Battle Royales Are Symptoms of Larger Problems

Back in a previous life, I wrote instrumentals for a song that would be called “Every Man For Himself.” This was an inside joke–the drummer we were working with would often say this as a comedic response to difficult situations. It was a placeholder title, intended to be replaced. The phrase was just a way of describing a situation as so complicated, or absurd, that there were no collective solutions–just a sense of hopeless, lawlessness where we were all on our own–an abstracted utterance that probably had a lot more substance and meaning in that situation than we likely thought it did, but I “digress.” On reflection of the genre known as “Battle Royale,” (BR) I’m returning to this concept–of thinking about how we’re all “out for ourselves” and how its existence signals something in gaming, but also in media, in “a society” that might be “problematic.”

Okay, whatever, stop reading now if it’s boring you or–if you’d prefer–tl/dr: BR is a lame, uninspired genre that illustrates the ills of a selfish society that seeks to deny collective experience and expression, pitting us against each other because it only understands the presence of other people as obstacles to not only overcome, but also to destroy to get a “chicken dinner” or become a “champion.”

Here’s the thing; the idea of a “free for all” isn’t new. Many games have always had this–Halo’s “Slayer” game mode (now known as FFA for free for all) has always been around; but since there were respawns, the objective wasn’t so much to win (a winner would be inevitable anyway) as it was to create a collective experience of chaos–even if it wasn’t understood, the experience was collective, you need the respawn to create the dynamic, collective, back and forth in a Slayer match. Yeah, there’s still violence, there’s still competition and all the other vectors for toxicity (though not guarantors) but people weren’t permanently “checked out” if they died. They got back up, grabbed a plasma pistol and battle rifle combo and became that guy/girl, they were signified in a collective sense in an expression of time spent together.

Likewise, non-respawn games aren’t anything new either; check it out: Gears of War may have been one of the more popular iterations, but other titles like SOCOM and, more recently, Rainbow Six: Siege, have put forth the multiplayer concept of single-lives in a violent, shooter context here. What’s the difference? These games are team efforts where the objective isn’t so much to win (again, winners are inevitable results of the context, not the end goal; and if you mistake this, you’re missing the point…and probably losing). It’s about executing a plan, working together, sometimes (and often) forced to create new plans when the shit hits the fan, perhaps without even communicating it, but still by operating on collective instinct. Dying changes the plan–you stay alive for the unit, for the experience, for others. Yes, all the violence and the gamification of terrorist scenarios, war and the like is “problematic” and worthy of discussion in a non-Jack Thompson way, but the mechanics of what you do, the “game to be played” is a dynamic, collective realm of expression where winning is the contextual result of a dynamic between people.

This is not what Battle Royales are. BR games are “Every Man For Himself,” and its logic fails to connect to any social human experience unless it is under the bizarre, alienated conditions that selfish, individualism breeds. How else do you explain the absurdity of the situation? Players fall out of the sky, have to grab weapons, and murder each other. Now, Apex Legends offers a twist, there’s a team dynamic, which means it operates more closely to what I described above–but with the amount of people who have been interested in a solo mode, it’s clear that the desire for a selfish bloodsport where winning is the only point remains. And when I say it’s the only point, I really do mean this: how else does one explain the multitude of technical issues PUBG has had to deal with? It’s of no surprise that a game where the only point is to just murder and kill everyone, with no other thought to the creative implementation of a software experience exists, has serious technical issues. Its foundation and point of existence is vapid and so the process, the construction and means of communicating through the medium reflects the shortsightedness. And though Fortnite is way more polished, and arguably more popular, it has a much larger company behind it with the power to exploit its workers and, in all reality, seems to be manifesting as a different experience than just BR. Furthermore, while Apex is a team game, the end result is a single “champion.” The winning team isn’t greeted with an announcement that “YOU ARE THE CHAMPIONS”, but instead takes the team effort that goes into winning and reduces it into an individual achievement: the Champion. It hides the collective condition and effort that goes into the victory and through the magic of a false consciousness, builds the myth of the Champion.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, nothing. Nothing matters and everything is a social construct. But, let’s return to music. The modern landscape of musicians today, especially the independent, the “indie,” is a similar situation. The collective existence of an artistic medium crumbles in our age of entrepreneurial jargon; we don’t ask ourselves how to create inclusive, vibrant musical environments; instead, we pride ourselves on being DIY go-getters, grinders, and hustlers. We build relationships under the illusion that we are doing it ourselves, and when others seem to be lost, asking for help, we don’t offer a bridge, we don’t break bread with them over their struggles, we don’t laugh together, we don’t cry together, we don’t sing song together, we instead make an abstracted shrug in our talk about how anyone can make it work if they just try hard enough–if they’d just leave the rest of us alone and do it themselves. We hide away existing social and collective efforts to bring a musical experience to life, and instead prioritize the spotlight on the artist–who seems to not only be gifted in their art, but is a fine businessman too. I won’t dismiss the DIY spirit in terms of its positive elements (shit, I refused to use roll20 because I wanted to build a Linux server and run MapTool all on my own, just ’cause), but there is something sinister behind the notion of do it yourself–it’s a request to be left alone, to not bother to build something together and to lock everyone in a bloodsport competition for exposure–and, after all, why bother building something together if we’re just in it to win it?

