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!

Yer Obligatory 2011 Film List

Hi folks! Wishing a happy, slightly belated, non-apocalyptic 2012 to you all! I feel, having a blog and all, that I’d be remiss if I didn’t chime in with some kind of 2011 film industry postmortem, so thought it’d be good to submit my own faves of the past year. With no further ado, here are my thoughts on 2011, film wise (next blog will be back in the purely musical realm, I ‘spect):


Evil Twin Music’s Best Films of 2011


1. The Tree of Life – Not just my favourite film of the year, possibly the film that effected me more than any other in the last several years. There’s been so much written about Malick’s masterpiece that I don’t know what more I can add, other than an observation about my response to this most personal of his films. Honestly, I can’t remember the last film I saw where, roughly every 10 minutes or so, I had both my breath taken away because of the beauty of an image, and a lump in my throat because of the non-specific, but very tangible spirituality at the core of each of those images. Beautiful film, with lovely original music by Alexandre Desplat as well as contributions from composers such as John Tavener, Zbigniew Preisner, and Henryk Górecki. I’m almost scared to revisit it on home video, since nothing can compare to seeing these images on a huge screen.



2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes / Project Nim – And thus I begin my cheating… but then again, I never said I was offering a “top ten” list. Since I have a few favourites that were so inextricably linked in my responses that I couldn’t possibly rank one above the other, I’ve got a few instances like this where I couldn’t really rank one film higher than the other. When I saw “Rise”, like most filmgoers I was mightily impressed, particularly by Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar. The degree to which the film elicits sympathy for the apes, even at their most destructive, is, of course, greatly aided by the degree to which the humans in film are shown to be unsympathetic bozos, and there’s no shortage of that sort of stacking of the emotional deck. But the film is skillfully made enough for us not to mind the manipulation. Besides, once a person sees “Project Nim” (and I defy you to identify a more perfect double bill in 2011!) you can’t help but feel that when Mother Nature does finally decide to put us in our place, we’ve had it coming for a long time. This documentary, about Herbert Terrace’s efforts in the 60s and 70s to explore language learning in primates demonstrates, in a moving, infuriating, funny, but ultimately tragic way the toll exacted by academic hubris (plus a healthy dose of early-70s hippy-dippiness) on both man and beast.





3. Rango – this gorgeous, hilarious, absurdist take on Westerns sometimes feels like an animated Coen Brothers film, and some of that, I’m sure, is thanks the dryly humourous vocal work of the cast. MUCH more of it, though, is due to having the Coen’s cinematographer Roger Deakins on board as a visual consultant, making it the best looking animated film since “Wall-E” (which also benefited from his touch).



4. Super 8 – sure the climax of the film can’t possibly live up to the build-up (and the terrific character work by the cast of mostly new young actors) that preceeds it, but goshdarn it, if the first hour or so wasn’t a perfect evocation of what caused many of us to fall in love with films in our younger days (especially fun summer films from names like Spielberg, Dante, Donner and Zemeckis attached to them), I don’t know what is!



5. Hugo – I have to admit, I’m torn on this one and feel like I should have loved it more. If you’re going to have to have a film in 3D, I can’t think of safer hands to be in than Martin Scorsese’s. He does things in this film with light and dust particles and textures that show real visual artistry, and make it (along with Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”) one of the few films this year that truly needed to be seen in 3D to be appreciated. The central story is a moving one as well, and educating the young’uns about Georges Méliès is all well and good. I’m just not certain who this film was made for; parts of it that were clearly aimed at kids (the rather ineffective slapstick with Sasha Baron Cohen) seemed pitched too low, and some of the grief and regret in Ben Kingsley’s Méliès (not to mention some of the pacing) seemed to be pitched at an older crowd. Still and all, I was in awe for much of the film; I just wished it had grabbed me on a more emotional level than it did.



6. The Muppets – and then there was this unalloyed injection of pure nostalgic joy. Except, I must note, I was heartened by the fact that the younger members of the audience I saw this with (my 9 year old niece included) enjoyed the film greatly, even without having the 40-plus years of exposure to these characters that we old farts have. Sure I could nitpick (Jim Henson’s Kermit will never be replaced, though I had a far easier time adapting to the non-Frank-Ozzian cadences of Miss Piggy and Fozzy) but the film is infinitely better than it had any right to be, and a great way to wrap up my movie-going year!



