Thoughts On: Funk Music

jamesbrown

So on my holiday break I’ve been finding ways to pass the time, alongside trying to find new topics to write about. And while browsing the net I randomly came across a new track I hadn’t heard before, it sounded really cool, so I looked further into the artist and found this apparent resurgence within the indie scenes with bringing back Funk music, and it made me think, heck lets talk about Funk! So yes, I like Funk. An odd choice of genre for someone that likes history and writing, you’d think I prefer classical orchestral pieces or jazz. Well, I do but Funk is usually something I can always fall back on.

Now personally, I’m not the type to sub-categorize music into thousands of little niches – rock music is rock music regardless of its little Progressive or Acid offshoots. The same is with Funk, you get all the Jazz Funks; Soul Funks and more modern variations like Electronic and French House, but to me it’s more or less Funk; simple labels for simple music for simple minds, as it might appear. One of my favourite things about the genre is its simplicity: short songs composed around a small group of chords and usually based on one catchy melody. With that foundation the energy of the artist and their band begins to pour passion into the written progression of notation, turning it into a track designed to twitch your muscles and tease your brain with dreams of the dance-floor. However, before you start to get cringe worthy images of me ripping it out on the dance-floor, I’d like to mention I never dance. I’ve never liked dancing. I was always that kid at the primary school disco that would skid along the floor in tracksuit pants, or hang out in the corner with mates with sore feet because of all the standing. Yeah I’m boring like that. But that doesn’t stop me enjoying Funk in private, I find the energy of it productive to me: if I’m writing, working or even driving I usually like to put on some funky tunes to keep my spirits up. I find its positive energy output quite interesting, because personally I’ve never really came across a sad funk song. While there’s not one solid reason for this I’m personally thinking it probably had much to do with time Funk became popular: in the 1970s, when the world was going through tough times, a lot of people would most likely want a spirit raiser, and this was an outlet for that.

I think this emotional energy is also one of its most intriguing attributes. I dare any of you to listen to a track like this and not have any reaction from your body, not even a foot-tap. It’s strange how it pulses through your head, forcing a reaction. It also stimulates thought; conjures up scenarios and ideas in your head you wouldn’t normally think of. I want to say something like lust, but that isn’t quite the feeling, I suppose the feeling is more like fun: the cheeky and almost flirtatious joy to get out there and have a good time. I don’t mean in this just a sexual way, but in general, Funk has they way of opening you and loosening you up a bit.

Yeah this was a short and strange post, but I thought I may as well share it. I know that some of you may have similar sentiments to their own preferred genres, as music is a very subjective medium and only specific tunes can impress upon specific people. I thought I’d write about Funk as being one of my main points of stimulus. But for those who have others, please, feel free to comment what types of music work well for you.

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Thoughts On: History

history

I’m starting to feel like there’s a small correlation between my posts, which is probably down to my thought processes tending to focus on one field for a while… Well, anyways, I’d like to talk about history this time. history is a topic I’ve been interested in since I was a child; most of it started off with history movies and games, so I tended to enjoy the aspects of war like most boys my age did. However, growing up I began to explore the larger scope of history, and how we came to know about all the things we understand today. In intermediate school I’d have this book that I’d always read (even during lessons) – I can’t even remember it’s name, but it was a fantastic book that covered much on the ancient world: from Mesopotamia to Rome. I think it was this book that sparked my desire to learn more about history, and to turn it from a fleeting curiosity to a serious interest.

I think history is an important subject, and some would disagree with that. I’ve always heard the classic line, why should I care about something that’s happened in the past? And with that comes the classic those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. But it goes beyond learning the subject as a warning for future mistakes, it’s also a way for people utilise the past in order to make a better future. Think of all the most pressing subjects in our world today: all of these have a rich historical foundation and development, that – through their history – we come to acknowledge and develop upon. Science, for example, is arguably the driving force of the twenty-first century: figures like Archimedes and Hakim Ibn-e-Sina who are responsible for some of antiquity’s greatest innovations, how would we have been able to develop upon these concepts had we not known about them in the first place? There’s the idea that eventually someone elsewhere would rediscover the idea themselves further down the line, but to be caught in an endless cycle of rediscovery in pursuit for innovation, it just seems silly.

