Jammin’



Where does inspiration come from? Most would agree that it comes from a variety of sources, some easily identifiable as being the within the realm of the artist (a chance encounter with a person, place or object which resonates for some mysterious reason; an event in the news; an emotional state; a fragment of music or dialogue from a film) and some of them a little more prosaic (“I got paid to do it”; “We had a time limit”). Out of all these forces, some pretty amazing stuff can emerge!


Which brings me to the point of this little missive. A few weeks back I was lucky enough to take part in The Halifax Game Jam, an event that falls, inspiration-wise about 50% into the first camp, and about 50% into the latter (at least the “time limit” part; not so much the “getting paid” part). The Game Jam (brought to Halifax thanks to such sponsors as Twisted Oak Studios, Longtail Studios, Silverback Productions, Codapop Studios, Huminah Huminah Interactive, theREDspace, Nova Scotia Business Inc, The Hub, Redline, The Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship, and Community Business Development Corporations) is a 48 hour event that brings together game designers, coders, graphic artists, musicians, and game aficionados for a 48-hour challenge: to create teams to build functioning games within two full days. I took part in my first one of these in the summer of 2011, and had a terrific time (the results of that weekend can be seen here). I think the best way to describe the weekend is alternately exhilarating (“Can we get this thing done in time?” “Hell yes we can!”), frustrating (there’s nothing like the reality of what is actually doable in 2 days bumping up against your ambitious Friday night brainstorming), and humbling (“Holy crow, there are some talented people out there!”).


Here's the poster for the event...sexy, mais non?




There are very few ground rules other than the time limit, although there are attempts to set certain parameters around the games (e.g. certain themes that the games should try to implement). In this year’s session, the themes randomly drawn included: “fantasy role play”, “beatmashing”, “show tunes”, “coyotes”, and, most enigmatically “divide by zero” (which only now makes sense to me; that’s why I write this stuff, so I can make sense of my world). This year’s crop of games addressed these strictures in a variety of fun and creative ways – and I have to say, one group even defeated assumptions by creating an old-fashioned card game, not a computer game!


Teams are formed in various ways. In some cases the teams come together because people are friends and co-workers in their day jobs (the event has a great blend of game development professionals, hobbyists, and students), and in some cases they end up working together as a result of a kind of frenzied “speed dating”/”networking” where people try to snatch up enough people for their teams to make sure that all the bases (programming, visual design, game play, story, and music and audio) are represented. We lucked into a couple of folks who more than ably handled the programming end of things, my old friend and fellow New Brunswicker, Mike McGraw from theREDspace and Alex MacCaull. And I should mention right now, that a huge debt of thanks is extended to the lovely Ms. Angelina Coccimiglio, whose boundless energy and photographic skills captured all the activity all weekend!


Mike McGraw, Team Kpinga's Game Engineer! Tooot tooot! (Photo courtesy of Angelina Coccimiglio)

Alex MacCaull, Team Kpinga's Sound and Credits Wizard

Alex McCaull, Team Kpinga's co-coder, and Sound and Credits Wizard (Photo courtesy of Angelina Coccimiglio)


























Next to come on board was Gavin Crawford, who brought the concept for the game. In fact, he came prepared with a complete Power Point presentation about the Zande warriors of the Congo, and of their weapon of choice, the Kpinga (the construction of which is part of a Zande’s rite of passage into manhood). His research became the core of the project, and gave us all the focus we needed. His friends Jay and Jericoe States also contributed some very cool ideas around the structure of the opening screen music! Finally, we were fortunate enough to collect Ms. Courtney Johnson into what became “Team Kpinga” and we were underway with the development our game, which Mike coined “Kpingapong” due to the way a player was ultimately able to bounce the weapon off of elements in our young protagonist’s environment.


Gavin Crawford, Researcher, Story Creator, and Weaponsmaster (Photo courtesy of Angelina Coccimiglio)

Courtney Johnson, Visual Design Queen with Her Court Assembled (Photo courtesy of Angelina Coccimiglio)




















And so we set to work -the details of the next two days really wouldn’t be all that compelling a story to those who weren’t there, but I can tell you a few things I took away from the experience. Not so much things I learned, as things that were reinforced.


1. Teamwork is essential; what we did as a group, with everyone pitching in wherever they could, whenever they could, yielded a great deal of success!


2. Patience and a sense of humour is indispensable. We all learned a lot from one another, and had a ton of fun in the process!


3. I felt that I created some appropriate music – with more time there would have been more variability and different themes and tempos, but I’m pretty fond of the little sonic world that Alex and I (and our other collaborators, Jay and Jericoe States, who brought some great ideas to the music you’ll hear at the very opening of the game) created. Given the visual charm of Courtney’s work, I feel like the music is at times a little too serious and epic, but that’s where working in the same room with your collaborators can make a difference. I created the music in the studio, and was so immersed in my work, I had only the broadest sense of how the game would ultimately look, so I was scoring the game in my head, not the one on the screen. Still and all, things came together far better than we could have imagined, and you can download the game to play on your own machine here.


