Reflections on Twin Peaks: The Return

It's been a year since Twin Peak: The Return was on television and I have been reflecting on the series recently as we come up to its first anniversary. Last year the series lit up the screens and the fandom was reinvigorated and excited to see the saga unfold with Agent Dale Cooper lost in the Black Lodge and Bob possessing the body of Cooper and repeating "How's Annie?"
There was a high level of expectation and hype surrounding the series after the 25 year wait. However the new series defied expectation and forged its own path, free from most of the shackles of its past and as a result, was the finest mixture of art and television I have ever seen.

Twin Peaks: The Return was a sublime limited series. Each episode was like a mini movie with gorgeously framed shots and haunting imagery that stayed with you long after the episode had ended. The story meanwhile moved at a deliberate, some would say glacial pace, especially for those who didn't like the Dougie Jones portions of the story, yet the story was multilayered and open to interpretation. Even now I am still working through theories and ideas in my head and, through Facebook groups, building and developing my understanding of the world Lynch and Frost created.

Episode 8 of the series was the high watermark in my opinion and one of the finest hours of television I've ever experienced.

A year on the series still haunts my dreams and I hope that this mercurial series is remembered for the masterpiece it truly is. In the meantime I'll try to get to sleep without the echoes of Carrie Page's scream reverberating in my ear.

LINK- Twin Peaks Retrospective

LINK- Twin Peaks: The Return Series Review

LINK- Secret History of Twin Peaks: Book Review

LINK- Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier Book Review

Shadow of the Colossus- Book Review

I'm a habitual podcast listener and have been following a couple of gaming podcasts for over 7 years. Whilst listening to Retronauts, a retro gaming podcast, Nick Suttner discussed his book Shadow of the Colossus which he stated provided an analysis of how Shadow of the Colossus (and Ico) helped reshape the video game industry and influenced the direction of many games that followed it.
I purchased the book based on his insight of the games during the podcast, hoping it would be an in depth study of the game and its history. When it arrived I was surprised to see how slight it was, yet having read it the length seems just right for the subject matter.

A slight but essential book for fans of the game.

The book has a distinct structure, the chapters start with Suttner talking about his life at the time of playing the game in a memoir format, he then talks about his playthrough and then he reflects upon what the game and its creators are telling us. The book had me thinking about the Shadow of the Colossus and how it has been, retrospectively, a formative game for me.

I remember, waited with bated breath for the release of Shadow of the Colossus. Ever since I had played Ico, the stunningly beautiful puzzle platformer that had been released 4 years beforehand I knew that Team Ico were special and Studio Director Fumito Ueda was a true auteur.
I owned an N64 and also a PS2, but I pretty much only bought Sony's machine for Ico to be honest. Obviously, I loved the PS2 and its amazing catalogue of games but Ico was my impetus to pick the machine up in the first place.

I picked up Shadow of the Colossus on the day of release from my local Game store as soon as it opened at 9:30am. I remember vividly walking home with that special feeling that comes from buying a sealed game and I wasn't disappointed. As I opened the shrink wrap I was pleasantly surprised to see that, like Ico, the game box was a cardboard one and postcards were contained within. I still have my original copy of the PS2 game that I bought all those years ago, unable to part with it even when it had quite a high resale value.

 Ico and SOTC games and soundtracks.

Ico and SOTC games and soundtracks.

I played Shadow of the Colossus over the next week. I sat immersed in my bedroom night after night until I finally beat the game. This involved defeating 16 huge colossi in a boss rush before that was a thing. After finishing the game I knew that it was a classic and it went straight into my top 5 gaming list. I realised at the time that this was a singular visionary game quite unlike anything that I had played before but I didn't know that it would remain that way almost 15 years later. I find that moments from the game or the music drift back to me and I am transported to a university me, transfixed in front of the screen cross-legged on my blue carpeted bedroom floor.

At that time, my thought was that, while it was perhaps not my favorite game ever, it was probably one of the best I'd ever played. As the months went by I found that my mind would often drift back and that it had become a formative part of who I was. At the time I thought Shadow of the Colossus would lead to a different genre or way of making games but this didn't come to fruition until years later, with the game cited as influencing Journey, The Last of Us, Dark Souls and many indie games too.

When the PS3 remaster of the Team Ico Collection came along I avoided it. I very rarely visit games from the PS2 era as so few stand the test of time and I didn't want to ruin my wonderful memories of the game. However, when it was announced that the PS4 would be receiving a ground up remake of the game I became intrigued. A lot of the mechanics of the original SOTC were great for the time but now would seem archaic, so hearing that there would be the option of the original as well as a new control scheme had me intrigued. Plus Blue Point is an amazing studio with an excellent pedigree at remakes. I bought the game on pre-order and it has joined my gaming pile of shame but I hope to get to it within the next couple of months. I look forward to revisiting the Forbidden Lands and reflecting upon the game Suttner style.

Overall, the book is an interestingly structured text that works because I have a deeply personal connection with the game and reading Suttner's memoir sections had me reflecting on how the books, comics, anime, manga, music and video games in my life have affected me similarly to how Shadow of the Colossus affected him.

