Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Steve Jobs and the Restoration of Sanity

In the first half of 2002, I bought a Macintosh computer. A titanium PowerBook G4, to be specific. This is the story of how Steve Jobs and Apple restored my sanity.

For years I hated Macintosh computers.
I grew up on Atari hardware. I started with an Atari 800 (with a cassette drive), moved to the Atari 1200XL and then to the Atari 130XE; next came the Atari 520ST, a Mega ST4, and ultimately the Atari Falcon030.
I hated Macintosh computers because they were too expensive.
I could not afford a Macintosh.
I grew up hating anything I could not afford or which I could not coerce my parents into giving me for my birthday. Sad, but true, and probably prototypical of the middle class in the middle Eighties.
But it wasn't really hate.
Macintosh computers actually scared me. Everything I dreamed of doing with computers was sitting right there on screen. I was scared of where such a machine might take me, in much the same way as receiving a driver's license was scary. It bestowed the power to explore. It bestowed freedom. As Killing Joke's Jaz Coleman once sang: "Liberty in new dimensions, ruthless and spectacular."
After my Atari Days came to a close, I spent quite a few years in the PC wilderness. I had to let go of my Falcon 030 and buy a Pentium-based Dell PC. I loved that beige machine. I really did. But really, no, I hated it. I loathed Windows 3.1. That's when this hideous dance of self-deception truly began.
I spent years claiming PCs could do anything a Mac could do, whilst constantly trying to keep Apple's growing influence on society out of my conscious mind.
I was so happy when it looked like the Macintosh line would wither and vanish when Steve Jobs left Apple. It meant I could stop worrying about Macintosh computers.
So we all moved forward, didn't we? The Apple fanatics kept loving their machines, whilst the PC folks appeared to do the same, moving further ahead. But was it really moving ahead? A new version of Windows. Terrible and buggy, slow. Drivers missing. IRQs? Why is there no sound? How do I uninstall something? Registry? You want me to edit my registry? Books. Countless volumes of Windows Bibles. $69 because it has a CD-ROM with it? Wait, what? Each year? Updated! In step with each new version of Windows. Terrible and buggy, slow. Drivers missing. IRQs? Why is there no sound? How do I uninstall something? Registry? You want me to...
What a nightmare!
Which isn't to say I wasn't achieving things on my PC. I was. I created lots of great things, but it was a struggle, and I was doing it out of spite. I was fighting against the profoundly shitty experience of owning a Windows PC by dishonoring the creative urge. Rolling that boulder up, as far as it would go (Windows 3.1). Letting it roll back down (Windows for Workgroups). Pushing it up the other side (Windows ME). Yes, it sucked that the boulder kept rolling back, but at least I had control of it, right? Right?
Flash forward. College graduate. Couple of shitty jobs under my belt, a decent design portfolio the only thing to show for it, but it was enough to score the ubiquitous (and hideous) corporate job with a real salary. Thus, I settled in with my work PC (boulder == Windows NT).
Then the new boulder arrived on the horizon. It was a big one. They called it Windows XP. I purchased it on launch day, and my entire hard drive became corrupted when the install disc failed half-way through the installation. The distribution media itself was defective, or at least that's what the poorly worded Microsoft error message suggested. A damaged CD-ROM had scrambled my system, rendering it unbootable.
Still, I was hopeful. All that boulder rolling had to be good for something, right? Perhaps one of the new Windows XP Bibles could help? I rushed to the store (the internet was worthless at this point, at least as far as information from Microsoft was concerned). On the way there, however, my mind was coming to terms with everything that I had lost. Most of my work was backed up to ZIP discs (adored those; still do), but I had gone through so many careful pre-install checks. I had made sure my hardware could run Windows XP. I had read article after article about performing this upgrade. I was armed. With knowledge. All of it worthless in the face of a defective Windows XP CD-ROM.
