Dec 042013
 

Hey everyone. Chaos here, and I wanted to welcome everyone to the new site layout. Hopefully if you’re new here you’ll take this chance to look through some of the older posts and catch yourself up. Don’t worry, we’ll wait.

*crickets chirp*

Alright, great. Now that you’re caught up I’ll go ahead and introduce myself for those that didn’t look at the backlogs and are just going ahead with this. I’m the prop builder of the group, in so much that they let me paint over nerf guns and make interesting things that may or may not light up and make sound. I modify pieces or items we can find to fit characters (mostly weapons at this point) and in some cases I’ve even created bits from scratch. I kinda fell into the job since I’m going to school for an Engineering Master’s degree and I really can’t make costumes, but it’s actually been a lot of fun.

Bob- Gun and Holster

The gun was modded personally, but the holster was purchased.

I’ve done a few posts on what I think about when coming up with pieces for character costumes, but this is actually something that I ran into when going over my next project. I was talking with Yami about some of the ideas I had and she mentioned that it wouldn’t really work because if someone WAS wearing said prop as a real thing, it would be really hot and probably burn whoever was wearing it. I countered that Steampunk is somewhat fantastical so I didn’t see what the problem was, but she insisted that it didn’t make sense. We eventually settled on another design for the prop that worked with something less problematic, but it got me thinking. How much do the props we wear in Steampunk have to worry about real-world physics?

Not a clue what's it's for, exactly, but who cares? For SCIENCE!

Not a clue what’s it’s for, exactly, but who cares? For SCIENCE!

There’s some merit in not worrying about how props would actually work in the real world. There are a lot of props that you see at Steampunk conventions wouldn’t really work by the strictest sense of science, but they have enough grounding in them that you can see how they work with just that dash of outlandish that makes them interesting. Personally, I’ve always liked science fiction and the more outlandish the design, the more interesting I find it. I always find my mind wondering how such a device would work. Could you make something that actually functioned like that, and what sorts of science would have to be changed just for that one piece to work. It could just be my years of being facinated with sci-fi and robots and ray guns and all that stuff that makes me worry more about ‘what would look interesting’ rather than ‘what makes sense for the characters and setting’. Not that you can just ignore setting or characterization if you’re trying to make a coherent world.

Lucasbuild1

This is Lucas Warren. He’s my steampunk character and is something of an amoral businessman. He’s high class and does everything he can to keep it that way. Lucas knows all the right parties to attend, the right people to impress, and the good business sense to press an advantage when he has one. He has his prejudices, but they’re mostly to those he would find useless to his goals. If you provide him with an advantage, he has little qualms with what else you do. If you become a hinderance, he will not hesitate to cut you off and cast you aside. If you have something he requires, he will find every way to relieve you of it, and it will all be done with business deals and subordinates.

Lucas is a very particular character with a set of goals, characterizations, traits, and themes and while I’d love to give him something like a steampunk crossbow or some sort of mechanical display that hangs from his hat, I wouldn’t because it doesn’t fit his character. I think it would be cool, but it would just clash with everything that the character presents. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be some interesting additions to the props later (mostly once I get a bit more time) but anything he has needs to fit his character and theme. You have to strike a balance between ‘what looks interesting’ and ‘what fits the character’. It helps with making pieces that ‘fit’ a character rather than making a prop and trying to jam a character around it.

Ultimatly, it comes down to the goal of a prop. I think that if it’s something that’s supposed to go with a character, you need to keep the prop within the bounds of what the character would carry around. If you’re making a prop to just go ‘hey, that’s an interesting idea’ then I’d say the sky is the limit. Let your imagination run wild and see what sort of contraptions you could make.

I’d like to welcome anyone to give me their take on the topic. Do you think that props have to be bound to a specific set of rules or can they be completely unbound from any one interpretation of Steampunk? Do you think it can be both? Do you want to just share some ideas you might have on props you are/would like to make? Go ahead and leave a comment with your ideas and here’s hoping you’ve all enjoyed my little introduction to my side of the group.

May 272013
 

Kendandra here!

A while ago I provided a demo of what direction I was taking Bob’s theme.  When I recorded that demo I was naïve about a couple things.  First of all I had no idea how to record audio; now I do.  Second of all when Kaelas (Robert Owens himself) listened to the theme and simply shook his head.

“It’s not Owens,” he said.

And I thought to myself, “How dare him!”  How dare he offer criticism to his own character’s theme?  Now to be fair I knew a good two thirds of the theme were subpar.  But that last third was the part I stole from Ricky’s theme, and I loved that part.  Seriously, how did he not see sacrifice I was willing to make by giving my own character’s theme his character’s instruments and….

