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Month: February 2010

Album continues to be worked on…

Just a little status update on my album…

I’m currently working on reorchestrating and mixing and writing an ending for my 15-minute piece Castle Sky, which will be the second-to-last track on the album.  In my humblest of opinions, it has some of my most delicious melodies.  (Is that humble?)  Then I only have a few other tracks to reorchestrate a bit, then the rest of this album work will be “post-production” I guess.  Almost there!

By the way, I did hire a fantasy artist to create the album cover image, and I think it looks awesome… there be dragons…

Oh, and on an entirely different note, I was playing chess on Google Wave yesterday and discovered that the chess applet really stinks; I couldn’t promote my pawn to a queen!  How is anybody supposed to play a proper game of chess with software like that?  Your pawn just gets stuck at the end of the board.  Very lame!  Whoever programmed it should be ashamed!  Though I realize Wave is still in beta, blah blah blah…  Maybe later I will post some of my games (and maybe some of my games from high school) with comments about them.

Wrote a new short story

I just finished reading Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show (v. 1) — a collection of short stories from his online magazine.  I haven’t read that many short story anthologies, but of the ones I have read, this is definitely one of the best.  Plenty of really awesome sci-fi and fantasy short stories in here.  I really enjoyed all the stories, but the ones I especially thought were awesome were Audience by Ty Franck, The Box of Beautiful Things by Brian Dolton, and Taint of Treason by Eric James Stone.  And, being an Ender fan, all of the Ender universe stories by Orson Scott Card were great.

While reading Taint of Treason, I got a sudden idea for a short story myself, and quickly wrote it while it was fresh in my mind.  It’s only about 1,900 words; I think that’s that shortest short story I’ve ever written (not that I’ve written very many).  It’s called Maker of the Twenty-first Moon and is about a man who sets out to kill a wizard before he takes over the world.  Doesn’t that sound great?

I guess that’s really all I wanted to say today.

Paul Williams writes article about nothing

Does music need “professional” musicians?

Paul Williams, the songwriter and current president of ASCAP, recently wrote this article.  It’s pretty short, but one thing is missing from it: a point.  The only point I can see is that “piracy is bad.”  Well, duh.

Anyway, I’m going to go off on a little tangent here.  I think at some point in the future (perhaps still hundreds of years away) people will no longer be able to make a living off of writing music.  One reason is quite simple: computers will write music.  People won’t need to.  People will continue to write music, though, because it’s fun.  People being able to make a living off of writing music is, from what I can tell, a pretty recent phenomenon in the history of human existence.  (As are the sorts of economies we have now, for that matter.)  The creation of beautiful music doesn’t depend on people making a living off of it.  The reason people defend and fight for being able to make a living off of it is because it’s a dream come true! Being able to make a living off of doing something you love is just fantastic.  (At least, I imagine; it still hasn’t happened to me yet, but I’m working on it!)

So, I’ll whole-heartedly agree that piracy is bad, and I’ll defend protocols and systems that try to counter it (as long as they don’t get in the way of what us legitimate non-pirates want to do, which they do too often), but I won’t do this in defense of the music.  The music will always exist.  Piracy is bad for moral reasons, not monetary reasons.  Well, it is bad for monetary reasons, but I’m not against it just because I want more $$$$, like perhaps a number of other composers and publishers (and PROs?).

My automatic music generator

Recently, I’ve been continuing work on my computer program that will, if my daydreams come true, write music.  OK, it’s still such a difficult task that I probably won’t live to see (or hear) it work, but it’s still a puzzling challenge that obsesses me sometimes.  Anyway, I spent the day thinking about new algorithms to try out.  To help me do this, I began writing a semi-fictional dialogue.  In it, I appear as a character and I meet with William Wobbler, a character from my recently finished screenplay The Melody Box.  The two of us then contemplate how to create a computer program that can write music.  It’s a lot of fun to write, and if I ever succeed at my goal of creating this program and if it makes me insanely rich (a dream that motivates me), then I will someday release it to the public so that everyone can learn how it was done, and how my thought process worked while creating it.  Or if I die having failed (which is more likely), I can leave it for generations after me to perhaps have something to work with (though the possibility remains that it is and will forever be useless garbage, but, I don’t know, somebody out there might read it).

I guess that’s it.  I have to go back to work tomorrow.  Snow got me an entire week off, but the vacation’s over now!  (The week off did give me a torturous glimpse of what life might be like if I could ever make enough money writing or composing to work from home.  I risk becoming a hermit then, but it’s still something I cannot stop myself from desiring.)

