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S P Hannifin

My 2016 favorites

My 6th annual “Year’s Best” selections are here! Much more important than all those silly award shows on TV and such, my collection of opinions shall go down in history as a paragon of artistic truth. As usual, for books, the nominees are books I finished reading for the first time in 2016, regardless of their publication date. Movies and film scores must have been first released in the USA in 2016.

Year’s best live action film:

Year’s best animated film:

Year’s best film score:

Year’s best nonfiction book:

Year’s best fiction book:

Year’s best TV show:

Composer’s Corner: Themes of Fireside

Hello, and welcome to Composer’s Corner. Today I present to you the themes of my last YouTube music animation, Fireside, a piece of joy and goodwill that fills every listener with happiness and purity of spirit. Sit thee down and take a listen…

6/8 time, B-flat major, the piece opens with the somewhat playful yet mysterious theme 1 on celesta:

This is repeated immediately with a counter melody in the clarinet:

Theme 2 then begins, with oboe and clarinet exchanging phrases:

In measure 6 of this of the melody, one can see that I have the IV chord descend to the iii chord rather than rising to the V again. I’ve been doing this quite a bit lately, using iii as a substitute for V. I may have only just started doing it last year, especially in Fairytale’s End. Love the sound of it.

After a repeat of theme 2, we come to a melody with a borrowed chord! I had heard film composers use these chords a lot, and if you’re listening for it, you can definitely hear it in quite a lot of scores, to the point that, in my opinion, it’s kind of cheesy and annoying sometimes. Two major chords, a major second apart. Of course, we could stay in key and just use IV-V, but what fun is that? If we start with the tonic I, we can descend to bVII (bah, I can’t figure out how to use a flat symbol with this font, the letter b will have to suffice). B-flat major to A-flat major in our case, like so:

Ah, how nice. The last measure is overlapped with a repeat, and then theme 4 begins:

Rather than changing chords every half measure, we only change them every measure here, providing some contrast to our previous themes. (Well, except in the last two measures. Having the chords progress more rapidly at the end of a theme is a common practice.) Also, notice the use of IV-iii again. Because it’s so good.

This melody is repeated with an overlapping counter melody:

After a repeat of theme 1 and its counter melody, we get a variation of theme 2 on piano (which Overture 4 does not make very pretty notation-wise, but what can you do…):

As dedicated and astute listeners may notice, I often employ triplets of some sort or another into my melodic variations, especially on piano. Because 3 is a magic number.

The orchestra then swells into a repeat of the original theme 2, which serves as the piece’s climax, but not before leaping up a major third in key (my favorite sort of sudden modulation), from B-flat major to D major. After this climax, we settle down again with a repeat of theme 4, but this time with a different counter melody (because the original counter melody broke its leg and had to be put down). This new counter melody goes something like this:

This is played by the piano, celesta, and piccolo, which all go nicely together, and the tune sounds especially nice with the timpani and tambourine accenting the half-beat, in my humble yet biased opinion.

By the way, check out my attempt at voice-leading in the cello and viola at this part:

Actually, I’m not really sure if it’s all that great or not, but as voice-leading is my weakness, I actually spent quite a bit of time on this part, simple as it is, and I’m pleased with how it came out. Of course, I’m sure a professional orchestrator could come up with something better. Here’s how just this harmony sounds:

I think it’s pretty OK… for me…

Anyway… After a repeat of this melody and counter melody (remember: ctrl+c and ctrl+v are among the greatest tools in a composer’s toolkit), we wind down with the oboe, the harmony once again shifting between two major chords a major second apart, I and bVII (in this case D major and C major), before shifting to V and ending on the tonic…

And thus the piece ends, leaving the audience to sit in a stunned and profound silence, having beheld much awe and wonder, before dabbing the tears from their eyes and thanking God they lived to experience such rapture… yes? Right? Yes? Maybe?

And such are the themes of Fireside.


In other news, due to some security setting my webhost must’ve recently changed, I can longer edit my “hanniwiki” mediawiki, where I keep track of my works. So at some point I’m going to try recreating the wiki with WordPress, which is much easier to work with and edit anyway. It’s become more and more powerful over the years.


