5W1H 001: Puppet Show

FW106 Puppet Show

Who

James Garvey, aka Puppet Show.

What

A Singer and Composer and Musictech head and, most importantly, an artist on Fwonk*.

Where

In person, I currently live in the West of Ireland. In previous years I’ve lived and studied in Maynooth (Kildare).

When

The Present

(I shall wrangle this question into a subject of music)

My music seems to be helplessly retro-tinged, even when I don’t intend it to be (it’s probably the gear I use, or just my ears and brain). Bad form for an artist to not be in command of his work, you’d think, but then again, even worse to be blind or to be too spitefully contra to its tendencies. There’s a 90s Electronic Music feel to almost anything I’ve put out as Puppet Show and at this stage I don’t try to fight it, I just go with the flow.

Why

I’m an artist because, it’s the life for me, it suits how I think and how I view and interact with the world. A great teacher of mine once defined the role of the artist in society as “To reveal society’s soul to itself”

Which for a couple of EPs on a netlabel it’s not really a practical endeavour, but it is the underlying force in my “career” if you will. My Puppet Show EPs are more about self expression and some very conflicting philosophies I current hold regarding art (Plato mixed with Dostoyevsky sort of). The strange/beautiful thing is I feel as if electronic music is probably my worst medium for self expression and that I would even be better off painting then trying to put complex ideas into 90s sounding middle-tempo dance tinged pieces of music. But then perhaps that’s just the grass looking greener. It’s a selfish pleasure, and it’s so selfish that other people look at it and furrow their brow or read paragraphs like this and think “he’s just kidding himself” to which I have no counter, and then I think “why would I do that to myself?” or even “what kind of person would do that to himself?”

At least modern artists put their urinals and messy beds in galleries, and have articles written. But I potter on with all of this, and more brilliantly, this could all just be nonsense so I’m not even saving myself here either.

How

For this EP I used Reason rewired into Ableton Live. There are a couple of field recordings involved, but they’re so mangled it doesn’t really matter what I recorded them with. Mastered in a wav editor. I used SRH840s to write, mix and master the whole thing, except one of the tracks is quite old (TZ001) and was only recently remastered, but it might’ve been made in either Cubase (and Reason) or Protools with VSTs.

Puppet Show on Fwonk*

Game-Changer of the Year

In July this year Channel 4 launched an advert for their coverage of the Paralympic Games. I’m calling this advert Game-Changer of the Year because no other event, no other piece of media had as profound an impact as this did. Gangnam Style may have gone viral and conquered the world, but it couldn’t match this for impact.

I’m not writing this because I’d only just noticed the existence of the Paralympic Games – many years ago I’d worked in an area concerning mobility issues, and had the great pleasure of briefly meeting Dame Tammi Grey Thompson. But because these Games, and this advert lead the way, they totally smashed public preconceptions of disability.

Set to the thunderous track Harder Than You Think from rap legends Public Enemy this 90 second advert was the biggest, boldest piece of advertising I can remember seeing. This advert showed people – some with what some would normally consider life-ending disabilities – engaged in cutting competetive sport: brutal wheelchair rugby crashes, 100m sprints, amazing basketball shots.

In the midst of the sport, there were three rapid fire glimpses of human tragedies – a car crash, an army squad being blown up and a pregnant mother being braced for a shock. At a time when the Government was slashing disability benefits, and tabloid newspapers were labelling them “scroungers”, this was not just welcome relief, it was a two-fingered salute to all small-minded bigots.

This advert didn’t just advertise a sporting event, it redefined disability. It said these athletes are not to be pitied, because they are better than you.

Watch it now on YouTube (embedding disabled)

Fwonk* & Bubblectro

We are pleased to announce the merger of Fwonk* and Bubblectro netlabels! Together we can be stronger!

By now many of our most ardent of followers will have noticed the Bubblectro back catalogue being uploaded onto Fwonk*, and available for release and general merriment. Bubblectro is a netlabel that has been around for a couple of years now, and have built quite a roster of artists and talent behind them. Headed by Sickmoth (who already has release history on Fwonk* with his work as Sickmoth, i have a box and Wet Cock) Bubblectro’s artists have included 2ndMouse, Perniciem (a side project by our very own Vasko The Pig) and a whole roster of newcomers to Fwonk*s golden shores.