Short Anathem review

I finished reading Neal Stephenson’s lengthy novel Anathem a short while ago.  I’ve never read anything by Stephenson before, but I’ve seen his books at the library and bookstores, and they’ve always looked interesting.  This is the first one I actually decided to go ahead and read.

For someone who’s never read a Stephenson novel before and didn’t know what to expect, it’s pretty brilliant.  My mind is still a bit tired from trying to understand it all.  I doubt I’ll ever be able to, since I sort of disagree with the directions in which he takes quantum physics (another one of those “it implies the existence of parallel universes!” things, which I guess works in this science fiction setting, but from a real science point of view, I’m not convinced; not that I’m a quantum physics expert of course).  But the book is filled with very engaging topics on physics and philosophy, and Stephenson’s prose on the topics is very readable.  So even if you’re new to the topics he discusses, it’s not like reading a scholarly journal on the topic with weirdo lingo.  It might be hard to grasp some of the concepts, but that will be because of the concepts themselves (like parallel universes) and not because of the writing.  I honestly think Stephenson could write some pretty awesome nonfiction books if he so desired, and easily replace this little Godel, Escher, Bach part of my bookshelf.

I do have one minor complaint, which includes a bit of a spoiler.  So if you’re planning on reading the book, read no further so that I do not taint your opinions.

I thought the ending was weak.  Actually, I Googled around, and it seems this is not an uncommon thought for Stephenson’s work in general.  What was the climax?  It builds up to it and then we’re in the epilogue.  I could write a much more lengthy post about why I think it was weak and what I’d do to improve it, but my mind is too tired for that.  And, being a wannabe writer myself, I’ll admit that endings are probably the hardest part to please others with.  And, from a reader’s perspective, I’m generally displeased with endings anyway.  I think the best ending I know of is the ending to Ender’s Game, which I read back in 2007 (and was written back in 1985 I think?).  The only other books I thought had acceptable endings were The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick and Anvil of the World by Kage Baker (who, sadly, just passed away last month).  All the other fiction books I’ve read had either weak endings, or “to be continued” endings, which I guess don’t really count, do they?

Overall, though, Anathem is still a brilliant piece, and I will definitely be reading some more Neal Stephenson some time.

Album update

We got about a foot of snow on Saturday, so I got off work all weekend and Monday.  Woohoo!  That was awesome.  Loved it.

It also gave me some time to work a bit more an my album, so here’s a little update on that as I get closer and closer to finishing this thing…

Some hours ago, I finished composing the last measures of a piece called A New Journey Begins which will be the last track on the album.  I have one more track to finish composing called Castle Sky.  That’s the one that’s over 15 minutes long.  I’m almost done; I just have to reorchestrate some things and compose an ending.

The album will be called Voyage of the Dream Maker, named after one of the tracks, and I think the name fits the spirit of the entire album.  It will have 12 tracks, over an hour of original music, most likely in the following order (you’ll recognize some of them from my YouTube channel, if you’re familiar with my YouTube channel):

1. Across the Kingdom
2. I Will Not Go Home Again
3. Voyage of the Dream Maker
4. The Secret Lullaby
5. Awaken
6. White Castle Waltz
7. The Dragon King
8. On the Edge of a Dream
9. Clockwork
10. Seeing Infinity
11. Castle Sky
12. A New Journey Begins

I can say with 90% certainty that the album will be available in May.  That might seem like a while (around 3 months), but that’s being gracious with myself; it might be out sooner.  I of course want it to be out as soon as possible, but I also want to be pleased with it.  Even after I finish composing, I want to go back through all the track recordings and tidy up everything as best I can, mixing/mastering, blah blah blah, whatever.  There’s the graphics for the jewel case and CD.  Then there’s the actual physical manufacturing and CD Baby processing.

And… that’s it, I guess.  So if you have to mark your calendars, I think May is a very safe bet.  Again, might be sooner.  Some of the process is of course out of my hands.

Why In Fact Publishing Will Not Go Away Anytime Soon: A Play in One Act

CHARACTERS:

ELTON P. STRAÜMANN, a modern-thinking man with exciting ideas
SEAN, a humble wannabe writer

Act I

SCENE OPENS ON STRAÜMANN and SEAN, standing.

STRAÜMANN: Do you want to buy this self-published book?

SEAN: No.

STRAÜMANN: Obama is awesome.

CURTAIN FALLS

John Scalzi wrote a longer version on his blog that goes into a bit more detail on the subject, but really I think it just comes down to marketing, and the whole business of that.  A catchy professional-looking cover is part of marketing.  Potential readers have to expect that your book will be well-edited.  And having bookstore shelf-space is pretty huge.

