Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The One Who Flew Away from Omelas : Project Aho

Skyrim is still going strong. The energy is not just in the new Elder Scrolls Online. Some people, apparently, still want to life their alternate lives in solitary splendor.

And put an amazing amount of work into improving the experience for everyone.

Project Aho is a massive new adventure in the Skyrim universe, released as a free mod on March 22 of this year. There is much good to say about it and I intend to do so here, but that is not the main purpose of this mini-review. That purpose is to address an elephant that was in the room, and the way in which this elephant seems to be selectively visible.

First, the mechanical stuff. It plays smoothly and looks professional. That is a lot more work to achieve than you might think. It isn't enough to have nice-looking scenery; you also have to play-test the heck out of the stuff so players and AI's don't get trapped in intersections of the geometry or end up clipping out of the world entirely. Big budget AAA games have shipped with these kinds of bugs. I didn't encounter a single one in playing Project Aho.

The assets are not just well crafted, but artistically inspired. The characters are alive and interesting, the voice acting almost without flaw, the settings intriguing and unique as well as spectacular. The music is also outstanding, and it all works to support the core conceit; of this hidden community with its own bizarre ecosystem and rituals.

This is the greatest strength in play as well, but it goes hand in hand with the greatest weakness. Your existing Skyrim character is ripped out of their usual surroundings and deposited -- trapped -- in this new and confusing land and has to explore and interact and try to make sense of it all. The first third of the game is slow and almost meditative as you slowly learn your way around this strange place and begin to adjust to its ways and rhythms.

Here is the weakness; the way the writers chose to place you here is to kidnap and enslave your character. Which is manipulative, rail-roading, in a way that goes against the basic play style of Skyrim. Skyrim is an open-world game, where you can take off in any direction at any moment, explore freely whatever you can reach. And a game in which you always have choice.

It is built into the basic philosophy, a philosophy shared by the hardy Nords who call this region of Tamriel home; it is all about choice. About the freedom to make your own moral and ethical way, and accept the consequences of your own actions.

In any quest in Skyrim you may find yourself being asked to do random fetch quests, to trudge through tundra or tunnels in search of some random item just because someone else wants it and has asked you to get it for them. Making your character a slave, and the only path to freedom to complete these tasks, changes the perception of this process. You can't walk away, other than by closing the game.

Yes, this is only perceptual. This is a strange world, you don't even understand how it works much less how to escape. So you start doing favors for random strangers. That's how RPGs have worked, from well before KOTOR. It is just a little...odd...that you are doing this despite being, you know, a slave. It becomes more and more off-putting as people interact with you as if you are the ordinary wandering Joe adventurer. Instead of someone who was kidnapped here, is being actively threatened with torture and murder by their master, and is trying desperately to escape. "Could you help me find my wife's wedding ring? I think it fell in a haystack" takes on an entirely different flavor than the one the writers presumably intended.

The last two thirds of the game are epic dungeon crawls with tons of combat. This is a Nintendo Hard mod, with the leveled monsters being much, much tougher than their main game equivalents (let me put it this way; my mage was getting killed by mid-level enemies inside Project Aho, but after she escaped she polished off a leveled Dragon without breaking a sweat).

Which makes for an odd contrast, but anyhow. The quests are amusing enough and the build decent, although the quest markers could use improvement. Another quibble I have is that there is far too much loot. Not only is it unbalancing even within Project Aho, it is grossly unbalancing to the main game. But that's not even the worse of it; the worst is there's simple so much it gets in the way. You finally have to just ignore it.

Eventually you are brought to a moral choice. Of a sorts. And here is where the elephant becomes overwhelming.

Your murderous, largely-insane master is discovered to be embarking on a mad scientific experiment that threatens the entire hidden community. You didn't, of course, get to do anything at all, anything active, anything productive towards the revelation. But for some reason the powers that be announce they'd prefer to have you working for them anyway and offer you your freedom in return for stopping him.

Actually, its a little odder than that. They say, "Sorry for kidnapping and enslaving you. Here's your stuff back. You are free to go. But if you stick around to stop the bad guy, we could see about slipping a little extra cash your way."

