Odd combos

Well… I finished off 30 audio pieces today ranging from 3-second sound design cuts to a 7-minute piece for a musical. I’ll assume you don’t want a sound effect of a talking fish and just post some music.

People have already asked what that drone instrument is in the bass. Well… I made it up. It is a combination of a tuba, a pitch-shifted bass trombone, and a trombone with a cup mute. The instrument in the melody is a soprano sax pitch-shifted up an octave.

Blood and Chocolate

Here I am, reviewing a movie with blood in the title again. Unlike its predecessor, though, this one really isn’t very bloody. The title is from a line in Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf: “I had the taste of blood and chocolate in my mouth, the one as hateful as the other.” In case you never had to read that in school, it’s the story of a man trying to reconcile his cultured, rational side with the primitive, instinctual side. That’s definitely what our heroine, Vivian (Agnes Bruckner), tries to do in the film. It’s perhaps laid on a little thick in places, but overall, the struggle is worth watching.
As a girl somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, Vivian witnesses the deaths of her whole family, shot one snowy night by men who fear them for what they are: werewolves. (Sorry, apparently the term ‘loups garous’ is more politically correct these days.) Brought back to Romania, her birthplace, she is raised by her aunt and reluctantly caught up in the restrictive loup garou culture. From what I understand, the film is a pretty sanitized and very different version of the novel on which it’s based, so this may be one instance where it isn’t such a bad thing not to read the book first — lucky for me.
It’s mostly filmed on location in Bucharest, and now I want to go there. Nearly everything’s old, dirty, rusty, and/or is in bad need of a fresh coat of paint. Almost nothing is up to fire codes or handicapped accessible. But it’s all absolutely gorgeous and historical, and I just want to go stand in one of the town squares and drink it all in. As long as you don’t get on the loups garous’ bad side, it’s a great place.

See? Look how cool Bucharest is.

Vivian (who makes chocolates for a living) meets a young American expatriate artist named Aiden (Hugh Dancy), in Bucharest researching the legends of the loups garous for his comic book. (Sorry, graphic novel.) He’s instantly smitten, but Vivian knows that blood and chocolate don’t mix (no kidding) and tries to push him away. But you know he won’t meekly go away, and humans and loups garous end up colliding.
Their pack, so to speak, is now fairly small, and Bucharest is their last remaining stronghold. They must be getting terribly inbred, but perhaps that doesn’t matter so much with loups garous. Anyway, their alpha male, Gabriel (Olivier Martinez), has made strict rules to keep them hidden, and as insular as possible, emphasizing the bonds of blood above all else. They’re all expected to be loyal, obedient to their leader, marry within the family, and most of them all seem even to work in the same place, making absinthe, which is still outlawed in the U.S. Apparently being a loup garou is much like being in the Mafia. (I suppose ‘Mafia’ is politically incorrect now, too. Sigh. The mob, maybe?)
Vivian seems very cool and distant throughout the movie — not Keanu Reeves or Ben Affleck distant, because she’s not so wooden, but she does have something of the look of a lovely marble statue at times. Probably not too surprising given her upbringing, but she does occasionally seem a bit too stiff. Overall, she does a good job. I’m still not sure what to make of Aiden, though that’s no reflection on the actor, who also does quite well — the problem is that his character alternates between extreme brilliance and extreme stupidity, and there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason. Once he finds out what’s going on, he very intelligently arms himself with lots of silver, and yet at one point he closes himself into an old confessional booth, thinking for some reason that a rickety, half-rotted wooden structure will somehow stop the furious wolf outside from trying to rip his throat out. (It doesn’t.) I can’t even tell you the biggest stupid thing he does, as that would ruin a major plot point. Suffice to say that he seems to have multiple personalities at times.
I’m giving this one three idols — a nice, average score for a a nice, average movie. The culture clash is a bit overdone, as mentioned earlier, and the loups garous tend to be so spoiled and obsessed with their own coolness that you’ll probably want to smack several of them. (They also don’t seem to have any over-forties around — maybe they don’t get to go out and hunt with the cool kids?) And they all seem to like jumping so much that they might as well be were-rabbits — it looks like they can only turn into wolves when they’re not touching the ground. I also don’t see how they can blend so well when apparently just a few drops of blood sends them into a frenzy. (Don’t get any bad papercuts around them.) But in spite of a few awkward moments and a vaguely silly transformation effect, it was a good and entertaining picture. Now I’m going to go check prices for flights to Romania.