I also recently uploaded a YouTube video about how to use my open-source MIDI animator:

If anyone out there ever actually uses it, let me know; I’d be interested to see what someone else might use it for.


Finally, on a completely unrelated note, I recently created a Letterboxd account, where I can keep a “film diary” of the movies I watch throughout the year; my profile is here.

Interesting movies for 2017

Here are some movies I’m looking forward to this year. I won’t be able to afford to go to the theater as much as I’d like, but I did get some gift certificates for Christmas, so I can at least go to a few for free. (Thanks to my brother from the very same mother!)

A Monster Calls

This comes out this week! Read the book last year and thought it was good. I also loved the director’s last two films. This is about a kid whose mother is dying. But fortunately an imaginary friend comes along to help him out. Although it sounds terribly cheesy if you say it like that. Maybe: To help cope with his mother’s inevitable death, the mind of a young lad breaks and he begins hallucinating a destructive monster that tells him to do bad things. OK, that’s not really it either. Just watch the trailer. I look forward to seeing it sometime this month.

Beauty and the Beast

The animated film was one of the first movies I ever remember seeing in theaters. There’s no way this can beat the animated version, but I’ll still be interested to see it. I’m glad they’re including the songs, even though they were all already sung to perfection by the original animated voice cast.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

This sword and sorcery film from Guy Ritchie looks great, especially if it will be in 3D.

Dunkirk

Since being pleasantly surprised after seeing Batman Begins in theaters while I was in college, I’ve made sure to see every Christopher Nolan film in theaters. Interstellar is his only film so far that I thought was less than stellar; it had such a silly ending. I’m sure this upcoming film of his will not have a similar ending. I really don’t care about the story or anything, I just like Christopher Nolan’s work.

The Book of Henry

This is yet another movie I want to see only because of the director. I really enjoyed Colin Trevorrow’s last two films. I have no idea what the plot is for this film, and there doesn’t seem to be a trailer out yet. I just hope they don’t push the release date back yet again.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Director Luc Besson is hit or miss with me, but just look at those special effects… this should at least be a nice eye-candy movie.

Alien: Covenant

A new Alien movie from Ridley Scott? Oh… OK…

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy is so far the only live-action Marvel film I thought was enjoyable. Probably has something to do with its more sci-fi-ish setting. Tight-suits and skyscrapers just seem bland to me. So I would like to see this sequel…

Animated films

The Lego Batman Movie looks partly stupid, partly hilarious. Want to see. Then there’s Cars 3. I’m not so sure about yet another Cars movie from Pixar. I didn’t think the first two were all that great, but I’ve been seeing all Pixar films in theaters since Toy Story when I was 9 or 10 years old, so can I really stop now? Pixar also has Coco coming out this year, which IMDb says is about a 12 year old boy guitarist who does something interesting or something. Well, whatever, it’s Pixar! Then there’s Despicable Me 3, which I hope will be as good as the last two, which were both hilarious.

I think that’s it. I guess the ones I would definitely like to see in theaters include A Monster Calls, King Arthur, Dunkirk, and the two Pixar films. Only five. Not too bad, I guess.

Composer’s Corner: Chord progressions

Hello, and welcome to Composer’s Corner, where I say something about music and/or my composing process. Today I’m answering a question from Michael who writes:

I have a question about your use of chord progressions, from the first exercise you recommend.. [in this post] You said “So that was my method: find chord progressions that sounds good, write melodies for them, and vary the orchestration in different ways, all through trial and error.”

Can you elaborate on this. I’ve been working on this and what’s not clear is does one just repeat the chord progression over and over? or are there other chords mixed in?

I’ve found the hook theory website to be useful for studying chord progressions:

https://www.hooktheory.com/theorytab/common-chord-progressions

They say the most popular is I V vi IV. Would you give them 1 measure each which would make a total of 4 measures? And just repeat that over and over? When I analyze the chords in some songs I like, sometimes there is two measures of a chord and sometimes it’s just a half measure, etc. But I want to start simple.

I’m not able to “hear” the chord progressions in your songs. I think that’s something I need to work on. If I knew which chords were where, that would make it easier to understand. For most of my favorites on your first album I don’t think you’ve published the music. But if you can just describe a bit about which chord progression you used and how that would be very helpful.

