Archive for December, 2015

So long, 2015; let's talk about what went right.

I’ve seen a lot of people talk about 2015 as a terrible, just-survive-it kind of year, and hoping next year will be better.

For us, 2015 has been a pretty good year, and not just because nobody had to overnight at the hospital. No, it wasn’t all great; some things were pretty terrible, and I could dwell on them, and would, given half a chance. It’s in a supervillain’s nature, I think. But I’d rather start 2016 concentrating on what’s gone right.

So, in that spirit – what’s gone well for you in 2015? What’s gone right?

Here’s my list. Taking it month by month:

So for us, on balance? A good year.

Your turn. What’s gone well for you in 2015? Go!

Genuinely the last call: Use cyber2015 at checkout before midnight, December 31st, for 20% off all music, including Bone Walker, the long-list Grammy Award nominated album.

Last call for 2015 discount orders

Today and tomorrow are the last days that the “cyber2015” code will work at checkout. It’s for 20% off everything on our Bandcamp site – not just Bone Walker, the long-list Grammy Award nominated album, but everything, including the Free Court of Seattle books, Faerie Blood and Bone Walker. Plus everything else on the merch page.

plus other stuff too

Also, I’ve just handed off the single to Conflikt. I wish I could just throw this out at you now, but I can’t, it’s a 2016 release and I did it for them, so I have to be good and have to wait. Which is really hard, because I’m not good at that. I MADE SHINY, LOOK AT IT!!!1! is just too much of my nature, I admit it.

ngngngngngngngh oh well. I guess I’ll just go bury myself in some other project. (but shiny!)

solarbird's machine is pretty smart, maybe we should recruit it

Found this in our webserver logs, from a CCC IP address:

(We’re far from the only one, it’s going around…)

when real life distantly echoes star wars

Just got climate control back up and running at the Lair – we’ve been on auxiliary for the last few days, which isn’t such a big deal – but it is extra work.

The problem turned out to be a failed starter capacitor for the blower system. Best case, really; trivial fix. But it means the problem, quite literally, was that this unit had a bad motivator, which – as we all know – is pretty much the only thing that ever fails ever in the entire Star Wars tech universe.


So… does this mean I’m going to have stormtroopers breathing down my neck now?

Use cyber2015 at checkout for 20% off all music, including Bone Walker, the long-list Grammy Award nominated album.

release candidate

Finished up the single, “Thirteen,” for Conflikt; I’ve got a release candidate sitting on the hard drive, just need to run it by a couple of listeners to make sure I’ve not done something foolish I haven’t noticed.

It’s pretty crunchy, which is lots of fun. Not much overdrive on the octave mandolin, but that’s because it didn’t need any – it sounds all trashed out already. ♥

It’s also the first time I’ve recorded anything on the Godin A5 fretless bass. I’m doing very little fretless-specific playing (not zero, but very little), but I’m certainly spending a lot of time hanging out on the low fifth string. Subwoofers will have things to do. n/

I also experimented with a new technique, recording both a clean bass take and a take through a couple of really cool efx pedals and an amp that clearly wants to be making cookie monster metal, then mixing together. That was awesome.

I think I felt like making a statement here. I’m really proud of Bone Walker, but elfmetal it ain’t, particularly not in the “metal” category. This is kind of resetting that pointer a bit. Recalibrating.

I’d like to link you to the track, but I can’t, because first, it’s still an RC, not a released track, and second, it’s going to premiere at Conflikt, so they get it first, and third, I kind of have to ask permission from the person whose song I’m covering (with new lyrics) here – I got permission to use it for Conflikt, but not to put it up as a free download after. I just didn’t think about it. But I think they’ll say okay, I just have to ask first.

Now to see if I can get “We’re Not Friends” to come together in time for rehearsals. I sure hope so, it’s got a hell of a lot of good parts!

Use cyber2015 at checkout for 20% off all music, including Bone Walker, the long-list Grammy Award nominated album.

machete order, redux

As I said yesterday – machete order doesn’t help the prequels. It really doesn’t.

But it does help Return of the Jedi. I’m really surprised by that. If you manage to make it through Revenge of the Sith, if you manage to get to that moment where suddenly these actually are people, making terrible mistakes with terrible consequences, the whole Luke/Vader/Emperor conflict both makes more actual sense and finally – finally! – has emotional resonance.

Bear with me for a minute here, because oh yeah, I’m going to explain this.

First, the smaller point: Luke is right. I don’t mean about Vader/Anakin, leave that aside for a minute. I’m talking about Palpatine.

“Your overconfidence is your weakness,” Luke says, when he’s presented to the Emperor. Without knowing how we got here – without knowing how Vader got here – that doesn’t have a lot of impact. It’s a throwaway line, a bluff.

