Introducing my new album… a ROCK OPERA no less… 8-Bit Time Machine!

Anyone who’s following me on the social medias knows I’ve been working for the past couple of months on what is probably my most absurdly ambitious solo music project to date: a rock opera with a retro-geeky theme.

The album is finished. I’m still working on perfecting the masters before I release it for download and get CDs pressed, but you can now immerse yourself in the full 8-Bit Time Machine experience over on the new website I’ve set up for the album:

The website features a page for each of the album’s 11 tracks, where you can listen to the track while reading the lyrics and notes about the story. (Note: As the audio is in MP3 format, it will work in Firefox. Any other modern browser that supports HTML5 audio will play the tracks automatically.)

Stay tuned for more information about a final release date!

8-Bit Time Machine

P.S. Yes, there is a track (a rather musical one at that) consisting of nothing but sounds from Atari 2600 games.

P.P.S. Yes, there is also one track with full-on autotuned vocals. How do I rationalize this use of one of my most despised audio technologies? You’ll just have to listen to figure it out.

Class reunions in the Facebook era

It’s a sunny August morning. I’m sitting in front of my computer in a t-shirt, shorts and Converse sneakers, listening to Rush.

You could easily assume the year is 1992. I did spend a lot of the summer of 1992 that way. But of course, no… it’s 2012. The music and attire may be (almost) the same, but the computer is not a Tandy 1000 EX with 640 KB of RAM. It’s a MacBook Air connected to a 23-inch LCD flat panel, with 4 GB (4,194,304 KB) of RAM.

So, the more things change, the more they stay the same. (Or, as Rush and the French say, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”) That saying will be put to the test tonight when I attend my 20-year high school class reunion.

The last time I will have seen many of these people is 10 years ago, at our last reunion. But a couple of significant things have happened in the past 10 years.

First, we are now 20 years out of high school. Which means that, for the first time, we are gathering having lived more of our lives after high school graduation than before it.

My biggest fear: I won’t recognize someone who recognizes me. There was a time in my life, even some years after graduation, when I could confidently name every single one of the 200-or-so people in my graduating class. But now I look at our class photo with only a vague recollection of a lot of now-nameless faces. Even among the people in the photo I do still remember and can name, will I recognize them with all of the changes 20 years have brought? Will I recognize them without teased perms and mullets?

Second, Facebook.

Like it or hate it (or both, as seems to be the case with most people), Facebook has had a profound impact on how we keep in touch with the people in our lives, especially those on the periphery of it. And few people occupy the periphery of our lives quite like those we spent 13 years with in public school and then haven’t seen since.

There are plenty of people with whom I was at best a passing acquaintance in high school, but who are now, by Facebook terms, my “friends.” Facebook keeps us in contact with a wide network of friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances past and present in ways that were never before imaginable. But for the most part these contacts are profoundly superficial. I might know that you went to the beach last weekend, or what you had for lunch, or that you have too much time on your hands to spend looking at cat photos, or that you and I have divergent political views. But when’s the last time we actually saw each other face to face? When did we go out for a beer or come over to each other’s houses for a barbecue or work together on an exciting new project? Facebook defines trivia, in the worst possible way.

Sadder though than the superficial connections Facebook creates with people I only ever had superficial connections with in the first place, are the superficial connections Facebook creates between me and the people with whom I was actually close friends in high school. Sure, many of them are now scattered across the country (or the world) and we couldn’t really hope for a more “real” connection than what Facebook offers. But a handful of my good friends from high school currently live in the same city as I do, and yet we only have those same trivial connections on Facebook. We could get together any time we want, not just when our entire class converges on our hometown to mark the frighteningly fast passage of time.

But we don’t.

Over the past few years I’ve been looking forward to this reunion with uncertainty. What kind of impact was Facebook going to have on it? Are reunions even necessary in the era of Facebook? Now that it’s (almost) here, I’m getting a better sense that, yes, reunions do still have an important place in our lives. Because while Facebook might keep us connected, it doesn’t really keep us in touch.

It does make planning the event a lot easier though.

My true path in life, finally diagrammed

It’s my birthday. What better time to reflect upon where I’ve been, and what I’ve become? Thankfully, Curiosity Counts (formerly a Maria Popova joint) has today linked to a flowchart, courtesy of Fast Company, that may explain it all.

A few of the details miss the mark: I taught myself BASIC, not Pascal (although I did try to make sense of Pascal while tinkering with my uncle’s IBM 5150 when I was 8), and I specialize in PHP, not Perl (distant cousins). But the lower left corner pretty much covers that, and also explains away the fact that I am married, for good measure.