Both the folks from Bubblectro and all of us on the good ship Fwonk* look forward to co-operation between the two labels and our roster of artists – compilations, remix competitions, split EPs and more! Just watch this space…

What is Bubblectro?

Hello Fwonk*ers! Bubblectro was originally set up because we, that is Brandon Dinsmore in the US and me here in the UK, wanted to make a comfy little home for experimental electronica – that which does not feel confined to genre or feel the need to ‘get signed’ all the time. The name rather sums it up. Our ethos is pretty much the ethos of Fwonk*, so it seems a natural fit to join forces. Bubblectro is, however, quite particular about its roster.

‘Me too’ musicians, those who would rather emulate a sound than create one, should go elsewhere. What we hope is that as a part of Fwonk*, artists and observers will see a particular vibe running through Bubblectro. We want to expand our roster to anyone who considers themselves electronically creative. Crucially, at Bubblectro we have an ambition to promote our artists – issuing press packs, creating as much buzz as we can with limited resources in the hope that those resources and that buzz will generate more as we go.

You could say it’s the early years – indeed it is. Essentially we are entering a new phase and it is very much part of the Fwonk* fabric. We’ll be creating press packs for all releases now at Fwonk* and getting more exposure for all artists. We will be pressing sampler CDs and are talking to local indie record shops about helping us to distribute them. We also hope to set up some events and high-profile remix opportunities in the near(ish) future.

Although the label is small, it is international – we have artists in Norway, Africa and the US as well as the UK. We also have an incredible graphic artist in metaFORMA (Romania) and a supreme master of mastering, John Sutherland at Distorted Science. Most of all, we have ambition to make Bubblectro, and its sugar daddy Fwonk*, as big as possible. Yeah.

Cheers. Chris

Welcome to the New Fwonk*

Hello and Welcome to the latest, newest Fwonk*!

As of Friday 13th April 2012, fwonk.com now redirects to fwonk.co.uk and there are several reasons for this. Firstly, we have moved our entire back catalogue and blog into one single WordPress installation. We could have done that easily at the original URL, but this was even easier, and it effectively merges the netlabel content with the blog content which were separate before.. Secondly, we have moved to the cloud! This site is now distributed to you via content delivery network, which will allow for faster access to the site and all it’s goodness. And lastly, the most important reason we’ve moved is that after we had a DOS-attack several regular users of the site (myself included) found it impossible to access. Obviously, this was not ideal and a new URL should easily solve those problems. We apologise for the inconvenience in resetting RSS feeds and bookmarks and so on, but we hope that the improved quality of service will make these changes worth while.

Merry Christmas!

Apologies, but there is no Netlabel Music this week… but Merry Christmas from all us synth-vikings at Fwonk*! We hope you have a really good time over Christmas and New Year – we’ll be back with some great new netlabel releases, some great new tutorial blog posts, podcasts and even more of everything*. In the meantime, help yourself to one of our many Creative Commons music downloads, enjoy a podcast or mix, vote for your favourite Fwonk* release of 2011, nestle down with a mince pie and a sweet sherry and have a Merry Christmas!

*And when we say everything, we mean everything**.

**Or at least the sort of stuff we already do.

Vote for your favourite Fwonk* releases of 2011

The time for Christmas is near, and thoughts turn to warming yourself against roaring log fires, the jingling of sleigh bells, downing mulled wines, plum duff and all that other bullshit.

However, it is time to look back on what has been a bumper year for Fwonk* – we’ve had 26 releases (not including the sampler), moved into the blogosphere, started a monthly podcast and had two of our biggest ever success in terms of downloads. Siruxect by Tiruset has been download over 4,600 times, and in the last few weeks Ettertid by Per has belatedly hit the big time, after being included in the YouTube hit Sense of Flying.

We have also added to the blog a poll (see the far right hand side bar) to gauge your opinion of our 2011 releases. Voters can choose up to five (5) releases that have stood out as particular highlights of the year for them. Go ahead, choose your five and let us know in the comments below what you think!