Many thanks for the questions!

To answer the first part:

what’s not clear is does one just repeat the chord progression over and over? or are there other chords mixed in?

Either way. Some songs do indeed feature just the same chords over and over again. One of my first compositions, “The Workshop” (MP3 here), is just vi-vi-IV-V over and over. Another example is of course Pachelbel’s Canon in D, which is I-V-vi-iii-IV-I-IV-V over and over again. (Though I think he actually sneaks in an inverted I to replace the iii in some measures.)

Using the same chord progression over and over again may get monotonous, but one can add variety to the melodies and orchestrations. Pachelbel’s Canon manages to stay consistently interesting (in my opinion at least) because of the wealth of variety in the melodies. When I was just starting out composing, my pieces were a bit monotonous. But they helped me learn, and they were still fun to write! (Plus, there’s minimalism, a whole style of music dedicated to monotony! So it’s a subjective thing anyway.)

That said, my guess is that most songs feature multiple chord progressions to help spice things up. Maybe a chord progression for the verses, another chord progression for the chorus, and yet another for the bridge. They may be still be quite similar; maybe a few chords are just substituted for other chords, or they’re mixed around. After all, usually the style of music doesn’t change drastically between verses and chorus.

One common way to add variety is to start a new chord progression on a chord other than the tonic, commonly the V or vi, sometimes the IV. For instance, if you’ve been using I-iii-IV-V for a while, suddenly starting a new melody on vi with something like vi-V-IV-V may be quite interesting.

But, like I said, my first pieces featured chord progressions repeated over and over. It made things simple. I was practicing writing melodies to fit chords, so it was good practice. I wasn’t able to let chords and melodies inform the creation of each other until perhaps after a year or so of composing, after I got a feel for what sort of patterns I preferred.

They say the most popular is I V vi IV. Would you give them 1 measure each which would make a total of 4 measures?

Firstly, if you click on the examples on that website, you’ll see that that progression is often used as part of longer progressions rather than just by itself. But we can certainly use it by itself if we want to…

Anyway, to answer the question: Yep, one bar for each chord would work! Really, you can do anything you’d like, but one chord per measure or two chords per measure is very common, at least for the style of music I write. (Mozart, on the other hand, may go on the I chord for eight measures, IV for four measures, back to I for another four measures, then V-I-V-I-V-I-V-I on eighth notes squished into one measure; very different style!) As you observed in the examples, there can be a variety of squashing and stretching of the chords, but sticking to one or two chords per measure works fine for starting out. In fact, just one or two chords per measure is mostly what I still do.

Also, I typically write 8-bar melodies (which is probably the most common in modern songs). If I wanted to use just I-V-vi-IV, I’d probably double it, so it’s I-V-vi-IV-I-V-vi-IV. Of course it also depends on tempo and time signature and what rhythm you’re using; Pachelbel’s Canon melodies sound like 8-bar melodies to me, yet the scores I typically see have them all squished up into two bars.

I also pretty much never end melodies on the IV chord; it sounds very weak and pop-music-ish to me. I typically go for I or V, and sometimes iii or iv. So I was actually curious to try this out and so I just tried writing two melodies for I-V-vi-IV-I-V-vi-IV:

Ooh, that was fun! I might have to work that into a full piece, it seems kinda catchy to me…

So the first melody is a repeated 4-bar phrase:

melody-1

And then to try it out with an 8-bar melody:

melody-2

Just by trying that out, I found that in the last bar, it sounds (to me at least) pretty bad to end the melody on the root of the IV chord; sounds much better to end on the fifth of that chord (which is the tonic of the key) as I do in the first melody, or the third, as I do in the second melody (though that sounds a bit weaker to me). Anyway, just my opinion from some brief trial and error. (I could postulate some music theory reasons for why this might be so, but all that really matters in the end is how it sounds to me.)

So it definitely seems possible to write a short piece with just I-V-vi-IV repeated over and over… you’d probably just have to add in a V-I at the very end if you want to end on a strong cadence.

I’m not able to “hear” the chord progressions in your songs. I think that’s something I need to work on. If I knew which chords were where, that would make it easier to understand.

