Opus 3

I’m going through a musical slump. It’s not that I don’t have the energy to create – I’ve been through that before – it’s that listening to music doesn’t seem to bring me joy anymore.

I’ve never been through anything like this. I should be terrified of losing one of my dearest passions, but instead, all I feel is a deadened sensation. I’ve had this unpleasant feeling for a while now, and I don’t know how to get rid of it. Is it stress? Is it something physical – an oncoming illness, perhaps? Whatever it is, I don’t want it. I want to go back to my previous, familiar state of emotional sensitivity, when even the smallest artistic pleasures could delight me.

Perhaps it’s simply a part of getting older. I don’t know a lot of old people who still maintain the enthusiastic perspective that’s common among the younger generation. Or do I need a change of scenery? I’ve been living in the city for many years now, and while it offers me access to a wide variety of art, it is undeniably grey and polluted – especially since I live in Seoul. It might be time for a holiday.

Looking back on my lack of productiveness over the past few months, I’m deeply embarrassed of my flightiness. When I was a passive consumer of art, I used to sigh at how lazy artists seem to be, at how often they go on breaks and experience slumps. How ironic that I should end up becoming just like them! I tell myself that I’m simply going through a bad time, and it’s a true, if overused, excuse. I like very few things in my life right now; in fact, I can’t think of many non-art things that have made me happy over the past few years. My life has been made of art and little else.

Something has to change. I don’t want to go on like this forever.

Opus 3

Bad news first: ‘Into Winter‘ got rejected from the Short Sounds Film Festival. Eh, I knew it was coming, although I’d still held onto a sliver of hope that I’d get accepted as one of the 15 runners-up. (I’m not audacious enough to aim for the grand prize.) I wonder how far I was from being included in the top 15? I hope it was close.

Onto the next topic: gear doesn’t matter. Talent does. That’s what everyone thinks until they get a taste of gear that is really, really good.

A few days ago, I made the mistake of visiting the Lotte Shopping Mall at Jamsil station. There, I found a shop stocked with dozens of earphones and headphones available to try out. Of course, I had to listen to them, and after some unremarkable minutes spent with headphones in the $100-$200 range, I decided to try some headphones priced at roughly $600 – and was stunned.

I had no idea that the music I owned sounded like that. I always buy in 320 kbps whenever possible, but I never understood why people thought there was an audible difference between it and 192 kbps. I also didn’t understand why some people insisted on FLAC. I thought that they were snobs or that I had rubbish ears.

Now, I’ve realised that my perceptions of file quality were coloured by the listening devices that I own.  For that matter, I think my perceptions of the music I own were coloured by the listening devices that I own.

I desperately want those $600 headphones. If I don’t get them, the sound of them will haunt me until the day I die. It’s as though I rediscovered all of my music on that day. I foolishly forgot to take ‘Into Winter’ with me to Jamsil station; I can’t wait to listen to my music on those headphones.

Opus 3

I’ve talked before about the parallels that I share with other creative people. Today was a day for experiencing another one of those, it seems. Crystal, a musician far more diligent than I am, was on a break for a while, focusing on her life and her faith. And just when I was telling myself that the moment for me to end my break was coming, she wrote a post announcing her return! Hmm.

But back to writing and composing. In good news (for a change), I managed to make the final deadline for the Short Sounds Film Festival. ‘Into Winter‘ is officially in competition! Supposedly, they’ll get back to me by the 1st October, but I know how these things can get delayed (especially in the UK). We’ll see. I actually haven’t got my hopes up, and I fully expect to be rejected. My submission was intended as more of a learning experience.

As for the music I’ve been enjoying recently, my third piece is influenced by Celtic music, so in theory, I should have been listening to that genre – if I were a diligent composer. But instead, of course, I ended up listening to something else entirely: Christmas carols. There’s something about their melodies which is magical; I think carols have some of the most charming, memorable musical phrases in the world. They press all of my melody-loving buttons. There’s a lot to be learnt there.

