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Music Monday: Hero of Time March 27, 2017

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hero-of-time-legend-of-zelda-ocarina-of-time-album-coverI am very excited this week to feature an album that just launched last night, Hero of Time, a The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time arrangement album produced by Materia Collective.

When I first discovered the Kickstarter for Hero of Time last fall, I was thrilled at the idea of a fan-produced arrangement album of Ocarina of Time performed by a full orchestra, not to mention arranged with the help of some VGM musicians I recognized and liked. I was then immediately saddened to find that with maybe five days left, they still needed to raise something like $30,000 to reach their goal. I contributed my share because I wanted to show my support, but I never expected it to actually succeed.

Lo and behold, in the last few hours of the campaign, they reached their goal and my excitement mounted again, and I spent the next six months watching the updates on its progress and eagerly awaiting its release. Now, here we are, and while I am still waiting for my download code, I have listened to the full album on Bandcamp.

(it’s also available on iTunes and Spotify)

Hero of Time tells the story of Ocarina of Time in epic orchestral form. There are some original sections added, mainly for transitions or track openings, but for the most part, the original tracks from the game are arranged fairly true to form, but generally on a much grander scale, with varying tempos and the addition or encouragement of sweeping strings, booming brass, and huge orchestral hits. The story was condensed for the sake of the album, and some notable tracks from the game are absent, such as Zora’s Domain and Death Mountain, and Kakariko Village appears only as a minor key cello adagio as part of the homage to the Shadow Temple (though the rendition is haunting and beautiful).

What remains, though, paints a beautiful picture of the game’s story, transforming it into a musical journey that seriously sounds like a modern movie score. The original soundtrack for the game was melodic, delightful, and memorable, but not necessarily very emotional. In this rendition, however, Materia Collective did an amazing job bringing the mood of the tracks to life, highlighting the grandeur of Hyrule field and castle, the awe of uncovering the Master Sword, the horror and failure as Ganondorf uses that opening to take over the kingdom and plunge it into darkness, the mystery of Sheik, and more. And in the end, it’s a near straight rendition of the ending credits as performed by a full orchestra, immensely satisfying to someone who has happily listened to the original track in its 20-year-old synthesized splendour over and over again.

I can’t say enough good about how this album came out. In one listen, it has immediately jumped to my top 5 VGM albums of all time. If you played Ocarina of Time and/or enjoyed the soundtrack at all, buy this album. You will not be disappointed.

Music Monday: January indie releases February 6, 2017

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This January seemed to be a good month for indie VGM album releases, even with my limited exposure to news on that front. So for this week’s post, I thought I’d highlight a few of the new releases I came across.

Chaos Theatre by The Runaway Four

This Vancouver group touts itself as a medley band, which is more accurate than to say they’re arrangers. After the first track on this first studio recorded album of theirs, there isn’t a lot of original interpretation or expansion of the source tracks, and focuses on straight performances weaving together many songs into five mega-mixes. However, the combination of great instrumentation, solid performance, and smooth transitions between the source material makes for great, engrossing ear candy that both grabs and holds your attention and pays a very satisfying homage to the original tracks.

 

The Travelers (self-titled album)

When you have a collaboration of musicians from VGM cover bands such as Materia Collective, the Triforce Quartet, and Tetrimino, you can expect high quality results. The Travelers’ namesake album delivers on that promise with lush European folk arrangements of songs from various (mainly older) games, in many cases really showing the potential of these classic soundtracks. There are very occasional moments when songs become a little dull or repetitive, but overall, this album is very lovely. It’s also the only album in this list that isn’t free to download, but with professional-grade production quality and I don’t think a single synthesized instrument, the $7 price tag is a bargain.

 

Super Mario RPG: Window to the Stars

This latest album from VGM community and repository extraordinaire OverClocked ReMix will probably be a treat to fans of EDM and drum’n’bass (as well as Super Mario RPG), as those styles make up the bulk of the three-disc album. There’s a bit more distortion and chippy sounds, even from familiar names in the VGM community, than I tend to prefer, but some of it works for me, and there’s still a bit of variety. Joseph “XPRTNovice” Zieja, as always, does not fail to surprise with his contributions, including an arrangement that turns the bizarre, almost carnival-esque “And My Name’s Bukki (Booster)” into a haunting orchestral expansion worthy of any mindwarp movie trailer.