Yes, I think that can develop with experience and practice as you get familiar with how different chord progressions sound. Honestly, when listening to other people’s music, I often can’t hear the chords either, depending on what they are. I can usually hear when it changes, and if it’s major or minor (I reckon everyone can at least subconsciously, as it’s one of the driving forces of music), but to know exactly what it is in music theory terms, I need go look it up, or try playing it on a keyboard (and I’m not much of a keyboard player, so I’m usually too lazy for that). However, sometimes I can catch popular chord progressions, such as Pachelbel’s chords. And after I’ve been composing for a while, my ears will be a bit more sensitive to chords, but then my sense of them will fade away again. It would definitely be convenient to have perfect pitch for harmonic analysis! But, alas…

But if you can just describe a bit about which chord progression you used and how that would be very helpful.

An easy piece of mine to see the chord changes in is “Across the Kingdom”:

In this piece, all the chords are in root position, doubled in octaves in the cello and double basses. They’re just playing staccato notes throughout the entire piece, so basically anytime those two bottom lines move, it indicates a chord change.

So we start with the I chord, which changes at 0:20 to V (going down a fourth). Then up to vi, down to IV for a half measure, back to V for the second half of that measure. (Hey, lookey there, we got a I-V-vi-IV progression right there, hahaha, a nice coincidence!) The second half of the melody starts again with I, down to V, up to vi for a half measure, down to V for a half measure, and back up to I to end the melody on the tonic.

So (if I group half-measure chords into parentheses) the whole chord progression for that first melody is I-V-vi-(IV-V)-I-V-(vi-V)-I. And then it repeats along with the melody.

At 1:12, we have a new melody with a new chord progression, this time (I-IV)-V-(I-IV)-V-(I-IV)-V-I-I.

At 1:39, yet a new melody with yet a new chord progression. This chord progression is one of my favorites. (I-vi)-(IV-V)-(I-vi)-(IV-V) This repeats with various 4-bar melodies, until…

At 2:34, rather than repeat the chord progression, we get a slight variation of: (vi-iii)-(IV-V)-(vi-iii)-(IV-V).

After that variation, at 2:47, we’re back to what we had before, (I-vi)-(IV-V)-(I-vi)-(IV-V), until…

At 3:01 we go back to our minor variation, (vi-iii)-(IV-V)-(vi-iii)-(IV-V). This repeats until…

At 3:29, we’re back to (I-vi)-(IV-V)-(I-vi)-(IV-V)… at 3:43, the key itself jumps up a major third, but the chord progression itself is the same, just in the new key. And we pretty much stick with this very same chord progression, until ending the piece on the I. (On a side note, I love shifting the key up a major third in between melodies. It always seems exciting to me.)

So that whole piece only has 4 chord progressions, the great bulk of it being that (I-vi)-(IV-V)-(I-vi)-(IV-V) repeated over and over. I could write melodies for that chord progression forever.

As to how exactly I came up with those particular chord progressions, I couldn’t say off the top of my head. There’s always quite a bit of trial and error for me, and after you’ve been composing for a while, you start to get a “feel” for where your subconscious wants the music to go. I probably composed the first melody on the keyboard, then found chords for it that I liked, then sort of let my subconscious guide me from there. Sometimes it seems to flow from the subconsciously rather nicely; other times, I can be experimenting for hours and hours before I get something that I like. Many times, if you can come up with a melody in your head or on a keyboard, you’ll find that it naturally fits multiple common chord patterns, then it’s just a matter of what you prefer, how fancy you want to get, and how much time you want to spend exploring the possibilities. Just I, IV, and V cover all the tones of a particular key, so you could possibly harmonize any diatonic melody with just those chords. (Though that might get boring pretty fast, but you could. Mozart did it sometimes!)

When I was just starting to compose, I’d go searching on the internet for chord progressions to try from guitar tab sites and such. I also bought a couple “fake books” just for the chord progressions; those can be handy. And I like the website you linked to, Hooktheory. I hadn’t visited that site in a while; they’ve expanded quite a bit since I last visited. I still go scrounging around on the internet for chord progression ideas now and then. I’m trying to use more chords borrowed from other keys and more seventh chords, for instance. It’s always fun to find the chords to a song you like, particularly a specific part that you enjoy, and find out what exactly is going on there, and then try to use something similar in your own work.

