Ether versus Esther

Probably like yourself, I’ve got a bit of work leave and an overwhelming desire to waste some time. That means getting to play some of the computer games I buy in sales all year and never get around to trying.

Actually, as the author of small game that didn’t set the world on fire, it’s really some valuable research time into what I could do better next time the opportunity comes. I’m really not interested in “shoot monsters, shoot nazis, try jump up on a edge 100 times, flap my bird through endless columns” – basically I am clueless about what a ‘game’ means to 99 percent of people. But I’m actually just as clueless about what I want to achieve to better the existing tropes.

ether1-1920x1080Been playing a game called ETHER 1. The premiss is a good one: you get ‘inserted’ into the failing memories of a dementia patient, with the job of cleaning them of damage. She’s grown up in a small English seaside town, and much of the game is spent wandering around its deserted buildings, looking for fragments of recall which are represented by red bows for some reason. Just find these and you’re led like a tourist through a very pretty game world – that by itself is an advance on the tedious wandering of Dear Esther.

But the cacophony of clues and unfinished business drives you to start poking around in drawers and breaking into rooms to find out what’s really going on. For a start the therapist that’s working with you on the case is obviously up to no bloody good, and then there’s the way the patient herself screams bloody murder if you start snipping out the bad things. It’s quickly apparent that shit is going down and the story inside the lady’s brain is connected with the whole apparatus of the mind insertion technology itself. In fact I already have a pretty clear idea of what’s coming and just want to get at it.

OK, so cool story. But the problem is now the mechanism of adventure gaming, which after all these years remains:

  • find a bit of paper with some stuff on it or get told something by a NPC
  • go find a thing and carry it elsewhere
  • put that thing with another thing to open a door
  • turn a bunch of stopcocks
  • repeat

Oh no, more bloody Stopcocks with numbers next to them.

Seriously, there’s a endless array of combination locks in this old duck’s mind, that require bits of paper with combinations written on them and … UGH. Also the mechanism of carrying stuff around is disconnected from actually solving a story and gaining insight. It’s simply just slowing the story telling.

That’s doubly disappointing because you would expect the memories to be pretty screwed up and that would make a far better reason for the parcelling of information. Here and there you come across a section where the image is fuzzy and surreal – but it’s not The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is what it really needs to be. Even Dear Esther has a few moments where you’re confronted by the surreal, and they are by far the most interesting bits.

HH game capture 6

The false Denver Airport in the facsimile space.

In HH there’s a few sections where the surreal gets out of hand – for example the level where you move through the stacked ‘mind forms’ of aircraft. The ‘princess’ is being forced to create endless airplanes for some urgent purpose on the surface of the game world – that’s not explained. If I was actually telling a story, what would work better? Hopefully not combination locks. Actually, playing ETHER 1 is telling me something – if the story is wild, then the wild has to be conveyed in the difficulty of the world. If I am going to make my story more evident in H3H as planned, then the story must be evidenced in the game mechanics. It being a variation of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, that must be in the barriers that the player faces – no more doors.

That’s going to take a long time :(

Disney is killing my soul

A new Disney animated blockbuster. Oh joy, oh bliss.


Look at this shit. Look at it. I am going to be looking at it for the next four years. I am going to see slight variations of the characters as drawings, referential plot lines, tacky 3D animations (mostly of the big white blobby guy because he’s a bunch of spheres). It’s set in fucking SanFranTokyo or some other animé hell basket. Every little weeaboo student is going to be pumping this crud out for four years as I slowly crawl in a mental corner and die.


Thankfully just a search for ‘worst anime’.

Because they will come in, and they will say I WANT TO BE A 3D ANIMATOR and MY FAVOURITE FILM IS BY PIXAR and any attempt to wean them off this dream will be met by angry ratemyprofessor feedback and ‘we are not studying enough animation skills’ and ‘why is not every single course at university about how I will work at Pixar someday?’

Because you will never work at Pixar. You will not be listed at the end of a Hollywood animated film any more than you will be president of the fucking united states. And meanwhile the world is a cruel hard place where you might have to get a real job where the fonts on a local government website are the only creative act you get all month. And it is my job to somehow pack you onto the bus and then as soon as the bus is moving tell you that it’s not a choo-choo to dream land.



