Saturday, September 30, 2017

I Finally Did It!

For those of you keeping track of this at home (in other words, nobody), I've wrapped up playing Skyrim in my alternate-universe, game-playing world, and have moved on to the open-world, role-playing game Far Cry 4.  In many ways, Far Cry 4 is similar to the other games I've been playing this year (Fallout 4 and Skyrim, aka The Elder Scrolls 5), but as it's produced by a different studio (Ubisoft) than the other games (Bethesda), it's also very different.

I've adapted to the differences and have enjoyed the game overall, and as you may be able to tell from the video clip above, it's all quite lovely - it's set in Kyrat, a fictional equivalent of modern-day Nepal, and features lush valleys and jungle surrounded by lakes and rivers, Buddhist shrines and monasteries, and huge snow-capped Himalayan mountains. On top of all that, the setting has a charming third-world ambience, with quaint little settlements and villages and ubiquitous pickup trucks that careen crazily down the roads with utter disregard to any traffic etiquette and seem to be continuously breaking down.     

I completed many of the successive missions required by the game's story line, and was having fun until I got to the conclusion of the Kyrat Airport mission (titled "Free Willis" in the game). No matter how many times I tried, I simply could not catch that plane, even in my wingsuit.

Keep in mind that catching the plane is merely the tail end of a much larger mission.  To even get to that point, first you have to silently eliminate six snipers at the airport without triggering an alarm, then from one of the sniper's perches, provide cover for a landing plane and then shoot about 20 or so enemy combatants after the plane lands, and then take down a helicopter that was dispatched to eliminate you, and then finally do battle with another 20 or so enemies in a gun fight that takes place all across the airport.  Only then do you get to meet the titular Willis, who informs you that the file you're looking for this whole time and the goal of the entire mission is in that plane taking off on the runway.

So I chased the plane over and over, and I timed my leap from the ATV to get airborne at just the right moment, but no matter how many times I tried, I'd always wind up falling short of the plane and have to start the whole mission over.  Eliminate the snipers, take down the helicopter, and engage in the extended shootout all over again, only to miss that plane yet again. 

I finally cheated and went on line to get advice on what I was doing wrong, and learned that many people were having the same problem and that I was technically doing everything correctly. I was encouraged to just keep trying until I finally caught that plane.  To add insult to injury, commenters said things like "Don't worry - it took me like five tries before I finally got it," but I must have tried over 50 times in the course of the past five days and still kept missing that plane.  

Over on YouTube, I watched videos like the one above over and over to see what they were doing differently from me, and couldn't see where I was doing anything wrong.  But it finally did dawn on me, after watching one of those videos for the umpteenth time, that everyone seemed to be closer to the plane when they first started up the ATV.  By the time I would get to the ATV, the plane was already halfway down the runway, but in the videos, it was only a few feet away.  At first I thought that for some reason the game was starting me at a point too far from the ATV to ever catch up to the plane, but then I realized that my error was that I was apparently running, but not sprinting, toward the ATV.  

So after taking out the six snipers and completing all of the other mission requirements yet again, I hit the "shift" key while holding down the "W" key (the keyboard command to sprint and not just run) and got to the ATV before the plane was too far down the runway.  I then barreled down the runway on the ATV, made the leap and got airborne with the wingsuit, approached the plane, and then . . . missed again.

But I didn't give up and I tried again and then a third time, and the third attempt, as they say, was the charm.  I finally caught the plane, grabbed the file off the passenger seat, bailed out, threw a grenade into the cockpit while free falling for some reason (seems a little unnecessarily mean spirited, but whatever) and then finally deployed my parachute rather than activate my wingsuit like the game suggested (I did learn during my on-line research that activating the wingsuit only results in the player falling to their death and having to run the mission over yet again).  So at least I was spared that indignity.