OK, I hope that wasn’t too long-winded! Hope this helps!

(Composer’s Corner is sponsored by… Storybook Overture, a great album. Buy it today!)

storybookalbum-cover-small

All the movies I watched in 2016

Happy New Year! Best wishes for 2017!

Like I did last year, here are all the movies and TV seasons I watched in 2016! A list of all 234 titles can be found here. 234 is now my new record. Wow, what an accomplishment. I will put it on my resume!

Movies 2016

Favorite films…

Of the movies that came out this year, my favorites included some that were a bit thematically shallow, but had serviceable stories and work as fun popcorn flicks. These included Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. (Edit: Ha ha… I just now realize these are all films in series, titled with colons, the new fashion. Coincidence?)

Movies with stronger stories included the live-action remake of The Jungle Book, which, unlike the cartoon, actually had a cohesive narrative and an interesting theme about man’s relation to nature. I was pleasantly surprised. I thought Risen managed to be less cheesy than most overtly Christian movies, and served as an interesting reminder of just how human the followers of Jesus were; being raised Christian, there’s much about Christianity that’s easy to take for granted. It’s difficult to imagine how radical (and maybe even insane) Christ’s teachings must have seemed to those who met him face to face without the comfort of a two-thousand year old institution to support them. I also thought Hacksaw Ridge was a great film; an army medic refuses to hold a gun, yet manages to save many lives on the battlefield.

Animated movies I enjoyed included: Kung Fu Panda 3, which was hilarious and featured another great musical score. The Boy and the Beast came out last year, but only came out in the US this year. A boy enters a parallel world of beasts (monstrous anthropomorphic animals, mainly), and trains to become a fighter. His rebellious personality provides the appropriate challenge, both physically and emotionally, for a skilled but jaded fighter who needs to get his act together himself. But growing up in the world of beasts has its price, and when the boy grows into a teen and tries to form and/or mend relationships in the human world, he runs into new difficulties. Very fun fantastical feature that you’d never find in the US. Also featured a great orchestral soundtrack. Finally, I really enjoyed Kubo and the Two Strings. A wonderfully bizarre fantasy with beautiful visuals. Since stop-motion puppets tend to have something naturally creepy about them, it’s easy to make dark (The Nightmare Before Christmas or Coraline) or “stylistically cartoonishly ugly” looking characters and worlds (James and the Giant Peach or ParaNorman). Kubo manages to actually make the characters and the world look good without being overtly creepy. I loved the ancient Japanese setting, and the bizarre fantasy elements were a lot of fun. My only complaint was the ending; it didn’t make much sense to me, and seemed too simple. Still, great animated film, definitely Laika’s best.

Of movies that came out last year, but I only saw this year, I loved The Revenant; beautiful cinematography. Simple but enjoyable plot. Although I know some found the slower pace to be a bit too much, I really enjoyed that aspect; the film wasn’t in a rush, but didn’t slow things down with pointless filler either, and you really got to get the sense of DiCaprio’s character slowly healing after the devastating bear attack. I also really enjoyed In the Heart of the Sea for similar reasons.

Of older movies that I just saw for the first time this year: I loved The Fall from 2006. A suicidal man in a hospital forms a friendship with a young girl by telling her a long fantasy story. He’s just making it up as he goes along, but the story ends up becoming very meaningful to the girl. But remember, the man is suicidal! So drama ensues! The film featured a great blend of fantasy and real-life, and how the two can inform each other, a bit like in Finding Neverland. I love stories like this, and The Fall became one of my all-time favorites. (I’m eagerly awaiting to see A Monster Calls, which also blends fantasy stories with real-life death-drama.) Noir-wise, I enjoyed the classic Laura from 1944, a fun mystery film with a great twist about two-thirds of the way through it that left me slapping my head thinking, “ah, of course!” which was great. I couldn’t guess who the killer was until it was revealed. They don’t make ’em like this anymore! Also great was Wait Until Dark from 1967, starring Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman and Alan Arkin as an evil killer. The killer wants a doll stuffed with drugs, which is somewhere in the blind woman’s apartment. Great Hitchcock-like thrills ensue!

