Perfect- Video Games As Art

Perfect is an immersiveVR experience which allows you to move around and interact with three different environment, during the day and night. The environments are all realistic and the level of detail is pretty good for a download only experience, I say experience as it isn't really a video game but as a learning tool or an exhibition piece it has a lot of uses. We have used it in lessons as a stimulus for writing in English, connecting it to our unit on Kensuke's Kingdom.

Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia- British Museum Exhibition Review

The British Museum is one of my favourite places in the world. I visit the museum every couple of months and always find something new or interesting that I have missed previously due to the sheer number of objects on show (about 80,000, which is about 1% of its catalogue of 8 million)
The museum runs some pretty amazing exhibitions but occasionally something extra special comes along, something that blows your mind and the current Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia, is one such exhibition.

The British Museum is a stunning building which houses the spoils of Britain's colonial past and its interest in antiquities.

For those not in the know the Scythians were fierce tattooed horse riding nomadic tribes, who at their peak controlled territory that stretched from the Black Sea to the north border of China. They didn't leave behind any writing behind but various historians from the time, including Herodotus, left detailed descriptions about them. Much of the primary evidence has been gathered from preserved burial mounds which were often left untouched in the Siberian permafrost for centuries.

Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia from 1682 to 1725, organised expeditions in the 18th century that retrieved many objects, and also handsomely rewarded the Russian people who brought forth items they may have found.

I have to be honest and admit that I went in knowing next to nothing about the Scythians. The only experience I had had with them was through the lens of the video game Superbrothers: Swords and Sworcery, a stunning surreal action adventure game in which you play as a young female Scythian hoping to end the evil she unwittingly brought onto the world by acquiring an ancient yet forbidden tome. So far so video game trope-y but it must have had an influence on  me as when I heard this exhibition was on I knew I had to go!

Swords and Sworcery had a beautiful art style and it was the inpiration for the background of this very website.

Swords and Sworcery had a beautiful art style and it was the inpiration for the background of this very website.

In the Sainsbury's wing of the museum the Scythian exhibition is on show until mid-January 2018. It is a large dimly lit place with ominous soundscape music playing.
The first section of the exhibition contains the famous gold plaque of the mounted Scythian which has graced the promotional covers and posters. The detail of the piece are stunning and considering that it is over 2000 years old, all the more amazing.
As you enter the main hall the remainder of the stunningly worked golden belt buckles are here. The level of detail and their impressive state of preservation show a people who were skilled artisans in the most challenging of environments.
Moving onto the next section, we get a further insight into everyday life. There are markings and artwork etched onto stone, many showing animals such as horses and camels.
There is the head of a Scythian in extraordinary condition on show with his accoutrements. It is all a bit macabre but fascinating nonetheless, like the fact that they liked to dress up warmly with squirrel and stable lined clothes. The men wore large pointed hats which gave them a very distinctive look, it belies the fact that the repertoire of weapons they carried was fearsome including aerodynamic poison dipped arrows, short swords and battle axes which looked more like picks.
The Scythians also may have used fake beards for ceremonial reasons and one is in a good state of repair here. It's all a bit puzzling as accounts from the time say they liked to have long hair and beards and only shaved for death rites but this piece shows that there must have been a need for it somewhere in their life.
There are also signs that they liked to get high and drunk with accounts of the time saying they were fearsome drinkers of Greek wine. They also liked to get high by throwing hemp seeds into a fire in sweat lodges to bond. I have to say that they sound positively delightful and it makes a change from the typical polite dinner parties I occasionally go to now.
The highlight here though is the saddlebag which contains 2 small lumps of cheese which are 2500 years old! That's mind blowing for someone who only likes Cheddar, Baby Bell, Dairylee Triangles or Cheese Strings when he's feeling a little adventurous.

The rest of the exhibition shows the influence of other people who they either traded or fought with the Scythians, and with this interaction came an intermingling of ideas and beliefs. There is a cauldron with a distinctively Chinese styling and as the Scythians did get as far east as China this seems perfectly likely.
Over time the Scythians were overtaken by other groups and their life and their history was forgotten for a time. However through Peter the Great's endeavours and various expeditions into the inhospitable Siberian landscape we are lucky enough to have some their finest works at the British Museum.
The exhibition is only until January and is one loan from the Hermitage in Russia, so this may be the only chance to see it. If you have even a vague interest make sure you do pay a visit.

Thomas Was Alone- Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack Review

Black Screen Records and composer David Housden have teamed up to release the original soundtrack to Mike Bithell’s meditative indie darling game Thomas Was Alone on 180g vinyl.

For those not in the know, Thomas Was Alone is a minimalist 2D platformer about friendship, teamwork and sacrifice. In the game you take control of Thomas, who is initially alone, but along the way you meet and control many other characters all who have special individual powers and differing personalities. Over the course of the game you guide your group of quadrilaterals through a series of obstacles, using their different skills together to get to the end of each environment. So far, so video game 101. However what elevates this game to multi-award winning heights is the stunning soundtrack which accompanies the beautifully wistful yet soulful narration read by comedian Danny Wallace. The story that's told is more complex than many AAA games I have played and the music accompanying it adds to this drama; I have cared more for these quadrilaterals than many other protagonists in other games, heck I even bought the 'action figures' when they were released a few years ago. Yup I bought a collection of 3D quadrilaterals because this game and its music connected with me on some profound level.