The thing is...the thing is...

They are still a slave-holding culture. There are slaves in the room when they are making this grand offer. Which is twenty feet from where, while you were on the auction block, they murdered another slave before your eyes. This is slavery in one of the worst ways; the slaves (with you as an odd and rather unexplained exception) are voiceless and nameless. Literally. Their tongues and their names are taken along with all ability to resist (a control collar that, in game only acts on you as an invisible wall and the annoying inability of people like Dear Master to die when you firebolt them at point-blank range.)

This is where that selective visibility comes in. Because there's no dialog option to talk about it. No place to make a different bargain. No way to work to change that society. No option, ever, to free a single one of your fellows in bondage. Apparently, you are supposed to be happy that you got all your stuff back.

And the writers may not be wrong. I took at look through comments at the Nexus and Steam and I couldn't find a single person speaking about this. It is a sobering blindness.

It is a lovely place, of course. Almost a utopia. I can understand why the writers believed that players would be happy that they were free to leave, and would then be happy to jump right in to the community, buy a house there (yes, this is very much an option), go on all the remaining little fetch quests, hang out with the people there, etc. Their own private little garden tucked into a corner of Skyrim.

Yes, players just may be that selfish. But the writers should have been better than that. Leaving this status quo was unacceptable. Letting them get away with taking more people from their homes and freedom and stripping their very voice and name from them was unacceptable.

I went back to Dear Old Master and when he said, "I'm about to throw this Big Red Switch over here because I'm mad and evil and I want to see what happens," I said, "I'll help!"

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Ancient Ancient History

I've been organizing my Kindle collection and adding even more history books (there's still several I really want to read that are either only in hardback, in the $150 and up range, or both).

Amazon Kindle seems to have gotten even more cagey about revealing publication history, especially when it is a reprint title. Fortunately, it is quite clear when you start reading the sample pages of what looks like a useful reference that it is a reprint of something from 1914.

And even if it isn't...if somehow I've stumbled on a modern but isolated academic writer who still ascribes to outmoded ideas and couches them in old-fashioned terms...well, I don't really need that book, either.

As I was telling a friend last night, writing fiction in the Late Bronze Age involves a strange paradox. On the one hand, so much is still unknown and what is seemingly knowable is hotly debated; this appears to offer to the writer free reign in creativity.

On the gripping hand, though, the archaeological and textual evidence is meticulous (meticulously collected and meticulously argued in precise, savage, point-by-point academic writings).

My feeling is you must know the data, and the most current data possible, if you are going to pretend to be writing history (the escape hatch is always open to chose to write clear fantasy).

Meanwhile my current plot is a drawing of a line. I've got this line with sweeps on it that represent the build through climactic events to the finale chapter. It also has two zero crossings to reflect the sort of Act II/III shift I've talked about in the past; the places where what had been the goal becomes changed or clearly impossible, the very shape of the perceived world changes.

And the smatterings of a cast. Who are still carrying around place-holder names; there's 163, the scrawny and unprepossessing official scribe of the Weaver's Hall (named for an apparently historical individual identified only by his handwriting). And there's the firebrand revolutionary, hiding a cruel pragmatism below his populist speech, and almost as dangerous as he thinks he is, whom I've saddled with the unfortunate place-holder Dildano.

And I have to say I'm really looking forward to Setna's appearance in the last couple chapters. He's almost an out of context problem to the situation on Crete; rich beyond the imagination of most of my cast, a representative of a nation ridiculously powerful, and an outsider with cutting insight into the larger context.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Kid Zeus

I think I'm there. I've enough idea of what is plausible in the politics and economy and so forth to get into the meat of the plotting. Which I want to have some good red blood in it; love, betrayal, sacrifice. Growing up, changing, making hard choices, having goals, changing goals, having failures, having victories. All the stuff that, basically, can (should?) be there whether the story takes place on Mycenaean Crete or on the Moon.

That's the stuff to work on now.

Not to say I'm not going to continue reading about politics and economy and material culture and religion and ethnicity and language and writing and....  And reading general, overview stuff, still. Later on is when I'll need to ask specific questions about the right ritual or the right cup.

