Friday, November 30, 2012

on kink and BDSM


Which is what it is, and that unnerves the Immortals (with their bodies whole and perfect health and bubble of faux teenage invulnerability inflated to the point that it absorbs their entire lives (attempts,Blobbishly, to absorb everyone else’s, too.))

The prevailing narrative has to be that kink is a corrupt response to trauma, rather than a fairly obvious means of articulating, to one’s self, to one’s partners, what it is to live in a Universe that, by its nature, permits trauma. Beyond its interaction with the social signifiers we’re entrenched in, it examines consciousness itself, the experience of existence as an organism, and the negation and affirmation of each.

Engaging in play with fear, pain, and negation/death violates their sanctity, threatens to dilute their cultural currency in Binary Land (where there is light, and there is dark, and where we have the ability to cast you from the former to the latter at any time.) More directly: the problem with incorporating bondage and “torture” into sexual contexts is the suspicion it casts on our motives for binding and torturing humans at home and abroad. Stop making us feel weird."


a month ago i made a post talking about my sexuality that i titled "the puzzle world". i couldn't really use a better title to describe how i've been trying to approach my sexuality, particularly since transitioning. my need to improve my emotional health, have some sort of basic confidence in myself, and be able to somehow make some sort of living without becoming a homeless, drug-addled mess has meant building a complicated network of methods for shaming myself for any time i felt like i've succumbed to feelings. i felt like those feelings were just weaknesses created by abuse, and that it was my job to either overcome them or die. i've felt like the only way for everything to make sense is to have some sort of optimal partner that i completely and utterly trusted. but i haven't been able to trust anyone. i've thought loops, and then loops around those loops, and loops around those loops, then loops that return me back to the first loops - repeat ad infinitum.  but, of course, i still wasn't any closer to seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. i thought there must be an optimal solution to the puzzle, and that i wasn't looking hard enough.

a couple of days ago i was bored and downloaded some cheesy lesbian BDSM comic about two girls meeting and eventually falling in love (which served more as a thinly veiled basic FAQ for BDSM than a real story). no, i'm not going to link it because it's not important for this story. in the back of my head i was saying "this ought to be really hot" but admitting that might have meant also admitting that the only stuff i was finding myself drawn towards (and finding myself REALLY drawn towards) to any degree was all based around themes of dominance and submission.

my earliest memories of sexuality are hazy but tend to all revolve dark, witchy, villainness sort of women and the themes of being taken control of or being kept in a box or being tied get the point. i've always known this, but thought that they were sort of relics of an abusive childhood and me feeling immensely uncomfortable with my body pre-transition, and that i'd eventually "get over" them and move on. but as i've dealt with the abuse i've only felt the desire to indulge in this grow larger and harder to obscure.

i tried to laugh off reading the comic as a curiosity, like "haha look at me looking at this corny porn". that usually works pretty well. this time, though, i wasn't very far through that reading that comic and that defense wasn't really working. i started to panic and tried to go back to my old standby of "no, you're ok, it's fine, it's just a cheesy thing, you're fine". but i wasn't fine - i broke down and burst into tears. all the walls and things i had built up were collapsing all at once, and at that moment it was obvious to me that i've been hiding what i've really wanted all along, and that the only way for me to ever be happy was to confront all of it head on.

i guess i didn't want to be yet another transwoman who was into this stuff. yes, that's a weird stereotype you might notice if you're around a trans community for very long (along with the "transwomen like videogames/computers" thing). it seemed like every other trans person i met was into kink, and it seemed all like the same boring stuff  to me. i even felt the urge to make fun of them, i guess out of some sort of jealousy i couldn't articulate. my former roommates and good friends anna and daphny are a couple who are very much out in the open with basically anything and to do with their relationship, and i thought that was cool and i was happy for them...but i had to constantly shut my own feelings down and laugh to myself bitterly, saying "look those crazy ladies" whenever they did things with each other. and then all the other people i've met around the bay, i feel like i come into contact with tons and tons of queer, transwomen subs. i didn't want to just be another person like this. in the back of my head i was saying "these people are all messed up, not like me". i wanted to be strong - i didn't want to let someone to walk all over me, because i knew (or at least believed) that in the end they wouldn't understand or accept me, and just leave me by myself again. and if they weren't doing that, then i'd do it for them and cut them out. this has been a continuing theme of my life and my friendships.

