Cities of Jem Cohen.

I had the opportunity to hear Jem Cohen talk three times in the past three days. The first was a supposed ‘master class’, which was really just a talk, where he was accompanied by Guy Picciotto (of Fugazi) and Todd Griffin, both musicians. The talk was called Another kind of music, and it was about the way he approaches filmmaking in relation to sound and music. One of his insights was that making films can be a bit like making music; there’s rhythm, texture, and other sensory elements in the mix, beside the more evident aspect of narrative that is most films’ core. He also said that the way he shoots his footage is akin to a musician’s improvisation.

He showed some of his short films/videos, or fragments of them. One of those was Little flags, which will give you an idea of what he does. The truth is, I went to this talk not knowing anything about this man, other than him being a filmmaker, and his link to music. For, you see, he seems to often work with musicians, or simply make sound a vital part of his work. The day before that talk, I was seeing Avi Mograbi’s Z32 while one of Jem’s works was being screened elsewhere, called Ciudad de México por azar, with simultaneous live music by the aforementioned musicians, plus DJ Rupture and Andy Moor. I didn’t know this event was taking place, or I would have been there, especially after seeing Chain the evening after the talk, which was already a day too late anyway. Chain is a feature-length, sharp, documentary-like view on the culture of consumerism. After the screening of that movie, he was there to answer questions and talk a bit about it.

He’s here in Chile because of Sanfic, the Santiago International Film Festival, which has been my chance to see some new films, and also hear the directors talk about them, which is quite an interesting experience. The final time I saw Jem was after a showing of a few of his shorts, including Lost book found, most likely the highlight among the bunch. In this short, he tells his story of what it was like being a push cart vendor in the city, and his discovery of a notebook that was filled with a strictly categorized, but seemingly nonsensical, list of numbers, places, things, situations related to the city. I asked him whether the story was real, to which he said it partially was. He refused to say if the book ever existed.

Studying game design.

The past five weeks I have been ‘attending’ an online course on game design, generously offered by Ian Schreiber, and named Game Design Concepts. His only condition was that one purchase the book he co-wrote with Brenda Brathwaite, precisely for the purpose of teaching, which turned out to be a very good acquisition in itself, and which I might review at some point in the future. The course itself involves a blog, a forum, and a wiki. In the blog, Ian posts, every monday and thursday, a ‘lecture’, and lists a couple of extra readings; plus, he leaves a ‘homeplay’ (as he calls it) assignment that usually consists of designing a game under certain limitations, or to make changes to an existing one. That’s when the forum comes into play, as everyone is expected to post their game and comment on a few of their peers’, to generate some inter-feedback. The wiki is mostly just an aside that has served no significant purpose other than as a space to offer translations of the different lessons.

I’ve had lots of fun reading the varied essays on games, some of which I would not have read otherwise, as they are about aspects that don’t particularly call for my attention. For instance, I’m not very inclined to reading on game systems, even though it’s pretty much the core of what constitutes a game, so it’s been very useful. The practical work has been stimulating; since I graduated from university, I’d missed that feeling of rushing things to get them in time for class, which ultimately helps to keep me active and on my toes. The course may not be the equivalent of an in-class course, but given the price of admission, it’s been fantastic.

I’ll be sharing the most noteworthy of my ‘homeplays’ in more posts to come. They’ll certainly be improved over the rather rushed state they’re at right now before I post them, though.

We dreamt of music.

i apparently had kept songs from my all past lives. and apparently i have been mostly female in my past lives.

ok um i dreamt music stuff

so i was like “finally, i can record an album with female vocals”

i was listening to music and i wanted to play it

<somari> What kind of music stuff? Mostly female?

i think it was something lofi made


“nobody will need to know i’m singing with my past selves”

something played on a keyboard, and i wanted to play it on my keyboard because it sounded so cool, kind of melancholy

then i woke up and couldn’t remember the tune
which sucked

i don’t know anything else outside of what i recited

New design.