I greatly enjoyed The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, a slice-of-life documentary about Studio Ghibli. Although I disagree with a good deal of Miyazaki’s personal (or cultural?) philosophies, his perspectives can still be interesting and thought-provoking. And it’s fascinating to see how this Japanese studio approaches film making as opposed to how, for instance, Pixar does things.

Finally, there was only one TV series that I really enjoyed, and that was Netflix’s Stranger Things. Had a great 80’s feel to it and a fun plot, at least for sci-fi / fantasy lovers (parallel worlds and mind powers and all that). Honestly some of the young actors’ acting was a bit forced at times, but overall it was easy to binge-watch. And the story actually came to a conclusion! Although it left a couple loose threads, it didn’t end on some stupid gimmicky cliff-hanger! This was very refreshing. I’m sick of the J.J. Abrams-style cliffhanger nonsense, where stories never end but just warp into different questions. It’s just crappy writing. So it was awesome to see a TV season that was actually (mostly) self-contained. I look forward to the next season.

So that’s 2016 in movies and TV…

New album released into the great wide somewhere…

storybookalbum-cover-small

Yesterday I released my new album, Storybook Overture, into the wild, where it can be free and roam the mountains and valleys of magical [monetary] possibilities. It’s on bandcamp here. (You might see that I changed the cover ever so slightly, giving the background a bit of a gradient so it’s not so flat. I’m no great artist.)

At first a bandcamp release was all I had planned for, but on their uploading page they recommended DistroKid (that’s a referral link; you get 7% off, and I get a few bucks!) for getting into digital stores like iTunes, Spotify, Amazon MP3, etc. It looks like DistroKid has been around for a few years, but I had somehow never heard of them. I had used CD Baby for Voyage of the Dream Maker. CD Baby charges you a fee for each album you want to release and takes a small royalty on any income you make, the trade-off being that you never have to pay them again after the album’s set-up fee.

DistroKid, on the other hand, charges you $20 per year (for a single artist), takes no royalty at all, and allows you to upload as many albums as you want in that year. The trade-off here is that if you don’t pay another $20 next year (assuming they don’t bump up the price), your albums might be removed from the online stores. Granted, if you’re not making at least $20 a year from your releases, that’s not much of a loss. And $20 is cheaper than CD Baby’s set-up fee for a single album (and TuneCore’s prices are just awful; I’m not sure why anyone uses them).

So I decided DistroKid would be worth a try, especially since the $20 also allowed me to upload my 2014 EP, A Dream Half Lost, for no extra cost. I also hope to release at least one album in 2017. So I’ll just have to see if I can recoup that $20 within a year… and every year following, I guess, at least until I’m not so broke that it matters. This will mainly depend on people actually buying the album through iTunes or Amazon or wherever; streams make such little money, I’ll be lucky to make a few dollars. For comparison, in the last year I’ve made almost $18 through CD Baby for Voyage of the Dream Maker. That’s one half from one full album purchase and two single track purchases, and the other half from a bunch of little streams. So, if CD Baby didn’t take a small percentage, a year’s worth of revenue might just barely cover my DistroKid cost. Of course, that’s for a six year old album that’s also on bandcamp, so maybe not the best comparison. Point is, at my current level with my sort of music, paying $20 a year is still a significant cost to consider.

Anyway, if you search for them, you’ll find the album is already on iTunes and Amazon! That’s some fast distribution. (Still waiting on Spotify.)

Also, I uploaded the tracks and artwork to CreateSpace to try their CD-R service. Still awaiting approval for now. They’re a bit more expensive than Kunaki, but I think their CD-Rs also look nicer, plus they handle all distribution through Amazon themselves, so no need to worry about that. And anyway, all those expenses are passed on to whomever buys the CD. I think I listed the price at $10.99. If anyone buys the CD through Amazon, my share would only be $1.09. All the rest goes to CreateSpace and Amazon. (CreateSpace is owned by Amazon, but they’re still a separate company, so when you buy through Amazon, Amazon takes a fee on top of CreateSpace’s production costs.) Terrible margins. But better than nothing at all. Anyway, I look forward to seeing how it turns out.

So… that’s that! Feels great to finally have released a new album.

Patreon has helped a lot; knowing there are people out there not just looking forward to new material but willing to actually part with some money to support it has been very encouraging. A huge thank you to my Patreon supporters!

