Saturday, October 31, 2015

Nyctanthous


Happy Day of the Dead, all! A word on cultural appropriation: while I understand the intent of the charged political correctness movement and the "Dear white people..." memes abounding on social media, my personal view is that if you find something of value in the traditions of other cultures, embracing it and incorporating it into your personal beliefs or traditions is by no means a bad thing and can serve to bring down barriers between clashing cultures...barriers that, for all the well-meaning and importance of the sensitivity-promoting PC movement, are somewhat enforced by the insistence that "cultural appropriation" have negative connotations.

That being said, as a person who has dead to celebrate, pay respect to, and mourn, Day of the Dead has great meaning for me, and I am most familiar with its practice as Dia de los Muertos. However, cultures around the world seem to mark this time of year - the 31st of October through November 2nd - as a time when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. Many people of many traditions celebrate this in their own ways, and cultural boundaries are often blurred. I recently saw a Facebook post shared by a close friend of a person of Mexican heritage chastising white people for wearing calaveras makeup. All I have to say to that is: why can't we just appreciate people embracing and celebrating other cultures instead of pointing to lines that we insist not be crossed?

Okay, so that's my little diatribe, as sometimes the PC movement rubs me the wrong way and this struck a cord in particular as I have observed Day of the Dead - understanding it mostly as a Mexican holiday - since I lost two family members to an act of violence. Being accused of insensitivity (not that I don calaveras makeup and break out the sugar skulls) for remembering them on this day struck me as a tad...insensitive. Okay, it pissed me off. But I want to move past that now. I just want to wish everyone a happy Day of the Dead and for my friends, family, and audience to draw what they need from this time of year in whatever practices they engage in.

For me, the entire month of November is a powerful month of remembering my dead. It begins with this day and draws to a close on the 30th, which is the anniversary of this violent occurrence that I mentioned. I try not to remember just this horrific act and the two people whose lives were taken, but to remember all of my dead, and not just in mourning. When the veil is at its thinnest, I want to believe that the souls of all who have had a positive impact on my life and have passed on are especially close to me, and I want to keep them close throughout a month that in the past has been challenging for me. All these years later (this will actually mark the twenty-year anniversary), with this mindset, November has transformed from a time when I was prone to emotional breakdowns to a time when I feel a certain melancholy grace. It is a month when I am both buoyed and burdened by my dead, which somehow feels proper. Well, if not proper, at least...balanced.

It was important to me, in this first year of my career composing as The Lady anoNYMous, that I put out a release at this time. A Halloween release seemed most proper to aim for, as it feels more celebratory - a time to make light of and dance with our demons. If I had fallen behind schedule, as I tend to do, a release on November 1st or 2nd would have also been appropriate, but the closer to Dia de los Muertos, the more personal and melancholy the release would have been for me. Now, I like to be in a celebratory mood when putting out a record, so I was very happy to have something to release on Halloween itself. 

One of the songs being written for this record wasn't finished in time because of some obnoxiousness occurring in my personal life, but I didn't let that stop me from releasing Nyctanthous with a back-up plan in place. I am sorry that I wasn't able to include this song on this record, especially for the paying supporters of this release; however, when the song is finished, it will be released exclusively to Patrons and Leaguers as a sort of belated B-side for Nyctanthous. I hope that my supporters can always say that I do my damnedest to make their support worth their while. They have had access to most of the songs on this record for weeks now, included on varying exclusives depending on their level of contribution. Which brings me to the track list, which of course is the meat of this new record:



If you've been following along, you're most likely familiar with the songs "Jaded," "Simplify," and "The Tranquil Isles" by now. If not, simply visit the previous post and listen to the private playlist "Let Me Play You A Story..." which has been reduced to those three songs since I was forced to remove two others (originally from A New Era) due to space issues on SoundCloud. These songs were written with this release in mind and were intended from the get-go to be made publicly and freely available on Nyctanthous. In fact, the original goal was always to have five original songs for this release, including them, with A New Era and its derivations being a means to release some of them early as a reward to supporters. So in this, at least, I was successful.