This is the essence of the selfish nature of the Battle Royale, and we’re all locked into it unless we start talking about how we’re socially constructing this isolating, alienating society–where we always wonder why a musical scene fell apart. Maybe encouraging everyone to just do it themselves is why no one is together anymore; and, after all, there can only be one champion.

And, in case you’re wondering, yeah, I suck at Apex Legends.

My Pedalboard(s) in 2019

I have a long and complicated history with guitar effects. I’ve been on various ends of the spectrum: from having quite literally no guitar effects while touring for a number of years (not even a footswitch for clean and dirty) to having elaborate pedal setups like the one above, to having everything exist virtually in a software environment.

Now that the majority of my music requires effects by default, I haven’t been merely content with slapping together a board like the kind you’d expect for ambient music, and by combining actual effects pedals and the Line 6 Helix, I’m currently straddling both sides of the hardware and software spectrum.

The Helix does the heavy lifting of amp modeling, but I also make use of delay, pitch and modulation effects on board, as well as its looper. Using two of its FX loops, my physical pedal board is split into two sections: a preamp section including a tuner, EarthQuaker Devices Tentacle, and the sinister DOD Carcossa fuzz (and sinister barely scratches the surface of the depths of grit and filth it can muster–in fact, it’s borderline too much!). The second section comes after amplification in the Helix but operates on a path separate from the Helix’s looper; this allows me to run two loops simultaneously and intedependently of one another. I can then play chords, solos, or whatever I want over them; I’ll admit this last function is a little complicated. As of right now, choosing to play over both loops still requires me to play through one of the two post-amplification paths and while for now it’s serviceable, it can get a little muddled with so much going on–especially when I drown the post-loop in copious amounts of modulation, delays and reverb. I’ll explore some future signal routing options in the future, but for now, it’s working great.

So here’s how to think of this kind of setup–mind you the Helix stands in for what would otherwise be an amp. It is true that there are additional, virtual “stomps” in the Helix, but it’s essentially for amplification, an additional set of delay and reverb and a looper. I’ll go into more granular detail on each pedal on the boards in the future, but here’s a rough sketch:

Guitar > FX Loop 1 (Octave Up > Distortion) > Pre Amp >
Path A > Looper > Delay > Reverb
Path B > Looper > Phase Shifter > Delay 1 > Delay 2 > Reverb
Power Amp > Speakers

Since I change up a lot of the details, I don’t want to be too specific, but here are some staples so far. I can route the guitar through either Path A or Path B with the click of a footswitch (turning on both in the future would be cool!) and I almost always have at least one digital reverb which can be set to max, or what I call a “Wash” to drown out all of the dry signal and just create a pad-like lather of sound–which sounds unbelievable when that lather is made up of some nice grit coming out of the Carcossa or any other mean fuzz/distortion pedal. I almost always use Line 6’s own Particle Verb for this effect. That reverb is magic and I may just have to get one of their modeling pedals to have a dedicated version of this on its own.

New Release – Dust: One

Dust

_3 years ago I finished the two tracks that would end up being featured as Complex Silence 31. Earlier that year I had released three other works (Apparitions, Turbulent Serenity & The Distant).

These projects were all a part of a new musical direction I had discovered. Though it was a radical departure from the shred-based metal and rock music I had done previously, I can see hints of this form in some of my earliest music.