Scalzi seems to miss one thing (which is not to say he doesn’t believe it; I just didn’t notice him mentioning it): a self-published book is NOT automatically worse than a professionally published one.

That said, from my few observations, self-published books definitely TEND to be of lower quality.  The few self-published books I’ve looked at have been so unspeakably awful that I’ve lost most faith in them.  I’m not very likely to buy one.  Ever.  At least if things stay as they are in terms of quality.  See this older post.

That said, I do think there are unpublished writers out there somewhere who’s works of fiction I would enjoy immensely; I do not believe publishers and editors are the almighty gods of determining what writing is good and bad.  I am that god.

So what self-publishers really need if they want to prove Scalzi wrong (though the character Scalzi created would never be so adept) is to 1) actually polish their writing (I think editors are a huge help, but not the end all be all, and certainly NOT the reason publishing will not die soon) and 2) market better.  Now, how exactly one “markets better” is a huge subject, and not one that I claim to have much of a clue about.  However, starting a Twitter following campaign is probably not the way to go.  If you are dumb enough to market like that, then of course your writing must be garbage.  (As in many arts, it’s a lot easier to recognize what not to do.)

It would be nice if there was a way for self-published books that aren’t garbage to get noticed more easily.  I’m sure there are some people out there working on this problem, perhaps through blogs or sites that review self-published stuff, or at least track sales.  And there’s the whole book-podcasting thing.

But can self-publishers ever market with the power of the big publishers?  I don’t see how, unless they just overwhelm the market with quality content, which I can’t see happening.  The big publishers have the money to market.  If your self-published book does well and a publisher becomes interested in your material, you’d have to be a complete idiot to refuse… and though you’d benefit from that, you’re also making them stronger.  Not that that’s bad.

All this talk kind of makes me want to be a publisher… but I can’t really afford such a gamble right now.

The only other thing that remains to be seen is the effect of book piracy.  When publishers aren’t making money, will that even the playing field?  Will there be enough pirates to do that?  How popular will ebook readers become?  I still think ebook readers and ebooks are a bit of a rip-off, so I don’t see myself switching any time soon.  I can’t predict the future very well (I thought the iPhone sounded like a dumb idea… (so does the iPad for that matter…) but I was right about blu-rays winning the high-def format war) but if a lot people think like me, ebooks and ebook readers will either have to become drastically cheaper, or remain about as popular as they are now, which doesn’t seem very (though enough that publishers are continuing to pursue it).  But… who can know?

A rather lengthy aside: if ebooks do become much more popular, I have a very very tough time believing publishers and distributors wouldn’t have to change their business models drastically.  If I were a published author, and the publisher and distributor were no longer dealing with a bunch of physical inventory, then their roles would be completely different.  I’m not even sure why I should need the distributor at all if all they’re doing is hosting digital files, besides to make my book easier to find.  But shelf space becomes infinite.  And certainly the publisher shouldn’t need as much $$$$ if they don’t have to deal with paper.  Look at this recent fight between Macmillan and Amazon regarding ebook prices.  Macmillan wants to charge $15 for some ebooks?  What morons out there are buying ebooks for that price?  (I shudder to think.)  I have to side with Amazon on the issue… but even $9.99 is too much… what in the world are publishers thinking?! I guess they just don’t how to work this business yet and are trying to be safe… and rip people off while they can… (Or are they trying to counter ebook piracy losses early on?  And punish the legitimate buyers?  Nah…)

Another aside, as I browse Scalzi’s blog… Scalzi wrote about the Amazon vs. Macmillan and wrote a post about supporting authors.  I guess I might seem cold-hearted, but… NO.  Ever hear the phrase “don’t quit your day job”?  Yeah, well… Not that I think stealing is the way to go, but when I buy a book, it’s a trade for my benefit, not the author’s.  If you [authors] want more $$$$, maybe find a way to cut out the middle men with all this new technology?  Oh, but no, you don’t want that… well don’t go whining about financial troubles to me then.  (Not that Scalzi is really whining, I’m just being dramatic.)  If Amazon’s move was against authors (as Scalzi seems to claim), it was also for readers.  So are the authors against readers?! What do authors think about Macmillan’s pricing?  If they think $15 for an ebook is OK, then I’m not sure I want to read their books because they obviously don’t mind being published by a company who would like to rip-off customers.  Thanks!  Don’t ask us, the audience, to do something about it.  You do something about it.  You’re the ones getting paid.

OK, I digress…

Anyway, to sum up my point, publishers won’t go away anytime soon simply because most people who buy books buy them from professional publishers.  That’s really all it comes down to.

Now you must admit that my play is better than Scalzi’s, right?