Sunday Music: Accompaniment

Yup, still haven’t finished listening to King of Limbs. This will probably carry on until tomorrow, but at least I’ve already got an idea for a post in my head, so you won’t be bothered by me carrying on this unending torrent of album love. However, I have put together some songs that aren’t King of Limbs, because these lists are of ten songs, and that’s only eight. That’s the only thing stopping me. It really is.

So what they are is an accompaniment to that album. Not to Radiohead in general, because I’m really not au fait enough with them to attempt something like that. But I have listened to a lot of this one album, and so have put together a list of songs that either have a similar vibe, or can further inform your listening. Think of using the album like a gateway, and I’m leading you a few more steps into the building. Welcome, have a seat, don’t mind the Glitchcore in the corner, he’s a bit intense, so we’ll wait with him. But mild little Post Rock? She’s lovely, and while she might seem a little slow, once you get her going you’re bound to reach a stunning conclusion. I’m not talking about sex, I’m really not. Aural capitulation, or something like that.

I should probably be quiet now and let you have a listen.

Grooveshark playlist here, songs below.

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All Animals in the Form of Water – Natural Snow Buildings

Classic Noodlanding – Do Make Say Think

The Butterfly Effect – Four Tet

SexSlaveShip – Flying Lotus

Still Game – Errors

Ascension Day – Talk Talk

Tender Buttons – Broadcast

Murderer – Low

Regato – Prefuse 73

Great Release – LCD Soundsystem

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King of Limbs

Despite yesterday’s post, I’ve been listening to more Radiohead. A lot more Radiohead. I think the tenth playthrough was sometime around lunch. I’ve not listened to this much of the same eight songs for god know’s how long, so there’s probably something here that’s not exactly the standard fare. And I’ve been giving it a bit of a think. I’m going to give it a bit more of a think, over the next few hundred words. It’s nice, word thinking. So much more tangible.

The first thing about this album is it’s the first Radiohead album I’ve really, properly got into. I do like the other stuff, and love some of it, but it’s never quite compelled me to listen, beyond the fact that it’s obviously so very good, and worth listening to if only because it’s an important thing. Something monumental. You go to a city, there’s always going to be some sights you have to see. Radiohead are a landmark, towering over the other stuff by sheer force of will. And because they’re pretty good. That’s got something to do with it.

But this album, there’s something slightly more subdued about it. There’s relentless drums, a beat that works as the skeleton for the music, but also serves as a main gravitational body, the entire focus of the thing. Bloom is a good example of this, the soft snare stuttering its way through the song, while the melodies, including Thom’s voice, waft around it, something not quite there, not allowed to be touched. The beat? The beat you can touch. The beat you can feel.

It puts me in mind of Cosmogramma, most of all, which is both odd and not. Odd because Flying Lotus isn’t exactly the kind of guy you think of when making Radiohead comparisons, and not because Cosmogramma has Thom Yorke featuring on one of the tracks. It’s understandable that they rub off on one another, but I never expected King of Limbs to be quite so… experimental? I guess that’s a word, but it doesn’t sit right, hips squeezing too tight in the seat, the whole thing a little uncomfortable.

Perhaps that’s why the reception hasn’t been quite as overwhelming as usually greets a new Radiohead album. It’d be fun to play the elitist and sneer down my nose at all these people who don’t understand the way the bass seeps in and out of the track, the drums always there, only regularly accompanied by little electronic trills. The fact is, though, that they might understand perfectly well what’s going on, but the fact is that it’s a little different to what they’ve done before, a little quieter, more relaxed, and a little more of a diversion from the usual. I mean, you just have to look at the video for Lotus Flower to realise that maybe this isn’t Radiohead as we know them.

As I’ve said, that’s perfectly alright with me. Because suddenly I’m presented with something that’s more jazz than rock, more instrumental than not, and certainly something that can set up shop in my subconscious, not always actively listened to, but always there, that beat that keeps on giving, little nuances of the music drifting out into the forefront of my mind, pleasant little surprises that I’d missed on the first time I’d listened to the track. Or the second, or the third, or the.. you get the idea.

It’s a good album. I like it more than the other’s I’ve spent some time with, even though I’d be loathe to say it was better. Obviously Radiohead are best doing what Radiohead do, but this deviation has brought them closer to a middle ground between us, and for that I’m glad. Go listen.

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Musical Guilt

We’ve got a new Radiohead album. It’s good. Everyone rejoices, very happy. Good good, what what, carry on, carry on.

By the time my fifth playthrough came about, a familiar feeling began to sink over me, a malaise of the mind, some heavy fog of guilty pleasure, knowing that I’m engorging myself like some sluggish audiophile, every beat driving my aural belly to new gluttonous heights. My ears have become noise-mouths, every moment another chew, another swallow. Over indulgence was about three or four listens back. This, this is just sick.