The World of Moomin Valley- Book Review

The World of Moomin Valley is a lavish book looking at the weird and wonderful creatures created by Tove Jansson.
The book is beautifully presented with an embossed cover and gold detailing on the numerous characters from the world of the Moomins. Inside, the premium feel of the book continues with high grade paper stock and many reproductions of Jansson's illustrations, which are beautifully presented in exquisitely clean images.

The foreword by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, an essay which looks at the origins and meaning of Jansson's works, is an incisive and insightful look at the relevance and legacy of the Moomins. The book proper then starts.

The writing style by author, Philip Ardagh is informal and easy to read. The book starts by presenting biographies of the various inhabitants of Moomin Valley that most people, even casual acquaintances of the books and animations will already know, but some of the genealogy was surprising to me and it was great to get things clarified, especially in the very useful family tree diagram.

The second section looks at Jansson's childhood and examines her family life, including her early sketches and foray into political cartoons. The inspiration behind some of the Moomin characters are examined, including Jansson's lifelong female partner Tuulikki Pietiläs, supposedly the foundation for Tootiki. The biography is quite a brief section and for those looking for a more in-depth look at Jansson's life, may not be satisfying enough but in the context and style of this book, it fits in.

The World of Moomin Valley is a beautifully illustrated and easily accessible guide to all things Moomin. The book is a wonderful primer for people new to the Moomins or for the Moomin fan in your life. It is such a gorgeously packaged book with lots of information and images containers that it is a must buy.

 I visited Moomin World in Finland in 2017 and loved it!

I visited Moomin World in Finland in 2017 and loved it!

Quentin Blake to Auction Artwork

Quentin Blake, beloved author, illustrator and former Children's Book Laureate is selling over 170 pieces of his original art work in an auction. The art pieces span over 40 years of his illustrious career. The works are to be sold through online auction and at auction house Christie's in London to raise money for House of Illustration, Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity and Survival International.

I've looked at the pieces and there are some stunning art works from a wide variety of books but with the cheapest lot starting at £200 and rising to £15,000 it's a bit too steep for me on my lowly teachers wage.

I'd love to own a piece but it's all a little hot for me.

However if you want to get involved try:

Browse the lots
148 original illustrations are being auctioned online from 3-12 July.

Go and see the work
An exhibition of Blake's illustrations is open to the public at Christie’s from 7-10 July.

Join us for Christie’s Late
On Monday 9 July between 6-8pm Christie's will hold a free open evening with art, music and specialist talks.

Come and see the live auction
On Wednesday 11 July from 5.30pm 30 works will be auctioned live at Christie's and anyone can come along!

LINK- Quentin Blake Auction at Christie's

Lulu in Hollywood- Book Review

Louise Brooks is a film legend, at the time when silent movies ruled the world her natural acting style was very different from the overly dramatic styling of many of her peers. A hack at the time wrote, ''Louise Brooks cannot act ... she does not suffer ... she does nothing.'' 
This is unfair as watching any of her higher tier films shows that she had range, nuance and emotion. However, her true skill lay in writing as Lulu in Hollywood shows. Brooks comes across as an intelligent, witty and strong woman yet also quite self-destructive woman at a time when women's rights were not quite as established as they could be.

 A short read at only 115 pages but full of annecdotes and insight into a oft-forgotten era.

A short read at only 115 pages but full of annecdotes and insight into a oft-forgotten era.

Over the course of 6 essays Brooks covers everything from her childhood and early years to her final years in Hollywood when the system chewed her out. The essays are:
- Kansas to New York
- On Location With Billy Wellman
- Marion Davies' Neice
- Humphrey and Bogey
- The Other Face of W. C. Fields
- Gish and Garbo
- Pabst and Lulu
- Why I Will Never Write My Memoirs

This book is only 115 pages long but is a fascinating insight into the world of the 20's silent movie era and the beginning of the talkies. The stories of the prominent players of the period are intriguing; William Randolph Hurst, Charlie Chaplin, W. C. Fields, Greta Garbo, Lillian Gish and Humphrey Bogart as well as studios MGM and Paramount are all prominently placed and discussed. For an actress who starred in such few movies in a short period of time, Brooks has produced an excellent commentary on the times, the industry and critically, herself.

The iconic Louise Brooks (Credit: BFI)

The chapters are all fascinating, it is interesting to learn about Brooks' early life and her role in Pabst's Pandora's Box but for me the most interesting was chapter 6, Gish and Garbo, in which Brooks discusses the influence of the bankers and money men on film production and the wages of the female stars. In her usual incisive manner Brooks selects quotes from articles written at the time which helped to undermine the star power of its leading ladies in order to reduce their wages. Lillian Gish, one of the most successful stars of the time, was on 7500 dollars a week, and for the money men this was too much. They used their connections in the media to play this up as an absurd amount and underplay the true draw of the stars. Greta Garbo was brought from Europe at a relatively cheap price and starred in a heavily promoted yet unremarkable film, The Torrent. Gish's film, the wonderful yet barely promoted La Boheme, did fine but financially did not make anywhere near as much as the Garbo vehicle. This marked, says Brooks, the exodus of many leading ladies who were cast out by an uncaring Hollywood system who were all about the bottom line. However Hollywood suffered as the lack of stars and the financial crisis in 1929 led to mass closures of cinemas across America. So maybe the Hollywood money men did regret their actions. 