Haunted by Sisyphean imagery, I realized I was basically suffering from a form of insanity, rolling a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down, and then doing it again. And again. These were the actions of a crazy person. So I went home. I ignored my dead computer. The next day at work, I found myself on Apple's web site. Something called OSX was in beta. It looked interesting. As I read about its Unix core, I finally realized the truth. It took a few months, but I decided to jettison my fear once and for all.
Eventually, bored at work, I configured a loaded titanium PowerBook G4 and placed the order.
I used the months of down time at home without a computer to purge my experiences with my PC and Windows. I boxed up Windows books. I piled all the PC games I thought were so great (they weren't) into the closet. And I waited, secretly wondering what I had gotten myself into (though I did play a lot of console games). I then received an email, which indicated that my recent order was being cancelled, because Apple had just upgraded the entire Powerbook line. Cancelled, of course, was the wrong word. It was actually a surprise upgrade. I was being given the same price on my computer, but it had a faster CPU (667 MHz G4 replaced with an 800 MHz G4), more RAM, a larger hard drive, and a better video chip. This was my first encounter (as a consumer) with Apple as a corporation. Shortly after I received this amazing new computer, I was invited to participate in a "switcher" survey that Apple had sent me. They wanted to know my story. They wanted to know why I left the PC world and chose a Macintosh computer. And I basically told them everything you just read. In some weird way, when I completed that survey, I felt like I was communicating directly with Steve Jobs. The bottom line was that it was incredibly cathartic to abandon the PC and Microsoft's poorly designed horror-spawn-of-an-OS.
My co-workers were shocked when I explained I'd just spent $2800 on a laptop. During a time when high-end PCs could be cobbled together at Fry's Electronics for $900. But here's the thing: I could afford it. I wasn't afraid any more. And fuck it if Raimi and his people didn't pre-steal the line that I can't avoid using here: "...with great power comes great responsibility." I was finally ready to accept that responsibility, since that's what a hideous corporate job enables: it allows you to buy stuff which other people are convinced you don't need.
Except in my case, I needed this thing more than food, water or even sex. I needed a computer in my life, one that wasn't going to require an endless education on how to get it to work right. I would waste no more money on tech bibles. I would no longer study for a certifications. I would no longer avoid my responsibility to the creative urge. I would equip myself with the best tools. From then on, I would only create.
This was a path I was placed on in 1983 when my dad bought me that Atari 800. I knew back then that a computer would always be sewn into the fabric of my life. The tyranny of the Windows PC was akin to an alien abduction, and that's the best I can say about it. The Windows PC represents missing time, lost years, and nothing more.
Though I can only claim the years 2002 to present as my Apple Years, I have never had one regret. The titanium PowerBook G4 I purchased in 2002 is still going strong. True, it's trapped in OSX Tiger (10.4), but it's the primary general purpose computer in my home. It holds a permanent spot on the kitchen counter. Email, web browsing, word processing, iTunes, and more. It's still doing it all. I know this fact would make Steve Jobs proud.
I just wish he was still around. We need people like him to protect our sanity, especially when technology is often at odds with the people who use it. Steve Jobs humanized computers, and in the process he kept a lot of creative people from losing their minds.
Rest in peace, Mr. Jobs. I will be forever grateful to you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Literary Vacuum: 9/11 and Art

This article is part of an on-going series intended to clarify and expand upon elements of the dystopian novel The Rise and Fall of Shimmerism and its sequel Hemegohm’s Tendril.

The novel The Rise and Fall of Shimmerism was published on March 24th, 2001. Here's a small excerpt (from page 370):
Another cloud of fire erupted and seconds later the explosive sound reached them, thundering past. The ground trembled slightly and a secondary blast shook the city. Jakren’s mouth was hanging wide and Horim, crossing his arms, smiled thinly. Lorick became frantic, urging the Children to pray—to kneel and pray, kneel and pray.
The tallest spire, at the center of the City, collapsed spectacularly.
