Friday, July 10, 2015

About My Book Characters...

For those that think my characters come from video games that I play, I'd say no to that. None of my books are fan fiction (though I had started some stories based in the Marvel Universe and the Star Wars Universe that I'd put on hold about a year and a half ago).

I write the story first and the characters I slowly develop as the story progresses. Sometimes, when I am part way through what I am writing, I want to visualize and get a better picture so I try creating that character in a video game. I recently wrote an article about this topic. That starts with a character from my books that already exists, not one that existed in a game world, or that I created for a game. I've never taken any of my characters or the ideas for my books from another creative property.

It would be fun to write for other pre-created worlds and concepts in a fan fiction story, but for now I want to get my own well founded first.

So the Butterfly Dragon and her counterpart the Dragon Butterfly both are my concepts and characters and started from my own ideas (away from video games). The Butterfly Dragon existed as a counterpart to Alicia Westin's Night Style character, and as the foundation of their friendship. Keep in mind that I am doing this on a very tight and limited budget and pretty much by myself. If I could afford to hire artists to work with in developing concepts then I most certainly would. For now its just myself.

So, I just wanted to say that the characters and stories are completely original (not coming from any video game or other source) and the delay in publishing is as a result not my intent, but a result of this cult.

I am Brian Joseph Johns and this is

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Music, Composition And Literacy: Are We Really Composing Or Just Faking It?

Recently I've been getting attacked on the fact that I use a music editor that is used for mixing pre-sampled music quite often. Some of the claims goes to the ends that I can't really play, or I can't play live. If I record a guitar line using my keyboard and include it in my composition, then I'm made fun of in the fact that I'm not really a guitar player.

That's the truth, I'm not really a guitar player at all. I know about 15 chords and that's about it but with my theory background and about a year of practice, I'd be able to call myself a guitar player.

Not that I'm jealous though there's a joke in the music industry that keyboardists are all really just frustrated because they never became guitarists.


Maybe guitarists are frustrated that they never became violinists.

They usually have a come back for that one that goes: we're really not into sax and violins.

It's true though that the electric guitar became the violin of the modern age, so guys like Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani and many others really were the virtuosos of the modern violin.

Anyway, this isn't about keyboardists versus guitarists. Its about the fact that just because you use a sample and midi editing software that includes a prepackaged set of samples, are you really creating music?

That answer I'd say is a twisted one but I'd say yes in certain terms but different people do different things with it and for it. Could you play your creations live or in an acoustic set with other session players? I mean something that you composed via sample mixing. Most in that aspect are mixing music and not delving into the world of melody, harmony and rhythm (not referring to the Kybalion brand of rhythm mind you, that some people might use to try and manipulate you), but mixing is a talent and a skill all in itself and a part of the fold.

In most such editors though, there's the option to record your tracks live off the floor or record them via a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) instrument (like a keyboard) or a step recorder (the equivalent to notation in the world of MIDI, might be a standard notation interface like the ancient program for the Atari ST series called Notator or a step time editor where you can set and delete individual notes in a time line).

The reason that sample mixers and midi editors are so powerful is that they make great scratch pads for jotting down your musical ideas. Usually most people might come up with a motif they like musically or melodically, and work it around into a series of themes and phrases maybe hammering out a structure for the overall piece. Then they get down to recording it. If its a commonly patterned piece of music like most pop music with the structure:

hook intro / verse / transition / verse / transition / chorus / verse / transition / chorus / bridge / instrumental solo / transition or verse / transition / chorus to fade

Not all music follows a structured patterned like that (take classical music, progressive rock and contemporary jazz or many kinds of ethnic music) but that's most common for standard radio airplay tracks and popular music.

Most popular music is composed in short segments called bars. Usually a bar has four beats in 4/4 time of which most popular music is composed for its time signature. The top 4 means that there's 4 beats to a bar, and the bottom 4 means that each quarter note gets one beat (one count). In other kinds of music such as a shuffle you'll find 6/8 time signature or for most rock and roll and blues you'll see 12/8. Pink Floyd's Money by the way is in 7/8 time with a 4/4 instrumental bridge.

In our pop song above, you might figure out how long each section is and what kind of a rhythm section (once again, not the Kybalion kind) you want for that part of the track, so you might compose a drum pattern with one of the midi instruments or VST (Virtual Synthesizer Track) to compose your drum patterns for each part.