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.

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

Changes January 23, 2015

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I finished a new drawing last night, my first in over six months:

Sketch22420045It is a simple picture, in many respects, but this drawing is very important to me. Not because of the content, but because of the way it made me feel.

Because I enjoyed working on it. I enjoyed every step of the process – building up the sketch, designing the outfit, finding reference images for things like the hairstyle and anatomy, even learning to work around the limitations of the app I used, as I drew this from start to finish on my tablet. Intimidation reared its head and made it hard to get started at times, but I never had to force myself to work on it or felt discouraged that something wasn’t working and wanted to give up.

I don’t know why or how this changed, but this is a big deal for me, and it led to an even bigger revelation:

I feel good about my art.

I don’t care that it isn’t as good as the artists I follow. I don’t care that there are a lot of things I can’t or at least don’t know how to draw. I don’t care that after so many years I am still learning how to draw faces. I looked through my online gallery last night, both the drawings that kind of make me want to delete almost my entire gallery and the ones I still like, and it just made me want to draw more. For the first time in at least ten years, flaws aren’t the only thing I see, and I’m revelling in the act of creating, itself.

Now if only I had more time to draw.

June update June 2, 2014

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Summer is filling up fast and I am looking forward to getting out to many events this season with my books. Before I get to that, though, I’d like to share a gorgeous portrait of Damian, the star of Enduring Chaos, drawn by the very talented Chris Babarik:

damian-babarik

Huge thanks to Chris for such a lovely drawing.

And now, my schedule for the next few months (so far):

Hope to see you at one of these events this summer/fall.

Also, I’ll let you guys in on a secret – the trailer for Enduring Chaos that so many of you so generously contributed to help make a reality? It’s finally going to be released within the week. Stay tuned.

Being an artist and a mother April 7, 2014

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New parents live in the moment. The demands of such a tiny, fragile, and utterly dependent life form are so immediate and encompassing that there just isn’t an opportunity to think about the future. That’s why those early sleepless nights seem insurmountable – because it feels like there will never be anything other than that moment. That might be part of the reason post-partum depression hits so hard, along with inadequate sleep. I know it played a large part in my baby blues.

Of course, there is something to be said about the inspiration derived from the transformation of this helpless, squalling, troll-like armful into a sapient, problem-solving miniature human, but that’s not the purpose of this post.

This post is about time.

When I was pregnant, I tried to get as much done as I could, since I was pretty much giving up the idea of getting anything done until my daughter was going to school. I have always been far from even attempting to be supermom, but she only gets one chance to grow up and I wanted to do as best I could to help raise her to be a smart, disciplined, and loved little girl.

Consequently, I didn’t get much done. Sure, I managed some tasks – I completed and published Halcyon and, more recently, Enduring Chaos, and opened up Brain Lag for outside submissions – but plenty others fell by the wayside. Those five images I posted over the last month encompassed the entirety of completed (drawn) artwork I’ve put out since I gave birth to my daughter. Prior to the quilt square I decorated over a year ago now, I had done no art more advanced than a sketch since before she was born. Things like updating this blog and posting photographs of subjects not including my daughter dropped to occasional dabbles or ground to a halt. I chose to use what little free time I had to focus my efforts on writing and publishing, and I believe that was a wise choice.

2.75 years later, my daughter is well-behaved, getting much better at entertaining herself, and communicating her needs and wants (a very welcome development).

Does this mean I have more time to focus on my own things? No. Sure, I have naptime, and after she goes to bed I rarely have to do anything else with her. But then, that’s been the case for almost two years. And when she’s awake, despite that she can play by herself pretty well, I tend to get frustrated if I’m interrupted in a task/hobby I’m doing for myself, which is unfair to her. So I still have very limited time to do my own things.

But it’s not about how much time I have, is it? It’s about how I use the time I have. Budgeting time – that’s the key. And it’s not something I’ve been doing very well of late.

