Rick Neidlinger: Rattlesnake

I’ve recently started to collaborate with Rick Neidlinger from Kansas, USA, whom I’ve met on SoundCloud and I happen to like his true “southern rock ‘n’ roll” tunes and sound. So we decided to come up with a four-track EP: Rick would write and record everything, and then I’d contribute to the project by recording real acoustic drums, mixing and mastering the tracks.

This is the first result of the collaboration, entitled Rattlesnake:

More coming soon.

Pendulum Pet FREE on 28 and 29 May

My second novel, Pendulum Pet, is FREE on Amazon on Saturday, 28 May, and Sunday, 29 May, as a part of KDP Select. During this limited time you can grab it without risking any of your capital assets for something you don’t like. In fact, even if you’re never going to read it, you’d be doing me a favour if you downloaded a copy, because all downloads contribute to the book’s stats and visibility on Amazon. Head to this page for more information about the book.

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Rick Harsch: The Appearance of Death to a Hindu Woman

AoD2-300pxI have been shamelessly procrastinating for quite a while now and have avoided writing this review, figuring that I’ve had many more “pressing things” to do – for the very simple reason that this is one of those books that are certainly not “easy”. As such it has called for quite a bit of pondering, because writing a hasty review would have not done it any justice. Let me start by typing a few words about Rick Harsch first. In fact, I’ll just pilfer a bit of my own text from the review of Harsch’s Arjun and the Good Snake that I wrote a couple of months ago.

Once upon a time, Rick Harsch was well on his way to becoming internationally renowned for his traditionally-published and widely acclaimed “Driftless Trilogy” (The Driftless Zone, Billy Verite, and The Sleep of Aborigines), which has also been translated into French and made its way into the curriculum of the somewhat obscure University of Tasmania (as Rick defines it in Snake, “the intellectual center of the only block of land to exterminate all its aboriginals“). However – rather unsurprisingly, if you know what an onerous conundrum of uncalled-for incidents tends to surround Rick most of the time – due to an extremely unfortunate sequence of events, including but not limited to the vastly premature death of his Hollywood agent, a bitter though hilarious (to an external observer) dispute with his subsequent literary agent, the bankruptcy of his French publisher and other similarly torturous circumstances, Rick Harsch’s tenacious infiltration of the world literary canon has been on a rather involuntary and undeserved hiatus of late. The infamous downward spiral of the traditional publishing industry that has got out of control after the advent of e-readers has only further complicated Rick’s theretofore cunning world-domination scheme.

In light of all of the above, Rick has recently decided to join the indie author tribe, and I’m helping him out by formatting his books for e-readers. Arjun and the Good Snake was the first book of his to be re-released as an e-book, in a series of others that should follow shortly. The Appearance of Death to a Hindu Woman was the second e-book to be published, and I’m almost done with three more, which should be out soon. Appearance goes together with Snake and represents the second half of Rick’s Indian Duology, or however he may refer to the pair of novels. Like in Snake, in Appearance he once again focuses on India; on, as he puts it himself in his description of the book, “…the spaces where love and delusion, myth and existence weave sinuously, rhapsodically, through the Indian world.

The resulting “love story” is an extraordinarily poetic and meticulously thought-out narrative, describing a pilgrimage of an US American man through India in an attempt to overcome the dark forces (mundane as well as otherworldly, even demonic) that would prevent his reunion with his Indian love. However clear and relatively simple this basic plot may seem when you “boil it down” like this, Rick’s writing is, of course, not nearly as straightforward. What starts out as a tale of love in the face of culturally-related obstacles (with the traditional Indian family opposing their daughter’s relationship with a Pisaka, eater of dead flesh, as the girl’s mother refers to the narrator) soon develops into a feverish, phantasmagoric journey of a man-out-of-place through the unknowable intricacies of Indian history and myth. The pilgrimage itself may or not be real, and on his path the narrator is derailed by “suspicious” characters, assailed by demons, and drawn into “the foul game” (as one of the characters refers to it, and which involves a horrendous case of dysentery). Soon the story takes on a somewhat magic-realist dimension that makes it difficult to separate reality from delusions. After darker and darker turns the story culminates in a feverish monologue of the narrator whose pilgrimage has, apparently, not succeeded quite as he has imagined – or has it? Perhaps what really happens is that he finally succumbs to the demon Theengu Karuppu, as he suspected he would (and was warned about it)?