To be honest, it was a frustrating experience and certainly not what I consider "fun" (and isn't that the whole point of playing a game - to have fun?).  But I did experience a sense of satisfaction of solving a problem and successfully completing something difficult, and after taking a little breather from the game to compose this post, will probably be back in the fictional kingdom of Kyrat to continue the game.  After all, now that I finally have the file, I have to unredact its contents. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Zola Jesus at Aisle 5, Atlanta. September 29, 2017

Goth Queen of the Night and real-life wraith Zola Jesus performed yet another incredible performance last night in Atlanta, this time at the intimate Aisle 5.

Zola, or Nika Roza Danilova, or Nicole Hummel (depending on how deep a dive into her biography you care to go) is possessed by one of the most amazing voices in contemporary music, which in her case combines elements of electronic, industrial, classical, and goth.

We've seen Zola Jesus perform before, back in 2011 at the ever-dependable Earl, and in 2015 at the incredibly user-friendly Terminal West.  Last night's performance at Aisle 5 more than lived up to the redoubtable track record established by those previous performances.  

It was a truly amazing performance, in front of a clearly adoring audience.  In a nutshell, her overall trajectory has been from an avant-garde noise-rock background to the goth-industrial music for which she's best known, to a brief dalliance with a crossover pop sound mixing her powerhouse vocals with a more accessible electro-pop background, and a return to her dark, late-night goth sound. I've been with her and adoring her every step of her path, and look forward to whatever she chooses to take on next. 

And in case you suspect that her amazing voice is somehow amplified, manipulated or otherwise altered by synthesized electronics, here she is nearly a capella on the streets of New York City, not so much accompanied by a trombone as competing with that old sackbutt.. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Psychedelic Music, Part IV

I suppose that we can also acknowledge a fourth type of psychedelic music - that which does not seek to re-create the psychedelic experience nor express a psychedelically informed viewpoint, but instead is merely the product of those minds indelibly altered by psychedelics.

It's hard to argue that too many minds were more altered than that of Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett, and here's a little ditty he performed on John Peels' radio show. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it. - Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

Monday, September 25, 2017

"Amid Trump’s nuclear brinksmanship and social-media provocation toward North Korea, amid the swollen gorges of water streaming through Puerto Rico, amid the craven and indefensible attempts to gut health care, amid the slower-moving crises of voting access, economic inequality, and climate change - amid all these things, Trump yet again found a novel way to diminish the nation he purportedly leads. He has authored danger in more ways than there are novel ways to denounce it. This is his singular genius." - Jelani Cobb, in The New Yorker

Sunday, September 24, 2017


Photo By Matt Stone
Back in the 1970s, I attended Boston University.  From the windows of some of the second- and third-floor classrooms, we could see out across the Charles River all the way to the dreamy spires of Harvard University in Cambridge, and could imagine an invisible stream of employment offers, opportunity, privilege and prestige channeled from the upper strata of American society straight toward Harvard and bypassing BU altogether.

In a recent Washington Post article, poet, translator, essayist, and Biblical scholar Sarah Ruden, wrote that the real institutional mission of Harvard is "instilling in the elite a conviction of innate superiority and a corresponding contempt for people with technical knowledge, culture, talent or professional experience.”

As has been widely reported in the news, Harvard recently rescinded a fellowship offer to whistle-blower and transgender activist Chelsea Manning, but extended a similar offer to Trump’s former press secretary Sean Spicer and campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

Douglas Elmendorf, the dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, justified the decision to select Spicer and Lewandowski and reject Manning based on what "the community could learn from that person’s visit against the extent to which that person’s conduct fulfills the values of public service to which we aspire.”   To quote Francine Prose in a recent Guardian article, Dean Elmendorf's statement implies that students could learn more from two men "who had lied in service of a liar than from Manning – who had gone to jail for bravely leaking documents that revealed the truth about (among other things) our use of torture and the number of civilian deaths in Iraq."

To be clear, Chelsea Manning did not compromise U.S. National Security or disrupt the U.S.from continuing its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  She paid a steep price for her actions, and hearing her express how one can both serve one's country and decide to follow one's conscience during wartime, especially when you become aware that your country is violating international law and that your President, Secretary of State, National Security advisors and military leaders are lying about their policies and their destruction of countries and people, would be well worth hearing and debating at the Kennedy School.