To get my blog up and running as quick as possible, I initially just grabbed the most simplistic template I could find, and used that. It was still not exactly to my liking, of course, but it was only momentary. Well, six months later, and I was still using the same old thing—so I finally got off my lazy bum and created a new template. I kept it as streamlined as I could, and I like the results. Not everything is complete, though, but it’s good enough to use, so things will keep evolving for some time; just expect some rough spots here and there for now (especially if you’re not using Firefox—sorry!). You can see how it used to look.

Creepy and dreadful sounds.

After salivating a bit for the Korg DS-10, a software that simulates a synthesizer named Korg MS-10, for the Nintendo DS (not a game), I came to realize that I did not need to wait or spend money to make music using my DS, for there was NitroTracker freely available to us lucky flashcart owning people. I had known about this tracker (music sequencing software) for a while, but I had never attempted to use it. I was feeling adventurous now, so I downloaded it and read the rather short explanation on using it; it has a surprisingly approachable interface, which was put to the test with someone as ignorant on music composition as myself. Thirty odd minutes of toying with it later, I had made a song. Hooray—my first recorded composition, ever! I only used the samples recommended in the short tutorial I read, which proved to be insufficient, so I went looking for more. After seizing my arsenal, I went back. And, right now, I’m sitting on four frankly awkward tunes that no one would likely want to give a second listen, but I am, honestly, pretty proud of myself. As much as I love music, it’s surprising even to myself that I can’t play any instrument, so it was not only satisfying to have finally drafted something listenable, but also like taking a weight off my shoulders. I crossed the line, and it feels pretty great.

The little horrors are in extended module (XM) format, which should play fine in Winamp if you have a not-too-old version, and probably in other audio players as well. The first in the list below is my latest ‘oeuvre’, and you could consider it my contribution to this year’s Halloween. The others (chronologically ordered, with the oldest last) are unintentionally terrifying. Boo.

Ambitions of pushing the envelope.

I’m currently in my final semester for the Bachelor of Graphic Design degree, so I’m devoting my time to a project I haven’t discussed here so far. Now that I have something to show, though, I think it’s time to talk about it a bit. I’ll start from the very beginning: the conception of the idea.

I’ve been an avid videogamer for the best part of my life, so I can account for many hours spent in front of a screen, with a controller in my hands. One day, around two years ago, probably while playing this brilliantly elegant game called Polarium,1 I realized that I was having more fun creating levels, and making sure that they were both solvable and aesthetically attractive, rather than just playing the game proper. I found that the visual patterns created by the simple colored shapes in puzzle games like Tetris, Puyo Puyo and Puzzle Bobble could, and sometimes would, form beautiful patterns. This is, of course, where my training in design comes in; I realized that a game could be made where the objective, the very goal, was not to match shapes or make chains, but to create an interesting visual composition.

I had very little experience programming, though, so I never took it upon myself to make that game. Time passed, and one day there was a special event, hosted by a friend, called the Super Game Bakedown, that simply consisted of creating a game for the duration of a single month, in the spirit of the NaNoWriMo. I knew I couldn’t achieve such a feat, but I joined anyway, and made it my goal to finish a design document for this dream game of mine. I even added a secondary characteristic to the game, which was an idea that had intrigued me for a while: The game would not use words (or numbers) whatsoever. In the end, I didn’t even finish the design document, but I did get a clearer idea of what I wanted to, and could, achieve. […]

  1. Polarium is a videogame developed by Mitchell and released for the Nintendo DS. It’s an abstract puzzler whose objective is to turn every row, from a rectangular grid of white and black squares, into a single color, by means of tracing a path that flips white tiles to black, and vice versa. This simple premise, intuitive during the first few stages, gives way to mind-bending puzzles that test the player’s ability to analyze and recognize patterns. It includes a level creator. There is also a free-to-play Flash clone called Blackflip

On a budding expressive medium.

I’m in my senior year, studying graphic design and doing my final year project, which will be due in January 2009. I’m a big gamer; played videogames since I was little and got my NES (which I still keep,) and have kept going at it since then, more or less uninterrupted. So I guess it’s no surprise that I decided to make, for my project, a game; the first videogame I’ve ever made. Nevertheless, this post is not about my project, but, rather, about my opinion on videogames, which I hope will serve to justify my choice. Though I consider myself a critical individual, I’ve cut videogames a lot of slack in the past; I’ve become a lot more critical of the medium lately, though, and done a lot of reading on the subject because of my project. Thus, a collection of some posts I’ve made elsewhere, on the subject of videogames: […]

Minding the ‘house’.