Uncertain Form

Uncertain Form is a new Netlabel / Creative Commons centric blog, which takes the unusual step of featuring no music whatsoever. Instead, it features essays discussing issues surrounding the Netlabel culture, including things to consider when establishing a netlabel, the copyright industry, the culture of sharing and more.

Each essay is thought provoking, incisive and helps to promote and position the world of netlabels, Creative Commons music and internet freedoms in the context of the wider music publishing industry.

David Nemeth, curator of the Uncertain Form blog is also responsible for the other excelllent music blogs Acts of Silence and The Easy Pace.

Interview with VST wizard De La Mancha

The chances are that if you’re using VST instruments and effects, you’ve come across the name De La Mancha. DLM (or Steve as his Mum calls him) has been producing some of the most usefully oddball VST instruments and effects for some time now. He is also a little known Fwonker – the very first Fwonk* release by 3timesnothing is one of his many sideprojects. But we recently had a little chat to Steve about his work making those fantastic little instruments and effects.

How and why did you get started making VST?
A combination of looking for a plugin that didn’t exist and my geeky tendency to find out how to do stuff. I wanted a midi triggered mute/unmute effect, something you could assign a keyboard key to. As I couldn’t find one, I thought I’d try and make my own. I ended up making my first plugin “moot” and then the addiction kicked in and I made some more effects and instruments. After that, I got hooked and it’s both fun to make whatever I feel like and a challenge to turn it into a functioning plugin.

What software have you used / do you used to make them?
I use SynthEdit as the platform for making the VST plugin itself, and a combination of graphic programs for different uses. Knobman is a brilliant tool for animated knobs, and I’ve used Photoshop, Corel Draw and PaintShop Pro for vector and raster art.

Is there a process you follow? Where do the ideas come from?
The ideas come from various sources, but have been often from my own experience of making music and turning a technique I use or want into a VST. Many ideas have come from other people (including Mr Radiophonic himself) as anything from lengthy concepts and sketches to one liners. Othertimes it has been setting myself a purely technical challenge, for example learning the inner workings of a compressor and turning it into software.

There are lots of (for instance) vintage style compressors out there. What do you do to give your a distinctive edge?
Haha, you want to know my secret special sauce recipe? For the GTO/GTX compressors, I specifically wanted to make what are often known as “character” compressors, ie not transparent but adding something to the sound. I also wanted to make them easy to use, so not as technical as my others such as sidearm or bathtub. The “vintage” style seemed to fit this simple interface / dirty sound concept, so the GUI was one of my first that looked like a hardware unit. For the sound, I did a couple of things “under the hood” that are not shown on the interface. First is a filter system in the signal path before the detection circuit, which prevents really low frequency peaks from triggering the compressor and causing mushy noise. There’s also a hidden gentle frequency boost in there, plus a little low level noise, a smidge of saturation and some additional harmonics. It’s all relatively subtle, but I think it really adds something. The audio equivalent to garlic if you like.

Are there any of your VSTs that you are particularly proud of? What is it about that plugin that you like?
Pick a favourite from all my children? I love ’em all equally, although if I had to pick one, I’d say dirty harry is one I use often myself. The sound is pretty unique in that it use samples from two of my DIY hardware synth (Atari Punk Console and BugBrand WOM) and the fx and modulation in the synth can really mess things up.

What can we expect from you in the future? What mad things will emerge from the DLM cookbook next?
Funny you should ask, I’m posing the same question to myself. I’d been saying to myself for a while that I should take a break from plugins. I slowly wound down from doing 4 or 5 plugins concurrently to finishing off basic 65 and taking some time to recharge my creative batteries. Since September I’ve not actively done any plugin development (although ideas keep floating around). Instead I’ve been getting in playing guitar, photography and reading. Meanwhile I can feel the calling, so probably next year I’ll start a new plugin project, but right now I have no idea which of the ideas on the evergrowing list to attack. I’ve got a feeling it will probably be an effect, will involve modulation, randomisation and dirt.