The epilogue, Why I Will Never Write My Memoirs, is also a fascinating insight into why Brooks never wrote a tell all autobiography. She states that people miss out key points that may portray themselves or certain people in a bad light. She says that what's the point of 'telling all' but missing out names and events because it's not convenient to do so? She may have a point but instead what we get is a wonderful smorgasbord of experiences and recollections of this intriguing time.

Lulu in Hollywood is an excellent read that is essential for anyone with even the slightest interest in the period. 

Until Dawn- Video Games As Art

The weather is brightening up, the sun is shining and there isn't a cloud in the sky... so what do I fancy playing? Yup, creepy teen horror inspired Until Dawn! I heard about Until Dawn a while back but just never got around to playing it upon release due to having a massive back catalogue of games (including Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey) but with those games completed I felt like I needed a palette cleanser and this game fit the bill perfectly. Set over the course of one night you control various teenagers who go to a cabin in the mountains to commemorate a tragedy that befell their friends the year before, but something is them thar woods and it's up to you to save the crew from the horrors that lurk in the dark as well as uncover the truth about the area.

The game is great and over the course of 10 hours I was gripped, like cheesy horror trope-y gripped but gripped nonetheless. It's well worth your time if you fancy a mature Scooby Doo like escapade... with more blood!

PlayStation in Concert- Review

This evening I was lucky to be at a world premiere of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performing the music of PlayStation games at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

I purchased the tickets a couple of months ago as I love the Royal Albert Hall for its acoustics and atmosphere, and the chance to hear some of my favourite video game soundtracks performed in such a space by arguably the foremost orchestra in the world, was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Me, chilling outside the Royal Albert Hall before the concert.

The day before the event I received an email notification to download a free app called EnCue, which provides information on the track being performed and details about the composer and the game. I was a bit reluctant as I thought it would take me out of the moment but I did download it, however on the night I didn't use it, preferring to let the music take me on a journey... and what a journey it was!

The ceiling of the Royal Albert Hall is a thing of beauty. The sound dampeners look like magic mushrooms!

The presenter for the performance was Jessica Curry, one of my favourite video game composers who, as well as soundtracking 'Dear Esther' and 'Everyone Has Gone to the Rapture,' hosts the Classic FM video game soundtrack show 'High Score.'

Her compering was short and brought context to the pieces, an amuse-bouche for the ears if you will. She encouraged audience participation via Tweets and read a few out between pieces after the interval. Her witty repartee and jokes at the expense of Hastings and Shropshire were hilarious and endeared her to an already enraptured and enthusiastic audience.

 My rather blurry panorama of the Royal Albert Hall.

My rather blurry panorama of the Royal Albert Hall.

The music itself was exhilarating, to hear some of my favourite pieces performed by a full symphony orchestra with a sympathetic light display was magical. The pieces took me from the deepest depths of the oceans to vast desert vistas to the post apocalyptic near future where robotic dinosaurs ruled the world.

The music was played roughly chronologically from the ps1 era right through to the current PS4 and the tracks were:

RESIDENT Evil- Medley
MEDIEVIL- End Titles
ARC THE LAD- Victorious Fanfare/ Main Theme
ICO- Castle in the Mist and You Were There
DARK CLOUD- Main Theme
flOw- The World of Flow
MOSS- Quiet As A Mouse... With A Sword
KILLZONE 2- Birth Of War
WONDERBOOK- Book of Spells
JOURNEY- Apotheosis
THE LAST OF US- The Last of Us
BLOODBORNE- The First Hunter
HORIZON ZERO DAWN- Years of Training and Aloy's Theme
THE ORDER 1886- The Knight's Theme
GOD OF WAR- Main Theme

Some of the tracks, like 'The World of Flow' from 'Flow' and 'You Were There' from 'Ico,' were intensely emotional and touching whilst the 'Dark Cloud' theme and the 'Little Big Planet' track were playful in a big band kind of way, full of jazzy brass and swagger. There were definite highlights for me, the tracks from 'Ico,' 'Shadow of the Colossus' and 'The Last Guardian' were particular favourites as they are some of my most listened to soundtracks ever and also because the rose tinted nostalgia I get from recalling when I played those games at certain times in my life. The choral piece from 'Everyone Has Gone to the Rapture' was enthralling and deeply touching and the encore, an 'Uncharted' medley was a fitting way to end this celebration of PlayStation.

