Posted on August 10th, 2020
Filed under: General,Music News — Karl Olson @ 6:47 am
Time for another reaction blog to a great YouTube video that muses justifiably on the difference between Anime Rap and Nerdcore as thematic approaches, and yet again, what started as a YouTube comment became a blog post.
After all, even in Nerdcore itself, there’s been a long-running debate between what’s “Book Report Rap,” where someone is writing in character or summarizing a story vs. nerdy/otaku-centric media and topics as a referential lens for rapping about personal experiences vs. perhaps still nerdy personal experiences (cons, coding, hacking, etc.) as the topic. It’s debated because those differences may determine what’s more explicitly commercial rather than being artistically minded first, or rather, what’s being made out of novelty versus what made out of authenticity (assuming such separation can ever be made.) I don’t think that debate has ever settled out.
Many successful nerd/otaku-adjacent artists, regardless of their self-applied label of choice, really work over a spectrum between the various extremes depending on the song or project. Where they usually land on average has less to do with their level of admiration of Rap as a creative artist as the video implies, (though yes, some folks are really just trying to pander to nerds first,) but more to do with their personal processes and experiences. I think anyone trying to make a polished, professional track probably loves rap in the same I’d a say a Backpacker and a Trap artist both love Rap, but they each express it very differently. Maybe the purely novelty artists are consistently identifiable, but they don’t seem more common under any given label.
Still, it’s understandable how tremendously unsatisfactory that vague conclusion is when artists are trying to brand and market their work, as unclear scene boundaries and labels can result in the dilution of search results and listener confusion. When listeners craving novelty and levity suddenly encounter something more challenging, they get very upset because as the video alludes to, they’re not always genre fans, they’re fans of some medium (anime, comics, video games, etc.) first. Conversely, when someone who likes the tone to be serious encounters the slightest novelty, it can then scan as cornball and can sour a scene name or brand or genre or whatever forever to them. This creates legitimate tension in both directions – no one wants their plans undermined by another artist’s vision or aesthetic.
Alas, even decades into this, I don’t have the answer for where novelty stops and authenticity begins, because it is so personal and variable. As I note in the header, I’ve got a newish LP out, based on an EP mixtape that was originally very anime-themed and even had samples from those works. In turning it into an album, I pulled out the samples and pulled in some remixes of songs that also thematically fit because they were also very anime-themed. Now, on one hand, it’s probably rather novel – there’s lots from the perspective of anime characters covering many of their respective series’ plot beats. On the other hand, my love of those anime and of Rap is very core to me. It’s nothing if not authentic, and it can’t be helped in the slightest. Further still, there’s an aspect of simultaneous, shared perspective in a lot of those songs too, making distinctions of novelty and authenticity that much murkier as it’s not a question of writing in character or as myself – it’s very intentionally as both because the experiences are that close, that relatable.
So, I guess can’t and won’t blame anyone for saying what I do doesn’t fit their vision for a given signifier regarding Nerdcore or Anime Rap or whatever. It’s only natural in the absence of strong sonic boundaries to look for thematic ones, but those by definition are going to be very personal. Still, I think all we can do is trust that when an artist applies a signifier on themselves, that they’re doing it from an authentic place, especially in heavily independent scenes and genres.
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Posted on April 6th, 2018
Filed under: General — Karl Olson @ 12:38 am
With a lot of caveats, yes, it and other social media sites are safe.
The caveats are it is only safe if you can turn a skeptical eye to every last thing vaguely informational/educational/news-like item that comes across your feed, especially anything advertised to you or anything you feel strongly about, and also if you’re in a position to keep your profile open only to your friends and keep that list of friends very well curated. If you already tend to check on snopes, scientific journals and traditional print media websites for anything that’s shared by your small set of friends or advertised at you, Facebook is no worse than the rest of the internet, or at least no worse than the e-mail forward saturated inboxes older internet users have been dealing with since they got online two decades ago on AOL. If you’re actually some what familiar with statistical best practices like sample sizes and experiment design, and/or have a good sense of journalist best practices, you might even be in a position to help stop the spread of fake information in your circles here. Your friends need you in their feed, often, keeping them informed and honest!