Then you might come up with a bass line that goes with the motifs you've come up with. Usually most bass follows and accents the kick drum of your drum pattern, and follows the tonic (the root note of the currently playing harmonic chord) in your motif. Sometimes your bass parts might benefit from a bit of fills and riffs, or even getting into the area of harmony (playing parts that aren't always following the tonic). Billy Sheehan, John Entwistle, Verdine White, Adam Clayton and Geddy Lee are among many bassists who write and play some of the most creative and versatile solid bass lines memorable in pop and rock music. If you want to get creative with your bass lines, listen to their music for an idea of just how unlimited the bass really is and can be.

Each of those parts are called patterns and they're easy to work with when editing your pop song. All of them arranged together to the structure of your song is called your bed tracks. That's usually composed of drums and bass and any other rhythmically oriented tracks.

After doing so you might do the same for your harmonic lines. Those are anything to do with the harmonic composition that compliments and accompanies your melody. Keyboard pads and guitar lines often fill this area. You'd follow the same pattern structure as you would with your drum and bass lines once again for the purposes of editing.

The vocal lines, melodic lines and any solos generally are part of the final was of these means of recording. Vocal lines might include any harmony parts and the all important lead vocal. The instrumental solo just after the bridge and usually played over the musical part of the chorus or verse.

That's structured creation of a song and that's pretty much what you do when you are going for that kind of a sound, in simple terms and explanation.

Now are you creating if you do it with a sample editor? If the melody and the majority of the harmonic parts are yours, then yes. The question is though, could you play it live or in an acoustic unplugged set? If it has a lot of samples that you didn't write or play, then the answer is likely no.

Part of composing music is arranging and that's part of it to. Any great piece of music can be redone into an acoustic version, without production and maybe played with just one instrument or maybe just one instrument and a vocal line. Even the most over produced and latest electronic dubstep and dance music will find a classic audience when that generation reaches their 40s and 50s, you'll see the dubstep generation playing their music on guitars and pianos in acoustic sets. Most of it follows the same idea that a memorable and striking melody line, harmony and rhythm is what it takes.

Not all music is composed in such a "canned" method of doing so and a lot of purists believe that doing so takes the "art" out of composition. In other words, any time that you try to pattern something into predictable time slices of experience and reuse them over a period, you're really taking away from the essence of what art is about: familiar unpredictability. Knowing enough about what you're seeing or hearing to gain some familiarity with it while being presented with enough unpredictable experience so that you're learning or considering something new. A new point of view that you might not have considered.

A musical motif that gives you goose bumps when you hear it. Some symphonies will build on a theme, and touch upon it many times throughout each movement, but rarely the exact same way as the previous passage of that theme or motif. There are different kinds of music for different situations and the amount of time and the atmosphere around which the music is providing a foreground or a background. So that does not make pop music lesser than other styles of music, just more suited to different situations and listeners who invest a certain portion of their time to music. For instance some music combines many elements (such as accelerando and diminuendo) some of which can't be achieved with some software or have to be mimicked (turning the metronome off and playing your tracks live and slowing the tempo or speeding it up gradually as need be). Even some modern dance and electronic music takes advantage of this. Dynamics are an important part to composition as well (how much presence a part has versus how little and how that changes over time). A lot of modern music plays with dynamics on many levels, with frequency filters for some parts (which would be like automating your graphic equalizer to vary itself over time in tempo with the music), and many other techniques as well which were not a part of the tools of yesteryear (though some very inventive musicians learned how to do so with bowing techniques on their violins and string instruments or by making parts for their instrument like the mute of a trumpet or putting a towel on a kettle drum).

When you make music with software there's probably going to be a few people who don't believe that you wrote it, that you just grabbed some samples and mixed them and tada! There you have your shiny new song. That impression is something that many composers must overcome. Being able to play your piece acoustically live (on a piano, synth, guitar or other instrument) is one way of convincing naysayers but you have to ask yourself, why do you need to convince them? What are they doing? There were naysayers when the electric guitar amplifier was invented. There was an outcry when the guitar was first invented just as there was for the piano. Music used to be for the privileged and only those who could afford an instrument and the training to read and write music were allowed to play it and most certainly compose it. Portable instruments were at one time by the

Nobles and the Church had seen as a bane to society and that is not to say that they were bad, but more likely worried about the power to read and write music falling into the hands of the common people. Much like the transition of mass literacy requiring the invention of the printing press and the spread of ancient works for everyone to learn to read (such as many religious texts which actually resulted in the spread of literacy). There was a time that playing the wrong harmonics could get you a death sentence (the famed interval known as the Diablus En Musica). Counterpoint was developed (used in many Gregorian chants) around this idea and around a rigid set of rules for how linear melodies could be combined. If the melodies ever crossed the Diablus, it was seen as an omen or could result in the death or imprisonment of the composer.

