VPC, EVOLUTION, AND A PANDEMIC

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Hello, all you humans!

I'm finally updating this thing.  Sometimes life happens and sweeps you up into a whirlwind.  It takes you for a ride and, at some point, dumps your half-dead carcass in the middle of nowhere.  By then, you've forgotten about so many things, but then, when you suddenly remember them, you're already in the middle of another whirlwind and your feet are dangling in the air.

Just in case you don't feel like reading this very long post, here's the TL:DR: I participated in VPC from September to January, made a lot of good music but did not win, auditioned for The Addams Family Musical, which I got into, but then it was cancelled, started FAWM, but was too exhausted to finish, went into lockdown and started new projects because of it, including rescoring "Metropolis", and then finally won something, which was a remix contest. Oh, and I'll have to cancel the tour I was planning in July because the world is a mess right now.

 

VPC: This is the biggest thing that happened.  I took part in VPC, the Vocalist Producer Challenge.  You can find it at https://nerdcorevpc.com 

I entered into it as a complete greenhorn, not knowing what to expect.  I knew I wanted to do it as a producer, not as a vocalist.  Why?  Because I love torturing myself....probably.  No, I'm actually a firm believer in the idea that, in order to achieve true growth, you have to suffer.  A little bit of suffering, really, not the devastating kind that leaves you paralysed.  You know that expression "Whatever doesn't kill me, makes me stronger"?  I think it's about half right.  Suffering can become unbearable, which can lead to permanent damage or death.  The trick to initiating growth through suffering is to find your limit and aim for right above that--painful enough to force a change, but not so painful that you'll go insane or become depressed. 

Backstory: I found out about VPC about 6 days after they had announced it.  By then, people from the Nerdcore FB group had partnered up with each other and I didn't know anyone else who was free.  I had been online chatting with Mikal kHill (https://www.facebook.com/mikalkhill/) recently, so I thought that maybe I'd ask him.  We didn't really know each other that well.  Seriously, we had met for, like, 5 minutes at SXSW at a BBQ restaurant and I was asking about what he was eating because it looked like something from The Flintstones-- excitingly meaty, but frightening to behold. I had seen him perform at the official Nerdcore showcase, but I was quite high that night so I don't remember everything clearly.  But I asked him anyway and he obliged because he thought I was a good producer.  I didn't know this at the time, but he had only participated in VPC once, and, ever since, other producers had asked him to be a Vocalist and he always turned them down.

Here's why I like Mikal: He's real.  He's genuine.  He's respectful.  He gives his best.  We have a lot in common, actually.  We both produce and are vocalists, we're around the same age, we both had difficult childhoods, and we've both almost died.  We both understand struggle and pain.  We're both old, happily-married people who love making music. 

I didn't understand how absolutely gruelling VPC was going to be.  No one gave me a warning.  It's especially hard for the Producer of the team.  It's trial by fire.  It's the kind of suffering that can break a person and force them to quit.  But, because I'm a hardass, and because I didn't want to let Mikal down, I powered through.  I drew the cover art in addition to producing.  I was a beast.  We made a total of 5 tracks, one for each challenge.  I fucking cried at the end of each challenge because I was so tired.  I was also rehearsing for the BLOC musical, "Kiss Me, Kate" at the time, so I would work on the trains to and from Brussels.  I was always busy, always working, and always tired.  By the end of everything, I needed a month or two off.  My brain was THAT fried.

Our team, "NotDeadYet", came in second place by .25 points.  Seriously.  I thought we were going to win this, but we didn't.  Our team won Round 4, which was nice.  But I feel like I let Mikal down, let down all the women in Nerdcore, all the Asians, and myself.  I tried my absolute best, but it just wasn't enough. I wanted to win because we could get money and I know Mikal had lost his job and was having a hard time financially.  Goddammit, I wanted to be able to give him something, but I couldn't and, even thinking about this now, I'm tearing up.  I still feel bad about that.  Thankfully, Mikal was able to get a new job with a better company, so at least he can breathe.  Will I do this again?  I don't know.  It felt like self-flagellation.  I don't know if I could deal with the disappointment and dashed hopes.  And who the fuck would be my partner and give it a 1000%?

Did I evolve as a producer, though?  YES.  I am so proud of that.  I worked really, really hard.  I may not hustle like so many other Nerdcore folks, but it doesn't mean I don't work hard.  VPC forced me to level up.

 

KMK and BLOC: Shorthand for "Kiss Me, Kate" and "Brussels Light Opera Company"  

"Kiss Me, Kate" went very well.  We had 5 performances. I helped a lot of the ladies in Chorus with makeup because, LOL, I'm just that kind of person.  Also, I care about my castmates and I wanted them to feel good by looking good.  We were a team!  Things went well.  I mean, I almost had a piece of the set fall on me because it was propped up against something on wheels, and, sure, it cut my foot, but no biggie LOL.  Also, after the last performance, my one Belgian Nerdcore fan came and saw the show and we got to talk for a bit. 

"Me and Robin at "Kiss Me, Kate" after the last performance"

(Robin, you're the nicest!) 

The next BLOC production was "The Addams Family Musical".  Auditions were difficult, but I got in, even though I bungled up my soloist auditions.  Got to see and hang out with a bunch of the same folks from the last production, which was wonderful.  I look at so many of these people and they're just lovely and all want the same thing, which is to put on a good performance.  We had rehearsed for a month, doing some fun choreography, singing some crazy harmonies...    

And then it was all cancelled.  I'm heartbroken.  Welcome to The Pandemic.