One of the earlier songs being written for this record - tentatively titled "The Between" - is still being written. I was all for pushing myself to devote an entire day and night to finishing the writing and recording of this song in time for Halloween, and then my family unexpectedly turned time I thought I was going to have to myself and my music into a cluster-fuck. Therefore, this song (which is coming along beautifully, but still needs to be wrapped up and polished, with an intensive session of vocal recording still needed) will have to be on the next release, which is going to be the Snail Tunes compilation of Phase Three. Yes, it's already that time. I actually have the sixteen-track standard - set by Instrumentality - already filled, but I need to do some serious catching up before I have enough material for the next commercial album. Therefore, I'm taking the time to write and record more material to choose from before releasing the Phase Three compilation, which is titled Wisps of Reason (sound familiar?) for the time being.

And yes, you read that correctly - "The Between" is going to be one of those rare songs to have vocals, which I'm aiming to include more of in my music. No, I'm not trying to move in the direction of being a solo pop/rock artist. I am very much (and somewhat unexpectedly) settled in my role as an "avant-garde composer," which is strange considering my history in music is mostly as a vocalist and front...person. I had very much intended to be in the spotlight, and now that health issues have forced me into the position of a non-performing composer, I've found that I rather like being behind a veil. But I do want my music to, at times, have spaces for lyrics and vocals, and it's something I'm aiming for practice at. And I'm aiming to have more of an equal balance of instrumentals and con palabras in the final product of Nothing Left To Lose.

I am, for everyone's information, still aiming to record a "real" album (meaning physical copies and professionally produced and all that) titled Nothing Left To Lose. For more information about that, and how you can help, check out the pinned post of my Facebook profile and the "about" article of my Patreon profile.

Getting back to this record... As I was working on "The Between" and "Electrothing" (which became "Nyctality"), I returned in my thoughts to the intention I had when writing "Jaded," which was to write theme music for Jade, the protagonist of my Jaded series of urban fantasy stories (check out "A Jaded Beltaine" in the Snail Tales section, if you haven't already). The song "Jaded" was a complete failure in that regard, but I found myself unwilling to retitle it. However, I really wanted to try again, and the closest thing I could think of to what I was aiming for was a piece of music called "Sydney's Theme," composed by John Frizzell for the short-lived 1995 psychological cyberpunk series VR.5,  which remains my all-time favorite television show to this day. Therefore, I meditated on "Sydney's Theme" while recording a cover of it to see if this might inspire me.


It occurred to me while recording this that I already have a piece of music that fits all the qualities of "Sydney's Theme" that I was hoping to have in "Jade's Theme"; a piece of music that is simple, versatile, and slightly melancholy. Also, it would sound fantastic translated onto the "sliding tones" synth that I had manipulated to sound somewhat like a voice (originally in "Lily White") and was somewhat addicted to.

I was thinking of the melody found in "Introducing..." which I had retired...as "Introducing..." I no longer wanted to use that tune to "introduce" the set list for each record, and I didn't want to retitle it some variation on the word "introduce" every time I used it, but what if that tune had been introducing Jade all along? She is my fictional alter ego after all, and once upon a time I had used that piece of music to introduce the characters of the Snail and the Widow, which are aspects of myself, and therefore aspects of Jade... Okay, so I can think of a million ways to rationalize it and say, "This is how it was meant to be all along! I used hadn't realized it yet..." but let's just cut the bullshit and plainly say, the melody from "Introducing..." has been stolen and renamed "Jade's Theme"...and has ironically been used to begin the track list of Nyctanthous.