I thoroughly enjoyed the concert and hope that it is the start of something annual as it is a great way to bring a lot of people, who may not traditionally visit places like the Royal Albert Hall or attend classical music performances together for a magical, almost otherworldly experience. Also, events like this bring the music of video games to the forefront, challenging the misconception that video game music is all bleeps, bloops and chiptunes and that all games are inherently violent wastes of time. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra might be solving the problem of reaching new, younger audiences via video game soundtracks and I for one am glad. The beauty of the music shows that there is another side to video games; an artform. I only wish that Sony had got their act together and sorted out some merch as they would have made a killing and the fans would have gone away with a momento of a magical night.

Strider- Video Games As Art

There are few cooler characters than Strider Hiryu. The character, who is jointly owned by Capcom and Moto Kikaku, has only starred in a few games and some manga but his amazing character design made him popular enough to star in numerous Marvel vs Capcom games. I recently played the 2014 reboot and loved it, but due to the severe spikes in difficulty I couldn't complete it. However the game is great and a must play for Hiryu fans, if only to see the ninja in motion.

Singularity: Jon Hopkins- Album Review

I've so far done music reviews for retro cartoon series and video games but I thought I'd break this trend and share with you one of my current favourite albums. Singularity is by Jon Hopkins, a UK based electro-ambient musician. It is his fifth album and first new album since Immunity, which was released about 5 years ago.

I was recommended Immunity in a record shop I go to and fell in love with it, still listening to tracks off it most day even all these years on. The tracks were all beautiful but were often more like different suites or pieces.
With a title like Singularity I feel Hopkins is trying to create a cohesive whole, where his classical piano pieces with soft electronic pulsations mix well with the more heavily electronic synth sounds. Listening to the album there is a definite flow and feeling of overlapping motifs and ideas, the album is meant to be listened to as a whole rather than in individual chunks, although that doesn't affect your overall enjoyment however you listen to it.

The album kicks off with the album title, Singularity and is a slow burn at over 6 minutes. It starts off with a slow hiss then a slow pulse emerges, a minute or slow later a more driving squealing beat is dropped and the whole piece turns from calm ambience to head bopping full on EDM.

Emerald Rush starts with lush pianos and a gentle whoosh of wind swirling around the space, recalling Satie or 'Waiting for Cousteau' Jarre, then the music stops for a second and the beat drops and it changes into full blown trance with a beautifully simple motif that drives the piece faster forward. There are hard to decipher vocals but the whole piece is stunning and definitely one of my favourite tracks of the year. The music video for this piece is stunning and is a recommended watch, even though it misses the first 1:50 minutes of the track.

Neon Pattern Drum returns to Hopkins quick fractured  breakbeat tracks that he is famous for. He melds the synthetic and organic sounds well here to create an electronic track with heart.
Everything's Connected is a 10 minute epic, with a droning sound that's built on and built on, evolving slowly until it is just a lush and wondrous piece with a driving beat and sinewy smooth synth sound wending its way through the piece like an e living creature (which the music video shows happening in an edited 6 minute cut which is well worth a gander).
Feel First Life, had a new age feel but without the cheesiness of that genre. It feels like the birth of something special in the universe and the haunting vocals add to that ethereal tone.
COSM is a beautiful IDM influenced track that still feels warm and ambient. It's one of my favourite in the album.
Echo Dissolve is a piano piece that only has a few dark synth sounds emerging at the end.
Luminous Beings is a warm piece of ambience that feels like a warm hug. Alongside a fast tingly rhythm you have some piano intervening in and out and the track slowly fades away into the last track Recovery, which continues the gentle piano motif forward.

For me, this is Jon Hopkin's best album. The first half of the album has a lot of the big moments but the second half does have them too, they're just not as bombastic. The second half is like a beautiful piece of orchestra music that is lulling you to sleep. It's slightly unsettling after the bang and crash of the first half but by gosh how spiritual and soothing it is after listening to 25 minutes of heavy synthed glitches and fractured beats. This is a masterpiece of the EDM, Electro genre and is a must buy.

Gravity Rush- Video Games As Art

Gravity Rush is a weirdly wonderful steampunk fantasy game in which you control an amnesiac young girl with levitation powers. So far so video game trope-y, but what sets this game apart from many others is the sheer artistry on show and character. Kat, the protagonist is very likeable and apart from her barely-there fan-service appeasing attire, a strong female lead. The graphics of the remaster (from the 2012 PS Vita game) are excellent and the artistic flair is beautiful to behold on the big screen. If you get a chance check it out!

What Remains of Edith Finch- Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack Review

What Remains of Edith Finch is a wonderfully atmospheric exploration adventure game, sometimes called in derogatory terms, 'walking simulators.' I am a huge fan of the genre as I find them a palette cleanser from the regular games I play and I would say that Edith Finch is the peak of the genre so far.

In the game the player controls Edith, a young woman exploring her ancestral home to uncover the mystery behind her family history and what happened to the various occupants there. The story is told through a series of immersive vignettes and each is powerful and emotional in different ways. The stunning yet understated music score is a huge part of why Edith Finch is so affecting. The album is one I've been listening to continuously over the last year or so on my mobile since the games release and with the recent vinyl release from iam8bit I have been listening to it in that format too.

