Winter Break Recap 2: Writing and GGJ 2018

Three-and-a-half weeks off from your full-time job seems like a really long time... that is, until your time off starts. Leading up to the break I was thinking about all of the possibilities that the break would afford me and dreamt of all the stuff that I'd like to accomplish. Here's a partial list of things that I was initially excited to jump into:

  • Arranging at least 3 more tunes for The Hard Modes in anticipation of our Feb. 16th gig.
  • Starting big band arrangements of the first tunes I arranged.
  • Transcribing Chris Potter's solo from "Hibiscus".
  • Learning Python.
  • Learning JS.
  • Learning a bunch of Spanish.
  • Getting through a ton of ear training exercises.
  • Get back in shape physically.

Again, this is a partial list. I was so hyped to work on things that I wanted to accomplish and it felt like I had all the time in the world.

Then, the break started.

The problem is not only wanting to do too much, but not considering that even when one is working on things that they love, one needs time to recharge. I thought that I would be waking up at 5:30am every day and work for the majority of a 16-hour day, but that's preposterous. Creative energies fatigue. The ear fatigues. The body fatigues. Humans need food and water.

So, in short, I didn't accomplish all I set out to accomplish, but I did accomplish a good amount; plus, I set myself up for getting work done in the months to come.

New Arrangements

The debut of The Hard Modes was a 2-hour gig with an intermission, and our hit on February 16th is 2.5 hours. With another half hour or so to play, I originally thought I'd just add a few post-bop tunes to our set and call it a day, but ultimately I'd like the group to have enough of a repertoire that we wouldn't be able to play all of the tunes we know in one gig. So, one of the first things I did was start working on new arrangements. By the end of the break, I completed 3 and partially completed 3 others. Here's what I completed:

Dr. Mario - Mode Select

I had this game for Game Boy growing up and played it a ton, and the OST by Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka is classic. This particular track is all over the place, but somehow everything comes together in a quirky - yet funky - groove. To be honest, I don't know how my arrangement is going to sound when played by the band. We're basically going to be sight-reading all of these new tunes, and since my arrangement really plays on the schizophrenic nature of the melody, it'll probably sound crazy. Can't wait to play it--I love tunes that challenge the players and make the audience at least slightly uncomfortable. 

Chrono Trigger - Corridors of Time

It seems that there are two tunes that every VG band does, and they're both from Chrono Trigger: "Secret of the Forest" and "Corridors of Time." I had vowed not to fall into this trap, but then a) I had an arrangement idea for the former that I thought was really hip (yet it's proven really difficult to execute so it's not quite done!) and b) I heard the latter played at MAGFest at least twice and that groove just wouldn't leave me.

As a sort of compromise to myself, I thought that I wouldn't spend too much time on arranging "Corridors" as much as I had others--after all, the nature of the tune allows it to be almost directly translatable to a jazz ensemble. That said, while working on it, I realized that I could throw a few curveballs in my arrangement to make it have some extra substance, and I think that listeners who are fans of Chrono Trigger will end up really enjoying our rendition.

Mega Man X - Sigma Fortress Stage 1

After posting some Hard Modes tunes on OC ReMix, I ended up connecting with a member of the OverClocked Jazz Collective, Wiesty. He told me about the group's next project on OCR, a tribute to the SNES, and encouraged me to arrange something for the group.

Over the break I got serious about trying to find an SNES tune that I thought would work well. I started brainstorming, and I ended up skipping over some of the usual suspects from which to pull tunes, like Earthbound and Secret of Mana. To have a solid contribution, I wanted to pick something that was in a style that required a decent level of arranging to make happen.

I started to explore Mega Man X because not only is it one of my favorite SNES games, it has an iconic, rocking soundtrack. When the playlist hit the Sigma's Fortress stages, my ear perked up, and I thought that I could make something work either with the first stage theme or the second.

The exact feel for the tune didn't come to me at first. To churn the butter a bit, I just transcribed most of the parts into Logic X and then started playing grooves behind the melody. At some point - it may have been in the shower, actually... breaks are important! - I came up with the idea to take an electric approach similar to the Chris Potter Underground (in hindsight I think that Snarky Puppy probably had some influence on it, too).

I think the track is going to be really fun to play. Ultimately it's meant for the OCJC, though I'm going to test it out with The Hard Modes since I have it finished. It has some tough hits that we'll no doubt stumble over if we try it at our gig, but I am eager to give it a shot.

Speaking of the OCJC, in order to play with them over the interwebs I knew I needed to get a mic. After doing some research, I picked up a Rode NT5, which to my ears is a decent low-cost option. I looked to eBay to see if I could get a good deal and wound up finding a floor model used at a pro audio shop in New York for about $60 off. It'll do the trick!

Global Game Jam

This year's Global Game Jam took place at the end of January. I, along with a ragtag team of friends, signed onto the University of Virginia Game Developers' site for a weekend of sleepless nights and wacky fun. Our game wound up being a "Starfox meets Dating Sim"-type (you know the ones) called Wing Buddies. If you'd like to play it, have fun

I wrote these 4 tracks--here's a little background:

  • "Emutional Sensitivity" and "Wren You Loved Me" were my favorite tunes to write. When we all signed on to having Dating Sim elements (that is, dialogues between you and birds on the map that, if answered correctly, allows you to gain their favour and partnership), I thought it'd be fun to write some pop tunes. I've been listening to Shoji Meguro pretty much nonstop--can you hear the influence in "Emutional"? Haha. "Wren" doesn't quite have that; instead, it sounds to me like some kind of corny track from a high school sim like Tokimeki Memorial. The cheese is real (and intentional)!
  • "Birds of a Feather" is just kind of a pleasant throwaway title card theme. I think the amazing peacock art is what really makes it worthwhile. By the way, that and the pigeon art were done by Thomas Kovach (the same amazing artist who did the poster for the first Hard Modes show). When he sent us those assets to use we were floored--Wing Buddies is not worthy!
  • "Eagle for Action" was too ambitious. I set out to write an exciting large ensemble piece from the start and burnt out on it really quick. I think the ideas are alright, but the muddy production really drags it down and I could have done more if I had thought smaller from the get-go.

The biggest takeaways from this year's jam were:

  1. It reinforced how much I love working on projects with friends (especially if they're wacky).
  2. Writing pop-tinged tunes is fun and I want to explore doing it more. Though, if I write them, I want to focus on making them interesting and stylish. Will continue rocking out to Meguro tunes.
  3. Soylent - a sponsor of the GGJ that sent two cases to the UVA site - tastes pretty funny and I wouldn't live off of it by choice.
  4. Jen and Krystle can draw some great birds (see the SoundCloud tracks). Would hire for free again.

What about all that other stuff?

I did start digging into Python and am looking forward to continue learning that coding language and seeing what becomes of having that knowlege. Spanish was "kept up" at best, so that was a bit of a bummer, and I didn't do as much ear training as I would have liked. There were plenty of other random unremarkable things that I got done, too (can't forget that the day-to-day doesn't go away!). One could say that I did the reverse of getting back in shape physically.

Worth it?

Heck yeah. I'd do this again in a heartbeat. I feel really lucky to be able to do this at my current job, so while I'm there and able to take advantage of extra time off - even if unpaid - I will continue to do so. Just have to use my money wisely in the months that I'm working so that I can save and feel comfortable for when those opportunities come around.

Next up: The February gig. Hope to see you there!