i don't understand why i feel such a weirdly, inexplicably intense desire to engage in the kind of game of dominance and submission. i can say it strikes me (hehheh, get it) as a way to close the barriers between myself and the world around me, and get closer to another person (or multiple people, i suppose). but i'm still pretty afraid. where all of this comes from, i have no clue, nor do i really have any interest in figuring that out. i won't pretend like i know that much about it or have really any substantial experience, because i don't. but it's still there, the little unquenchable monster, and it's not going away any time soon.

after a night of no sleep, i decided that this is a big part of my life and a big part of how i see myself and i can't deny that any longer. any hope of me returning to the land of normal human beings is gone completely, disappeared into the ether. i am a freak, i am a mutant, hallelujah.

i've been crying while writing this post. this is an extremely hard subject for me to talk about, especially on a public blog like this. i felt i should share this - that it was only fair to share it, given my previous post. but do i really have that much of a desire to share these intimately personal things with a bunch of internet people, those strange steel cubes of people, i don't know who only want to read about videogames? not at all. but it's my blog. go be your steel cube selves somewhere else if you don't like it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

fifty or so of my favorite albums

awhile back pitchfork media had a "people's list" social media clusterfuck sponsored by Converse or some garbage like that. anyway, this post is just an excuse to link to my very hastily done list before i lost the link to it forever:

as it turns out, i was in a small minority of women who decided to embark on making a list. this is addressed in the thoughts of these women that touch briefly on why the whole thing was so dude-heavy and why music criticism and the culture of endlessly making these lists takes what's appealing out of the music in the first place, and makes it all about pointless cultural dude posturing:

hopefully i will share more of my thoughts on this issue in a later post.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

five of my favorite videogame soundtracks

as someone who is pretty fond of videogame music, and even participated in a community for rearranging it for many years, i tend to feel now like it usually falls pretty safely into one kind of musical cliche or another. either it's the JRPG soundtrack with the typical range of character and battle themes, or the rockin' action or racing game, or the "epic" orchestral soundtrack, or the ambient background music, or lately, "generic chiptune" - you get the idea. even older soundtracks, like many well-revered NES/SNES/Genesis soundtracks, all start sounding like the same second-rate Yellow Magic Orchestra or Yes-aping stuff to me after awhile. and even when they're not like that, there will be only one or two things going on that i find that interesting, but nothing really that makes them stand out as anything other than a work of their time, meant for a very specific purpose.

but then there are a few game soundtracks that seemed to have come out of left field, and show that there have been people who were interested in doing something different with the hardware they were given, if only out of boredom. they often languish in obscure games that are either terrible or commercially unsuccessful (often both), or are misunderstood by fans expecting the soundtracks to push the same emotional buttons most game soundtracks do (i'm thinking of the Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance soundtrack here).

i have to admit that i'm starting to become less and less fond of the idea of a traditional game soundtrack, and more into things interactive audio, that directly speak to the way the player interacts with the game, instead of awkwardly looped and sandwiched in. i'll mention a few examples of this later. really, my interest in a lot of old game music now has very little to do with "nostalgia" or any associations i had with the games, and much more to do with the way the different kinds of hardware used created interesting compromises for composers that led them making some really interesting sounds. if you can divorce the music from the game, often you will hear things or look at it in a way that you wouldn't otherwise.

now that there aren't really hardware limits on what a game composer can do anymore, the period of game music limited by its hardware is kind of an odd, unrepeatable blip in time. so i think it's important to, instead of just forgetting about that moment and moving on, go back and unearth some of the interesting things that people were doing at the time, within the limitations they had.

(i'm not including Mother 2 by Keiichi Suzuki and Hip Tanaka on this list because it's so well-known, but it is probably my favorite game soundtrack. it goes without saying that it is a work that both stands completely outside the game, and enhances it in every way.)

but anyway, without further ado:

Equinox (SNES) by Tim & Geoff Follin

Tim Follin is the well-known hyper-prolific wizard of a billion different game soundtracks on all kinds of different hardware. his music is usually pretty free-associative, heavily prog inspired stuff that contains all kinds of sound manipulation. the one big complaint that is often leveled at him and his brother's music is that it doesn't fit the games it's, and that he's just doing whatever he feels like doing (which he admits himself in this interview). still, when you're commissioned to do soundtracks for the amount of total shitty games as he was, i can see why he just chose to entertain himself instead.

Equinox is an exception, though, and what i consider the peak of him and his brother's work. his usual propensity to show off is toned way down, and the technical wizardry is channeled into establishing a consistent mood and feel. it's really a remarkable piece of work and shows how great of a composer he and his brother could really be, game music or not.

here's a link to the soundtrack (in MP3).

