Today’s Art (12th October 2018)

Although heavy metal is one of my favourite genres of music, I don’t own a battle vest (T-shirts are more my thing). But, I was reminded of these awesome things in a few online articles I happened to read. So, I thought that it might be fun to imagine what my ideal battle vest would look like.

I vaguely thought about making a stylised original picture featuring fake album covers, but then I remembered all the fuss about when a fashion company tried this. So, instead, I thought that I’d turn it into a fan art picture about some of my favourite metal bands and/or albums (and, yes “Virtual XI” is criminally underrated!).

Since this is fan art, this picture is NOT released under any kind of Creative Commons licence.

“Fan Art – If I Had A Battle Vest” By C. A. Brown

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The Test Of A Good Collaborative Project – A Ramble

Although I’m someone who takes a resolutely solitary attitude towards my own creative works, I ended up thinking about creativity and collaboration recently since I still seem to be going through a phase of listening to more Nightwish than usual at the moment. So, I’ll be using this band as an example for most of the article.

If you know anything about Nightwish, you’ll know that they’ve had three different lead singers (Tarja Turunen, Anette Olzon and, currently, Floor Jansen). Needless to say, there has been a lot of fierce online debate about which singer is “best”. This is further compounded by the fact that each singer has a different singing style. Tarja’s style is bold, serious and operatic. Anette’s style is a bit “lighter”, more cheerful and more energetic. And Floor’s style is somewhere between these two.

In this article, I’ll mostly be focusing on Tarja and Anette’s time with the band. This is mostly because, from what I’ve heard of Floor Jansen’s stuff, she seems to be something of a rare exception to some of the general rules that I’ll be talking about in this article. And since this is meant to be an illustrative article about collaborative projects, rather than a piece of music journalism, I thought it best to focus on the band’s history.

Anyway, during a moment of nostalgia for the two versions of Nightwish that I grew up with, I decided to take a look on Youtube for some of Tarja and Anette’s solo stuff. The thing that really surprised me was that neither singer’s “new” songs really had the same impact on me that Nightwish’s music does. It was then that I realised that I wasn’t specifically a fan of any one lead singer, I was a fan of Nightwish.

Because, regardless of the singer, the whole band is what makes their music so good. Whether it’s lyrics by Tuomas Holopainen and/or Marco Hietala or the rest of the band’s distinctive instrumental style, the band only really seems to “work” as a whole. This holistic thing can be seen by how the musical style of the band changed whenever the lead singer changed. For example, earlier Nightwish albums like “Once” or “Century Child” had a bold, ethereal, fantastical sound to them that went really well with Tarja’s singing style.

Yet, once Anette’s tenure with the band had really hit it’s stride (after the ok, but not brilliant, “Dark Passion Play” album), the band’s style became somewhat different. Many songs on their “Imaginaerium” album have a slightly faster, darker and more cinematic sound to them which jumps around in an impishly fascinating way and really complements Anette’s vocals.

Likewise, the “slow” songs on both “Dark Passion Play” and “Imaginaerium” sound very different to the kind of slow songs that worked well when Tarja was lead singer. Yet, all of these songs are still very recognisably “Nightwish” songs.

They’re still recognisably “Nightwish” songs for the simple reason that the band adapted to the change in lead singer. They didn’t try to be exactly the same band as they were before, but they took all of the elements that made their music so distinctive and adjusted them to be a better fit with their new lead singer. Likewise, the change in lead singer also spurred the band to look for a few new musical inspirations too.

So, why have I spent several paragraphs talking about one band? Well, it’s because good collaborative projects can’t easily be separated into their individual parts. Often, they end up being greater than the sum of their parts. They’re a merging of several different imaginations and sets of talents during one particular moment in time.

To use another Nightwish-related example, when Anette was new to the band, there were relatively few songs written for her (eg: just the songs on “Dark Passion Play” and a couple of other songs), so she ended up singing a fair number of older songs that were originally written with Tarja’s voice in mind. Since Anette’s voice is extremely different, this led to a lot of criticism of both her and the band at the time. Yet, when she sang songs that were written specifically for her, it was nearly impossible to imagine Tarja ever singing the same songs.

Leaving aside Floor Jansen’s uncanny ability to sing both Tarja and Anette’s songs fairly well, a good collaborative project isn’t like a machine. You can’t just switch out one part of it with another and expect it to work in exactly the same way. No, every part of a good collaborative project has to be a good fit with the rest of it. Each element of a good collaborative project should be difficult or impossible to replace with something else, without other major changes.

So, yes, the test of a good collaborative project is often whether it works as a whole. Or, more accurately, whether it becomes less good if one part of it is changed without the rest of it also changing too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Mystery, Artistic Inspiration And Geekery – A Ramble

Well, at the time of writing, I still seem to be going through a bit of a Nightwish phase (again). This made me think about the difference between geeking out about a band, a single film or an artist, and geeking out about a long-running TV show, a computer game or any kind of series.