Suddenly I realized what I was doing wrong.

Of course the theme didn’t fit Owens, it was originally gallant and upbeat, dashing and daring, bold and heroic.  That’s not Bob at all.  He’s down to earth, gritty, and a bit ill-tempered.  Just because the guitar fits the cowboy theme doesn’t mean I can put any melody to it.  So I got to thinking:  How was I going to come up with something that would fit Owens?  Well first of all, there was a piece of improvisation I did during the first demo that Kaelas did like.  So more like that, I guess.

At Steampunk Symposium it was joked that Kaelas should carry around a guitar to complete his cowboy look.  This would have been cool, except Yami’s guitar is BRIGHT RED.  Though I guess it would match the bandana.  Anyway, if Kaelas did carry around a guitar that would mean that Owens would be able to play one right?  That got me thinking about how to go about hashing out his theme:

What would it sound like if Owens was playing his own theme around a campfire?

I can’t imagine that Owens got any formal training on how to play the guitar.  Not to mention that’s half the reason the guitar exists, it was a cheap instrument designed to be easy to learn and play.  So how does an amateur that’s held the instrument for years, but put no effort into it sound?

Now many of you may or may not know, but Radiant Vanguard meets usually about once a week to talk, game, and marathon movies or shows.  This last week’s meeting I arrived at my usual time.  Late.  Kaelas was busy playing (read, abusing the sneak skill) in Skyrim and while we were all talking and watching Kaelas be thrown about the place by some Nordic zombie with the power of the force, I picked up Yami’s guitar and began trying to hammer out the Skyrim theme song while we chatted.

Now I don’t play the guitar, and in this context I don’t mean like when I say “I don’t play the piano.”  Because that’s just me being modest.  I actually don’t play guitar.  Which meant, first of all, I attempted to try and treat the thing like a keyboard, substituting the keys for the frets and generally failing to get anything that sounded remotely good out of it.  Secondly I couldn’t hit the notes in tune.  (One of the two reasons I dropped the viola, pianos are just magically in tune.)  Anyway, all that sliding around and frantically trying to hit the note gave me a good feel for how to do a rough demo.

So, have a listen.  Try to see if you can visualize Owens kicked back against a dead tree.  His hat askew over his eyes.  He twists the tuning pegs slightly after hearing a sour note.  The firelight flickers illuminating his jaw as he taps his thumb against the side of the guitar in rhythm with his melody-less song.

That’s it for today, buckaroos.  Next time I might have something more concrete for drum practice, really.  Unless I get distracted again.

–Kendandra, we’re done here.

Mar 282013
 

Kendandra here!

Let’s talk a bit about percussion.

Percussion is the lifeblood of any musical piece.  One of the ways I want to make each of these character themes unique is to make sure they have vastly different percussion sections.  For Lucas’s theme, that’s as simple as making it a waltz.  The ¾ time signature gives it a much different feel than the rest of the themes regardless of what instruments I use.  For Richard’s theme I’m using a snare-heavy marching beat.  This fits his military nature and, again, keeps his theme unique in feel.  I’m a bit antsy to do Bob’s theme; it doesn’t use drums at all and instead relies of the percussive nature of a rhythm guitar, which I think will be quite a challenge and a reward.  As is the purpose of these blogs, I will explain why I’ve chosen each style for each character in turn.

 

But today we’re going to talk specifically about Erika’s theme.

 

Erika Stark is the engineer of the group.  A position that could arguably be called the most steampunk of the whole quad.  When she’s at her best, she’s right in the thick of all that hissing, clanking, and metal squealing.  So it should only be fitting that the underlying percussive track of her theme should be the sounds of a steam-powered machine whirling and sputtering away.  I know Yami will hate me mentioning this (and that’s half the reason I am [remember, Sarcastic Jackass]) but it’s very much the same idea as the Flimflam Brothers’ cider machine huffing and puffing in the background of their song.  (Check it out if you are curious.  WARNING:  CONTAINS PONY.)

I now imagine either I have lost all my readers or gained an unfathomable amount by uttering that four letter word.  Let’s not dwell on it.

Anyway.  I started exploring Fruityloops’s options for percussion.  And let me tell you.  Illidan was right.  I WAS NOT PREPARED.

 

Button, button, who's got the button?

Anyone ever watch Dexter’s Lab in the 90’s? I felt a bit like DeeDee “Ohhh what does this button do?”

