Monday, March 17, 2014

An open letter to Ihsahn

In Inferno Magazine 10/13 Ihsahn points out that (freely translated) "I think that anyone who does music for living or has a past like this [Emperor], understands the fact that it´s not always easy to relate to people who think you were at your best when being seventeen years old". However, I remember reading the same kind of sentence from various places before, like in 2010 here and in 2012 here and I started to think how irrititating it must be for a musician, who is definitely not a "one- hit- wonder" or some untalented luck of the draw.

Ihsahn´s past being taken up in every single context really seem to bug him for obvious reasons. I get the point, though- no matter how good you get or good music you put out, you´ll be always compared to something you did 20 years ago when you barely could play your instrument, while being referred as the "high point of your career." So, as a musician and a someone who loves old Emperor albums but doesn´t find saxophones sexy at all, I felt like spilling my guts over the matter- directed straight into the accused himself-

Mr. Ihsahn.

I´ve been following your career since In the Nightside Eclipse, loved Anthems,...not sure if liked IX and thought Prometheus was pretty much the "Spheres" of your band. But I never thought "you´ve lost it". On the contrary, I thought you (and still think) as one of the most talented musicians on this planet who could probably do whatever he wished and pull it off easily. The thing is just that I didn´t like the style you went on with Emperor, that´s all.
Just like in a smaller scale people would like to hear only trollhammarens from Finntroll, in your case people would rather have a thousand innoasatanas mixed by Pytten. This is something we musicians with a long career history have to live with, or start dwelling in the past like there was no tomorrow. Which is something that a true musician and a self- respecting individual would never do, so I guess we just have to move on instead of cheesing and reissuing it out the Swedish way (no names mentioned, but you can probably figure it out anyway if you aren´t Blinded By anything).

Obviously, we musicians tend to -or at least should- evolve. I don´t think Sibelius was born with a filled orchestra sheet on his hand before he learned how to play piano nor do I think Steve Vai´s first crappy acoustic guitar was a 7- stringed one. But when we evolve, we always leave a bit of something behind -or at least more to the background- when we push forward.
I tend to think this musical evolvement as a sort of a trade- off, really. When we were 19 years old, our composition skills, musical theory or knowledge on e.g. orchestration wasn´t exactly what it is today. Not to mention the production values of our recordings, which were close to "weekend at this guy´s parent´s garage with a 8- tracker" instead of now actually getting weeks (!) at a professional studio. Our main creative force was sheer passion (and love for the bands we listened to) and what we lacked on skill, we replaced with that passion. I´m not saying that either of us lacks it nowadays- quite the contrary- but I´d say it has become more sophisticated, more controlled and more "evolved" passion. Besides, still composing the way we did it 15-20 years ago would be rather uninspiring and regression- driven, don´t you think?

For what it comes to the cause of your irritation of people comparing your different works in the same context, I´d like to draw parallels into the world of painting; if we were impressionists in the beginning and mostly known because of that style, many of those admirers back then would have gone rather apeshit if we´d go total Caspar David Friedrich (or Hans Gude, if you prefer).

Wrath of the Tyrant 
Das Seelenbrechen


Why? Because they just happened to like impressionism over romanticism. Our sophisticated use of colors and shadings would only pale in comparison on our TRVE EARLY WORKS, even though we´d think quite the contrary. But they liked it that way we used to do it in the beginning, just like we preferred ..And Justice For All over Black Album.

Audience Reaction
I think everyone who has ever done anything creative in their early 20´s while still doing it in their mid- 30´s (especially if you do it full- time) finds that many times it´s not about being good or bad; it´s about the star signs, what you had for breakfast and did that passing car have a bumper sticker or not. In other words, sometimes you succeed with a piece and sometimes you fucking blow.  No reason. Live with it, love it. I know I do.
And as it all is a sum of it´s parts, I dare to claim that you couldn´t pull off another Cosmic Keys, just like I couldn´t do another Jaktens Tid. If we tried, it most likely would sound a watered- down, calculated piece of shit. Add a production either too good - or intentionally too bad- with everyone playing on beat detection like their lives would depend on it and the result would be just horrible. All sum of their parts again, stars aligned.

Could we actually recreate that one fun day again -just the way we remember it- if we all just put the same clothes on we wore then?

Like everyone creative person looking retrospectively on his works, among the more common works of ours we also find either "oh god this is just so bad, what was I thinking" or "jesus fucking christ how could I compose THIS even though I barely knew how to play, fuck, I´m gonna sell all my gear and start driving a truck instead"- type of stuff.