The Appearance of Death to a Hindu Woman is the sixth book by Harsch I’ve read, and such “uncertainty” with regard to his writing, resulting from the frequent “phantasmal” passage, seems to be his modus operandi: it’s simply something one comes to terms with and learns to love, or one doesn’t. When reading Appearance one should also be prepared to tolerate the frustration one might feel (if one is not exactly an expert in India) by all the Indian names, places, Tamil and Hindi words and concepts, and especially Indian mythology, which Rick, naturally, rarely bothers to explain (such “India-for-dummies” explanations would not have any place in a narrative like this, anyway). Rather than resorting to googling all of this one can also do oneself a favour and just remain relatively ignorant – as far as I’m concerned, one doesn’t have to know exactly what is going on to appreciate the story.

What I mean to say is, if you happen to be one of those readers who like their books clear, to the point, and lacking any digressions and seemingly gratuitous “asides”, you would probably do yourself a favour by staying away from Harsch’s Appearance (and probably Snake as well). However, if you can appreciate a random hint of obscurity and see value in an occasional internal monologue and cryptic passage, this is for you – especially if you can relish the exquisite “prose poetry” language that Appearance has to offer.

Grumblin’ Ole Geezer @ Leprous

Leprous is a Norwegian prog-rock/metal band I found out about from a pal of mine with a compatible taste shortly after they released The Congregation last year. As soon as I got around to listening to it carefully, this and their previous album, Coal, easily “qualified” among some of my favourite albums. The band brings everything I like go the game: superior musicianship; goosebump-inducing vocal lines and superb harmonies in combination with mind-bogglingly complex polyrhytmic (often odd-time, yay) structures; and massive sound.

I was overjoyed to find out they were about to play at the Musik & Frieden club in Berlin on Thursday, because I really wanted to hear them live, obviously. I am even happier to report that their live act is just as great as their last two albums: these guys can play, and they can sing (the lead vocalist is incredible, and the guys on backing vocals are really good as well). And, finally (after two very “subtle” concerts I’ve been to), last night’s gig sounded really good – and was actually loud enough that I felt as if I was actually attending a damn rock ‘n’ roll concert!

But, first things first.

Leprous, the headliners, were accompanied by Earthside from the U.S. and Voyager from Australia.

The music of Earthside was great, actually, and quite an unexpected bonus to the evening. Unfortunately they resorted to a rather extreme kind of “semi-live” performance that I just couldn’t get into. OK, I really understand the ins and outs of live (or pseudo-live) acts and I understand why bands without lucrative budgets will often resort to various “provisional solutions” in order to bring their vision to life despite the “logistic obstacles”. But I tend to be somewhat old-school in this regard: using sequencers, loops and pre-recorded synths in case you don’t have a small army of proficient keyboardists at your disposal is one thing, but having a whole symphonic orchestra and even SINGERS accompany you from a projection screen at the side of the stage just makes me grumble. There’s something about a four-piece band (guitarist, bassist, keyboardist and drummer) accompanying a pre-recorded vocalist that’s just unholy, and such a solution will bother me to the degree where I can’t seriously enjoy the show. I’d be much happier with unembellished instrumentals, which the guys would have easily been able to play, had they wanted to (they are, without any doubt, awesome musicians). I’m also too old to appreciate statements like “you might have seen the following song on YouTube”… Yeah, I might have, and if I wanted to see it yet again, performed in a completely identical manner, then I could have just stayed at home and listened to YouTube real loud. Too bad and a wasted opportunity, because music-wise these guys have a LOT of great things to say. If somebody happens to throw some cash at them, they’ll definitely be going places, because they can rumble with the best of them.

