New Project

Hi all,

It’s been a while since I last posted. Reason being is that I’ve been involved in a new project that has taken up a good amount of creative bandwidth.

The new project can be found at cubecomics.net. Here’s our Instagram page.

It’s a comic called Tanner & Peebles, about two aliens that traverse the universe in a series of silly misadventures, prompted by a mysterious desire to leave home and to find purpose, wherever that may take them.

It’s really been a labor of love.

Anyway, I still intend to post on this blog. But a lot of creative energy will be going into these comics. So if you’d like to follow along the journey, check us out 🙂

And as always thank you all for your support.

Dan

Advertisements

Rejected Story Ideas, Part 2

 

7, 39, 43

A group of special ops is sent to a remote desert town thought to house a dangerous group of terrorists. The town in question has already been bombed and is reduced to ash, but recent intelligence indicates that many terror cells are housed underground and all precautions are being taken to ensure that this particular group of terrorists is neutralized. Under the command of Squad Leader, the team lines up behind an embankment of rocks and gets into position.

The group is going through the shambles of the clearly primitive (and yet once vibrant) village when one particular solider, Thirty Nine, notices a single building which mysteriously has been completely untouched. A warehouse containing rows of bright & shiny red Toyota Land Cruisers. Having seen cars like this in old movies, Thirty Nine stops to appreciate the old-fashioned vehicles with rubber tires and combustion engines.

“Drop your weapons,” a voice says from behind.

Around two dozen terrorists surround the special ops with aimed weapons, easily outnumbering them.

“Drop them now.”

Thirty Nine and the others drop their weapons. The terrorists quickly rip off their helmets, deprogram the distress signals, and lead them at gunpoint to an encampment with torches and a wooden fence with sharp posts. The camp looks as though it has been quickly built within a craggy space of rocks unobservable from the air. There are small huts scattered throughout and a small tower in the middle of the camp. The ops are taken to the huts in groups of three and stripped. In Thirty Nine’s hut are also Seven and Forty Three. They are tied to the walls with old ropes and left hanging. They’re tied tight so their limbs turn swollen and purple.

Two days go by, and none of the guards and/or terrorists come into the hut. The men discuss their predicament but know also that they are most likely being recorded or observed in some way. They’ve learned how to move slightly and shift their weight to accommodate the uncomfortable position of hanging from a wall.

One the third day one terrorist comes into the hut with a knife. The men don’t flinch as he walks around the hut holding the knife in clear view. He stops at Thirty Nine and grabs his testicles and says, “Are you afraid I will cut these off? It would be very painful, no? A man’s worst nightmare. Trust me, they are a useless appendage to you now.” But then, as if he had just suddenly and for no reason changed his mind, the man turns to Seven and makes a swift gesture as though he’s about to cut, and he does; the terrorist cuts Seven’s right arm free from the rope, and Seven lets out a sigh because the blood is now free again on that side of his body and he wasn’t stabbed. The terrorist then very casually walks out of the hut.

“What was that about?” Seven says.

“I don’t know,” Thirty Nine says.

Seven begins trying to untie his other restraints, perhaps to his credit, but the ropes are tied in knots not to be undone by human hands.

“I can’t.”

“Don’t waste your energy.”

Once Seven finally does give up he has a hard time concealing his superiority of circumstance, letting out sighs of relief and speaking as if he’s better suited to free the group now that he has one hand free. But this, of course, is an illusion. He’s no closer to freeing them than he was before. Seven’s free hand only makes the inevitable more comfortable for him. He overcompensates against this newly formed gulf between him and the group by seeming to have a renewed concern for contemplating escape strategies.

“I could swing now to get my arm out the door.”

“Don’t waste your energy,” Thirty Nine says.

On the fourth day another man comes into the hut with a bowl of water and a knife. Without a word he sets the bowl down and with the knife cuts free one hand of Forty Three. Before Forty Three can even let out a sigh, Seven is already drinking the water. “Share,” Thirty Nine says. But Seven isn’t slowing down. Forty Three tries to stop him but it’s too late. Seven finishes the bowl and begins to tussle with Forty Three. And Forty Three manages to get a pretty good grip on Seven’s throat and begins choking him.