You will have to write essays, you will have to solve problems, you will have to draw people so their heads are in proportion to their bodies. I will give you hell because your story idea is unbelievable, tacky and stupid and no one wants to watch your animé Disney rip off crap. But most of all you are going to have to make somebody believe that you are somehow better than the 90,000 other Arts students that graduate in this tin pot country every damn year. That means you are going to have to become research active dammit – even if it kills you (or me).

I am become Death, destroyer of (animated) worlds.

If I didn’t care it wouldn’t matter. But I actually care about the munchkins, and sometimes when somebody is going the wrong way, well, you just have to take a stand.

And a reminder of places that don’t really care…

Been some management going down.

This is not a real manager. They look too happy.

This is not a real manager. They look too happy.

Some people want to be managers, so celebrate their insanity for they are sheltering you from that odium. Others are taken to one side and given a little talk about the good of the company, that we need a steady hand, that it’s either take it or your nemesis Batshit F. McInsane gets the job and so on. This has been my first year as a manager and if I have nothing particularly new to say, let me just say it for my own peace. I think everybody should be made a manager for at least a little while, so that they can feel what it’s like to be somewhere between Solomon and one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Solomon because you’re going to become the focus of every built up grievance that you probably didn’t expect or deserve. Like A* has been with the company for 50 years and along comes B and this new prick is changing everything and what do they know, it was already fine and A wants you to make everything go back to 1995 when they were last happy in life. Being a manager means not laughing in their face for finally being challenged to actually develop a new idea. No. You understand their viewpoint and value everything they have achieved but put to them that the marketplace has changed and really the tasks at hand have evolved and so must we all must meet these new challenges. Perhaps they could finish off that very important filing system they had proposed back in 2005 we would all appreciate that.

Or then there’s C that says every time that D and E call a research meeting they just ignore everything C says – obviously because of C’s gender and that look they both gave in the corridor – well it tells you everything doesn’t it, they want C out of here, C can tell. Management does not mean telling them to for fuck sake get a grip. It means reminding C to understand that D & E are not excluding C as such, just that they are collaborating on a new phase about which we are all concerned and so stress plays its part and really your own important research is just as valuable and perhaps we could call a meeting where we could all have an adult discussion about our shared progress.


Horseman because you will be first to hear from above what needs to be explained below. You are a sub manager in the widget department. Your boss tells you that widgets are in decline, the demand is falling and the company must diversify into thingamajigs or fail. You remind the boss that you have 20 people who are world experts in widgets. Some of them have spent their whole lives in widget making and to now make thingamajigs would require retraining, which isn’t possible in the time available and means that both thingamajig and widget quality will suffer. The boss smiles and ushers you out the door. In the room outside the 20 widget makers are waiting for you.

This is why I buy cheap keyboards off eBay. There is nothing finer than inanimate objects with instruction manuals, racks, screwdrivers and cables. They have no feelings to hurt.

In general the Australian tertiary education industry is being ‘challenged’. The government, partly through ideology and partly because they think the main population won’t care, are proposing to save money by deregulating fees, while the same time allowing a wave of private colleges to enter the market. So if you are a student you are now supposed to ‘shop around’ for the price versus quality. My workplace is a top end university and think they can put fees up and hang in there. That might work for engineering students, but it might not win over potential fine arts students. The solution to that seems to be to re-badge as a “design faculty with lots of cool engineering shit like robots”. That’s a bit hard on staff in painting and drawing.

My concern is that one day Harvard and MIT will open their doors here. Why not? They can get funding from the government. At that point we will feel the pain that the regional universities already feel.

But in the meantime the effort to steer an art college into a design/engineering model requires endless cuts and adjustments and soothing of ruffled feelings and sympathy. Yes, X is an important art form and certainly one that we must always cherish, however there’s not really a future for it in a design faculty and so I’m shutting down classes even if you do hold your breath and turn blue. It brings me no joy, it really doesn’t. But I’ve seen the future in the management meetings and it’s like The Dead Zone. The number of people that are going to get a job in X is dropping, the news will reach the people that plan to study X and you, dear worker, will no longer be gainfully employed.