Voyager was, fortunately, more “organic”, though they still used loops and pre-recorded synths. But OK, as long as an actual human is singing and two guitarists (one of them female!), a bassist and a drummer are blasting away, fine with me. However, music-wise I wasn’t very convinced by this particular blend of techno-metal. OK, if it floats their boat… But I couldn’t help scowling a bit at quite a few relatively cheesy tunes (with major chords, perish the thought) and a specifically mellow voice of the singer. This also resulted in one of my more cynical pals defining Voyager as “Modern Talking thirty years later (including perms)”, so after that the whole thing became hilarious: I couldn’t get the notion out of my head, so I couldn’t help laughing into my Weinschorle LightTM (heavy on mineral water) for the next fifteen minutes. As Voyager exhibited a clear ambition to be a “party band”, and did manage to persuade a good portion of the audience, our whole gang snickering at my cynical pal’s diatribes was actually in line with the general sentiment. Voyager was definitely not bad, don’t get me wrong, and they’re obviously great musicians, but their particular blend of genres and “let’s party” attitude is simply not my cup o’ tea. I much prefer your normal gloomy, dark, depressing epic metal – and I finally got my share when Leprous finally came on stage.

As I’ve already stated above, in my book Leprous are simply amazing. Their live act was completely on par with the best bands I’ve seen over the years and did perfect justice to the ingeniousness of their last two albums. If anything in this world still happens because of merit and superb achievements, they should be one of the bands that go places. Their professionalism and amazing music will hopefully place them on more “prominent” stages in the future, because it was somewhat sad to see them pour their guts out to a half-empty hall (which I really didn’t expect: I mean, what the hell do folks do with their time these days, if in a city of 3.5 million people not more than 200 souls can be bothered to spit out the meager 21 euros for a prog-metal feast such as this triple concert)?

But OK, at least this way a wish I’ve been toying with for a while came true on this occasion: we found a great spot on the comfortable bleachers in the far corner, where the sound was absolutely the best due to the extra bass boost, and we could lounge there in our makeshift thrones, in a strategic position slightly elevated over the enthusiastic crowd jumping directly in front of the stage. Even visibility wasn’t too impaired because of the relative emptiness of the hall, and whenever one of us felt like it we could actually stroll to the front and stand six point six six meters from the stage. Perfect for grumblin’ ole geezers. The only thing I was worried about throughout the continuous onslaught of the greatest tracks from The Congregation and Coal was whether Leprous would play my two favourite tracks –

– and they finally did. Down, my (temporarily) second-favourite track, was (without counting the single-track encore) their penultimate choice; and they blasted through my (momentarily) favourite track, The Valley, last (with perfect vocals: the stamina of their lead singer / keyboardist is simply astounding, and this was after tracks with growls and screams et cetera). Perfect.

The only hesitation, preventing me from being completely fascinated by the whole affair, was a peculiar, nagging suspicion that I was once again witnessing the death of “rock ‘n’ roll” concerts as I have known them; live performances on their way out. First of all, the lack of people interested in this event was astounding; and as I stood in front of the stage absorbing The Valley it was blatantly obvious to me that I was standing among musicians, mostly – a small, inbred tribe of fans that knew many an insidious syncopated trick, pulled off by Leprous, by heart. There was a notable lack of any innocent bystanders (save for the few obligatory bored-looking musicians’ girlfriends); of people who weren’t “in the know”, but still enjoyed the show; just another case of musicians playing for musicians.