The soundtrack features minimalist pianos and ambiences fused with lush strings and ethereal synths. Although this album only has 13 tracks, which feature a lot of repeating motifs, the consistency and effective re-use of simple chord progressions and melodic phrases make each track seem different but complementary to what has gone before. As a whole the soundtrack feels like a tapestry, each track is part of a bigger whole with familiar themes and motifs.

My favourite track off the album is 'A Time For Change,' a powerful emotive track that is triumphant yet tinged with sadness. It is played at a key point in the game and so carries with it a lot of weight and power. I listen to this album daily, which at the point of writing is over 5 years old.

Sometimes in your life you find that you connect with something, it could be a book, a film or a track or album. It gets under your skin and becomes something more than the sum of its parts and I think this game and especially the soundtrack is that something for me. It's not something I can explain but this album and the majesty of some of the tracks gets me every time I listen to it.

I loved the game so much that I even made it part of my websites wallpaper.

The vinyl is a stunning release and I am extremely pleased with it. This album is a must have for any fans of shoegazing etherealness.

No Man's Sky- Video Games As Art

As a kid the idea of discovering new planets and flying in my own little space- ship in a galaxy that stretched out to infinity excited me when playing make-believe. Now No Man's Sky brings this to reality with its procedurally generated space exploration game. There are many different modes but if you start on Create mode you are given all the tools to hop into your craft and head to the stars. There are millions of planets to explore and all are enticing, some with vibrant foliage, interesting strange alien creatures and stunning sunsets and landscapes. When initially released a year ago the game had a few issues as the planets were, more often than not, often brown rocks with a few plants strewn around however with the new free update the planets feel more alive. With the new photo mode you can take stunning pictures at any time and I below I have taken a few to show off the artistic side of the game. I will be using the game as a stimulus for writing when we compose a fantasy/ sci-fi setting for our writing.

Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier - Book Review (No Spoilers)

Twin Peaks: The Return premiered in May of 2017, and consisted of 18 episodes. David Lynch described the work as an 18 hour movie and for fans of the director that's exactly what they got, a confounding and occasionally frustratingly long movie with his usual level of abstraction, ambiguity and strangeness.
Many questions that were left unanswered since season 2 were left unanswered at the close of this new season and the fate of certain characters and the time line of events meant that much was open to interpretation. Added to that were the myriad of new questions that arose from the latest season and the interest on online forums and message boards reached fever pitch as people tried to figure out exactly what was going on.

When co- creator Mark Frost, announced a new book that would help to fill in the gaps and answer the many many loose ends fans were excited. Last year, with The Secret History of Twin Peaks, Frost provided fans of the show with the rich storied lore of the town and its people. It was written in a creative and unique style with archival images, newspaper clippings, FBI reports and annotations by the 'Archivist.' It added much to the series and enhanced the viewing experience for many, me included.

The Final Dossier answers almost all of the main questions, or at least gives the reader enough information from which to draw their own conclusions. Written from the point of view of FBI Agent Tammy Preston, who was ably played by Chrysta Bell in the show, we get extra background information on many of the unique residents.

A beautiful looking book but for me the contents was underwhelming.

For those left miffed at Audrey's minimal time on the show and shocking reveal you are provided with information on her background if not her fate as shown in the programme. We learn who funded the observation and operation of the mysterious glass box and what exactly happened to Major Briggs.
Also for those seeking a resolution to the season 2 cliffhanger, we finally find out what happened to Annie!
The information contained in this book is important and explosive for fans but also feels strangely underwhelming. It's hard to explain but it's like reading the Cliff Notes of a Shakespeare play or seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time as a low resolution jpeg. When  taken alongside the stunning limited television event, groundbreaking original series, operatic Fire Walk With Me film or even Frost's The Secret History of Twin Peaks, this book, although essential, seem like a lesser piece of work.

Not only are there no entries for the Palmer, Deputy Hawk, Dale Cooper or Diane but the writing style is lacking the verve and sheer excitement of Frost' s other book. I know that as an FBI dossier it is supposed to read as matter of fact but for the reader it is difficult to get excited about what amounts to little more than a brief outline of what happened to each character.

This is a difficult book to evaluate as it contains essential information for any Twin Peaks fan but is also quite dry. Also, as is often the case with revealing too much, the mystique is lost. For example the monsters that were Hannibal Lector, the vampire Lestat or Darth Vader were better before their origins reveal. Did anyone walk away feeling better after knowing Darth Vader was a petulant teen named Anakin who took the death of his wife Natalie Portman so badly that he had to slaughter many Jedi children and turn to the dark side? No, no-one gained from that reveal, it was underwhelming and poorly executed. This is not as grievous as that wrong but I do feel that the heart of something beautiful has been lost with this book.
This book then is a must read for those seeking closure on many of Twin Peaks questions but it comes at the price of revealing too much in my opinion.

LINK- Twin Peaks: The Return- Complete Series Review

LINK- The Secret History of Twin Peaks- Book Review

Rime- Video Games As Art

Rime is a beautiful, melancholy adventure game in which you play the role of a young boy who is washed up on a mysterious island. Over the course of 6 or so hours you solve a series of environmental puzzles to piece together just what happened to your character and how you ended up on the island. The game is similar to Ico in terms of gameplay and stylistically like Journey, but lacks the heart and soul of either title, however it is worth a play to enjoy the stunning art and powerful ending.