My Witcher 3 addiction is far from over, too. Sometimes, I get caught up in powerful addictions which burn out and become nothing – I don’t think this is going to be one of those. I’m going to be listening to those dark, witching soundtracks for the rest of my life. Not that I’m complaining!

It feels as though I’ve spent a very long time away from this blog, but in reality, the duration of my absence was shorter than the 3 months between my first piece and my second, ‘Into Winter’. How strange – I could’ve sworn that it wasn’t so. Perhaps my third piece isn’t that tardy after all? Though I should still get a move on to prevent Opus 3 coming in 4 months after Opus 2.

Oh, and I got 2 new followers at about midnight – even when I hadn’t been writing here for weeks. I don’t know how that happened, but thank you, I suppose?

Opus 3

My rage is over. I’ve gotten a hold of myself. The final, no-chances-after-this deadline for the Short Sounds Film Festival is on Sunday, and I think I’ll be able to get the updated version of ‘Into Winter‘ done in time.

The past two weeks have arguably been the most difficult ones I’ve had all year – possibly in many years – and as per the usual way, my troubles had to arrive at the moment when they were least welcome. But since I wrote my bitter post on the 7th, I’m glad to say that I’ve been humbled.

It’s true that sometimes, the world places an unfair burden on my shoulders. It takes away my spare time, spends my money, and strains my patience and happiness. But I waste time. I know this better than anyone – I’ve talked about it often enough, about how lazy I am. And no matter how frustrated I feel with the rest of the world when it pesters me, deep down, I know that if I’d been more careful managing my hours before it started to pour, not rain, then my scarcity of time afterwards wouldn’t have impacted me so hard.

So productivity is like an emergency fund. If I spend my time wisely when I have plenty of it, I won’t have to worry about it when I’m short on it.

I used to think of my laziness as a quirky trait: ultimately harmless, especially outside of work and study. But that’s not a way of thinking I can afford anymore. If I put off creating, it means that I might not have enough time to create later, and when that happens, I know I’ll get angry. It turns out that there are only two ways of living life: with self-discipline or without it! You can’t escape needing a work ethic, not even when you’re doing things for pleasure.

Of course, none of this would matter if I didn’t care about music (or stories). But I do care, and that’s the only reason I’m doing this as a hobby in the first place, and that’s why I need to become industrious…

Opus 3

This will be a dark post. I’m in one of the rages that I get when the world tries to stop me from living my life. I’m doing chores, I’m going to places, I’m calling and emailing people to arrange things that need to be arranged. But that’s not my life. That’s just modern existence, and it doesn’t come anywhere close to how I want to live.

I want to create, and I want to enjoy books and music. I’m doing neither at the moment. It seems as though every time I clear up a petty task or duty, someone else comes along, banging his hand on my door, demanding attention. What makes these dumb twerps think they have the right to do this? They’ll never know how much I hate them for putting me through this misery. I hate them and hate them.

Why does everyone assume I have time? They come, asking for a half-hour, a few hours, maybe even a whole day. They say it like nothing, as though a day in my life was worth less than a forgotten penny on the pavement. ‘You won’t even spare a day to do this for me? What kind of citizen are you?’ And before I know it, the days have added up, and I find myself stuck in a dead end with no forseeable spare time for weeks ahead.

Times like this make me understand why some people are deeply uncharitable. Every time my life gets like this, I get dangerously close to turning off my smartphone and refusing to answer the doorbell, no matter what, until I’ve done all the things I want to do. Listen to me! I don’t want to do things for you and your opinions mean nothing to me. Your life means nothing to me. Leave me alone.

I’m terrified that I won’t be able to make the extended, and final, deadline for the Short Sounds Film Festival. I need to adjust the velocities of individual notes and mix the track. Then the revised version of ‘Into Winter‘ will be complete. I won’t submit the old version. I can hear that the newer one is better. I don’t want to settle for delivering less than what I know I can give.