Furthermore, prog rock/metal has – in the last decade, with the technological advances in music hardware – progressed (pun intended) to the point where the sound of these bands is virtually indistinguishable from one another, as well as from their recorded work. Three hours into mastodonic, larger-than-life, “God’s-own-amp” riffs I started thinking, holy fuck, when did this happen… And the zero-tolerance-for-any-errors-or-deviations attitude, exhibited by the bands, obviously stems from the absolutely rigid, in-ear-monitored, metronome-dictated song structures of today’s top-notch performances. Once upon a time underground bands were happy if they could get their hands on a few beat-up Marshall heads, and rejoiced at every opportunity to decently record anything… While nowadays underground bands actually live in their own studios, and all the “zero-mistake” perfectionism of creating (and editing) music in studios trickles over to live performances to the degree where you’re actually listening to studio albums, only louder… And everything is fuelled by the digital conundrum of computers, sequencers, software, amp simulations, cab emulations, time-synced effects and visuals, eight-string guitars quadrupled through Kemper/Axe FX/etc. processors, gates, compressors, EQs, exciters, saturators and limiters and maximisers to the point where you’re not sure – particularly if you’re a grumblin’ ole geezer – that any of what you’re hearing is actually organic at all… Or whether the bands are simply aspiring to simulate every nuance of the digital fabrications they have been constructing in their virtual studios to the point where the once separate sides of the creative process (songwriting, studio production and live acts) become indistinguishable. I mean, how far away are these simulations from simply becoming full-blown “virtual” performances? Hell, for all anyone seems to care, what would actually be the difference of modern rock/metal bands simply performing in their own living rooms and being projected as holograms into their audience’s living rooms (or clubs, for the purpose of sheer loudness) all over the world? I’m afraid the only thing separating us from that is some good and affordable 3-D projection technology.

I know, the last paragraph makes me sound like a technophobe, which I certainly am not (quite the opposite)… But the methodical approach to music – mechanically blasting through a collection of flawlessly-rehearsed mathematically-inspired phrases without an inch of room for improvisation – can be rather tedious and the bitter “inorganic” aftertaste of the whole affair lingers nevertheless.

Pendulum Pet FREE from 25 to 27 March

My second novel, Pendulum Pet, is FREE on Amazon this weekend (25 – 27 March), as a part of KDP Select. So during this limited time you can grab it without the risk of wasting four bucks on something you don’t like. In fact, even if you’re never going to read it, you’d be doing me a favour if you download a copy, because that contributes to its stats and visibility on Amazon. Head to this page for more information about the book.

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Bullet Democracy releases “Suicide Circus”

My good pal Giulio Tarantino has just released his first EP, entitled “Suicide Circus”, as a (for now rather fictitious) band called “Bullet Democracy”:

According to his Bandcamp bio, Giulio Tarantino (a.k.a. Bullet Democracy) is an Italian film director, musician, singer & songwriter, currently residing in Berlin, Germany. He makes a living as an Italian deli proprietor and keeps buying useless junk at the local flea market.

All of this is true. Giulio would probably perish in considerable pain if he were prohibited from haggling at the local flea market, the exact purpose of which continues to elude me to this day. Be that as it may, I’ve gladly assisted him in the realisation of his long-time dream of publishing an album, so I recorded, produced, mixed and mastered his debut while also playing drums, percussion, bass, keyboards and additional guitar on it. I’d characterise the four-track EP – which Giulio is also determined to present live at some point in the future, at least with a limited acoustic live line-up – as a sort of grunge with Italian pronunciation. It may be interesting for some music aficionados to know that Giulio’s distinctive vocal has such a low register that we had to resort to recording three of four tracks on this album with a baritone guitar tuned to B E A D F# B (as well as drop A, where necessary).

The EP is available for download on the Bullet Democracy Bancamp site (name your price / free).

Fortunate Finds: Scrivener

Ode to my precious novel-scribbling tool

Originally I never planned on including a piece of software among my “Fortunate Finds” posts, as I only intended to babble about music I love and books I may want to mention, recommend or “review”. However, as I continue plodding along as an “indie” author, I keep discussing things with other authors – either those I happen to meet online or those I had already known before I’d actually started feeling like one as well. One of the issues that has already come up quite a few times during various discussions is the traditional, recurring leitmotif along the lines of “Woe is me, for M$ Word is driving me insane“.

