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VampORE, part 1: The WT Archetype

This isn’t relevant to anyone who is likely to play in an ORE-based Vampire game, since the framework for character generation is deliberately constrained to generate vampires and only vampires. But to put a vampire in the context of generating a WT character, I’d probably go with the following to generate an archetype for a vampire:

Source: either Genetic, Life Force or (obviously) Paranormal. This depends on whether you view vampirism as a transmissable blood disease, a manefestation of the blood itself, or a supernatural creature that has to drink blood.

Permission: Super, or possibly Power Theme.

Intrinsics: This is where it gets interesting. Firstly, a whole load of Allergies to Sunlight, Holy symbols, Fire and the like (although Fire is already damaging, of course). You could treat the vampire’s thirst as an Allergy, reducing their Willpower when their blood gets low. These can be varied depending on clan weaknesses.

Next, there’s the Inhuman intrinsic flaw. This could selectively apply to some vampires, or could apply to all of them depending on whether they cause humans to instinctively react to a predator.

Finally you could consider No Base Will or Willpower. You’d need to call it something else to avoid confusion with vampire Willpower, but it would mean that vampires can only power their disciplines by stealing Willpower (or any vital force) from others.

ORE Vampire

One-Roll Vampire

I was a bit disappointed with Wild Talents as a superhero game – but as a toolkit for building a supernatural game it could work nicely.

Since retro is never out of fashion, I’ve been thinking of going back to old-school VtM.

Vampire came out in 1991 and as an impressionable goth it captured my imagination for three reasons:

  • it had really nice character sheets
  • it de-emphasised combat in favour of roleplaying
  • vampire myths had not yet saturated the rpg and spec fiction market

ORE is another buckets-of-dice system it could be fairly straightforward to drop-in a different system.

But why bother?

  • Storyteller system sucks – especially when you do want to run combat
  • System does affect the feel and presentation of a game
  • White Wolf has rebooted the world with Vampire: the Requiem. I want to see what happens when you keep the world and reboot the system. Both approaches can challenge the players’ expectations and freshen up the game.

I’m going to write a series of posts for the reboot.

Here are a list of changes I would make if converting Vampire to Wild Talents:

  • revised damage system (shifting away from the ORE damage silhouette)
  • how to increase the number of attributes in ORE/WT from 6 to 9
  • disciplines – how to apply the WT design rules to vampire powers
  • how Passions can take the place of vampiric Virtues
  • what to do with Willpower, Blood and Humanity
  • tweaks to the ORE combat system

That’s it. Now what do I call this project – VampORE? Hmm.

ORE, part 2: Wild Talents

A while back I decided to stop trying homebrew rpg systems and use a commercial system – something modern.  I bought Monsters and Other Childish Things and Wild Talents, together with a few supplements in a sale.

The MAOCT campaign is still happening, using the rather good Dreadful Secrets of Candlewick Manor. A few sessions on and my main criticism is the sheer information overload – that and the distinct lack of child NPCs in a game about 10-15 year olds. If they were to write a second edition of Candlewick I’d like to see a few family trees, and maybe some local maps.

I won’t hold my breath. Usability improvements are not the top priority for second editions at Arc Dream. If they were, the index for WT2e wouldn’t be a complete joke (referencing the table of contents?).

Not For Beginners

I ran my first and only session of WT on holiday with a bunch of players who were newcomers to the system, but not to gaming. It was a terrible mistake. I had ambitions of gun-fu combats from Hard Boiled and Wanted. The unfamiliar dice mechanics, sheer volume of rules and my lack of instantaneous knowledge totally upset the flow and the game ground to a halt.

I wanted a superhero game that could be played out of the box, and I had seriously misjudged the level of commitment needed. But even if I had been familiar with all the rules, my players weren’t. Basically I was seduced by the idea of a supremely flexible system of powers, and bought the wrong game as a result. That doesn’t make WT a bad game in itself.

Critical Acclaim

WT has some quality ingredients. Greg Stolze (the awesome Spherewalker Sourcebook), Kenneth Hite (lots of GURPS, plus others), Dennis Detwiller (Delta Green) and Shane Ivey (err… blowing his own trumpet here). It should be good.

And WT has been critically acclaimed.  Google for “Wild Talents Review” and you’re unlikely to find a review under four stars.