7. Captain America: The First Avenger/The Adventures of Tintin/X-Men: First Class – a threefer this time, packaged together because of their overall content (period piece action/adventure films) and because I happen to be a sucker for period piece action/adventure films of this ilk. Having been burnt a few times in the past (although, I hated “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” far less than many) my response to all of these was “holy crap, I’m enjoying myself way more than I thought I was going to!”. Captain America, in particular, really did capture a certain “gee whiz” quality that you’d get in comics from that time, and is easily Joe Johnston’s best film since “The Rocketeer” (which says that Mr. Johnston has a definite niche, and needs to avoid further “Jumanjis” in his future).






8. Source Code/The Adjustment Bureau – these two had all the intrigue and mindbending “nature of reality” vibe of the previous year’s Inception, but with the added novelty of being love stories that actually worked, with strong performances across the board, and a lot of chemistry in the Jake Gyllenhaal/Michelle Monaghan and Matt Damon/Emily Blunt teamups.





9. Kill the Irishman – maybe it’s just that it’s been several years since a great gangster film came our way (not counting terrific foreign films like “Mesrine” and “A Prophet”), but I enjoyed the heck out of this film. Nothing earth-shattering or innovative, but Jonathan Hensleigh’s direction is kinetic and involving, and watching Irish and Italian thugs blowing up and shooting each other can be a sort of cinematic comfort food (for some of us, anyway). What’s more, Ray Stevenson (I’m still hoping to see some forward movement on those long-promised “Rome” theatrical films in 2012, though they sound stalled) has a lot of charisma, and ought to be employed more – being in both the new Billy Bob Thornton film (Jayne Mansfield’s Car) and the next G.I. Joe film shows him to still be an actor caught between serious “legitimate” films and pure action fare.



10. The Guard – starring an ACTUAL Irishman, Brendan Gleeson, this film is, on the surface, one of those “fish out of water” stories with the big time sophisticate from the US (in this case an FBI agent played by Don Cheadle) being put in his place by the charmingly quirky residents of a small Irish village (the template of course being Bill Forsythe’s Local Hero). The difference in this case is that the “loveable, quirky” character in the piece is actually a racist drug abuser with a penchant for prostitutes, but his low-level sociopathy makes for a very, very funny “anti-buddy” movie!





And that, my friends, wraps up my favourites of the year! What do you think…any favourites of yours that I’ve forgotten? Feel free to weigh in! At any rate, 2012 has been pretty hoppin’ with activity, both musical and extracurricular thus far, but I guarantee that the blogging will continue unhampered! We shall talk again soon!


Chris

Season’s Greetings!

Hello friends!


My apologies for the delay in posting something new here, but I think this time of year gets the best of most of us, and even I, blessed with an Evil Twin as I am, am still not immune. However, I have an excuse – I have been preparing a small gift for you! In scanning the interwebs a few weeks back for something unique and seasonal to share with you I came across a wonderful online resource for all manner of public domain content, The Internet Archive. While there, I discovered a small gem of an animated film called “The Star of Bethlehem”, made in 1921 by German animator Lotte Reiniger, which tells, in a simple and charming way, the story of the Nativity.


I have to confess, my knowledge of early animation history is pretty poor, so this discovery gave me a great opportunity to learn more about this remarkable and accomplished lady, including this little mythbusting discovery. Know how everyone believes that Walt Disney was responsible for the first feature length animated film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1937? Well, in fact the woman who made “Star of Bethlehem” was also responsible for 1926′s “The Adventures Of Prince Achmed”, which was animated in a similar “silhouette” style, and also happens to be feature length (though, at 65 minutes, it’s short by today’s standards, and 18 minutes shorter than “Snow White”). At any rate, any opportunity to celebrate the holiday season AND help to correct a misconception is a happy occasion!


Anyway, enough with the history – what I have done with this film as a way to celebrate the season, to bring the accomplishments of this wonderful and groundbreaking artist to your attention, and to thank you all for your support as my business has grown over the year, is to underscore it with some familiar seasonal music (with a few Evil Twinnish twists here and there). For the sake of convenience, I’ve split the film up into four sections, each corresponding to a theme or two, so you can pick and choose which parts you want to watch.


In closing 2011, let me say that it’s been an incredible year with lots of opportunities to work with some terrifically creative folks – I feel very blessed to know you, and look forward to much more of the same in 2012. Moreover, I wish every one of you reading this a wonderful holiday season!