Jeff Russo, who composes the music and has scored Altered Carbon, Star Trek: Discovery and much else, understands that silence and ambience is just as important as music to create a mood and it is this knowledge that lends the game an eerie and creepy atmosphere as you explore the strange house. Music is introduced when elements are interacted with or when certain narrative points are reached.

The whole score is peaceful and sombre with soft piano interweaving with yearning strings. The interplay creates a profound feeling of sadness yet has tinges of hope.

The tracklist is:

01. Edith's Theme

02. The House

03. Molly's Room

04. Molly's Hunger - Owl

05. Molly's Hunger - Shark

06. Molly's Hunger - Monster

07. Calvin's Swingset

08. Walter's Bunker

09. Gus' Kite

10. Milton's Tower

11. Lewis' Coronation - Daydream

12. Lewis' Coronation - Marching Band

13. Lewis' Coronation - Sailing Ship

14. Lewis' Coronation - Palace

15. Lewis' Coronation - Crowning

16. The Finale

17. The End

The standout tracks are Edith's Theme, Lewis' Coronation- Marching Band and The End. Edith's Theme never fails to put a tear in my eye, it's gentle piano and sad strings create a powerful and moving piece that is touching and beautiful. Lewis' Coronation- Marching Band is an haunting piece as it is so upbeat and oompahpah yet is probably the most tragic story. The End carries the motif of Edith's Theme but adds some haunting ambient vocals that is a beautiful way to finish the soundtrack.

The whole soundtrack is stunning and works well as a tapestry of the Finch family's stories. The pieces complement the game but work just as well as musical compositions in their own right. The soundtrack is stunning and this pressing by iam8bit is marvellous!

Space Invaders Infinity Gene- Video Games As Art

There are few video game pixels as well known as the Space Invaders alien. It has transcended video games and become an icon for video gaming as a whole.

Infinity Gene builds upon what has gone before but introduces evolutionary elements in which your core cannon develops abilities and new ways to fire. The game still uses its iconic pixel art but the backgrounds have been modernised and improved and the movements of everything is smooth and artistically interesting. As an update and re-invigoration of a classic Space Invaders Infinity Gene gets a lot right!

Tonbridge Comic-Con 2018 Builds on Previous Year Success

On one of the hottest days of the year hundreds of geeks and nerds (of which I am one) from various fandoms descended on the Angel Centre in Tonbridge to attend the second ever Tonbridge Comic-con.
I had even higher expectations than last year as that was the inaugural event and this, the sequel, had to be bigger, bolder... better. So how was it? Did it meet my expectations? Well, read on and find out...

Tonbridge Comic-Con 2018

As I approached the Angel Centre I could see a long line had formed and keeping the people entertained were various people in costume, there was Darth Vader, numerous Storm Troopers, a Sand Person, a Jawa and an Imperial Officer. People were getting their photos taken and children were kept enthralled/ terrified.
Inside there were lots of stalls selling all manner of geeky goods at a fair price including anime, manga, Marvel, DC and video game merch. A difference from last year was the amount of stalls as there seemed to be a lot more, but this was a good thing at they sold a wider range of products from last year. There were they typical Funko Pop Figs, t-shirts and posters but also there was a Disney Princess cupcake stall, wallets and purses and lots more vintage figures, annuals and collectable cards and stickers. I purchased some of these cards and was really pleased at the price (5 packs for £1) as well as 3 cupcakes (3 for £5, for my wife and 2 unwell daughters).

There were a few celebrities doing signings and photosincluding Jason Ybarra (Star Wars: Rogue One), Ian McNeice (Dr Who) and a free signed photo for all attendeed from Simon Fisher-Becker (Dr Who).
There were a few people dressed up, representing various fandoms, however not as many as last year but that was to be expected as the heat was oppressive.

Around the Angel Centre hall were lots of items and photo opportunity pieces of memorabilia and costumed folks which you could snap away at. There was the giant inflatable Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, a handmade Batmobile Tumbler and the Iron Throne. 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. The second Tonbridge Comic con has built upon last years successes and continues to grow. As a local event it is great and I look forward to it growing and expanding its scope and aspirations.

Overall this was a well organised event with lots of offer for families and young people, I hope next year it's even bigger and better next year!

I bought 5 packs of random cards and stickers for 1 pound... bargain! I wonder if the stick of chewing gum is any good?

The Best of Popol Vuh for Werner Herzog- Retro Soundtrack Review

There are many prog rock groups who are fondly remembered but one that I think are underappreciated or overlooked are Popol Vuh. Popol Vuh soundtracked many of Werner Herzog’s movies and formed an integral part of the experience, without which the films would seem incomplete or lacking. I recently purchased the Best of Popul Vuh Werner Herzog Soundtrack and this is my review of said album but first some context of how I discovered this band.