(Kurt Wiegel of Gamegeeks doesn’t like to do negative reviews.)

I’m going to break away from the crowd; I do not think Wild Talents deserves anything more than a 3 out of 5 stars. I think it’s a complex game with great power, but deeply flawed in its presentation – giving me the experience of an epiphany one moment, and the desire to wipe my arse with the pages the next.

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    p>Positives

    WT has some excellent writing in it – from Chapter 11 onwards. Kurt Wiegel proclaims the section on building histories as worth the price of admission alone, which is laying it on a bit thick but a good comment – it’s the best part of the book. Sadly I don’t think this is packaged in the smaller, cheaper WT essential edition, which is just the rules.

    The artwork inside is lovely, paper is thick and glossy and the text is well laid out and not too small.

    The actual history presented in the timeline is nice if you’re likely to use the Godlike timeline, and providing general inspiration.

    Quirks

    This game is highly abstract, and while I don’t think abstraction is a bad thing in itself it needs a lot of interpretation and imagination. As I’ve mentioned before combat is “interpretive” rather than “narrative”. Select the dice pool, roll the dice, interpret the result. The Cult of ORE tout this as a strength, but I have yet to be convinced – although I do like the way width = initiative.

    This abstraction goes further when designing powers. I like the principles – you choose the source of your powers, then for each power you have a Quality (does it Attack, Defend, or be Useful), a Capacity (does it affect you, something at range, speed, something massive) and then pile on Extras and Flaws to “tune” the effect. It makes a lot of sense to me. The problem comes in the time it takes to explain the concept to players. Like the family trees and maps in Candlewick I asked for, would it have killed them to provide a flow diagram for generating powers? Talsorian did this for Lifepaths in Cyberpunk 2020.

    This issue of obscuring process flow in text is something I encounter all the time at work, too; people generally don’t appreciate the value of presenting complex workflows pictorially. In the case of this game it looks like the authors have taken the player’s familiarity for granted.

    Disappointments

    WT is “unashamed” about its lack of power balance – pointing out that a low powered character could build powers that turn off the sun if they wanted to. Fair enough.

    Why then have a points system at all? A points system should help the GM to match power levels between players and antagonists. Being open to abuse is one thing, but if the points system doesn’t make the game easier to play, it has little value.

    Also, I found the authors prone to giving the vaguest advice in places where definition is badly needed. In character creation they recommend “not just giving a pool of points, but setting limits on how much can be spent on stats, etc”. Fair enough, but what limits? If you’re concerned about players exceeding normal human levels of competence, then what are those levels? You might think I’m asking too much but they took the trouble to do a statistical analysis of Supers population by decade and country in the design chapter – so they recognise that providing a sense of scale is important. (edit: there are a couple of pages of sample characters right at the back – but it’s still too little information and in the wrong place)

    Like most complex systems we learn by example; so to understand how powers were created I looked at the “Miracle Cafeteria” chapter where a list of common powers have been developed using the toolkits. And it was here I kind of lost my patience – because in about half the cases I looked at I just couldn’t get the numbers to add up when I plugged it into the fan-made spreadsheet. Why couldn’t the designers just show their working?

    Lastly, the character sheet is just rubbish. I know, hardly the end of the world but seriously it looks like it was banged out in Microsoft Word. Character sheets are the way the player interacts with the game mechanics. Games like Vampire and Everway show us what a well-laid out character sheet can do for the mood of a game.

    Final Comments

    So why does everyone else froth about this game when I have had such a mixed experience?

    You see a lot of games being forgiven for bad mechanics because of the “quality” of their game world – and by “quality” we really mean “quantity”. But I gave up on Exalted because the sheer volume of text obscuring how to actually play was more than I had patience for.

    We are gamers. We pay for and play games. And in other segments of the gaming industry – such as boardgames – critical acclaim is given to clarity of rules and quality and balance of gameplay, not just a pretty box. In the video games industry reviewers are merciless.

    So the conclusion is that WT has been reviewed well on the strength of its atmosphere, its world design and alternate histories, by gamers who are willing to forgive its difficult rules and fudge where necessary. Because that is the RPG way – we expect inconsistency, arcane rules, and having to fight the 300 page rulebook to extract value.