It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well,
if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!
And so, as Tiny Tim observed, “God Bless Us, Every One!
- Charles Dickens











Fifty Five Years!!!

Today, in keeping with thoughts over the past few weeks about the nature of collaboration, I just want to raise a toast to this man:







According to the Internet Movie Database, John Williams first began writing music for visual media back in 1956 for the TV anthology Playhouse 90, and now, 55 years later, the man has two films opening in a couple of weeks (Tintin, the trailers for which can be seen here and War Horse, which you can preview here). That the man has been so blessed to be plying his trade for so long is amazing…that he has been a pretty much constant collaborator with Steven Spielberg, the director whose work he is most associated with, since 1974′s The Sugarland Express is incredible. That both of the abovementioned films are Spielberg films, mammoth projects that must have had incredibly complicated, overlapping production schedules, is beyond comprehension! The creativity and energy these guys bring to the table is estimable, to say the least.


So, how does something like that happen? It’s a combination, I think, of good fortune, of two people sharing a common vision, of persistence and flexibility, and, after a long enough period of working as team, of the emergence of a sort of “shorthand”. Here’s Spielberg’s thoughts on this very process, in a recent interview with Mark Harris (and thank you to MSN Entertainment for streaming it!), about “War Horse”:



While I haven’t been in the fortunate position be have a long-time collaborator like Mr. Williams (I haven’t had 55 birthdays yet, let alone a career that long), establishing trust and a musical shorthand is key to any collaboration, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to build a vocabulary with some friends and partners, particularly with forces to be reckoned with like Lara Cassidy, Bunthivy Nou, and Joshua Young. As 2011 winds down to a close, I want to thank these folks for their trust and openness and eagerness to communicate – and hope that 2012 will bring many more creative partnerships like the ones we’ve shared so far – if you want in, I’m an email or phone call away!


Happy Holidays!


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

It is labour indeed that puts the difference on everything.
John Locke, 1690

Happy Labour Day, folks! This is a time of year that holds multiple meanings for people, whether it’s because it’s the last long weekend of summer, because of the rituals for students of all ages returning to (or beginning) classes, or because it’s the last weekend you’re supposed to wear white (being immune to the whims of fashion, Evil Twin prefers to ignore this one). However you view it, though, it’s definitely a time that signals change. Here’s hoping that the change that Fall 2011 brings us is all for the best!

Here’s a fun-fact for you: did you know that here in Canada, Labour Day’s been celebrated since the 1880s, all in the wake of the Canadian Typographical Union’s bid for a 58-hour (!) work week? OK, perhaps as fun-facts go, it’s not that much fun, but it is factual (at least according to Wikipedia)! So, in the spirit of recognition of workers’ tireless efforts, I figured this might be an opportune time to recognize the hard work of some of Evil Twin Music’s friends and colleagues.

First of all, I’d be very sorely remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the work of the very talented Ms. Carly Murray, whose company, Chipper Studio, brought you the webpage you’re viewing today. Her visual acumen, sense of clean, organized design, good humour and patience with my many, many questions and requests for tweakage have been invaluable over the weeks and months running up to the opening of this site. Thanks for everything, Carly! Good work!

Carly’s work wouldn’t have the visual unity and appeal that it does, though, if it weren’t for having some awesome source material to kickstart and inspire her, and that’s where a very dear friend of mine needs a tip of the hat. Danielle Autran is a graphic designer I’ve known for many years (who continues to be one of Halifax’s losses and Montreal’s gains), and who brought exactly the look and feel that the name “Evil Twin Music” evokes. I wanted something vaguely retro and “mad scientist”-ish, and she brought that in spades – from my logo to my very cool business cards (hit me up for one – I’m happy to share!) to the CD label on my demo reels, that unified look comes courtesy of Danielle’s genius.

Someone else who needs a big thank you and some “welcome back to Halifax” love is my friend and long-time collaborator Lara Cassidy. Without her creative vision and direction, a great many of the projects you see and hear on my demo pages wouldn’t exist. Her vision, along with other Curve partner Steve Richard’s eye for visual composition (and you need to check out his website too, for a dose of sheer visual splendor) have resulted in some wonderful, innovative stuff, and I’m a fortunate guy for having the chance to work with this duo as often as I do!

So, let’s ring in Labour Day 2011 with a virtual raising of a toast to four folks who have done a lot to give this page some of it’s visual zing – don’t know what I’d do if it wasn’t for people like this, making my music look so good!