De La Mancha plugins

Five Questions for Robb Sherwin, Creator of Cryptozookeeper

Cryptozookeeper is a work of interactive fiction. For you kids, back in the 80s we used to call these things “text adventures.” If I could attempt to describe interactive fiction (IF) to a modern gamer, it would go something like this: take all the combat out of an RPG like Final Fantasy or Dragon Age, so that all you have left is the walking around, the puzzles, and the cutscenes. Then, take all the graphics out of the game, and replace it with written descriptions of everything. Sound like fun?

No. That sounds terrible, because commercial RPGs all have terrible writers. The puzzles are moronic and the stories are excruciating. But… what if somebody put a lot of thought into the stories? What if the puzzles weren’t written by hallucinating toddlers? It may surprise you to find out that there remains a secret society of IF authors, creating games that comprehensively reject the values of modern-day gaming. IF games reject the proposal that better games have better graphics and – radically, in the age of games like Bioshock where you can’t even die – reject the idea that gamers like easy games. IF games put the story first, and everything else second.

Robb Sherwin is the author of such a game, and we’ve invited him to talk a little bit about it. I should disclose that I know Robb a little from talking with him here and there on the Internet, and that as he developed Cryptozookeeper he approached us at Fwonk for permission to use our music for his game, which is released under a Creative Commons license. We responded, of course, that because we also release our music under Creative Commons, we had already given the entire Creative Commons community permission to use our music in this fashion. Robb really went to town with this idea, and Cryptozookeeper includes literally hours of independent music.

On to the interview!

Hi Robb!

First, let me thank you for taking the time to talk a little about Cryptozookeeper and its place in the world Creative Commons gaming. As of this writing, Cryptozookeeper has been downloaded 3,441 times from the Internet Archive. Congratulations!

Thanks. It amazes me that people have downloaded a terabyte and a half of my Big Foot game. I feel this would have disbanded the early ARPANET had they known what it would later breed. I’m extremely grateful it didn’t come up back then.

#1: I read that Cryptozookeeper took you about five years to complete. I’m about to ask you a personal question. The question is in two parts. As you answer this question, please keep in mind that we at Fwonk* also spend a lot of time and effort putting work onto the internet for free. The question is A: how many *hours* do you think you spent (rounded to the nearest hundred) on Cryptozookeeper? B: why would a person go to all that trouble?

I’ve tried to estimate it, and I think it took somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 hours to make Cryptozookeeper. There were stretches where I woke up early, downed a pot of coffee and didn’t stop until it was time for bed. There were also times where I was on vacation, or trying to get in shape after work, or was waiting for a new clicky keyboard because I spilled a pot of coffee on the old one. I tried to work on it each weeknight no matter how tired I was, as doing that gets you into the zone.

As for why — I know it wasn’t a sane thing to do. I wanted to make an episodic game that came off like an entire season of a British comedy or something. My life was in a place where I didn’t have kids and wasn’t taking my job home with me, so if there was ever going to be a time to make a long game, it was going to be my early 30s. But it really came down to the fact that I had a longish story I wanted to tell, and was finally good enough at programming and Photoshop to implement it. That being said, the next thing I create is going to be so short it will make “Don’t Shit Your Pants” seem like a 100%-achievement runthrough of Skyrim.

#2: Let’s talk about connoisseurs. At Fwonk*, a lot of the artists are making music primarily for what I’ll call a connoisseurial class of listeners who are very attuned to a specific set of aesthetic values (e.g. ambient drone music); a side effect (or maybe the intention!) of targeting that audience is that what you might call the “mainstream” listener will automatically find the work to be alienating. So the question is: when you’re making a game like Cryptozookeeper, are you thinking mainly about that kind of connoisseurial minority? How much do you worry about that kind of gamer, versus what you might think of as a mainstream gamer?

I’ve accepted the reality that I’m making niche games in a programming language (Hugo) that has been marginalized within a subgenre of video games (text adventures) way past its commercial prime. Part of me hopes that appeals to certain players.