Alongside knowing about the past in order to prepare for the future, history also provides the ability for one to deal with the present. Nearly all the foundations of government, economics and religion can be traced to a historical root, which means any problem arising in the present most likely stems from similar problems that had risen in the past. This is one of the reasons world history has taken a precedent over the former Eurocentric teachings, as our contemporary world begins to experience a globalisation of sorts, and with this comes the benefits and problems from all parts of the globe. Nearly all pressing issues taking place within the world today are all traced back to historical moments and events: the Middle Eastern conflicts; North Korea; Russia and the West, it’s all part of an intricate web of information already available at our fingertips.

People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them. – James Arthur Baldwin

I know that to others, history just feels like a farce agreed upon by the academics, as it’s almost always changing with every new revision or reflection. The events you thought you knew so well twenty years ago turn out to be mostly false, or the revisions you’ve come to acquaint yourself with turn out not to hold a candle to the original work. But this is something I think is an important development, as – like science – those that work tirelessly to seek out truth are helping to further our understanding of the world we live in. And that to me is as useful a subject as you can get.

Thoughts On: Michael Kirkbride & The Elder Scrolls

mk

Now here’s a topic more people may know about – Bethesda Softwork’s The Elder Scrolls: a high-fantasy video game series set within the world of Nirn and its main continent Tamriel, in which nearly all the games take place. Now normally I’m a bit picky when it comes to video games I find exceptionally interesting, especially amongst the circle of the Role-playing game genre, but The Elder Scrolls stands out to me because of mainly one thing: the lore. Now since their first title, –TES: Arena – the initial world was laid down by the old Bethesda team members such as Ted Peterson,Vijay Lakshman, Julian LeFay and Chris Weaver; later members would come as the development for TES: Daggerfall, TES: Battlespire and TES Adventures: Redguard called for larger staff, but it wasn’t until TES: Morrowind that the scope really began to take off into the popular franchise that it is today. And it’s from Morrowind we come to encounter the work from Michael Kirkbride.

Now I can’t stress enough for fans or people who have played a TES game that Kirkbride isn’t the sole reason the games are as they are, that’s far from the fact, as video games are immense team efforts rivaling that of film production. So to praise one member for the result of the game would be unfair on all the other team members who toiled away on the project. No, Kirkbride’s work is more of a personal interest to me because of the way he brought a serious ambiguity and almost esoteric attitude to the meta-physical aspects of The Elder Scrolls universe. Don’t worry, I’ll try not to use those words too much.

Concept Sketches from Kirkbride - The God-King Vivec

Concept Sketches from Kirkbride – The God-King Vivec

What I like about Kirkbride’s approach to the world building of TES is the blending of mysticism and spiritual philosophy into the outer fringes of the seemingly concrete fantasy world. It works well for the kind of players – like me – that seek to explore the deeper aspects of the game, because with the physical depth, we are able to enjoy the richness of the open world setting alongside its plethora of characters and conflicts – but beyond that immediate presence we might begin to wonder about the world itself; the history; the science; the creation, why? This is where Kirkbride’s writings begin to entice us towards ‘the deep end’. Throughout much of TES:Morrowind, TES:Oblivion and TES:Skyrim you’re able to access a lot of in-game lore through characters, quests and especially books. And it’s these books that are an exceptional look into a world beyond the one you’re playing; books like Spirit of the Daedra and N’Gasta! Kvata! Kvakis! present to you a greater underlying narrative that is constantly being laid down into the foundations of the Elder Scrolls universe. Kirkbride takes this further with his development on some of the sketchiest parts of the universe: for example, the book Where Were You When the Dragon Broke?  that was written in TES:Morrowind, was on part a response to the events of TES: Daggerfall in which multiple endings occurred due to Bethesda’s desire to facilitate player outcomes of the story, normally one of these endings would be declared canon and the rest dismissed, but what instead occurred was an in-game explanation known as ‘the Warp in the West’ in which all of these events occurred simultaneously. Where Were You When the Dragon Broke? is a development on this concept; the Dragon referring to the God of Time, Akatosh, and how the ending events of TES: Daggerfall were so powerful they disrupted the authority of Akatosh, momentarily breaking linear time. Now some of you would start to wonder that all this begins to feel terribly convoluted, it’s not what you remember in the main quests! And you’re probably right, delving into these texts probably invites a lot of confusion, and starts to undermine the solid foundations of the series’ universe. But to me that’s where half the fun is, because those who seek out these concepts will begin to see their presence within the surface levels of the game. Perhaps the most memorable concept of Time present within TES is within TES: Skyrim: in which you must expel the Dragon Alduin; if you had further done your research you would begin to recognise the terms ‘Dragon Break’ and ‘World-Eater’, that had been present in one form or another within the texts of the earlier games.

