Smallblog

by David DeSandro

James Murphy's Subway Symphony

James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem has been working on a system of sounds (appropriately) for the NYC Subway.

I love the subway system of my city–one of the most egalitarian, kind and high-functioning miracles in a city known around the world for it’s nearly unforgiving toughness. I also love sound, and music. Unfortunately, the sound of the subway is kind of a drag. Every time you swipe your MetroCard, the turnstile emits a flat, unpleasant “beep”. Each turnstile emits its own beep, all of which are slightly out of tune with one another, creating a dissonant rubbing-styrofoam-on-glass squeak in stations all around New York City. It’s kind of horrible.

What i propose to do is to create a series of 3 to 5 note sequences, all unique, one for each station in the subway system. These sequences will be part of an intersecting larger piece of music, which would run from station to station, and cross one another as, say, the 4, 5, 6 line (one musical piece) intersects with the L, N, R, Q and W (another musical piece) at Union Square. At each turnstile in Union Square, as you tap your new tap and ride card, a pleasant bell tone will sound, in one of a set of possible notes, all related to that station’s note sequence. The effect would be that at the busiest times, like rush hour, what was once cacophony would now be music.

I believe that music makes people happy, and makes them reflective. I think people who are willing to do what it takes to live here and work here–the commutes and the crowds, deserve a small sonic gift on their way home, or to deliver something, or getting to their school in another neighborhood. And i think that in the years to come, if this system is implemented, people who grew up with these sounds will hear a piece of music at an opera, or on an ad, or in the background of a film and feel a nostalgia for their first apartment, or their basketball practices, as they think “this song reminds me of Borough Hall” or “This song reminds me of my school be East Broadway”.

This would be my favorite thing ever.

Apple live GIFs

Today, I tried live-GIFing the Apple event. It was a hoot!

iPhone 6

View the Tweets in my Apple 9/9/14 GIFs Twitter collection.

View all the GIFs on Imgur.

I love the communal aspect of these events. There’s plenty of people doing gag pics, but I figured there wouldn’t be that many GIFs. I had a shot to do something special.

Here’s how I did it:

  1. Have the event video playing.
  2. Record a Screen Recording with QuickTime Player of the video.
  3. Save the movie.
  4. Import the movie in Photoshop. Do GIF workflow. Make the GIF.

The tricky part is that you can’t predict when there’s going to be a GIF-worthy bit. I would keep a recording going so anything would get captured. Then I’d make a judgement call to stop the recording and make the GIF.

I got to capture a bunch of big reveals.

Focus Pixels

But I also missed out on some smaller bits – like Tim Cook waving his rolled-sleeve arms, brandishing a real Apple Watch.

There’s so much work that goes into these events. And then, it’s all over in two hours. All the little moments can be quickly forgotten as the next unveiling tops what you just saw.

Apple Watch smiley

But, c’mon. I wanted favs and Retweets. And hot damn, did it work. This “Twitter on Apple Watch” Tweet got hundreds of engagements.

GIFs (and GIF-like videos like Vine) work so well for events like these. This moment with Tim Cook and Bono was both cringe-enducing and endearing. I don’t think any kind of live-blog could capture it as well as the GIF.

The Legend of Zelda

I’ve completed playing the original The Legend of Zelda. Re-claiming the Triforce on the NES has long been on my list of shame.

Legend of Zelda intro screen

Zelda is the greatest video game of all time. It was a game-changer. Everything previous to it was precursor. Everything afterward is an imitation. Zelda is the 2001 Space Odyssey of video games. This sounds a bit audacious, but after playing it, I can confirm it’s legitimate.

Recently, the magic of The Legend of Zelda has had a couple great examinations. Saving Zelda by Tevis Thompson reveals what made the original so special, and what the Zelda franchise has lost in its sequels. His essay is so well formed that it became the catalyst of a comic Second Quest which is to be published this fall.

Second Quest

Sequelitis - ZELDA: A Link to the Past vs. Ocarina of Time by Egoraptor is a comprehensive comparison of the NES, SNES, and N64 incarnations. He digs into game mechanics, environment and combat systems, and the trail of tropes the Zeldas have accumulated. It’s about Zelda in particular, but it’s great writing about all video games. It’s hilarious as well.

A puzzle is something you have all the information for. The only thing standing between you and the solution is your ability to put the pieces together in the right way. The satisfaction you obtain from solving a puzzle is from the Aha! moment. When the pieces fit, and you have only yourself to blame for it. …

The satisfaction doesn’t come from the door opening, it comes from the puzzle itself.


Zelda is a great game because it is purely a game. You have a huge world. You can go anywhere you want. There are no directions, no clear objective, no rails to keep you on your path. Whether your succeed or fail, it is you who is responsible. You completely control your experience.

Playing Zelda, I found every little triumph to be rewarding. Finding a new dungeon, bombing to reveal a secret, defeating a boss. I felt clever for having solved the challenges myself.

Zelda is challenging. It took me around 15 hours to complete the quest. That’s a huge amount of gameplay for a game that’s 25 years old. I tried my best to play the game as if it were 1986, a time before the Internet and instant solutions a google away. Finding dungeons required exploration. Beating bosses required experimentation.