I know the sentiment. I’ve worked in Word for decades, first as a student; for a while, eons ago, even as a part-time typesetter (even back then, as a teenager, I was aware that Word wasn’t really a proper text formatting or desktop publishing tool, but I did not have any other means of doing it; besides, the texts I worked on were relatively simple and scarcely contained any graphics); and then for almost twenty years as a professional translator, with and without computer-assisted translation tools. So, knowing almost everything there is to know about Word (except for advanced macro programming and various bloatware options I’ve never used), I also wrote my first two novels in Word. Due to my diligence or even obsession with keeping (several redundant) backups I’ve never had any serious problems with it (though I’ve heard many horror stories). However, as most people trying to work on anything serious and complex in Word will surely know, Word can drive you insane. I will not go into details here, they are very well-known, even infamous, and this is not a Word-bashing blog post: it’s a “Lookie here, a great tool for writers!” post.

When I started working on my third novel it soon became apparent that Word would make the project very difficult. First of all, the novel will be quite long, full of strange names and foreign words, so the spell checker would sooner or later come up with the completely nonsensical message I’ve grown to absolutely detest over the years: “Too many spelling and grammar errors”, after which the spell checker would take the liberty of turning itself off and not displaying any typos anymore. I mean, pardon my French, but what the fuck? Word 2016 doesn’t seem to be able to digest any more spelling “errors” as the one back in the 1990s? I mean, really?! What, am I still working on an Intel 286 computer with 1024 KB of RAM and storing my book on a 5,25″ floppy disk?

Furthermore, the structure of the novel I’m currently working on will definitely keep changing as I type away – and it’ll change A LOT, at that: the envisioned ‘masterpiece’ will consist of an intertwining puzzle of two main story lines taking place at two separate locations roughly half a year apart, digressions into a teenage “novel” attempt written 30 years before and rediscovered at the time of the narration in one of the story lines, as well as some folk tales, rumours, hearsay and perhaps even excerpts from a long-lost journal as well… So making all of this click together into a fluent narrative of interchanging scenes in Word would have been an utter and insurmountable nightmare.

win-showcase-scrivener_headerCue in Scrivener. This baby was brought to my attention by other writers on various forums, so I decided to give it a whirl before I started pulling my hair out due to all the horrors involved in continuously editing and restructuring a 120.000-word (or possibly more, who knows where I end up?) chunk of text in Word. To make a long story short, I downloaded the trial version, got acquainted with it through the simple and clear tutorial that comes with it, and was typing away merrily the very next day. Just one day after that I “shelled out” the radically sensible amount of $ 40 for a licensed copy, and I’ll never write a piece of literature in Word ever again, period.

A few highlights – the main reasons why I love working in Scrivener:

  1. You can hide everything with a press of a button and just be left alone with your text, and you can set up gentle colours that don’t seem bent on poking your eyes out;
  2. While you’re in this “writing view”, the text can optionally scroll typewriter-style, so that you don’t have to keep staring at the bottom of your screen;
  3. You keep separate parts of your book in separate “sub-documents” that can be thrown around however you see fit without any danger of losing or screwing up anything;
  4. The folders/sub-documents make the whole structure of your masterpiece extremely visual and obvious: no more rummaging through hundreds of pages to figure it out, and no more manual outlining (you can use virtual index cards and corkboard if you’re so inclined, or a very clear “outliner”);
  5. You can “virtually stitch together” various sub-documents and see how they fit together, without jumping around the text or cut-and-pasting anything;
  6. The application is very secure; it keeps backups and “snapshots” that you can make before engaging in any in-depth editing, so you can store an endless number of “work-in-progress” versions (snapshots) of chapters/documents at various stages of development;
  7. You can store your research, notes, documents, files, even audio, in Scrivener without ever having to rummage around your hard drive to locate it;
  8. The spell checker doesn’t simply die on you because it’s “spent”;
  9. Project targets – yay! – so you always know (in real time, as you type) how far away from your daily “quota” and overall target you are (there is something extremely satisfying about that “progress bar” creeping along towards the “green”, which might motivate you to keep writing even when everything else might fail);
  10. The exported completed texts are tidy and clean, making further formatting a breeze;
  11. Last but certainly not least, it’s extremely sensibly priced, AND they offer a trial version, to boot.

So, what’s not to like? To find out more, head over to the Scrivener homepage.