"Jade's Theme" began to dominate my attention more as I admittedly shied away from recording a "real" vocal session (I already have temporary vocals recorded as placeholders while I'm recording the rest of the instrumentation) for "The Between," and I also became enthralled with this "Electrothing" experiment I had going. Initially inspired by a riff in "Unstoppable" by Max Lilja in which he mimics an electric bass with his cello, I set to exploring some of the electric bass synths that I have shunned until now. Also, I think I may have let the hashtag "darkwave" attached to my music by Darkwave Radio go to my head a bit, or else I'm embracing what's already there and running with it. In any case, an electro-style bass riff quickly evolved into my attempt at fusing electro with piano rock in a very manic manner, turning what I had previously touched upon in the Feral Bitch Mix of "The Manic Widow" up to eleven and thoroughly abusing my fingers (health update: I'm in to see a rheumatologist about the possibility of psoriatic arthritis...fucking arthritis at age thirty-three...in December) in the process. As I was exploring new words for the title of the EP, "Electrothing" was renamed the made-up word "Nyctality" (the state of darkness?) pretty much at the last minute.

Now, I had already stated in some article or post or other that I was leaning toward including the Alternate Spin of "The Replicant" from the Occultation sessions on this record. I have really fallen in love with this version of "Dusk Devils." It may be that I am getting over the rest of the world's love affair with "The Nocturnal Dervish" or that I'm letting being labeled as "darkwave" go to my head. It may be that I'm finally embracing the reality that I am an electronic composer, as this record as a whole would seem to indicate, despite the inclusion of acoustic guitar on "Simplify" and "The Tranquil Isles" or my piano's pervasive insistence - even on "Nyctality" - that I am a pianist first, dammit! Whatever, the edits that I made to the electronic alternate version of one of my earliest piano goth-rock tunes for Occultation have made all the difference in the world, and I am very happy to finally make it freely available to the public on Nyctanthous.

So with "Jade's Theme" unexpectedly raising the number of original tunes for this record to an impressive six (if you ignore that three of them are actually original to A New Era, which I tend not to include as a Snail Tunes release since it will never be released to the public), I thought I had this track list all figured out. And then I was unable to finish "The Between." A back-up plan snapped into my mind pretty much the moment I learned I was about to unexpectedly have a full house during time I had planned to devote to writing and recording. And that plan was, well, I have other songs yet to be made freely available to the public in the form of Occultation edits. It was just a matter of picking a song from The Occultation Sessions, and the logical choices were either "They Delving 2.22" or "A Not-So-Minor Distraction," as they match the more gothic/electronic vibe of the rest of the record. While "They Delving" is by far the more popular song, I think the many minor edits made to "A Not-So-Minor Distraction" really polished it up and made it shine, and it's a song that doesn't get nearly enough attention, in my opinion. And when listening to the rest of the record as a whole, going slightly more "electronic pop" than "epic piano rock" seemed a better fit.

Ordering the track list was pretty much a non-issue. The songs fell together in a natural order except for the two inclusions from Occultation, and they only needed to switch places. As far as the artwork...I admit, it's nothing extraordinary. When I decided to name the record "flowering at night," I simply looked up stock images of flowers of a nyctanthous nature, of which nyctanthes arbor-tristis (night-flowering jasmine) popped up quite a bit, and I manipulated and decorated a few of the images in advance of having the rest of the album set. So when the track list was finalized, it was just a matter of superimposing it over an image; same with the artwork for the credits page. And the cover was done the same day I decided on the name of the record. Of course, with EPs I tend to not put as much labor into the artwork as I do with albums, but this was borderline lazy...but I do not apologize! It still looks nice, and I think part of the reason it felt lazy is that I'm just getting smoother at assembling these things.

And that, folken, is the making of Nyctanthous. As I mentioned earlier, the next record is going to be the Phase Three compilation, which I realistically could put out tomorrow, thanks to all the original songs I composed for Occultation. However, that's going to wait until later this month, possibly even coinciding with the holiday, and by year's end I'm feeling confident that I'll have a third commercial record released...

In the meantime, let all our inner snails remain resilient and determined.