Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Bulls-Eye Landing Coincidence Syndrome

One thing I never fail to notice - and that I like to think about from time to time (nerd alert!) - is an occurrence in movies and TV shows that I call the Bulls-Eye Landing Coincidence Syndrome, or BELCS, for short. This is when a character, usually the protagonist, arrives on a planet in less-than-planned fashion and immediately ends up right next to his or her intended destination. Not sure what I mean? Here are a couple of the best-known examples:

1) Luke Skywalker and Yoda
In Episode V, Luke is headed for the swamp planet of Dagobah (on a related note, why do entire planets always seem to be devoted to one type of terrain? Is the whole thing really just one big swamp?) where he needs to find a legendary Jedi master named Yoda. Then, basically, all of the instruments in his X-Wing fail, and he goes blindly plunging through the atmosphere until he crashes somewhere on the planet's surface. Not long afterwards, he runs into a small creepy green creature who turns out to be - voila! - Yoda. Wow, how about that?

2) Young Kirk and Old Spock
In the 2009 Star Trek reboot movie, Young Spock dumps Young Kirk off on an arctic planet (there we go again with the single-terrain planet thing) called Delta Vega after a failed mutiny attempt. Young Kirk gets chased by a big mean creature and then basically runs right into Old Spock, who had himself been dumped off on Delta Vega by Nero, a Romulan who wanted Old Spock to watch the destruction of Vulcan.

In both of these examples, entire planets are reduced to areas that are seemingly not much bigger than, say, a football field or so. And yes, I realize that this is done in order to move the plot along and keep things in sync, but it just seems funny, is all.

Also, both of these examples have been explained, more or less, in an Expanded Universe novel and a deleted scene, so, okay, I'll accept it. And sometimes, don't we all experience fortunate coincidences in our own, actual lives? So, as this article says, as long as BELCS isn't overdone, then hey, it's cool with me, and probably with you, too.

Although, just for fun, one day I'd like to see a movie where the main character lands on a planet and then travels for decades through all sorts of different landscapes in search of whoever it is he wanted to find. Or, well, maybe not...

Thursday, September 4, 2014

My Musical History, Episode 14: Inazan Turns Into Something Else Entirely

Inazan got off to a good start. We played our first show at one of the few local venues to sport their own marquee, and it was pretty cool to see "Inazan" - spelled correctly, even - in big letters visible from the other side of the street.
After the show, however, there were signs of discontent. For my part, I didn't feel that my vocals suited our particular sound, and frankly, I wanted to take a break from singing anyway and just concentrate on playing guitar for once. We carried on with the status quo intact for a while until one day, I suggested that we look for another member - preferably, someone who could take over the vocal chores.

So it was back to Craigslist we went. Not long afterwards, we found a singer/guitarist who fit in well, and we officially became a four-piece. With the new sound and direction, we decided that we needed a new name as well (besides, people were having a hard time pronouncing "Inazan.") After a lengthy and exhausting process - why is picking a band name always so difficult? - we finally settled on Council Crest, the name of a hill in Portland that is popular with hikers.

Council Crest motored along for a few years, and it was a good time. I got to play at a bunch of clubs that I hadn't played at before, and being just the "lead guitar" guy instead of the frontman and de facto band manager was a welcome change from what I had grown accustomed to. We had some personnel changes along the way, even expanding to a five-piece at one point, but overall, things were pretty stable.

For a while, that is. Eventually, the momentum started to slow down - bass player #3 (or was it #4? I can't remember) decided to quit, we had moved to a public practice space, and honestly, the whole thing started to feel more and more like work instead of fun. And so, Council Crest, formerly Inazan, was put to rest.

At this point, I was feeling pretty burnt out. It was a different feeling from when Upper80 ended - at that time, I wanted to take a break, but I think I always knew (maybe subconsciously) that I would get back to it one day, probably sooner than later. But this time, I seriously considered the possibility that this was it - that I was done playing in bands for good.

Next: A Second Chance

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Random Thoughts: Doctor Who & Video Game Update