However, as a person who has been online since childhood and thus learned the hard way to always research everything I see online, especially if it seems to good or bad to be true, and as someone whose job involves collecting and analyzing a ton of data directly on behalf of businesses that’s collected by voluntary participation in online research panels, the notion of “safe” is a very complex and fragile one if any of those things above start to fail. If you’re not in a position to be choosy about your friends (at the very least which friends are muted or not,) the odds of having a friend who will pollute your feed with things that are bypassing your natural skepticism are higher, and you’ll buy into lies or even end up being scammed or manipulated subconsciously. Even your real-life, childhood friends, if they’re not skeptical internet users, can end up bypassing your normal vigilance, because you’ll tend to believe them. If your natural skepticism is generally low, this is definitely worse, because bad arguments and fake news are everywhere on social media, and when you don’t have the ability to filter it out for yourself, you will likely to spread it around.
Even if you’re very diligent, the data you share online also makes you and everyone you’re friends with a target for advertising designed to be about the things you all like, or vastly dangerously to yourself and to the society as a whole, the things you all hate both consciously and unconsciously, regardless of whether it’s real or fake. As such, your own skepticism is that much more critical towards safe, rational use of social media. This is to say nothing of how irresponsibly your data may be handled by social media websites and other parties with access to them in other ways, but even the on-label use of Facebook is to keep you reading by any means necessary with basically no ethical sense of how that’s done. It’s just worse when your data is then correlated by third parties to stuff you’re doing off Facebook (always use private mode, never save cookies!)
At it’s worst, Facebook and other social media sites can be malicious gossip distribution machines, carefully trained using everything they know about you to surface the most interesting things to you all the time, regardless of whether those things are real or true, and it’s trivial for people to make ads exactly around that and manipulate you towards their ends if you’re not double checking for secondary sources, and then actively blocking any sources that are pushing garbage, even if they are sometimes friends. If you can’t trust yourself to be super vigilantly skeptical, then no, Facebook is not safe for you, most social media that’s ad-supported and algorithmically sorted is not safe for you, and it’s not safe for the people you’d be on the website with. People, advertisers and the website itself will sink it’s claws into the serotonin centers of your brain to keep you here like an addict if you let them, and will tell you lies to do so if it happens to be what you like to hear, and once it has done so, you’re a vector to accessing your friends.
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Posted on May 17th, 2015
For a computer scientist and a nerdcore rapper, I’m not terribly big on device upgrades. You’d think I’d always chase new gadgets, but I’m still using the same desktop computer I’ve been using since 2009 (barring a processor upgrade before the socket was discontinued and Black Friday SSD and RAM upgrades.) Had I not run into various problems with my previous phones, I’d probably still be using the Galaxy Nexus I was given at Google I/O 2012. It did everything I needed more or less until the screen cracked. From there I’ve been on a Lumia 521 and a Moto G, both of which were less than stellar with battery life, and both of became erratic after firmware updates (dialer crashes in the middle of calls on the Lumia, force closes due to bad memory management in Android 4.4.4 on the Moto.) Still, I would’ve kept them if they didn’t get weird on me.
My ideal solution: buy a phone with a huge battery built in, and while I’m at it make it a dual sim one since I’m currently bouncing between the US and Canada. Hopefully the firmware never goes sideways, but if it does, the phone should be so inexpensive so that I don’t have to worry about the cost of replacement. Previously, this would’ve been a tall, if not impossible, order. However, as it turns out, a phone was released this spring that fit that bill brilliantly: the BLU Studio Energy D810U, which goes for a mere $150.
This is the point where I expect you to be like “the what phone?” and really that’s quite justified. BLU is a young company out of Florida that more or less puts their badge on designs from various Chinese OEMs, then sells them unlocked directly via retailers like Fry’s and Amazon. However, BLU has been clever about carefully selecting and wisely tweaking the more interesting models from those OEMs, and the Studio Energy is no exception. With it’s outstanding 5000mAh battery, this phone can swing a couple days of reasonable use like it’s nothing, and even with brightness turned up fully and processor intensive work like writing and rendering multiple songs in Caustic 3 and streaming anime off Crunchyroll, I’ve never put it on the charger lower than about 40 percent. That means it’s gone from 8am to 1am (or later) with a workload that’s completely inconsiderate towards battery longevity. It’s not going to play the very latest 3D Android games, but it’s otherwise entirely functional, and most importantly, it’s functional all day long – no range anxiety, ever.