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I first experienced Popol Vuh when I rented out Aguirre: Wrath of God from my university library. The opening scene, of an expeditionary caravan travelling through the misty mountains of the Andes to find El Dorado was set to the haunting mesmerising score and seared itself into my soul and I knew then that I was watching something special. As the film continued and I saw the true madness of Aguirre's journey into the heart of darkness (Joseph Conrad style), the visuals and music mixed into a heady cocktail and enveloped me.

The whole Aguirre score reminded me of probably my most formative media experience, that from my favourite children's television programme, The Mysterious Cities of Gold. Aguirre and MCOG shared much in common as both were set amongst the time of the Inca and Conquistadors but it was more than that, the Moog synthesiser combined with ethnographic religious voices from both the TV show and Aguirre echo a move away from stereotypical panpipes and woodwind interpretations of the 'other' and instead seemed more mysterious and spiritual. Aguirre's soundtrack tapped into my love of the acclaimed MCOG soundtrack by Haim Saban and Shuki Levy. I had to find out more about Popol Vuh, which in the mid 90s was quite difficult as the internet barely existed.

So, after Aguirre I rented out Fitzcarraldo, the tale of another explorer who ventures once again into a Conradian heart of darkness to set up a rubber plantation and build an opera house to bring culture to the 'savages.' To achieve this he persuades many local tribesmen to drag a steamboat over the rainforest and hills to a river many miles away.

The music was once again magnificent but was in direct contrast to the actions portrayed on screen of the enigmatic but deeply reprehensible characters, played with deranged, barely controlled, ferocity by Herzog regular Klaus Kinski. These deeply flawed protagonists are on a self-destructive journey but believe they are on the path to greatness.
Popul Vuh's music doesn't celebrate the protagonists but rather the cultures they are trying to subjugate and control. Aguirre is an imperialist conqueror looking for gold and glory, Fitzcarraldo an arrogant man who wants to achieve fame and repute amongst the  ultra elite and Francisco Manoel da Silva, from the film Cobra Verde, wants to build a kingdom upon the slavery of the people he initially befriends.

The working relationship between Herzog and and Popol Vuh, led by his longtime friend Florian Fricke, was a very fruitful one with XX soundtracks scored. This is many hours of music  but the best of Popol Vuh features 14 tracks which are as follows:

  1. Wehe Khoorazin
  2. Im Garten der Gemeinschaft
  3. Der Tod des Banditen
  4. Agape, Agape
  5. Gemeinsam aßen sie das Brot
  6. Gemeinsam tranken sie den Wein
  7. Als lebten die Engel auf Erden
  8. Eine andere Welt
  9. Höre, der du wagst
  10. Brüder des Schattens - Söhne des Lichts
  11. Engel der Luft
  12. Wir Wissen von der Not
  13. Take the Tention High
  14. Lacrime di Re

This 14 track playlist just seems too short to truly showcase the importance that Popol Vuh had in bringing Herzog’s vision and more importantly ethno-religious soul to something as seemingly mechanical and soulless like the synthesiser but it offers an appetising amuse-bouche for those willing to dip their toes into a kind of prog rock that flourished before the decadence of 20 minute keyboard solos. Fricke was a spiritual man and this comes through in his music.

The sublime Lacrime De Ri from the opening of Aguirre sounds like an otherworldly choir of angels before it opens up into ethno-religious percussive rhythms. The visuals of a hopeful group emerging from the misty mountains is one of cinemas greatest openings and the music brings a sense of spirituality into the mix with an angelic choir created by the melotron.

Popol Vuh's soundtrack for Nosferatu The Vampyre, is phenomenal but a particular standout is Brüder des Schattens - Söhne des Licht, which plays at several key points during the movie bit most memorably at the beginning which opens with the mummified remains of the victims of an 1833 cholera epidemic. I have never forgotten the simple yet haunting two-note choral motif, it plays in my dreams and haunts my nightmares.

Wehe Khorazin is a profound, powerful, and deeply moving piece in its simplicity and it touches the deepest part of my soul. It starts off with an almost angry booming Gregorian-like chant and then gets prog rocky with sitars and a more calming repetitive chant.

Ein Andere Welt is a hypnotic ambient drone that calms and soothes, recalling Jean Michel Jarre's stunning Waiting for Cousteau.

Höre, der du wagst is an interesting piece as gentle piano wends in with synthesiser and sitar sounds to create a soft melodic piece which is relaxing.

Der Todd Der Banditen is a harmonious sonorous song similar to many devotional chants I've heard. It's touching and deeply resonates with me as it seems to be ascending to heaven, like when people say Om and it comes from deep within the body, this has that effect.

The whole package is stunning and even though there are many more amazing tracks missing, these 14 are all mesmerising and well worth a listen.

Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle- Comic Review

So, after 28 years we have reached the final arc of Alita’s story in Mars Chronicle but has it been worth the wait? I've spoken at length about how the initial 9 graphic novel run of Battle Angel Alita was one of the finest sci-fi tales of all time but the sequel, Last Order, was meandering and overlong at 19 graphic novels. So, does Mars Chronicle return the series to greatness or does it end on a whimper, continuing the downward trajectory with a creator past his best and out of cohesive ideas?
Well, we will have to wait a while to find out but I've read the first graphic novel of the Mars Chronicle, which has been finally translated from the Japanese some 3 years after its initial release, and based on this novel the last arc shows signs of promise.