The Dragon God of Time - Akatosh

The Dragon God of Time – Akatosh

I really appreciate this sort of work on a universe like TES, where the scope is so daunting that to experience it all is only on the whim of the player. But the reward for undertaking such efforts enriches your experience with the game. The only issues I started to see, were with these lore texts written by contributors – including Michael Kirkbride – who had left Bethesda Studios, and the validity of their canon beginning to become a matter of preference and developer approval. I think the most glaring of these texts has to be the project, C0DA: an intended comic written by Kirkbride that takes place in the far future of the TES universe. The ambiguous and downright cryptic attitude to the narrative has led many people astray in terms of looking for an explanation (I personally haven’t given a read yet, as I was hoping to wait until I could enjoy it in the comic book form he had intended for it), however what I believe many have concluded is that it tries to explain the non-canon nature of the universe, making it easier for those to decipher their own reasonable interpretations of how the grand narrative is. This is something I find pretty interesting, not so much for the content but the idea of so much work and effort going into the narrative, I could dare even say it’s almost in reference to the grand religious texts of Abrahamic or Vedic traditions – the contribution of many to the greater narrative.

Anyways, I think it’s time to tone down. The short line is, I think the universe of The Elder Scrolls is a vast and complicated creation, and this in part can be attributed to the efforts of Michael Kirkbride and his many mystical revelations in the writing. I suppose I can only hope for those who played the series to maybe come back into it with a new appreciation for the world Kirkbride and Bethesda made. Also, for those who are familiar with the TES canon, be sure to check out some of his work on The Imperial Library, some of the extra writings on VivecTiber Septim and Cyrus the Restless are quite interesting.

Thoughts On: The Man in the High Castle

the-man-in-the-high-castle

Since I’m easing into the method of sporadic posts, that are usually unrelated, I thought I’d jump away from the bigger pictures to focus on some more specific thoughts I’ve been having as of recent. I suppose the first thing that came to mind was this book: The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick. For those of you who are a fan of science fiction you’ve most probably heard of him. But for those who haven’t, Dick is one of the most renowned sci-fi authors from the twentieth century. Most – if not all – of his books have had a huge influence on succeeding authors in the genre, as well as figures within other aspects of the artistic medium, such as television and music.

Now the reason I focused more on this particular book more than Dick himself is because I actually haven’t read most of his work, and to make a thought on him as a whole based on the few books from him that I’ve read, seems a tad misguided. But from his work I found The Man in the High Castle resonated the most with me.

The thing that I think interested me in this title was its premise of alternate history. Before this book I had always personally been interested in history and – even more – the concept of alternate historical scenarios. It started off young with computer strategy games: like Creative Assembly’s Total War series, or Bohemia Interactive’s Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis. Apart from them being enjoyable, the premise of history being changed because of the events you partook in through the game really sparked some interesting concepts. Later on I would go on to discover some of the books from Harry Turtledove, specifically Opening Atlantis  and Ruled Britannia, which further developed on the concepts of changed history and how it would affect the lives and narrative of this different world.

