Phonemes (ph/o/n/e/m/e/s), of (o/v) course (c/ou/r/s/e), being the smallest units of sound that force distinctions in speech. Not the same as syllables, phonemes are individual units of sound that, when combined, are perceived to create a meaningful utterance. When a group of phonemes (or even one, in some cases!) are synthesized, they form a morpheme, which is the smallest unit of semantic meaning. Thus, the sound ‘s’ is a phoneme, but it is also a morpheme, as when it is added to the end of a word to make it plural. But here’s the fun part.
Phonemes are sounds. And I happen to be pretty interested (and pretty naive about) how we make our sounds, and where they come from. To that end, I want you to cover your nose, same as if you are trying to block out a bad smell. Then say the following words: ‘sum’, ‘sun’, and ‘sung’.
You’ll notice that it’s pretty hard. And that it feels funny. That’s because the '/m' (that means it comes at the end of a syllable, and after a vowel), 'n', and '/ng' (or ‘/ŋ’, and again at the end of a syllable) are nasal phonemes. As far as I can tell from readings, we produce these sounds by lowering the velum (the soft palate, the back roof of your mouth) so that air can flow through our noses. The velum also closes the nasal passage when we swallow.
Of course, some of my information is probably wrong, but by now I’ve spent the last five minutes in front of a mirror making weird sounds and looking up my nose and down my throat. Which sounds like the beginning to some bizarre sex joke. But for me, it’s all research.
O-k, the title link (found by the fellow over at tinycartidge.com) recounts a player’s experience with a bootleg version of Pokemon titled Pokemon Black. Though probably fake (there are no screens of the game) it details a pretty darn inventive “hack” of the game, one that I would consider closer in spirit to Every Day the Same Dream and pOnd (which I reviewed earlier) than a traditional Pokemon game. You can read the post on the attached link, so I won’t elaborate on it, but the thing that fascinates me most is the creativity. Even if it is fake, someone still had to come up with the idea, the story, and then have the flexibility to implement it into the world of Pokemon. I hear a lot of people say that they aren’t creative, but many of them do things like this, something collectively known as fanfics (fan fictions). They are a fan’s response to a more famous or more popular person or work, and whether it is someone doing a different version of the Angry Video Game Nerd’s Theme song (original here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1VTeXe3FnA) or someone hacking a version of Pokemon to add in their own characters, it definitely shows creativity and drive. Most of the artists or games they are responding to were responding to something else themselves. Picasso (supposedly) had the oft-quoted saying that “good artists borrow, great artists steal”, so why do everyday ‘normal’ people think they aren’t being creative when they respond to a work that has moved them? That sounds like art to me.
It was already hot when the power went out, so that’s when I really started swearin’ up a storm. I had been watching Key Largo. That Bogey. Kathy was in the middle of her People magazine and so she went to the bathroom with a flashlight to finish it. The sky was like a light those film makers put gels in front of to make it look like fire. Or lightning.
I spent most of the night by the window, and though the thermometer said it dropped ten degrees in ten minutes it was still hottern’ hell, so I was foul. I waited five minutes and it was hottern’ hell, then held out for a longer five minutes and it was hottern’ hell, and then didn’t even look at my watch and, sure enouh, five minutes later it was still hottern’ hell. My beer was sweatin’ and it felt like I was grabbing a well-lotioned arm. I went to the fridge and found some apple juice that was still pretty cold and figured what the fuck and put it in the beer. I figured what the fuck. This doesn’t happen often and it doesn’t happen once.
I nicked myself shaving. I decided to shave because my shirt was already off and I noticed the left side hairs were in a bit thicker than the right. Every morning the same face and I didn’t notice it. And it’s noticeable. I was probably drunk the last time I did it. I was getting good at that.
After I wanted some food from the kitchen. I wasn’t really hungry for food but it was there, and I was here, and these things don’t happen often. In the pantry there was peanut butter and crackers, and my mom used to make sandwiches from them and lay them on a plate in a circular fashion, saltines and peanut butter and a large glass of milk. The milk ripples and the glass shakes when the bathroom door shuts.