When the abandonware site Home of the Underdogs was regularly updated, I used to love clicking around trying to unearth gems that didn’t get any mainstream attention. The unique voice of the artists involved were fascinating. There are text game players that don’t like games with cursing and irresponsible sex and drug use. But these things happen, they aren’t exactly disappearing in our culture, and they are ignored (for understandable reasons) in professional development studios where there is real money at stake. I think independent game developers can distance themselves by not self-censoring, though. I think treating our audience as adults is where we can thrive. If you’re going to ignore a mainstream audience, you might as well ignore it completely.

(That being said, having made games that seem to really resonate with a minority of text adventure fans, if I had an idea for a game as good as Tetris or Ultima or even freaking Mappy, I’d be coding that up as quickly as possible and stuffing my pillow with deposit receipts. I’m just not wired to find inspiration that way.)

#3: I originally met you through Internet forums, much like the one here at Fwonk.com. I noticed that you have a forum community based around IF games, and specifically your games, at joltcountry.com. In what ways has that forum community (and others) affected your progress as an artist?

I’ve been lucky in that there is a good group of guys who visit my forum and have helped test my games. We’ve also been ripping on each other and saying the most horrible things we can think of to each other for ten years. That lends itself to frank discussions of what simply isn’t working from a player’s perspective.

It would make a good graph for one of the many graph-based web comics out there: A reviewer who doesn’t know you at all, and doesn’t care to, can give you really useful feedback that isn’t sugar-coated. You then dip into a valley of kindness as your acquaintances, or just generally nice people play your game (or listen to your album, read your novel, etc.). But once you’re friends with people beyond offending them you can get the best feedback of all. Good criticism, like science, isn’t about your feelings.

A specific example involves music with vocals in a text game. My friend Ben found singing distracting because he was trying to read the game while playing, and his focus was being stolen by the lyrics. I start to glaze over what I’ve written the 50th time I’ve tested a scene, so his comments were helpful, even if they were sandwiched between accusations that I possess the world’s worst taste in pop/rock. This all led to me finding ambient music through FWONK in genres I was better equiped to enjoy and curate.

#4: Your previous IF work, Necrotic Drift, was based loosely on the concept of “Dungeons and Dragons monsters escape into the real world!” Cryptozookeeper basic premise is that your character, after a fashion, breeds the world’s most famous cryptozoological creatures. So the question is: did we used to hang out when I was a kid? Because D&D and cryptozoology were totally my main interests at one point. If not… what led you to choose those topics?

When we were kids we had all these wonderful ways to express ourselves and be creative… and the natural chain of events seemed to be to try to get into creating video games professionally. I figured out that, ten years ago, I was not nearly good enough at C/C++ to contribute, and the games industry treats their developers like the gears of a Play-Dough (TM) spaghetti grinder.

But we never lose our nostalgia for play in those worlds. I can’t legitimately make a licensed D&D game, but I sure could tell a story that felt genuine with a protagonist that was a bit obsessed with it.

There were two reasons I picked cryptozoology, though. Cryptids tend to lend themselves toward combinations, probably because they start out as a real animals that get transmogrified in the telling due to fear, alcohol or adrenaline. Big Foot is kind of a cross between a bear or ape and a man, the Loch Ness monster is sort of like a dinosaur and dolphin or walrus or whatever. That lends itself towards an interesting gameplay mechanic.

The second reason is that the field of cryptozoology reminded me of how it is when I try to explain text games to people in real-life. Cryptozoology is pretty nerdy stuff, as far as geek topics goes. And whenever I find myself accidentally trying to explain text games to people (“It’s a game… sort of where… you type stuff in… it’s really more like writing a novel, but the player can choose what happens…”) it’s like what I’d imagine a rabid cryptozoologist goes through trying to explain why he enjoys camping in a mud-soaked national park and hand-filtering what is ostensibly moose poop.

OK, that analogy sort of got away from me at the end, but there’s some nugget of truth there.

#5: Cryptozookeeper is really, really hard, and it’s pretty long, too. That’s what she said. How did you organize the work? Did you just code it from beginning to end, or did you start at a 10,000 ft view and then drill down into the details?

