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Breaking silence July 21, 2016

Posted by thejinx in life.
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I don’t usually post about social or political issues (as anyone who has followed this blog, or indeed, any of my online presence has probably realized). I call it cynicism, because I honestly don’t feel like anyone who fundamentally disagrees with my opinion will be swayed to think differently by anything I could say, and otherwise I’m just preaching to the choir. I do what I can to work through my feelings the only way I can, through my art, but it doesn’t seem like talking about it will accomplish much. I also don’t want to deal with the backlash anything I say might provoke, because arguing such topics is exhausting, particularly because I don’t feel like anyone’s opinions will change.

But now, as I sit here seething over yet another black man shot by police, I can’t contain myself any longer.

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It doesn’t matter what the colour of one’s skin is, or what is in their record. What matters is that yet another innocent, unthreatening civilian was shot by police when complying with police instructions. It makes me physically sick that this has happened so often so recently. It tears me apart inside that anyone would blame the victim for these unwarranted assaults – even murders – against unarmed people who were doing as they were told.

And frankly, it makes me scared for my upcoming trips to the U.S. As a white woman, I am far less likely to meet with such hostilities, but this atmosphere of unprovoked violence that seems to be permeating the U.S. is terrifying me. I don’t care that the colour of my skin protects me – that makes me more disgusted, not less. And it doesn’t protect me if some situation escalates beyond the next innocent person targeted.

It is wrong. It is horrible. And it is sickening that this keeps happening.

I don’t mean to blame all policemen and -women, either. I know that not all – or most – police officers would act that way in those situations. But the frequency with which these attacks are occurring is soul-crushing.

I believe Black Lives Matter, because all lives matter – and these lives are being targeted. Something has to change. I don’t know what; all I can do is talk about it.

New art: Breezin’ July 13, 2016

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afro

Ad Astra schedule April 27, 2016

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I’ll be at Ad Astra this weekend, Toronto’s original scifi/fantasy/horror literary convention. I’ll be spending most of my time at the Brain Lag table in the dealers room, and I’ll also be involved with the following events:

Saturday

11:00
Creating Art on Commission
So someone has asked you to create a piece of art for them. And they’ve even said they’ll pay. How much do you charge them? How do you sell yourself as a commission artist, and what are the pros and cons of offering to create work on commission?
Thornhill room

1:00
Selling Your Art at Conventions and Festivals
So you’ve finally finished a beautiful set of paintings. Or maybe you’ve been selling your fan art on commission and want to think bigger with prints. Maybe you want to do commissions for money, or you fancraft and have an Etsy store and want to sell in person. You’ve got wares, and you’re ready to sell them and think that a convention or festival is your best bet. How do you do this? What’s the etiquette? How do you market yourself? Should you participate in an art show or just book a table? And is what you’re selling even allowed? In this panel, learn the dos and don’ts of being an artist on the convention or festival circuit.
Thornhill room

5:00
Tabletop Games You May Never Have Heard Of
Are you bored of playing Monopoly and Risk over and over? A fan of RPGs but unsure what the best party games are? Curious about which games are best for specific numbers or types of people? This panel is a great opportunity to learn about and share recommendations for tabletop games from those in the know!
Oakridge room

6:00
Brain Lag launch party
Brain Lag invites all Ad Astra attendees to join us at our spring book launch party celebrating the release of Why I Hunt Flying Saucers And Other Fantasticals by Hugh A. D. Spencer and Tinker’s Plague by Stephen B. Pearl! The authors will be on hand to give readings and sign autographs, there will be free snacks and drinks, and we’ll be featuring an exclusive sneak peek at the cover art for the upcoming sequel to Tinker’s Plague, Tinker’s Sea!
Room 1080 (penthouse suite)

Sunday

12:00
Setting Up Shop as an Indie Publisher
So you want to be an indie publisher. How do you bring other authors on board? How do you build your reputation within the literary community? In this panel, learn from those who have done it how to be a publishing entrepreneur, and get tips on start-up costs, marketing, and what it takes to get started.
Newmarket room

3:00
Sunday Afternoon Fantasy Reading
Join authors Catherine Fitzsimmons, Rob Howell, Cameron Currie and Brandon Draga as they read a fantastical selection from their work.
Oakridge room

I hope to see you there!

