. I will have to ask for help to move forward and that is also a lesson, because it breaks that solitude open again. I imagine that climbing in this form (or any form) isn’t for everyone, but I recommend it anyways. It shapes your body and mind, strengthening both. Facing your limits is not always pleasant, but it gives you the chance to break through them. That’s probably what I love most about this sport.

So I am certain I’ll start liking blue at some point.

The picture is not me, it’s a stock photo. Since I really don’t want to offend anyone by misusing their work, I use stock photos.

Stranger Aeons: An overdue introduction

When I started my own blog, I was over the moon with a broad scope of topics and I named it ‘Wheaton’s Law’. It was a geeky thing, but if you really look at any blog, it’s probably run by a geek of sorts. When I launched that blog, I decided to inform the world of what, why and how. Time to do that for the rebranded Stranger Aeons.

Origin of the name

Like any name, you want it to be original, to be yours. I’ve recently got a tattoo above my knee saying: “with strange aeons even death may die”. Now, this is an obvious Lovecraft reference. I love that phrase, I really do. So that was my first real idea after many, many failed ideas. I mean, I am the guy who came up with a tumblr blog titled ‘Fascism and Fascination’, so I have a history of bad names. Oh yeah, first blog ever was titled Psychosis Safari… Ah well.

So yes, obviously when one finds a unique name, registers it and all, you find out about things. Like an Entombed EP and a Lithuanian band named Stranger Aeons. You can’t win ’em all.

So why Stranger Aeons?

I picked the name because it resonates with the things that fascinate me in life. I’m an avid reader about past or fictional aeons and I feel that we live in a rather strange one as well. There’s a lot of mystery in the world and this is what fascinates me. It allows me to explore places, drinks, books and music and share it under the same banner. Surely, my focus is on music, but even in that I hope to offer the strange and mysterious.

So my focus is on extreme metal, folk and records that are just too unnatural, weird or haunting. I try to get some interviews in with bands that fascinate me and maybe more if my time becomes more liberal.

I think you should write about my band, we’re sort of strange

I would love to, so just contact me and I’ll check it out. Since this is still a one man endeavour, I can hardly cover everything. If I don’t sorry, but I always try to when I’m asked.

Just to be clear, I’m interested in anything that pushes the envelope, anything that is rediscovering our ancient past and roots. Things that explore and evoke thoughts. Be sure to contact me, I don’t bite.

Your ultimate Lovecraft soundtrack part 3

After going into some random interesting music and then focusing on the heavy, doomy stuff, in this third part I want to just bring out the Lovecraft inspired music that I missed on the first search for music. This focuses on what I’d like to call honorable mentions, artists that put themselves out of the box with haunting, harrowing tributes to Lovecraft.

Enjoy the madness.

Honorable mentions

Working on this bit, I came across some brilliant works of music, which I will gladly share with you here.

Old Witch is a bit of a mysterious black metal band from Canada, but on this reading of Lovecraftian magic, they offer the B-side of their ‘Come Mourning Come’ record for The Picture In The House, read by Glenn Hallstrom. The band offers the sonic ambiance to the reading. Great material therefor.

Nothing like a bit of dark ambient, on this homage to the mad God swirling in chaos ‘Azathoth’ by Cryo Chamber Collaboration. That is too little words to pay truely respect to the effort this 2 hour piece must have taken to make. A stunning number of 20 artists worked on this project, to create this ultimate bit of music.

Because that effort was not enough to prove the brilliance of the Cryo Chamber Collaboration, they did one more titled ‘Nyarlathotep’ and ofcourse earlier the masterful ‘Cthulu’. Well done sirs, well done! This is for the long winter nights, I’d say, to immerse yourself for hours in darker realms.

Ultar is a Siberian post black metal band. A tortured, dreary sounding track, that well describes the daunting journey to find that city of Unknown Kadath past the planes of Leng and you know what I’m talking about, don’t you? This is truly one of the best things I’ve heard.

Ok, maybe Shoikan Grove isn’t your run of the mill Lovecraftian project, but it definitely should be mentioned. A project over mail by two friends, inspired by D&D, Magic and Lovecraft and a joy to listen to. Not the best quality, but the enthusiasm is enough to keep me listening.

Nuclear Cthulu from St. Petersburg in Russia is definitely a different case, taking the great old one to a more industrial sphere on their album ‘Desecration’. Black metal combined with doom and industrial and a lot of unholy chanting. Feel the cold!

It sounds like a forlorn videotape with a peculiar soundrack to a creepy horror film and that is what Black Mountain Transmitter is best at on this tribute to the Goat with the Thousand Young. Ambient soundscapes and eerie effects, to get you through the day and haunted nights.

In his own image The Gateless Gate/Khan Tengri has made a record that celebrates ‘At The Mountains Of Madness’ in a peculiar psychedelic and ambient rocking way. I like it, perhaps you do too, but I do miss the threatening vibe. I still enjoyed listening to his interpretation and drift of on the cosmic vibes.

This is again just a small selection of stuff that is out there. I hope you enjoy checking some of this material out and reading some more books by the Great Old One H.P. Lovecraft himself.