However, once I had read The Man in the High Castle, I discovered something profound about the book. And that was Dick’s ability to make his strange world seem so alien, yet at the same time as real as one could get it. This book went beyond the concept of what if? It put you within the mundane lives of its citizens, it put you in a personal circle of characters that you could care about – even though deep down you knew you’re weren’t supposed to sympathise. There’s this immense shifting in tone that occurs both physically and meta-physically within the book, that leaves you torn and lost; the entire premise, the climax of the concept – this alternate universe – it doesn’t actually matter. You read along with multiple narratives from characters of varied backgrounds, and it’s their perspective that is made to feel important, despite the fact that you as the reader are focusing on the ghastly yet infinitely intriguing concept of an Axis ruled world. I feel like the book portrays a message of infinite possibility without meaning, and to accept the placement of one’s self within that structure; this may be the reason for the book heavily featuring the I Ching, a Chinese text on cosmological philosophy that one uses in conjunction with a hexagram to randomly produce a guiding path. The idea of an alternate history in which an unspeakable enemy were the victors, could be the reason it’s used with this concept, as it provides an exemplary setting in which we must come to understand that which we normally wouldn’t. And I think that is a deeply profound way of thinking, and a masterful way of executing this thinking on the author’s part.

So, if you find the time to spare and you’re looking for a more intellectually stimulating novel to burn through, I highly suggest this book. Despite my most probable incoherent rambling, the actual book is relatively easy to read: the prose is simple and the size of the book is relatively short. It’s the overall idea rather than any numerous themes that lend to a powerful concept, and that idea is what makes The Man in the High Castle one of my personal all-time favourite novels.

Thoughts On: Schedules

schedule

Sort of an odd topic for me to go to after my previous posts. But yes, it’s something that’s on my mind nowadays. I realised it’s something everyone in the world commits to, no matter what they’re doing: work, study and even leisure. Everything always feels so fast, it’s like that cliche you see of someone powering along the sidewalk, clutching a take-out coffee and gabbering away on their phone. People are always in a rush for something, like their schedule is fully booked.

I think it was then I also realised, yeah it most likely is. Most people lead busy and productive lives, they’ve got work to do, mouths to feed or projects to finish. And in-between that they’ve to find the time for personal care such as exercise, resting and a proper diet, not to mention any extra time for leisure and social gatherings. People are busy nowadays, the pace at which things in society occurs is growing constantly. And it’s all very well for me to sit here pointing that out like it’s something that needs addressing or acknowledging, but I can’t say I personally know what it feels like to live such a stressful life. Ever since I was a kid I’ve made sure to always leave a lot of spare time in my life, because I’m both terrible at multitasking and I also get very stressed at the idea of having a full day. Apart from swimming lessons and the occasional temporary projects like fencing or music events I never joined any after-school activities, I’d just prefer to spend the time playing with my toys, or playing with my friends. When I was in my New Zealand high school, I was never one for constant after-school activities, and homework – boy what a chore that was; half of the time I made sure to either do it all during study periods or as soon as I had gotten home, because the thought of my future schedule of nothing being filled up with the prospect of homework was mortifying. This attitude even carried out into my employment, of which I spent the better part of my gap year working part-time; I never really went out of my way to pick up full week shifts through other departments or stores in my area, I was content with the work and money I was on. It was only when there was a shortage of staff to fill in the busy days that I made sure help out, because while I might not have been keen to work heavy hours, I also understood the strain the managers had in needing staff – also the extra money wasn’t bad.

You’re probably reading this now and coming to the conclusion that I’m a privileged, boring and lazy git. I probably am in most people’s eyes. But I guess that’s just the way I am, and it appeared moving across the globe didn’t change that attitude. I’m still like this now, the way my study schedule works for University means I’m gifted a lot of free time. And yes, all of that free time could be spent on a schedule to keep myself busy: I could get started at the gym, join a club, socialise with friends more, go traveling, do extra classes, anything. But as it is I’m content with the way my life is right now, the thought of filling it up on a schedule of hard-out Work, Rest, Play just does not appeal to me in the slightest. It’s the majority opinion that to live a fulfilling life you do what makes you happy, and as it is I find that I’m very happy with my life. So I suppose what I’m saying is, if you find you’re leading a busy life, but you’re not content – step back from that schedule, slow down your life a little bit, maybe pray, reflect or ponder, see how you really want things to be. Just because everyone else is living life at a hundred miles per hour doesn’t mean you have to as well.

