I was at a bit of a loss when Griph asked me to write a guest post for him, considering I've spent the past week in low content mode over at my own site. I couldn't turn the kid down, though, because we -- along with fellow guest-posters Drinky and CJ -- been internet pals since the days when we frequented the forums of Drinky's old Zeroes Unlimited page.
After that petered out, we briefly migrated to a Audiogalaxy group where we discussed and shared our favorite tunes while doing our bit to destroy the music industry (and every time I hear mention of Lady Gaga's or Katy Perry's latest crime against pop, I wish to Christ we succeeded in that).
I still have a folder containing the various songs we shared amongst ourselves back at the turn of the millennium, which I've used as the basis of the following playlist of grainy user-uploaded video content:
Lene Lovich - Lucky Number - A stunning reminder of how wonderful and weird early "new wave" was before the meaningless catch-all term became indelibly associated with British prettyboys and canned synth riffs.
45 Grave - Wax - I was a pretty strong advocate for 45 Grave back in the day, despite the fact that a lot of their songs really don't do that much for me. Looking back, I think I was more enamored by the idea of the band -- female-fronted 80's deathrock (Los Angelesian for "goth") -- that the actual results.
UK Decay - Unexpected Guest - Some more seminal spookhouse stuff, this time from the forgotten pioneers of the British scene....well, "forgotten" in as much as much of the band's output was out-of-print and difficult to find. The audio in the clip is extremely rough, but if you think "Bela Lugosi's Dead" is the pinnacle of musicical accomplishment, hunt down a studio version of "Unexpected Guest." You won't regret it.
Wall of Voodoo - Red Light - Dark Continent, the long out-of-print (and recently reissued) debut LP is one of the best albums ever recorded. Period.
Black Box Recorder - England Made Me - Even as I was schooling my juniors in the music of yore, I was being schooled about a lot of great tracks that had somehow slipped past my radar. This one came from Drinky, an ardent fan of The Auteurs and Luke Haines's subsequent efforts to repudiate the Britpop scene he helped lay the foundation for.
This guest-post is by Drinky of "Backup Control Room". Perfect!
If you've more than a passing interest in video games, you've likely heard of Steel Battalion, a 2002 mech combat game for the Xbox; the game was infamous for both its $200 price point (which, to be fair, bought you both the game and what was and is perhaps the most complex game-specific set of controls ever sold at retail) and for the fact that, if a player failed to eject from a critically damaged mech, the fictional player-character's "death" would be mirrored in that the real-world player's save file would be erased. Video games are, almost across the board, understood to be "try, try again" sort of affairs—indeed, someone playing through the recently released indie title VVVVVV may expect to "die" literally hundreds of times before completing the story—and player death generally has little lasting consequence. The real price of death, generally speaking, is repetition, is irritation: having to spend the time and effort running through points X and Y and Z again to return to the state of play immediately preceding that last death, so as to have another crack at whatever beast or chasm laid one low.
Steel Battalion's save-file deletion—a consequence with a potential price tag of dozens of hours, rather than a handful of minutes here or there—is positively coddling of the player, however, compared to 1986's Sub Mission, a game published for the Apple II and IBM PCjr by Mindscape. Here's the basic gist: an otherwise unnamed extraterrestrial Warlord has trapped two human beings, Signourny (sic) and Peter, and is forcing you to play submarine wargames for their lives. The object, of course, is to load them onto these submarines and find an escape route, and the catch is that if either Sigourny or Peter die, they—such as "they" ever were or could be—are erased from the game diskette.
A little history's important here: this was back before installing games to a hard drive was common practice. Games were usually played off the original disks and whatever changes were made—deaths, high scores, etc.—were made directly to the original. This explains, for example, the now-infamous (again, this assumes membership in and/or knowledge of certain subcultural circles, but bear with me) epitaph "Here lies andy / peperony and chease", a child's joking reference to an old frozen pizza commercial saved to an Oregon Trail disk that was eventually imaged and distributed widely online: if you've played an "abandonware" copy of Oregon Trail, you've probably seen "andy"'s grave, which means you're playing a copy of the disk that that kid, now more or less lost to history, played with way back in 198X.