Elite schools have long exhibited a trend of hiring former government officials to teach, whatever their prior actions and histories. John Yoo, the author of many of the Bush administration’s torture memos, is a tenured professor of law at UC Berkeley.  John Negroponte, who oversaw the CIA’s brutal war in Nicaragua and death squads in Honduras, is a distinguished fellow of “grand strategy” at Yale.  Fordham has named former CIA Director John Brennan as a fellow despite his past statements on torture.

The only credible explanation I can think of for why Spicer, Lewandowski, Yoo, Negroponte, and Brennan are all considerable acceptable for positions at elite universities and Manning not is that the combination of gender, sexual orientation, and ties to power and the elite make the former attractive to donors and future donors to the universities and the latter less so.  It becomes a self-fulfilling loop of the elite reinforcing the privilege and prestige of the elite, and everyone else left out.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Psychedelic Music, Part III

The music of the band Animal Collective functions much the same way as does the music of Miles Davis, albeit in a completely different genre with a completely different sound.  However, not unlike Miles, Animal Collective builds hypnotic layer over hypnotic layer, and the attentive listener can easily get lost in the mix.

I once heard somebody say that Animal Collective's songs sound like two of the greatest Beach Boys songs ever, but played at the same time.  To the uninitiated, the complexity of the multi-layered compositions can sound confusing, but if you let if flow through you and let yourself flow with it, you're in for quite a journey.

And if What Do I Want? Sky doesn't convince you on AC's psychedelic music bona fides (not to mention their Beach Boys influences), then this certainly should:

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

To my mind, there are two forms of psychedelic music.  In the first, the artist/musician attempts to recreate or simulate the effects of the psychedelic experience.  Yesterday's Miles Davis composition is an example of this form, with its disassociation of time and space and the way it loses itself in layers.  These artists are saying, in effect, "this is what it was like when we were high." 

Today I'm talking about the other form of psychedelic music, which is produced by the artists/musicians who use the expanded consciousness afforded by the psychedelic experience to express something that may not have been realized without that experience.  These artists are not saying, "this is what it was like when I was high," but are instead expressing ideas, concepts or emotions that have been informed by the experience (e.g., "This is what love is about when ego/self has been transcended").  

Much of Bjork's music and art falls into this latter category.  The video above is not some sort of recreation of what it's like to be tripping, but could only have been conceived by someone who had.

Which is not to say that the only way to be creative is to get stoned out of one's mind.  One of my pet peeves is when I hear someone who's seen some art or performance that is truly creative or even downright weird state, "That person must have been on something really wild," as if that's the only possible explanation for ideas or conceptual creations outside of the norm.  This is not only demeaning of the originality of creative artists, but it shows the limited imagination of the person making the comment.

It's apparently hard for those who haven't undergone the psychedelic experience (or for that matter, those who haven't spent time in intensive meditation) to distinguish between the creative art of the experienced (for lack of a better term) and the inexperienced, but those who have can easily perceive the difference. Those who have can instantly recognize the shared experience expressed by the music of, say, Jimi Hendrix and the band Animal Collective, or for that matter Bjork  They also know without being told that some other musicians, no matter how bizarre or extreme the music may be, don't share their experience (e.g., Frank Zappa and many hardcore metal bands).

An interesting exception to this thesis is David Lynch, who produces both forms (re-creative and reflective) of psychedelic art (in his case, cinema) informed not by psychedelics but by transcendental meditation.  Meditation is not the same as psychedelics and the two don't feel even remotely similar to each other, but both apparently transport the practioner to the same place.

I still don't know how to classify the poetry of Walt Whitman into this scheme. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

One of the under-recognized masterpieces of psychedelic music, IMHO.  