Although it looks on screen (it is the third game down) like you can either play it directly on your browser or as a download, for the moment you can only download the game as a .zip file. Simply download, unzip the folder someplace where you can find it, and click on the file called “KPingaPong”. It will then open on its own in your browser. If, however, you’d just like to hear the music I put together, you can find that right here!





If you’re curious about other stuff I’ve been up to, you can find some that here in my “Samples” section – you can hear stuff freshly uploaded if you visit me on Soundcloud (or “Like” my Evil Twin Music page on Facebook).


4. It’s not always easy to keep within the assigned themes, but we did our best. While I never quite accomplished “beatmashing” in a true DJ sense, I did create something of a “dance mix” of the theme starting at around 1:58. For the record, I also did a “show tunes” version of the theme, but out of respect for the estates of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein (and Canadian copyright law) I am not sharing that version online. I’d be happy to play it in person for you, though. ;^) Major kudos to Courtney for managing to insert a giant coyote into the “you win” screen (and there’s your incentive to download – and beat – the game!).


And so, another Game Jam came to a close – here’s a final shot of Team Kpinga, tired yet victorious! Here’s to the team, and here’s to inspiration coming from unexpected places!


Hail Team Kpinga! (Photo courtesy of Angelina Coccimiglio)




I’ll be back soon talking about the other amazing event I took part in this month, Women in Film and Television – Atlantic’s Women Making Waves conference. Until then, friends!

Collaborations both Old and New

Hey guys! Two things of note this week. First of all, for those of you fortunate enough to have TCM as part of your cable subscription (sadly, not me), here’s some news about some very cool programming. I make no bones about it, hands-down my favourite film composer of all time is John Williams. There are others who are, perhaps, more eclectic in their instrumentation or compositional styles (Thomas Newman comes to mind), or who have cornered a niche and style so thoroughly they’re almost a genre in themselves (hello there, Danny Elfman!), but for sheer “goosebump moments”, I can’t think of anyone who’s contributed more to the art of film composing, having managed to make both great films into iconic pieces of pop art, and elevated so-so films into something truly memorable just through the power of his music. The actual screening date for this episode of “The Art of Collaboration” has already passed, but I’m assuming that reruns are plentiful on TCM, so you might want to keep an eye out for this (I’m counting on it screening over the holidays, when I will be around folks to have TCM…yes, I’m looking at you, father and sister). Looks terrific!


Introduction to the Art of Collaboration


Oh, and I have an additional little treat I want to share with you all! My good friend from New Brunswick, author and illustrator Tony Bastarache, took it upon himself to make me a mascot! Well, actually he made me mascotS. Here’s what the man (totally unsolicited, I should add…as in the case with the “Wheel of Fate”, I consider myself very blessed to have such generous friends!) came up with:


"Mad Scientist" Evil Twin

"Mad Scientist" Evil Twin


"Mad Conductor" Evil Twin

"Mad Conductor" Evil Twin


Nifty, huh? I’ve added a poll to my Facebook Page asking which one people prefer, and I’ll toss the same question out here. If I had to go with one official Evil Twin character, which would you choose. Either offer a comment below or drop me an email with your favourite (“Mad Scientist” Evil Twin vs. “Mad Conductor” Evil Twin…or is there a third variation you think would be even better?), and I’ll announce the final decision early in the new year!


Incidentally, Mr. Bastarache is busy preparing his children’s books, but is hoping to have an official website and blog running very soon. In the meantime, if you have any words of encouragement or messages you’d like to pass along, please let me know, or post them here – he follows the blog, so will be delighted to hear from you!


And that’s it for this week…see you in December, folks!

Talkin’ ’bout Reel Generation

Hello friends…are you seated comfortably? Good! Behold, if you dare, the Evil Twin Music Wheel of Fate, our latest experiment in the new science of “Random Demo Reel Generation”! And a model of a fun merger of art and computer science, if I do say so myself. Shaky camerawork notwithstanding, hopefully you got the gist.


Some background: on November 17th the Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development in Halifax hosted an event that was a combination of: 1. graduation for participants in the Self Employment Benefits program (of which I have been a very grateful beneficiary) and 2. trade show for the grads and other folks in the Self Employment Benefits program.

Being in the business of music, I had no physical wares to showcase, so it occurred to me that there might be a fun, interactive way for folks to hear some samples of my work. After putting out an open call for help on Facebook, my friend Eric Finley (whose day job at FJA involves building software I cannot pretend to begin to understand, but I know it’s for insurance companies) responded, and volunteered to put together a “simple” Jave application (his words; I feel like one of those proto-humans in 2001 whenever I’m faced with a line of code) that would give me a spinning wheel that could play random mp3s of my music! Perfect!

I must confess, I’m a bit of a sucker for “randomness” (OK, full disclosure: I actually kind of love making non-life-altering decisions with a coin toss, and have been known to allow traffic lights to determine which coffee shop I will frequent. Except, of course, for The Paper Chase – you’ll always be Number One with me) so something like this makes me ridiculously happy.