 

THE PANDEMIC: What to do when you're forced to stay home

I hermit.  I'm a homebody.  I'm not anti-social.  I just like spending a lot of time at home, working on music, doing a lot of self-care, sleeping, and watching various things on Netflix.  I'm good at it.  I'm never bored.  NEVER.  There are always things to work on or do.  Since March, we've been in full lockdown.  When the government announced it, I though, "Hey, no biggie!  You got dis!"  And I did, for about 5 weeks.  I threw myself into music.  I started rescoring "Metropolis", which is one of my favourite sci-fi movies EVER.  I worked on beats for Int80, with whom I became acquainted during Round 5 of VPC.  I cleaned stuff, cooked a shit ton, organised some of the clutter, sewed some face masks, and rescued Mr. Pickles after he ran away TWICE.  He is the reason why I own a humane animal trap.  He is also the reason why I know what a cat arsehole feels like because he sat on my hand this morning.

The point is that I know how to use my time in a way where I don't feel time pass at all.  I'm good at throwing myself into projects or cleaning.  I'm good at being home.  And, as everyone else I know has gone a little mad already by being in lockdown, I was taking it all in stride...until this last week.  I've really, really been feeling the isolation this week.  It's fucking awful.  I hate not being able to plan for the future.

The Addams Family Musical? CANCELLED
The U.S. tour I was planning with Alpha Riff in July? CANCELLED
Many plans to visit people and travel? CANCELLED

I can't even go to Brussels because it's non-essential traveling.  And I can't retail therapy my way out of this because all the stores are closed.  Basically, the world has shut down and everyone is floundering in the privacy of their own homes.  I'm luckier than most that I don't have to worry about being able to afford food or rent and I'm fully aware of that.  I'm glad I live somewhere with universal healthcare and stocked grocery stores.  But, yeah, it's all starting to get to me now and, if I'm not careful, I'll start social distancing myself completely and become a Howard Hughes-esque recluse.

 

METROPOLIS: A beloved sci-fi film classic that is in dire need of a scoring update

I love Fritz Lang's "Metropolis".  It has always stayed in my mind ever since I saw it for the first time.  I've seen a few versions of it, but the score/soundtrack has always bothered me.  Don't get me wrong, I think that everyone who has scored this film has tried their best to do it justice, to update it in a way with the sound of our times.  But, now, I don't think that's enough. 

We, as an audience, have changed.  We expect certain things, expect a certain amount of dialogue, sound effects and music. This is somewhat of a problem for "Metropolis".  It's a silent film.  I mean, it wasn't meant to be played without some music, but the problem is that you can't just stick any old music in there.  It has to fit our auditory expectation of the future.  In quiet movies, we still expect background noise, a bit of talking, or even just the sound of breath.  And there have to be moments of contrast, quiet bits that emphasise loud bits and vice versa.  Finding this balance is key in keeping your audience engaged, right? 

When you watch a silent movie, it's difficult to stay engaged.  There's nothing for your ears to follow.  Only one sense is engaged.  In a silent film with a soundtrack, two senses are engaged.  But, again, there's something missing.  After a while, the soundtrack doesn't really feel like it's associated with the images on the screen.  A good film isn't just about exposition and showing you a story.  It's about getting the viewer to interact with the story, to not only engage, but to feel and to connect.  Connection is key.  We have to see the characters as living, breathing, feeling human beings.  But how can we if we can't hear them breathe or talk or cry? 
ENTER my "Metropolis" scoring project.         

I'm scoring "Metropolis".  I've never scored a film in my life.  I don't know what I'm really doing, but I'm learning as I go along.  Here's what I'm good at:  I know how to make people feel.  I know how to convey emotion.  I've loved film and tv scores my entire life and I can tell you which ones make me shiver with delight.  I know what works and what doesn't and I can't explain why, but it is what it is.  Instrumental preferences aside, when I hear a melody or motif that is beautiful, it stays with me.  But it has to work in conjunction with the imagery on the screen, with the story, with the characters.  Both things combine to create the transcendence that every creative person seeks.

How can we give silent films a kind of voice if there are no recorded voices?  Do we dub them? HELL NO.  (Please, dear god, don't do this.)  We create a voice for them in the music.  Music with vocals.  Not a fully-written song with the standard verse/chorus structure.  More like touches of voices here and there.  Enough vocals to make a human connection, to allow an idea, but not so much that it will overwhelm the story.  I think there can be a balance.  And I think I can do it.  As I type this, I've got 42 minutes of composing done so far.  I've got a very, very long way to go, but that's okay.  It's the pandemic, after all, and I'm not going anywhere. *sniffles*



THE U.S. TOUR: Guess that's not going to happen....

I'm a bit sore about this.  I really wanted to do my first tour with my friend, Alpha Riff (https://www.facebook.com/alphariff/).  He's a storyteller-type, too, and you ought to check out his music and the entire Digital Champions mythos he created.  He is not basic, and I admire musicians who take risks and try to do something different to elevate their art.  I am down for it.  So, we were going to tour in July for a week and a bit.  We had some gigs lined up.  We were getting ready.  I bought some pink show dresses to perform.  It was going to be awesome.  So, will things be back to normal anytime soon?  No, I don't think so.  Not by July, not even for the rest of the year.  I don't think we can plan anything until we get the a-okay.  And, let's be real, people are sick and dying and there is nothing okay about it, so we're going to be waiting a while.

I'll try my best to reschedule and rework something when we're allowed to have gatherings again.  Who knows when that will be?

 

In the meantime, stay safe and stay healthy, folks.
I'll be here, waving at you from the required 2-meter distance.       

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