You can also download the album here: Second Star to the Right
The new Songsworth album Second Star to the Right will be released in February 2013. The album contains 10 new Songsworth tracks.
The album will be available on iTunes, Amazon and other major digital distributors. It will also be available as a free creative commons download from this website.
2. Blue Door Orange Door
4. Spacing Guild
5. Gnorts, Mr. Alien!
6. Fire at Will, Mr. Sulu
7. Wing Commander
8. Kilrathi Battle Cruiser
9. R. Daneel Olivaw
10. The Clockmaker
If you have spent any time with this blog, you can probably pick it up pretty quickly that I am a nerd. I love science fiction, comic books, mathematics, board games, computers, electronics and synthesizer music. But I did not always feel good about it.
In fact, when I was younger, I found it so difficult to enjoy what I truly loved due to the usual social constraints that I tried hard to learn to be less of a nerd. I hid my Jarre albums and stopped talking about Star Trek. Instead, I started working on listening to cool indie bands and watching sitcoms.
As a consequence, I spent a great while of my life with things that I did not truly love, but that I thought would earn me street credibility or the respect of my peers. In other words, I spent a tremendous amount of effort to be cool. I learned to talk cool. I learned to wear cool clothes. I taught myself to listen to cool music and to watch cool movies.
But cool, unless it’s Fonzie-cool, is not necessarily good for you. Cool can be numbing. It can be indifferent and disconnected. Sometimes cool is what people have to go back to because they don’t have a clue what they really want from their lives.
To this end it is so bizarre that those of us who have had the gift to know what we loved early on – the nerds – have so often such a hard time in the early years in our society. Just because we don’t always know the right jokes or watch the right TV shows.
But if you are a nerd, trust yourself: you are are truly privileged. It is still a tremendously rare thing to see a human being who truly loves what he does, and who truly knows who he is.
And nerds often do.
Because if you dare to love science fiction or computer code in a world packed full of Big Brother and tabloids, it can hurt to love. But sometimes hurt is good. It shows you what’s worth fighting for.
When I was fourteen, people would tell me that I thought too much; that listening to Jarre and Vangelis was just wrong; that Star Trek and Babylon 5 were ridiculous; that maths was not cool to like; that reading lots of books was scary.
But it’s not.
It may not be what the other guys are doing. But if you love what you do, keep at it. No matter what the others think.
The nerd can be the ultimate outsider, because being a nerd you have something new going for yourself. And being social is, after all, often not about new things. It’s about nodding at what the other guy says. It’s about laughing at jokes even if they are bad. It’s about going to a party because everybody else is going. And ultimately, it’s about doing whatever everybody else is doing because that’s what you are supposed to do.
But the nerd won’t do it.
If the other guy says something stupid, the nerd will argue back. If the joke is bad, the nerd will analyze it and point out where it could work better. If the party is not really interesting, the nerd will not go, but rather solders a circuit board. And if everybody else is doing something that is not interesting, the nerd will do something that is.
The problem is that if you live like this, you will also sometimes snort at jokes, you will make arguments in a language like Klingon that nobody else can understand (the question is: taH pagh taH be), you will miss chances to interact with people, and some of the things many people do might never make any sense to you.
But that’s okay.
Because as a nerd, you can change the world. You cannot change the world by getting in line. But you can do so by figuring out what you really love to do, and by throwing yourself all in. As a nerd, you have nothing to lose. And that is what makes you the most powerful creature on Earth.
Being a nerd is amazing because being a nerd you can really tap into what you love to do, whether it is fixing old radios, tending to horses, playing larp, reading comics, writing computer code or making music with synthesizers. (And yes, you can be a nerd by playing ice hockey or driving race cars too, but it’s even tougher because people think it’s cool.)
Being a nerd is amazing because you can really be somebody who loves what they do and make the world a better place by doing it.
It’s not necessarily easy. But it *is* great.
So here’s to all the nerds out there – all of you amazing people who have made this world a better place –, people like Steve Wozniak, Nikola Tesla, Evangelos Papathanassiou, Christopher Franke, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Arthur C. Clarke, Orson Scott Card, Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg. And Sheldon Cooper. They might have a funny laugh, or snort at jokes. But they make waves.
Being a nerd takes courage. But trust me, if you’ve got it, it’s worth it.