Don’t point your finger at tertiary education, for the grim reaper is hanging around your industry as well. Be happy that you can’t see him, as much as I am unhappy that I now can.

* All stories are hypothetical and blended from all kinds of experiences, so.

Fleacore tough love.

A small amusement – watching prices on eBay. There is an antique that sounds like a flugelhorn out a frog’s arse and it’s going for thousands of dollars. Next to it is something that no one will touch even if Jesus came and delivered it on a cloud. On the Internet are grown men – well I guess that’s an assumption but anyway – grown men shouting hoarsely about ‘converters’ and ‘ROM revisions’ and ‘stereo presence’ and all kinds of complete twaddle. Read between the lines and it becomes obvious – none of them know how to use the gear they’re binging and purging.

I want to make amends to the universe for this shameful display.
Learn to use your damn equipment.


Dog of the Week.

Look at this: it’s my JV1010. You can get one for tuppence. The advantages include being very small and having a Session ROM – an extra set of sounds. If you have a PC then you need to get a hold of the free JV editor that Roland included with the unit. If you are an OSX user then you’ll need some other editor – or get an JV1080 with some knobs on front. No Session ROM included, never mind you can get that later.

Now this is a Sword and Sandals machine. Each voice has four tones. You get 64 tones all up. Each tone is a waveform, a filter, an amplifier and 2 LFOs. So you can make a nice sound with just one tone, by putting a waveform through a filter and so on – I don’t need to explain that. When you stack up these tones you get very thick sounds, and the synthesiser has an analogue control which makes the oscillators drift a little – so that traditional Roland sound is quickly there.

But you’ll eventually become dissatisfied because S&S relies on samples and they are going to be the same every time you push the key. At this point Mrs. GearSlutz throws her hands in the air and goes back to mooing with lust for a Moog. But really there’s some interesting techniques that Roland have put in there, found that no one cared, and not bothered to explain very well. Allow me.

At this point I have to assume you are reasonably familiar with the S+S idea.


Two tones can be connected in a structure. The first structure is parallel, so that each tone has its own envelope and 2 pole filter. No.2 is serial, running the two through the filters to make a 4 pole filter with two distinct cut off settings. That’s nice for more overt filter sounds. The third structure has the waveforms mixed together through a booster. If you try this without quite knowing what it does, it just seems to make a horrible fuzz. Instead, think of it as Roland’s attempt to make FM without touching Yamaha’s FM patent.

Turn on the first two tones. In the first one put a pure sine wave. In the second put a pure waveform of some sort, but with some harmonics to play with – a saw is fine. Select the 3rd structure with the booster. Now as you turn up the gain on the booster, the combined waves will start to ‘fold over’ – what would have been a volume peak is forced down and new harmonics are created. Use the top tone like a modulator, and the bottom tone as the carrier – the analogy is false, but the process will reach some comparable results. Detune them for chorused harmonics.

But notice that there’s both a filter and amp in front of the booster. Obviously that amp can be used like the amp on an FM modulator. You can also use a resonant filter sweep to move the new overtones around. The result is a very nice harmonic sweep that sounds a bit like an FM or a pulse width modulation sweep. If you use structure 5, you get a ring modulator – rather than adding the waves, you’re multiplying them. Different sound but same workflow.

Always more to learn.

The ring mod is a fine way to get modulated sounds, even just by supplying two of the same waveforms (in structure 7 for example) and detuning. Look carefully in the waveform list and you will see ‘low’ versions of the simple waveforms. These are like LFOs in the signal path and do slow movements with the ring mod, which works well with some careful use of ‘chaos’ LFO to get variations of tone.

The FXM control is still mysterious. It’s like a fixed FM effect with a few settings… what use? Roland aren’t that talkative. “FXM (Frequency Cross Modulation) uses a specified waveform to apply frequency modulation to the currently selected waveform, creating complex overtones. This is useful for creating dramatic sounds or sound effects.” Meh, not really forthcoming for something they they’ve included in every keyboard in 20 years. Sound on Sound suggests it’s a good way to vary hi hats!