Moomins and the Comet Live Re-score

I have a love for the Moomins as many of you may know. I've discussed the Moomins multiple times before, when talking about the 80s stop motion animation, the recent vinyl soundtrack release from the 80s animation, the exhibition at the Southbank Centre and my visit to Moomin World in Finland. 

Well I am excited to announce that one of the original composers for the 80s Moomins show, Graeme Miller, will perform a re-score live at the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room. He will be joined by Jamie Telford and the pair will be using a kitchen table-full of small instruments (including a box of cornflakes), whilst the episode plays on the big screen

This is a rare chance for Moomin fans old and new to experience Film Polski’s charming herky-jerky animation with a live accompaniment. I purchased tickets for my wife and I and am extremely excited to see this score played out in front of us. The show is only an hour long but hopefully will be a joyous celebration of Tove Jansson's marvellous creations.

The recently released vinyl by Finders Keepers is brilliant!

The recently released vinyl by Finders Keepers is brilliant!

Our trip to Moomin World was amazing.

Our trip to Moomin World was amazing.

Lore- Series 1 Review

Monsters are creatures we run from, beasts we warn our children about and fiends that haunt our darkest dreams. Yet, there is something enticing, mesmerising even in their appearance. Terrifying as they might be, we cannot help but look even closer, parting our fingers that our covering our eyes to peer again at the horror. There is no getting around it: Something about monsters fascinates us. They may be the stuff of nightmares that make our hearts beat faster, sweat profusely and make our hairs stand on end but we cannot get enough of it.

It may be that at the most basic level, monsters represent fears held by society, fears associated with the dangers perceived in the often vast, uncaring world. The origins of some of our most deep rooted fears has been the focus of Aaron Mahnke, who since 2015 has been releasing bi-weekly podcasts called 'Lore.'

At the time of writing there have been more than 70 meticulously researched podcasts on a wide variety of themes from vampires to evil dolls. 'Lore' has now been turned into an anthology television series by Amazon Studios and for season 1 looks at a variety of popular horror tropes and their origins. Currently there are only 6 episodes, which are all presented with interesting visuals, which are a mix of live action dramatic shorts alongside archival footage, images and animation. All this helps to bring the show to life and presents the matter in the most visually interesting way. The episodes are:

They Made A Tonic- Before we knew how disease spread, medicine was as much superstition as it was science. And in the small New England towns of the 1800s, there is a belief that consumption can only be stopped by making sure the dead are actually dead.

Echoes- Dr. Walter Freeman is the father of the icepick lobotomy. He believes the ten-minute procedure will all but end the need for the mental hospital. He has the best of intentions but winds up creating an entirely new kind of horror story.

Black Stockings- In 19th century Ireland, folklore has a strong hold. Michael Cleary is convinced his wife, Bridget, has been replaced by a fairy called a changeling. And his belief drives him to the most extreme act.

Passing Notes- In 19th century America, at the height of the Spiritualist Movement, a haunted house is not just the stuff of ghost stories. Many believe the dead can talk and, sometimes, will come back from the other side to wreak havoc on the living.

The Beasts Within- Werewolves are now movie monsters. But they were once thought to be all too real. In 1589, villagers in Bedburg, Germany, are convinced that a werewolf is killing women and children only to discover the killer is really one of their own.

Unboxed- Robert Gene Otto is a child without friends. That is, until he receives a doll as a gift. He names the doll after himself, Robert. They become fast friends and soon the boy believes the doll is real. But to everyone else...Robert the Doll is a curse.

Mahnke's sonorous voice works well on the podcast as it is cold and unsettling, however it works less well when put through the filter of visuals but overall the information is compellingly put together that it is a minor gripe in what is a fine scary, campfire-like storytelling anthology series. The acted scenes are suitably moody and there are some fine actors involved including Robert Patrick and Adam Goldberg.

The show never gives a definitive answer as to whether the phenomena shared are true or merely fabrications, it merely presents the meticulously researched historic materials and documentation and leaves it up to the viewer to decide as to what they believe. If you want to be spooked but like the more cerebral kind of horror this show (and podcast) might just be what you are looking for!

Little Nightmares- Video Games As Art

I recently completed the darkly beautiful Little Nightmares, a puzzle- platformer game with horror elements. The game was developed by Tarsier Studios and casts you as a young girl, called Six, who is trapped in The Maw – a mysterious vessel which caters to the depraved needs of sick and powerful creatures. As you make your way through the ship you come across various grotesque creatures, the designs of which will remain in your consciousness long after you finish the game. It reminds me of various shows including Jim Henson's The Storyteller, the work of the Bolex Brothers and the unsettling creatures created by stop-motion supremo Jan Svankmajer.

The art style is grotesque and even though there are horrific scenarios the imagery it creates is beautiful.

Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated- Series 2 Review

Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated season 2 kicks off a few months after the downbeat ending of the first season. Last we saw, the gang are all split up and scattered to the winds. Within the first few minutes we find that Scooby is in a pound and kept in the hotbox Steve McQueen 'Great Escape' style, Shaggy is Private Hippy in a military school, Fred is a hobo going door to door looking for his real parents and Velma is alone In Crystal Cove watching the whole place go to wrack and ruin due to a clown man baby (naturally)

We see the gang reunite but initially without Daphne, who rejoins later. That is one of the most wonderful thing about this series, the writers make the many moments feel earned and true to the characters that they have spent many episodes rounding out.
As the series progresses the team start gathering the remaining segments of the planespheric discs, the fate of the original Mystery Incorporated is revealed and Fred and Daphne's will they/ won't they relationship dynamic is finally resolved in the most dramatic and powerful way. There are moments of true drama as some characters have heel turns, turn good and die in the most heartbreaking way. However there is lots of levity with pop culture references sprinkled throughout including Rorschach (yes, of Watchmen fame), the Man from Another Place (the backwards talking little man) from Twin Peaks, Werner Herzog, Nosferatu, Johnny Quest, The Brady Bunch and many other eclectic series and movies.