When I came upon a new challenge, I had the sense that it was solvable, that I had all the parts necessary to beat it. It was just up to my wits to figure it out and my ability to get it done. But, I did hit a couple walls, relent and turn to google for two tricky spots – finding a pathway in Dungeon 7, and finding the entrance to Dungeon 8. For both solutions, I felt cheap for not figuring it out for myself. The solutions weren’t obvious, but they were certainly reachable if I had held out a bit longer. I cheated myself out of the thrill of Zelda – playing the game for myself.

Zelda is genuine game fun. It has the ultimate element of gamification – the act of playing the game is the reward itself.

Already

There is something magical when I come across a blog or tumblr or site, and it uses Masonry. Before I saw it, I didn’t know the thing existed. But now here it is, and somehow I’m already a small part of it.

Favorite music 2013

This year was all about X chromosomes. Female-fronted acts came out with some stellar albums.

Personally, I’m discovering my taste is being ever more focused on pop music. It’s possibly spurred by less free time. I’ve lost my patience for twelve minute experiential soundscapes. Give me a melody. And if the chorus crescendoes into a bridge? I’m sold.

Tegan & Sara – Heartthrob

Tegan & Sara - Heartthrob

Power pop at its catchiest. Every track on this album is a heavy hitter, deserving of its own musical interlude in the next Joseph Gordon Levitt movie. My only regret is that I’m not a 15 year old girl who can get away with belting these songs into her hairbrush.

HAIM – Days Are Gone

HAIM - Days Are Gone

Is it okay to honestly love this album? I feel as soon as I hear of HAIM, my hipster compulsions coerced me to dismiss it as mainstream drivel. But the whole album is a delight. Most songs have that uncanny sound of a long-lost hit song from the past. The ascending bass arpeggio on The Wire could go platinum itself.

Patterns – Dangerous Intentions

Patterns - Dangerous Intentions

At first listen, Patterns has the making of yet another 80’s nostalgia act. Most acts of the sub-genre are content with employing the synth-pop cliché like a crutch. But Patterns use it as a platform to set up lead vocalist Michelle Gonzalez to sizzle and pop like hot peppers on a skillet. Woman can sing.

Thanks to Talbs for his initial recommendation on this one.

Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time

Sky Ferreira - Night Time, My Time

For about a month I had this song stuck in my head. Jangly power chord riffs, female vocals, catchy chorus. I had the memory of the song, but couldn’t verify its lyrics, let alone its origin. The song was so infectious that I bugged my co-workers for 20 minutes to help me identify it, shamelessly singing the one melody over and over. They were of no help.

But to my luck, I was able to resolve the mystery as I listened through Night Time, My Time. Even better, the true song and rest of the album live up to the ideal I kept in my head for so long.

2013 stuff done

With Isotope v2 beta out, I got a lot of stuff done this year.

(I apologize for the braggy tone of this post. I’m lucky that this year was a good year. I’d like to capture how it happened.)

Looking back, I’m interested how this year was more productive, considering my full-time job is appropriately demanding, and this year was the oldest I’ve ever been. I have several ideas why.

  • Work was not crazy. I was able to keep regular hours.

  • I worked on side projects in smaller time segments – 1, 2, maybe 3 hours. I didn’t stay up late into the night, tinkering. I didn’t get burnt out from long work sessions. When I began a period of work, I felt capable of working for a smaller time frame and leaving things as-is when I felt I had enough.

  • My projects had clear goals. I had a decent vision of each before I began.

  • I purposely ignored the Isotope and Masonry issue trackers. These were inputs that didn’t directly impact the projects.

  • I worked on one project at a time. I didn’t start a new project until completing the current one.

I think I can generalize these reasons as comprising good balance of being on and off. I was able to turn on and work because I was able to shut off and not work.

I find it interesting that these projects (except for the Bower talk) didn’t have any hard deadlines.


Shipping Isotope v2 is a big deal for me as it is a culmination of all the projects. Every project on the list above was a necessary stepping stone towards landing the new version.

Plenty of more work is left to be addressed, but the projects are conceivably done for now. This provides a new opportunity. For the first time in years, I can focus my attention on something other than a layout library. If 2014 has any of 2013’s good fortune, that may just happen.

You And The Night

Movies hold just as precious a spot in the heart of Anthony Gonzalez as music does. His move to Los Angeles several years ago was partly motivated to enable opportunities in Hollywood. So when it was announced that M83 would be scoring a big budget, post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie, it sounded like a slam dunk.

That didn’t happen. Within the Hollywood machine, the soundtrack to Oblivion sounded much like any other big budget action adventure flick. It’s a decent soundtrack in of itself, but you can hardly call it an M83 album.

Now, with barely any announcement, we have the second M83 soundtrack in 2013. It’s respective film, You And The Night, is the complete opposite of Oblivion – an independent French drama about an orgy (seriously did not make that up). Likewise, the results are just as different. This is the M83 soundtrack we’ve been waiting for.

You And The Night is M83 doing what M83 does best. It features all qualities missing from Oblivion – ambient atmospherics, escalating synth drones, mysterious vocals, and simplistic piano ballads – clichés Gonzalez can’t help but indulge.

Given the short turnaround between the two films, it begs asking just how separate these two soundtracks are. Was You And The Night made in response to the disappointment of Oblivion, or was it made out of former film itself? You And The Night features two female vocalists, echoing the same haunting melody, almost mirroring the plot of Oblivion. Tom Cruise’s character is haunted by two female presences – his lover at home, and a woman in a dream.

Most likely, it’s just a coincidence. The two soundtracks act as two halves to the same whole – one a façade, the other a wish come true.