The sad part is, this is like just one of the many drum mixers that are built in to this thing.  And get this, there are more complex ones with even more options.  I mean, damn.  I actually used one of the simpler ones; one that’s actually just that orange section in the middle.  Still though when I was messing around with the presets a found a list of “Industrial mixes” that contained sounds of anvils clashing and clocks ticking.  And that meant one thing.  Jackpot.  What I was envisioning for Erika’s theme was not only possible but probably ready to implement without downloading additional soundfonts or configurations.  Something I’m very happy about.

So now down to hard part.  I had an idea of what I wanted the percussion section to sound like, now it was time to actually create it.

First I wanted to find the sound of steam hissing.  That’s going to be a cymbal crash of some kind, but the question is, how to make it?  Fortunately there were several presets in the Drumpad.  I listened to dozens of sounds trying to find Erika’s steam piston.  Including one called “Epic Crash 01” which sadly was not as epic as I had hoped.  I finally settled on “Trash Crash 01” out of the sample sounds.  It had a long decay on it, giving it a very piston-y feel, but sadly not quite what I wanted.  I upped the Mallet Decay and Mallet Amplitude to give it a nice hiss before I was satisfied.  This hiss plays every measure on the down beat.  Next I added a muted popping sound that when put together with the Steam Hiss gives a beat that sounds a lot like an old steam train.  Exactly what I wanted.

Now that I had an actual beat, I decided to layer some more engine-like parts on there.  To, you know, really dive the point home that I wanted a machine sound.  I ended up with something like this:

Bum-tsh! Bum-tsh!

Look at all the drums I give!  Ignore the Cello and Guitar Pluck, those are part of the proto-melody in a different sequence part.

Simplistic, but I think it works well.

Finally I messed with the panning of a few of the channels.  (You can see it on the picture if you squint hard enough).  Now steam hisses in each ear in an alternating pattern.  It was at this point I made an amazing discovery.  Scientists will write papers about it for centuries I’m sure:  my head phones were on backwards.  I think the panning changes really add an extra dimension to the beat.

You can hear the final machine beat here: ErikaEngineBeat

Now I’m certain I won’t use the same beat for the entire song… unless I get lazy.  Yeah.  I’m probably going to use the same beat for the entire song.  But still, it’s surprisingly catchy when you listen to it eight million times on loop.

That’s all for now, kiddos.  Next time I’m going to cover the melody for Richard’s theme and delve a bit into each theme’s core sound.  Right now, I need to figure out what this hissing noise is in my ear….

–Kendandra, we’re done here.

Mar 212013
 

Kendandra here!

So before I delve into the process of each individual theme, I want to take a moment to show you my little studio set up.  But first a little something I have get out of the way.

 

DISCLAIMER:  I am not a profession musician or composer.  By any definition of the terms.  I’m just a cool-kat with an 80’s keyboard and a USB port.

 

So yes, you should fully expect the end result of all these character themes to be complete and utter crap.  Still, that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun to make.

 

My musical background consists of far too many years of piano for my skill level, a bit of viola, and pretending to play the harmonica.  I have many pretend fans for my pretend harmonica concerts.  Oh, and a small amount of music theory.  Just enough to be dangerous, actually.

Now, on to the “studio”.  Located in the bowels of my house.  Enter at your own peril, past the bolted door where impossible things may happen that the world has never seen before….  No.  No, sorry that’s Dexter’s Lab.  My mistake.  Anyway, my quote on quote studio consists of a small nook where a pile of junk is located including a somewhat broken flatscreen monitor, a collection of non-working keyboards, a rather nice pair of Philips headphones, and a Sequential Circuits Six-Trak I dug out of my dad’s storage closet.  That’s
right, this thing:

Six-Trak  Sadly not Star-Trek.

That’s real wood on the side there. None of that fake stuff you see on those new Yamaha digital pianos that pretend to be classy with “wood finishes”. Also note that it’s spelt T-R-A-K. C’s are for failures. Stay in shool, kids.

For those who aren’t familiar with this vintage little beauty let me tell you, it’s a pain to actually do anything with.  It has only six oscillators.  Which means two things:

  1. Six means that it has six note polyphony; a fancy way of saying it can only play six notes at once.
  2. Oscillators, which means that it generates the waveform on the fly based off of 35 different parameters.  (You can see in the picture a bunch of writing in the center? That’s where the parameters you can play with are listed).