I've said it before in my first series review but this series is the best that Scooby Doo has ever been, in fact it is one of the finest animated series I have ever seen and I've seen hundreds! The fact that a 'children's' cartoon deals with Mayan legends, end of the world prophecies, parallel universes and extra-dimensional beings like the Anunaki yet still retains its wide eyed innocence and playfulness is astonishing. Next to Gravity Falls this is one of the best animated series ever in my humble opinion and the fact that it leans heavily on Twin Peaks confirms that it is a series with some serious pedigree and solid foundations on which to build off.

LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Season 1 Review

LINK- Gravity Falls Complete Series Review

Twin Peaks: The Return- Soundtrack Review

I thoroughly enjoyed the return to Twin Peaks recently and a huge part of that was due to the extraordinary soundtrack. There are few composers as gifted as Angelo Badalamenti, who can create stunning unearthly sonic soundscapes that swell, ebb and flow whilst running the gamut of emotions from euphoria to earth-shattering sadness. His music is a key component of the series and at it's best enhances the visuals and what is seen on the screen.

David Lynch, who was the Director and Sound Designer for Twin Peaks: The Return, has said that “cinema is sound and picture, flowing together in time,” and this soundtrack conveys that sentiment well. This album is the companion to a separate collection of the music from the series that features guest stars who appeared at the Road House, usually at the end of an episode. This CD features mainly the instrumental music that Twin Peaks fans of old will be familiar with and some new ones thrown in for good measure.

  1. Twin Peaks Theme (Falling) – Angelo Badalamenti
  2. American Woman (David Lynch Remix) – Muddy Magnolias
  3. Laura Palmer’s Theme (Love Theme From Twin Peaks) – Angelo Badalamenti
  4. Accident / Farewell Theme – Angelo Badalamenti
  5. Grady Groove (feat. Grady Tate) – Angelo Badalamenti
  6. Windswept (Reprise) – Johnny Jewel
  7. Dark Mood Woods / The Red Room – Angelo Badalamenti
  8. The Chair – Angelo Badalamenti
  9. Deer Meadow Shuffle – Angelo Badalamenti
  10. Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima (with Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra) – Witold Rowicki/Krzysztof Penderecki
  11. Slow 30’s Room – David Lynch & Dean Hurley
  12. The Fireman – Angelo Badalamenti
  13. Saturday (Instrumental) – Chromatics
  14. Headless Chicken – Thought Gang (Angelo Badalamenti & David Lynch)
  15. Night – Angelo Badalamenti
  16. Heartbreaking – Angelo Badalamenti
  17. Audrey’s Dance – Angelo Badalamenti
  18. Dark Space Low – Angelo Badalamenti

Badalamenti revisits old classics like the Twin Peaks theme, “Falling,” and “Audrey’s Dance” but also has six new compositions which are specific to scenes from the series. There are many other tracks on the album create by other composers and individuals and they are all great. Special mention must be made of Witold Rowicki’s “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima," which is performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra Warsaw. This piece is shown in the avant-garde nuclear tests in episode eight and is an assault on the senses that suits the abstract imagery of the creation of a death bringer and evil, in this case BOB.  Another track I particularly like is Johnny Jewel's Windswept, a relaxed jazzy number that recalls Badalamenti's style yet adds its own modern sheen. I checked out Jewel's Windswept LP and can say that it is a great album and well worth a listen in its own right.

As for the six Badalamenti pieces, they are stunning and worth a further look individually.

“The Chair” is from episode nine where Bobby Briggs is given a secret scroll of information by his mother from his father Garland. The chair has been in the Briggs’ living room since his father’s mysterious passing yet held the secret for 25 years. The track itself is suitably melancholic and has an air of sadness yet still has that trademark speck of hope.

“The Fireman” comes from the experimental arthouse episode eight, where we see The Giant create the golden globe containing the essence of Laura Palmer to combat the evilness of BOB who is released after the nuclear bomb tests in New Mexico. This is my favourite new composition from Badalamenti as it is a sombre, emotional piece which has a lot of power.

"Dark Mood Woods/ The Red Room" plays when Agent Cooper is in the Red Room and is trying to escape but gets confused in the mazelike space and also in the casino Mr Jackpots scene. It is otherworldy track with a deep brooding vibrating soundscape which slowly moved to and fro but later is interspersed with sharp jingles.

"Dark Space Low" comes at the end of the series as we are dealt the suckerpunch when Agent Dale Cooper, with Laura Palmer in tow, asks, "What year is this?" This piece has a kind of empty but longing feeling, like waking from a nightmare to find that you are in a worse situation.

"Night"plays after the scene when the Log Lady phones Hawk to say that she is dying. It is a heartrending scene, especially as the actress playing the Log Lady, Catherine Coulson, actually died of cancer four days after filming this scene) The track is somber and deeply sad yet beautiful in its melancholy. This track is the perfect eulogy to this wonderful charcater and actress.