It was a busy day! I’ve been setting up this website, and the only thing I hadn’t yet done was post here. Among the update’s there’s a new main page with links to the blog, the portfolio and the piclog. The latter is a Pixelpost installation for what some people call a photoblog, but the word has a negative connotation to me (at least phonetically,) and it wasn’t meant to be for photographs only, so I chose ‘pic,’ for picture. The difference with this blog is that the piclog is more of a gallery with not much other than the pictures themselves; to flesh out the process, the ideas or the anecdotes behind them I will use this blog. So they’re meant to complement eachother.

I set up a script that lets me more or less automatically send my pictures from the piclog to my Flickr account. Why the redundance? Because Flickr is more ‘connected,’ so more friends, or whomever, can find my pictures, comment them, et cetera. I’m not really into text blog communities so I don’t intend to do the same with this blog.

Another thing I spend my time in today was uploading videos to Vimeo. I already had a YouTube account, but since Vimeo has so much nicer image quality, I signed up, and in a couple of hours I had already uploaded everything. Now my YouTube account is outdated; I’ll have to consider whether or not to upload the rest of the stuff there, since I will mostly just be using Vimeo to embed the videos here and get them streaming, to tell the respective tale. Some videos are kind of embarrassingly mediocre-to-bad, though, but I just put them up because they’re interesting one way or another.

So, what’s still left to do? The hardest work will be making a custom theme for this WordPress installation. It seems quite a bit more complicated than with Pixelpost, but I’ll just have to find the time, because I really dislike the overload of most ready-made themes, and the fact that I can’t comfortably go into the code and add a bar with the latest piclog updates, or Vimeo videos, or whatever. What else? Well, I should smoothen out the wrinkles in the piclog, and I also want to, eventually, integrate both blogs with the main page, and maybe the videos too. Not much else, for now!

My seed.

I don’t like blogs all that much, to tell you the truth, Dear Reader. I don’t think the phrase has much weight when it’s written as my first post in this here blog, though. I usually don’t like them because they feel exhibitionistic and egocentric in many cases. But there are some important, useful, interesting blogs out there, and these are nice to have; and am I to judge what a good blog is, anyway? A blog is good –it is useful– if it’s fulfilling a purpose. I may find some of those purposes less relevant, but it might be very much so for the person writing it.

What makes this blog worthy for me, then, even if I can’t foresee it getting any more than a visit per day? I simply needed a dumping place for my things; little things that might not be appropriate to display anywhere other than this tiny personal space, but which, put together, might form a collection worthy of showing. I lack a timeline for my doings in and out of the Web, one that could document my own growth. And I wanted a more personal web space, something that felt more like myself rather than what I do (my portfolio.) Yes: this blog is my face, my mind, my hands. It’s already starting to feel like it’s my child. I will not post here for you, Dear Reader; I will do it for myself.

El problema de conocer dos idiomas es el sentir la necesidad de comunicarse usando ambos, porque, no importa cuál se elija, siempre se va a dejar a un enorme grupo fuera. He elegido el inglés como el idioma principal de este blog porque es estadísticamente más hablado, pero intercambiaré con el español en la medida en que crea preferible. Espero me disculpes, Lector.

Eso a un lado, te explico el motivo de este espacio que he creado para mí, repitiendo parte de lo de más arriba. Sentí la necesidad de convertir mi sitio web no en aquello que yo he hecho, sino en un reflejo de mí mismo, un pequeño pedazo de mi propia piel que pongo aquí no para ti, Amado Lector, sino (y lo digo honestamente) para mí. Sentí el vacío que siente el que no deja huella; no por pisar poco fuerte, sino por dejar que la erosione el tiempo. Cuando no tienes registro de ti mismo es como si no dejaras de empezar. Con suma envidia del que te resume una vida entre un hache-te-te-pé y un punto-algo, abro este lugar que es hoy mi propia semilla.