Not to say that this wasn’t an amazing piece of equipment for beginner mixers at the time.  Because, hell yeah it was.  Though now that we’re no longer in my father’s generation, I can simulate any notes that those little circuit boards are going to generate with software.  So I mostly use the Six-Track for something much more devious.  The MIDI port on the back.

Back in the old days my father used to hook up a MIDI cable to the Six-Trak and run it though a MIDI sequencer.  That’s a funny little box with lots of MIDI ports and buttons.  I’ve cut that out of my current setup.  Fruityloops takes care of much of this now (more on that in a bit).  So I got myself a MIDI IN/OUT to USB cable and I’ve got it hooked up to my laptop.  The purpose of the Six-Trak is to be used for pitch input (it doesn’t have velocity detection, you silly filly, that’s years ahead of its time).  I’m going to use it to input rifts into my computer and then layer the voices on there.  You see I’m a piano player a heart.  I’m not very good, but that’s my thang.  Thing.  Wow that was terrible.  Sorry.  I promise not to do that again.

So that’s my studio.  A table to support that ol’ Six-Trak, a MIDI cable, headphones, and my laptop (supported by a barstool).  Oh and the most important part.  There’s a large jar of pretzel rods.  That’s rather important.  I should have mentioned that first.

(There’s also a rather decent, if small, mixing board, but its output is FireWire and I’m not using a Mac.)

That pretty much covers the “physical studio”.  However the meat of this project is going to be powered by what’s on my laptop.  And no, by that I don’t mean my hard drive full of video game OSTs.  I’m talking the mixing software I’ve chosen to use.  Fruityloops.

Fruityloops.  Contains 5% fruit.

Just take a look at those skeuomorphic controls on the lower right. Thing of beauty.

So why Fruityloops?  Because it’s what I had access to.  I’ve never really used it before so we should see pretty soon how its learning curve is.  At a glance this thing is pretty powerful.  There are so many modules that I have no idea what I’m doing.  Also the first thing I notice is that Fruityloops is probably designed to make techno music.  It just seems to have support for a lot of repeatable beats and wave manipulation.

So of course, I’m probably going to be making use of the dumb parts of it.  Like DirectWave and using instrument samplings.  Indeed, the first thing I went and did was download the Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra instrument samplings.  But we’ll see.

That’s all for today, kiddos.  Next time I’ll actually be talking about first steps in making the character themes.  Shocker.

–Kendandra, we’re done here.

Mar 142013
 

Hey there!

Kendandra here.  Well I call myself Kendandra, anyway.  Not sure why.  I am known as Flutterguy to some.  Sarcastic Jackass to most.  Though I prefer Kendandra.  Sarcastic Jackass has too many syllables.

 

So this is it.  The moment for which none you have been waiting.  This is my first blog post.  I think it is a bit cliché to be blogging about first posts.  It has a nasty taste to it, like a YouTube comment.  Nevertheless, here I am blogging about blogging.  Now I suppose I should to take some time to introduce myself, but I hate talking about myself.  Which is very strange for a narcissist.  How about we skip that part and you can just imagine me as awesome.  I gave you a name, you can just feel free to attach that to whoever your ideal person is.  I suggest picking from Adonis, Achilles from the ankles up, or David Tennet.

First thing you should know about me.  I ramble.  I am sure you have noticed.  That is probably not going to change; I suggest you adapt now.

Down to the meat of the task at hand (and I make no apologies to vegetarians for the line), I have been asked to write a piece, on what is looking like a weekly basis, that relates to our little quad of intrepid adventures.  Sorry, “entrepreneur” in the case of Chaos’s character I suppose.

So by now you may be wondering …

Why am I still reading this?

Well, yes.  You probably are wondering that, but that is not the point.  So by now you may be wondering what exactly my upcoming posts will contain.  The answer is, in a word, music.

 

I am setting out on the arduous road of composing a total of five themes for our little group.  One for each character, plus one for the group as a whole.  The task is to make each character theme unique, yet still feel like the belong together.  I will provide weekly updates into the creative process, detailing how each theme matches the character and my decisions as to each theme’s composition.  And worry not, I have absolutely no idea what I am doing.

 

The final thing you should know is that I apparently dislike contractions.  I just surveyed this post up to this point and there is nary a apostrophe to be found save for a lonely possessive.  That is interesting to note, though it provides no substance to my post.  Another thing you will have to get used to I suppose.

 

Anyway, look forward to my next post, which will be the first in the Character Themes series.  I will detail my “studio” setup and outline better how each theme will look.

 

We will meet again soon.

–Kendandra, we’re done here.