Second full-length album coming soon!

Storybook Overture

I hope to release my second full-length album next Friday, December 2nd, 2016. A digital version will be available through my bandcamp page, and I also hope to try releasing an audio CD through Amazon’s CreateSpace. I’ve never tried their CD service before, so I’ll be interested in how it turns out. (That might take a little longer as I don’t know how long it will take for them to send a “proof” copy… we’ll see.)

STORYBOOK OVERTURE, the title of one of the tracks, seemed like an appropriate album title, as many of the tracks were inspired by my book series, Insane Fantasy. You’ll also see I’m reusing the artwork I did for the book on the album cover.

Here’s the track list:

  1. The Storm Cometh
  2. Storybook Overture
  3. A Stargazer’s Lullaby
  4. The Stormbringer’s Apprentice
  5. Broken Wings and Distant Things
  6. Journey by Moonlight
  7. Lullaby of the Westwind Woods
  8. Secrets of the Ancient Seas
  9. September Ends
  10. Lullaby for a Quiet Village
  11. Fairytale’s End

As you can see, I’ve already released all but tracks 9 and 10 to YouTube (and track 10 will probably be my next YouTube upload). The total playtime of these tracks comes out to about 70 minutes, so it’s a pretty full album.

It’ll probably be a while before I get the album on iTunes, Spotify, etc., as it’s not really worth the cost with the amount of listens I get (less than 1,000), but I’d like it to be on iTunes and Spotify eventually. It’ll just have to wait for a bit.

Also, I’ll try to email free bandcamp download codes to any Patreon supporters I have at that time. (They can already download most of the tracks on Patreon anyway.)

Can anyone honestly explain “privilege” to me?

Seems like the Trump victory has brought out all these fears that Trump is Hitler and that there’ll be some kind of terrible purge or something. I don’t understand what sort of powers some imagine the POTUS has.

One thing that’s popping up quite a bit in my Facebook and Twitter feeds is this notion of “privilege.” I usually see it in the context of ad hominem attacks. (e.g. “You have white privilege, so you cannot understand why this or that policy is racist, and are not allowed to have an opinion on it.”) I think we can all agree that that sort of ad hominem attack gets us nowhere.

But now I’m seeing it come up in otherwise heartfelt comments seeking understanding.

So, for the sake of understanding, can someone please explain what exactly this “privilege” is?

My current understanding is that “privilege” is the idea that a person of a certain sex, race, religion, whatever, naturally experiences more societal privileges, the idea being that these are unfair and must be counteracted.

If they’re not unfair and don’t need counteracting, I’m not sure what the point of the term is. Men can pee with more convenience, for instance, and are on average naturally physically stronger and thus more capable of being construction workers or joining the army. These are “inequalities”, but they don’t make one sex superior to another.

Are these sort of inequalities considered “privilege”? Are we supposed to do something about them?

Wikipedia makes it sound like a conspiracy theory:

According to Peggy McIntosh, whites in Western societies enjoy advantages that non-whites do not experience, as “an invisible package of unearned assets”. White privilege denotes both obvious and less obvious passive advantages that white people may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice.

If it’s “invisible” and “less obvious” and distinguished from “overt bias or prejudice”, then how can we ever know it exists? It’s like Freudian analysis, defined in such a way that it can never be disproven and everything can be analyzed through its lens.

Am I supposed to believe that I have some sort of natural privilege by virtue of being a white male? What “privilege” do you think I have? Are you assuming that I have suffered less and therefore owe you something that you don’t owe me also?

Because of course all humans suffer, and suffer differently depending on their circumstances, but so what? Is suffering supposed to be equally distributed? If you feel others are suffering less than you, shouldn’t you consider that a good thing?

If you are being treated unjustly, whether or not it’s because of your sex, skin color, religion, etc. isn’t that the real issue? Such behaviors are unjust precisely because all men and women are equal in terms of natural worth. But I’m not sure I understand how sexist or racist behaviors are the results of “privilege.” They’re the result of people being sexist or racist, aren’t they?

(Or am I to assume everyone is naturally sexist and racist even if it can’t be shown, because they just are?)