Thoughts On: Politics

politics

Ah yes, here we are. I’ve gone and chosen a topic nobody likes talking about. It’s the kind of topic that’s usually brought up inquisitively by one in a group, with innocent intentions of course, but soon it begins to devolve into back-and-forth shouting matches, the facts start to get skewed up in your passionate rant about the establishment; things start to get heated, then start to erupt, and only ends when someone bursts in with the can we talk about something else? Or shut up about it for God’s sake it’s driving me up the bloody wall. I’m sure all of you have experienced this. I think it’s important that you do, because no matter what your ideology is, you must come to realise how irrelevant your political bias is in a world as messy as ours. Now, me claiming your political leanings are worthless probably isn’t the best way to start off, but I want to leave you with an idea at the end of this.

Let’s introduce this idea off with a bit of history. The idea of governed communities has existed since the dawn of men; the slow rise of tribes and families into civilized cities, dynasties and orders. Then beyond these premature regimes grew the existence of kingdoms and empires, and from that grew the idea of nationalism and the state. All this drawing into the world we have today. But one thing I’ve noticed since the start, is the necessity of an effective governing body to have enough influence to control the group or community the way they feel has to be done, regardless of the desires of the group or community itself. We saw this the most in ruling figures, especially Kings, who needed absolute power to govern their body the way they knew it had to be done, and yes – as exemplified by many famous historical figures – some, if not many of these absolute holders of power were in fact not as beneficial to the communities they ruled as they themselves thought they were. Even the famous accounts of Ancient Athenian and Roman Democracy must hold down to the historical measures of its structure: that Athenian government was handled by those picked to serve in the Assembly and Council, leaving those without the chance to enter government to be without a voice, and in the case of the Roman Republic much of the Senate were picked from the Patrician high class, leaving much of the population again without influence. This trend of a total governing influence carried on throughout all of history. Even with the rise of modern Democracy, the State was still the one that ruled no matter what promises it made to allow itself to be voted in. This influence to gain and maintain control is the principle factor that separates the governor from the governed.

I know what you’re currently thinking: Oh no, he’s one of these misinformed ‘smash the state’ types. Well, I hope you’ll be glad to know that I’m not. In fact I believe this attitude is a mistake on the part of many when they get to that eventual part in their adolescence where they realise the reality of the situation. And I sympathise with that, I really do; the world of politics is a scary place, even more so in our modern world. We’re living in a time where the face of national hegemony is slowly losing its grip, and the interests of many private institutions offer to take the reigns in propping up their power, and with that comes whole loads of shady dealings and string pulling. And yes, at the end of the day it’s usually the common man and woman that has to deal with the mess they’re being dragged into. It’s a sorry state of affairs. However, I’m offering to you the problem without the solution, as nearly every academic has done throughout the ages. The truth is, I’ve no bloody clue. Some figures thought they did, and so took action to place themselves in power to prove their chance, without realising they’ve placed themselves into the same situations of governing power they once fought against. I won’t call names because you will see this narrative tell it’s own story no matter the context – revolt, revolution, reform: they all swap out the influence of one small governing body for another. But like I said, I don’t know the solution, I think I’ve come to understand the world’s a big messy place, and that nearly all people aren’t sure what do, so those with the drive to herd the flock will jump at that chance.