“You in or out, Kathy?” I realized she’d been in there the whole time. Reading People.
She said “out, now” and walked into the hall so that I couldn’t get a look at her. By then I had a candle but was pretty used to the darkness—candles kind of suck, anyway—but she just walked out of the doorway down the hall. As soon as I turned back to the pantry the milk and crackers were gone. Gone? Kathy was in the doorway.
“Tom, hey.” I could tell what she wanted before I turned around. Then I did.
“Jeeze, Kath. You look like a ghoul.” Her make-up was all over. And smeared, in some places. Really off. The sweat around her eyes blotted the make-up and hid her eyes in a shroud, her whites barely visible. She looked wild, unfinished. There was something in the heat that made her look hot. “Where you goin’,” I asked, as if I didn’t know her.
“To water,” she said, and sauntered clumsily up to me. She got up to me ad got real close, kissin’ neck hairs close, and licked my cheek. Straight licked the sweat off. Like the foam off some espresso. The candle had been out, from before, and now it seemed darker. She licked my other cheek. I licked hers. We went, together, in search of water. We were thirsty.
Returning the Book is a continuing series in which I’ll be reviewing books that I borrowed from the library, right after I get home from returning them. Though the reviews will be necessarily sloppy (synonym: unencumbered), the viewpoint presented, one no longer in possession of the books he is reviewing, cannot not have interesting, frustrating, and ideal conclusions.
— — — — —
Wilson is the newest graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, famous for both the Ghost World graphic novel and the Eightball comic series. He was also born in Chicago so, woo-hoo. Though I consider Ghost World and Wilson linked as brethren due to the similar art styles and sardonic humor, I felt that Wilson (the eponymous!) was a far greater asshole than even the combined talents of Enid and Scarlett Joha Rebecca. He makes me laugh in the same way that a used condom outside my car would make me laugh. I wouldn’t laugh at that. Not until I got some chalk and drew the face of a man by it, making it look like the condom got stuck in his eye. The point being that both events are despicable in the way they are handled (poorly). One of the first comics shows Wilson walking his dog, and two people walk by with a chime of “cute dog”. When a third doesn’t, the natural conclusion Wilson makes is that he’s a “fucking asshole”. It’s funny, and it’s probably something a lot of us think to say but don’t, and in that way Wilson represents our ability to freely express ourselves. His impulsiveness and lack of contemplation/reflection narrow the range of his responses, however, and our sympathy recedes until, after sameness, it instead reflects a firm-handed dislike of Wilson.
It occurs to me that a person like Wilson wants things to go their way, yet sets up the proceedings such that his is the most difficult path. And he wants you to know about it. My favorite panels were ones that saw Wilson reacting to his environment, everything sans people. In a fast food joint he uses a fellow customer as a vessel to hear the echo of his ideas, such as when he relates the toughness it takes to be a parent even though he doesn’t know his daughter’s name (his wife left him—16 years ago—and had a kid who may or may not be his). He exudes this knowingness because he wants to be included, wants to feel connected to these people who he obviously has no common ground with. The times he spends alone are the most frustrating for him as he had no one to impress his ideas on to, and this culminates beautifully in the last scene in which Wilson, as an old man, is staring out into the rain and says something like “of course! That’s it! Of course!”. But he only says it halfway into the page, and so the bottom half trails away from him, a whole half-page of silence both beckoning and asserting. If he got it, would he say it? Maybe that’s what he got, that his logorrheic mouth is spewing shit and it’s doing nobody no good? Maybe he didn’t change, and he doesn’t really get it, only he says he does. The lack of maturity in Wilson makes me skeptical, yet the ending still makes me wonder, battle my own opinions, and in that regard it is a success.
The very next panel: “Don’t you ever shut the fuck up?”