Music Monday: Myth: The Xenogears Orchestral Album April 4, 2016

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Xenogears was an RPG for the original Playstation, with soundtrack composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, famous for his Chrono Trigger soundtrack, arguably one of the best video game soundtracks of all time (at least in my decidedly limited opinion).

I never played Xenogears. It wasn’t for lack of interest, rather money. However, I’m all about video game music, so when a friend ordered a copy of the soundtrack and received two, I was happy to take the extra. It was different from Chrono Trigger, with a more focused style and distinct Celtic influences in a more orchestral soundtrack, but I ended up thoroughly enjoying it. I don’t know anything about the story that happens when this music takes place, but there are a lot of great and some amazing tracks, and I enjoyed it enough to pick up Creid, a Xenogears arrangement album produced by the original composer that I also love.

51sfd32uc2blYet somehow, a second arrangement album also produced by Yasunori Mitsuda managed to slip under my radar. Myth: The Xenogears Orchestral Album was released in 2011 and contains fourteen tracks, mostly performed by the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra with a couple of piano solos and one vocal track performed by Joanne Hogg (who sounds like the original vocalist for the game’s theme song).

It definitely lives up to its name: the arrangements are very orchestral, using a sizeable symphony along with a choir in some tracks. The arrangements all have quite a bit of depth and are generally fairly dynamic/bombastic. Some tracks I actually wish had some heavier elements truer to the original tracks, but that’s because most of the renditions are pretty close to the source material. There is a little variation in styles at times, but there’s not much alteration of the melodies themselves and many of the songs are straight orchestrations of the original tracks.

Not that that is in any way disappointing; the depth and life of these orchestrations are fantastic, really highlighting the quality of the original compositions. One unfortunate exception is “The Beginning and the End”, a choral track that sounds lovely done with real voices but lacks all of the vocal modulations of the original.

Aside from that, I have no complaints about this album. There’s a lot of emotion, great big sound, and the quality of the arrangements and their performances are both excellent. And the piano solos are just as wonderful. I am also extremely happy with the performance of “Flight”, my favourite song from the original soundtrack.

I highly recommend this album to fans of the Xenogears soundtrack. It is available on iTunes, and really, that’s the only way I would purchase it (unless you really want to pay 4x the price for an imported CD).

Playtime March 29, 2016

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Up until last weekend, I hadn’t been picking up my camera much this year. Which is incredibly unfortunate, as late last year I was given an external flash and my indoor photography quality has skyrocketed as a result, though I am still learning how to use it.

However, yesterday I did an impromptu photo session and took a few (dozen) shots while my cat was feeling playful, so here are the best ones. I hope you enjoy them.

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Music Monday: The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses March 21, 2016

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What was that about a weekly feature? My excuse is that I’ve been spending the past weeks sorting through new music. Let’s just say I’ve been putting the task off for a while.

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I have a problem.

But enough about what I’ve not been doing. Last weekend, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Toronto performance of The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses.

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It’s a touring symphony concert playing music from the Legend of Zelda video games. I went in perhaps a bit more experienced than much of the audience – most of the other attendees I spoke with had never been to an event of the sort, whereas I’ve been to Video Games Live four or five times and Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy twice, and I had seen at least one preview of Symphony of the Goddesses on YouTube, when they appeared on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert last fall.

The setup is much the same as the other concerts. The focus is on the music, with game footage showing the source material shown on a screen above the orchestra. The screen also occasionally showed closeups of the soloists or prominent sections of the orchestra at times, which I felt was a nice touch. It was a quieter affair than the other video game concerts I have been to, with a very brief introduction to the show by the producer, Jason Michael Paul, and a few prerecorded introductions by series producer Shigeru Miyamoto, series composer Koji Kondo, and one other prominent person (who I regret to say I can’t remember offhand). We didn’t hear a word from the conductor or any of the orchestra and mainly they just played the music.

The Legend of Zelda series aren’t necessarily my favourite soundtracks. There are some that I absolutely adore, primarily A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time, but overall, I don’t find the music as gripping and certainly not as emotional as Final Fantasy or some other franchises. So, I will admit that while I was very much looking forward to it, I wasn’t necessarily expecting jaw-dropping orchestrations.

Several of the songs performed came straight off the Legend of Zelda: 25th Anniversary album that came bundled with Skyward Sword when it released – which was full of excellent and very dynamic/bombastic medleys and arrangements of various games in the series and whose main flaw was that the songs were recorded too quiet. However, only half of the songs in the show, at best, were the same renditions, so there was plenty of material new to me. Even the Twilight Princess medley was a little different from the 25th Anniversary album.