The novel begins by taking us back to Alita's origin as a young orphaned 80% cyborg child named Yoko living on the war-torn surface of Mars. Yoko and firm friend Erica are brought to an orphanage and start to make friends after a hostile start with young Queen Ninon. The town comes under attack by an army and a battle ensues. All that Yoko and Erica know is destroyed and their friends are killed. It’s exquisitely paced and dramatic, as well as tragic and heartbreaking as the frequent deaths are accompanied by genuine pangs of loss and heartbreak. It’s a real skill for the author to have the reader empathise with some of the characters, who we may only have had the briefest of introductions to.
As this is a flashback to Alita’s origin, we know that she and Erica survive, which removes some of the tension, but Yukito Kishiro ensures that no-one else is safe so anyone can die. He also cranks up the mystery behind how Alita learnt her Panzer Kunst skillset and through the political intrigue on Mars, created an interesting multi-layered story.

The original run of Battle Angel Alita is one of my favorite manga ever. Last Order was a sprawling mess which lost its momentum but still had some great ideas. Mars Chronicle could be a return to form; the setup is all there, a child prophesied for greatness, an alien landscape which is hostile and strange, and the promise of closure at finally finding out who Alita/ Yoko actually is and why she fights in the legendary martial art style. The first volume of Mars Chronicle is good but not extraordinary but I am pleased to be back in the Battle Angel Alita universe, I just hope it keeps its focus and provides long term fans with the closure they want and need. After what will be probably over 30 years I so hope Kishiro sticks the landing of this often masterful series.

Monument Valley 2- Video Games As Art

I have previously spoken how Monument Valley is a stunning piece of artwork and its sequel, Monument Valley 2 continues this forward. In the game you play as a mother and daughter team and you manipulate the Escher-style architecture to guide both protagonists through stunning vistas. The journey is relatively short but memorable as each level is a masterpiece, a combination of stunning art and immaculate design. Don't take my word for it, check out the images below!

Battle Angel Alita Back in Mars Chronicle

After a 4 year wait, (at least here in the West) Battle Angel Alita is back with the final arc in Mars Chronicle. The series, created by Yukito Kishiro, seemed to have run its course.

The first series, simply titled Battle Angel Alita (Gunnm in Japan) is a masterful piece of work which is an essential sci-fi read. Over 9 graphic novels we follow the adventures of Alita, a young cyborg girl who is discovered broken but with her brain intact by Dr Daisuke Ido. Ido is delighted with his find and takes Alita to his home and repairs her. Over time there develops a father-daughter bond but Alita has amnesia and is unhappy as she wants to find out more about her mysterious past. Over time she learns that she knows the powerful 'Panzer Kurst' fighting technique and enters the Motorball Tournament, a Running Man style gauntlet filled with cyborgs and other mechanical marvels. Over the course of 9 graphic novels Alita learns more about her past and the unfair society she lives in.

The original series peaks with the fifth graphic novel, Angel of Redemption but the rest of the series is still very high quality. The series continues for another 4 graphic novels and Angel's Ascension is a stunning conclusion to Yukito Kishiro's gritty cyberpunk masterpiece. In the end Alita finally discovers the ghastly secret of Tiphares, saves the floating city and the Scrapyard from destruction and finds love.

When I first read the series I loved the ending and thought that Kishiro had tied up the series wonderfully.

Then it was announced that the series would continue as Kishiro felt that the story wasn't finished yet. In a redux Last Order continued from Volume 9 of Battle Angel Alita, but diverged from the original ending. It ignored the transformation of Ketheres into a nanotechnological space flower, Alita's subsequent transformation into a flesh-and-blood human girl and her reunion with Figure, her love. Instead it takes place after Alita is killed by a doll bomb in the final volume of Battle Angel Alita.

Last Order is 19 graphic novels long and begins when Alita is resurrected by Desty Nova's nanotechnology in the floating city of Tiphares. The city's dark secrets are brutally exposed, but it turns out to be a small part of a complex world. Going into space with new and old companions alike, to look for her lost friend Lou Collins and to find out more about her forgotten past, Alita is caught up in an interplanetary struggle between the major powers of the colonized solar system. Along the way, she forms an alliance with three of the Alita Replicas who have now begun to think for themselves, an unsavory superhacker, and Nova himself when she enters the Zenith of Things Tournament (Z.O.T.T.), a fighting competition held every ten years. During the course of the story, more background about the setting of Battle Angel Alita that was not disclosed in the prior series is revealed, such as how the Earth emerged from a cataclysmic impact winter that wiped out most of the population. The series ends as Alita’s friends all converge to find out what happened to her after the Z.O.T.T. ending and roots break out across the solar system. The last two graphic novels act as an epilogue, showing us the lives of Alita’s friends as well as a final reveal of the protagonist that hinted at more to come...