Sure, it’s not without compromises. Hardware wise, the massive battery life means it’s not svelte (though it’s thinner than you’d expect,) and that battery isn’t swappable. It’s only capable of HSDPA speeds, and it’s bands are so limited you need a different model to get those top speeds depending on your carrier. Further still, it only has a MediaTek MT6582 processor with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage, half of which is soaked up by Android, though a MicroSD card slot alleviates storage concerns. Still, it’s not buttery smooth all the time, and that’s technically a trade off (though, it’s not like the Moto G it replaced never stuttered.) Those looking for top specs beyond battery will be let down. Software wise, it’s lightly skinned, but if you’re coming from stock Android, you might find yourself running to get everything as close as back to stock ASAP.
However, I think for most smartphone users, battery matters way more than any other consideration, whether they realize that or not. Besides, given it’s current competition in this price point, it easily holds it’s own on performance, camera and storage. I would take this over the current Moto E, Moto G or low-end Lumias any day of the week, and they’re really only phones that compete with this currently. More importantly, it’s worked great in real world usage as my sole phone for the past couple months. It does the jobs it should do, and it’s even changed my use behavior with my phone. Since I don’t worry about the battery life, I’ve already written a few EPs in Caustic 3 while commuting on the train using the Studio Energy (by the way, this means the DAC is alright too.) I wouldn’t do that on any other phone without having a charger at work if not an external battery pack. Even pounding the battery with GPS and high brightness are no longer worrisome scenarios. I haven’t taken the car charger out my car yet, but the only time I bother to throw it on is if I’m making a day long drive, and really, I don’t have to, I just feel like I should.
One day, this phone will come without its tradeoffs, but that goes for the flagships too, and until the day I can have no tradeoffs, I’m going with the phone that can still provide directions after a long flight or late concert. The fact that it costs a fourth of what a top flagship does is just a victory lap.
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Posted on April 4th, 2015
Filed under: General,Music News — Karl Olson @ 10:11 pm
So, it’s not a super responsive dream site, but it’s clean and lean and will be improved farther on those notes while hopefully adding functionality. Gone are the old style style links in favor of a leaner, more modern look.
Meanwhile, I’ve been on Vaporwave-ish kick, and the results have been available to my subscribers on bandcamp for the past month. However, I’ve also started transitioning them to YouTube and non-exclusivity, so if you want to re-live a sleep misspent afternoon in a dead mall, below it your soundtrack:
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Posted on November 29th, 2013
Filed under: General,Music News — Karl Olson @ 10:43 pm
So I have added BitCoin payment via CoinBase to the web store. It’s rough looking as ever – I really should redo it with div and css, for now, I’m ready to take BTC (though I’m keeping the prices in USD since that’s what I payed for the material in.) I’ll admit I was a skeptic, and I still am a little, but sites like CoinBase seem to provide a reasonable means of giving it a shot, and it’s not like PayPal has been a bastion of honest dealings anyway.
To celebrate the occasion, let’s repost this remix, again:
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Posted on July 5th, 2013
Filed under: General,Music News,Videos — Karl Olson @ 8:00 am
All of my back catalog that wasn’t posted to my main YouTube channel is now online here. I decided to split that material off from my main channel as I no longer know which albums these belonged to (well, I didn’t want to dig through CDs at my parents’ place to work it out,) and because most of it is fairly mediocre. Of course, I was only a teenager when I wrote most of it, and there are few decent gems hiding in with the junk there, but there it wasn’t worth binning the content beyond maybe a few YouTube playlists I’ll put together later. Besides, I figured since I could upload it easily thanks to a couple of nifty open source python scripts I tweaked and knitted together (I will post my code online once I clean it up a little,) I might as well do so.
Having posted those songs up, that pretty much only leaves mash-ups, remixes for other artists and mixtapes as the only material I haven’t uploaded to YouTube. I don’t see my self bothering with uploading them at the moment. I now have over 500 songs on YouTube on those two accounts alone, and I figure that’s good enough for the moment.
Otherwise, the main thing going on with me is that I’ve graduated university, and I’m looking for work. I’m doing a lot of programming tests at the moment, and though I’m feeling a little fatigued, I’m pretty sure that’s just anxiety regarding these opportunities. Hopefully, I’ll have something lined up soon enough.