Or at least, these are the thoughts that start to seep through my consciousness like a syrupy venom. It’s the kind of guilt that’s warm and comforting, but only in the most sickly sweet way possible. It’s a stifling heat, not the comfortable heat of a whiskey in your stomach. No, this is a slow burn, causing damage without you really knowing what it’s doing. It’s one of my more irrational moments, but it seems to happen with an alarming regularity.

You see, I feel bad if I listen to one artist/album for too long. I feel like, to the detriment of all music, everywhere, I’m passing up all the good stuff to listen to this one good thing. I’ll leave an album on for days, I’ll listen to an artist all but non-stop for a week, and then I’ll burn out and spit them out like gum I’ve been chewing for far too long, all flavour long gone, just this sticky, habitual mess to be disposed of. Over time, the flavour comes back, but it’s not a healthy treatment, this isn’t me exercising musical moderation.

Or at least, that would be me if I didn’t exercise musical moderation. I’m getting better, I’m forcing myself to branch out when I start to feel that familiar numbness to the new music I’m listening to. King of Limbs is starting to need a break, because otherwise I’m going to ruin it for myself. This is what my LastFM page is for, really. It’s not there as a monument to the sheer amount I listen to. It’s not there for people to judge my musical tastes, and it’s not really there to show me an interesting timeline of what I liked and when. Instead, it’s there because, at the back of my mind, there’s some imaginary person that’s sitting there monitoring my page, looking at what I’m listening to, and if I start mainlining one band or another, with no deviation, they’re going to make a sound somewhere between a cough and a sigh, like they’re choking up their disgust, and they’ll turn away.

I don’t want that. So I stop myself before I’ve had my aural fill, and listen to something else. It probably means I listen to a wider variety than I would otherwise, and it certainly means I don’t get bored with music nearly as fast as I would otherwise. Music listening is a lot like resource management, y’know; you’ve got to give it some time to replenish, otherwise you’re going to drain it dry.

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Manipulation and Evocation: Exploring The Dead Island Trailer

I’ll give you a moment to recover from the gut punch. I know how they can wind you.

Better? Ok.

That was yesterday. Since then, this trailer has gone viral. It’s ballooned, popped, and carried on being filled with air, despite having no more rubber to expand. It’s been a phenomenon. I’m sure the guys at Techland (developing Dead Island) are celebrating like motherfuckers, because pretty much everyone just saw a trailer for a game they probably hadn’t heard of, or at the very least thought was cancelled, and everyone’s talking about it. Regardless of the game itself, that kind of interest is undoubtedly going to pay off.

It’s not been universal praise though. Not even close. Despite a huge amount of people praising it as the best trailer ever, there’s been others decrying it as a vile manipulation that’s plucking heart strings with no purpose other than to get you interested in the game, and suck you into the narrative of the trailer. A trailer that could, as far as we know, be nothing like the game. In fact, there’s every chance that the only thing that the trailer and the game have in common is zombies. Which raises the question: why bother?

Well, that’s an easy one. Just look at the past 24 hours. Tuesday, Dead Island didn’t mean anything. Today, Dead Island means that trailer. Pretty good, right?

The morality of it all, of a trailer so woefully unrepresentative of the final product, is the more interesting thing to look at. What that boils down to, after you’ve stripped away the zombies, removed the stirring music, the slow rewind telling a story in reverse, and the family photos, is the dead child at the center of it all. For some people, that’s a step too far. If you look at games in general, the only relatively big game that I can think of that even approaches children in danger, or child death, is Pathalogic, and even that had to pretend they were midgets to get under the rating boards. More than sex, more than blasphemy, the issue of child peril in games is completely and utterly taboo.

It’s not even particularly clear why that is. Bioshock notoriously backed out of showing you harvesting Adam from the Little Sisters, which took all the impact out of the act. It just became an binary choice between harvesting now or harvesting later. There was no involvement, no real gutwrenching moment when you made the choice on whether to harvest or not because you were thinking about how the experience itself would affect you, rather than whether you wanted to wait for the big Adam payout later on, or the little one now. Imagine that; a game making you make a real, personal, moral choice, rather than something from a mechanical perspective.

I guess it’s RPGs that run into the issue more than others. Fallout had Little Lamplight, known for the fact that all its denizens were strangely invulnerable. Of course they were; Bethesda couldn’t get allowing child killing through the publishers. Maybe they didn’t even try. That so many people actually tried to kill them might be a little worrying, though.

GTAIV’s streets are devoid of anyone under the age of 20. So many places in gaming where you’d expect to see children, there are none. It’s jarring, at first, but it’s becoming a gamer’s reflex, now; there’s just a blank spot in our heads when we play games, the question ‘where are the kids?’ just isn’t asked any more. It’s an accepted norm. Maybe that’s one of the reasons this trailer is so divisive and shocking.