I'm tempted to reverse myself again. Finding those little specific details is hard. Especially, finding the ones that are so particular and specific they give flavor and insight to a culture. But those details will only support your narrative if you keep the camera very close to street level. At any kind of story where your involvement is deeper than looking at the pretty scenery, you need to know how things work. And getting that sense may in fact be the more difficult task.

My sources on the Mycenaeans are still wonderfully contradictory. For every way of looking at the available evidence there's a cogent and well-argued paper against it. About the best I can say is that humans are complicated and so is history. What is likely true is that no simplification is quite right. The great hill complexes are palaces and administrative centers and temples. The feasts and other ceremonies are religious and secular.

And so forth. I was looking most recently at a paper drawing inferences from excavation of an impressive house outside the original city walls (aka the Lion Gate) of Mycenae itself. First off, it is very suggestive that massive building programs with a dramatically more organized pattern starts maybe a hundred years before the collapse. Which is close enough to both the first sightings of the Sea Peoples, the possible drought, and the earthquake storm that seems to have toppled walls across the Aegean.

There's suggestive changes in artistic styles and trade goods and grave goods that may point at a dramatically more centralized turn to things. Of course the overall pattern in many (but not even the majority!) of cities over this period is building of walls and the tucking of as much of the important population behind them. Followed by abandonment of city centers and retreat from the coasts. Depending on where you look, that is!

It all fits the fin de sicle...heck, the Weimar flavor I'm thinking of. The political elite ruling with an ever more stringent hand, organizing everything in a vain attempt to stem the tides as ecological stressors and outside raiders sweep towards them.

And...I don't know if I can use it, as I've pretty much fixed on a direct palatial workplace for my protagonist, but the suggestion of independent business people who come across more as traders and skilled craftsmen than as nobility who are earning a little side money, and who may be the inheritors of a full "House" system of previous eras...

But yeah the palace. The sources can't even decide on the economic basis. Or trade. I'm seeing it argued that a gift economy is the only functional long-distance trade. Or that such trade was small. There is a nice number; the amount of bronze recorded as being given (to workshops or as rewards...the records are not always clear which) from Pylos over an entire year is under a ton. You might look at the dozen-odd tons of ox-hide copper ingots on the Uluburun shipwreck as being bulk cargo, but do not mistake; these are luxury goods. Bronze is expensive. Only the heroes -- that is, kings and the sons of kings -- in Homer could afford bronze armor.

And more weirdness. The assortment of goods on the three Bronze Age wrecks we've recovered so far is rather too wide. Uluburun might make sense as a sort of Solar Queen (of the Andre Norton stories), trading one good for another as it wanders from port to port, but the smaller wrecks are too small for this to make sense. There had to be multiple hands, places where traders met other traders. And too many of the goods aren't really luxuries.

You can argue it is all kingly gifts, gifts in kind (as documented in various letters) but there's these weird little bits here and there, like a guy who brought Alum to Knossos and despite the records saying he was paid "wages" he walked off with fine cloth and even a little bronze. Well, yeah, there are records in the Hittite Empire of what are very much individual traders and craftsmen, pledging their own resources and pocketing their own profits. It can't be just elites trading gifts for political advantage.

And then there's the penetration. Pots from Greece make it to Anatolia but rarely into Egypt. What few clearly Aegean goods do show up in Egypt are grave goods of lesser nobility. Is it just Egyptian arrogance, that only local work was good enough for the Pharaohs? And where the heck is Punt, anyhow? (For every source that says Punt is now firmly located, another demurs). But are we looking in the wrong places if we just concentrate on luxury goods? I guess we have to, since tomb goods are what we can see now. If there was barley coming from Ugarit it got eaten long ago. We certainly know that cedar came in great abundance up the Nile....because you don't build massive boats with just reeds.

The seemingly sensible economic model is that the palace collected grain as tithe and used that as wages to pay skilled workers who created trade goods which could bring in luxuries (and political advantage) for the elite. But there are as many arguments against this scheme as there are supporting documents for it.