Be proud of what you really are.
It’s great to be a nerd.
I used to run a couple of music studios over a decade ago with lots of music hardware packed in. This was back in the day when music software was just making its way out. For a long time I had mixed feelings about software synths and mixing gear; Pro Tools was, of course, great, but much of the offering in the turn of the millennium just wasn’t that good. To that end, you had to rely on hardware. At my last studio, I had more than twenty hardware synthesizers, with racks full of mixing gear.
Now I work on a laptop, and I gradually phased out all of my hardware except for one synthesizer. The fact is that you can now load a basic laptop with software that sounds exactly as good as a high end studio, perhaps barring some of the more vintage analog gear. But for basic sound design, recording and mixing, a laptop will go a long way.
That being said, hardware still makes sense for some occasions. For me, the biggest reason is character.
The only hardware synth I have left is not a street-credible Moog or a cool Arp rig. It’s a digital synthesizer from the early 1990’s: the Yamaha SY99. For me, this one piece of gear is easily the most significant piece of musical hardware I have ever owned.
To begin with, its the first synth I ever did own. I was fourteen when I got it. This means that when I was a kid, the first songs I wrote at home I did on this workstation. (I used to work at a local studio before that.)
But it’s not just nostalgia. The SY99 is in many ways quite a unique piece of work. First of all, it combines two distinct types of synthesis: Yamaha’s sample-based AWM and – what made Yamaha famous in the synth-world – an FM synthesizer upgraded from the good old DX7. But what is more, the instrument actually combines the two. That is to say, you can also use a sample-driven oscillator as an FM operator in sound design.
In addition to the choice of FM waveforms, and with the possibility to import your own samples (this in a synth from 1990!), the possibilities for sound design are endless. After all, even the most sophisticated sampling workstations of that time would let you work at best with envelopes and filters. With FM routing, the sky is the limit.
But most importantly, this instrument is a labor of love; a unique piece of work that collaborates with you to generate the sounds that you hear – and the sounds that you want to hear even when you didn’t know you did. (Check out the cool way the gradually shifting FM modulation works in the song below.) To this end it is no wonder that for the first three years of working with the synth, I practically never touched the presets.
I used to love music hardware. But in addition to the validity of modern music software, I believe in simplicity now. To that end, I don’t have that many soft synths either; rather I focus on the few that I really love and really can work with.
That being said, there is this one piece of hardware that I am doubtful I will ever part ways with.
I have found it really useful to skim through the various top ten and top hundred lists of best sci-fi novels in search for new reading so I thought I’d put up one of my own here. This list appears to me to be in constant flux, but at this moment, my best of the best looks something like this.
1. Alastair Reynolds: House of Suns
I don’t know what it is about this Reynolds piece that really hit it off with me, but for some reason this is the book that has in the recent years stuck with me the most. Maybe it is the fact that it was in some sense something completely new for me, and yet without going to overt depths or difficulties with weird vocabulary or concepts.
The star struck love story of Campion and Purslane touched me to the extend that I wound up making a Lego stop motion animation about it.
2. Frank Herbert: Dune
Frank Herbert’s seminal novel tops the top charts all around the internet, and with good reason. The book is a treasure trove not only of possible futures, but also of deep and inspiring philosophical thought about identity, time, thinking and various other themes.
Being an intuition researcher in my day job, I especially connected with the division between the intuitive Bene Gesserits and the rational mentats – and the fusion of the two in the genius Paul Muad’Dib. As a side note, it is interesting that such fusion seems to have happened with practically all the great thinkers we usually call geniuses like Leonardo or Edison.
3. Arthur C. Clarke: Rendezvous with Rama
It was a tight call whether I would include Rama or Childhood’s End here, what with both being fantastic novels. But there is something that’s so real and gripping about Rendezvous with Rama that it won the draw.
The story about the handful of astronomers who explore the alien spacecraft that has entered our Solar System is a great look at both space travel, alien intelligence and political intrigue. And, like most of Clarke’s other works, it’s a really great read.
4. Dan Simmons: Hyperion
It is an outrageous idea: setting Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in space. And yet the hyper-literate Simmons pulls it off. The story teems with literary references; Simmons certainly wants to let us know he’s read books. But none of this matters, since it all fits like a glove.
