Friday, June 22, 2018

John Zorn's Simualcrum


Simulacrum is an album with music written and directed by composer, saxophonist John Zorn that features John Medeski (of Medeski, Martin, and Wood fame), Matt Hollenberg and Kenny Grohowski which was released on the Tzadik label in March 2015. John Zorn is a magpie of sorts. Sure he's respected in the improvised music industry but there's always been one problem about his music. Its all over the place. Sometimes he plays straight ahead jazz, sometimes free-jazz, sometimes rock and roll, sometimes pop, and here we have ourselves an instrumental heavy metal album, running at forty three minutes by an organist, guitarist, and drummer. I ain't complaining though. I dig this album very much. But why, you might ask? 

Sure this album treads no new ground and doesn't do anything groundbreaking. But I find a certain amount of fun to the way these guys play on this record. The tunes sound heavily improvised to the untrained ear, but I bet a lot of it was written out by Zorn, after all he's a 'composer', right? 

I first heard the album a year or so ago on YouTube, and about three days ago I bought the actual CD. I like it so much that I threw down thirteen bucks for it. The reason I like it is that the musicians here bring a sense of heightened adventure to progressive rock infused heavy metal jazz. Say what?

The music here encompasses mostly a jamming instrumental sensibility. Oftentimes the guitar takes the lead with distorted metal tropes. And then the organ takes over, leading the charge. The drummer stays away from stereotypical metal blast beat marathons, opting instead for jazzy fills on the snare, toms, and cymbals. The result is oddball jazz and blues sound, oddly enough. Not real blues or jazz, but a kind of white blues, jazz, more about experimental science than emotive sensibility. What the album succeeds at is creating a live open jam sort of environment. Like you're at the studio, watching them record it. 

But this is a heavy metal kid's record. This isn't a jazz aficionado's album. If you're into Miles and Trane, this isn't your bag. However if you're into Slayer or Opeth then this is right up your alley. The guitar playing is very heavy, played with a good but oftentimes stereotypical metal guitar tone. There's not many single note solos from the guitarist, instead he performs as chordal accompaniment to the organ and drums. The organ takes up most of the single note melodies, and does a beautiful job doing so. The drums holds it all together with compelling rhythms, technically brilliant but not showing off and taking over the show entirely. 

The album cover is one that reminds me of King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King, their first album from 1969. With song titles like Alterities, Snakes and Ladders, Paradigm Shift, and the Divine Comedy, there's a sense of intellectual curiosity and stimulation. The name simulacrum reminds me of Phillip K Dick, who had a novel called the Simulacra, check that out if you're into science fiction. 

Its a musical curiosity really. And the music portrays this in its style and grace. There's so many musical changes, everything from time signature changes, to many different riffs, to what seems like spontaneous free improvisation. Its quite exciting to hear. 

You can listen to the album on YouTube if you're curious enough to take the plunge into jazz influenced heavy metal.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Dead Pool 2


Finally got around to seeing Dead Pool 2 with a bunch of co-workers. It was a fun film, and had its moments. Here I'd like to go over the narrative and talk about the movie's best and most interesting moments. 

Basically Dead Pool (played by Ryan Reynolds) wants to kill himself. His girl friend was killed because of him, a bad guy killed her to take away what he loves most, the usual superhero sort of trope. So our guy has to find a new meaning in life and he finds that in this troubled mutant kid, goes by the nickname Fire Fist, or something like that. 

Fire Fist and Dead Pool end up going to jail after Dead Pool kills some people that were hurting the kid. Enter Cable, who's pretty much an anti-hero here. He says that the kid has to die because he grows up to become a killer after he gets his first kill (he was tortured at this home for mutants, plans on killing the guy in charge there), and he ends up killing Cable's daughter. The murdered family member thing, another popular superhero trope.

The kid makes friends with Juggernaut in prison and they cause a ruckus at the mutant home, where the kid is about to kill the schoolmaster (owner). Cable and Dead Pool agree to work together. Cable tells Dead Pool that if he can't stop the kid he's going to kill him. Dead Pool makes it his mission to stop the kid. 

In the end Dead Pool ends up getting a device that allows him to go back in the time, messing up the time stream. Dead Pool 3 looks even more fun now that we know he has this device. 

Now I'll go over the best and most interesting parts. The coolest thing about the fighting scenes for me was when Cable entered and was using futuristic cyberpunk weaponry. When he was being attacked by Juggernaut he was able to deflect physical attacks with this sort of orange cybernetic shield. His explosives and guns were super flashy and caused some major splash damage. 

The scene that introduces us to Cable was quite the fanfare. We see a dystopian world that reminds you of typical science fiction. And then he uses his time travel device. Two trips. One way. One back. That's it. 

Another scene I like action-wise was when Juggernaut created an earthquake when he was first set free. Now that is how Juggernaut should act. The kid's fire attacks were mage-like too, explosive fiery blast reminiscent of a fire mage a la video games. Also there's a fight at the end between Juggernaut and Colossus that has its moments. 