"Heartbreaking" plays at the end credits of episode 11 and also when the homeless lady who won big at the casino, thanks to a fugue state Agent Dale Cooper, sees him again and tells her how he changed her life for the better. It is a heartwarming scene and even the 'badguy' Michum Brothers see good in the world and seem changed as a result. This is a beautiful piano piece which is full of hope and yearning.

"Accident/ Farewell Theme" plays in episode six when Richard Horne runs over a young boy crossing the road and Carl (Harry Dean Stanton) sees the boy's spirit leave the body as he comforts the mother. This track is ethereal ambience at its best, starting off full of sadness and despair but calming later, reflecting the shock and grief of the scene and the letting go.

Overall the Twin Peaks: The Return soundtrack is a triumph. It suited the mood of the series well and fit in when it was needed yet is still listenable in its own right. The soundtrack is an extremely atmospheric album and is worth a listen.

LINK- Twin Peaks: The Return- The Series So Far Review

LINK- The Secret History of Twin Peaks- Book Review

LINK- Xiu Xiu Cover the Twin Peaks Soundtrack

LINK- Twin Peaks Soundtrack Vinyl Re-release

LINK- Twin Peaks: The Return- Complete Series Review

The Last Guardian- Video Games As Art

The Last Guardian has been a decade in the making. Fumito Ueda, the creator of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, started the game in 2007 but it seemed like the game would never see the light of day, missing a whole console generation in its development. However the game, which casts you as a young boy with strange tattoo-like markings on his arm trying to navigate a mysterious world with an the unusual giant bird/ dog/ cat hybrid, Trico, was well worth the wait and is a game of gorgeous majesty. The images below are screen shots I took on my play through and I hope show that video games can have the power to inspire and awe, like the best art does.

Roller Girl- Comic Review

I am a huge fan of comics and believe that it can help promote reading, especially among the more reluctant readers. Last year I placed several graphic novels (collected comics) in my book corner and saw many children take an interest in the medium and this year I am adding to the catalogue.

Roller Girl Graphic Novel

Roller Girl is a story about the world of Roller Derby, something I know practically nothing about (apart from the fact that Drew Barrymore directed and starred in a film about the sport called Whip It which also starred Ellen Page) However this story is more than just a love letter to the sport, it's more a story of growing up and changing friendship dynamics set against the background of the sport.

Astrid and her best friend Nicole have been besties for years but are slowly growing apart. They used to do everything together, but this summer things change when Astrid signs up for a roller derby summer day camp whilst Nicole signs on to a ballet summer day camp. The story is centred around Astrid figuring out who she is and what kind of person she wants to be in the formative years of her life.

Astrid herself is presented as a well rounded character so it's easy to identify with her, even though I'm an Asian man in my thirties and she's a tween girl. I'm sure that we’ve all felt like we didn’t know who we were or felt like we didn’t belong somewhere at some point in our lives. These are universal themes that are not bound to age or gender because we are all familiar with them. We can empathise with what Astrid feels and we want to see her grow and develop as a person. There is a moment of reckoning where Astrid breaks down and tells her mother everything and it rang true, Astrid is not perfect and is not presented as such. She often is selfish, rude and well... human.

This graphic novel is a great read and even though I didn't know much about the sport I do now and it was all presented with relative east without info dumping or technobabbling.

Roller Girl is well worth a read and I'm looking forward to having it in my book corner in school alongside the various other graphic novels I've put there. These books are always popular with my children and I think this one will fit in nicely too.

LINK- Comics in the Classroom (article)

LINK- What Comics Have Taught Me

Oxenfree- Video Games As Art

Oxenfree is a hip supernatural coming-of-age story which centres around a group of teens exploring a mysterious island. Naturally all hell breaks loose and the characters converse in Whedon-esque conversations whilst walking around, exploring gorgeous environments and trying to put away the evil once and for all.

Akira Soundtrack Vinyl Review

The Akira Symphonic Suite has finally been released on vinyl this September for the first time since its original 1988 pressing.

The record is housed in some heavy duty card with beautifulimages from the film on the cover, gatefold and dust jackets. The records are pressed on a pair of 180 gram black vinyl discs which have been re-recorded and remastered with the most advanced audio techniques available apparently. I don't have a fancy record player but listening to the LP was a revelation, it sounded so very different from the Akira CD I've listened to for years. There were sounds and instruments I hadn't heard before even though I have listened to the album many times before.

The Akira vinyl soundtrack is beautifully preseneted.

The album is a stunning piece of work which was composed by Dr. Shoji Yamashiro of the Geinoh Yamashirogumi collective, a group of over 100 individuals who worked together to create an evocative score which helped inform the way the futuristic aesthetic of the film was animated.

The tracks on this vinyl are:
Battle Against Clown
Winds Over Neo-Tokyo
Doll's Polyphony
Exodus From The Underground Fortress

The tracks are a strange fusion of music genres. As well as a mix of traditional Japanese and Indonesian gamelan music, which is present through much of the album, there are unique and strange moment like the creepy lullaby in Dolls Polyphony and the synthesiser led airy track, Wind Over Neo Tokyo. However the final piece, Requiem is the stunning culmination of all the constituent parts of the earlier tracks and is a suitably spectacular end to the album. The 14 minute track starts slowly and calmly then explodes with organs and booming drums before angelic singers chant the main characters names over and over to bring the soundtrack a fitting end.

I am so pleased that Akira Symphonic Suite has been re-released on vinyl as so many more people need to experience the music. The anime and manga has a huge cult following but due to the scarcity of the original vinyl release in 1988 the LP has been extremely rare and difficult to find. I feel pleased that this album has been made available once again for the fans.