Speaking about Louis Armstrong (but it certainly applies to this Miles Davis composition as well),  in 1952, Ralph Ellison wrote:
Once when I asked for a cigarette, some jokers gave me a reefer, which I lighted when I got home and sat listening to my phonograph. It was a strange evening. Invisibility, let me explain, gives one a slightly different sense of time, you're never quite on the beat. Sometimes you're ahead and sometimes behind. Instead of the swift and imperceptible flowing of time, you are aware of its nodes, those points where time stands still or from which it leaps ahead. And you slip into the breaks and look around.  That's what you hear vaguely in Louis' music . . . So under the spell of the reefer I discovered a new analytical way of listening to music. The unheard sounds came through, and each melodic line existed of itself, stood out clearly from all the rest, said its piece, and waited patiently for the other voices to speak. That night I found myself hearing not only in time, but in space as well. I not only entered the music but descended, like Dante, into its depths . . . It was exhausting -- as though I had held my breath continuously for an hour under the terrifying serenity that comes from days of intense hunger. And yet, it was a strangely satisfying experience for an invisible man to hear the silence of sound. I had discovered unrecognized compulsions of my being -- even though I could not answer "yes" to their promptings. I haven't smoked a reefer since, however; not because they're illegal, but because to see around corners is enough (that is not unusual when you are invisible). But to hear around them is too much; it inhibits action. (from Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison, 1952)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Meanwhile, At Fenway . . .

Or, below, imagined as a post-apocalypse shelter in the computer game Fallout 4.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Post-Irma Post

Not my house!  Photo by Creative Loafing
The storm is gone.  The winds have subsided and the rain has stopped.  I went to work yesterday and the roads were clear.  Clear coming home, too.

So I was surprised when I left for work this morning and found that a major limb had fallen off of one of my many trees and landed smack dab across my driveway, blocking me off and effectively keeping me from leaving.  It wasn't there when I drove home last night. It must have fallen sometime overnight, but I didn't hear it fall.  

I was lucky it landed on the driveway and didn't hit my house.  Or my car (it was a big limb and would definitely have done some damage). I was lucky it didn't hit me.

Luckier still: it missed the power line along my road by no more than two feet.  In fact, some of the smaller branches (it look like the major limb brought some smaller branches down with it), were on the opposite side of the power line, but I couldn't tell if they had rolled down there after they had fallen, or if the branches had come down on both sides of the power line.  It would have been ironic to have maintained power throughout the storm, but then lose electricity after the storm finally passed.

I managed to move the broken pieces out of my way and carry them over across the street to where the city eventually picks them up, along with lawn trimmings and the like.  One big piece was too heavy for me to lift, at least by myself, but fortunately for me, that big piece landed in the English ivy next to my driveway and out of my way, so I was able to leave it where it laid and still drive out.

My guess is that since the wood looked slightly rotten, some dead branches up high had finally absorbed enough water that the extra weight finally caused them to fall.  Of course, that makes me wonder what's going to fall next, and if I'm yet out of the woods, so to speak.

Everyone has their own story to tell about the storm, and I know I'm lucky to have been so minimally inconvenienced (one of my coworkers still doesn't have his power back on, and probably won't until some other repairs are completed on his house, probably weeks from now).  People in Florida have lost their homes and everything.  People in the Caribbean have lost their lives and loved ones.  I'm not complaining about having to move some branches out of my way two days after the storm - if anything, as I was carrying downed wood across the road, I felt I was sharing, even if momentarily, the burden my brothers and sisters south of me are experiencing. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


Photo by Georgia Power Company
Well that was . . . interesting.  Irma passed through Atlanta yesterday with tropical-storm winds and several inches of rain, and seemed to really whip itself up into a fury between the hours of 3:00 and 7:00 p.m.  Treetops were whipping back and forth and the rain was coming down in sheets during those hours, and all I could do was listen to the news, watch out the window, and hope for the best.

Which surprisingly seemed to work.  I didn't lose power or cable or internet connectivity, even as the people on t.v. were reporting on tens of thousands of others in the state without power and showing live coverage of fallen trees mere blocks away from my house (see above).

The roof held, no trees came down on my house, and I was able to enjoy the comfort of electric lights all day.  We survived the hurricane.