Hokey Ker-Smokers!

Well… there’s been a pile of upgrades going on here. Here’s the tour!
The NameDB just got a major data infusion – adding 24% more names! (that’s a lot of names).
The Graph Paper landing page was out-of-hand, so I did a horizontal redesign to make it less visually tiring, also shorter. It may get further compressed… we’ll see how it works.
Incompetech’s 404 error message was also out-of-date, so that’s better now.
Royalty-Free Music‘s little search box now collapses out of the way. There is a lot of data on those pages, and keeping them clean is problematic.
The music FAQ has been updated, as well as some other music page links.
Here’s the BIG ONE! Just this week, I climbed to #2 on a Google search for Royalty-Free Music, so the emails have been pouring in. I now have a new section where people can build their own licenses for my music!
Behold! Music Licenses!
This application is seriously so cool, you should generate a license just for fun. It is full of ‘web 2.0′ goodness, while retaining the incompetech spartan feel. Woot!

Enter the Octagon

Can you cover a plane with regular octagons? Heck no! But that doesn’t stop people from asking… What are they looking for? This (Octagon) !
As a side bet… While doing this, I did find a way to cover a plane with octagons. Yes, a 2d plane. All the octagons are the same size. Try it at home!

Hey! That’s me!

Well, I turned up in a few more places recently… Mean Well (Elvie at Godo) a Filipino feature that I really don’t know anything more about… The Cult of Austin Film Festival which I do know more about… and InDigital Episode 10 with Wil Wheaton. If one counts ‘crew’… and it was a film – I’d have a Kevin Bacon number of 3… but it isn’t, so I don’t. yet.
I do have a John C. Dvorak (dvorak.org/blog/) Number of 1.

Vacation Compositions

I’ve been off on vacation, and was just killing some time at my friend Pete’s place… when I needed to write some music. I just really needed to. Problem One: I had no software with me. No worries – Mac OS X comes with Garageband. Second problem: there’s no MIDI setup there. Garageband has a little app where you can key things in with the normal 109-key typing keyboard. Problem three: No studio monitors.
Ok, problem three is a bit bigger. No studio monitors… no headphones available… no external speakers of any kind! Just the little tinny built-in mono speaker in the G5 tower. This is not really an easy thing to deal with. The bass lines were inaudible. I played them in a couple of octaves up, and trusted they’d sound ok in the final mix. Also, the kick drum was completely missing. I mixed it visually based on the meters.
After I got home and listened, it turned out pretty good!

I’ve been getting a lot of requests for these synth-based light… ‘compositions’, so I also did one of these. This is interesting in that I played it in at 150bpm, and then slowed it down to 68. Those layers of pedals get a little tedious at normal-speed.

Sometimes it is all about the challenge.