    I don’t think WT is a bad game, but these days I value simplicity of system. I was hoping that WT would be flexible and simple at the same time. I think it can be made simple with some work, but that wasn’t what I wanted.

    I’ve been thinking about rebooting Vampire the Masquerade using the ORE, with WT to reinterpret disciplines. Using WT to develop a framework is going to be a lot more effective than asking players to use the rulebook as it stands. WT is a meta-rpg; it’s a toolkit for building a semi-homebrew rpg under the ORE framework. As long as that’s your expectation of the game it can work, but it needs a big investment.

    Steel and You

    Lace and Steel was written by Paul Kidd and published in 1989.  I tend to think of the game as D&D era but it’s really only a couple of years before Vampire the Masquerade (1991).  Lace and Steel had a second edition in 1998 and then faded into obscurity, which is a crying shame.

    314eJuKEJ1L SL500 AA300I was introduced to L&S in the 90s, and I admit to being nostalgic.  The campaign was great, the players all “got” the setting and acted in the spirit of the game.  There was humour, drama, tension, and great pace.  Much of this was down to the GM, but also because L&S did several things really, really well.

    • Card-based combat: fencing, repartee and magical duels used cards.  It may sound cumbersome, but it wasn’t.  It made combat easier to pick up, and even fun to watch.

    • Self Image: this was a measure of your self-esteem – if it was negative it counted as a bonus to some skills, and if positive it was a penalty.  It went up and down fairly quickly depending on whether the character was grumpy, well rested, recently humiliated, or recently laid.  Suddenly being called names did matter.

    • Ties and Antipathies: positive and negative feelings about other characters.  Another nice mechanic that serves several purposes – creating reasons for characters to act and cohesion within the party (if they have ties to one another).

    • And to round it off, the rulebook is superbly organised – economical with text, nicely illustrated, and laid out logically. No ambiguity, and certainly no wading through 300 pages of guff to divine the one essential paragraph.

    Nowadays I favour minimalist systems like Everway – this is mainly because I have neither the time or the patience to read through a 300 page manual just to play a couple of sessions.

    As I get older I play more board games and less RPGs.  Now, board games are designed with fun and balanced mechanics in mind, with transparent levels of risk and reward.  Why aren’t more RPGs designed like board games?

    Which is why I consider Lace and Steel to be a master class in RPG design.  It’s very well laid out and quick to learn for both GM and players.  It also manages to be deep enough for detailed characters, with mechanics that work.  It’s a RPG that remembers it’s a game.

    Like many GMs I fetishise the game system, tweaking it, designing my own mechanics.  And like a number of GMs, a better combat system has been my dream.  But also I have a Western Martial Arts background, and the aim of a “better” combat system has always been realism.

    Enter the Riddle of Steel.

    Riddle of steel rpg cover

    This game has been designed by Jake Norwood, a long-standing member of the ARMA.  It’s been a labour of love for him to develop a “realistic” combat system.  From the combat section:

    This system is based on years of hands-on martial research and training.  Though still a game, it is closer to representing real fighting than any RPG combat system ever written.

    How absolutely super.

    I shouldn’t scoff.  First of all, I’ve tremendous respect for Mr Norwood for seeing a 300 page project through, and to applying his own philosophy and research so critically. Chapeau, sir.  And to be fair, when this was published (2002) I only just received my instructor certification – so certainly I lag behind Mr Norwood’s experience as a martial artist.

    But…

    At first glance, TRoS is just like any other weighty manual I picked up and tried to get enthusiastic about for my own (WMA-based) campaigns.  I have Exalted, Feng Shui, Wild Talents, GURPS, a lot of Old World of Darkness, RunequestStormbringer and the obligatory Basic D&D set from my 12th birthday.

    At my age I would prefer to spend time writing games than plowing through turgid sub-Tolkein prose trying to learn a rules set that could have been written on a side of A4.  In that respect, TRoS joins the ranks of all of the other manuals I bought because “this time it will be different; the rules system will be a sublime blend of elegance and realism that captures the essence of martial arts” and was subsequently disappointed.

    Now, on to the claim of being closer to real fighting than any other RPG combat system ever written.

