Crazy Request

Sometimes I’m in the mood for odd requests. There’s no rhyme or reason to these… I just got an email requesting a tango today. So I did some research, and figured out what a tango is. I got some help from Apple’s loop library, and checked out Wikipedia to see what the heck they are.
Here’s the result:


The snare part was super fun.
And here’s the remainder of the recent soundtracks.

Also, I updated the “About” section of the site. It had some mention of incompetech not being able to make money, and and outdated rant about web design. So – that’s all fixed.

Untraceable

One of the first things that happens in this movie is that we get a little camera’s-eye-view of a camera being moved from one end of a room to another, and I had the most awful Cloverfield flashbacks. Thankfully, that only lasted a few seconds, but I was definitely nervous for a while.
So the basis here is simple, even if the tech is so complicated as to go completely over my head: Someone with more computer skills than sanity (a lot more) is kidnapping and torturing people to death, while broadcasting the whole show on the internet, free for anyone to watch, download, and comment upon. The website is called www.killwithme.com, and yes, there is a replica of the site from the film at that address. Go check if you want; I’ll wait. I didn’t quite have the nerve to hit enter myself, though…
The gimmick in the film, you see, is that the more people view the site, the faster the victim on camera dies. Thanks to all the blogs, chat rooms, iPhones, Blackberries, and people who spend even more time online than I do, the victims die faster than the mainstream media can rush to the moral high ground by refusing to give out the web address. This is where our heroine come in: Diane Lane as FBI Special Agent Jennifer Marsh, part of the internet crimes unit. She usually tracks identity thieves and other such scammers, but this time she hits the law enforcement jackpot, so to speak — a real live serial killer.
She doesn’t much want the case at first — she has a young daughter, Annie, and usually works nights (which probably is the best time to catch computer crooks anyway), but she can’t duck the job, and she and her partner, Griffin (Colin Hanks) quickly discover they’ve got a real problem. The murderer has some sneaky way of using other domains to keep anyone from tracking and shutting down the site, so the usual methods don’t work. They have to find other ways to hunt him, but of course the body count is rising all this time.

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Welcome to beautiful, rainy Portland, Oregon, creating a new breed of serial killer for the 21st century.

This brings me to something that I’ve always wondered about. This guy is stalking, kidnapping and tormenting people, not to mention all the time he has to spend designing and building the weird gadgets that help do the killing, so he can’t possibly be holding down any kind of decent job. And yet he has huge piles of computers, electronics and camera gear, probably worth more than my entire house. So where do these serial killers get their funding? Maybe that’s something the government should be looking into to help the economy.
Anyway, he finds the time and the money to stalk the agents and police chasing him, and you can probably make a very good guess as to what happens from there. That’s the big problem with the film… the chase is interesting and quite realistic, as far as I can tell; the dialogue keeps the technobabble to a minimum, thankfully; but you always know where things are going… so it’s kind of the opposite of untraceable, really.
So I can’t go any higher than three idols, and even that feels like a bit of a stretch. It’s a shame, because the actors all do well, and they have one of the creepiest-looking movie killers ever, but there’s just not enough suspense to keep things moving the way they should move. It’s disturbing to see the victims dying, but there’s also a sense of futility along with it that sort of made me give up. Unfortunately, the film is probably totally accurate in its prediction — a site like that would get millions of hits very, very quickly, and very few people would ever imagine they were really doing anything wrong with their clicks and comments. Basically no one shocks easily enough anymore. But if the thought of hurting someone the next time you click your way to the next big internet fad doesn’t stop you, just imagine all the weird spam that might flood your screen.