If you can’t point out specific behaviors because the effects of “privilege” are more shady and invisible, then how can you blame anyone for not quite buying into the notion?

I honestly fear people are making themselves more miserable by imagining society is just naturally against them by virtue of their sex or race or whatever, and then whenever they suffer something, they blame, even if only in part, the nefarious shady “privilege” of others. But if we can’t point to specifics, even if everyone understood and agreed with the notion of “privilege”, how would anything get better?

Regardless, isn’t the “remedy” for “privilege” to just do what you should be doing anyway, which is what Christ taught? :

Jesus replied, “This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

Treat everyone with love, kindness, and respect.

Not real arguments…

“You’re racist, sexist, this-and-that-phobic, intolerant, bigoted, hateful, prejudiced, privileged, I’m offended, that’s hate-speech, etc…”

None of these are real arguments. Just personal attacks.

If there’s any silver lining in regards to Donald Trump winning the presidency, I hope that maybe, just maybe, it’s a sign that the effectiveness of these sorts of attacks is already beginning to diminish. We should be capable of having civil conversations about our disagreements without assuming that the opposition is just bigoted and hateful, naive and stupid, privileged and racist, etc.

Eh, maybe it’s only a fool’s hope. But it would be nice.

Game programming…

Last year I learned the basics of jMonkeyEngine, and though I intended to create a 2D game with it, I only ended up creating the MIDI animator mentioned in my last post. But for a tile-based 2D game, it’s really not ideal. It’s certainly capable of producing such a game, but as an engine, it’s not really designed for it, and I realized I’d have to spend a considerable amount of time just programming a custom framework for such a project.

So last month I began learning LibGDX, which is certainly better suited for the sort of tile-based 2D adventure game I’d like to create.

So here’s what I’ve got so far (the art is temporary, simply a free tile set I found out there, though I think I’ll be aiming for tiles that are 16×16 pixels as well, so this represents the size I’m hoping for):

screenshot

Doesn’t look like much, but I’m still learning and programming the basics I’ll need before I actually start programming the actual game play. What I’ve learned and/or programmed so far includes:

  • loading and displaying a tilemap (a .tmx file from Tiled)
  • dynamic window resizing (or resolution changing) without completely screwing up the aspect ratio (trickier than it may sound)
    • basically it will always render with a resolution of 1280×720, which is then rendered as a texture to whatever resolution the user sets; handy for Android devices which may feature differing resolutions which cannot be changed
  • using Ashley as an entity framework
  • using Box2D for character movement and collision detection
  • animating the character as he walks (much easier with LibGDX; I had to program a custom shader with jMonkeyEngine)
  • real-time A* pathfinding (hope to use it with NPCs)
  • text (as you can see at the bottom there) to be used with menus, dialog, etc. (nice little font called Munro) (this is also much easier with LibGDX)
  • custom shader to make object tiles “light up”

Still lots to program, but I reckon that’s an OK start. The to-do list before I can actually begin programming the actual game-play logic includes:

  • have interactable objects “light up” as the player nears them, along with a small pop up menu with available actions (pick up, talk, examine, activate, etc.)
  • design and implement a menu panel / status bar (along the black panel along the bottom)
    • this menu will switch to a “dialog mode” when the character is talking with someone (as in The Secret of Monkey Island, for example)
  • pause menu with save, load, quit, settings, etc.
  • camera movement for when the player walks off the screen
  • loading another tilemap for when the character leaves a village or enters a house, for example
  • I need to try sticking an NPC in there and having it play through some scripted material, utilizing the aforementioned A* algorithm as necessary
  • real-time combat system
    • cast a spell or swing a sword to injure attacking enemies (the combat will be simple in this game, nothing fancy)

That’s all I can think of at the moment, but that’s plenty, isn’t it?

The game itself will be pretty short; I’ve tried to keep it short on purpose since even a short game is a lot of work, especially when you’ve never done it before and don’t have a pre-existing framework your familiar with to use. If I manage to actually succeed in this endeavor, I hope it will be easier to create new adventure games and/or RPGs in a similar style without having to reprogram these basics again, at least not from scratch.

The tentative title for the game is Memory of a Thousand Kings, which began as a half-plotted fantasy novel, but I think it will work better as an adventure game.