    Images

    What Mr Norwood has attempted to do is model combat, according to his principles, with more granularity and detail than any other combat system he is familiar with.  Because as far as I am concerned, Runequest is already close enough to “real fighting”.  You will hit your opponent X% of the time, and when you do you may or may not hack off a limb, render them unconscious or kill them outright.  That’s what a simulation does.  Runequest mostly misses out the intervening bits like suppurating wounds, long term disability and chronic pain leading to loss of livelihood and decline in social circumstances.  But I don’t think TRoS deals with that either, and an imaginative GM can wing that bit.

    And to be honest, if I wanted a deeply technical simulation of combat I’ll go to our school and fight someone in person.  Which leads me to wonder who this RPG is aimed at.  The people who will care about this level of detail will be experienced martial artists, and those who aren’t, won’t.  So there can only be one answer – this RPG is specifically aimed at Mr Norwood’s friends who spent night after night bitching about how D&D just wasn’t “realistic”.  No-one else gives a shit.

    OK, that’s a bit harsh.  Is the game any good?  Well, don’t ask me, ask Lev Lafayette.  There are a bunch of other reviews on rpg.net but (Mr?) Lafayette’s is nicely balanced and summarises the system well (at least, more than I could be bothered to do).

    What TRoS has done is polarise opinion.  Plenty of people like the game and applaud its system, and they can’t all be personal friends of Mr Norwood, can they?  On the other hand, Zoe’s review scores it lowest of all for substance:

    If you like your combat so realistic that combat is avoided or approached with extreme caution, few games will suite you better than TROS.

    Christopher Bradley doesn’t think much of the combat system, calling it “pretty slow”, which I agree with.  Although I’m not sure about this comment:

    It has about the same relationship to modeling a real fight as martial arts do to modeling a street brawl.

    Helstorm sums up my main objection:

    My ability to use the combat system should have no bearing on my character’s ability to fight, but unfortunately, it matters a lot.

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    p>Spot on, I’d say.  And there’s the rub – a game whose selling point is a totally faithful simulation of combat, and yet it is so dangerous in combat that there’s a good chance your PC will die in the first exchange (unless they are totally mismatched in ability).  And it’s slow, and difficult to learn.

    Now, on to my own gripes.

    There are a bunch of “maneuvers” and “stances”, and this is where the game starts to get my back up.  You see, it’s been written from the POV of a medieval martial artist, who has a particular approach to martial arts that I don’t 100% agree with.  Reading the system it certainly seems to play the way medieval martial artists like to fight.  I strongly feel that TRoS only tells one side of the martial story; it has no perspective on post-rennaissance martial theory, and its handling of boxing, wrestling and dagger is questionable – these things happen at distances where “stance” is almost irrelevant.

    Now, I mentioned Lace and Steel on purpose.  Because I think that game simulates the way rennaissance martial artists like to fight.  True, it lacks the detail of TRoS’s damage system – but I ask you, when did anyone need four different axes of damage, applied to one of several different segments on the body, each with its own sub-segments?  Particularly when the first touch is likely to mean death?

    Lace and Steel’s damage system is good enough, and it tracks important things like fatigue extremely well.  I honestly think the sense of realism it imparts is unmatched – based on my experience as a gamer and a martial artist.  And it does so economically, in a way that players can visualise.

    But that’s my opinion.  Mr Norwood, whose experience I respect, has a particular view of martial arts from his own studies, and has done his best to write a RPG that models his experience.  He and his fans can probably visualise combat using his model.

    What I can’t really forgive then is the utter cack-handedness when numbers are applied.  Characters can be so tough that they are actually better off not wearing plate armour.  Pardon?  Then there’s the use of the White Wolf dice pool, and its total lack of transparency when trying to judge risk.

    There’s one example given in the quickstart guide where a man is decapitated seemingly on a fluke; the man is wearing an enormous amount of armour, is very tough, has a good number of defence dice and a very low target number to defend. Yes, he’s very unlucky and his opponent is very lucky – but the margin by which he is killed is equal to the armour he is wearing.  Which means that, under normal circumstances, weapons and armour massively dominate the outcome of what should be a skill and tactics based game.  If that’s the case, why have players make such tactical decisions in the first place?  Why not just have good old THAC0 and Armour Class?  Because the founder of ARMA, John Clements, says it’s not “realistic”.