The other interesting part of this little box is the effects section. The later XV machines had a bigger effect palette but there are still plenty of treatments to try. One that’s particularly nice is the Feedback Pitch Shifter which allows quite long delays between each re-pitched feedback loop. It’s the eventide harmoniser effect that the Residents used for decades (and I used on the Ant Can See Legs). Here also the Time Control Delay you can sweep by your modulation wheel for really nice tape delay effects.

With a bit of care you can get noises out of this thing which are more interesting than the big expensive toys. The point I’m getting to is that the music that people are crazy for at the moment, all this reissued culture, was made by people who had to work with whatever cheap 2nd hand tools they could get. If you want to bring back the excitement of whatever ‘old days’ you crave – this is where it starts. Learn to use the stuff you own!

Update to Big Iron – Fingers Crossed

About a year ago I wrote about a project to start an experimental video lab. And since then, very little to report.

It started well as we leased the digital switching gear, but ran into trouble when Stephen R Jones became unwell, and as often is the nature of visual music only he was able to prepare his equipment. There’s been plenty of other things to do at work so we took time out. But a year is a year and suddenly there had to be a plan B or the whole deal was off.

Big Iron 2 copy

One of the things I have learned over the last few years is whenever you reissue old albums, there’s a whole bunch of unfinished business that comes back to life. You have an equal chance that everyone is sweet, or that people are ready with a pump action shotgun. There was some business here as well, in-between these two extremes, but I have to get on with it, so the plan became to get a functioning rig now and sort out who shares the credit later. I don’t have the technical skill to trace that (I’m a middle manager).

By strange coincidence Ant, the Severed Heads ‘mother hen’ for many years, also works in A/V at the university and knows some of the local people who make contemporary video synthesisers. We’re hoping for a catch-up soon, where we can check out the latest toys. But it turns out they know the guy that bought the “Supernova 12″. That was Stephen’s last video synthesiser design, and is quite different to the “Fridge”, which is the one we used in Severed Heads.

Noting had been heard of it in years, when suddenly Ant got a mail to say, it exists, it needs some repairs, but if we can find a way to move it, it can come to the video lab. Which is kind of like when somebody says, ‘I found a box with MASTER TAPE written on it, do you want it?’.


In fact there was another Supernova based machine shown last year at Campbelltown. Maybe that can join its sister – I’ve asked the current user about joining in the project.

Catching Light, Campbelltown Arts Centre, 2013

Stephen agrees that the Fridge does some things better – the SN12 is a bit more brutal, doesn’t have quite same range of expression due to the way the colour is mixed. But I’m more hopeful now that we will have something to show for this and perhaps some day as many as three of Stephen’s machines in the one space.

Whatever happened to Something Awful?

If Something Awful was completely without merit, there would be no problem. Shit is shit and let’s run this shit into the ground as they say in one of the hundreds of memes that pass for conversation on SA. But SA can be charitable, as when it raises tens of  thousands of dollars for the poor in the USA and elsewhere, it can be justified as when it took on the child pornographers that infest Reddit and drove them out for least a while. It can be an effective critic of far worse entities such as 4chan, TV Tropes and other deserts of the mind. It can even be strangely beautiful – I was one of the many people preparing a Photoshop for a ‘make a ghost picture’ thread, when up popped the very first image of Slenderman, a nonsense monster that spread over the world in a flash and recently drove two teenage girls to try murder another to appease this instant-meal myth. I know that’s a particularly remorseful kind of beautiful, but I still prefer it to most art.


You will notice that, like Drop Bears, the Slenderman joke started in Australia. Then Americans believed it, and away we go.

At the moment they are coming to the end of a revolution of sorts, it’s petering out in spasms, but still you’re likely to come across entire threads of people saying:

“I’m Gay.”
“I’m Gay.”
“I’m Gay.” at each other like some kind of demented bird call. Which in anyone’s terms is pathetic or infuriating or both. I’m not here to defend it, but to try to sum up what’s been going on in this virtual town of 189,064 or so.