“Stop,” Thirty Nine says. “This is what they want. They’re going to kill us anyway.” A group of men gathers at the hut’s entrance and watches Seven die. His body hangs limp on the wall and his one free hand dangles like a marionette’s. And the men go laughingly to the tower and come back with another bowl of water, and then cut Thirty Nine’s right arm free and set the water down again. “Let’s do this the right way.” Thirty Nine nods and allows Forty Three to take the bowl first. He drinks exactly half and puts it back in the middle of the floor. Thirty Nine drinks the rest.

The onlooking men make disappointed gestures and leave the hut.

“You shouldn’t have done that.”

“I know.”

“They’re trying to get inside us.”

“What does it matter if we die?”

“We could escape.”

Neither of them sleep that night. Seven’s body begins to stink. With one free hand Thirty Nine turns his body and looks out the thatched roof. The stars are bright, the only light besides the few torches in the camp. Thirty Nine thinks back and realizes he never learned the constellations. They’re not so great, he thinks. They’re just there in the sky like clouds. It would be all over soon and doesn’t matter. Forty Three leans over to Thirty Nine.

“Kill me.”

“What?”

“Strangle me. It’s dark and won’t be on camera. I can’t take it anymore.”

“There could still be a way out.”

“We’ve tried all day. There’s no way out.”

In the morning they bring another bowl of water and a small piece of bread on a tin plate. Thirty Nine and Forty Three are salivating, but Forty Three isn’t looking so good. The men stand in the doorway.

“You take it.” Forty Three’s voice was hardly audible.

“Let’s do halves like before.” The men pay close attention to the dealing. They look to Forty Three for his reply.

“No. You take it and I’ll take whatever they bring next time.” Thirty Nine hesitates, unsure of what Forty Three means by this. Some of the men notice this and looked to Forty Three for his reply. Some didn’t and instead maintained their study of Thirty Nine. “Take it!” Forty Three’s shrill yell pierces the air. The men laugh. Spit runs down his chin. Thirty Nine doesn’t want to cause a scene so he drinks the water and eats the bread. And the men leave with some mixed sense of satisfaction.

Thirty Nine then gets a strong hand to the face and then another. “How could you?” he says. Thirty Nine is trying to shield himself from the blows.

“You put me in a spot. We can’t argue in front of them.”

“I didn’t think you’d actually do it.”

Thirty Nine socks Forty Three in the trachea and he vomits nothing.

“We can’t let it come to this. This is what they want.”

“We’re both dying regardless of what they want.”

By next morning Forty Three is barely hanging on, and Thirty Nine isn’t doing much better. Their heads are hanging as blood is locating itself in uncomfortable parts of their bodies; their lips are cracked; their thoughts are cracked. It seemed like the end. But then a smell lifts them out of the daze. The sweet smell of dinner rolls and hot meat.

The men walk in issuing orders. They have a steak dinner on a tray and big canteens of water.

“You can have this meal but you must pay. Whichever of you gives us the eye of the other man can have the food.”

Thirty Nine looks at Forty Three who is looking at the food.

“We’ll split it,” Thirty Nine says.

“That’s not how it works,” the men say.

Forty Three lunges at Thirty Nine, tearing at his face. Thirty Nine does what he can, grabs Forty Three’s neck, and still Forty Three is flailing. But Thirty Nine has a bit more strength left. He looks at Forty Three pleadingly but he won’t make contact. He looks wherever his arms are going, pulling Thirty Nine’s hair & neck. Right before Forty Three dies he looks at Thirty Nine. His eyes say something like thank you and then go vacant. The men in the doorway are hollering and having a good time.

“Good job, solider,” they say. “Do you want this food?”

“Yes.”

“We need the eye.”

“…”

“That’s the deal.”

Forty Three’s dead body hangs on the wall. Thirty Nine doesn’t want to do it. Not with these men watching. He takes Forty Three’s chin and notices his dark eyes. Then he puts the head back down and digs into the socket which is much drier than he expected. There is a little sound and it seemed like it wouldn’t come out but, with a little effort, it did. It dangles from his face by its nerve. Thirty Nine pulls it free with a snap and throws it at the feet of the men. One of them picks it up and put it in his pocket.

“You’ve earned this,” they say. The men raucously applaud and put the plate of food before Thirty Nine and he eats it.

“You’re coming with us,” they say and untie him from the wall and carry him out into the sun, to the tower in the middle of the camp.