Going back earlier in time, it even captures (and I’m being quite serious here) what might be the ultimate pivot point in my life: being massively obsessed with Atari but not getting into the next-generation game systems that followed it. It wasn’t for lack of interest; my parents simply refused to buy me an NES, and got me a Tandy computer (not a TRS-80, but close enough) instead. So thanks, Mom and Dad, for making a decision 25 years ago that set me on the path of lucrative uses of computers, instead of fantasy baseball and MMORPGs.

Here’s my version of the flowchart, with my path highlighted in yellow. Click the image below to see the full version, and be sure to check out the source, Taschen’s massive tome of infographics, while your at it.

Rod Hilton saves Star Wars

I linked to this on Twitter this morning, but it’s cool enough (and, dare I say, to the extent that Star Wars can be considered “important,” important enough) to link to here as well, just so it doesn’t vanish into the social networking ether.

Rod Hilton has devised an ingenious viewing order for the complete Star Wars saga. OK, actually not the complete saga, but what could come to be viewed as the definitive saga. He makes a compelling case for shuffling up the order a bit, and for removing The Phantom Menace entirely.

The ultimate sequence he devises is as follows:

  • Episode IV: A New Hope (or, more properly, Star Wars)
  • Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
  • Episode II: Attack of the Clones
  • Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
  • Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

I’ll leave it to Hilton to explain in detail how he arrived at this solution, along with its (mostly) pros and (few, minor) cons. The whole post is definitely worth reading and I look forward to watching the “complete” saga in this order soon.

Air (and Georges Méliès) fly us to the moon

Earlier this month, the French electronica/rock band Air released an album of soundtrack music to accompany the restored color (yes, color) release of the legendary 1902 Georges Méliès silent film, Le voyage dans la lune (A Voyage to the Moon).

Spoiler alert, I guess: This is the film that plays a central role in Martin Scorsese’s brilliant 2011 film Hugo. It is great to be able to see the film in its entirety, especially accompanied by Air’s brilliant soundtrack.

An excerpt is available on YouTube:

I purchased the album, which includes the full-length (15-minute) video, on iTunes, but it’s also available as a CD/DVD set from Amazon. I’m considering buying the CD/DVD set anyway, as the music is that good and the download version of the video contains some annoying compression artifacts (horizontal stripes that appear whenever something fast-moving appears, which I have to assume were a result of the process of compressing the video for download, and are not inherent to the version on the DVD).

I watched the full video last night, and found myself more profoundly moved than I would have expected from the film’s light and fantastical story. I’m not sure if it was because the hand-coloring brought the film to life in a way that black-and-white couldn’t, but there were two thoughts I just couldn’t shake as I watched it, which I don’t normally think about when I’m watching very old film footage:

1. Everyone involved with this film is dead.

This is not a profound revelation. But again, I think the color brings the film to life in a unique way. There’s nothing realistic about the color, so it’s not seeing people in color that makes it more vivid. I think it’s the simple fact that it’s in color, and the way it was colorized. That the creators of the film put in the incredible effort of hand-coloring each frame of the film. That they imbued it with their personality. And, beyond all of this, that it conveys a sense of frivolity and wonder that I don’t often associate with the early 1900s.

Grainy, black-and-white film of the era feels dark and dismal. Since that’s how we’re accustomed to seeing it, that time period, for me, exudes grit and grime, the ugliness of early, soot-choked industrial cities. This color, literally, casts these times in a new light, and brings out a joy and humor I would not have seen or felt otherwise.

2. We have learned so much about the universe in the last century.

It is obvious, I think, that Méliès was not attempting to create a realistic depiction of a journey to the moon, or of what people would find there. If Ben Kingsley’s portrayal of him in Hugo is accurate, his goal in filmmaking was to explore realms of fantasy, to bring dreams to life. And that’s just it: in 1902, the idea of traveling to the moon was pure fantasy. But just 67 years later, people actually walked on the moon for the first time. (And, 70 years later, possibly for the last.) The amount of scientific knowledge humanity gained during those intervening years is hard to comprehend, and as someone who was born after those final moon landings of 1972, it’s something that for me has always been and forever will be in the past. But for those who worked with Méliès on Le voyage dans la lune, it was still the distant future, one most if not all of them never even lived to see.

It is an amazing time to be alive. Not only to immerse ourselves in the technologies of now, but because we have unprecedented access to what it looked and felt like to be alive over 100 years ago, via the motion pictures of pioneers like Méliès. The restoration of the color version of Le voyage dans la lune is amazing, and it’s made even more wondrous by its pairing with some of the best music our era has to offer.