Funny enough this mode of thinking was present right up until the evolution of early blues and rock and roll and is why when blues started to spread in popularity, there was an outcry against it. That's because the Diablus En Musica (the devil in music) is an interval of exactly half an octave. This interval occurs in nearly all dominant seventh chords (eg. A7 that is a+c#+e+g) by way of the major third and the flat seventh and is a natural part of the fifth mode of the major scale (Mixolydian). The dominant seventh chord is present in a lot of rock and popular music, but the Diablus interval is present in some of the greatest works of all time as well. So maybe the real Diablus was in those who tried to stop the spread of music and literacy. So every time another tool comes along that puts an art form in the hands of many, there's always going to be some people who try to stomp it in some way. Most of the people who try to stop it are those who want to wield that power for their own or reserve it for a certain few or those who are afraid to try to learn to do it themselves. Maybe even jealous.

Keep in mind there's a whole new brand of theft too that's been taking advantage of technology, that plays upon duality, whereby one group of people might spy upon someone creating, and try to build the same or similar thing at the same time while tricking the originator into contradicting their own creation. That way, you seem not to really be defending your own efforts. Then they make it a competition between the two for the credit despite who really came up with it. Many people and teams play in this sort of competition and as a result and the real creators could end up being at a loss as a result while thieves ride of the wings of those who created it. I'd honestly say to watch out for that if you write or compose. Chances are a lot of the naysayers about whether you are really writing or not when you compose via technology are actually part of that idiom. I am definitely not a member of any ideology that does things that way.

Everything that I compose, I can play live if I had to on the piano or a keyboard because I do nearly every one of my instrumental tracks via recording (except on the rare times when my ASIO drivers aren't behaving and I'm fighting latency issues). I've probably lost more recordings and compositions over the years than I have with me now (at forty or fifty pieces of music I've composed as far back as the pre-computer portable four track era).

Even the stuff that sounds like it was recorded on guitar because I really played it on keyboards, not guitar. I just know enough about guitars and theory to be able to play a lot like a guitarist.

Maybe that's because I'm really frustrated that I never became a guitarist.

I think its because I really like playing with my organ  and I like sax and violins (that didn't quite come out the way it was supposed to).

I mean, I can't keep my pianist down.

Errr. Maybe that's enough for this article.

Brian Joseph Johns

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Of Butterfly Dragon, Dragon Butterfly and character design...

I've been playing games from the Saints Row series. I am a firm believer in the fact that books, movies, television and games are a great way to and that they are make believe. That means that you can peruse them with the only risk being emotional.

They are most certainly a powerful medium and most parents' efforts should be directed towards getting their children ready for when they can make their own judgements about what is right and wrong, and learning to accept the responsibility for their bad choices but teaching them to feel confident enough to make the right ones. The ones that they wont regret years down the road and decisions that they make of their own accord (ie not as a result of peer pressure or their impressions gained by outside influences that contradict their own notion of good and bad and everything in between).

I don't have any children, which means I am free to peruse whatever I like in terms of entertainment (I usually like very good stories, drama and action in my movies though I like story driven movies as well). Some movies and games that I peruse have violence in them but I am not a violent person really. Some movies and games that I peruse have references to drugs (or more recently, drug use in one of them).

When you buy a movie, a book, a television show or a game, you only get to see the cover and short caption related to the plot. When you buy it, you are taking a chance that it is going to be in your tastes and hopefully that it is going to affect you in some way. Challenge your thinking and sometimes even shock you because when it does, it makes you think about things you might not have thought about from the safety of your predictable surroundings though I like predictable surroundings. So they're a thrill from the safety of your zone of predicable safety.

So as I said, I bought Saints Row 4 and Saints Row 2 on sale expecting something a little bit different and it has such a good interface for doing characters that I thought I`ll do up a character of Butterfly Dragon (in Saints Row 4) to how I envision her, and see how it goes. I managed to get her pretty close to the look that I envision but the costume needs a lot more work seeing as it is a canned suit from the game. The character's looks appear almost exactly how I envision her though aside from her clothing.

I`ve done the same in DC Universe Online (I`d do the same thing with Marvel`s games but they haven't put one out where you can design your own hero using Marvel`s system and powers).

In Saints Row 2, I created the Dragon Butterfly to how I envision her (obviously limited by the fact that it is multiple choice really, but I got it very close to her look and she really looks great in terms of design though not enough choices in clothing or tattoos).