The truth of the world is that it is chaotic. The truth is, that it is not the Jewish banking conspiracy, or the grey aliens, or the twelve-foot reptiloids from another dimension that are in control, the truth is far more frightening; no-one is in control, the world is rudderless. – Alan Moore

Indeed, a scary thought. And it’s something I’ve come to think more about when looking at the developing events that are taking place across our globe: European Financial Crisis’, Islamic Extremists taking advantage of power vacuums, revived tensions between the United States and Russia… It’s all quite mad. All I can say to those who are feeling powerless against such developments: learn more about the political sphere, do your research, don’t take everything at face value, especially from the media, use your initiative to read between the lines. And with that, you may find it a little easier to navigate the craziness.

Thoughts On: Creative Writing

When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.

I always loved that line, it might not be the most insightful or evocative opening piece to a novel, but it has an elusive tone to it – something that grabbed my attention straight away: the first thing I felt was, what the hell do you mean by that? And so I had to continue. I think sometimes it’s the little things that make for a good piece of creative writing, and that line was an example of such a thing. As for where it’s from, I’m sure a quick google search will give you the result if you’re interested. So yes, it has not been long since my first post, I’ve been thinking over many of the topics brewing away in my noggin, and I thought why not do one on the topic of Creative Writing? It was something I mentioned in my first blog, so I believed a bit of continuity was in order.

creative-writing-2

As I’ve mentioned, I enjoy Creative Writing. One of the main things that I think explains my feelings towards it is the way my mind works: I dream a lot – both during the day and at night, I’ve always dreamed, even when I was young. Being a kid you see things that aren’t really there, like when you’re sat in the car imagining Spiderman web-slinging from each streetlight you zoom past, or convoys of soldiers and tanks marching through the fields adjacent to the M61 motorway, or my favourite being when you and the family are on a stroll through a forest: you imagine cheeky goblins flitting between the bushes, the birds tweeting in the canopy like there’s a secret stash of goodies up there they’re hiding from you. Of course you never really tell people these things, they’d think you’re away with the fairies. That’s because as you get older you tend to be a bit more cynical about the way your imagination works, you tend to anchor wild thoughts or concepts back into the real world, especially if you’re the sort of person who lives by wanting things to exist in a concise and logical order. However I’m not like that, as I get older my mind conjures up bizarre thoughts and ideas, and I’ve learned that if I can record down these snippets and further develop them, I’d have the workings of an interesting creative piece on my hand. And this is something I find I really enjoy.

Creative worlds: The Hush of Dawn by Clare Reilly

Creative worlds: The Hush of Dawn by Clare Reilly

But with the joys comes the woes. For all the amazing ideas I might have in the memory bank, I find it’s actually quite a challenge to put them to paper. This is most apparent when you want to turn an idea into a story with quite a measurable length. In 2012, around the start of November, I entered into the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge: where I was challenged with writing a fifty thousand word novel within the month of November. Now to start things off, it didn’t help that I started five days after the challenge had started, so I was pushed to doing an extra thousand words per day. I remember starting with a great idea: a far-future odyssey of a young New Zealand man, striving to survive in the pre-industrial style country of the North Island, with all the urban life concentrated on a super futuristic Auckland, it was the working of some sci-fi fever dream and I thought it would be fantastic. But then, I found that as I was writing – pushing to meet my daily quota of 1,000 – 2,000 words – I was losing that creative spark, I regularly kept getting the dreaded writer’s block, I was writing more and more filler, the story felt like it was losing momentum, losing impact. I did finish it however, and in a way it is a completed story, and I’m happy I found I was capable of writing a fifty thousand word story. But, I knew straight away that it was in dire need of editing, probably so much I could shear off a good twenty or thirty thousands words to keep it close to the direction I want. Thing is, the moment I opened up the document to start editing, I just thought, good God where do I start? And so, I have that very story stored away until I’m able to muster up the courage to edit it.

But don’t let this put you off, all I’m saying is, don’t compromise. If your idea needs to be written as a poem, then that’s what must be done, it doesn’t matter how many obscure poets you can claim inspiration from, if that’s the way it makes sense to you then write it like that. If you feel your idea must be written as a novel, yet you know you’re not capable of writing one, hold onto that idea until you can. That core creative spark is at the heart of your writing, and will make it stand out from what would otherwise be perfunctory filler.