The most important thing, however, is that we do not let our past affect us unless it´s in all aspects 95% better than what we do nowadays. Which it probably isn´t.

Sincerely yours,

Henri "Trollhorn" Sorvali,
a colleague, fanboy and a music freak.
(who sucks on using Blogger layout, so sorry about that)

Monday, March 3, 2014



"Reality bites"

Let´s face it- I hate most of this thing refererred as "reality". My primary interests are heavily involved in escaping it, my job is to make it disappear and my home looks like a crossbreed between a typical family home and something that escaped from Tim Burton´s movie located in the imaginary middle ages. Since a kid, I´ve always felt the need to belong somewhere else, sometime else and someworld else- and 30 years later I still need to drown my mind daily into sound, visions, literature, games and pictures to visit regularly places beyond the world as we know it.
And thus is why a grown man needs a good and solid gaming computer to escape the world he has not chosen for himself.

I had owned my previous computer since early 2008, which was am "ok"- ish Thinkcentre compiled for me at work. It cost 270 € and was probably best suited for watching Youtube videos when you´re not preparing Excel sheets.
So I always had this little envy when visiting Tundra, seeing his blinking led- supermachines and razermambas accompanied with a screen so crisp you thought you could pull all those little orcs out from there from their ears. I convinced myself every time that those awesome things "are just gimmicks and I don´t need no fancy stuff for playing", usually succeeding to assure myself that. But- if you are into PC gaming at all, you'll probably know as well as I did back then that the Seeds Of Corruption (see what I did there? AoE wallet damage, baby!) had been spread into my fragile mind and the only cure was a dose of l337ness.

This is not exactly that particular l337ness. Luckily for her, she found a perfect new home at my friend´s house a bit later! 

The specs were the following:

Lenovo Thinkcentre
Model 87057JG 
BIOS: IBM Bios Ver 2OKT47.0 
Intel Core 2 Duo CPU E4500 2.20 GHz 
ATI Radeon HD 4600 series [non- stock]

For years I could resist the temptation about getting some proper gaming equipment, but during the last couple of years I managed to "accidentally" buy a Logitech G11 keyboard second- hand from my friend and a bit later a G300 mouse. The my monitor broke down completely last summer (after taking 5-15 minutes to turn on every time for half a year), so I got myself a second- hand 24" HP very cheap.But at some point, after replacing my second broken- down cheap budget GFX card with another cheap budget card while trying to find a faster replacement processor for an outdated motherboard, last autumn, I started to realize that there´s a huge bottleneck in my gaming and it´s called my cheap PC. And that problem would stay forever if I just always bought cheap shit on top of cheap shit.
So I made some calculations, consulted a couple of gamer and PC- builder friends and settled for a budget of about 600 € for the parts I needed, which were the case and everything inside it without the hard drives. Needless to say, I had to stretch my budget a bit but still kept it way under 700 €. Which, in case you´re not a PC gamer, is practically half the price of the same machine if it was bought ready- made. But what did I get with that money?


"I´m your biggest fan"

For the case, I chose a mid tower which was Zalman´s Z11 Plus- not because of the functionality first but for the fact that when I saw it I knew instantly that I want this, no matter what it costs. I called it a "Starcraft command center" and my wife probably thought she was the only adult in the house when I was pointing the picture of it from my screen while bouncing with excitement. Much blue leds, such wow!!!! The motherboard (Asrock S1155 H77) and processor (Intel i5 3350P, 3.1 gHz) were easy- MoBo being something compatible with the processor while having surround- sound possibilities and loads of USB ports and processor being "something relatively ok- ish and fast enough from Intel". (Later I´ve only regretted a bit that I didn´t buy the unlocked K- version for overclocking, but maybe at some point. ^^) This time I also decided to invest on a proper processor cooler as well, as my primary interest is gaming, so I ordered a Cooler master Cm Hyper 212 Evo for doing the job, and am very happy with it. I can´t get the temps rise over 42 C no matter the game, and even with stress tests with OCCT and Prime95 it took over half an hour of 99% load to rise even over 50 C. So I´d say that was one of the best 35 € I´ve spent for a while, and can warmly suggest it to anyone without the possibility of using water- cooling.