Cloverfield

First this movie was called Slusho, then it was called Cheese, and finally the production crew realized they needed a real title, so they ended up with Cloverfield… which still isn’t a real title, it having been used as a code name to disguise what they were working on, but it did certainly help add to the air of mystery while they were hyping it. People have been wondering what Cloverfield is supposed to mean for months, and what more could a moviemaker want? Well, maybe a Steadicam, but I suppose that wouldn’t have given quite the effect they were after.
We start in Manhattan in April, except it jumps to May right away, but you’ll understand that when you see it. A group of twenty-somethings are throwing a surprise party for their friend Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David), who’s leaving to take a job in Japan. This is apparently a tip of the hat to the old Godzilla movies, none of which I’ve seen personally, but without which, I’m sure this movie would never have been made.
Rob’s brother Jason (Mike Vogel), and Jason’s girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas), are the driving forces behind the party, but when Lily insists that Jason be the head cameraman and record the party as a souvenir for Rob, he doesn’t want to do it and hands off the camera (actually Rob’s camera, apparently borrowed for the occasion in true brotherly fashion) to best friend and helpful nerd Hud (T.J. Miller). Hud would prefer to video Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), on whom he has a crush, but quickly learns to take his duty way, way too seriously. And don’t worry if none of these actors sound familiar to you, because I didn’t know any of them, either, but I think a cast of unknowns was what they were after, to make it seem more real.
And it does seem real, for the most part, which is both good and bad. It’s good because you end up feeling involved in the story and the characters’ lives; but it’s bad in that you can also easily end up sick to your stomach. Not because it’s gory — it is in places, but not nearly so bloody as it might have been — but because the camera stops moving about three times in the course of the film. The remaining 87 minutes, it’s in at least slight motion, and sometimes fails around like — well, like the person holding it is running for his life, so we’re back to the realism again, but it still didn’t do my stomach any good. And don’t even get me started on what it’s like when the auto-focus goes out of control. Just be warned.

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Now sit very close to your monitor and shake it around a lot, and you’ll feel exactly like you’re in the theatre!

The party is just getting good, with lots of booze, loud music, and even gossip about the soap opera that is bascially any twentysomething’s life, when the gang feels something like an earthquake. They decide, for some reason, that it would be a good idea to go up onto the roof to see what’s happening, but I suppose that’s no sillier than many of the decisions made in the movies over the decades. When buildings start exploding, though, they regain some sense and take cover, just in time for the party to turn into a full-blown scramble for survival. There’s a monster in town, and Godzilla doesn’t seem so tough in comparison.
It’s a very creepy monster. Very creepy. Its legs bend in wrong directions, it looks kind of reptillian in a slimy sort of way, and it has a very large, fang-filled mouth like a Predator’s. Plus it has the audacity to knock the Statue of Liberty’s head clean off and bowl it down the street, which you may have seen in those mysterious teaser previews from before they had a real name picked out. Sometimes it thuds around making more noise than a herd of elephants stampeding through an echo chamber, and other times it seems able to sneak up on people with remarkable ease, so maybe it’s just playing with us. But it plays rough.
I’m going with three and a half idols. When it isn’t generating more nausea than an out-of-control Tilt-a-Whirl, it’s not a bad movie. The unknowns do a good job, managing not to get overpowered by the special effects, and though there are a few places where highly improbable things happen because they have to for the sake of the script, I’m inclined to forgive them for those because the rest of it seems so real. As far as the technical side of it goes, it feels like a grand experiment, and it doesn’t always work, which is to be expected, I guess, but I’m just glad people do still experiment a little, even in major Hollywood motion pictures. And now, saving the most important for last, just one more word: Dramamine.

No New Music

Just kidding.
There are bunches and bunches of new tracks now online from my good friend Jon M. T. Roberts!
He’s a super-talented composer and performer, and I finally got him to go online with it all.
The music is all licensed Creative Commons: By Attribution (just like my stuff), so go and get it people!
His site looks and works a lot like mine, so there shouldn’t be much confusion. :-)
http://www.jmtr.com/
Try the “Light Intermission Music”. It is awesome.
And don’t forget to send him emails. I promised some emails… so… I need your help with that.

The Bucket List

Or Edward and Ray’s Big Adventure. Well, really Edward and Carter’s, but we’ll get to that later.
Morgan Freeman plays Carter Chambers, a sixty-something mechanic and grandfather who gets the news one day that he has cancer — I think lung cancer, but they don’t come right out and say that. Jack Nicholson plays Edward Cole, an incredibly wealthy businessman who, on about the same day, also gets the news that he has cancer. They find themselves sharing a room at the hospital, much to Edward’s displeasure, and bond over the agonies of chemotherapy and boredom, and so a quest is born.
I like Morgan Freeman — he’s sort of like the caring uncle everyone would like to have, and he seems like a smart and nice guy. Jack Nicholson, on the other hand, is really starting to frighten me. His head looks too big, and his face seems to be contorted into a permanent expression of something between thoughtless mischief and downright evil. At one point, he asks Morgan Freeman if he’s the devil, and I had the urge to yell, “Look who’s talking!” but quite frankly, that’s kind of the way the role was written, so he’s just about perfect for the part.
He has all the trappings of wealth — a private jet, a put-upon personal assistant (Sean Hayes, of “Will & Grace”) to handle all the business of living, and a little copper thing that apparently follows him everywhere to keep him generously supplied with Kopi Luwak, the most expensive beverage in the world. (But do NOT click that link before you see the film, or you’ll spoil one of the better jokes.) Carter is solidly middle-class, blessed with three kids and grandchildren, and a wife who adores him. He’s a voracious reader, and such a whiz at Jeopardy, they really should have made that part of their quest. He could’ve won a bundle.