I've definitely rethought how I think of Mycenaean society. The Homeric model is a dark ages model; his prideful, martial kings come from the times the stories were being told, not from the time they are set in. Can you describe the LBA as a time dominated by warlords and conflict? Sure, but that's not the cities.

If for nothing else than the obsessive record-keeping in the Linear B tablets, I'd want to call the cities massive bureaucracies. But there's more. A stultifying sameness of cultural materials that can't be explained in terms of style or koine; the stacks of near-identical feasting ware produced at Petsas House by potters who could and did also make unique and artistic ware, by the large-scale re-arrangements of city walls and wells that could only happen with an imposed plan from above. And this isn't at all odd for post neolithic, early bronze age cultures; the mind immediately springs to examples in Mesoamerica, or closer to home, Hittite and Babylonian and, almost a crowning glory of the form, Egypt.

Not to say they didn't have kings. The Amarna letters (and Hittite and Ugaritic) capture correspondence written from one "Great King" to another (for many -- particularly for the Egyptian correspondents -- the Mycenae didn't make the grade). Treaties were written between kings, not between nations. But then, the idea of a nation was still developing. It is again possible to read too much into this; it could mean as little as scribes adding a king name the way I used to add the CO's signature block during my Radar O'Reilly days.

After all, for all that Ramesses II has carved that he personally raised a temple at Karnak, it is unlikely he got even as close to supervise a work gang. Or maybe not. Pharaohs did rule from the front during war. He probably didn't personally turn around the Battle of Kadesh by shooting a thousand chariots down with his own bow, but he most certainly was in the thick of the battle (even if it was the result of some really, really bad planning).

(One is tempted to throw religion into the mix, even more tempted to single the Pharaohs -- who as of the post Amarna period are finally using that name -- as explicitly divine. But no. Pharaoh was breathed the grace of Amun at conception but was at best a demi-god, divinity borrowed for his or her lifetime. Half the characters in Homer have a god on one side or the other of their family (even if the god was a giant swan at the time). And they, too, are given temporary mandates from the gods as well as various convoluted promises. And not a few prophesies, which even the gods feared.)

(So while there is evidence that something as simple as the weekly dinner put on for the hard workers at the palace -- this is a sheer estimate based on averages of grains collected and given as wages -- may have had religious trappings, it could defensibly be characterized as anything from a solemn religious ceremony in which miraculous food is made available from the very hands of the God-King to the way the bosses in Production will on random Fridays get pizzas for the whole floor.)

So what is happening in the LBA? Powerless kings at the heads of unwieldy bureaucracies beset by second sons and ambitious generals and angry peasants who have all started to go A Viking in the general collapse? Or are the kings a more intimate part of this, perhaps with more active, more martial ones swept in on a wave of blood? Or are we overstating the character of the mobilization, and this is more a drift of refugees than it is fleet of warships attacking the coasts?

Yeah, enough of the city. Let's go out to the mountains, like the closest and most famous Mountain Sanctuary (which may have been discontinued way back in Middle Minoan times and may or may not be distinct from Cave Sanctuaries) to Knossos. Which is also the birthplace of Zeus. Who may or may not be the same Zeus. And from the evidence, the people of the classical age may have been just as confused.

Gods merge and change anyhow. Athena is merely a local Potnia (which itself is more a title than a name) and there was no Aphrodite in the Mycenaean texts. So much for the Judgement of Paris. And there's at least one clearly Indo-European god still hanging on from his long journey out from...the Tigris and Euphrates, perhaps? And peoples. At the time Evans was painting his concrete columns a ponderous Victorian brown and refusing to lower himself to drinking locally-made wine there were recognizably ethnically distinct hill tribes on Crete. There's a dozen or so invasions to shake things up between the LBA and his time, though, so hardly seems worth it to investigate. Still, Homer does describe Crete as being a mix of languages...

Enough. It is time to sit my goat-girl down at a loom and start the plots moving around her.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Doctor a Day Keeps Apple Away

Over an hour of practice yesterday. Put down ten bucks for a practice room and blew trumpet until my lips gave out. But they recovered; I was able to work more of the Hellboy theme when I got home (Weird fingering. First time I've had all three valves down at once.)