Just before Halloween 2013, the main board, General Bullshit (or ‘GBS’), was in trouble. SA is actually one of the most highly moderated websites around, with probations and bans constantly raining down on the worst of the worst. Probations come for racism, gender slights, tedious trolling, sock puppeting, all the usual sins of online society – if YouTube was run like SA, their comments would be empty. But in this case the effort had been too successful, and the grotesque ball had stopped dead. The punters were unnerved – what was funny? What ribaldry was OK? What insults would be tolerated, and if this was a party – the beer had gone flat.

Halloween evening, new ‘spooky rules’ for ‘GBS 2.0.’ were posted by Zack Parsons, science fiction novelist and admin. No NSFW images, no personal fights, that’s it.

By the time I saw the board a few hours later, a few timid starts had turned into an outpouring of the most disgusting, hateful, childish garbage that anonymous fat young men could pull out of their trousers. To be clear, there was no redeeming quality to it at all. I learned that probably the worst swearword in the United States is ‘nigger’, and they were going to mount that on a flag and march it down main street. Everything had to be burned and everyone had to be smeared with ashes and shit and god knows. I stopped visiting GBS for a while, basically because there was no community to visit.

Other sections of the community carried on as before, a bit like the white flight suburbs circling Detroit. Every now and then somebody would come wandering out of the maelstrom and start the noise in the pet discussion area or such like. They would instantly get banned, without understanding why the rules were different.


I thought it might go for weeks. It went for months, although after a while the tone was like the Dawn of the Dead – the zombies were beginning to assemble some parody of order, while angrily refusing it. The moderators came back in, allowed themselves to be mocked and be probated by others, sometimes with humour, mostly not. I’ll make a big stretch and compare it to the cultural revolution, when Mao had students attack the professors to keep himself up the top of the power structure.


I am an imperfect witness, I’m too old, I just wandered around the desolation not knowing why. Some of it was another discussion board, FYAD, leaking out of its pink cartoon cesspit. They do not speak their name but ‘Fuck You And Die’ is probably it. What you see in there is something between a diaper fetish, people who cut themselves for attention and those that think they are Oscar Wilde and aren’t. Everything is ironic, especially typing ‘nigger’. Perhaps the plan was to draw them out? Was it a death wish? Did Zack Parsons want to prove a point? The moderators only know.


FYAD in one image

Some time near the new year, softly, the rules were expanded and it became ‘GBS 1.3′. Probations followed. There was grumbling, but maybe everyone was too exhausted to rebel. August 2014, nearly a year later came the message from Lowtax, king of this domain: “Can we PLEASE get rid of all the racist garbage getting posted around here? As we’ve always said, unless it’s extremely remarkably wonderfully humorous, you’re going to get banned for making racist comments. For your health.”

The revolution lasted just over 11 months.

The proudly worst have discovered that while ‘tranny’ is now banned, ‘gay’ is still allowed, not specific to the sexual orientation although that’s in there, but in the school yard sense of ‘weak’. It’s highly offensive, it’s supposed to be. It tests exactly the same water as being ‘punk’ in 1976. But because the punks were at least glamorous, they now have a museum history, where once being ‘punk’ was just as awful as the ‘ironic homophobia’ that’s being thrown about now.


But who will record the revolt of the ugly fat dorks? I will. I was there for the punks, I was there for the dorks, what difference really?

My bullshit equipment list is better than AFX’s bullshit equipment list.

