Saturday, January 19, 2008

Music thingy

As you may not be aware if you don't actually visit the front page of the blog (seriously, people, RSS; feed readers; look it up), I stuck an mp3 player on the top, to the left. I figured out that as a dude with a Google email address, I have 100 MB of free space available for me to upload files or make web pages at I don't know if there's a bandwidth cap, but the way these things work is, if enough people start hammering your website to download your music, the website can become profitable through text ads. So I'm not worried for the time being.

Don't Need Anything is the first song in there right now. It's the finale of an anarchist musical, or so I hear, by the lead singer from Toad the Wet Sprocket, but it has also made a great lullaby for Alex that I've sung many a time. Please forgive my nonexistent mixing ability, as well as the stray bad note here and there.

The second song is what you get when you stick a drum machine with a looping chord progression on one track, and then a guitarist comes back from the dead and plays the guitar like a zombie and clicks through the presets on the pedal while recording on the other track. It's also what you get when you hand a crappy lead guitar player a multi-effects pedal. If we shadows have offended, etc., etc.

I often record random noodling onto the computer, just like writers will warm up by writing random stuff. Most writers, however, have the good sense not to publish theirs. I am also listening for sweet music in the middle of noise, and once in a while a riff will be useful to me later.

All the sounds on both songs come out of the one pedal, which may be of some interest to you if you've never thought about how guitar effects work. What the pedal does is simulate more complicated setups where each step performs a different transformation on the audio signal coming through. You can get almost anything out of your guitar if you can come up with the recipe. I haven't even experimented with creating my own effects yet, so stay tuned.

I finished a few books. It's pretty hard to talk about Spook Country, the latest novel by William Gibson. His previous novel was one of the best books I've read in a long time, so that bar was set pretty high. Gibson's book was a very interesting take on what kind of world we are living in. The various characters move in and out of worlds that are invisible to common perception. The idea is that these things are in their infancy, though, and might become just as real, if not more real, than our quotidian existence. So there are spies and surveillance as well as virtual reality and real world articles tagged with metadata (spimes). The funny thing about this kind of book is that it's not exactly extrapolative science fiction any more. To get the sf thrills and sensawunda, you have to think about where all this is going. In a more traditional sf book, the author would just show you. I thought it was thought-provoking and entertaining, but I don't think I would call it moving, like I would some of his other work.

I also read Dies the Fire by SM Stirling. Dad bought it for me while he was here. This is a story of America (really, Oregon) after an apocalypse: in a flash, causes TBD, electricity and gunpowder stop working for good. Then, tons of people die because they don't know how to survive (and they're stuck in urban areas). The book tells the story of the survivors, who get medieval and communal in a hurry. It was a very interesting idea, and was pretty well thought out. One thing I always wondered about The Stand was what would happen when the food ran out (years after the end of the story). Which it would. This book goes there. It revolves around food in a way that really surprised me. Change of subject, one of the main characters is a Wiccan. I didn't know much about their religion (except the really basic stuff you pick up here and there), so I was interested in the window on that culture. It's not a classic book, but it's fun (if at times a bit gory and sweary).

And I finished another one by the master, Philip K. Dick. What's he the master of? Well, writing like Philip K. Dick, for one, that's why they named an award after him. I guess he's the master of mind-bending, of reality confusion, of paranoia, of the low and untidy corners of society. This one was called Lies, Inc. (originally, The Unteleported Man). Dick wrote this in a fertile period, when he wrote ten novels in two years.

In the story, a dystopian Earth is overpopulated, and attempts at colonizing the solar system have essentially failed. Light-speed ships exist, but only one habitable planet has been found. Then comes the invention of instant teleportation. A channel from Earth to the colony planet opens, and people start going to the colony planet. The only catch is that it's a one way trip. There's no way back to Earth.

A neurotic man who owns a light-speed ship starts to suspect that something is rotten in the colony, that a powerful conspiracy is controlling the colony for its own purposes, and decides to spend 18 years traveling to the colony in his ship, so he can return and report on its true nature. Even before he leaves, he is essentially hallucinating. And when he gets there... well, you'd just have to read it. I haven't taken acid but I feel confident that the experience was set down in print in this book. And it only gets weirder from there.

The setting, the characters, the language were top-notch, and I found the resolution very well done, very fair. It cleared up the book a lot, but I have a lot more to reconstruct as far as what was actually going on while I was reading the craziness. I even started rereading it from the beginning. I don't know if I'll go all the way again, but it certainly commanded my attention. Nothing very graphic, except for the drug trips, call it adult themes and disturbing images. Definitely worth your time, if you turn pro when the going gets weird.

Up next, an sf parody by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #2, The Light Fantastic), Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe, and Mt. Baroque Cycle. Oh, and Lord of the Rings. I'll be busy.

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