Concert review: Alan Menken’s Beauty and the Beast in Seoul, Korea

Alan Menken’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is one of my favourite scores of his, along with other works from the Disney Renaissance, such as ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘Hercules’. I hadn’t yet seen the live-action film, but when I learnt of the perfect opportunity to enjoy both the new film and the reworked soundtrack in the form of a concert coupled with a film screening, I knew I had to go. I managed to snatch up one of the few remaining seats not deeply skewed to either side and made my way to the LOTTE Concert Hall on the 26th.

I’d never been to the LOTTE Concert Hall before, but apparently, it is only a year old. Despite there being only one hall, the venue was obviously designed with luxury in mind. Entrances to the hall were fashionably named ‘gateways’ and the corridors, escalators, and toilets were all impeccable. There was even a terrace from where I could enjoy a view of Seoul. I spent a good ten minutes wandering around, observing, before I went to my gateway.

My first impression upon entering the hall was one of vastness – not length-wise, but height-wise. It’s the tallest and probably also the largest concert hall I’ve ever been to in Korea, not that I’ve been to many. But certainly, it felt bigger than the concert halls at the Seoul Arts Centre. Being ignorant of architectural acoustics, I assumed that the size of the hall would somehow translate into better sound and was initially excited. But once the concert started, I realised that the volume was too loud and found myself wishing at several points that I’d thought to bring earplugs. As it was, I had to press my fingertips lightly over my ears during the most intense parts.

The savage dynamics had another side-effect other than aural pain: they occasionally drowned out the actor’s lines. As with most concert/screening combinations, the music was played by a live orchestra while the recorded dialogue and sound effects were played separately through speakers. Although the magnifying room-acoustics worked on the orchestra, for some reason, they didn’t affect the speakers, and I missed much of the dialogue – especially since, being fluent in English, I instinctively ignored the Korean subtitles on the screen. The non-English-speaking attendees probably understood more than I did, having paid attention to the displayed text.

All of this grumbling must make it sound like it was a terrible concert, but it wasn’t. In terms of the actual music, it was an excellent experience. The orchestra, Korea Coop Orchestra, delivered a smooth performance. It was a 130-minute musical marathon they had to run (with a 15-minute intermission in between), but they pulled it off splendidly. I was particularly impressed by their sense of timing – everything they played matched the events on the screen. Being there more for the music than the film (which I’d seen many times in its animated version as a child), I remembered to glance down frequently at the orchestra and was thrilled by the musical energy I saw in the members’ silhouettes. They perfectly illustrated why I can’t stay away from concerts, no matter how dire the straits of my wallet.

As for the new soundtrack, it did not disappoint in that I’d expected it to be lesser than the original one and that lesser was what I got. I was gutted by the removal of ‘Prologue‘; it was one of the pieces I was most looking forward to hearing live. I was also disappointed by the shortened build-up in ‘Transformation’, my other favourite. I didn’t like Alan Menken’s new songs – they seemed to confirm that he’s losing his touch – and I thought that voice-wise, Emma Watson made a very ordinary Belle in comparison to the sweet Paige O’Hara.

But the original score was so strong, so genuinely solid, that all of the offences above were made positively minor. Alan Menken’s talent carried the music shoulder-high. It was a good night, one of those nights that don’t come often enough in my life, and like Ludovico Einaudi’s concert, I felt that it was worth every Korean penny.

Opus 3

I’m beginning to realise, foolishly late, just how much of creativity is actually work – not playfulness, not an escape or a sanctuary, but unavoidable, grinding work, like chores or a job.

Let me explain where this realisation came from. I’ve been absent from this blog for a long time to focus on my other hobby: writing fiction. I have serious issues with perfectionism when I write, but about a month ago, I thought about all the time that I was wasting waiting for the pressure to write well to go away. I sat down and pushed until the words started coming, and since then, I’ve managed to develop that initial effort into a tentative habit. It’s a huge relief to finally write regularly, but the relief is mingled with disappointment: forcing myself to write – regardless of my mood or level of energy – feels more like a commitment than a passion.