  • Eclectic Integrator with Phlogiston Gauge.
  • Opposable Mitts with Felt Innards.
  • Mid Range Pneumatic Foklift (n.b. not Forklift).
  • Hot Pockets, Meat Lovers, Frozen.
  • Tyrants (x7)
  • One small Bowl of Tepid Squid Bites in Springwater.
  • 12 meters of Red Sable as used on the Set of Quo Vadis.
  • MH370.
  • Britannica Entries for Ouija to Ouzo.
  • Henry Ford and Walt Disney in a Tacit Embrace.
  • Sepia in a 1 Litre Bottle.
  • lsd-03
  • A Pamphlet denouncing Central Park, dated 1992.
  • The Bomb Dropped on Nagasaki, reassembled.
  • Faintly Heard Sounds of Rats.
  • Photographs of Satan and God for sale for $15,000,000 on eBay.
  • Unsung Heroes in a Packet of 12.
  • Tincture of Racist Jibes.
  • Operation Enduring Freedom.
  • A series of eMails re: Teething Problems at Our Melbourne Data Centre.
  • Sheer Luxury in a Sports Car.
  • A well worn Statuette of Captain Scarlet.
  • 5 Japanese Girls Dancing in Strict Formation, the Camera Pans Slowly.
  • A Cure for Ebola.
  • oliverreed
  • Micrometeorologists and Decidefibrillators.
  • Singapore Sling.
  • Innards.
  • Episodes of Candid Camera, missing half the 4th Season.
  • The Four Seasons.
  • A Betamax Cassette Entitled ‘Viva Sonyland’.
  • Valium. More Valium.
  • A Pair of Dashing Red Pantaloons, Alas Too Small
  • A Near Miss, partly used.
  • Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers.
  • Hector, the greatest fighter for Troy in the Trojan War.
  • My Deepest Regrets for You, and Your Family.
  • Insipid Scissors.
  • Busty Ginger!

Musicians lie about their inspiration.

Musician interviews inevitably arrive at naming one’s inspiration. The formula involves picking your own genre, then rewinding to decide whoever was the coolest shit in that genre when you were in your mid teens and is still cool. Kraftwerk is a great one. Everyone knows Kraftwerk, it’s the cheddar cheese of influences. (I’d more likely mention Telex as that would earn a raised eyebrow from the interrogator, at the same time as being actually more cool in a daggy way).

Recently the game has levelled up. You have to name someone that requires the interviewer to fake recognition, and dive online when writing up the interview to know just who the hell ‘The Lost Jockey’ might have been, and is this a trap for the unwary? Like when I mentioned ‘Blorp Essette’, the title of a cassette by the Los Angeles Free Music Association, which mysteriously became one of the interviewer’s favourite bands.

But really, inspiration comes like a thief in the night. No one ever admits the real moment, so let me take the risk.

I was lying in bed last night listening to a storm trying to tear the roof off my house. I sleep just under that roof and so the noise is quite an experience. I’ve become intensely phobic about this happening, and to distract myself I tried to think of the moment I was first drawn to make music. Happily the storm lasted for hours so I had plenty of time to sift through the decades and land on just the right spot.

Sure, there were years with tape recorders, the old man’s Jazz 78s, sound effect records, but let’s focus on music.

It’s 1972. I am ten years old. My brother and I are off to see some disaster porn at the pictures, and it was about the time that they were starting to put some speakers in the cinemas that could actually woof, I mean woof louder than what you had at home. Make shit rumble.


Irwin Allen’s The Poseidon Adventure. HELL UPSIDE DOWN the poster promised and who wouldn’t want to see that?

Just like today you had to have a theme song. It was a rather drab number called There’s Got To Be A Morning After which got played before the film, in the film, after the film and all over the god damn radio once it won the Academy Award for Best Song. Never mind that. What mattered was hearing some big old woofers in a big bloody theatre pumping out some tube amp sub frequencies as part of well formed melodic structure. It’s a slow song, so what I was hearing was: DROOOOOOOOONE DRONE DRONE DROOOOOOOOOONE etc. with a person singing sweetly over top. It was quite an experience, and then you got to see Ernest Borg Nine clambering up a ship funnel.


Happy New Year! Time to die!

Now I didn’t then rush out and immediately start making avant garde. I went to see the Towering Inferno instead, not nearly as good. But when Autobahn came on the AM radio in 1974, it only reinforced that I like that Kind of Thing, and that I wanted to make that thing.

So from now on I am going to say that my inspiration is Al Kasha and Joel Hirchshhorn. They’re pretty underground, so you probably haven’t heard of them.