While playing the Butterfly Dragon character in Saints Row 4, there is a questionable scene where the character actually gets involved in the "partying", which goes far beyond anything I'd envisioned for the character and the Butterfly Dragon, but this isn't the story of the Butterfly Dragon. It's the story of Saint's Row and I put a character from one of my novels into it and got some unexpected results. So the reason that I am saying this is because if anyone out there that is carrying the "weight" or aspects of the Heylyn Yates character from my book The Butterfly Dragon II: Dragon Butterfly, watch out because some people might try to put something onto you that is not a part of the character Heylyn Yates (Ai Yuanlin Ying).

She's a headstrong girl as she was growing up. She never really got into "partying" a lot because she was always so obsessed with designing and spent a lot of time training for her three black belts (in Kung Fu which I believe does not use the Kyu system of progression, Tae Kwon Do and Goju Jujitsu Ryu). The character does drink on occasion (though rarely excessively). The character does not get involved in much more than that at all.

So if anything comes your way in regard to that, keep in mind that the character, or myself do not condone excessive activities in that way. That just means, its Ok to have fun responsibly, ie don't drive if you're drinking, stay away from drugs and make sure you stay with your friends and leave together (leaving the driving to a designated driver or even better, a taxi). Heylyn rarely does "party" though she loves dancing and drugs are not a part of her being at all. So the Butterfly Dragon has nothing to do with drugs in that way. She helped Monique to get away from a path that could have landed her in a gutter. Heylyn is head strong, independent enough to make her own decisions and she usually makes good ones. After the runway fashion shows she designs for, there is often an after show party where she usually socializes with those in her business over a drink. I myself don't smoke or use narcotics at all and I drink on occasion so don`t expect those things from the character or myself.

I posted this partly as it seems that the cult spying on my computer illegally (again, I am not a criminal or a member of a gang and its conducted by a local collective in the community illegally) seem to have a pretty good idea about the people I used as a character reference for the characters of my books. So this is mostly a heads up to those Women to be on guard for the activities of this cult in relation to the characters. If you start getting stalked about activities that don't seem to coincide with the characters of the book, chances are its the cult who conduct the illegal spying at work. Their reach is quite far and devious though I'm working on getting them "caught" with their hand in the cookie jar.

As far as Dragon Butterfly goes, she too is even more rigid that Heylyn. I can`t say too much without giving away plot details. She is a ruthless killer, who will befriend someone and then quickly dispatch them to seek and ends to her ultimate goals which I will never divulge. In the Saint's Row universe, she'd never get involved in running an empire and be more likely to take them down, though its not quite so simple as that. You wouldn't be likely to meet her in an office party as much as running into her on the street. She'd just kind of show up from out of the corner of your eye.

Again this is just a testing ground to try out various designs for the characters and in case someone is carrying the weight of those characters. I never take anything that I write from a video game. Never. I write first and create the character in the book and start the book off, then after a few chapters in I might try to feel them out in a game or even a 3D program or Photoshop (from scanned hand sketches). Games are great tools for that and giving them a bit of a visual life. The game designers really put some great tools for designing the facial features and body that make a lot possible in terms of character design.

As I was getting to my point about books, movies, television shows and video games. As Forest Gump's Mother used to say: Books, movies, television shows and video games are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. When you buy it, you're taking a chance. Nobody should ever be penalized for the movies they watch, the books they read or the television or video games that they play. They're make believe. You never know what's going to happen between the beginning and the ending. You might not agree with it, but its part of the experience. I stand by that fact that they are and should be protected forms of expression. Hopefully most people will use them responsibly as such.

I honestly think that games and movies are a lot alike in that aspect and some games like graphic novels and books are designed primarily for mature gamers. In many households across the country, there are adults, couples, game parties and many other experiences that have turned it into a social endeavor. Though I'd be just as likely to curl up with Heylyn on the couch and watch a quiet movie together (in my dreams), I believe in the fact that those mediums of presentation should always be well protected. Years ago some people tried to ban Catcher In The Rye and even The Chrysalids and comic books from Libraries and Schools too. When perusing a form of media like the ones I`ve discussed, you might see something that you don`t agree with, and if it challenges you to think about that aspect of life or another point of view, then its done its job. You have to be challenged by something to consider why it is you disagree with it. Some content is not intended for younger viewers and people have to remember that with books, movies and games.

Though I enjoy the Saints Row series of games, I wouldn't like being a gangster, even if the gangster is the focal point of the movie or game. Then again, does watching The Silence Of The Lambs make you an FBI agent or a serial killer? Does it mean you agree with serial killing? Or even just killing? None of the above. It challenges you to take a trip with characters that you grow to identify with (or don't identify with at all) and then venture with them through a an adventure or trial of some form. They either survive, changed by their experience or they don't survive. In either case can it can be an enlightening experience and perhaps it is one of the most potent forms of learning by the fact that you can have such experiences without the real life risks.