Complex Silence 31 came about right when I hit a few serious changes in my life—some more difficult than others. As a result, I took a break from publishing music—though I never stopped writing music. I explored some new areas of sound, wrote and recorded a few things, but never found the ability to commit to a finalized project. Toward the end of 2013 I also rejoined IKILLYA and started playing metal again, touring the United States and a few other countries.

While working on the new IKILLYA album, I realized that I owed it to myself to pick up where I left off 3 years ago: Exploring ambient soundscapes, drones, noise and music theory through just intonation.

This return comes in the form of Dust: One, a drone piece based on a single justly intonated chord, mixing both sine waves and sustained strings on lap steel guitar. Dust comes out of several writing sessions I’ve had over the past couple of months, and my decision to release this piece of music first was intentional.

If I was going back to this realm of ambience, of utilizing sound as a means of occupying space and time, it had to be a drone. Though it’s not something that everyone can relate to, drones have a powerful amount of art and philosophy inherent in their structure. It’s a form with ancient and primitive origins alongside spiritual implications.

I took a chord that I was working with for another piece, one that I found particular interesting, and used this to set the scene for Dust: One. Previous works of mine did maintain a singular focus on a chord, harmony or slight melodic movement, but with Dust I wanted to only focus on this chord—I wanted no variation in pitch from the origin. Filters and modulations I ended up using do blur the lines a bit, but they are tethered to the tones of this four-note chord.

While my work shares a lot in common with electronic music, I make very little use of electronic instruments. Previous works have used some synths, but these have never been the focus. This is due to a couple of reasons: Firstly, my native instrument, for better or for worse, is the guitar, and secondly, I’ve dedicated this area of musical life to solely using Just Intonation. Finding tunable synths can be a bit of a challenge, and it’s much easier for me to use a fretless guitar, lap steel guitar or specially fretted guitar to achieve this. Even with tunable synths, however, you are largely committed to using a traditional keyboard or piano scroll, which heavily favors equal temperament in terms of how its layout.

While I make use of Custom Scale Editor in order to generate reliable reference pitches, dealing with physical instruments, even ones specifically designed for Just Intonation, create margins of error you just have to accept. Even using an ebow on an open string can result in small discrepancies in pitch. The world of electronic music, however, has the capability to overcome this issue with mathematical precision.

For Dust, given its concept, I knew I had to have something a bit more reliable than what I used in the past. In order to do this, I generated a few sine waves tuned to the specific frequencies of the chord that makes up One. I did this twice, taking up two different octaves. I also added a bit of static to thicken everything up and give the notes something to breathe through. I added a number of filters and modulations that I felt best suited the nature of the chord, and each tone within the chord. The result is some slight variance, but one that is firmly rooted in pure tonality.

I wasn’t satisfied with a purely digital experience, however; that’s not who I am as a musician. Using my lap steel and an ebow, I recorded drones of each note, added some processing and blended this in with the sine waves and static. The droning strings actually start and end the piece with about a 15 second lead in and fade out time respectively.

In the past I chose song titles based on words and phrases I thought sounded interesting, or loosely described the process by which a piece was created.

With Dust there’s some similarity here. The title represents “what’s left over,” after you remove meter, melody, arrangement, composition, and all structural elements. As such, this piece is musical “dust.” It is what is left over, what has degraded—by natural forces. Also, during my 3-year hiatus from ambient music, I intended to start a number of experimental projects, most of which fell through for a number of reasons. Dust is an echo of these dead projects (some of which may be rebuilt). It is not a sign of defeat, or even loss: It stands as the resonance of musical passion and love.

Dust: One can be thought of as a mediation of all that could’ve been, but in an indifferent, cosmic way. It stands as a remnant.

Drone music is a versatile music. It can be listened to in the background of daily life—similar to how Brian Eno once described the purpose and function of the ambient genre—but it can also be active. Dust is what I like to refer to as a “compound drone,” as there are a number of different elements that go into its structure—though they are all oriented in the same direction. Because of this, listening to it over a period of time can create different experiences. While mixing and reviewing this piece, there are several distinct emotions and sounds that would surface. This occurs at the very point where internal consciousness meets external stimulation: How much of my experience was illusory, or the actual objective experience of these tones occupying physical space through sound waves? There’s no answer to this. It’s an endless question, but one that can only be experienced through this form of music.


 

Dust: One is currently available on my Bandcamp page, and will be uploaded to my Soundcloud shortly.