    But above all, any tactics in the game seem to come down to “I have X number of combat dice, I’ll spend Y to attack and the rest to defend”.  That’s an idea straight out of Rolemaster.  And while I mention it, so are the critical hit tables.

    A more charitable view might say that all games boil down to a single coin toss, and it’s the illusion of tactics the game provides that makes them fun to play.  And I say fine, if TRoS is just providing a framework for an exciting combat system.  But if that’s what you want to do, 300 pages is a tad excessive.  And saying your game is closer to real fighting than any other RPG combat system ever written is asking for it.

    Overall TRoS isn’t a bad system, and I assume once you’ve invested the time to learn the maneuvers combat is quite quick.  But I don’t think any of my players would have the patience to go through learning this combat system.

    And that’s why Lace and Steel is a far superior RPG in every respect.  Not only does it do combat well, it does magic well, and social interaction, and it’s a nicely laid out book.  It’s a roleplaying game that knows it’s a game, that people will want to read quickly and start playing.

    Christmas Haul

    ’tis the season to buy each other stuff.  This year my lovely wife bought me:

    Iron Monkey

    NewImage

    Lovely shiny 2-disc edition of Iron Monkey, possibly my favourite martial arts film, by Tsui Hark, one of my favourite directors.

    (I thought I first saw his first film The Butterfly Murders on Alex Cox‘s Moviedrome, although according to this list it wasn’t shown as part of that series.  It was probably shown at Christmas in the late 80s, when there were only 4 channels and the BBC christmas film programming was actually worth watching – it introduced me to Spinal Tap and Tampopo as well.)

    Anyway, this edition includes “remastered subtitles”, presumably because the original ones suffered from spotty translation – including the alleged insult “you are so secular” to a corrupt priest.

    Brian Eno – Discreet Music

    Discreet_Music_EG.jpg

    Interesting because this is probably Eno’s first solo ambient album, although preceded by No Pussyfooting (which has been recently remastered with extra tracks).

    Key Tool Thing

    lbi_b027d062063cbe861064b907b584ed48_115_115_ffffff_100.jpg

    A nice little stocking filler.  I have alopecia universalis and associated nail dystrophy, which means my nails are mostly non-existant.  You know the worst thing about losing your finger and toenails?  Opening cellophane wrapping.  I do have a little penknife that I could carry around, but I couldn’t take it on flights – and ironically I need fingernails to open it…

    So this little thing fits over a key on my keyring, and has severall useful cutting and lever attachments.  I’ve already used it to open my other presents.

    Oblique Strategies

    oblique_box.gif

    Oblique Strategies is a tool designed by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt.  I think it’s originally intended as a musician’s tool, but I’ll use it anyway for idea generation.

    I’ve used Tarot and I Ching for liberating ideas before.  Also I have a copy of the Creative Whack Pack by Roger von Oech, which I have mixed feelings about.

    37030-shot.jpg

    There’s a card explaining how they came about:

    “These cards evolved from separate observations of the principles underlying what we were doing.  Sometimes they were recognized in retrospect (intellect catching up with intuition), sometimes they were identified as they were happening, sometimes they were formulated.

    “They can be used as a pack (a set of possibilities being continuously reviewed in the mind) or by drawing a single card from the shuffled pack when a dilemma occurs in a working situation.  In this case the card is trusted even if its appropriateness is quite unclear.  They are not final, as new ideas will present themselves, and others will become self-evident.”

    <

    p>If you want to know more about Oblique Strategies an overview of the different editions can be found here.  Also there are a few good online versions, my favourite being josh harrison’s colourful version.  That’s great for my ipad but nothing beats handling physical cards.

    I am tempted by a t-shirt.

    One of the lads

    I’ve just seen a female engineer who is willing to “get stuck in” on a chemical plant described as “one of the lads”.

    OK, this was a fictional engineer, although based on a real person. She was part of a worked example in a training course I just went on.

    I know and have known several female engineers, many of whom wear overalls and boots and “get stuck in” in chemical plants on a daily basis, in smelly, hazardous and thoroughly antisocial conditions. These are extremely hard working women, shrewd and technically competent, and they work long hours to get a quality job done. On their example, I should aspire to being “one of the girls”.