And it’s a damn good novel to boot. The backstory, which grew out to be a series of three more independent novels is enchanting and grasping. And the stories-within-stories express a great range of various scifi tropes. Normally when somebody shows off their talent this much, the result falls somehow flat. Not so with Hyperion, one of the best scifi books I’ve ever read (twice).
5. Alastair Reynolds: Revelation Space
Revelation Space was the breakthrough book by Reynolds, and with good reason. The book opens up what grew to be a long series of novels and short stories set in Reynolds’ idiosyncratic gothic scifi universe.
In this book, the scope is already reflecting what later grew to be Reynolds’ trademark. And the ending of the book with its quantum paradoxes has my brain still doing somersaults, which is actually quite fun.
6. Orson Scott Card: The Worthing Chronicle
I thought first whether I should include something from the Ender Saga here (the first one, probably), but then again, while they’re all great books (even the Shadow ones), there is something that doesn’t quite strike that last chord.
Whereas the Worthing Chronicle does. I’ve read the book set in an Asimovian universe several times, and just now started thinking I should read it again. More similar in tone to, say, Vernor Vinge or Asimov than typical Card, this is a truly enticing fantasy-meets-scifi tale. It is also supplemented with a number of great short stories wrapped up together with the novel in the book The Worthing Saga.
7. Vernor Vinge: A Fire Upon the Deep
When I first read this book as a kid, I understood maybe one third of it, and was still completely blown away. When I re-read it a couple of years ago, it felt conceptually much easier to grasp, but was still a great read.
Vinge explores themes like AI and swarm intelligence in an intriguing universe where the maximum speed for information dispersal and travel depends on the “zone” you’re located in the universe. The closer we are to the center, the dumber we are, in other words.
8. David Zindell: The Broken God
The story of the Neanderthal-cum-ace-pilot Danlo and the ice city Neverness is one of the more original pieces of scifi I have read. Even though the basic backdrop is typical space opera with space battles and political intrigue, Zindell’s epic spans vast proportions in both dramatic and conceptual scope.
It is also a part of a great trilogy plus a prequel Neverness, all definitely worth reading through. And the space travel trope is somewhat unique, what with the pilots being actually ace mathematicians solving complex equations quickly to navigate through space.
9. Iain M. Banks: The Algebraist
I was thinking that I should include one of Banks’ Culture novels in the list, because at the time I read them I was really blown away with practically every one of them. But the problem is that once I started thinking back to their impact, I could not really remember much of anything that took place in the books! It is weird: I have this meta-knowledge that they were great but no idea why.
The Algebraist is one of Banks’ rare science fiction novels that does not take place in the Culture Universe, and I think one of his best too. The story involves weird gas-giant dwelling creatures and an intricate Banksian plot. It has stayed with me for a long time.
10. Isaac Asimov: Caves of Steel
Perhaps one of the most important of Asimov’s robot novels, this introduces two of his most compelling characters, the detectives Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw. The latter is, of course, a robot, and Asimov succinctly explores the limits of what machine intelligence and robotics mean when the lines become blurred.
In the novel Asimov showed that you can use science fiction as the backdrop for another kind of genre novel, in this case the detective story.
I just finished reading Frank Herbert’s seminal Dune trilogy. Hailed by many as the definitive piece of science fiction, the Lord of the Rings of sci fi, the trilogy certainly has its merits. The first book, Dune, is indeed one of the most amazing science fiction books I’ve ever read.
Dune is also, I think, one of the smartest books I’ve ever read, and that, I guess, is a lot to say, considering I have read through quite a few smart books before. Dune is also easily the most underlined fictitious book I have ever read. I simply cannot read non-fiction without a pen in my hand, but with fiction I usually only pick up a quote or two. With Dune, I underlined and marked the book like it would have been a cutting-edge study on the philosophy of the mind, or something.
The first book is laden with a depth of ideas and history that is quite impressive. Like in any great book, what is not been said here is as important as what has been. The reader is baffled about this world tens of thousands of years in the future, powered with middle-ageish intrigue and a strange substance called the spice melange. It is, as great sci fi should, outright alien – and yet hauntingly familiar. The first book offers a deep, philosophical and pondering story arc that is without a doubt one of the most significant pieces of science fiction ever written.
Then the story goes on.