I had a file (“New Text Document1.txt”) that I used to keep track of all the different “scenes” or chapters I wanted to hit. I tried to throw in a little backstory for the main characters, just so I would get to know them before writing dialogue. But yeah, when I coded it, I started with the first scene, progressed from start to finish, took a detour for a few months to write the bit where you can train and fight cryptids, and then coded the ending. I initially wanted to just “make it solvable” on the first pass. I then went back to the start to ensure that all scenery was implemented, that all known bugs were fixed and to turn the writing from first draft into second, third and fourth draft.

(I did try to make it easier as it gets further along, because the thought of a player not getting to see the end who had invested so much time sucked.)

BONUS QUESTION: For the benefit of readers who now want to check out Cryptozookeeper: how do I get past the dog in the first room?

At the beginning of Cryptozookeeper, the player’s former employer got a sweet deal to “eliminate” the player by siccing the game’s first cryptid (the talking dog) on him. What I was trying to show was that our vegetarian player character with a holistic appreciation for all lifeforms has now begun manipulating animals to save himself.

If you eat the oyster and then tell the game you want to “vomit”, the talking dog will then start, ah, lapping that up instead of savagely mauli– look, I don’t own a dog, but that’s what I thought motivated them. My sources may be incorrect, but hey — I swear the rest of the science in Crypto is dead on. —Robb Sherwin, 11-14-2011

Pete Townshend and the John Peel Lecture

The BBC and Pete Townshend came together to deliver a lecture to discuss the nature of the current music industry. This what Auntie Beeb has to say on the matter:

Pete Townshend examines the current state of music media and asks the question: Can John Peelism survive the Internet? In an age of free downloads and a disposable attitude to music, can creative people earn a living, and without radio how can the “unpolished” music that John Peel championed find an audience?

Now, I will admit I haven’t even had the opportunity to listen to the lecture yet, but will be doing soon. The rest of this post though, is about the questions raised in this press-prepared paragraph.

Firstly, is Pete “it was only research, honest, officer” Townshend really the most appropriate person be delivering a lecture about the internet? As a member of rock’s greatest generation, I have no problem with his musical output – vintage Who records are some of the most dynamic and thrilling music ever put to tape. But Pete Townshend is also part of that same generation who have recently won a copyright battle to ensure that they kept earning money from 50 year old records. This is not a change to the law to help nurture creativity or foster new talent – this is a change to keep rock dinosaurs in their gilded towers.

Can musicians earn a living in the internet age?

Music is as old as humanity itself, and although the recording industry is over 100 years old, it is only from the late 60s that the musicians have made much money from their albums: the Beatles were given a pittance along with Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and everyone else. The money – even from the days of classical composers with their printed sheet music – has for the rest of time been gobbled up by the publishing companies – the men in the suits.

For all of human history musicians had to earn their money by going out and performing it. We have had a 30-40 year window where musicians could stay at home and earn money. It could be argued that the internet has changed things back to how they have been for millennia – it applies to Lady Gaga who has made about $1.37 from over 12 billions plays on Spotify, but earns her millions through live performance. I’m not saying it’s fair, but when has life ever been fair?

What about “John Peelism”?

John Peel was probably most famous for playing the records that no-one else would touch with a shitty-stick. For every time he helped to launch a band into the big time (which I’m not sure he ever did!) there were a hundred that never made it, and these people made music for their sheer love of it. These long forgotten bands made roughly $0.00 in their entire music making careers, had to take day jobs to pay the bills, sweating it out in crappy pub gigs in Huddersfield, not headlining Wembley Stadium. Townshend and the BBC are conflating rock and roll megastars with the long forgotten, and erroneously equating them.

I think that “John Peelism” – music that is gritty and unhyped, bullshit free music created by people for their love of making music – not only survives on the internet, it positively thrives. The computer revolution can put an affordable recording studio in anybody’s home, and with an internet connection, you can have it heard around the world within seconds of uploading it. There’s Bandcamp, Soundcloud and many, many more sites that allow you to upload your music and make money from it – with no middle man. There are netlabels, there are internet radio stations, there are podcasts and more to help push it.

Much missed though he is, you no longer need a John Peel, you only need a search engine. BBC and Mr Townshend… welcome to the internet.