There’s a pretty major exception to all this, though. Heavy Rain’s entire plot revolves around a father losing a son, and having his other boy kidnapped, only to be forced into a series of increasingly sadistic puzzles to get him back. Say what you like about the writing, the plot itself, or the handling of the characters, the game itself treats the relationship with the father and son respectfully, and, perhaps more importantly, puts the responsibility for saving him in your hands. (Not to mention there’s only one ending where Sean dies, and about 15 where he survives. It’s really, really hard to screw this one up.)

Maybe it’s a case that we’re just not ready for something this powerful. When you’ve got player autonomy, and most of that autonomy is dealing with where to point and shoot, placing children into the mix is a recipe for disaster. The director of a film can make sure that children are safe, that when they are placed in danger, that danger is handled with respect and aplomb. A game designer? They can either include children and have them invulnerable, or leave them there, hoping that the player doesn’t do the same thing to these digital representations of kids that they do to a stranger in Halo.

That’s probably why using a child in your game trailer is a bad move. They’re probably not going to make it to the game, so why put one in a trailer? What point are you trying to make? There’s plenty already written about the Dead Island trailer that decries it’s use of the little girl. It isn’t, however, something without precedent, at least outside of games. Just keeping to zombie horror, both the recent Dawn of the Dead remake and The Walking Dead introduce zombified children pretty early on, using them to create a confliction within the characters as they defend themselves, and also to make the audience empathise with the villain of the film. Let’s not forget that there’s a reason that zombies are so incredibly popular at the moment.

It’s because of a few things. Firstly, they’re a great situation to explore. Alone, they’re almost comical, bumbling around and slow, easily avoided. But they’re infectious, and there’s a lot of them, and so they create an atmosphere of constant danger, manageable so long as you keep your guard up, but as soon as you relax, you’re screwed. It means that relationships are strained between friends, people are forced together, from all ideologies and backgrounds, and you get a sort of pressure cooker situation where the bigger threat isn’t so much the undead as other people. You’ve got a bunch of desperate, armed, tired, hungry people stuck in a small space together. Drama is conflict, after all.

They’re also empathetic. They were people, not so long ago, and they still look like people. The trailer would be undoubtedly less upsetting were the little girl to suddenly transform into some monster, instead of merely become reanimated. And, when defending against them, it’s impossible not to think ‘I’m hacking up the busboy’, or ‘I just saw her the other day’. It’s distressing. Genuinely so. That’s part of it.

At the heart of all this is the relationship between father and daughter, though. The trailer is interspersed with flashes of prelude to the rewind, of the little girl fleeing the undead. She’s running for her parent’s room, only to fall short and get bitten. We, as the audience, know that’s a death sentence, that she’s worse than gone; that she’s coming back. But they pull her inside, because that’s what parents do, and try to defend.

It’s what happens next, the reanimation and attack of the girl against the father, that really hits you hard. Fundamentally, he’s powerless; he can’t hurt her, because that’s his daughter on his back, biting at him. But she’s on his back, biting him, and so she’s inadvertently flung out of the window, to her second death. He did that. It doesn’t matter what happens after that in the room, because she’s the focus, right here, falling a dozen storeys.

The main issue raised with all this is that the use of the girl is unnecessary, that she doesn’t add anything beyond a shock factor to the trailer. I’m inclined to agree, but only to the extent that she could have been replaced with a wife, or a husband, or an adult who was similarly close to the father in the trailer. That relationship needed to be there for the trailer to work, because otherwise it doesn’t have the impact. The reason it’s so effective is because it taps into our empathy; we all have a relationship, someone close that we can substitute into the daughter’s place, and so we can feel a little of what the father is going through. Obviously those with children empathise more, and the strongest negative reactions I’ve seen seem to be coming from those people.

So, in a way, perhaps it would’ve been a wiser choice to pick the wife. Maybe that way they’d have tapped into a larger nerve and gained a stronger reaction. Objectively, sure, that makes sense. But it wouldn’t have. Because the relationship between husband and wife isn’t the same as between father and daughter. It’s not even close. Your wife is an adult, your daughter is vulnerable, she’s your responsibility, you’re the one who’s supposed to take care of her. She dies, and you’ve failed, you’ve failed and you’ve lost a child. That’s why it was used, that’s why it’s got such a strong reaction from people, even those without children. But we’ve got that fortuitous buffer, that wall that is ignorance; we don’t know what it’s like to be a parent, and so we’re shielded from the worst of it.