This has made me return to composing. I’m actually not in the mood to compose, but my experiences with writing have taught me that if I put off composing until I want to do it, I will never compose often enough to get better at it, and making music is definitely something that I want to improve at.

It’s an odd feeling to be reluctantly engaging in what I once decided would be a pure hobby. But I’m not bitter. I still think of composing as a hobby, but with more structure. Besides, something tells me that if I weather these initial stages of dullness, I’ll eventually find the middle ground between obligation and enjoyment.

Opus 3

For those wondering about my long radio-silence, I haven’t given up on composing. After some busy weeks spent tending to the affairs in my life, I’m now trying to get back onto the creative wagon.

My composing skills seem to have rusted in the fortnight or so in which I haven’t used them, which just confirms that improving as an artist is like getting in shape – for the best results, exercise regularly. I have all of these axioms on creativity which I know I have to follow but which I never do. Ugh.

I’ve started composing with speakers. I think I prefer it to composing with my headphones on – the music sounds more open and natural. But it’s also made me realise that getting a mix which sounds good on a variety of playback devices is fiendishly difficult. Presently, my music sounds quite good on my speakers but terrible through my headphones. Music made by professionals never seems to have this problem, for some reason. Hmm.

I missed the regular deadline for the Short Sounds Film Festival. I’ll make the late deadline – 3rd September. By then, I should have completed both my revised version of ‘Into Winter‘ and my third piece, so I’ll have two tracks to choose from.

Opus 3

What I did in the past few days:

  • For the second time, I decided what my third piece is going to be. Opus 3 will be a song (female vocals, no lyrics) with themes of ‘priestess’, ‘love’, and ‘seashore’. It has no title yet, but the composing is going very smoothly. The song sounds melodic (a definite must for me) and pseudo-Celtic. I can’t wait to hear it once it’s finished.
  • I learnt of a soundtrack/film-music competition which will be held at a festival in the UK in October. An organiser of the event replied to my tweet of ‘Into Winter‘ telling me that my music was good and that I should submit it. I thought he was just trying to promote the festival at first, but he left another comment confirming that he’d actually listened to my piece, and now, I’m thinking that I might submit ‘Into Winter’. What harm could it do, aside from the application fee I’ll have to pay?
  • I got alarmed at rumours that SoundCloud is about to die. If you look at the comments in the post I linked to, you’ll see that many redditors seem ecstatic at this news, citing a plague of fake accounts (bots) and a badly-designed app as their main frustrations with SoundCloud. So far, I’ve had few problems with bots and haven’t used the app, so the impending doom of this platform is not entirely welcome news for me.
    I suppose it’s time to start uploading to YouTube, although I’d hoped to continue using SoundCloud for a while yet as it allows users to replace their uploaded files while keeping likes and comments. YouTube doesn’t seem interested in implementing that feature.

Opus 3

I think I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this one.

I decided to go ahead and use the ‘self-plagiarising’ melody exactly as it is after I asked the musicians of reddit for advice and was told that I was overthinking it.

Things went well for a while. I even wrote another post on reddit thanking the people who had responded to my last post because my composing was going so smoothly. But since then, I’ve become stuck.

I spent about 90 minutes trying to flesh out the ‘bare bones’ version (which is more or less finished) of ‘Follow Me’ before I realised that everything I’d just added sounded wrong. I deleted almost all of the work I’d done. And then I noticed something far more troubling than self-plagiarism: a section of ‘Follow Me’ sounds like real plagiarism.

So now, I’m trying to change the part that sounds worryingly familiar. Once that’s done, I’ll have to start adding instrumentation, but I don’t mind admitting that I haven’t the foggiest on how to go about it. ‘Follow Me’ is determined to give me an uphill struggle.

While I’m stuck and fuming, I’m venting some of my frustration by snipping away at the workload on some of my other pending compositions. I’m getting quite fond of the one with the theme of ‘sword fight’; I’m toying with the idea of coming up with a title for it.