Frequently during the day, but especially between those critical hours of 3 and 7, I thought about the line in Alejandro Iñárritu’s film The Revenant, when the spirit of Leonardo DiCaprio's Pawnee wife whispers to him, “The wind cannot defeat a tree with strong roots. If you look at its branches, you swear it will fall. But if you watch the trunk, you see its stability.”

I tried to stay focused on the trunk.

Monday, September 11, 2017


Hurricane Irma has already wracked a lot of destruction, devastating the island of Barbuda, pretty much wiping out many of the Virgin Islands (reportedly with up to 95% destruction, however that's measured), and the news is just now coming in on what it's done to Miami and south Florida.

Last night, it made its way up the Florida peninsula, and arrived in south Georgia this morning.  It's already weakened from a Class 5 hurricane to a tropical depression, but it's still forecast to hit Atlanta with "sustained 50 mph winds, with gusts up to 75" and 3 to 5 inches of rain.  Since the storm is forecast to pass west of us - it's on course to hit Birmingham, Alabama - we're on the side of the storm where tornados are generated, although they say the air's too cool now for tornados to be much of a concern.

The picture above is my front yard from just a few minutes ago - the rain is already falling but so far, the wind is mild, although all indications are it will pick up during the day, hitting its climax late this afternoon and early this evening.

It's a virtual holiday here in Atlanta, although a grim one - school's are shut down, MARTA's not running, most businesses are closed.  I'm "working" from home today, but all my clients are off so there's really not much to do except watch the weather and ride out the storm.

Trees will come down - hopefully not any of those above, but every time there's even a thunderstorm in Atlanta, trees come down somewhere.  I heard on the radio there's already a large one down just a couple blocks from me.  When the trees do come down, they take power lines out with them, so I'm fully expecting to lose electricity before it's all said and done.  It may take a while for the juice to get restored as emergency and utility maintenance crews will rightly be addressing the Class 5 damage in Florida, so after the lights go out, it may be a while until I can post here  again (I'm not going to drain precious laptop battery life on updates to this blog).

I've got candles and flashlights ready for the inevitable, and I've been advised to keep a bathtub full of water for the toilets in case the water stops running. I've also got a couple gallons of drinking water and I've prepared enough food to last me several days. I've also got the company of two housecats to help last me through the storm.

If the lights stay on, I'll post some updates, although I feel a little silly and self-indulgent considering how we in Atlanta have been spared the full wrath of the storm, and how much more others are suffering and how much more others will have lost.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Teen Daze at The Masquerade, Atlanta, September 9, 2017

In a world where the western half of the North American continent is on fire and it's literally raining ashes in Seattle, where the southeastern portion of the same continent is either underwater or about to be underwater due to a formidable string of record-breaking hurricanes lining up in the North Atlantic, where Mexico is digging out from a devastating earthquake, where monsoons and floods are deluging the Asian subcontinent, aand where North Korea is threatening nuclear war and global annihilation to anyone who'll listen, in such a world, a couple dozen hours or so away from one of those aforementioned hurricanes arriving inside the perimeter around Atlanta, how else is one to respond except by going out to the new and not-at-all-godforsaken Masquerade to hear the British Columbia band Teen Daze?

If you've tried to pigeon-hole my taste in music based on my enthusiastic review of the manic Oh Sees show earlier this week, you might guess that Teen Daze is more of the same thing.  You would be totally wrong.  Although the band's name suggests Katy Perry/Teenage Dream-type pop, Teen Daze is actually a one-man project of some of the gentlest, quietest ambient electronica this side of Juliana Barwick, with occasional brushstrokes of chillwave and dream pop.

Two bands opened for Teen Daze.  Sleepy John & The Boys and Lucky Kitty.  The Boys are a touring band revolving around Sleepy John, an indie/alternative pianist singer-songwriter from Atlanta. Although the band cites Russian Romantic composers, Duke Ellington, and contemporary artists like Bjork, Father John Misty, and Mac Demarco among their influences, their piano-driven songs sound more like Ben Folds and early Billy Joel to my ears.  Their songs were quite well written, and the band was very precise and obviously well rehearsed in their performance. 