And what made Dune so intriguing and compelling is, all of a sudden, violently laid explicit right in front of your eyes. While with the first book, the nature of such concepts as the Guild Navigators or the Butlerian Jihad are only hinted at in the subtext, the subsequent two spare no punches. And here, I think, the Dune series pales in comparison to the Lord of the Rings. Reading the two sequels, I felt more like reading the Silmarillion than the Two Towers or the Return of the King: a mind-numbing exposition of a vast stunt of imagination, but with no human dimension to keep things interesting.
In Dune Messiah, the main character is given a hauntingly accurate prescient capability, to the extent of rendering any and all plot events completely vacant. If your main character knows already what is about to happen, what is there for the reader to get excited about? It’s like watching a film with a friend going “I told you so” every five or so minutes. Add to this the stony exposition and the wooden dialogue of the second book, it makes for a really heavy reading recommendable only to such people whose own imaginations fail to fill in the delicious blanks in the first book. As a cherry on top, while Herbert certainly had great vision, he is no Shakespeare. To this end, it is occasionally painful to see how much this second installment of the series aspires to be something like a classical Shakespearean king play.
The last book of the trilogy, Children of the Dune, certainly has its moments. The main characters, Leto II and Ghanima – little children with the history of the human kind in their heads – are quite interesting, and fortunately enough Herbert understood to steer clear of most of the prescience here. At moments, the third book does hold the promise of returning to the same kind of amazement as the first one. Certainly, here too there was much worth underlining. But here also, about half of the text could have easily been cut away.
Ernest Hemingway said that a great writer can leave much of what he wants to say unsaid. The magnificence of a great text is like an iceberg, where nine parts out of ten are submerged under water. In the first installment of the Dune series, the iceberg sails magnificently. In the second two, while still impressive, it has been lifted on deck to dry.
I think books are about imagination. And I think they are as much about the imagination of the reader as they are of the writer. If everything is laid down in plain sight, there is no much work left for the reader. In this sense, it is too bad that in his two sequels, Herbert failed to deliver what was one of the repeating motifs in his books: the feint within a feint within a feint. The first Dune was like a ballet or an elaborate fencing match, with hidden layers behind hidden layers. The two others were like a punch in the face.
But it is an interesting universe, nonetheless, what with all the intriguing aspects of technology being shunned in a space-faring culture; the logical mentats and the intuitive Bene Gesserits; the Shakespearean intrigue of the royal houses; the space-faring mercenaries who remained delightfully neutral to all the intrigue and the events that took place; and Dune itself: a hugely imaginative Saharan culture blown to planet-wide proportions where massive worms rule the sands and produce what is a combination of oil and cocaine for the future.
In terms of world-building, Herbert certainly compares to the likes of Tolkien or Asimov. In terms of story, it was a bumpy ride.
That being said, Dune itself was still one of the most amazing science fiction books I’ve ever read.
I just finished reading Turquoise Days, which marks for me the last of the stories I’ve read set in Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space Universe published so far. So I thought it proper to say a few words about the journey through this universe.
And what a journey it has been.
The first novel I ever read from Reynolds was House of Suns, which is still my favorite of his work (and pretty much the no. 1 scifi novel of all time for me). But the Revelation Space Universe does certainly compare, even if it is spread out through several novels and short stories. The scope of the world, both in terms of spacetime and imagination is mind-bending. And still, the stories remain interesting and grasping also on the human level from the first page to the last.
I started reading these stories from Revelation Space, Reynolds’ first novel and his breakthrough work. It is an amazing piece in itself. The politicking and the archaeological intrigue on the planet Resurgam, as Dan Sylveste tries to uncover a millennia old mystery is original and suspenseful. The tensions between Sylveste, the space-faring Ilya Volyova and the assassin Ana Khouri are memorable. The convoluted ending of the first RS book is somehow reminiscent of thinking about Schroedinger’s superposition principle, with a twist of 2001 thrown in, although I am still not quite sure what the hell just happened.
Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap tie up the storyline for the characters of the first novel. Redemption Ark introduces us to the conjoiners in more depth. They are a hive mind sort of community that is the most technologically advanced of the human factions in the RS Universe. The obiwankenobish Neville Clavain is sympathetic, whereas the mentally challenged Felka is one of the most intriguing characters in the series. And the zealous Skade makes for an impressive bad guy (girl) here, even though all the while the human characters are fighting for the possession of outlandish scifi weapons, a more sinister enemy is approaching in the background. Absolution Gap flirts a lot with gothic horror. The story of Quaiche has some shakespearish connotations, with a lost love that drives the man insane and creates a bizarre culture from that insanity. I really love the way the trilogy ends, with the looming threat eliminated, but with the hint of a new threat in the form of the greenfly, which are delightfully powerful and definitive to the entire RS Universe and yet are never shown in full light.
Chasm City is another of my favorites, with The Prefect not trailing far behind. They are set in the Yellowstone system that is something like the the Trantor or Coruscant of Reynolds’ universe: the commercial and political hub where it seems everybody passes through eventually. Both Chasm City and The Prefect tie in nicely with the Revelation Space trilogy, the former explaining some of the motivations of an influential character and background figure in the latter two novels of the trilogy, and the latter giving us interesting insight into the fundaments of the world itself, such as the eventual fate of the unfortunate Philip Lascaille. Both Chasm City’s Tanner Mirabel and The Prefect’s Tom Dreyfus are solid and intriguing characters that drive the story forward. The Prefect and Chasm City also give a great before/after comparison of the Yellowstone world in terms of the defining event in the RS Universe: the Melding Plague. The plague is a really cool twist that renders much of the more advanced scifi stuff defunct and gives the whole universe intriguing and gritty overtones.
It’s cool that you can hint at (and actually show in The Prefect) all the cool stuff that there once was, but have the characters actually struggle with some bubble gum and rubber band to get by. It reminds me of the New Hope / Phantom Menace and the Galactica / Caprica contrasts, but unlike these two, Reynolds manages to keep also the shiny chrome and silver version of his world intact, whereas both George Lucas and Ron D. Moore somehow lost the soul of their work with the grit.
Then there’s the collection of short stories Galactic North that gives both prequel-ish glimpses to the RS Universe, as well as ties the whole thing up in the eponymous story that works as a kind of an epilogue to the whole thing, with a cool Reynolds trademark: the thousand years chase sequence. I loved this trope to pieces when I bumped into it in House of Suns. A chase scene that takes 60 000 years and yet maintains the intensity of a 1970’s police flick is quite the stunt to pull. When it was repeated in Redemption Ark, it still stood up, and the same here. Even if the third time around this became already something to expect from Reynolds, it’s still awesome.
And last, and certainly not least the two novellas Diamond Dogs and Turquoise Days. I was quite apprehensive about these two, or more particularly the first one. While I was a horror fan as a teenager, I have developed some squeamishness for the more visceral style of horror, and tend to try to avoid it whenever I can. So when I learned that Diamond Dogs draws inspiration from the scifi slasher The Cube, I almost gave this a pass. Thank goodness I didn’t, though. While the first novella is probably the bloodiest work I’ve read from Reynolds to date, for some reason the bloodshed seems warranted.
This is not gornography, but rather quite classic gothic horror, somehow reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft. Yes, good people find themselves in an unfixable mess, and yes, it gets nasty. But there is still something behind the story that keeps it together. Even with its weirdness to the tenth power, and the occasional gory detail, Reynolds’ work has a good heart. Not in a fluffy-happy sort of way, but rather in the way you find in Lovecraft, Shelley or Poe. There are not many happy endings. Many things are inherently skewed. But there is still some deeper notion of purpose, of depth that keeps things going.
And this brings me to Turquoise Days which I just finished. In a sense, it is a fitting end to the Revelation Space journey. While its scope is much smaller than that of many of the other stories, it has a true sense of finality and closure to it – even more so than “Galactic North”. Its bittersweet tones fit the RS Universe perfectly. The short glimpse we get to the life of Naqi manages to convey many of the themes of solitude, outsiderness and simply the weird of the world present throughout the RS books. And while the alien Pattern Jugglers are an obvious nod to Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, Reynolds manages to give the strange algae beings a personal character of their own. The very ending is, I feel, a very suitable way to put the full stop to the series.
It has been an amazing journey. I don’t think Reynolds’ work has so much changed my world than given me an entire new world to live in. It is a rare imagination that spins up an entire living universe. And here Reynolds joins in my opinion the pantheon of great worldbuilders such as Isaac Asimov, Iain M. Banks or Dan Simmons.
What a journey indeed.