My complete Alita collection.

From the sound of it Last Order sounds like more of the same and then some, but the story was extremely slow moving and the fighting so excessive that it actually ground the plot to a complete halt several times and over multiple volumes of the graphic novels. Many of the volumes were a chore to wade through as we were introduced to new characters and then told overly long back stories that no-one was really interested in. The final two volumes were especially disappointing for long term fans of the series, who had been following Alita's adventures for over 24 years.
There was a brief hiatus as Kishiro collected his thoughts but in 2015 he announced he was returning with a new Alita series, exploring her origins on Mars.

With Battle Angel Alita: Martian Chronicles I hope Kishiro regains his mastery over telling a griping, savage, brutal story expediently. I loved the first 9 graphic novels as they were brilliantly executed; moments of extreme violence were interspersed with deep introspective philosophising and beauty. With his expanded character roster and overwrought world building in Last Order I believe Kishiro lost sight of the story and heart and that was to the detriment of the series. There was no sense of urgency that made us empathise with Alita’s plight to find out who she was and where she came from. I am extremely excited for the Martian Chronicles but also cautiously optimistic. Here's hoping it finds Kishiro back on track and Alita back in fighting for form. A review will soon follow so keep updated!

Undertale- Video Games As Art

Undertale is a wonderful role-playing game, created by just one man; Toby Fox. In the game, players control a human child who has fallen into the monster infested Underground, and have to try to make their way back out. So far so typical RPG, but what separates this game is the witty dialogue and choices, you can choose to fight or pacify the monsters and your actions have repercussions within the game. Over the course of 6 or so hours the game had a profound and deep affect on me. It is a touching game and a true work of art that deserves the accolades and praise heaped upon it.

Power of Art

There is power in art and culture to challenge world views. Video games can be art and as a medium often make you the centre of their world. You can bend the world to your will (depending upon the parameters of the game) and be the agency, but has this created self-centred egotistical people who believe that their rights as the consumer outweigh those of the game creators?

The Mass Effect 3 finale debacle in which many gamers, disappointed with the ending created by the game designers, rallied against the company and forced them to patch in another ending, is testament to this egotistical nature of some gamers. Objectivity in gaming is nigh on impossible as the creators will have things they have ingrained in their character due to implicit factors, aspects that are central to their personal sense of identity and morals.

The recent release of Wolfenstein 2 was promoted through various means but the twitter account was wonderfully trolling, encouraging players to 'Make America Nazi-free Again'. The seemingly universally agreed upon truth (that Nazi's were horrible and have no place in the modern world) opened a whole can of worms online as alt-right snowflakes felt they had been misrepresented or unfairly portrayed. This is a strange turn of events in a medium that has enjoyed the virtual killing of Nazi's in a myriad of video games over the past couple of decades. To quote, "While Nazism is German, prejudice is not." How can many be pleased to gun down virtual racist whilst doing nothing about or even actively supporting them in real life?

The alternate history of Nazi's succeeding in their agenda in WW2 and taking over the world is one that has been mined before, most famously in the novel Fatherland by Robert Harris or more currently the adaptation of Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle. This concept is not a new one yet why now have the alt-right felt the need to voice their anger against Wolfenstein?

Whether violence in video games encourages real world violence is debatable and has been discussed before but how can the virtual killing of a genocidal hate filled military group that have committed the worst atrocities in the history of humankind be considered propaganda?

Politics and gaming do not really go hand in hand but as a young medium it is having the growing pains of knowing where it fits in with current world events.
Like anything else, video games are often a projection of the views and thoughts and beliefs of the people who make them, whether it be explicit or implicit. We can't always explain how we feel or what we feel, sometimes things are a part of us and that's that. We imprint ourselves often the things we make. Games are not created  in a vacuum as the current state of the world can have an influence and provide a snapshot of the times, they are often products of their time.

Lucus Pope's Papers Please isn't political per se but it definitely had something to say about refugees and the systems that handle them. As for Wolfenstein, maybe the twitter wasn't subtle but what do you expect from a series famed for robot headed Hitler as a final boss?

 Subtlety is not part of Wolfenstein's ouvre.

Subtlety is not part of Wolfenstein's ouvre.

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice- Video Games As Art

Hellblade: Senua's sacrifice is the story of Senua, a Celtic warrior who is on a quest to save her lover’s soul from the underworld. So far so video game trope-y but what sets this protagonist apart is that Senua is traumatised and experiences frequent hallucinations and delusions during her journey, all symptoms of psychosis, a condition she has and one which is often poorly portrayed in pop culture as a whole.
Ninja Theory wanted to get the psychosis representation correct, not just to protect themselves from any backlash but also to bring to light the many misconceptions and misunderstandings people have with the condition. The result is a stunningly beautiful yet hauntingly empathetic game, which over 6 hours portrays well the journey of our heroine from fear to empowerment and finally acceptance.

This is one of the most gorgeous looking games I've ever played and I've got quite a few images from my play-through. Enjoy, but be warned there are some heart-rending and frightening images.