LINK- The Moomins 80's Soundtrack Vinyl Review

LINK- Inspector Gadget Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Ulysses 31 Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- The Mysterious Cities of Gold Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Sonic Mania Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack

Inaugural Tonbridge Comic-Con a Wonderful Event

This morning the first ever Comic-Con was held at the Angel Centre in Tonbridge and in my eyes was a real success. There were lots of stalls selling all manner of geeky goods at a fair price including anime, manga, video games, clothing, bags and Marvel and DC comics. There were a few celebrities doing signings and photos including Colin Baker, Hattie Hayridge (Holly from Red Dwarf) and Hannah Spearitt (of S Club 7 and Primeval fame)

There were lots of people dressed up, representing various fandoms and the atmosphere overall was great. I didn't dress up (I kept my Count Duckula costume in the cupboard for today) but was pleased to see many adults and children did take the opportunity to let their inner geek out. My 2 1/2 year daughter loved the festival of colour and characters and especially the dancing Groot, it was her first con of what I hope will be many. We were lucky enough to get a picture with the fern fellow (get your coat- ed), which my daughter found a little frightening, considering he was about 8 feet tall and towered over us.

My daughter and I met Groot... she was suitably scared!

Around the Angel Centre hall were lots of items and photo opportunity pieces of memorabilia which you could snap away at. My daughter and I met a Dalek, Batman and a giant inflatable Pikachu. She particularly liked the inflatable TARDIS and kept playing peek-a-boo with her 2 year old cousin. The atmosphere of the whole event was lovely and calm and outside the centre many attendees and cosplayers had a chance to congregate and share in their nerd-dom.

I've been to many Cons and this is the first time that such an event has been held in Tonbridge to my knowledge. I'd like to see it become an annual fixture in the Tonbridge calender, especially during the Summer, where more children and young people would be free and interesting in filling in some of their 6 weeks holidays and the event could use the outside space to sell food and host other stalls or activities like a bouncy castle etc. Overall this was a well organised event with lots of offer for families and young people, let's make it even bigger and better next year!

Sonic Mania- Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack Review

Sonic Mania has recently released and has garnered rave reviews, with many complementing its throwback style and a return to the classic game play which made the series so popular during the 16-bit generation.
Classic Sonic the Hedgehog games always had great music and Sonic Mania, which has a mix of new and remixed songs, carries this tradition forward proudly.
Data Discs announced the Sonic Mania LP a few months ago and whilst I was conscious of the many missteps in the series along the way I took the plunge and pre-ordered the record as the music has, on the whole, been pretty solid.

Classic Sonic takes front-centre on the cover of this soundtrack

So what of this new album? Well the record features 16 new tracks selected by composer Tee Lopes, which provides an overall flavour of the diverse music in the game.
The cover is suitably 90s with classic Sonic front and centre and random colourful shapes thrown around, reminiscent of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or Saved by the Bell introduction credits. The record comes as a single 180 g LP which is available in 3 colours; blue, black or red, orange, white and blue splatter. I ordered the splattered vinyl and was pleased with how it looked, it does look very smart indeed.

On the vinyl the tracks are:

  1. Discovery (Title Screen Theme)
  2. Lights, Camera, Action! (Studiopolis Act 1)
  3. Wildstyle Pistolero (Mirage Saloon Act 1 K Mix)
  4. Tabloid Jargon (Press Garden Act 1)
  5. Danger on the Dance Floor (Mini Boss Theme)
  6. Built to Rule (Titanic Monarch Act 1)
  7. Dimension Heist (Special Stage)
  8. Ruby Delusions (Eggman Boss Theme 1)
  9. Comfort Zone (Main Menu)
  10. Prime Time (Studiopolis Act 2)
  11. Blossom Haze (Press Garden Act 2)
  12. Rogues Gallery (Mirage Saloon Act 2)
  13. Hi-Spec Robo Go! (Hard Boiled Heavies Theme)
  14. Skyway Octane (Mirage Saloon Act 1 St Mix)
  15. Steel Cortex (Titanic Monarch Act 2)
  16. Ruby Illusions (Final Boss Theme)

The tracks are very good with a tinge of nostalgia but also are uniquely modern. They just fit right in the world of classic Sonic with upbeat chiptune music but with added trumpets, drums, epic electric guitar solos and super fast boogie woogie piano. For fan of the original series this record is a must have as it feels like a natural progression musically to what had gone before in Sonic and Knuckles. Current standout tracks for me include Studiopolis Act 1: Lights, Camera, Action! and Mirage Saloon Act 2: Rogues Gallery, which sounds like a modern rendition of Morricone's Spaghetti Westerns mixed with an upbeat chiptune. Other tracks may come to the fore but these two are the ones that appeal to me out of the 16 at the moment.

The soundtrack is a triumph and I would recommend it highly to anyone with even a passing interest in the original 4 games from the days of the Megadrive.

Automation and its Impact on Jobs

A couple of weeks ago a few high profile Silicon Valley types discussed how automation would change the work space. The TES has been considering the impact that this could have on teaching too and as a teacher it is something I have had to think about.