The most interesting scene was at the end where Dead Pool is dying and he ends up going to a kind of heaven, (which reminded me of speculative fiction) where he sees his murdered girl friend. They have a talk about how it isn't his time yet, and then they kiss. Although most of this movie is sort of a joke (and sometimes not funny) this part had a serious aspect to it that reminded me of some science fiction short stories that depict certain aspects of human relationships. It was good, and not corny like most of Dead Pool's scenes. The best thing I can say about this movie from seeing this part is that it had some human element, not just superhero flare. 

That's the best I can say about the movie. Ultimately its a movie that can be easily forgotten among a sea of Hollywood action and thriller flicks. But its not a bad theater experience for the beginning of summer.

Summer Reading



I've been reading a lot lately. This entire month has been full of chapter and verse. Honestly I've just been trying to read as much as I can from a wide variety of subjects from science fiction, fantasy, the news, political science, philosophy, and classics. Here's some of the books I've been checking out. 

Thomas Hobbes Leviathan 
This book was recommended to me by Dad. It was written in the late 1600s so the prose is quite different from what I'm used to. Its political science philosophy sort of stuff. I've already finished the first book (its made of several books put together) and I have to say that Hobbes had some interesting ideas about well, everything. 

Marx and Engels the Communist Manifesto
This book opened my eyes to what the modern day Proletariat is all about. I have to go back and read certain sections, it was that good. 

Frank Herbert Dune
I saw the movie first before I finished the book (I'm almost done with it) but the book is quite a stunning science fiction epic. 

Ursuala K Leguin Tales from Earthsea
This was my first fantasy novel I've read since middle school with The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. This is way better than Harry Potter of course! 

William Gibson Burning Chrome
I'm almost done with Gibson's short story collection. I've learned a lot about science fiction short story writing from his great cyberpunk stories. 

Washingtonpost, NyTimes, The Guardian, BBC World News, Newyorker
Politics has become a big thing for me as of late. When I was ignorant I used to laugh at everything Trump did, and think that it didn't matter. When I realized I was wrong and stupid I changed my ways.  

Wired
I read a lot about Silicon Valley and the tech industry. Part of my interest for this came from pc gaming. From there I read Jaron Lanier's two books and didn't look back. 

W.E.B. Du Bois The Souls of Black Folk
I'm really into archaic prose and this is no exception. Not only is it exciting to read a black scholar's work from the late 1800's, I can relate to some of this stuff as a modern day black man. As my brother Robert said when I told him I bought the book for 50 cents,"I thought you weren't into that black stuff." 

I'm reading so much now that its hard to keep track of it all and I have to constantly manage my subscriptions from the library. I'm learning a lot and having fun doing it. 

"I find your lack of obsession with books disturbing."

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

My decision to quit gaming

Image result for i quit gaming

So I finally took a big boy leap and decided to quit gaming for good. It was a difficult decision. I tried to quit many times before (like cancelling and re-subbing to WoW a lot, and playing Overwatch every season) but I always ended up crawling back, turning on my computer in the morning, and booting up some games. Now I know I'm quitting for good. 

You see, I realized that for me gaming is just a distraction. A distraction from reality, a fantasy where I can escape. The longer I gamed, the longer I was able to live out the fantasy and not worry about work, politics, my music dream, and intellectual curiosity. Coincidentally the day I realized this the World Health Organization announced that addictive video gaming is actually a mental disorder. That's just sad that American males have become so lame. 

Then there's the things I've been ignoring. There's my weight, I'm still way too pudgy. I need to get out and exercise more and be away from the computer. There's my music dream. I want to be a famous guitar player one day and playing games isn't going to do that for me. There's my education and intellectual curiosity. I have to become a smarter man, worthy of my own aspirations and be able to talk to a room of intelligent people. I don't want to only talk to gamers my whole life, who would rather play games and talk gamer bro-lingo instead of reading a book. 

Now you're probably thinking who's not to say that I can't be a gamer and do all of this stuff? I would simply answer that yes that is possible but not for me. I have to quit cold turkey and move on to a better chapter, verse, sonnet, if you will. 

I do acknowledge that gaming is fun and that its been a fun ride but I'm moving onto greener pastures.  

Now that the illuminated veil has been lifted I feel at peace. I went through the dark portal and finally left Azeroth.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

An Android Story by Orlando Figueroa

Check out my first story written since 2013. Its called An Android Story by Orlando Figueroa. Its a science fiction story about an android that plays jazz saxophone. Enjoy!
Read it here.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Han Solo: A Star Wars Story


I finally got around to seeing a new summer holiday movie. I saw the new Star Wars movie, Solo or more accurately titled Han Solo: A Star Wars Story. Here I'd like to tell you a bit about the film and what I thought of it. 

The story starts off introducing us to Young Han and his lover Qi'ra. It turns out that they're poor smucks (slaves) trapped in the shipbuilding world of Corellia, where children are taught to steal in order to survive. 

