Marxism by Thomas Sowell (4/10)

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I got this as an audiobook, hoping to get a decent overview of what Marxism is without having to actually read Marx himself. Even though this was by Thomas Sowell, who usually is really insightful, I was alternately bored and confused by most of it. Marxist ideology feels like the ramblings of a pompous yet incoherent art critic.

The Music Studio Instrument Samples

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I recently took the time to sample all of the default sounds from the Apple IIgs music composition program The Music Studio for use with my new sampler. The sounds were recorded directly out of my IIgs via an Applied Engineering sound card and into the Octatrack. I then took the WAV files into my PC and cleaned up the audio a bit. The IIgs outputs a rather noisy signal.

The samples are organized into four sets: Jazz, Rock, Classical and Voices. Each set has about fifteen instruments and each instrument was sampled at six octaves of C. Jazz also contains a couple drum kits which I broke apart and sliced into eight notes each. I tried to create nice evenly sliced sample chains but they are a tad off so they require a little manual tweaking after auto-slicing them.

The Music Studio was one of the first music composition programs I ever used. Certainly, it was the best one I had used up until that time. Technically, the first would have been Will Harvey’s Music Construction Set on the Apple ][+ with a Mockingboard sound card, but I don’t think any of my compositions from that program have survived (I’ll have to dig around my old disks one of these days). Fortunately(?), my IIgs compositions have survived and have been imaged and archived. Now such classics as “Kill Your Mama” and “Robert is Coll” have been preserved for the ages. Most of what we did in The Music Studio was transcribe my brother’s heavy metal guitar tab sheet music. So there’s a lot of G’n’R and Metallica riffs.

What made the program so cool (or “coll” if your are my typo prone teen aged self) was the inclusion of drum sounds. In hindsight, really bad drum sounds but drums nonetheless. It was my first real go at creating electronic music. I had no idea how performers like Cabaret Voltaire or even Devo were able to program their keyboards to play music automatically. There was that Jan Hammer Miami Vice video where you actually got a glimpse of a computerized rig (probably a Fairlight or something else that cost more than a car) and this seemed about as close to that as I could ever get.

Unfortunately, The Music Studio had a lot of quirks that made it really difficult to use. Although it uses a standard music staff for notation, it really plays notes like a piano roll. Meaning, if you have a whole note you want to ring out under several quarter notes you have to insert a bunch of redundant looking rests above the whole note. Otherwise, it plays the entirety of that long note before playing the quarter notes that are after it. Confusing, yes. Practically speaking, what this means for the composer is they have to put a bunch of evenly spaced rests across the top of the song scroll to insure the play head keeps moving along. The other major limitation is that you can’t have two instruments play the same note at the same time. That made any sort of complex arrangement a matter of spacing instruments across the staff all while avoiding your kludge of rests.

Until I was exposed to MOD files and tracking software on my PC this is how I thought music was made on a computer. Even Q-Bob’s music was created using a similar looking MIDI composition program. FastTracker and MadTracker freed me of this notion and from there on I began to make music more in line with what I wanted to do as a teen.

The Music Studio did have a very recognizable sound though. If you ever played Dream Zone you know exactly what I mean. These samples now allow us to get some of that distinctive sound into modern music apps and hardware. So, use the link at the bottom to download the set for yourself. In the meantime, here’s the first composition I made using the samples:

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin on PC (6/10)

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The first F.E.A.R. game did a really good job of building up the tension to provide creepy scares and atmosphere. This one is just an in-your-face string of loud, quick cuts of Alma that fire off with such regularity that they just become part of the background noise of the game. This background noise also includes the multitude of text info items you pick up and never need to read. So, as far as a horror story goes, this wasn’t so great. I didn’t really know or care about what was going on.

The main attraction here is the first-person shooting with your enhanced bullet-time super power. This is fun for the most part, but it gets quite repetitive as you traverse in a straight line from one generic military compound to the next. There are a couple moments of variety in the middle of the game in which you control a mech and can just mow down everything. But other than that, this is a straight up hallway shooter and I could take it or leave it.

Red Steel on Nintendo Wii (5/10)

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I think this was one of the earliest titles on the Wii, and one that was supposed to showcase the new fangled motion controls. If anything, it showcases just how infuriating the waggle controls can be. I actually like the first person shooting setup on a lot of Wii titles such as The ConduitGoldeneye, and Metroid Prime. The shooting controls here a very wonky. You are required move the controller closer to the television to use gun sights and lock on to enemies. You have to waggle the nunchuck to interact with doors and objects. In both cases, just hitting a button would have probably been sufficient. To add to the problems, the game is just downright buggy with tracking aim. Often the cursor would jump to the center of the screen for now apparent reason, like it was losing connection with the WiiMote. Terrible.

Then there’s the sword fights. Again, the waggle controls do nothing to immerse you in to the game and only serve to frustrate and annoy. The timing is all off and my actions often failed to register. I think I threw out my shoulder chopping the controller trying to get to block attacks. I felt like a hype-man at an NYC hardcore show. Unfortunately this wasn’t Snapcase: The Game.

All this takes what could have been a simple yet fun Wii game with an interesting set up, and degrades it into budget bin trash.

Quattro Mosche Di Velluto Grigio by Ennio Morricone - CD (10/10)

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I forgot how much I liked this score. I tend to only remember the prog-rockish opening number because it is such an integral part of the opening credits of the film. But of course there’s the excellent “Come Un Madrigale”—perhaps, the most lovely decapitation music ever composed. The rest of the CD is rounded out with mostly standard giallo faire, but there’s a tinge of 70’s rock drums and screams added to the arrangements to tie everything to the movie’s rock star protagonist.

L’Uccello Dalle Piume Di Cristallo by Ennio Morricone - CD (10/10)

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Morricone’s subsequent Giallo soundtracks would rely heavily on improvisational and experimental music. However, this one retains quite a bit of the easy vibe found on his late sixties romantic drama scores. It’s not dissonance-free, about half the tracks are free-form spaz outs, but the variety helps to make this one the best Giallo scores ever. Even the oom-pa-pa number, “Sei Sei Stonato” is great.

Eccentric Orbits: The Iridium Story by John Bloom (9/10)

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Eccentric Orbits is the history of the rise, fall, and eventual rebirth of the world’s first (and only) global satellite phone system. This is not the sort of book I would ever expect to like. Corporate history is not really my thing. However, this is more the story an astounding technological achievement that was almost destroyed but not for the small group of individuals who believed in it and were willing to risk millions for it. John Bloom—better known by his alter ego, trash cinema expert Joe Bob Briggs—has crafted a thrilling narrative that first seduces the reader to fall in love with a satellite system, then cheer for its implementation, and, finally, be infuriated by Motorola’s lack of commitment to the project. And that’s just the first half of the book. Second half is the tale of Dan Colussy’s quest to save the whole thing with one frustrating sequence of broken promises and ineffectual political wrangling after another. The sheer number of names and meetings wore on me by the time I got to the end, but it was worth it to fully understand the complexity of such a massive undertaking.