None of my written characters are based upon anything to do with the video games that I play at all. I write, come up with a character in the book, then try to manifest that character in a video game so I can try to embody the characters in the game world.

So to play as a gangster does not mean to agree with them anymore than it means to watch Silence Of The Lambs is to agree with serial killing. Now someone is going to bring up the show Dexter.

I am Brian Joseph Johns and this is

Monday, July 6, 2015

Before Anyone Has To Dance On The Issue Of Racism About My Articles...

Just in case anyone happens to imply that my articles are in any way racist or that I am of that nature, here's some information for you.

First of all, some of the earlier readers of this blog might remember that I had a story on here entitled: The Answer Is In The Keys. It was a story about a war time business owner in New Orleans who sells his family business and buys a night club smack dab in the middle of the New Orleans strip near the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. The character was actually written as an African American. The night club starts out with a thud and he fears that he'll lose his business until one night a mysterious and beautiful lady shows up. She commandeers a drunkard from the audience who turns out to be a washed up jazz and blues all star. They start showing up and performing and the night club starts to fill. All of this to the background of war time New Orleans in the late 1930s. I've been there before (when I was a kid my parents took us). It was a sort of tribute to the jazz crooner Ella Fitzgerald and another fellow Canadian Oscar Peterson. There's also the fact that I am a pianist and keyboardist as well with a lot of other influences. I kind of pictured the lady singer like Rhianna or Nora Jones (both visually and vocally). Zoey Deschannel too (she's got an awesome voice). I stopped writing it on the basis of harassment I was receiving from some people locally in the area and ended up canning it.

In 2001, I actually helped an Iranian lady to get away from a relationship where she was subject to abuse (she'd show up to work at her donut shop with a black eye nearly every time I'd see her). She ended up fleeing to another country I believe with a bit of help from the authorities. I ended up being stalked by her husbands friends for a long time for meddling. Apparently he had some powerful contacts. From what I understand she's living a full and happy life to this day. I still get trouble and revenge attempts related to that situation even to this day. Likely but not certainly the majority of my troubles.

My last girlfriend from five years ago is Korean, a beautiful Woman and a great relationship as well. I was very fortunate to have had such a relationship with her. She ended up getting stalked a great deal as a result of her mixed culture relationship with me. An issue I'd never experienced until recently.

Before that, I was in a very serious relationship with a beautiful Chinese Classical Music and Ballet dancer. She is still a very strong influence on my life and being as well and I don't think a day goes by I haven't thought about her. Certainly a beautiful Woman.

I am single now and have been so for five years living a pretty solitary life though my current love interest is also an Oriental lady.

Lastly, my story A Lady's Prerogative II: Wounded Aerth, one of my favourites for its scope and some of the issues it tackles. It involves a multicultural cast and crosses into the folklore of many different worldly origins. That is a finished recently book (first draft).

The Butterfly Dragon as well, is a story that represents the lives of two Women, the daughter of a Chinese immigrant who befriends an intelligent girl at school and helps her to overcome her confidence issues. The girl she helps goes on to discover a formula that has the potential to cure many degenerative diseases. They end up reuniting to change the world as superheroes, attempting to recover the formula when it is stolen by a corrupted investor. That is a finished work (first draft).

So if you're being forced to "dance" because you read my stuff, keep that in mind.

In my last article I talked about how a contrast is needed to make extremes. There are people in this world who knowingly plan to make someone look worse by abusing them for long periods or victimizing them, knowing that when they break down and react it will serve to make someone else look that much better than them. In other words making someone the bad side so that someone else can look like they are really good. Extremes are also easier to swap. You can't swap the moods, behavior and reputation of someone who is balanced because it has no extremes. So consider anything whereby you might be forced to "dance" on the basis of what you watch, read, listen to, play, talk about or experience as an attack on your being. You're free to do all of those things and shouldn't have anyone teeter you back and forth alone or as a group hoping to tip you over to one of the extremes hoping that you`ll react enough so they can charge you a debt for your reaction. The people who do that are thieves and the only debt they're creating is theirs. They won't get away with it for much longer...

Keep in mind also that as I said in the last post, there's people right now who observe other people's communications illegally (criminal gangs too) who use this observation to steal what they say and do. That's not being paranoid. That's just a warning.

Brian Joseph Johns