The Hitcher

Apparently, there was only one movie opening in the infamous wide release this weekend, and I wasn’t lucky enough to get any of the limited release films around here this weekend. (That does sometimes happen, honest.) So that left me with The Hitcher.
I didn’t particularly want to see this, but it did have Sean Bean in it as the evil John Ryder, and I like him. He’s so often cast as a bad guy, which I’ve never quite understood — he can pull off evil and psychopathic quite well, but he still looks like such a nice guy I sometimes find myself rooting for him to win at the end. That’s probably what most psychopaths would want, though. Anyway, he’s very definitely a psychopath here, though, sadly, I couldn’t even bring myself to want him (or indeed, anyone) to win. I only wanted all the pain to be over. I’m pretty sure the movie’s tagline of “I want to die” wasn’t actually meant to echo the feelings of the poor fools watching it, but that was what I kept thinking.
At 83 minutes, it’s at least mercifully short. The first forty-five minutes or so would work better as a drivers’ education training film — they covered quite a few bad driving maneuvers, though of course most people don’t ever have to deal with being shot at (or shooting) while driving. But there’s a pretty, scantily-clad girl (Grace, played by Sophia Bush) in nearly every scene, so your average heterosexual male high school student would at least pay attention.

At least the poster’s cool….

So Grace and her boyfriend Jim (Zachary Knighton) are college students headed to Lake Havasu for spring break. (Why any road leading to Lake Havasu, which I’m pretty sure has to be a very popular spring break destination, is as deserted as the roads are in the movie, I couldn’t say.) During a terrible thunderstorm, the kids nearly run over a man standing next to a car with its hazard lights flashing, but a panicky Grace persuades Jim to keep driving, and they’ll call for help for the guy. The guy, for some obscure reason, then begins a rampage of gruesome murders that always, somehow, cycle back to our heroes, who must fight to survive and clear their own names. That’s the whole plot right there.
This is a remake of a 1986 movie of the same name, which I haven’t seen. Probably just as well, or I’d also be annoyed over how the memory of that earlier film has now been sullied. The original, unsurprisingly, was apparently much better. The first John Ryder (Rutger Hauer), I’m told, had ambiguous but tantalizing motives for his madness. This John Ryder just seemed to want to kill people, and I rapidly discovered that I didn’t care why. He didn’t even seem to like killing, though he was astonishingly good at it. And in spite of the fact that he made no effort either to disguise himself or prevent leaving fingerprints all over everything, he had no criminal record of any kind. Apparently he’s the Einstein of serial killers.
Stangely, the kids don’t really make any of the traditional horror/slasher movie mistakes that I was expecting, at least not at the beginning. They do voluntarily get into and drive a car full of Ryder’s victims, but given that one was still alive and needed help, there really wasn’t anything else they could have done. They do get blindsided a lot, but I think it’s a rule that no character in a movie such as this is allowed to have any peripheral vision to speak of. (Grace must be related to the indestructible Claire from NBC’s Heroes, though. She survives a van blowing up with her in it with hardly even a smudge of soot. She even instinctively knows how to work a pump shotgun. She’s Superwoman!) The kids’ acting was good but nothing spectacular, and unfortunately I have to say the same thing about poor Sean as well. At least he seems to have plenty of other movies coming up, so he can shake this off.
If you’re looking for a fast-paced, crisply-directed flick that will make you jump out of your seat at least every ten minutes, here you go. Want a killing fest, featuring quite probably the most bloody and gruesome death scene I’ve ever seen? You’re all set. If you want to see a good movie, though, we’ll both have to wait until next weekend. That Blood and Chocolate sounds like it might be interesting.
This one gets one and a quarter idols, and the quarter is only because the credits listed three people with the job description of “dust busters”. If they’d actually killed off the scary, inbred convenience store clerk who freely admitted to having been kicked in the eye by an angry donkey which he was trying to milk, then it would have gotten two idols.

Rockin’ Guitarin’

Not much new lately? Well, not that I’ve been idle – I just finished off the soundtrack for a film that will open in New York in April. But today, I bring thee, two pieces of rock music!
Down Home Rockin is a sort of guitar-driven 12-bar blues-rock piece with a nice little piano solo. Pretty straightforward.
The other piece, Neolith, is a little harder to put my finger on. It is certainly rock – and fast rock at that, clocking in at 145 beats per minute. The guitar mostly in the right channel has a hard gate effect on eighth notes, giving it an almost percussive drive. The one on the left is extended power chords with a hint of a major mode to them – as opposed to the traditional unqualified (open root fifth) or minor chords that you usually find in hard rock pieces. The effect is striking at times.
Both are interesting. Enjoy!