One of the interesting things about geeking out about a band is that most of their creative works obviously consist of songs and music videos/concert videos. Yes, you can detect things like over-arching themes and attitudes, but each song is it’s own separate thing. There isn’t really a single “story” or detailed “fictional world” to focus on in the way that there might be if you’re geeking out about a TV show or a game.

The same sort of thing is also true when you find another (visual) artist who interests you. They might have made lots of paintings or drawings, but there’s rarely a single “story” to connect all of these things. Yes, they might have a similar art style, sense of humour, set of themes etc… but each work of art is often it’s own self-contained thing. If these works of art are interesting enough, you can even sometimes find yourself attempting the impossible task of trying to understand another artist’s imagination.

You would think that this dispersed, atomised attitude towards creativity would make it more difficult for people to geek out about bands and artists, but the opposite can often be true. The mystery leaves a lot of room for your own imagination to “fill the gaps”. In addition to this, the lack of a single coherent “story” or highly-detailed “fictional world” also makes you feel a lot more curious, since everything isn’t explained to you.

And, if large parts of something cool are a mystery, then you’re probably going to want to create things that are a bit like it – just to see more of what has been hidden.

To give you an example, one of my largest creative influences is the film “Blade Runner” . Although this film tells a single coherent story, the film leaves a lot of details to the imagination. We only get to glimpse a relatively small amount of the film’s futuristic “world” and we get relatively little overt information about the history of this world or the society that lives in it.

So, before the sequel was released, if you wanted more “Blade Runner” you had to take inspiration from it (and anything similar to it that you could find) and then use lots of your own imagination. Like this…

“Architecture” By C. A. Brown

“Coast Road” By C. A. Brown

“Backstreets” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, if you want to get inspired, then look for fascinating things that don’t explain everything to you. Look for things that, by their very nature, are slightly mysterious. Then try to understand these things by using your imagination.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

What An Old Metal Album Reminded Me About Writing Plot Twists – A Ramble

Although this is a rambling article about foreshadowing plot twists in fiction, I’m going to have to start by talking about music (or, rather, my reactions to music) for a while. As usual, there’s (sort of) a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

A while before I wrote this article, I was looking through my CD collection for an Offspring album I bought in 2008, but which continues to elude me. However, in the course of searching for it, I dug up my old copy of Nightwish’s “Century Child” album. This was an album that I bought when I was about sixteen because I really liked three songs from it (“Feel For You”, “Dead To The World” and “The End Of All Hope”).

Looking at it again, I happened to notice that one of the songs on it that my sixteen-year-old self had ignored was none other than “Ever Dream”. This has been one of my favourite songs ever since my early-mid twenties, when I first discovered it on Nightwish’s “End Of An Era” DVD/CD boxset.

Although I already knew that a studio version of “Ever Dream” existed, I didn’t think that it could compare to the transcendentally brilliant live version on “End Of An Era” (or even the more modern live versions and cover versions that can be found on Youtube). Still, out of curiosity, I decided to listen to it. It was a surprisingly emotional moment.

It took me a while to realise why I’d had such a strong reaction to hearing this version of the song. It was because had been there and ready for me, silent and unnoticed, for many years before I actually needed it.

It was also very possible that my younger self had listened to this song and either failed to remember it or failed to grasp the significance it would later come to have for me. Suddenly, it almost felt like fate. Like, somehow, it was meant to be. Like there was some kind of hidden order or structure to the story of my life.

In other words, it felt like a real-life plot twist. Or, more accurately, it felt like a real-life example of a plot twist being foreshadowed.

One of the easiest and most emotionally-powerful ways to foreshadow a plot twist in fiction is simply to hide it in plain sight. To show the audience something that just seems like an ordinary background detail, but which takes on a much greater level of significance later part of the story.

This can either be something that has some historical significance to one of the characters (where the plot twist is about why it is so significant) or it can be something that isn’t important in the earlier parts of the story, but which becomes incredibly useful or significant to the characters later in the story.

So, why are these types of plot twists so emotionally significant?

Simply put, it’s because they create a sense of fate. They show the audience that the writer has carefully planned the events of the story (eg: the whole idea of “Chekhov’s Gun). They also tap into the fascinating idea of astonishingly brilliant things hiding in plain sight, which is something that some of your audience might be able to relate too.

For example, unknowingly owning a copy of my favourite song 5-6 years before it became my favourite song is hardly the first time that something like this has happened to me. I saw copies of my favourite novel (“Lost Souls” By Poppy Z. Brite) semi-regularly in the horror section of bookshops for about 6-7 years before I actually read it. Likewise, my first encounter with the cyberpunk genre (eg: reading “Tom Clancy’s Net Force Explorers”) happened, and was forgotten about, quite a few years before cyberpunk became one of my favourite genres.

So, yes, hiding essential parts of your plot twists in plain sight can pack a real emotional punch if done well.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