The tower is a wooden thing like the huts but bigger. The tower is empty inside, a hollow room with a metal platform on the ground that begins to sink like an elevator into the sand, taking the men into an underground chamber. Everything was total dark and Thirty Nine wonders how they’ve acquired a steak since, to his knowledge, there aen’t any cows in this part of the world.

They took him to a room with a woman sitting on a cot. She’s wearing a tight-fitting military uniform decorated with many badges. She leans forward with her elbows on her knees and looks at the wall. The men leave, closing the door, and she motions for Thirty Nine to sit on the cot opposite her. He sits down and sees that she’s young and beautiful.

“What do you think of all this?” she says.

“I don’t know.”

“Do you know why you’re here?”

“No.”

“Do you know what your people have done to us?”

“No.”

“Of course not.” She takes a small controller from her breast pocket and presses a button. The wall across us lights up with images, terrible images of scorched people running in the streets and buildings collapsing in onto themselves. Huge ships are dropping the fire. Thirty Nine recognizes the ships as his own. (He’s never seen the attacks from this angle before.) Large plumes of smoke wade through the streets like chess pieces, in frame after frame, and there were limbless bodies squirming through the streets and scorched babies. “Quite something,” she says.

“We were hitting terrorist sites. Terrorists from your country bombed us first. That’s what started this. It was retaliation.”

“Those mothers and their children do look like a threat to national security, don’t they?” She clicks on the screen again. It’s a video of Forty Three choking Seven. “Yes, your people seem to know a lot about retaliation. I could play the one of you killing him? That one. Forty Three.” She motions.

“No,” Thirty Nine says.

“You think I’m pretty cruel, don’t you?”

“I haven’t thought about it.”

“Of course you have. The Thirty Nine model is temperamental.”

“My name is Thirty Nine.”

“That’s not your name, son. That’s your model. Names are for people. You’re a standard issue, military grade, very life-like thing meant to resemble a person. But you’re not a person.”

“I am a person.”

“Regardless of what you think you are, you’re going to be terminated. If you were human we’d call that execution. The good thing is you’re built with fake flesh, fake blood, so it will still be a very good show. We like that type of thing here, watching it on TV. Keeps the morale up.” She leans closer to Thirty Nine and grabs his chin. Her breath smells like motor oil and her blonde hair reflects the harsh fluorescent lights. “Do you know who you’re talking to, soldier?”

“Your face looks familiar,” he says through squished lips, pinched by the grip under her leather gloves. She stands up. Her crotch was level with his face.

“The President of the United States of America.”

 

_________________________________________________________________

Interested in other writer’s notebooks and want to support the site?

Check out Thomas Wolfe’s Notebooks on Amazon:

The Fork in the Road at the End of Looking Down Your Nose

Many cite The Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 as the symbolic birth of popular music.

In the decades since the 1950s & 1960s popular music has become almost too big and varied to write about. How to sum up the careers of The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Justin Bieber? Impossible. Each artist uniquely emerged in stylistic and market contexts defined by forces which greatly supersede mere personal talent. There are many talented musicians in the world, but only a few who can also embody a culture and reach a mass audience.

This makes the history of popular music remarkable to study. Just a little over half a century and we have gone from The Beatles to Kendrick Lamar with many decades of amazing music in between.

It was with this sort of doe-eyed plucky optimism that I approached my teenage brother-in-law one day and asked what sort of music the kids were listening to these days because, as a twenty-something old fart, I had been out of the loop for a while, listening to a lot of my old favorites, and was curious what new terrain there was to explore.

This is what he played for me:

 

Congratulations. You’ve been introduced to ‘mumble rap.’

Now, I consider myself to be a broad-minded person but… this was horrible music. Never before had I been repelled by something so mainstream and popular.

This moment was what I now call the fork in the road at the end of looking down my nose.

I hated this music, so I had two options:

1) accept that the pop music industry had left me behind and be ok with that 2) or try and argue that the pop music industry was now irreversibly dumb and this music was proof of the death of a once beautiful and vibrant creative industry.

In the moment with my brother-in-law I picked something like a compromise between these two options, trying to hide my absolute disgust while casually offering up other rappers I thought he could relate to that I considered better i.e. Kendrick Lamar.

That was the end of that conversation.