Animorphs (GBC) by Randy Wilson

i was pointed out to this soundtrack recently by a friend of mine. i really don't know anything about it, other than Randy Wilson was a likely collaborator with the famous japanese noise group The Boredoms, which goes a long way in explaining the sound of the music in this game. there's really no adequate way to explain the sound, but there's nothing really like it. you'll have to take a listen to the link above (which is one of the most subdued tracks in the game, really) to see for yourself.

the really peculiar thing is that when i was looking up gameplay videos on youtube, i found that the music plays at half-speed of the GBS rip i had, throughout the game. this really changes the feel of music and lessens its bludgeoning impact drastically. i thought whoever ripped it from the game on zophar's domain must have made a mistake, but i found a different rip in a different place and the music was the same speed. my only guess is that it was intended to be that way (given the Boredoms association), but upon implementation the game developer freaked and slowed it down to half speed so it wouldn't be so grating to the target audience of young kids playing the game.

here's the rip of the soundtrack on zophar (you will need some kind of plugin to play .gbs files).

Dune (Amiga/DOS) by St├ęphane Picq

i discovered St├ęphane Picq's work through seeing gameplay footage of the amiga game Extase. i was really blown away by what i saw of that game, but the audio in particular is wonderful. the only reason i didn't include it here is because it's apparently fully interactive within the context of the game, in the vein of  David Kanaga's recent work.

Picq worked on a lot of game soundtracks through the late 80's and 90's, and i have to admit i'm still not terribly familiar with most of them. from what i've heard, though, he has a great ear for sound design, even when his music is full of cheesy cliches. the limited set of sounds on the DOS version of Dune mitigates a lot of the datedness and is definitely the best and most interesting use of the adlib soundcard i've ever heard (which btw, i've found that a lot of game composers who did really interesting things with limited sets of sounds tended to pick pretty boring, awful sounds when they were given the choice to choose whatever sound they wanted to)  but it's also missing a lot of the range and charm of the original Amiga version. there was also an enhanced soundtrack released of the Amiga version, but i prefer the sound of the original better.

my favorite version i've heard by far, though, is the one featured in the video i embedded above, that uses the reverb feature on the not-so successful adlib gold soundcard. it really brings the adlib sounds out in the best way possible. you can download all of that soundtrack here (scroll about halfway down the page).

Recca (NES) by Nobuyuki Shioda

Recca is an (apparently) mega-hard bullet hell game made late in the NES's lifetime that takes a lot of advantage of the hardware, both in the hyper-fast visuals and the extremely agressive sound.

Nobuyuki Shioda is a composer i really know nothing about. he composed a few different, fairly conventional game soundtracks in the early 90's, but he apparently found his voice emulating the popular club techno music of the time on the NES soundchip. while the music is very much in the club vein, it really doesn't sound like anything else. the limits of the soundchip really bring it out in a way i couldn't describe. if you don't like repetitive music you probably won't like this, but the really interesting and unique sound more than makes it worthy to include here.

you can download the NSF rip of the soundtrack here. the game's music was also released separately, but i can't find any of the mp3s anywhere.

Last Bible 3 (SFC) by Hiroyuki Yanada

Last Bible 3's music is very much in the vein of a traditional JRPG soundtrack (for a game released only on the Super Famicom, that has still yet to be translated to english) and as such covers all of the different cliche JRPG range of moods and settings you'd come to expect from a game soundtrack like this. these days, those kinds of soundtracks are only the mildest curiosity to me, but this one stands out for me. what makes it unique, i suppose, is how personal and warm it feels. the sound of it is i guess what people often call "quirky" - likely inspired by Earthbound (especially because i can hear one or two Beatles references), but it's still kind of its own thing. it's not the feat of sound design of the other games i listed, but the use of sounds is generally very good and this is an obscure game soundtrack that really deserves more recognition.

you can download the SPC rip of the soundtrack here.


as i mentioned in a previous post, check out my tumblr SOUNDS FROM THE ABYSS for much more strange/unusual/unique/interesting game music.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Monster Within

i have a piece up on Midnight Resistance that talks about the recent Hotline Miami, the problems with how videogame critics tend to talk about stupid games, and the dark human impulses that lie behind the enjoyment of violent videogames. check it out!

feel free to leave comments here as well!

Sunday, November 4, 2012


i made a tumblr as a companion piece to lost worlds for strange (thought not just strange, but unique and interesting) videogame music. i HIGHLY recommend that you check it out.