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I’m telling you, Jack Nicholson is totally up to something.

But the point is, they make a list of all the things they meant to do with their lives, and now find themselves with very little time in which to do them. They travel the world, quite literally, stopping in France, Africa, Tibet and Hong Kong that we see, and they must have had some kind of layover in England, because they had “Visit Stonehenge” crossed off. They see the Taj Mahal and (sort of) Mt. Everest. And they skydive. I don’t know why, but for some reason skydiving always shows up on every such list. Personally, dying or not, the only way I’m jumping out of a plane is if both wings have just fallen off, and maybe not even then. Give me Stonehenge or Macchu Picchu any day.
So it’s part travelogue, part comedy, and part drama, which is normally a pretty strange and unsettling sort of hybrid, but which works here, in the capable hands of two such veteran actors. And personal assistant Tommy (or Matthew, depending on who you ask, since Edward doesn’t like real names, apparently) does a great job too, holding his own beautifully in a very low-key way even with such esteemed competition. And yes, I’ll admit it — it made me sniffle. But I wasn’t the only person in the theatre doing that, at least. Thankfully, it never quite goes as far as smacking the audience over the head with its message, which I was really worried about, though the voiceovers come close. On the whole, though, it was very well done, and I feel a little bad now that I wasn’t really looking forward to seeing it.
We’ll go with three and three-quarter idols. The sarcasm and witty exchanges (which I know I always like) keep it from getting too soppy and sentimental, and they manage not to go too far the other direction also and turn it into a really dark comedy. Nothing at all against dark comedies, but that wouldn’t have been right here, I think. So don’t let Jack scare you away; you can go ahead and see this one without worrying about having nightmares. Well, not too many, at least…

On Audio Compression

Ok, my synth MIDI controller is down, and now my piano MIDI controller is gone. So it looks like a few days of just talking.
Audio compression! Hoo, boy! This is going to be fun. Audio compression has nothing to do with mp3 or wav or file formats at all. It has to do with how the music is produced.
16-bit audio files (like a CD) have about 96 decibels of range from most quiet to loudest. It is sort of measured backwards -0db being the loudest possible; -6db is pretty loud; -40db is very quiet, and -80db is largely inaudible (I’m generalizing here… it is wrong but mostly not).
When I produce a track, there is generally exactly one “frame” of audio (like a single frame of a movie) that reaches up to the 0db mark. The process is called “normalization” and it ensures the greatest possible dynamic range for the music.
This sounds like a perfectly reasonable way to produce music. In general – music is not done this way… at least not in 2008, it isn’t.
There’s a few ways that people “cheat” the loudness into an audio track. If one turns up the gain, so it goes beyond the 0db mark – it can stay there for more than a frame. 2 frames in a row, and there won’t be any distortion of the sound. But more and more, people are running 8 frames or more at 0db. That causes distortion. But it does make it louder.
The other way to make something louder is compression. Audio compression is something like turning up the contrast on a photo. It makes the blacks more black, the whites more white, and you lose the subtlety of the things in between.
There are a lot of very good and reasonable reasons to use compression in audio. (I do use at least some compression in nearly everything I do.) But somewhere, things got carried away… and tons of music productions are now loud and blatant.
I have good speakers, if I want it louder, I’ll just turn it up.
Maybe it is FM radio, or Satellite radio, or bad TV speakers, or iPods with bad headphones, or $12.95 PC desktop speakers… I don’t know. But the master copy – the one you get on a CD should be dynamic and not distorted. Maybe there could be a button to convert quality audio to “louder” audio somewhere.
Please say “No” to excessive compression and zero-lining. Thank you.