Oh and by the way; chin vibrato is easy on the trumpet now. It just hit, and I have no trouble at all applying it at will. Unfortunately my multiphonics are not keeping pace. I can growl one note fine but it messes me up trying to do quick slotting into another note. I'm sorta split now on Hellboy whether to stick with the original idea of harmon mute, go full open (and growl), or...pick up a pixie stonelined and a plunger and do it that way. Whatever. That octave leap is still a pain all by itself.

Oh, yeah. Horn was starting to feel funny so I took it apart for thorough cleaning. That leadpipe was foul. Corrosion starting on the exposed brass of the slides, too. I polished them up and was liberal with the slide grease when I re-assembled. I'm starting to rethink upgrading to a used Conn. Not sure I want all the maintenance!

That and fifteen minutes on violin during my afternoon break and about ten minutes guitar in the evening mostly working that fast back-and-forth pick action. That's gotten decent enough on the .020" pick I'm ready to take it up to a harder pick.

Arm vibrato has also taken off. So much so I have trouble forcing a wrist vibrato and I don't like the way it sounds when I do. Once you've got arm, you can go deeper and slower and the whole thing is much smoother. That's because there's so much more weight (and larger muscles) in the arm; you've got a full pendulum to shift and damp in a regular oscillation. In the wrist vibrato it's basically antagonistic muscles only; instead of being applied against the inertia of a weight in motion, the muscles are forced against each other until the wrist trembles.

Over-simplifying, but you get the idea. Wrist is choppy, and because your hand remains in contact with the violin the depth is less. Arm you can use the weight of that arm to force your finger completely flat and get a very wide vibrato, and because of the damping effect of pushing into the fleshy limits the motion is much more of a sine curve.

I'm overdue to make some progress videos. I was doing a regular series of the first few terrible weeks of picking up violin (and later, trumpet). But I got all of a dozen views each so I don't feel terribly obligated to keep it up.

No new music yet. Want to rehearse the Terminator parts for another week before I record. That first guitar part is still hairy but the penny whistle is bearing so much of the weight of the composition it really has to be lyrical and intense and that comes with being really comfortable with it.

A couple of snakes

This is the sort of post that really should have footnotes. But this is my blog, not my book; I'd rather blather on in a stream-of-consciousness way, rarely slowing to even look up spelling.

Evans and Schliemann. It is odd how Evans gets more of a pass these days, considering how many deep similarities there really were between the two. It is sort of surprising these days when you run into a mention of Schliemann that takes him at face value; the "Discoverer of Troy" and all that. The guilding has rubbed off that one.

Both bought the land they excavated. Typical and accepted practice for the day. Schliemann does come off worse because he had an arrangement with the Turks to split the loot (non-western countries were catching up to the value, financial and nationalistic, in museum-worthy cultural artifacts) but he hid the good stuff and smuggled it out of the country anyhow.

Both essentially hired forgers, although Schliemann feels more underhanded about it (some people still think the "Mask of Agamemnon" is a modern forgery). Evans happily described his concrete-cast pillars and the frescoes painted by French artist friends of his with a term that hints the work is less "restoration" and more "recreation."

In the end, both came out of a specific cultural understanding of the cultures they unearthed, an understanding strongly colored by their own life stories, and both shaped not just how they interpreted the cultural materials they found but how they proceeded (in both cases, often destructively) in their investigations.

(Just to add to the problem of reconstructed "Minoan" palaces and repainted "Minoan" frescoes -- as none other than Evelyn Waugh put it, apparently the Minoans had a great fondness for the cover of Vogue -- another recent and exhaustive study of forgeries made for the antiquities trade found the vast majority of those so enigmatic and suggestive Snake Goddess figurines showed no sign of having ever been near Minoan hands.)

Two odd statuary tidbits. First is Venus figurines. Perfect name, really. It jumps right up and cuts off the instinct to view them according to modern standards of beauty and makes you consider that there are many plausible options as to how the culture that created them, saw them.