Reflecting back on this moment was slightly horrific because deep down I had to admit: I was becoming that old person who always annoyed me when I was a kid, picking at the younger kids’ music and recommending they listen to the ‘real’ stuff/the classics that really had the magic, etc. Ew. How did this happen?

Were these old farts right all along? Was the music I listened to as a kid really this bad to their ears? Maybe.

This is of course only a crisis if you’re a big music fan, and I had to admit to myself that, yes, music was this important to me. I believe in the transformative power of music. There have been many nights where an album lifted me out of a depression, accompanied me during a rough breakup, or made the drive to school more uplifting. For all the flack pop culture catches from high-brow critics, I had to admit that pop music has been a constant companion to me, and I wanted to understand it moving forward, but I also didn’t want to give up on what has really touched me in the past.

Still not resolved.

But one way I’ve tried to move forward is to proactively search for common ground and find those spaces in popular music where there is overlap with music that is or has been moving to me in the past. The old stuff will always be there. But younger kids are having experiences I never had and are reacting to art that resonates with those experiences. Who am I to say that my experiences should supersede theirs? Or that the music I heard was any truer to my experience than their music is to theirs?

And I had to think maybe the music I liked as a kid wasn’t better by some objective standard. Maybe I had just been there as a young and impressionable kid to appreciate it. Perfect fodder for grand-scheme marketing campaigns. Maybe there was nothing special and sacred about those artists per se, and they were just one small piece of a larger tapestry that is beyond any one person’s ability to comprehend it, which twists and turns down unexpected paths.

Who knows.

I think can live with that interpretation.

So with that I leave you with what my little brother-in-law and I could agree on:

________________________________________________________

Think Chance the Rapper is neat and want to support the site?  Check out his cool hat on Amazon: 

Porter Robinson’s Sea of Voices: A Critique of Pop Music

11707735_940093059382618_5444227844522662391_o
Credit: http://runthetrap.com

WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF POP MUSIC—and more specifically the EDM-infused pop music which still dominates today’s charts—Porter Robinson’s “Sea of Voices,” is a not-so-subtle middle finger to the current hegemony of formulaic dance beats, pop vocal features, and one-dimensional lyric writing. As a protest song it flips the standard tropes of pop music over to explore what broader emotional landscape may be on the other side. But it’s more than a protest song. “Sea of Voices” stands on its own right as a work of beauty and originality.

Plenty of songs are not pop songs. What makes “Sea of Voices” interesting in its critique of pop music is that in 2014—when “Sea of Voices” was released as the first single from Robinson’s debut album Worlds—Porter Robinson was primed for superstardom. In 2011 he released Spitfire, an EP from the Skrillex record label OWSLA, which was full of catchy dance anthems and hooks. He toured after the release, opening for Skrillex and Tiësto. This was two years before Avicii’s album True, and one year before Calvin Harris’ 18 Months.

So there was some surprise in 2014 when “Sea of Voices” was released. It was nothing like Spitfire. There were no hooks or dance beats. The short vocal track was not done by Rihanna or Kesha, but by a little known indie artist named Breanne Duren. There were some rumblings earlier in the year that Robinson’s Worlds would be a departure from the EDM style music that made him famous but the release of “Sea of Voices” confirmed what had previously only been speculation—Robinson, a perfectly situated talent in a market about to explode, was intentionally walking away from the next big wave in pop music

In a series of tweets the night it was released Robinson addressed what would be the implication after his fans heard “Sea of Voices”:

“I’ve had multiple anxiety attacks on stage this year and it was always related to feeling like a fraud. It sucked. The fucking watershed moment in writing Worlds was when I realized that I didn’t have to write songs for DJs. I realized that my need to be honest with myself and with you was greater than my need to be famous or whatever.”

ALTHOUGH “SEA OF VOICES” IS A DEPARTURE for Robinson—and it’s a departure with a specific goal in mind—the song does not suffer for it. “Sea of Voices” succeeds in its critique of EDM pop music not only in its commandeering the tropes of EDM pop music by flipping them on their heads (which it does masterfully), but it primarily succeeds, like any good song, by being an enjoyable listening experience:

Pretty, ain’t it?

If you listen carefully, you can hear Porter Robinson’s critique of the emotional narrowness of modern day pop music.