But we know how carefully Palpatine groomed Anakin, and how deep his plans ran at even the last critical moment in Anakin’s conversion, and how calculating Palpatine was. Leave aside what of it does and doesn’t make sense in the real world – last time, he was being careful. By Star Wars standards, he was being delicate, and deft. He can be; he has been; we’ve seen it.

Now, in Jedi, he thinks he doesn’t have to be. He can bash Luke about the head with blunt force mocking and goading. Frankly, it’s sloppy, and you really don’t see how it can be effective if Luke has any actual choice in the matter at all.

In other words, the Emperor is monumentally overconfident. He’s completely sure in his power, and convinced of the idea that Luke has no actual choice. If he’s right, he doesn’t need to do anything more; he can, in fact, rub Luke’s face in it, which is exactly what he’s doing.

It now, at last, makes sense. His overconfidence really is his weakness.

Second, the larger point: Anakin was a douchebag. But while Anakin the Douchebag was a jackass with delusions of grandeur – delusions those arrogant pricks the Jedi of the Republic fostered, I might add – he wasn’t evil. He demanded things he hadn’t earned, he was far too interested in power, we put up with his whinging and complaining and and and and and and all of these are qualities not of an abstraction, but of a person.

And in Sith, at least, you buy into that person as real.

So now we know who Luke is trying to talk to. We know there’s somebody in there who fucked up, and fucked up bad, and knows it. (And that that last is pretty much text from Jedi – “it is too late, for me.”) We’ve met the person Luke is convinced still hides somewhere inside the breathy monolith which is Darth Vader. We know who he was and how he got there, and we know that he didn’t like it.

So when Luke steps up to the same precipice that Anakin stepped up to all those years before, and we see him step back where Anakin fell, it means more than it did as a solo act. We saw his father fail; we see Luke succeed.

And that’s all fine and good, and already means more than it did, but that’s not all we see. We also see Luke reach down and pull Anakin back. Luke pulls Anakin out of Darth, and he’s fully there, for the first time in decades.

And the thing is, it’s not to redemption. It’s not that simple. Darth/Anakin is also right, when he says it is too late for him. He can’t undo all the horrors he helped create. He can’t wipe that slate clean, force ghost or no force ghost, I say.

But Anakin can make a second decision. He can’t undo his crimes, but he can sacrifice himself – his power, his life – to keep it all from happening again, to someone else. He can’t save himself, perhaps, but Luke aside, there is another, and now that matters, because even if Luke dies unfallen, Leia is next.

And Anakin can stop it.

That realisation – not the Emperor’s lazy, juvenile taunting – is what pushed Luke to the edge of the precipice; it’s also what pulled Anakin back up towards it, to where Luke could grab him, and pull him, impossibly, back over, back out of the dark. Not to undo the horrors he’s committed, but to stop them from happening again.

And none of that complexity is there without the backstory, particularly as presented in the machete order. At the end of Empire, Darth Vader is as scary a creature as he’s ever going to be. Without knowing how we got here, we have to take Luke at his word and hope he’s right, and when he doesn’t step into that chasm, it seems the obvious choice, and the Emperor’s attempts to “convert” him seem… frankly silly. Anakin’s restoration seems shallow. Only the menace of Darth Vader carried those scenes – before.

But now we see that there’s a lot more going on. That missing chunk of context – or that added chunk of backstory, as you feel you prefer – changes the film, far more so than any of Lucas’s clumsy Special Edition horseshit.

With all that new knowledge, that machete order knowledge, the crux of Return of the Jedi no longer feels empty. It’s now solid, it now bears weight – at long last, it has emotional import. There are actual stakes, there is actual dramatic risk, and because of that, you can actually care.

And that’s something I think everyone agrees was kind of difficult the first time around.

I can’t think of many cases where a terrible film and a… pretty mediocre film with flashes of quality, I suppose… made an already decent film meaningfully better. I can certainly think of the opposite. But that’s the situation we have here. The machete order really, really throws it all in front of you, in ways the official order wouldn’t. It’s a rough third course, it really is – but the finish is so much better for it.

So I guess I can’t really believe I’m saying this, but… if you like the original trilogy… you really should watch the prequels. Or, at least, two of the three, specifically in the Machete order. Because what really gets redeemed by all this nonsense isn’t Anakin, or the Republic, or even any of that whole fictional universe…

What’s redeemed, at long last, is Return of the Jedi – a film which finally, years later, no longer has any apologies to make.