The name, alas, has two origins. The class artifact, the Venus of Willendorf, was named thus inspired by the appearance of Sara Baartman, a Khoikhoi woman who was exhibited on the London stage in the early 1800's under the name "The Hottentot Venus."

(After her death in essentially slavery she was dissected by Georges Cuvier...in that era's toxic atmosphere of scientific racism, and her corpse remained on exhibit until the 1970's. Her remains were finally repatriated to South Africa in 2002 and there was a nice ceremony to welcome her home.)

On a much brighter note, a recent anatomical reconstruction of the missing arms of the Venus de Milo suggests that she held a pose that would have been familiar to women of all classes from the Bronze Age out to Chaucer's time (where whilst spinning wheels were available, the distaff and drop-spindle were still in use).

She is, in short, spinning.

(Just a note for those not up on the social context. Spinning and weaving were necessary and time-consuming activities for pre-industrial societies but they were not class-restricted. One of the qualities of a well-bred woman of the nobility was weaving. Weaving finer clothes and more delicate patterns than the hoi polloi, of course, but still hand weaving. In Homer, Helen weaves. Penelope weaves -- and, as famously, unravels.)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Electrical Memories

I was freelancing as a set builder when the economy crashed. Packed myself off to Boston for a winter season, sleeping on the floor at a friend's house, while I recovered financially. Followed a show back to California and three days after I got back there was a call from someone I'd designed a show for at a six tin-can pub with a ten foot wide stage.

I ended up spending ten years working as Master Electrician at a small theater tucked into an unincorporated area near Hayward. That's where I started getting serious about sound, and composing. That was the time most of my MIDI-keyboard and rack mount synthesizer stuff was written.

So here's another blast from the past:

We'd do about six shows a years; two musicals to get butts in seats and four plays that with luck would earn back their costs. Then two to four concerts from our associated 80-member community chorus.

My friend Don Tieck did most of the composing chores on the straight plays. I had Lend Me a Tenor and A Man for All Seasons to myself. A couple more shows -- like Play it Again, Sam -- that were drop-needle. And when we had the 20th anniversary gala I was asked to write something to accompany the slide show.

So that's it. Bombast around a simple fanfare, ducking into a few different moods and styles to represent the variety of our shows, heavily referencing some of my friend's favorite orchestration tricks in honor of his work, and ending with a long trail-out because the slide show wasn't exactly timed.

And, yes...almost all keyboard work, but there is a wee bit of "Baaaand in a Box" in a couple measures. (The friend who'd made that phone call always pronounced it like the chorus in that Wings song.)

Pretty primitive. I look back on those days and there were a lot of times I pushed for more musical respect than I had earned. I'm not saying my stuff is that bad to listen to, but I lack the theory and associated musical skills to communicate and integrate and there were times when I butted heads with a conductor because I wanted to try something but I didn't have the skills to carry it off.

And now? The big thing is I have a day job that pays better and gives me free time on a more regular schedule. That means I can finally afford "real" instruments and even a little time to practice on them. Makes me no more of a musician than I was before, though; just faking it in a new way.

Today wasn't terribly unproductive. I got 20-30 minutes of practice in (dragged my horn out to Guitar Center after brunch but the piano rooms didn't open that early in the day.) I can hit the notes on the Hellboy trumpet part but it's still a nasty leap. Can get through a bar of Godfather before my pick can't handle faking a mandolin any longer. And the Terminator penny whistle part is getting close to recording quality.

I finally found the combination that works on that piece, at least for the beginning. It's mostly back in a MIDI mock-up, with just the low bodhran part and the "great highland crumhorn" as acoustic material. 

I still don't know if I can go full Celtic, and if it is worth continuing to mess with the mockup or if I should record what I have so far. There's a tough finger-picking arpeggio on the folk guitar that I wouldn't mind a few more days of practice on before I turn on the microphones. And I'm so far off the bar lines now I'm really not sure the best way to notate my parts for the recording session.

The vague plan is to blow through this one, then see if my horn is up to doing Hellboy yet. For which I'd love to give Don a call because buying bongos, much less a 14 x 5.5" wood-shell snare with stand and brushes at this moment would be silly.