Each page in Wilson is laid out in about the same manner: each is a self-contained vignette with about six panels. Sometimes it builds upon the main story line, sometimes it saunters around. The format is appealing and strong enough to tie the different vignettes together, and it looks like something I imagine Charles Schultz would’ve taken too. It’s six panels to a page, and though most are equal there are subtle variations that are imbued with purpose. Many of the pages are deliberately illustrated somewhere along the ‘realistic-cartoony’ scale, which effectively develops Wilson’s own perceptions of his world and how realistically he takes it. He gets in some serous shit: he kidnaps his daughter, gets arrested, hangs out with a hooker, and more, and hid unflappable attitude towards it all is nicely balanced by the art tipping over from its normal style to ones indicative of more or less sanity. Plus, the cartoonish bits are reminiscent of the Sunday Funnies, and lighten the mood by harkening to the exaggerated proportions and expressions of popular comic characters. It’s a nice homage to the roots of comic strips, and is a welcome break for me from the “faux-realistic” art style that seems to be popular with a lot of “serious” graphic novels.
So yeah, check Wilson. For all I said about it, I really haven’t told you anything about the story or what happens. Which I’m fine with, as I don’t feel that’s the point of the book. We learn about Wilson by walking with him, talking to him (o-k, listening to him), by being that guy on the train next to him who is keeping to themselves, hoping not to become engaged with anyone. If there’s one thing that Wilson isn’t afraid of, it’s engagement. Actually connecting is something else entirely, but the fact that he’s got the balls to reach out to others is commendable. Just don’t expect him to take your hand when you need it, because you just might be handed a box filled with dog shit.
Aphonia is a developing series to give me a break from the more essayistic, responsive posts. It allows me to center my creative impulses around a central but open idea, which is recognition without reinterpretation. These characters have been stricken by something that forces them to write, to describe, to reinterpret, and yet they cannot adequately express what has compelled them. So the thought and feeling of the moment, despite their struggles, pass by, and something less is left.
… Like when you’re driving around and you hear—at night, through your neighborhood—and you can only really her air blowing passed your window or into your car, or other cars, or maybe even an airplane because you live in some big suburb outside some big city. People may be walking around, usually in groups, at night. Some alone, though. And then you stop, either at an intersection or at the sight of something startling or outside your friend’s house waiting for her to come out, and look away from the inside of the car but not outside, and as the car goes mum you hear the chirp of crickets or some night bird, or some other bug—cicadas come every three years and their timbals are annoying—and you hear just that, only that. Like the night, the darkness, the only thing present. That. IT.
And then you remember the car, and again the noise it makes. Then you lose it. It’s lost. Not lost. Hidden.
This is but one of the many, many translations of Basho’s famous haiku. I chose it specifically because of the way it sounds, elemental and simple (the third line is an onomatopoeia—brilliant); the way it looks, with the cuts of each action and object creating a comic-panel sense of movement; and the way it represents, with only a pond, a frog, and the splash it creates. It begs your mind to scream out, to say ‘there has to be MORE to this!!’. Of course, there is. Matsuo Bashō, so named because of the banana (bashō) tree his disciples planted by his hut, was the most famous poet of the Edo period of Japan and a master of brevity.
Matsuo Bashō, great haiku master
pOnd is the flash game equivalent to one of the ripples that emerged from that plonking to come upon my shores, and it has quickly become one of my favorite free games, along with Every Day the Same Dream and Canabalt. pOnd is a game about the journey, the epically-cliched “road not taken”, and though it stumbles down a pit at the end, and has a couple rocky paths (and I’m not wearing shoes), the walk was one of the more gorgeous I have taken.
It opens with some flourish-y text talking of walks through nature and its tiny wonders. I couldn’t find the beginning text in any books or with any searches, so it appears written for the game. While I thought that it had a simple clarity that spoke of a world too many are to predisposed to neglect exists, the addition of the letter ‘e’ at the ends of many of the words (dawne, ‘leafe, smalle, holde) harkens back to Middle English and the Romantic sentiment in a way that clashes with the whole modern, ‘pony-tailed dude in a suit’ frame. Indeed, the way it tried to remove modern-day man from society and place him in this verdant setting is unpolished, unexplored, and unfulfilling.