The show focused on the main console games, playing little or nothing from most of the portable games – Link’s Awakening, The Minish Cap, Phantom Hourglass, etc. – and nothing from Hyrule Warriors (which I don’t particularly lament, seeing as I haven’t played it nor even own a Wii U). There was a very nice mix of source material from the games the show focused on, playing numerous tunes from Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, Majora’s Mask, and a couple others. Having a smaller library of music to draw from meant I got to hear more of the situational music that often gets overlooked in place of the main themes.

But ultimately, what that really meant was that a lot of what I heard was straight orchestra performances of music from the games, which was so very satisfying. I hear the music in the game and it has a character of its own and I can tell what the instruments are – and maybe they even sound pretty close – but I am always imagining it performed with real instruments. The battle theme medley, which opened with the regular battle music from Ocarina of Time, illustrated this best for me – it was so accurate to the game and so natural that it took me almost an entire iteration of the song before I appreciated that this is what it was supposed to sound like, not what it did in the game. There was both a great mix of source material and expert arrangements, and the Kitchener Symphony did an excellent job performing them.

Overall, I really enjoyed the show. Fans of the Legend of Zelda games should certainly check it out and I really, really hope that they release more recordings of the orchestrations, especially the battle theme medley and the Link to the Past medley.

 

Music Monday: Chronicles of Time March 7, 2016

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In 2013, a group of indie musicians got together to create Spectrum of Mana, a 3-disc album of arrangements from the Super Nintendo game Secret of Mana. I enjoyed that album; some of it was not to my taste, but largely I really liked the songs.

misc_clogocover_natehorsfallWhen I heard that the same group was putting together a new album called Chronicles of Time based on the SNES game Chrono Trigger, I figured it would be much the same. Well, it ended up being rather bigger, to the tune of 5 discs, almost 6 hours of music, and over 200 contributors (!). The album launched a few weeks ago, so it seemed fitting that it would make a good topic for one of my Music Monday posts, and I’ve spent the past several days listening intently to give, well, I suppose as proper a review as I can manage.

The album was set up in much the same way as Spectrum of Mana, with almost all instrumental arrangements covering a wide range of the source material, organised per disc by genre, with a lot of accompanying artwork. There’s a lot of live instruments, a lot of collaboration, and the production quality is very high.

The first disc largely consists of the type of standard rock arrangements you often hear from indie arrangers, particularly live ones. There’s a track or two in acoustic, a little bit of funk and jazz/fusion mixed in (as well as one R&B track that wasn’t to my taste), but generally, there’s a strong focus on electric guitars, bass, and drums, not too heavy – runs on a scale roughly from AC/DC to 90s alternative rock – and generally fairly upbeat. There’s a good variety in the sounds for as consistent as it is overall and I love the directions some tracks took the source material, particularly “Runnin’ in Circles” by Ivan Hakštok & streifig and “Critical Heat” by Grospixels.

The second disc has a lot of the same musical theme as the first, though it adds in a bit more variety to the typical rock model with some electronica and a touch more of the jazz/fusion and funk from the first disc. There’s also a three-part chiptune medley from Derris-Kharlan, who had a similar medley in one part on Spectrum of Mana. While I’m starting to get tired of chiptunes, Derris-Kharlan gives it a lot of depth and movement and after giving both a chance, I’ve ended up thoroughly enjoying both. Overall there’s a lot of depth of sound in both this disc and the entire album, and the arrangements here are solid. I’m always impressed when a musician can take a less than 10-second source and expand it into a full song, so one of my favourites was “Norstein Bekkler’s Song of Horrors” by, once again, Ivan Hakštok, as well as “Epoch ~ Wings of Time” by Kirby’s Dream Band and “First Tentacle of Mars” (a play on the original title “First Festival of Stars”) by the group of musicians known as DROIDEKKA.

The third disc moves away from the electric guitars and heads more into new age, with a bit of jazz, orchestral, and Latin mixed in, and even a wonderful string quartet arrangement that utilises the instruments to their fullest potential. I thoroughly loved this disc, and every track is staying in my collection. Once again, there’s both great variety and great arrangements, and it’s hard to pick just a couple favourites.