    One of the lads indeed. For fuck’s sake, I thought we were past this kind of thing. It’s the 21st century and we don’t have enough engineers, period.

    Sticking your neck out

    Last week I saw Harold Budd and The Necks at the Holywell Music Room in Oxford on their Time Being tour.

    The Holywell Music Room is owned by my old college, Wadham. I think I’ve been there twice previously – once to see a Brahms recital when I was a student, and once to hear Mike Parker. Each time I go I wonder why I don’t go more often – it’s in the city, and unlike Reading there’s no lost sleep from camping in a field with people shouting “bollocks” all night, people talking during gigs, or crapping into a tin box.

    I first heard of Budd in Q Magazine in a list of top ten ambient albums. These included Selected Ambient Works II, Lifeforms, Ultraworld and The White Arcades by Budd. But as great as The White Arcades is Lovely Thunder is an even better work (especially the opening track, The Gunfighter). Both of them hail from his collaborative period with Brian Eno in the 80s and I think represent his best. I’ve not been as taken with Budd’s recent stuff – like his works with Clive Wright such as Little Windows, which I think have a lot less energy, presence, and menace (I’m a big fan of the Dark Ambient genre).

    So I was excited to see Budd perform in the flesh (possibly the first ambient music concert I’ve been to), but on the other hand I was a bit apprehensive of the content. Moreover I’d never even heard of The Necks, and experimental jazz could turn out to be forty minutes of dissonant torture.

    Part One: Harold Budd with Russell Mills

    The first half was Harold Budd being helped out by Russell Mills, a chap with an impressive CV of association with ambient musicians. Budd proceeded to play an extremely sparse set; meanwhile Mills clambered all over the stage (cluttered with both his instruments and The Necks) fiddling with various boxes to produce echo effects, digital loops, and broad spectrum noises along with some improvised sounds generated by abusing a Neck’s double bass.

    A projector screen above showed a slowly transitioning colour space that looked alternately like a blurred landscape, outerspace, and an endoscopy.

    Mills was (I assume) taking cues from Budd’s passages and applying effects, and there were flashes of real excitement and interest – like the moment when Mills loosened one of the double bass’s strings and played it so it clattered on the fingerboard, or when a chord echoed against a background of white noise. But there were also times when I wanted a bit more from the performance. It all felt terribly restrained. I wanted the white noise to be louder, become overbearing and really challenge Budd’s piano to push through. Blame my renewed interest in Throbbing Gristle.

    I was hoping toward the end Budd would slam the piano’s keylid closed and turn around to Mills saying “will you stop dicking about and settle the fuck down, I’m trying to play some serious fucking piano” but he didn’t. Probably because he’s got better manners than me.

    I did not shout “Free Bird!”.

    Part Two: The Necks

    My companions had insisted on a swift half in the Kings Arms nearby, and when we got back the doors were closed. One of them remarked that this was no bad thing. But we got in and took our seats just in time.

    The Necks are a trio of percussion (Tony Buck), piano (Chris Abrahams) and the aforementioned double bass (Lloyd Swanton). The set was a single composition about 40 minutes long; whether it was from their most recent album mindset or something else, I have no idea.

    Lloyd Swanton took centre stage and looked severely constipated throughout. From my seat I got the best view of Tony Buck and spent most of the time trying to work out what he was doing with his left hand to make this fantastic washing sound, like many small bells. That was how it started – percussion of scraping sounds and a repeated theme on the bass, and some sparse piano.

    Then it gradually built up. Buck introduced a small cymbal and began scraping the edge over the top of a side drum. Swanton persisted with a recurrant theme of plucked notes, then switched to a combination of bow and plucking. Abrahams gradually built up the volume and texture of the piano. They made great use of the ambient lighting, with the spots transitioning between blue and red, giving a sensation of a day-night cycle. The sounds became gradually more complex and I had a strong impression of a busy city waking up and going to sleep over a couple of days – pink dawns, blue and amber days full of noise, and deep red dusk and night that instilled a sense of fear.

    Overall I really enjoyed this performace, even if it was extremely demanding on the attention. I guess if I’d been tired or irritable I might not have responded so positively.

    Aftermath

    I think I was in the minority that liked the second half over the first. But I think most people liked The Necks and by liked I mean tolerated. And by tolerated I mean removed their shoes and socks and gnawed their own toes off during the performance to take the edge off.