Sub Mission allowed the player to pilot her submarines with robot drones instead of her precious and limited human personnel, which was a thoughtful concession to what appears to be—I've skimmed through the manual and this appears to be, especially for its time, an involved little game—a formidable learning curve. However, the player's not going to be able to find the escape route using robots alone, and eventually she's going to have to bite the bullet and actually send Sigourny and Peter to and through that escape route, once it's been found, so the inevitable high stakes gamble can only be delayed for so long. However...
"If Sigourny or Peter dies during a war game, you can resurrect each of them one time only. The “Emergency Instructions” envelope included with this package contains a special command that allows you to bring each of them back to life once"—Sub Mission manual, pg. 7
The manual goes on to say that if either or both of them die yet again, the player may submit "the special petition at the end of this manual" along with her disk to "the Space Commissioner" for another shot at things. Presumably, "the Space Commissioner" was in the employ of Mindscape, and the petition may well have involved more than a politely-worded request and the appropriate supplication: Wikipedia claims that Sub Mission "required gamers to purchase a replacement disk if they lost the mission three times". Comparatively speaking, "horse armor" looks like the ticket redemption counter at Chuck E. Cheese; a publisher attempting such a gimmick in this day and age would likely be flensed.
It's unknown, of course, if Sub Mission's title is an intentional pun on its unforgiving handling of risk and death. It's worth noting, though, that the game was developed by an outfit called Tom Snyder Productions; they're still around, making educational software for Scholastic these days, but Tom Snyder himself went on to become the executive producer of both Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist and Home Movies. Take from that what you will.
Due to technical difficulties, the rest of this week will be fueled by my good friends and fellow bloggers who have kindly obliged me by filling in while I take care of personal matters.
See you next week, folks!
Considering how haunted the 1950s were by the Red Wraith of Atomic Armageddon, it is amazing that the Dorothy Gray cosmetics company took it upon themselves to claim they irradiated a human being in the name of cold cream superiority. Real or not, the model's split-second look of genuine confusion and discomfort at the clicking Geiger counter thrust toward her face says it all.
Below is the “Tommy Pickles and the Great White Thing”, the unaired pilot to Rugrats, which was one of Nickelodeon's most popular cartoons. This is the primeval origin of over 350 episodes which aired over the course of eleven years and continued into several films and spinoffs.
If you've ever watched the show, especially the later seasons, take a look at the huge, huge differences in the animation direction. There's an obvious and overt flow to the animation that's rendered much more naturally/realistically in the later seasons. Here, the characters' limbs are elongated, the facial expressions are much more adult and emphasized to expressionistic levels, and the viewing angles are both regularly canted and make heavy use of perspective distortion. All this, well, weirdness is the hallmark of a single animation director you may be familiar with. Have you guessed who it is? How about a hint...
Above: Rugrats, “Tommy Pickles and the Great White Thing”
Below: Aeon Flux, “Gravity”
The director is none other than Aeon Flux's Peter Chung. Chung has, of course, much more to his credit than Aeon Flux, but that series shows off his design and directorial skills like none other. And this Rugrats pilot makes it obvious just how well he can carry his personal technique over into non-action-oriented content.
Suburban L.A. was not the most exciting of places to live without a job or a car. One spring day, I decided to develop a hobby. Down I went, hoofing it through three parking lots, to the local Wal-Mart. I picked up some undershirts, fabric paint and printing paper which had glue on the back, like a post-it note. Utilizing my awesome Photoshop skills and my girlfriend's pen-knife, I made some t-shirts. As far as original designs go, this was my crowning achievement. I did not use a pre-made stencil, although I'll admit that Jack Kirby's art takes to stenciling better than most:
Unfortunately, I only later realized that undershirts show off pit stains like they're proud of it. Gross. I still have the stencil, however and here's the PSD in case anyone wants to make a Galactus shirt of their own. There's two layers, each to be printed on a separate sheet to form the head. The text was just a standard stencil font.
Okay, now here is how you make it. It requires:
- Sticker paper
- A small paint roller
- Fabric paint
- A pen knife
- A t-shirt
- A smooth, thick surface that can be slipped inside the t-shirt - I've found that hardcover textbooks are perfect for this.
- Print each layer of the PSD on a separate page of sticker paper.