The fourth disc is the jazz section. Where there’s been hints of it in the previous discs, it jumps to the fore in these tracks, ranging from lounge to swing to blues to salsa and beyond. This ended up being my favourite disc, which came as a bit of a surprise, since I’m all about the new age. There’s just so much movement, excellent arrangement of the source material into sometimes entirely different styles, great horn/sax solos, and such big sound that a lot of these tracks make me smile just to hear them. I absolutely loved “Primevil” by Eight Bit Disaster and “Cantina Automatica” by XPRTNovice (which I discovered last year from a different website, but I loved it so much I have no qualms at all with paying to have it again, and also contains some great humour for fans of the game).

The fifth disc got a bit heavier with more punk rock/heavy metal type arrangements. Several of these tracks were a bit too heavy for my taste, and I ended up not enjoying more of this disc than the others. I still liked more of this disc than not, particularly “Arena Rex” by Midee (featuring Ailsean, finbeard, norg, prozax & Snappleman).

Overall, it turned out to be a very strong album with a lot to like. I ended up keeping almost 80% of the tracks in my collection, and for almost five and a half hours of quality music? I’d say that’s worth $20. Fans of Chrono Trigger will most likely get a lot of enjoyment out of this album, and if you’re a fan of the Chrono Trigger soundtrack and jazz music, you should definitely check it out.

If you’d like more of an idea of what to expect, the group released a name-your-own-price preview disc over at Bandcamp. The full album is available via Loudr and iTunes, and you can get full information on the songs at the project website.

Sisters of Chaos vignette 2 February 29, 2016

Posted by thejinx in enduring chaos, writing.
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While trying to get back into the spirit of writing my next book, the second in my Sisters of Chaos trilogy, I wrote a short scene featuring Damian, the star of the trilogy, as a little glimpse into her history. Seeing as I don’t intend on writing any more of this piece, I present it to you now. This takes place 2-3 years before the start of Enduring Chaos:


 

For the first time that day, Damian could see clearly. Her veil hung close at hand in case of any surprise visitors, but standing in the kitchen, the aroma of herbs and roast duck on the air, she relished the free air on her hair and face.

Claude let out a breath as he sat down at the dining table. “Well, this is looking to be our most profitable trade season yet, though these regulations are awful this year. I wonder if I can hire someone who can sift through all these taxes and guild fees.”

Damian smiled as she carried a platter toward the table. “You said that last year, too, Papa. You’ll figure it out.”

Her father stood to help bring dishes to the table. “Well, I’m glad to have you here to help me out. I certainly couldn’t handle it all on my own.”

She gave him a wry smile. “You could always take on an apprentice. Mrs. Dunhill will need to before the year ends.”

Claude groaned as he sat at the table, Damian sitting across from him. “I can’t imagine teaching an apprentice enough of all this to actually take over for me one day.”

“You’ve taught me.”

“Yes, and you’re better than any apprentice I could get. I wish I could just keep you around.”

“What do you mean? I’m not going anywhere.”

His mustache quirked in a sad smile. “Damian, you’re as good a merchant as I am, but you deserve more than this. You should have your own family, your own home.”

The thought terrified Damian as much as she longed for it. It left an ache in her stomach so deep she felt nothing else could possibly fill it, but the idea of actually having a suitor made a chill run up her spine. She reflected on that afternoon, when they met with Mrs. Dunhill, one of Claude’s best weavers, and the woman’s daughter, whose belly now visibly swelled. She was younger than Damian.

Damian swallowed. “Papa, how could I get married?” She stared into his eyes, his brown meeting her vibrant yellow. “I couldn’t keep this a secret.”

“You’ll find someone who will accept you the way you are.”

She bitterly turned away.

Her father reached across the table and laid his hand on hers. “Have faith, Damian. You wouldn’t want to marry anyone who couldn’t see your true worth, anyway.”

She sighed but didn’t argue. Silently, they both returned to their meals.

“Papa,” she finally ventured after a protracted silence, “I’m the reason you never remarried, aren’t I?” As she saw the denial about to be issued from his lips, she added, “Honestly.”

His expression softened. “Honestly, I wouldn’t make that choice. I don’t need anyone else in my life.”

A smile spread on Damian’s face. “And I don’t need anyone else in mine.”

A trace of sadness remained on Claude’s face, but he smiled back and said nothing else on the topic.