I didn't love the new Doctor Who episode as much as I thought I would. (WARNING: Spoilers to follow) Maybe my expectations were too high, I don't know. I mean, Peter Capaldi was great and all, but the plot just seemed a little too thrown-together. Like, didn't the Doctor jump into the River Thames to chase after the guy that turned out to be the head cyborg? If so, then how come the next thing we see him doing is rummaging through a back alley wondering about his new face? (either way, "Independent state of eyebrows" is hilarious.)
Also, if Clara had that thing that she could call the Paternoster Gang with, why didn't she do it earlier instead of hoping that the Doctor didn't actually leave? Was that part of a plan to get information from the cyborg? If so, then it just seemed weird how the whole thing was portrayed - Clara seemed genuinely frightened, and you (at least I) didn't get the sense afterwards of "oh, okay, that was a plan. Brilliant!" And I know there was that whole "moral ambiguity" moment at the end - "did the Doctor kill the cyborg, or did the cyborg kill himself?" - but I mean, seriously, why would the cyborg kill himself? Wouldn't he have put up more of a fight? Anyway, on to the video game update...
I just finished my fourth play-through of The Last Story, which is still my favorite game along with Okami, Xenoblade, and the Zelda series (which, for convenience's sake, I lump together into one thing.) In a search for something new to play, I tried (1) Sonic and the Black Knight and (2) Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. The former was okay, but after about forty-five minutes it became clear that it was not what I was looking for. The latter kept me occupied for a little while longer, but eventually it became rather repetitious - basically just a lot of climbing, jumping, and more climbing.
I think that with some good background music, more varied gameplay, and a story that moved along quicker, it could have been a really good game, but oh well. So then I went looking some more, and luckily I uncovered a hidden gem: EarthBound on the Wii U virtual console. So far, I'm really enjoying its storyline and its what-are-now-considered-cool-and-retro graphics and turn-based combat system. Hopefully it'll keep me occupied until Hyrule Warriors comes out next month...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

My Musical History, Episode 13: Hiatus, Then A Chuck Palahniuk Novel Reference

Following the loss of Upper80's practice space and the general lack of reaction - good or otherwise - towards our 4-song EP, I decided to take a little break from playing in bands. After all, I had now been in bands non-stop for about fourteen years or so, and I felt that it would be a good time to just be alone for a while and do some quality introspection (I swear, playing in bands sounds a lot like being in relationships, no?)
That didn't mean I would stop writing and playing music, however. As any of you musicians out there know, that would be like giving up one of your essential bodily functions.* So, I dove into the world of home recording; I bought a Mbox and Pro Tools LE and began working on stuff in my living room, with some dude named Dr. Rhythm as my drummer. I recorded a handful of songs and even released a few of them as a lo-fi, homemade EP (I burnt the CDs on my computer and photocopied the inserts). I also performed several solo acoustic gigs, playing my own songs as well as covers of some of my favorite '80s tunes (like this one).

This went on for four whole years before I started to get the itch again. Or, in retrospect, maybe it never really went away; the whole time, there was always something a bit unsatisfying about making music on my own. Even though I had more control over the situation (I could practice and record in my own house without worrying about other bands setting fire to the place - for the most part, anyway), something about it felt cold, sterile, and vaguely familiar...like, haven't I tried this kind of thing before? Oh yeah, I have.

So once again, I was reminded that rock music - at least the way I wanted to play it - just wasn't rock music without other actual living, breathing musicians (sorry, Dr. Rhythm), including the ones who aren't in your band that get you kicked out of your practice space. Because, I guess, isn't that the whole essence of rock 'n' roll, anyway? The chaos, the drama, the unpredictability?**

So, after one last gasp for the solo deal where I recorded a couple of songs with an amazing engineer that I had found (more on him later), I declared the hiatus to be over and put out an ad in Craigslist (yes, now there was Craigslist) for musicians. Almost immediately, I met up with a drummer who could not only play drums, but whose house actually had a basement that we could practice in -  I'm telling you, it was like magic.

Then, after cycling through a bunch of bassist candidates, we finally settled on one - who wasn't a converted guitar player, gasp! We threw together a bunch of songs and called ourselves Inazan, after a fake pharmaceutical in the Chuck Palahniuk novel Survivor. And thus, the whole band cycle began anew...

Next: Inazan Turns Into Something Else Entirely

* Which one, I leave up to you
** Answer: Yes

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Talkin' With Joel: Most Annoying Zelda Mini-Games (#9 - Salvatore's Squids)

...Aaaand we're back with our special guest, Joel Suzuki of the Spectraland Saga! Today we're going to be continuing our review and discussion of what I consider to be the most annoying mini-games from the Legend of Zelda series.

B: Morning, Joel. How's it going?
J: Good.
B: Do anything fun since our last show?
J: Yeah.
B: Like what?
J: I dunno...lots of stuff.
B:
J:
B: Okay, cool! Well, let's continue...

#9 - Salvatore's Squid Battleship Game (from Wind Waker)
B: This one is annoying because it's so random. There's really no consistent strategy that you can use other than spray and pray.
J: Yeah, mostly.
B: It wouldn't be as bad, I think, if it didn't cost rupees each time. 'Cause what always happens to me is that I play a bunch of times, run out of money, and then I have to go back out and smash pots and stuff until I can play again.
J: Yeah.
B: It's really just a lot of luck - not much skill involved.
J: My best score is ten.
B: Whoa - how did you pull that off?
J: It was mostly luck, but there are some things you can do to maximize your odds. Like, once you get a hit, look at the spaces around your hit and identify the more likely directions that you should try to go in - you know, like if there's more empty squares, or whatever. I dunno, I'm not really sure how to explain it. It's like Battleship, basically.
B: Hey, yeah, Battleship...isn't that the strategy you used to pass the Heatwraith's first test in the Flaming Fields?
J: What?
B: Oops, that's all the time we have for today! Join us next time as we count down to number eight....