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Posted on April 24th, 2013
Filed under: General,Music News — Karl Olson @ 4:15 pm
April’s Free Release:
Ultraklystron – Music For Tablets (Mediafire)
Meanwhile, I’ve just wrapped my finals up. I have countless resumes to send out at the moment (and a lot of leads to follow up on now that I have the time,) but there is still tons of music in my archives for me to finally group together and release, so I should be able to keep up with my goal of a EP or more per month.
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Posted on January 16th, 2013
Filed under: General — Karl Olson @ 9:21 pm
For starters, the first paragraph undermines the author’s whole premise as he concedes out of the gate that American invented rave culture, just that the US didn’t nurture it the way the rest of the world did. Taken at face value this is already a pretty screwed up statement in many ways. Yes, we had a number of seminal electronic artists spring from our cities (it wasn’t called Detroit Techno and Chicago House to be cute, it’s where the genres started.) Yes, outside of occasional flirtation with mainstream breakthroughs such the mid-90s hype around the Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers and the Crystal Method (oh, who were from Las Vegas, Nevada, and whose music seemed to be in every other film and video game for much of the late 90s, even in the US,) the US has tended toward a more underground position for electronic music and rave culture as a whole until really the past two years. Though, to be fair, a lot of other one and two hit wonders existed on the electronic music front like LaBouche, Technotronic and all the Miami Bass acts too through out the 90s, so it wasn’t a real anomaly, and it was all over ads and movies. However, there was a lot of give and take been the US and Europe, and you belittle the fact that folks like Juan Atkins loved acts Kraftwerk. Electronic music in general has been a global development, the US included, and the article does an awful job of capturing that. Beyond that, this doesn’t mean that just because a generation of Americans (that was largely born after the mentions acts had their moment of US radio play) is now getting to EDM (and yes, EDM – Salsa, Soca, Polka and many other genres are dance music, but they aren’t electronic, now are they?) that you get to basically insult a scene that as the author admits, created much of the basis the world now enjoys.
Essentially, to try say that previously the US was all “‘Euro-fag’-hating teenagers” before Skrillex is the most willfully dense nonsense I’ve heard since 20/20 screamed “Stop The Raves” about the US rave scene nearly two decades before this article was written (which should say something about the roots and scale of the US rave scene itself. It made TV news magazines regularly, and beyond that ecstasy and it’s ephedra-laden knock off cousin herbal ecstasy were part of panicked news reports too.) Every major city in the US could boast an active electronic music scene since the mid-90s at the very latest. Those nascent scenes were anything but small as massive multi-thousand person events existed from coast to coast from the mid-90s onward, and they weren’t just filled with import talent, as countless new US acts made their name in those scenes. Pendulum snagged their drummer, KJ Sawka, from Seattle. I recall reading articles in Mixmag UK (which by the way, was in almost bookstore magazine section in any major US city starting in the mid-90s, I bought it on the regular and made collages with the photos for art class) that lauded the Crystal Method for helping to make Big Beat a commercial genre in Europe. All the teens and twenty somethings who I chatted with on local area rave email lists and online bulletin boards back in the 1990s would probably be pretty miffed at the accusation that we didn’t care about rave culture and electronic music the way Europe did. In fact, I DJ’ed many of high school’s dances during the late 90s and early 00s, and even then, as much as they wanted to hear Britney Spears, they didn’t bat an eyelash at Daft Punk, The Prodigy, even Aphrodite and Cornelius. The one dance I went to at another school during high school, they’d literally hired a bunch of trance and breakbeat DJs. That was maybe a bit much at the time, but a lot of people loved it.
I mean, I could keep going on what all this guy gets wrong (how lots of old line electronic dance acts from the UK use live drums and instruments being a huge one, and how there are plenty of straight edge dance music acts being another,) but let’s end on the two tritest points in the article: the elitist little jab about UK politicians using Underworld in campaigns, and the last minute save by trying to bring kinship with your fellow man into it. On first point, it’s sign of just how stogy electronic music had perhaps become in Europe when political campaigns use it. It’s so mainstream and palatable that you can use it to back your brand. If that’s not a negative, then lets remember that Bank of America was using Aphex Twin’s “Boy/Girl Song” to flog loans in the US back 1998, and even Gap stores in every shopping mall in America included Air’s Moon Safari in the playlist, so again, we’ve had a similar acceptance of the music from a “using it to sell your brand/self”-thing. It’s a non-point. Meanwhile, if he really wants some kinship, don’t be a rude skeptic right as electronic music finally finds a wide embrace in the US roughly 2 decades after the Summer of Love in UK. Let the scene grow naturally, and embrace that fact global electronic music culture is finally mainstream in a global sense too, at least in most developed countries now.