He does this primarily in three ways:

  1. The beginning slowly builds momentum by layering tracks instead of a few-noted hook or melody

Most songs work hard to try and get a listener hooked in under 10 seconds. This is done in a variety of ways: a little jingle or melody, an interesting instrumental that leads quickly into the first verse, etc. “Sea of Voices” completely abandons this notion. It doesn’t force you to get hooked. It draws you in without seeming to try too hard, layer by layer:

0:01 — Wind chimes. Single high synth note that will be blended with a vocal chorus later on.

0:07 — Bass synth.

0:23 — Middle synth.

0:33 — Rotating synth tone.

0:37 — Percussive guitar fuzzy tone. High synth note from the beginning is expanding into a chorus of electronic trilling female voices.

0:48 — Volume builds. Rotating synth comes to the front of the mix.

1:03 — Chorus of trilling female voices comes to front of mix and takes over chord progression.

1:15 — Separate orchestral synth takes over part of chord progression.

1:38 — Volume and mix continue to modulate and increase.

2:00 — Volume builds. Tracks oscillate and compete for prominence in mix

If you’re curious, listen again and take note of how subtle these changes are blended into the track. Each one is a moment of understated anticipation.

  1. The simple beat drop happens 3 minutes into the song

If there’s one quintessential trope in pop music, it’s the beat drop. The beat drop is the moment in a song where the percussion comes crashing in—this is the part where you feel an overwhelming urge to bob your head or dance, but this isn’t by mistake. Songs are carefully constructed to produce this effect in you. Usually the rule of thumb is to drop the beat within the first minute of a song, along with the first chorus. This guarantees that at the very least you will be exposed to the ‘best’ part of the song early, before you decide to change the song.

“Sea of Voices” drops its beat at 3 minutes. This is a long time to wait for percussion but it works because the song achieves a compelling emotional landscape without a beat. By the time all the tracks are working together at 2:00, the chord progression drives the song on its own to the natural climax.

Just as we aren’t forced into a hook up until this point, the beat drop is similarly understated: basically it’s just a reverbed snare and kick drum. Having spent the first two thirds of the song building slow and methodical pieces, Robinson was smart to make the climax a continuation of the prelude rather than a dramatic break. It would be tempting to pull out all the stops after three minutes of waiting but that would jolt the listener out of the song rather than keep them in. Instead a simple beat enters as more of a change of scenery than a change of pace, and the effect is all the more epic.

  1. Breanne Duren’s vocal track is short and only does what it needs to

“Sea of Voices” is essentially an instrumental track. There are some lyrics towards the end of the song but they are sparse:

We’ll see creation come undone

These bones that bound us will be gone

We’ll stir our spirits ’til we’re one

Then soft as shadows we’ll become

“Sea of Voices” is an interesting choice for a first single because instrumental tracks don’t usually sell very well, and out of all the songs on Worlds (besides the song “Natural Light”) “Sea of Voices” has the fewest words.

This could be a real detractor for some people, but I would argue that in the context of the song as a whole this small stanza is all that is needed for the song to work.

“Sea of Voices” is not trying to be a poetic anthem. The lyrics come towards the end because their purpose is to fulfill the last act. They come after the beat drop as a way of bringing the song back down to earth, like the calm after the storm, etc. Instrumentally the song did all it could do. The slow build and the beat drop are two self-contained sections which are effective by being interesting in their own terms. The vocal track is a way of tying a bow on the whole thing.

In terms of a message, the lyrics may seem like a melodramatic reflection on death and even apocalypse. And this is partially true. One extra layer though that may be missed if it’s not overtly referenced, is Robinson’s album-wide theme of “world destruction.” He references over and over online video-game worlds he loved that were eventually shut down, taken offline, because the critical mass of players dropped below threshold, or because a new game was coming out, etc. Seeing “creation come undone,” serves as an emotional ode to a lost fictional world, and as a metaphor for our own short lives.

“SEA OF VOICES” IS A BEAUTIFUL SONG on its own terms, yes, but it also came from a specific musician at a specific time and with its own story. It seems rare to stumble on an artist with every conceivable opportunity to become a household name but instead says no to being “famous or whatever,” and instead pursues their own originality, wherever that may take them. That is always a risk.

And always a story worth telling.


Interested in Porter Robinson’s music and want to support the site?

Check out his album Worlds below.