    I’ve since found that The Necks are on emusic, so I’ll be using up some of this month’s credit with an album or two. As for Harold Budd the next aquisition is likely to be earlier stuff like The Pearl or Abandoned Cities.

    Comment

    <

    p>One of the chaps I was with had previously seen Gorecki’s Already It Is Dusk. It’s a horrible brooding dissonant piece of music that rewards you at the very end by a lightening tone, an assurance that actually it’s alright, you got through. Except when he saw it, someone forgot to turn off their mobile phone and it went off right at the end. Totally ruined the performance.

    I’ve been gradually losing patience with Reading Festival and part of that is people thinking they have licence to behave like pricks, but a bigger part of it is said pricks chanting “owah owah” at every fucking set or otherwise making noises when I’m trying to listen. I’d assume it’s because I’m getting old, but the Festival arseholes tend to be the same age as me. I don’t like being talked to by my neighbour during a film, either. I guess I’m in a minority.

    Audiophiles lament the death of good music saying the mp3 and radio has made music ubiquitous and disposable, and therefore people see no reason for high quality music (yet will still shell out for Blu-Ray players). You can blame people for being poor listeners, but critical listening is an aquired skill that few people teach – as an adult, I’ve mainly heard about it in management courses.

    As a kid though I remember my music teacher making us put our heads down and listen. I remember him being pretty rude actually – implying that no-one taught us, the MTV generation, to really listen to music – a criticism probably aimed at our parents. But even if my parents had played more music when I was a kid, I don’t think it would have drawn my attention away from the television and ray guns and spaceships and after-school cartoons. Still, better late than never.

    Acid, Bass, Smack Around The Face

    Too much time on Youtube recently.

    And then

    Also

    I’ll do a real blog post soon, instead of nicking other people’s stuff.

    Style and Genre

    Was music genre a problem before iTunes?  Most certainly a first world problem, although I am not the only one trying to tame their digital music collection.

    Daniel Chandler’s An Introduction To Genre Theory

    Chandler makes a few interesting points.  Firstly, that genre evolves according to pressure from the media it classifies:

    The interaction between genres and media can be seen as one of the forces which contributes to changing genres. Some genres are more powerful than others: they differ in the status which is attributed to them by those who produce texts within them and by their audiences.

    Secondly, genre can describe the relationship between audience and performer.

    Related redefinitions of genre focus more broadly on the relationship between the makers and audiences of texts (a rhetorical dimension). To varying extents, the formal features of genres establish the relationship between producers and interpreters.

    Wikipedia Definition of Music Genre

    Wikipedia talks about a differentiation between Art music, Pop music and Traditional music.  This categorisation has a lot wrong with it, and for me it rapidly falls over when any mention of “Art Rock” or similar is made.  A lot of what I listen to is not very commercial – especially by today’s standards – and yet falls into a pop category in the way I consume it.

    Genre can also relate to sociological origins – which is a lot more useful if, for instance, you have a lot of music from film and soundtracks.  Even if the originating context is orthogonal to other notions of genre.

    Strategies

    Daniel Stout reckons you should simplify your collection to 25 genres(!).  He then suggests a whole load of subgenres for each genre, which IMHO makes genre tagging less useful, not more useful – if you care about the distinction between blues rock and bluegrass, the chances are you listen to a fair amount of both.  When I tag my music I want to raise the visibility of all of the stuff I listen to infrequently, rather than sort the music I listen to a lot into smaller and smaller categories.

    The Tippapotomous asks whether it’s possible to automatically tag digital music by genre.  What they find is that different online resources already have different classifications.  They do have a nice seperate article about rating songs, which is pretty similar to my own strategy.

    Using the classification of Allmusic or Discogs is neat but actually not useful if it includes terms you don’t identify with.  By other definitions I have a lot of New Age music (Vangelis, Robert Rich, Mike Oldfield) but it would never occur to me to use that terminology.  Because I am music lover, not a patchouli scented crystal-waving hippy.

    At least, not any more.