 

Music Monday: Video Games Live February 23, 2016

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In the interest of posting more about the things I enjoy, I am resurrecting my short-lived feature highlighting some of the music I listen to. This week, I want to talk about Video Games Live.

VGL is pretty much what the name suggests – a concert series that performs live arrangements of video game music, with a symphony orchestra as well as electric guitar usually played by the creator of the show, Tommy Tallarico.

I heard about VGL pretty much right from its beginning in 2005. It seems like something that I would have jumped on, but it took me a couple years to get into it. Live shows aren’t usually my thing and I’m generally more interested in recordings I can listen to later, which weren’t available for VGL for the first few years. Mainly, though, on reading about it, I was convinced that they primarily performed music from new games, and it’s been about 20 years since I was anything close to current in my video game habits.

But, in the summer of 2007 or 2008, I was alerted on short notice to a free concert that they were playing in downtown Toronto. I decided it was worth a trip into the city to see what they were all about.

I am so glad that I did. What I discovered that afternoon was not just masterful orchestrations of video game music both new and old, but an amazingly fun and engaging live show. There was a game of Frogger with the symphony providing the music live as it happened, with the player – a member of the audience – using herself as the controller. There was a Guitar Hero competition on-stage with two winners of an earlier competition before the show where they played Guitar Hero Aerosmith, which was not yet released, and the winner absolutely killed it.Tommy Tallarico himself brought so much energy to the show and drew the audience in and had everyone singing along. And I embarrassed my company by screaming my head off when the encore started, a medley of music from Castlevania, which I recognized from the first two notes while Tommy Tallarico was still introducing it.

I have since gone back to VGL at Gen Con and Toronto. I’ve seen lots more great features, special guests, post-show meet and greets, and even a proposal. I’ve never had so much fun at a live concert as at Video Games Live.

And, of course, I’ve bought the music. I purchased the first two CDs at shows, both of which are signed. For the third and fourth albums, Tommy Tallarico used Kickstarter to fund them and I contributed enough for digital copies. I love them all thoroughly, even the songs from video games I’d never played.

Now, he has started a Kickstarter for VGL’s fifth album. As a previous contributor, I was alerted to it right away, and I’m thrilled to see that barely five days in they are already within 85% of their goal, and I sincerely hope that they will reach at least some of their stretch goals and add more tracks to the album.

I’ve already contributed and I implore you to consider doing the same. For $10 you can help bring this project to life and get high-quality digital files of the entire album when it’s released, along with a bonus disc of an assortment of music from various guest artists – and I can tell you from experience that these bonus tracks are almost as good as the new album itself.

To give you a taste of the kind of music to expect, I’ll leave you with my unexpected joys from each album so far, tracks from games I haven’t played but ended up loving these arrangements.

From the first album: Kingdom Hearts suite

Video Games Live: Level 2 – Civilization IV – Baba Yetu (Duet Version)

Video Games Live: Level 3 – Secret of Monkey Island

Video Games Live: Level 4 – Too many favourites to choose, but for a taste of something different, Metal Gear Solid – Snake Eater

A new beginning, a few weeks late February 19, 2016

Posted by thejinx in books, site.
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I’ve just made a small change to the design of this blog that may mean bigger things for it: the tagline, which now mentions my art, writing, and interests.

I started this blog with the intention of focusing only or at least primarily on the things I produce. But, inspired a bit by a number of book review blogs I checked out recently, I’ve decided that I will start talking here about the things I enjoy, even if they aren’t directly related to my art. Maybe nobody will care about it, but trying to write posts just for other people has resulted in skeletal updates here for the past… years.

Besides, if you’re here visiting my personal blog, you must be looking for more information about me, right?

In the spirit of book blogs, I’m going to start by sharing my reading progress so far this year. I kind of devoured books in January, surprising even myself with how many I finished – I read more published books in the first six weeks of this year than in all of 2014.

I’ve also started reviewing books again. When I started this blog, I posted reviews of the books I’d read, though when I discovered Goodreads, I moved all my reviews there. In the past couple years, my reviews were feeling too formalized and time-consuming and I pretty much stopped making written reviews and simply left star ratings. But even if just for my own reference, it’s nice to go into greater detail about what I liked and what I didn’t, and I’m taking the reviews a little less seriously this time.

So, here is my reading progress in 2016, with links to my reviews of each: (more…)

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