The problem is one that’s afflicted me for years: I dabble too much. I just enjoy playing around in too many different media and forms of entertainment, such as:

  • Art
    trapped damian-frozen
  • Photography
    dessert mew
  • Writing
    tumblr_static_writing450
  • Jewelry making
  • Learning guitar
    acoustic-guitar
  • Video games
    Arc-Rise-Fantasia_Wii_US_ESRB

And that’s just the hobbies I’ve dabbled with in the past month. That doesn’t include the ones I am still interested in playing with but haven’t tried in years, including various other media of 2D and 3D art, and those other things like “spend time with the family” and “six month old kitten.” This is why I refuse to attempt things like knitting or sewing: because I’m afraid I’ll enjoy it and it will be one more hobby clawing for my attention.

So how does one budget very limited free time among so many interests?

Well… the same way everybody else does, I suppose.

I’m not any worse off than anyone else with a day job or a child, and let’s face it, I’m a lot better off than many, given that I have only one child to handle and a well-behaved one at that. I guess the real issue is that I’ve never had to budget my time for my own pursuits before. I could just do whatever I felt like when the fancy struck me, evenings were longer and weekends meant something. I have much bigger obligations now than I used to, with a daughter to care for and a business to build.

But if I still want to do all these things that interest me, including those things I haven’t attempted in years like sumi-e paintings and sculpture, then I need to figure out a way to make it work.

How?

Well, only time will tell.

SFContario and Enduring Chaos launch events November 23, 2013

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We are now officially less than a week away from the launch of Enduring Chaos! Plans are coming together for multiple launch events celebrating the release of this long-awaited book.

I will be at SFContario at the Ramada Plaza Hotel at 300 Jarvis St. in Toronto next weekend, November 29-December 1, where the official launch party for Enduring Chaos is taking place. Enduring Chaos will be available at the table for Brain Lag in the dealers room all weekend. I will also be sitting on two panels during the convention: Horror, Scifi and Fantasy in the Gardenview room Saturday at 1:00 and Strength of Characters in the Solarium room Sunday at 11:00.

The launch party for Enduring Chaos is taking place in the Courtyard room of the hotel Saturday, November 30 at 6:00 p.m. This event is open to the public so please come out and help me celebrate the release of the first book in the Sisters of Chaos trilogy with games, prizes, and more fun. RSVP not required, but if you do so by comment here or on the Facebook event page, you can have your very own custom-made SFContario badge for the party!

For those in the Milton, Ontario area, there will be another launch event happening at Recycled Reading at 171 Main St. on Friday, December 6 at 3:00 p.m. Come out to meet the author, get a signed copy, learn more about the book, and enjoy complimentary snacks and beverages! For more information, feel free to visit the Facebook event page.

Enduring Chaos cover reveal and giveaway! October 11, 2013

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Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to present the cover art for my next book, Enduring Chaos!

enduring chaos front cover

Cursed with fearsome eyes and a dangerous gift, any chance of Damian Sires having an ordinary life was dashed the moment she was born. All her life, she has hidden her abnormalities and fought for acceptance behind the shadow of a veil and her respected merchant father.

When Damian’s power spirals out of control and casts her out alone into the world, she finds herself caught up in plots as old as the gods themselves. Bitter exiles, deposed nobility, clandestine knights, and a divine being with an ancient grudge all close in on the unstable power radiating from Damian.

Desperate to keep that power contained, she sets out with mysterious allies in an attempt to find someone who can help her in a world that fears magic. Yet the source of Damian’s ability is far more deadly than she imagined.

View Enduring Chaos on Goodreads.

In addition to the cover reveal, I am offering a giveaway to win a free e-copy of Ruins of Change by J. R. Dwornik, the first book in the world of Elderra! Simply comment on this post by October 25th and you will automatically be entered into the giveaway.

Indiegogo campaign a success! July 30, 2013

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Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to the fundraising campaign to create a live action trailer for Enduring Chaos. Thanks to your generous contributions, we surpassed our fundraising goal! I’m really looking forward to creating the trailer for my next book and seeing how it all comes out. I’ll be sharing progress updates here as it commences.

Also, one final reminder that I will be at the Pirate Festival in Milton, Ontario this weekend, Saturday through Monday. Look for Brain Lag in the Local Authors booth, or come out for a reading on the stage from 2:30-3:00 p.m. each day of the festival. I will be reading from Aurius on Saturday, Halcyon on Sunday, and I’ll be giving a new advance reading from Enduring Chaos on Monday. In addition, I’m very excited to say that I’ll have a sneak peek of the cover art for Enduring Chaos to share during the reading. So come out and have a look. Hope to see you there!