Lucky Kitty are a shoegaze/dream-pop band out of Athens, Georgia.

There was a lot of audience turnover between bands - there weren't many people in the club, only about 35 to 50 total, and those that were seemed to be there for specific bands.  A group of people who I suspect were family and friends of Sleepy John left after The Boys set and a bunch of young women who watched Lucky Kitty from near the front of the stage all left after the respective band's sets.  About 25 or so people, mostly guys, stayed for Teen Daze.   

And those 25 or so people were well rewarded for their persistence. Jamison Isaak (Teen Daze) played an absolutely lovely set of ambient/dream-pop/chillwave/electronica, quiet enough to let the sounds settle into their own natural places in the room, and with enough occasional synthesized beats and vocals to keep the performance from morphing into some sort of art project. It was all very beautiful and life-affirming and fun, and very much the antidote to the horrors catalogued at the top of this post.

Here's a tasty little sample of the kind of sounds Isaak was producing at The Masquerade last night.

All this, and I got home in time to see the Georgia Bulldogs score the go-ahead field goal at Notre Dame, and then sack the Irish quarterback on the next drive, recovering the football in the process to seal a 20-19 road victory.  

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Our minds are like a tangle of wires, and those wires are the neural pathways we've developed over the course of our lives.  Since everyone's life is different and everyone's experiences unique, we all have different neural pathways and we're all wired differently.  Humans are social animals, and to get along in society, we need to have certain of those neurons wired up in a more-or-less compatible way with the other humans with whom we're in contact, and I believe that many so-called mental disorders are simply due to an individual having that tangle of wires plugged in a little (or a lot) differently that others.

If in the course of one's life and experience one somehow developed a neural association of, say, "food" with, oh, "aggression," and therefore started behaving very aggressively at mealtime, there's nothing fundamentally "wrong" with that person, it's just that their wiring is incompatible with that of those around them.  There are those who have developed wiring such that they associate "sexual arousal" with "self loathing" (see far left, above) or "anger" (see center, above).  If everyone else were wired the same way, these individuals wouldn't seem so freakish or strange - they only stand out because their wiring is different from the norm.     

Many times, this miswiring is far more benign and not incompatible with societal construct. For example, synesthesia is typically defined as a neurological condition in which responses to certain sensual sensations get "crossed."  It can occur when stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway (e.g., vision) leads to an automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway (e.g., hearing). About 5 percent of the population reportedly has some form or another of synesthesia, and over 60 types have been reported. The most common form of synesthesia is in people who perceive individual letters of the alphabet and numbers to be "shaded" or "tinged" with a color. Others commingle sounds with scents, sounds with shapes, or shapes with flavors.

I often associate perceptions of facial expressions with sounds.  A smile has a certain, very specific sound to me, as does a frown or a scowl.  What's interesting is that while I can "hear" those sounds very clearly even when I imagine the facial expressions, when I try to conjure up the sounds from my memory independent of the smile or the frown, I can find nothing.  I mean, when I try to describe (even to myself) what the sound of a smile is, I simply can't, yet I can hear it as soon as I imagine a smile, or see an actual one.  

The reason, I believe, is that since I'm experiencing a visual sensation (that is, a sight) using the faculty of hearing, but there is no real, actual sound heard by the ear, when my mind searches the "hearing" portions of my memory, there's nothing there.  But when it searches through visual memories and finds a smile, voila, I immediately "hear" that sound.  I can only experience that sound based on visual stimuli, or by remembering or imagining that stimuli, and not directly as a sound or the memory of a sound.   No smile, no "sound" of a smile.

I wonder if the term "synesthasia" could also be applied beyond the realm of the senses.  Could that odd feeling of deja vu be due to the perception of what's happening in current time getting crossed with, and therefore experienced as, the perception of memory?  Could deja vu be considered a form of synesthesia? What about getting signals crossed between pleasure and pain?  Between joy and sorrow?  Affection and anger?  Arousal and shame?  