TL;DR: I will not get off your front lawn. It was never yours only to begin with, and you need glasses so you can see all the variety and beauty that’s always been in front of you.
That was a nice vent.
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Posted on January 14th, 2013
Filed under: General — Karl Olson @ 3:57 pm
So, after over decade of existence and a change of ownership and name, Anime Kingdom/Anime Raku, the anime store that was critical not only to my development as an anime fan, but as a human being as I made a lot of life long friends there, went out of business in October 2012. I only found out this past weekend when I was running some errands while visiting the US. I was pretty shocked by it.
Truthfully, it was probably a pretty inevitable thing. Niche retail doesn’t survive gentrification, and hobby-oriented shops are niche pretty much no matter the hobby is. It doesn’t help that anime and manga as a physical retail medium as opposed to streamed and downloaded content has essentially been the end game for that market even while the physical market boomed from 2000-2007, but given all of the stores selling figurines and plushies up here in Canada, I have to think it wasn’t just the content being sold that was the problem. A lot of the pieces of downtown Bellevue have changed radically over the past decade or so, and the financial crisis and the dot com bust were always ever only going to be speed bumps in Bellevue’s eventual growth from bedroom suburb to high-rise condos and such. The buildings that sat half-finished during the years where I made it downtown every Friday to pick up a stack of new manga and DVDs, and to hang out with the friends that probably kept me from being a hapless shut-in were all finished years ago. Therefore, it only makes sense that some of the last 1-2 and story retail spots in that area would eventually succumb to the bulldozer. That’s not to say the building itself has been flattened yet, but apparently it will be.
It also wasn’t all great memories in the long term either. Friendships that seemed at the time to be immutable were felled so rapidly it hardly seemed possible. People grew up, got married and simply disappeared from the social circle not out of malice, but maturity. Even I’m part of that – I hadn’t bought anything from the store in years, not because I wasn’t a fan, but because I couldn’t reasonably be spending big money on school and anime at the same time. My purchases have narrowed into very specific releases, and are pre-ordered from Amazon. I’m sure other folks from those days have made the same kinds of trade offs.
Still, I’ll always reflect fondly on those days. They provided a lot of fodder for my blog posts, and while some of them are coated in the most embarrassing fanboyism (not that this post isn’t, and not that I won’t probably regret this meta-aside a decade from now looking back,) I will always cherish the memories themselves. Yeah, it’s bland and banal as all get out to fondly remember taking the bus down from Bellevue Community College, walking in the winter cold down the alleyways, and going in the back entrance to Anime Kingdom to see a group of good friends talking about the latest episodes of the newest shows. It’s plebian to cherish walking out that back entrance across the alley to the Starbucks attached to the Barnes and Noble (whose manga selection sucked back then, and who didn’t have 10% pre-order discount,) and buying a venti peppermint mocha and a slice of lemon pound cake or a chocolate croissant with your friends, then walking back to that store and talking geek stuff until the store closed at 7. I know many other people’s early 20’s are way more exciting than mine. However, they were mine, and I will always look on them fondly.
Rather, I loved that chapter of my nerd life, and there can no be question that it is closed.
Posted on November 27th, 2012
Filed under: General — Karl Olson @ 11:22 am
Just after midnight, as Danielle and I drove back from a early birthday dinner at Lolita’s Cantina, we spotted an older person in only their underwear and a T-shirt walking down Hastings. As it was freezing outside, we circled back and offered the man my coat (it was just an old one from Target.) He asked for a ride to a shelter, and since he was mostly lucid (he had been walking in the wrong direction,) we let him in and drove him down. It turns out he had a drunken argument with his girlfriend, and she’d kicked him out. As we dropped him off, I recalled that I had a fleece blanket, a spare pair of Kmart sneakers, some granola bars and some vitamin waters in the back of the car, so I popped the trunk, and Danielle outfitted the man as best as we could. He said it was quite nice of us, but Danielle commented afterwards that it wasn’t something extraordinary; it was just the right thing to do.
Still, it feels good to do the right thing.