That being said, I don’t think it’s a perfect, all-purpose solution. On the one hand, I like the idea of a unique listening experience for anyone who encounters the wheel, but on the flip side, for busy clients who only have time to hear the one or two best representations of the kind of music they’re looking for, this might not be the best way to share stuff. What do you think? All comments and suggestions welcome, so feel free to weigh in! I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Beware the Cosmic Interloper!

Hi Evil Twin Friends!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (the irony of that expression will shortly become evident), you probably already know about a unique astronomical event that transpired the other evening – on November 8th, around 7:30 PM AST, a rather large (think “aircraft carrier large”) piece of spacefaring debris, sexily named by scientists 2055 YU55, passed within 202,000 miles of our home world. At risk of publicizing how desperately out of the loop I can be sometimes, I must confess I wouldn’t have even known about this if not for a Facebook friend who mentioned our Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s rather catchy turn of phrase, referring to the mass as a cosmic interloper. Apparently this is a recognized term (although the equally cool, Pink Floydian interstellar interloper is used more frequently), and I fell in love with it immediately.

For the visually-oriented of you, here’s some video of this bad boy, courtesy of NASA:



So, anyway, I loved the sound of “cosmic interloper” so much, I felt inspired, that very evening, to write a little musical homage to 2055 (if I may be so familiar to presume to be on a first-name basis). Please understand, I undertook this project in full awareness that, although there were no predictions that it was on any sort of collision course with Earth, if it HAD hit us, it would have left a crater 4 miles wide and 1600 feet deep – or created 70 foot tsunami waves if it’d hit water, possibly rendering my efforts something that ultimately only I would ever hear, not to mention making this little exercise my final actions on the planet – though I can think of far worse ways to go.

It’s now Thursday afternoon as I write this, and we’re still here, though, and I am pleased to share with you the final outcome, in its unpolished glory. I can always think of things that I might do to improve it, or make it more dynamic or subtle, but the idea of these little exercises, which I love (but rarely share) is to produce something based on a quick turnover (about 3.5 hours, kids!) and an emotional/evocative subtext. Here’s what I came up with – imagine you’re floating in the vast gulf of space, maybe somewhere between the Earth and the moon, and suddenly you see this massive obsidian orb wheeling its way towards you, just missing you, and then watching in bewilderment as it silently and impassively moves on, as dark and unknowable as Leviathan. That’s kinda what I was going for.

Cosmic Interloper

Anyway, let me know what you think – this was a lot of fun to write, and I think I’m going to start to use events like this to jump start more exercises like this. Better yet, if you know of an event or theme or person that could benefit from the Evil Twin “treatment”, send me a note! I take requests.

Until next time (assuming no global cataclysms in the meantime),

Chris

Festival Time!



Happy Monday, Everyone!

 



There’s a definite feel of Fall in the air as I write this – the air is cooler, night falls a bit quicker than it did even a few short weeks ago, and all hands are on deck for the 31st Atlantic Film Festival, which opens this coming Thursday, September 16th. I’m proud to be taking part in the festival this year, in many capacities. First and foremost, I’m a delegate representing The Screen Composers Guild of Canada, which means I’ll be helping my good friend Asif Ilyas from The Shire to get a number of events organized! A few personal highlights for me over the next several days include:


- Next week (Sunday September 18th at the Delta Halifax at 1:00 PM), Asif and director Rohan Fernando will be holding a Master Class on film composing, using Rohan’s films “Snow” and “The Chocolate Farmer” as case studies in developing music that is psychologically and emotionally appropriate for a film. Unlike previous Master Classes, there’s no application process – all are welcome to attend, so if you’re interested in all in film scoring, this will be something to check out! More details can be found here.


- Also next week (Saturday September 17th at 12:15 PM) you can check out “Knowing the Score: The Reality of Preparing for and Planning Music for your Film”, a panel discussion I’m moderating, with guests including Asif, Marvin Dolgay (president of the Screen Composers Guild), Bob Hunka (a well-respected music supervisor and SOCAN advocate in Los Angeles) and a surprise guest or two! Come to this event as well, if only to watch my intense discomfort at sharing the stage with such talented and articulate advocates for our art! Check out more info about it here.


- Finally, in the realm of shameless plugging, I need to make mention of a short film from New Brunswick that’s screening at the festival twice this year, and that I was very blessed to have the opportunity to score! Omaha Fly By is a fun little comedy directed by Joel Thompson and very ably produced by my buddy Lita Llewellyn. There’s so much I’d like to say about this film and the wild mix of elements in it that made it so much fun to write music for, but I’d far rather have you discover it for yourself, so do come see it! Here’s a link with more info. The promotional picture on the website is pretty apt, and maybe gives you an idea of the ride you’re in for.


I’ll be trying, as often as I can, to do some microblogging and photo sharing from the festival, so please come join me virtually (or in person – I hope to see some of you there!) either by following me on Twitter or Facebook . I’m not going to be one of THOSE people, with their head constantly buried in their phone – I want to talk with people and soak it all in, but when I have a moment, I’ll be taking a few snaps at the very least, and will be eager to share them with you!


Have a great week folks! Over and out!