Han is in a lot of trouble. He owes people money and he doesn't have the credits. So he takes Qi'ra and they try to run off-world, away from their pursuers. Right at the last second the bad guys take Qi'ra and Han is shipped off world alone, presumably to become a pilot for the Empire. 

Han signs up for the Empire but ends up as foot soldier blindly following evil orders by the Empire. However, he meets some mercenaries and ends up joining their ranks, becoming a deserter. 

From there he goes on a heist to steal coaxiom, this explosive material that everybody wants because it makes things go boom! The leader of the mercs, Tobias Beckett owes the Crimson Dawn Syndicate, lead by Dryden Voss (who also played Vision in Avengers, arguably the most recognized actor in this movie) and he tells Han if he helps him get the coaxiom and pay off his debts, he will have enough cash for his own ship. 

They enlist Lando Calrissian (played by Childish Gambino, of "This is America" and Community fame) and use his ship, the prized Millennium Falcon in order to pull off the heist. 

In the end they get the coaxiom but a rebel group apprehends them. Han is perplexed but in the end decides to help them, give them the coaxiom and give Voss a fake replica of it. Voss gets upset when he finds out from Beckitt that he's been crossed, while at the same time Han is surprised that Beckitt crossed him as well. "Never trust anyone," Beckitt tells him for the second time in the film. 

Meanwhile Voss has his baddies apprehend Enfys, the rebels but it turns out what they had was nonexistent. Their bags were empty. Not only that but when they were unmasked they all turned out to be old women, victims of the Crimson Dawn syndicate, peoples whom had their tongues cut out. It turned out that Crimson Dawn was responsible for despicable acts throughout the Galaxy, a revelation to Han. It was symbolic that these women were disguised as the rebels. There was a heartfelt connection to the characters in that moment. This was my favorite part of the film. They did that part right.    

Enfys, the rebels who get ahold of the coaxiom, are planning to use it for revenge and a rebellion against the Empire. The rebel leader, a cute young girl with red hair asks if he wants in the rebellion but when Han says no she says,"You might change your mind later."

There's a showdown between Qi'ra, Han, and Voss. Qi'ra ends up killing Voss, and then lying to her boss (the true Overseer), saying he was killed by the rebels. It turns out the true Crime Boss here is Darth Maul, an old character from Star Wars the Phantom Menace, a film from 1999. In the Phantom Menace Darth Maul gets cut in half by a a jedi named Qui'gon Jin. Darth Maul sends a ship to kill Beckitt right as he's about to shoot Han and take the coaxiom, the real stuff. Han and Chewbacca give the stuff to Enfys. Darth Maul says to Qi'ra at the end of their conversation,"You and I will be working a lot closer from now on."  Qi'ra looks around uncomfortable after the conference call. My secret hope is that Qi'ra becomes a Sith, and learns how to wield a light saber. I can dream right? 

Ending the film, we see Han and Lando meet up again. Han challenges Lando to a gambling game again (how they first met) and Lando ends up betting the Millennium Falcon ship. He ends up losing because Han cheats. Han wins the ship and heads out for Tatooine with Chewbacca, where a gangster is putting together a team for a heist. 

The film didn't gross nearly as high as any of the other Star Wars films but that's okay. I thought the movie was fun. The movie goes very slow with its development but its not a bad movie by any means. The acting could have been better and more emotive, but then again I don't expect Shakespeare from a Star Wars film. 

I thought that they made Han a pretty boy that likes to tell jokes. Thats okay. Han doesn't have to be the cool tough guy he is when he's played by Harrison Ford. This is an all new take on Han Solo and it looks to keep people interested for the summer break. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Open Mic Tracks from 5/16

Hello, here are my recordings from last week's open mic. We played Electric Funeral and Poachers as a guitar, drums duo with myself on vocals. 

I think we did an excellent job on the Sabbath tune considering we didn't have a bass player. It sounds pretty bad ass. Although its not perfect metric (timing)-wise I still think its pretty cool. I can do metal too, haha. Check out the tune here https://soundcloud.com/orlando-figueroa-17/electric-funeral-guitar-drum-duo

And the other tune is Poachers, a tune written by new music composer Frank Abbinanti. Here I play it with my friend Martin on drums. I was following the score and he improvised music based on what I was playing. Upon hearing it after I think we could use more practice with this one. However, Martin's drumming wasn't bad. He does pretty well when we improvise. I also like the yelling from the audience. Makes it feel like a rock concert! Check it out here https://soundcloud.com/orlando-figueroa-17/poachers-martin-on-drums

Lastly, I have something different, a jazz/blues in c featuring Jim Xaiver on drums, Mike Mitchell on distorted electric guitar, Ken on tambourine, Art on bass, and myself on clean guitar. Check that out here https://soundcloud.com/user-294063763/jazzblues-in-c
I like this one a lot because its jazz, which I love!  

Enjoy! 

John Zorn's Simualcrum

Simulacrum is an album with music written and directed by composer, saxophonist John Zorn that features John Medeski (of Medeski, Mart...