Friday, September 08, 2017

Does art imitate life or does life imitate art?  If you think that it's life that imitates art, does it actually just appear to be that way because art influences the way we perceive life, the way we choose to interpret the experience of our life?

Certainly, watching movies and television affects how we understand the world around us, and what our own role might be in that world around us.  We often have that "Gee, this is just like in the movies" experience.  But is that really true, is it really just like in the movies, or do we subconsciously make comparisons of our lives to those movies and then let our imaginations fill in the blanks and correct the errors between our fantasy and our actual experience?

As you may have noticed, I've been spending a lot of time playing computer games lately.  If you can allow the suspension of disbelief and consider those games to be a highly stylized form of "art," then we can explore the possibility that the art of the game might affect my perception of the world.

Which is all a long and roundabout way of saying I had an experience this week that was just like in a computer game.

So-called "open-world" games like Fallout and Skyrim allow the player to wander at will anywhere in the cyber-universe of the game, so the game designers have to create incentives to get the player to explore specific places and advance the story line.  Typically, at some point, the player learns of some specific treasure or valuable item or weapon or something that's hidden in some labyrinthine factory or dungeon or cave system, and then the player navigates through a maze of dead ends, false leads, trap doors, and assorted other hazards until the quest item is discovered.  Most games require the player to go through scores of these quests to complete the game. This summer, I must have explored hundreds of virtual abandoned hotels, derelict mines, empty factories, haunted castles, and spooky cave systems, and that experience has seeped into my subconscious and even manifested itself in some of my dreams.

This week, in the real-life world, the so-called consensus reality, I had to perform an inspection/reconnaissance of a former newspaper building, complete with printing presses, paper rollers, warehouses, darkrooms and photo labs, and editorial, sales, and managerial offices.  Like many American newspapers, the print version had shut down and the "paper" is now on-line only, so the old news building is now empty.  I had to explore my way through a surprisingly large number of offices, conference rooms, editorial boardrooms and sales centers on several different floors, and just like in the games, everything seemed laid out like a maze, and I often realized that I just walked in through the east door of a large room I had earlier exited by way of the west door.  Power was on in some, but not all, portions of the building, and I had to use my iPhone flashlight to guide me through unlit areas.

In order to reach the printing presses in the basement, I had to figure out a way through the maze of offices, up and down staircases, passenger elevators, freight elevators, and dumbwaiters, and over and across steel scaffolding of questionable structural integrity.  Some elevators worked and some didn't, and one only worked in the down direction but refused for some reason to lift me back up, so after descending two stories only to find myself in a store room with no exit other than a stairwell, I had to walk back up again and find another way down to the basement.  Just like in a computer game.

When I finally got to the printing presses, I found myself in a dark cavernous hall full of mysterious equipment looming over me, overhead hoists, dangerous open pits in the floor, and a confusing maze of subterranean side rooms and warehouse areas off to the side.  It was all spooky and ominous, especially considering it was a "dark" area that required my iPhone flashlight for illumination.  And once I completed the inspection of the presses, I had to figure out how I got down there in the first place in order to find my way back out.  Just like in a computer game.

Now as I explained earlier, in the games there's usually some sort of treasure at the end of the quest to serve as the player's incentive to continue exploring the maze.  My real-life "goal" was simply to look for any evidence of environmental contamination, but just before I entered the building, the real-estate agent who had the key to let me in told me that the newspaper's former Editor In Chief didn't believe in banks, and was said to have kept all of his cash in a vault hidden somewhere in the building.  I didn't find the vault, if it's even real, or any caches of cash money, but a secret vault full of riches is exactly the kind of goal the game designers create to motivate a player through a quest.