    A flat list of genres and subgenres can be divisive.  What I want is the opposite, to classify my music in such a way that it takes notice of crossing genres, so when I create a playlist it won’t create dissonance but will create interesting contrast between tracks.  An electronic downtempo playlist could, for example, take elements of minimalist classical music, electronic ambient, vocal downtempo such as trip-hop and so forth – but insert hard rock or gangsta rap and it doesn’t work.

    So, an alternative approach is to use the Content Group Description tag as an auxiliary grouping field – for example taking the Allmusic definition of “Genre” and “Styles”.  *Content Group Description* is identified as *Grouping* in iTunes.

    From the [ID3v2.4] spec

    TIT1   The ‘Content group description’ frame is used if the sound belongs to   a larger category of sounds/music. For example, classical music is   often sorted in different musical sections (e.g. “Piano Concerto”,   “Weather – Hurricane”).

    That’s confusing.  Is the Genre or the Content Group the “larger category of sounds”?
    Then there’s Apple’s interpretation:

    Grouping:    the grouping (piece) of the track. Generally used to denote movements within a classical work.

    <

    p>In other words the pop-loving cretins can keep their filthy hands off the Grouping field.  Still that interpretation only matters to a tiny proportion of listeners, so the Grouping is up for grabs as a wildcard field for any metadata you like.

    There’s one very good reason to pick Genre over Grouping, and that’s the way iTunes orders music – genre is a high-visibility field whereas Grouping and Comments aren’t.  Of course some people feel iTunes is the tool of the devil and wouldn’t use it anyway.

    Final word

    I ended up making an excel file and adding terms to it that could be plugged usefully into the genre or grouping field, trying to decide whether they were useful Genre terms, Grouping terms, of both.  Generally if I have a lot of music in a well-defined genre (e.g. darkwave, industrial) or a small amount of music that I only care to group broadly (e.g. Jazz) then using the genre field is a good idea.  Anything else and the Genre field can get congested and less useful; at this point adding metadata tags in the Grouping is handy.  Metadata I plan to use includes “Ambient”, “Goth” and so forth.

     

     

    Bis ans Ende der Welt

    I saw Until the End of the World in 1991 at the Penultimate Picture Palace.

    I’ve had the extended version sitting on the dvd shelf for a while – viewing was always going to be a bit of an excursion at 279 mins long (over 3 discs).  It’s a german release, so the passages in French near the start don’t have english subtitles – but the plot isn’t exactly complex.

    Until The End of the World Wim Wenders

    It’s been 20 years since I saw the film.  It may be the first near-future film I felt was “Cyberpunk” in terms of its holistic view on future human society – something that’s conveyed in novels (e.g. NeuromancerSnow Crash) but few films achieve.  Certainly Blade Runner – which I also saw as the Director’s Cut in the PPP around the same time – doesn’t; that’s just a mashup of cultures in a big city where space exploration and colonisation is implied, but very little of the world outside the city is considered (which is the point).  Transmetropolitan is the same.

    It’s neither Cyber or Punk, really.  The trailer doesn’t really convey what the film is about, which is the journey.  Of course there is a spy plot and a future technology plot but these are secondary to the heroine’s travels and her struggle with her own sense that everything is coming to an end.  I’ve never been a fan of the transhumanism side of cyberpunk or space exploration, and I think the focus on world cultures coming together is much more interesting.

    Naturally a film made in 1991 about 1999 is going to get technology wrong in a few areas.  There are no handheld mobile communication devices, but there are vehicular based ones, as well as vehicular tracking of entry and exit to cities.  There’s GPS as well.  There are handheld cameras which are not far from reality too.  There is videophone of course.  Information stores (music and personal ID) are in the form of credit cards – I assume with magnetic stripes, given the pre- Chip and PIN era.

    The cross-genre soundtrack enhances the sense of globalisation and the vehicular anachronism and choice of locations – Venice, a farmhouse, a grassy plain – make the film particularly vivid.  Overall I don’t think the film is dated, or will be – it’s a fantasy set in an alternate future where technology does not dominate lives as much as it does ours.

    And at one point the heroine rides a Pedersen Bicycle.

    Pedersen

    The soundtrack is pretty good with appearences from U2, Talking Heads, Neneh Cherry, Lou Reed… however the film score by Graeme Revell has never been released apart from a few tracks on the soundtrack CD – although one blogger has managed to extract the audio cues from the dvd soundtrack.

     

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