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Talkin' With Joel: Most Annoying Zelda Mini-Games (#10 - Fun Fun Island)

Today, my special guest in the studio is none other than the star of the Spectraland Saga, Joel Suzuki! We'll be talking about a very important subject that is near and dear to both of our hearts: the most annoying mini-games/side quests from the Legend of Zelda series.

B: Hey Joel, thanks for being here.
J: Um, okay.
B: So, the first thing I want to say before we begin is that I haven't actually played all of the games in the Zelda series, just so you know.
J: All right. Which ones have you played?
B: Mostly just the console-based ones. Not really any of the DS-only ones.
J: Does that include, like, virtual console?
B: Yeah, I guess.
J: What about the Famicom Disk System? That's technically a console, although it's an add-on. And what about the GBA? That's a handheld, but still technically a console, and you said that you didn't really play any of the DS-only ones, but you didn't say anything about the other handhelds. And, you know, actually, the DS is also technically a console, so what you said doesn't really make sense.
B: Hmm, yeah...good point. Okay, let's put it this way - the games that I've played are: A Link To The Past, Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword, and a little bit of A Link Between Worlds.
J: Ocarina of Time or Ocarina of Time 3D?
B: Just the regular Ocarina of Time. The non-3D one.
J: Wind Waker or Wind Waker HD?
B: Both.
J: Okay.
B: Great, let's begin!

#10 - Fun Fun Island (from Skyward Sword)
B: This one was super hard. So hard that I started calling it "No Fun Island."
J: Okay.
B: But I eventually did do it, so I guess it couldn't have been that bad.
J: How many tries did it take you?
B: I dunno, like dozens. I spent several hours on it.
J: Wow.
B: What about you?
J: What about me?
B: How many tries did it take you?
J: Two.
B: You're kidding.
J: No.
B: How did you do that?
J: Once you know how to dive, then the rest is just timing. I almost had it the first time, but Taylor was bothering me.
B: That's amazing. Well, that's all the time we have for today. Join us next time as we continue counting down the list!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

My Musical History, Episode 12: Evicted

After a handful of shows, Upper80 wasted no time in prepping a few songs for recording. For a studio, we chose Jackpot! Recording, since I had met the owner/engineer (Larry Crane of Tape Op magazine) at the NxNW music festival and he seemed like a really cool guy.

So, we went in and laid down four tunes, including a version of something that you may have heard in Second Player Score's set. Then, we decided to name the EP...oh wait, I'm getting ahead of myself...
Holy cow, look at that hair!!
Right around the time that this was all happening, there was an interesting little incident at our practice space. If you recall from Episode 11, the space we were renting was a storage unit in downtown Portland - basically a small room in a building where the other tenants were mostly just people looking for a place to stash their excess junk.

Portland, however, is home to approximately two-and-a-half gajillion bands, and the amount of available practice space is so limited that most places have a waiting list longer than whatever is super incredibly long. So, once word got out that our landlords were renting out storage units to bands (us) and letting them (us) practice there, other bands descended upon the building like a mad swarm of hungry termites.*

Next thing we knew, we had tons of new neighbors that not only practiced their music at the place, but also did a lot of...let's call it "hanging out." Now, I'm not judging them one way or another, but what ended up happening was that, one particular night - when we weren't there, mind you - a fire was accidentally set in one of the rooms. Yup, that's right, a fire. Fortunately, no one was hurt and nothing was really damaged, but needless to say, the landlords were not too pleased. They immediately terminated the leases of every band that was renting a room there, including us.

So now, we were out of a practice space. Fortunately, we were already well-rehearsed for the already-booked recording sessions, so that wasn't an issue, but since we had no place to practice once the sessions were finished, the forecast for Upper80's future was cloudy at best (see what I did there? Upper80, like a weather forecast? You know, "high temperatures in the upper 80s, lows in the lower 70s"...okay, never mind. You can stop groaning now)

Oh yeah, so to memorialize our getting kicked out, we ended up naming the four-song EP Evicted. We sent it out to a few places, sold a few copies, and then slowly faded away into the place that bands fade away into when they have no place to rehearse.

Next: Hiatus, Then A Chuck Palahniuk Novel Reference

* If the building were made of wood, which it wasn't, but you know what I mean