The graphics definitely have a niche feel, though I find them to work. They take their cues from NES-era sprites, and though I think some more polish would have made the discoveries to be made more stunning, I find the visual aesthetic endearing. It brings to mind Ian Bogost’s A Slow Year, the simple (and poetic) game he made on the Atari 2600. In a similar vein, p0nd knows it isn’t an HD camera image waiting to be right-clicked and made into your desktop picture. And I appreciate that, mostly because the sprites strengthen the sense of nostalgia that is important to the game.
The game has a simple control scheme: one button, the space bar. Hold it to inhale, let go to exhale. That easy. Almost like breathing, which is what it mimics, or more appropriately, asks you to do. Breathe. Though I did dislike the abrasive damage sound that went off when you held each breath for too long. It made me think of the terrible game Action 52, and how that game has the same generic screaming sound for a player death, even if the player is controlling a space ship. Having only a single button makes the breathing aspect very intuitive, and begs you to align your breathing with its simplicity, so including a sound that is akin to getting hit by a goblin in an NES game only hurts the mood and themes of relaxation and focusing on the seldom-appreciated aspects of life.
Are you chilled out yet?
Which brings me to the breathing mechanic in general. Instinctive and organic, it relies upon the tried-and-true gameplay mechanic of collecting orbs. It works, even if it is a bit too derivative along the way. The gem of it for me, however, is the exhalation. If you’ve inhaled and held your breathe until you’ve absorbed all the orbs, then when you exhale you’ll not only be greeted with a satisfactory ahhhhhh (though with a tinny sound that doesn’t grow on you), but you will also see nature come alive. What really makes it for me is that these animations — a squirrel running up a tree, birds flying through a corner of the screen — are very subtle, something I railed against initially. But the lack of flair, the lack of attention-grabbing rewards for your actions has the effect of chilling you out; the relative stasis forces you to follow each breath and scrutinize, take everything in and enjoy. The simplicity forces us, the high-minded and high-energy gamers that we are, to look for complications and, seeing as there aren’t any in the game (well, in the version of the game I would like to see, but I’ll get to that) we have to enter a more passive, meditative state. The way you progress to collect more orbs, and in occurrence have to hold your breath for longer, combined with the sauntering pace the character makes through each landscape, create a ‘meditation for dummies’. At its core, it really is a game about slowing down your breathing, and in this regard it works successfully as great rehab tool. It frames a very simple and effortless action into a game that is beautiful and well-conceived. Well, at least until the end.
The ending isn’t necessary, though it is a big surprise. Playing through the game, if you choose not to take the breaths at certain points, or not take enough breaths, it ends earlier, but the true ending is unfulfilling and detracts from the atmosphere and intent so masterfully created by the rest of the game. It saps the effort and integrity of the game, and it was a real let-down for me. It was like going to your favorite forum and finding out that a flame war has erupted over some typo or other nonsensical thing: totally unnecessary, and a little heartbreaking. I won’t spoil it for you, but it makes me think of something I often do, which is try to make things bigger and grander than they are. But then I remember that the best steaks are ones that are cooked with the fat on, but eaten with the fat trimmed off. To make it more frustrating, the ending doesn’t even add anything to the resonance of the game. If anything, it does make it more like a game, more interactive, but in a way that is totally incongruous with the rest of the game and story. Rather than end the game simply, it ends as some weak homage to Newgrounds games that frankly don’t need the reverence. Disappointing.
Interestingly enough, the game ends with a Roger Ebert quote (“I may be wrong …”). Of course, gamers know Roger Ebert as the film critic who infamously said games cannot be Art without having played a video game. Simply put, games are art (Indeed; debating what “art” is seems a more difficult question). So I’m willing to accept the grandiose gesture the game makes (which is, of course, that this game is art and Ebert is incorrect) since it echoes the initial statement Ebert made. Not very tasteful, but a response to a not-so-tasteful comment. So consistent.