Ever since science fiction began there have been stories and warnings of dystopian futures where the mass populous are plugged in and drop out of the crumbling society, instead plugging into virtual worlds where a utopia exists whilst machines carry out the day to day work. The Wachowski's The Matrix, Aldous Huxley's Brave New Worlds and various works by Philip K. Dick all show worlds where the unwashed masses consume virtual reality or computer based entertainment at a worrying rate and this seems to be happening in real life. In Japan there is the phenomenon of hakikomori, where people are shut-ins and rarely go outside, and there are numerous tales of people playing MMORPG's and dying due to exploding bladders or lack of nourishment but apart from anecdotal data there are real-world figures.

Automation has led to an estimated 30 % of jobs being done by machines and this means a lot more people seeking new jobs or training. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, has stated that this will become more prevalent in the future and as such there will be a need to provide enough money for everyone to live on: a universal basic income.

Critics of this idea have said that this would lead to many people leading sedentary lives where all they would do is play video games, watch box sets and do very little. That may be true and is a real worry but the critics saying this often have interesting, fulfilling or very well paid jobs. I wonder how they would feel if they worked as a cashier at a supermarket or did some basic manual work that required very little skill?

This kind of moralising assumes the worst of humanity. I'm sure there are many people, who if given the opportunity, would just stay at home and consume media but there would also be many who would finally be able to explore new hobbies and interests. How many of us would like to learn a new skill or take a course in something, not for financial reasons but just because we have an interest? Imagine a world where people could pursue a passion and live a fulfilling life based on their interest, imagine the possibilities...

So whilst the critics may not like the idea of a Universal Basic Income it may in fact be the way forward, a welfare system for everyone based on jobs that would be replaced by automation. Now I'm not saying I have all the answers but I do think we need to look at this with a fairer light than it has been presented with. When the Labour Party fought for 48 hour weeks, weekends and Bank Holidays businesses and the like said it would destroy the capitalist system yet here we are 70 or so years later still doing fine overall. Let's not always assume the worst and look forward optimistically.

LINK- The Robot Exhibition at the Science Museum

Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys- Film Review

I recently wrote about the 'May The Toys Be With You' Star Wars Toys exhibition which I attended at the Torquay Museum. Star Wars is a phenomenon and a huge part of pop culture. I like the original movies just fine but it never became a formative or integral part of my childhood, I never played with the toys, had the annuals or role played as characters from that universe but I appreciate what it did for media as a whole. However for many it was a huge part of their childhood and the toys fill them with nostalgia.

Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys is an informative look at Kenner toys ©GravitasVentures/ X-Ray Films

Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys is an informative look at Kenner toys ©GravitasVentures/ X-Ray Films

Whilst flicking through my Amazon Prime account I saw that Plastic Galaxy, a documentary film exploring the world of Star Wars and Kenner toys, was available to watch for free on the service so I took a chance and gave it a watch.

The documentary is just over an hour long and is a talking heads type of affair. It has informative sections where the narrator explains the events chronologically and this is interspersed with former Kenner designers, photographers and artists who made the figures and designed the artwork. This is all very informative and gives a good understanding of some of the behind the scenes details.

The documentary itself is very informative and was obviously created by fans for the fans of the franchise and as such it provides a quick and useful snapshot of this small pocket of time but when some of the workers discuss the crazy hours they had to do to get the toys in stores by Christmas, the director glosses over these. This would have been useful to have on film for posterity as crunch times were brutal and some of the former employees discuss sleeping at their offices for weeks on end, hardly ever going home. These are not wonderful memories for Star Wars fans but as an insight into the toy making business in the 80s this is invaluable.

For fans of the toys the documentary is serviceable but not essential. Being so niche I'm sure fans of the toys are already aware of this film but for those with even a passing curiosity Plastic Galaxy is worth an hour of your time.

Twin Peaks: The Return- Complete Series Review

I have loved the new series of Twin Peaks. Like a lot of David Lynch's work The Return infuriated and frustrated but boy when it came together it really came together.

Every week I looked forward to the next episode to snatch a little more information and develop more of an understanding of the mythos and world that had been created. I hadn't become aware of how complacent a lot of TV shows or even my viewing habits had become; I often multitask and do other things whilst watching most TV shows and some movies but not so with Twin Peaks. The nature of the show demanded your attention, a mere second could reveal so much that you had to watch things carefully, including the credits to work out who the large cast of characters were.

The first 7 episodes had me frustrated as I wanted to know where Annie was and what had happened to Agent Dale Cooper. But I liked the flow and mystery of the show and so continued to watch, hoping that Lynch and Frost would finally provide me with the closure I needed to THAT 25 year old cliffhanger.

Things got weird at episode 8; the most avant garde piece of television film making I've seen for a long time. It started off as a normal, well as 'normal' as Twin Peaks gets but then after a protracted night drive sequence and a raw performance from Nine Inch Nails the whole feel of the episode changes and we are presented with a flashback, presented in black and white, of the Giant. The episode gets even stranger with an atomic bomb test exploding in New Mexico and what I believe to be the birth or origins of Bob into this world. We see Laura as 'The One' with a glowing orb of her face, the one we are all familiar with of her homecoming photo... But this is the 1950s so is Laura Palmer prophesied to be the force for good nearly 40 years before her existence? Who knows?

After the craziness of episode 8 the series took a 2 week hiatus, as if knowing people would need the time to collect themselves and process what they had just seen. I know many shows have mid-season breaks for a while to ramp up the excitement but I've not really seen a show decide to take a week off to let it's viewers digest that specific episode.

From then on the seemingly disparate elements seemed to come together thick and fast.