I also have vague thoughts as to doing a mini-lecture on the evolution of the Nathan McCree Tomb Raider motif over the multiple games. Which reminds me -- I dreamed up a possible motif for my own "Tomb Raider: Legacy" sketch, which is sitting on my phone right now if I am lucky.

Friday, May 11, 2018

"How do I get to Carnegie Hall?"

For all that the double-whammy of doxy and prednisone is doing to me, got some good practice in today. Did a "naked" session on the violin. I can actually do arm vibrato without a shoulder rest, even though it threatens to yank the fiddle out from under my chin. And my bowing didn't fall to pieces without that extra stability, either. Shoulder rest is the default, but it seems a useful exercise to go without every now and then. Sort of a sanity check on how I'm orienting to the instrument.

Trumpet is finally starting to slot properly again. If I feel good tomorrow I'm taking it to a piano room where I can open it up a little -- I'm getting tired of fighting the back-pressure of those practice mutes.

I have the penny whistle to the point where doing the finger tremolo is feeling natural, and the cuts and strikes feel good, too. Still a bit of a squeak changing octaves (going chromatic, you have to go from all fingers off to all fingers down and back again).

Guitar is progressing more slowly. Working on fast-picking right now; varying between James Bond theme on the low E and Godfather on the high E to work that double-pick action. My softest pick, held right up at the tip and slightly angled. The latest is cut from a scrap sheet of .020" styrene. Maybe I should take a few out to TheShop.build (sigh) and laser them out.

And yeah, that's how I practice. I'd like to spend more time. Really, I would. Instead of laps, though, I do wind sprints. It's not a way to become a good musician. It is a way to get competent, fast.

The big trick is concentration. Almost nothing is relaxed. But the big trick is keeping the balance. Don't fall into wasting time on easy rote exercises. But don't beat yourself up trying and failing at something that's beyond you. Stay right at the edge, just past your comfort level, because that's where you gain the fastest.

I split my time roughly in thirds. One third in pure exercises. These are designed to highlight one aspect but the trick to them is doing them slow and smooth and doing everything right. Like this week was all silent bow changes, on one note at a time. Adding arm vibrato when I was ready for it, but all through keeping an eye on tone, angle, Kreisler Highway, shoulder tension, etc.

(A note; vibrato and tremolo have distinct meanings but there are traditional ways of referring to certain effects on certain instruments and I bow to those in my usage.)

Another third is in experimentation. This is in trying things I can't do yet, or do very well. I'm constantly inventing exercises to work on a specific problem spot.

The last third (these are only rough in terms of time) is playing actual pieces. There are two advantages here. One is to keep your spirits up -- one can only stomach so many scales. The other is because when you concentrate in on just one technical problem you risk solving it in a way that won't work in the context of actual performance. The flip side is actual performance reveals weaknesses you wouldn't have discovered otherwise.

I spend roughly equal time to my instrument-in-hand practice time listening to other players, watching other players, reading up on technique, and thinking about what I've learned and what I should try next.

And, yeah, there's cross-over. No matter the instrument I'm practicing at the moment, I'm refining muscle and breath control, refining my pitch sense and rhythm, etc. I actually think practicing multiple instruments helps. It's like doing circuit training; I lose my lips for trumpet quickly but I can switch to another wind and keep learning. Or to a guitar and get my fingers a workout.

Music is going much more slowly. I'm on the fifth sketch for Terminator and still not happy. I have this idea in the back of my head of crossing it with "Toss the Feather" and in my head it sounds like it should work...of course my fiddle playing isn't up to that point yet...

I am also refining my ideas towards a Hellboy cover but there's a one-octave leap on the trumpet part that's still tough for me. Plus I haven't had the bass out of the case for a while, even if it is a simple riff. Pretty sure the original is bass guitar and french horn to start -- I'm having to pitch it up quite a bit to do the horn part on trumpet but going to try keeping the pahoehoe on my SUB for the nonce and use that upright bass-like sound instead.

Flirted with the idea of getting a snare and brushes but if I get that far, I'll toss the idea towards my drummer friend Don and see if he wants to record the drum tracks instead. That would be a lot of fun.