Use cyber2015 at checkout for 20% off all music, including Bone Walker, the long-list Grammy Award nominated album.

machete order

Here are the Lair, we’ve been re-watching Star Wars in the Machete order – the first two of the original trilogy, the second two of the “prequels” as an extended flashback, and finally Return of the Jedi – before seeing the new film.

We just watched Revenge of the Sith, which I’d never seen. Attack of the Clones was it for me, when they first came out – I was done.

And… as everyone said, Sith is by far the least bad of the prequel trilogy. I was expecting that. And I was going along with it, letting some of the dumbest shit go, and seeing how some things actually kind of worked kind of okay, even if other things often didn’t, and then, we’re getting seriously into the meat of the film, and…

…I swear to the gods I was not expecting this…

…there is a moment of cinema. Actual, honest, sincere, working cinema. No dialogue, nearly no action, just camera, just actors being allowed – for once! – to act, and it is beautiful.

And it punched me in the gut. Hard. Partly because for the first time, I felt some kind of emotional connection to these characters. Woah, Not Expecting That, as they say. Partly because a critical relationship is sold to me, for the only time. Partly because bad decisions are being made that will create the situation we see later, and I buy that, too. But mostly…

…mostly because, goddammit, it showed, it showed through, it showed clear, that somewhere, somehow, lost inside that pompous egomaniac, that delusional businessman hooked on his own legend, that raving CGI-set addict who couldn’t direct actors to find lunch

…there is still a filmmaker. It hurts. I started yelling, no, really, I did, at Anna, going, “WHAT THE HELL? WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED? THAT WAS CINEMA, WHAT? HOW? WHAT IS IT DOING IN THIS MESS?”

And it’s just such a goddamn shame there’s no Luke Skywalker around to make him realise that.

Revenge of the Sith is still not a good film. One precious moment of genuine art does not salvage what otherwise succeeds merely by virtue of not being wretched. There are several moments of competence, and several near-misses – and this time, there really are enough bones to make a good film. You can tell. You really can see it, in this one – partly, I think, because for one, brief moment, it actually is a good film.

Which makes the rest even harder to take.

Goddammit, George. Gods dammit.

Use cyber2015 at checkout for 20% off all music, including Bone Walker, the long-list Grammy Award nominated album.

Ain't No Rest for the Wicked

Remember that video I mentioned shooting a part for? It’s up! This is Mary Crowell, or more specifically Doctor Mary Crowell who didn’t go to Evil Medical School for all those years to be called “Misses, doing a jazz cover of “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” Enjoy:

It’s funny how an afternoon’s shoot gets distilled. 1:13-1:18, and 2:52-3:01, if you’re curious. But watch the whole thing, particularly for Zombie Chef and Zombie 10th Doctor, they’re both pretty great. 😀

Use cyber2015 at checkout for 20% off all music, including Bone Walker, the long-list Grammy Award nominated album.


Actual winter solstice is in a few hours. It’s longestnight.

I made the candle myself, out of cheese rind and cotton thread. See you in the morning.

3d printed working gear cube

Check this printed toy out. It doesn’t look like all that much for the first minute but the thing actually moves.

Recorded “scratch tracks” for “Supervillain For I Love You” yesterday, prep work for the big show at Conflikt in January. It’s basically so the other people who will be in the band for that show can learn it.

Also comped the bass tracks for “Thirteen.” This time bass tracks doesn’t mean multiple bass lines, tho’ you certainly know I’ve done that before. This time, it means one “dry” (no-effects) track and one “wet” (effects) track, which I then mix together in a ratio.

Normally the “wet” and “dry” are in one track, generated live via plugins. But in this case it’s actually two separate performances, because the effects I’m using – a really crunchy bass amp, an overdrive box, a little bit of old-school chorusing – are all external to my computer. So I’m treating the recording of that external-effected performance as an effect in and of itself, putting it in a separate recording track, and mixing with the “dry” bass guitar recording.

One neat side-benefit is that since once they’re both in the DAW they’re basically just two recordings, I can edit how long it takes each individual note’s instance of the “effect” to show up. It’s kind of like being able to set the pre-delay on a per note basis. I’m not doing much of that because in practice it’d be weird to do so, but there are a couple of places where it makes aural sense to loosen and tighten up the crunch timing. So hey, extra work, but bonus nonetheless!

Best part of this bass line tho’ is – well, there are two things. One: first recording of the Godin A5 Fretless that Anna got me for Bassmas last year. Two: crunky as fuck. Okay, so, three. Three things. Three: So goddamn deep. I am using all of this fifth string. Seriously, this entire bass line is being played on the bottom two strings of a five.

aw yeah. deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep bassing.

Use cyber2015 at checkout for 20% off all music, including Bone Walker, the long-list Grammy Award nominated album.

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