Agent Cooper had spent the episodes is a fugue state as Dougie Jones, a doppelganger created by Evil Coop (another doppelganger who is possessed by Bob). These Dougie Jones segments were charming but seemed to drag early on. Like most I was hungry to see the Agent Dale Cooper we all know and love but as time went on and the Jones world was revealed to be a part of the larger Twin Peaks tapestry I fell in love with the affable lug, just like his wife Janey E, played wonderfully by Naomi Watts. It is the most unconventional love story but Dougie/ Agent Cooper and Janey E have a cute story arc where she falls in live with her former wastrel of a husband.

Episode 15 was a standout episode as 2 characters who have been in love for a long time but been unable to be together for various reasons finally got together. I fist pumped and whooped for joy at this scene, which was beautiful scored with Otis Reddings 'I've Been Loving You Too Long'. This episode also features the final appearance of the Log Lady who gives a clue to Hawk and says her goodbyes in the most heartrending scene.

Episode 16 gave the fans what they have waited for and I'll not spoil it here but will say that it was worth the wait. Several despicable people got their comeuppance whilst a pivotal moment was marked by whoops of joy in my household. There were still mysteries abound surrounding Audrey and Diane but with the two part finale coming up it was all building up to be spectacular.

The final two episodes answered many questions but in typical Lynch fashion left many more open to interpretation or just plain unanswered. Episode 17 gave us the background on Judy but more importantly it gave us the meeting of Evil Coop and Agent Dale Cooper. It went a little comic booky here but delivered with things kicking off at the Sheriff's Station. Freddie finally came into his own and we found out who Naido was. Cooper got to meet his FBI colleagues and reunited with the Sheriff's Department staff in a heart warming moment.

We then got a lengthy reintroduction of Fire Walk With Me with many scenes from the film shown from different angles but this time with Cooper in them, Cooper in the woods hiding whilst Laura and James shared an intense moment. The fact that Cooper went to Laura and tried to save her by walking through the woods with her only for her to vanish was shocking and made me uncomfortable... it seemed like Cooper was so close but had been outdone by Judy again!

Then it went a little surreal as Cooper tried to go to the past to alter the timeline and save Laura Palmer, who was in the alternate timeline/ dimension was Carrie Page, a middle aged maybe-Laura Palmer who worked as a waitress at Judy's Cafe. Cooper took her back to her house in Twin Peaks and when he knocked on the door there was no Sarah Palmer but rather the mysterious lady who bought the house from a Mrs Chalfont. Agent Dale Cooper was confused and asks,"What year is this?" and then we hear Laura Palmer/ Carrie Page scream... and the screen fades to black.

What does this all mean? Well I don't quite know but it could be that there are no happy endings and the battle between good and evil will continue infinitely. Evil will triumph but as long as there are good men like Cooper fighting the good fight there is always hope. Lynch and Frost have created a masterful ending which is open to interpretation and already I have seen hundreds of posts online with theories, claims and counter-claims about what the ending represents but is there an answer? Lynch works best when creating a mood and like author Haruki Murakami, the work defies logic but seems to have a narrative that would be easy to decipher, if only you had the Rosetta Stone.

Overall Twin Peaks: The Return was one of the finest series I have ever seen. The levels of violence against women was uncomfortable at times but when looking at the whole piece of work, necessary to bring to the fore the issues that we have in the real world of misogyny and abuse. After all Twin Peaks was the story of a young girl being sexually abused by her father by the will of an evil spirit and largely ignored by her aloof mother. It is a challenging watch but often the finest works are, there are no easy answers and for a work of this magnitude there shouldn't be. Lynch and Frost make us uncomfortable and question the status quo and for that they should be applauded.

The way the writing pair have woven a story after 25 years with some of the cast and crew either passing away or not being available to film is remarkable, the fact that it all flowed and made sense is astonishing. Nothing in Twin Peaks is weird or surreal for just its sake, there is a deep lore here and it underlies everything.

The Return was amazing and answered most of the questions I had from the first two series but it wasn't always an easy watch early on. For those with patience and a spare 18 hours available Twin Peaks is an essential watch, it challenges what TV in this day and age can do and requires you to pay attention and watch closely, something I know I have become complacent at through binge watching.

A special mention must be made of the performances of the large ensemble cast. Kyle MacLachlan did some excellent work in his three roles, playing the menacing Mr C with cold-hearted detachment, but also giving us the lovable Dougie Jones, a character you grow to love as he makes the world better by his subtle features and occasionally repeated words. As Agent Cooper he embodies the goodness that made the character so beloved and admired.

Grace Zabriskie, who plays Sarah Palmer, gave a stunning tour de force performance of a parent who had suffered so much and is in anguish at losing her loved ones.

The Log Lady, Margaret Lanterman, played by a dying Catherine Coulson, was phenomenal. Knowing she was dying in real life of cancer, her turn as the Log Lady dying on the show is heart-breaking. Her final call to Deputy Hawk on the night she knows that she is going to die (episode 15) is heart-rending, you can feel the connection between these two actors who have worked on something as profound as Twin Peaks. The new melancholy score by Angelo Badalamenti underscored this. When Hawk tells the rest of the Sheriff's department Lynch lingers on the scene to give it gravitas but also as a memorial to arguably the most iconic Twin Peaks character.

I was pleased to see Philip Jeffries return but not as we expected, due to David Bowie's death the role was played by a giant bell/ kettle. Why? Because Lynch.

If you haven't had a chance to see this masterpeice you owe it to yourself, you really won't be disappointed.