The trailer doesn’t matter, not on its own. At the moment it’s pretty much the only knowledge we have on the game, beyond a sterile feature list and some knowledge of the developer’s previous work. Right now, all it is is a Damaclean presence, ready to serve as vanguard for a truly remarkable game, or something that lifted hopes and cheaply manipulated people to gain interest in something purely pedestrian. That’s the crux of it. That’s why people are really getting pissed off at the trailer, because they’re using their considerable past experience of hyperbolic game trailers and over the top CGI demonstrations to fill in the blanks themselves. When has a game really lived up to the impressive displays of graphical wizardry? When has a game even approached its own cutscenes? The reason they’re used is because the games themselves have such a limited interaction. That’s the worry here, that’s why it’s such a grand, frail thing. It’s undoubtedly powerful, but if it’s completely irrelevant because the game is nothing like that trailer, what on earth is the point of it existing apart from to be a cynical marketing stunt?

But, and that’s one of those hundred foot tall, muscle-bound don’t-fuck-with-me-or-I’ll-eat-your-conjunctives Buts, if it does pull of the mood of that trailer, if it can actually evoke such a powerful emotion by creating flawed, strong, believable characters and having their morality down to you and your actions, relying on you to succeed and not fuck up, then this trailer will really be something impressive. It’s not enough to be a great trailer; you have to have a great game to trail, and, more than film, we’ve been betrayed by marketing again and again. We had no Mad World moment in Gears of War. We’ll probably not have a moment remotely like the Mass Effect 2 trailer. Dragon Age certainly didn’t have a This is the New Shit moment. It’s probably telling that I can’t think of any other good trailers.

Techland have a lot to live up to. They’ve set their own bar way high, and now they’ve got to clear it. Anything less and they’re going to be the guys who did that trailer and didn’t make the game of that trailer. They don’t even need children in the game, although that would be a bold step. They just need to evoke that sense of loss and vulnerability, of the responsibility of someone who has power to protect those who doesn’t. And that doesn’t just mean some crappy escort missions. They need to be looking at the likes of Far Cry 2, because that’s the only game I can think of that made me care for the characters in that way, put their vulnerability in my hands, had my mistakes impact them. Do that? Do that and they’re golden.

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RAMming Speed

(It’s a pun.)

My computer is starting to creak. The caulk is all gone, and there’s water seeping in through the bilge into the bilge and it’s all getting really bilgy. By which I probably mean dusty, and worn out, but my metaphors are growing more and more nonsensical, and I’m losing grasp of my own meanings. Either way, it’s about time for an upgrade, and the first order for the day is RAM. It should be simple. I have some RAM. I want more RAM. I buy more RAM.

It’s not that simple.

I have a motherboard, and that has four RAM slots. I have two RAM slots being used, which leaves me two RAM slots to fill. Or, potentially, I could swap out my current RAM for better RAM, which will let me RAM more until I’m an unstoppable RAM force. That was the plan; buy four 2GB sticks of RAM, and have an overpowering 8GB of RAM, enough to survive me through the apocalypse.

Except I need to know that my motherboard will accept the RAM I want to buy, which are a pair of 2GB DDR3 sticks, to swap out my current pair of 1GB DDR2 sticks. I do not know what DDR means, but apparently it’s something to do with the shape of the sticks. And apparently, because I’ve got DDR2, I’m not allowed the numerically and technically superior DDR3. Which sucks, because that’s both cheaper and better, apparently. So I’m stuck with DDR2, I guess I can live with that.

Except I’m not only stuck with DDR2, but apparently my motherboard is weak like a blind, sickly kitten, and can only take 1GB of RAM per slot. Which is shit. And so now, after about three or four hours of messing around with a torch in my mouth and the side of my computer off, I now know a few things. They are as follows:

1. My computer is dusty enough to feed a family without functioning tastebuds. 1. is now rectified with the aid of angry, compressed air and a Dyson.

2. Computers have lots of slots, only some of which are for RAM. Initially, I was gleeful. ‘I can have 64 gig of RAM!’ I exclaimed, startling the cat and causing the dust to explode into my face and up my nose. This was before I rectified 1. I now know I only have 4 slots.

3. There is no way to check the make of RAM you have without opening up your computer, no matter how hard you Google ‘What kind of RAM do I have?’. Doesn’t matter how you phrase it, either.

4. I have a weak, crappy 32-bit OS. This means that even if I get 4GB of RAM, I can’t use all of it, because my OS hasn’t taken off its stabalisers yet, and it’s worried it might fall over. I am rectifying this by taking it out behind the Power Supply and applying Format to Hard Disc.

5. RAM is actually quite cheap, especially when it’s not the best. Which is a bit of a consolation prize, but at least now I can justify spending the better part of £100 on a second monitor. It’s the little victories.

So here I sit, slightly covered in dust and a little bit more knowledgeable about my computer. Who’d have thunk it?

I also have a blister on my toe. It hurts.

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