A game that truly is a work of art: Shadow of the Colossus
In a way, it works for me as the fullest, deepest expression of the Basho haiku I posted at the beginning. In this way, it reminds me of the minimalist concrete poets, Karl Kempton specifically with his adaptation of Basho’s haiku, found at http://www.logolalia.com/minimalistconcretepoetry/archives/karl-kempton-pond.swf. Kempton’s idea is simple, but it is executed with deftness, and becomes both much more than what it is and singularly what it is simultaneously. It’s a shame the ending of p0nddiverts from that, and outright changes the focus of the game. Nonetheless I was intrigued, I was immersed, and I was in a happier, more reflective place because of it.
B-movies. Bad movies. Boring movies. Bland movies. Below-average movies. Though the ‘B’ stands more as a signifier of rank (normal movies weren’t called ‘A movies’; B-movies had to take action to let it be known they were inferior) than an actual word, the connotations it spurns are fertile and ripe. Barf-inducing movies. Blah movies. But also busted-gut funny movies. The choice, really, is up to the viewer.
I see the total movie experience as a circle. The movie is the center of the circle, and so it’s the movie’s job to determine the radius, and thus the circle itself.I see the radius as the delicate line the movie reels the viewer out to, and so our experience is the circle. In good movies, the radius can shift, causing us to double-take on what we were initially looking at (wasn’t that a circle? How could it do that if it was a circle …). The ride is progressive, transformative, affixable—tight but mutable, not so much vague as designed to be open. They take us along the circle, and if they swerve and move about to ultimately show us that we are not, in fact, riding a circle, then so much the better. But they keep us on the line. Bad movies can’t keep us on that line, and so we’re left to oscillate about it, reaching repeated crests of distraction or troughs of boredom.
But ever so often, ever so often we reconnect with the line, whether the movie wanted us to or not (and, often, they don’t), and magic happens. Like the scene in “Yor: Hunter from the Future” where he rides into the cave to crash into a purple caveman holding his girlfriend hostage using a giant bat as a glider while his very own 80’s theme song plays. Or the very last scene of “Wild Women of Wongo”, in which a parrot perched on the shoulder of an amazonian woman winks at us and says ‘Well how ‘bout that!’. Or how the character Nick in “Hobgoblins” jumps on a grenade to save his friends, only for us to find out at the end that he suffered only minor burns. These examples range from second-long scenes to characters and motifs, but really they embody the philosophy of these movies at large. Which is that they are propelled by a ballsy, improvisational gusto, one either so enamored with the project that they cannot see its flaws, or so constrained by budget or (usually) talent that the very fact that the movie is finished is accomplishment enough. Either way, the movies never impel a sense of pity, creating either amusing disgust or cringe-inducing hilarity. The amount of over-the-top worm’s-eye angles to show a sense of power or “refracted shots” that pan wildly out from the distorted view of a filled beaker or magnifying glass to say hey, look at me being artsy are vertigo-inducing in the way they make you climb above the piles of shit being poured on you.
Wouldn’t you want to watch this movie after seeing this poster?
But I don’t watch movies to rip on them. Well, at least not with that as the primary goal. I see B-movies as the perfect example of a group activity, an experience to be had among friends. And, since character and disposition so often reveal themselves in less than savory times, B-movies are perfect vehicles for the ride. The experience hurts a little, and thus we are all eager to band together and share the experience. It’s the same thing as when we gather ‘round to talk about scars, or complain about jobs; the focus that this uncomfortable, frankly dreaded thing inspires allows us the connect. B-movies ultimately encourage creativity; sure, they’re bad, but it takes a fluid mind to turn the unfortunate into the hilarious. Ask Mike, Joel, Crow, Tom, and everyone else on the Satellite of Love. And that’s why I love them.