- Make the stencil by cutting the dark sections out of the sticker paper with the pen knife.
- Slip a surface inside the shirt so that it splays out. (I've found hardcover textbooks are perfect for this.)
- Align and apply the two halves of the stencil to the shirt.
- Paint over the stencil with the roller until you can no longer see the color of the t-shirt beneath the paint.
- Carefully peel off the stencil.
- Let dry overnight. Do not remove surface inside t-shirt until dry.
Rather than write a blog entry between classes, as I usually do, today I spent the free campus hours hanging out with a bunch of new school chums to get my mind off the issues which ended with me beginning this blog entry at eight minutes to midnight. Now, due to my Johnny-come-lately college career, these folks are all, on average, about five years younger than me. No big deal, except for the fact that hanging out with people younger than me has been the exception and not the rule for most of my life. So, in the spirit of this previous post, I'm going to have 20-year-old Griph put some of his circa-2005 music choices (NB: 20-year-old Griph is usually far too drunk to actually write anything, sadly.) Enjoy.
“Sweet Little Sixteen” - Silicon Teens
“Engine Driver” (Live 2005) - The Decemberists
“Can't Go Wrong Without You” - His Name is Alive
In 1982, a representative from Corwood industries (a/k/a Sterling Smith, a/k/a/ Jandek) released his fourth album, Chair Beside a Window. The album included a track entitled “Nancy Sings” which featured a new vocalist, known only as “Nancy.” From the above link:
Nancy was … a southern Ohio cosmopolitan hillbilly type who ran across my path one day and I asked her to sing what I had written as I played the guitar. There were no notes or anything and she just picked up the paper with words and sang and I played guitar as simple as that!
-Sterling Smith in a personal letter to Irwin Chusid, December 1982.
An amazing blog post was recently brought to my attention. I'll quote directly:
Chris Supranowitz [a] researcher at The Insitute of Optics at the University of Rochester...has decided to look at the relatively boring grooves of a vinyl record using the institute’s electron microscope.
If you follow the link above, there are a few more photos, including a stereoscopic one, if you just so happen to have a pair of those old-school red/blue glasses sitting around. You know, from that golden summer of '54, when you took Susie Q out to see the 3D version of Them!
The scans immediately reminded me of a now-abandoned software project I stumbled upon, almost a decade years old at this point. In 2002, a gentleman named Ofer Springer created the Digital Needle, a program which read high-resolution scans of vinyl records and played the music. The world's first Virtual Gramophone. The recordings are recognizable - especially if you know what Vivaldi's Four Seasons sounds like - but sound like a warped record played into a ham radio whose signal was then bounced off the moon:
Now, while we're talking about vinyl, I'd like to take a second for an Editorial Piece. Hip Bands need to cease this obnoxious vinyl exclusivity fetishism. This is 2010. There is no reason outside of misplaced pretension to release your music on a solitary, grossly archaic medium; pretension belongs in your music, not containing it. Now, I don't mind the fact that new albums and re-releases are coming out on vinyl. Back in high school, I had a record player and a big ol' stack of 60s and 70s records. They were fun to play and it was a blast to have this new format to mess around with. What bugs me is the fact that certain are releasing only on vinyl. It's like straight-up permission to steal their music, and even then I have to wait. I move around. I'm not careful. I have neither the time nor the energy to collect and preserve fragile, temperature-sensitive pieces of plastic and keep a decently-functioning record player equipped a needle that doesn't give my LPs the life-span of those exploding tapes from Mission Impossible. At least put your shit out on digital. And I don't mean iTunes. I mean just a regular ole MP3. At 256 kbps, preferably, if not 320. Or how about FLAC? I don't care for FLAC as a preveservational medium, but I'll encode the shit myself to my own preference.
This is one of the most [BLEEP] amazing pieces of [BLEEP] children's television I have ever [BLEEP] seen. Now this isn't only due the puritanical nature of American television having made the censor-bleep funnier and more obscene than any swear word one could imagine - just watch Jon Stewart for irrefutable proof of this. And it is not just because this episode of a children's show features a bunch of kids throwin' cusses like Ice Cube on a bender. No, the best part is that swearing is treated like the Dune film's Weirding Module: you say it, shit blows up but good.