Children of Men

I should have driven to Chicago. I should have at least called in sick to work yesterday so I could have watched this film that much sooner. Stupid day job. But now I’ve seen it, and I think I can safely say that this may be the best movie I’m going to see in all of 2007.
Clive Owen plays Theo Faron (and plays him beautifully, I might add), an average guy living and working in 2027 London. But there’s nothing average about the rest of the world. It’s been eighteen years since the last baby was born, and no one can work out why women no longer seem able to get pregnant. Great Britain is apparently one of the last bastions of civilization — such as it is. The island is full of “refugee camps”, since any immigration to England is apparently now forbidden, and these are just as bad as you might imagine, summoning up images of Nazi concentration camps. The entire city of Bexhill, real-world population 40,000, is now nothing but a giant, filthy camp full of desperate people. The buses may all run on time, but garbage pickup apparently stopped eighteen years ago as well.
Theo is an observer, moving through the world quietly, trying to forget that there’s anything wrong. Enter Julian, (Julianne Moore), his ex and current leader of one of England’s many rebel groups. Her group, The Fishes, has found what they think may be the world’s salvation: a young West African refugee named Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey). Kee just happens to be eight months pregnant.

Theo helps a frightened Kee through the Bexhill Refugee Camp.

Julian wants to get Kee to a place called The Human Project, a semi-mythical island outpost where scientists work to reverse the pattern of infertility, and she needs Theo, or more accurately Theo’s cousin, to get the necessary travel papers. Life has become much like living in the pages of Orwell’s 1984; you need your identity card constantly, and it seems as though every other tree has a camera in it somewhere, watching you.
Though he resists, Theo is soon pulled in too deeply to back out. After a slightly rocky start, he develops a sweet, protective friendship with Kee as they fight their way through the chaos, clinging to the faint hope she represents. The mood of the film never quite reaches optimism, but even the cynical, numb Theo realizes what the existence of Kee’s baby might mean. It’s amazing to see the reactions of those who suddenly discover there’s a pregnant woman in front of them — some think “government reward”, or “rallying point”, but most show only sheer astonishment, joy, and sometimes something very like religious rapture.
The film defies categorization. It’s a bleak, terrifying view of the future, but to label it simply a dystopian movie is much too pat. There are several shining moments of genuine humor and hope. It’s an action movie, but far transcends that genre as well. Theo is almost an anti-hero — he’s very much a regular guy, struggling with his self-appointed guardian role, and continually outgunned. He never touches a gun, in fact, and is only able to physically fight back a few times. He almost seems more at home on the edges of a scene rather than the center. (Many important things are shown on the edges of the screen, actually, something which strangely made me feel even more involved in the film.) Theo listens and watches, and quietly does what he can.
I wish I could tell you more, because nearly every scene is well worth discussing. Sir Michael Caine gives a wonderful performance as Theo’s friend Jasper Palmer, an ex-political cartoonist who now lives in a hidden forest cabin, almost a refugee himself. Julian’s compatriots are the epitome of fanatical belief, frighteningly inspiring in their determination. Every extra is exactly right, and every background detail is striking. (Posters everywhere announce with chilling matter-of-factness that skipping fertility testing is a crime, and you know they mean a serious crime. A grafitti artist has scrawled “The last one to die please turn out the light.”) Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography and Alfonso CuarĂ³n’s directing were both amazing. In short, it was all stunning.
I usually sit in my seat with my little notebook, pausing now and then to scribble a few words as a reminder. This time, I wrote almost nothing — I was so quickly wrapped up in the film that I neglected the notebook and nearly dropped my pencil because I forgot it was in my hand. And I’m not one to lose myself in a film like that.
This could only get the full five out of five idols. Trust me, go watch it now. I’m just going to go check on pre-ordering the DVD.