The PSU, playing a very important role in gaming setups, was Antec HCG PSU 520W: while not putting out extreme amount of power, it was enough for me with the processor and GFX card I was buying and it was reviewed as being reasonably quiet as well. Retrospectively, I should had bought a modular PSU instead if I had realized it earlier, but that´s something for the future as well. And- as you can guess- I realized this small and annoying mistake when trying to hide and tidy the spaghetti inside the case. For the memory I chose two 4GB pieces of Kingston HyperX- blocks (which I still haven´t tweaked- shame on me!) and when I had already ordered everything, I realized I want a SSD- drive afte all so I got one used from my stepfather for 20 €- one of the best decisions I made with this computer. If you´re still using HDD as your primary disk- don´t. Just don´t. :D It´s that noticeable difference.

One of the most important things for gaming is of course the graphics processor, which took me the longest to decide. It had to be AMD with 2GB of memory and definitely not the cheapest one but not a flagship either. I had only 200 € of the budget left at this point, so I needed to find the best possible product for that money, which was a Radeon HD 7850 royalQueen. Though the manufacturer- Club 3D- hasn´t always been the best option around, thus far I´ve been very satisfied with it. I´ve overclocked it a bit but it´s still on process for me to get some time to push it to it´s limits.

Such lights! Next time it´s a modular PSU in order to get rid of the spaghetti, though.

With windows like this, I feel sorry for putting the computer hidden beneath the desk.

After getting everything together and working, I started to tweak with the cooling and fan control, and realized I had left the air ventilation and pressure still a bit neglected. So I ended up ordering a couple of more fans and a Bitfenix Recon- hardware controller for them. I spent some hours tweaking the software (note- under any circumstances do NOT use Bitfenix´s own software but get Phoebetria instead for that!) and finally got myself a fully- automated 5- fan system with temperature sensors. And led -fans! Moar leds!!! Starcraft!!!  "RAYNOR MUST SURVIVE". Ahem.

I´m having a positive air pressure unless the case temperature reaches 40 C, in which case it switches to neutral by simply speeding up the exhaust fans. I´ve yet to see more radical inside- temperatures, but in case (*drumroll*) they go over 50 C, all fans hit total maximum bananas. In case you´re interested more on the airflow directions and pressure- and how it affects your computer, I suggest you to surf here!

Did you know that blue leds and buttons are extremely good for luring toddlers to touch them? Especially when dads are in the middle of a fucking WoW raid and suddenly the screen goes blank??? I KNOW IT NOW.

So, my computer was ready. But one quite essential part for the escapism and illusion wasn´t. And that was the audio- in fact, I hadn´t even thought about it. Me, the 1st Duke of Sorvali? Here? With my reputation? Has no-one thought of the consequences?
Ahem. Again.

Fastshows aside, something had to be done, so I gave my Visa a sad look and marched to buy a sound upgrade as well. Sporting a 10 years old crappy Logitech 2.1 speakers and the cheapest USB headset I had found years ago from a supermarket, I decided to buy something that would last as long, so I walked away with a box of Logitech Z506 5.1 speaker set.
Seriously, a 5.1 set. In gaming? I felt like a kid at christmas morning. I´ve always adored the surround sound, as I feel it´s a really essential thing on building the complete illusion of escapism and finally I actually the opportunity to use that on games! I spent quite a time tweaking it via software into oblivion and back but it was worth the time when I got it finally working. Cranking that loud in a game makes you really feel like you´re an actual part of it, so I´d say mission accomplished!

As I still needed a headset as well (especially now when I have more kids who still take naps, etc) and the old one was held together with a duct- tape (...) I took some time to compare different models and prices and finally settled to Steelseries Siberia v2, like so many others before me.
The sounds is incredibly good and sports a lot of lo- mid- frequencies while not being mushy at all and they keep their comfortability extremely well during even longer periods of gaming. A really otherwordly experience was also the use of virtual 7.1 with the accompanied USB sound card, though I have to say the software is quite a pain in the ass to get working properly and has a ´98- esque interface with some annoying bugs which ended up resetting all it´s configurations a couple of times.

My personal escape pod was now finally finished and I could start enjoying my games with almost maxed- out GFX settings and surround sound. The comparison was pretty much the same than changing from a black- and- white telly into a plasma flat screen and even though it cost me about 900 € I really feel it was a good decision to "invest".

The fun thing is that as you can´t really put a price tag for actually getting time to use the setup as well, it´s more than usual that I have someone accompany me if I play (something family- friendly then, though). It really tells more than a thousand words that my son insisted to get into the same picture with the computer while I was taking those. :D

PS: Yes, it´s a World of Warcraft- poster in that cupboard. And you have absolutely no idea what I had to go through to convince my wife that it will stay there.