In the end, although I didn't find any vaults full of cash, sadly, I did find my real-life goal (evidence of environmental contamination).  But my question here is how much of my experience that day was colored by my recent experience playing computer games?  If I hadn't been playing, would I have perceived the maze of offices and the dark basement differently, and if so, how? Would the exploring have seemed less like an adventure and more like a chore?  What if, instead of playing computer games, I had been reading gothic vampire novels or Stephen King short stories?  How then would I have perceived being in dark basements dependent on the dim light from my iPhone? What if I had instead immersed myself in an academic study of 20th Century industrial architecture?  Would the visit have seemed more cerebral and less like an adventure?

Finally, this brings me to the broader question - how much of the perception of my experience and my life has been influenced by media, television, movies, books, the internet, computer games and so on, in ways of which I'm not even aware?  Were things really like I remember, or do the comic books and sit-coms of my youth only make them seem that way?  How would I know, and what difference would it ultimately make?

What about you?

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Thee Oh Sees at Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, 09-06-2017

It's Rocktober, that magical time of the year between Labor Day and Thanksgiving when Atlanta annually seems blessed with a far greater than usual number of good to great bands playing in town. This year's Rocktober started off with a set last night by Bay Area band Thee Oh Sees.

Atlanta sludge-grunge band All The Saints opened with a loud set of grunge and sludge.  They aren't bad, but they're not nearly as good as their constant posturing and on-stage preening suggests they think they are.  They sound at times like a shoegaze take on Nirvana and their drummer certainly has promise, provided, of course, he finds a better band to play in.  Meantime, he and us have All The Saints.  Also, as long as I'm complaining,  their set lasted too long (nearly 45 minutes) for an opener, especially one with a sound as limited as All The Saints (all the songs sounded about the same after 10 minutes).

The same (all the songs sound about the same) could also be said for Thee Oh Sees, but in their case, that sound is so good you don't want it to change, and they know this and they deliver on that premise.  Thee Oh Sees have an instantly recognizable style but one that's hard to classify - a sort of garage band approach to a combination of psych- and punk-rock, played at a frenetic breakneck speed reminiscent of rockabilly or its cousin, psychobilly.  There's occasional lulls where they quiet things down a bit, but only so that frontman John Dwyer can hoot his trademark "Whoo" into a mic and launch another excursion into an adrenaline stratosphere.   They're so energetic it's almost comical and sometimes they remind me of some sort of Mad Magazine caricature of a punk rock band, or something that Ed "Big Daddy" Roth might have imagined being played on the stereo of one of his comically over-accessorized hot rods.

They constantly have the dial on the "Fun Meter" turned up to 11, and everything they do, every gesture, every note, every word of every song, seems determined to be and to have as much fun as humanly possible.  They don't seem to believe in preludes or long suspenseful introductions to their songs, they just barrel-dive right into the fun parts and then hop from one peak to the next.  Life's too short for them to bother with verse-chorus-verse song structure when they can just unleash a sonic blast attack at will.

They're also incredibly prolific, which makes it hard for anyone to be familiar with all of their songs, but they did open with Dead Man's Gun from last year's excellent An Odd Entrances, and they managed to fit The Dream from 2011's Carrion Crawler somewhere later into their set.  I recognized some other songs but couldn't tell you a single additional title.

Oh, by the way, did I mention yet that they now have two drummers? They both played in perfect unison most of the time, but definitely doubled the propulsion.  With the only other musicians being Dwyer on guitar and vocals and a bass player, half the god-damned band are drummers.

The show kicked ass.  The crowd was whipped into a frenzy and there was near-constant crowd surfing. All that and I got home by 11:15.  Not bad, not bad at all.   

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

What did you do last weekend?

Down here, we kicked off the weekend over beers with a few friends, watched Georgia and Alabama win their season-opening football games, and pretty much wrapped up playing Skyrim, which we've been playing since August 15.  We've completed all the main quests, killed many a dragon, sacked many a castle, and defeated a good number of wizards, and there are still a few side quests left to complete.

I think at this point, my list of titles goes something like Shokai, the Dragonborn, Bard, Arch-Mage of the College of Winterhold, and Thane of Whiterun, Riften, and Morthal, although I might be forgetting a few honorifics here or there. 

Surprisingly, given the above, we didn't go to DragonCon last weekend.