Wern, wiping his face, had moved next to Horim.
“What’s happening?” he asked.
“Fucking great,” said Horim, disgusted, his head shaking. “Just fucking great.”
Jakren heard Horim’s words but he couldn’t react. His eyes were drawn to another fiery blast. The City’s center was in flames and smaller explosions were erupting outwards. He tried to rationalize why his faith would be tested in such a way; why the City of a Thousand Faiths—his goal, his mission, his object of faith—would be taken away the moment it was won. His thoughts brought him little and he recalled his vision—an angry Didrio, a disgusted Chearkin. He thought of consulting the Analecta, to dig his failure out of it, but his eyes now watched the destruction with a morbid fascination; he found he could not move.
The City was splintered by another blast, rife with finality; Jakren’s hopes—the few that remained—dissipated in unison with its cloud of fire.
I remember thinking that the Too Soon rule would apply to 9/11 for a long time. We wouldn't be able to crack jokes about it for years, if not decades. Not that anyone would want to. But jokes are inherently creative, aren't they? They're filters. Jokes generate new perspectives on ideas or events that otherwise wouldn't naturally arise in the populace, so they do have value.
Speaking of jokes, on 9/11/01, I was out of work. In April of that year, I'd been laid off during the crash, which had hit Austin, TX pretty hard. I had only just arrived there when less than a year later I was heading back to Phoenix. That was fine, however. A stroke of luck, in a way. Before my unceremonious removal, I had discovered that the CEO of the company I worked for was a truly delusional religious fanatic, who often diverted company funds to smuggle Bibles into China. He was very concerned when news of my novel's publication came to his attention. I was brought to his office for a one-on-one, which was odd to say the least, considering I was just the graphics/Web design guy. It became pretty obvious to me that he was nuts, so I let him have it (and by that I mean I was honest and pulled no punches when it came to my views on religion). The crash was likely the perfect cover for him to press the eject button on my cube (disclosure: no 9/11 post would be complete without a conspiracy theory).
So I parachuted back to Phoenix. I found a decent apartment and got on with my life. Each morning, throughout the summer, I'd wake up, listen to some NPR, and then scour the internet for a job. On 9/11, however, NPR had changed. The tone was new, chilling—quite unlike anything I'd ever heard on the radio in my lifetime.
I couldn't afford television. Not even basic cable. So all I had was the radio. I sat in my dim apartment and listened. And I noticed something strange going on in the corner, by the door. My novel had been published in March, 2001. The initial batch was over there, stacked against the wall, but in two piles of equal height. Two small towers of books, focused on religious fanaticism in the year 2167.
The passage at the top of this post—and so many others throughout the novel—haunted me. They made it difficult to market the work, since at its heart, the novel was a satire. It was just one big long joke. A monumental reductio ad absurdum. I had broken the Too Soon rule by way of a literary causality violation.
I've always been personally opposed to religion in all its forms, but I wondered where the idea of attacking the financial center of a city had come from in my novel. Had it been the WTC bombing in 1993 that had planted the seed? That was my first interpretation. Had an unconscious thought process deconstructed that event? Secretly wondered why it had failed, thus generating the aerial attack scenario? Or was such a scenario simply a natural outgrowth of an imagined future where military hardware was freely available to protagonists and antagonists alike?
The narrative in the novel had been impacted by real-world events before. In 1993, ironically, the original ending of the novel had to be thrown out—not because of the WTC attack—but because of what happened in Waco, TX with David Koresh and his followers. Reality had run away with that ending, more or less, and I had to jettison the last third of the book (Simon Shadow and his few remaining followers had barricaded themselves within the Shimmerite Temple, surrounded by UGMC forces; a sudden attack by the Unholy Mass complicated and confused the situation, resulting in a massive firestorm). So perhaps it was fitting that I beat 9/11's religious fanatics to the punch. More or less, again. And though it may seem like less, the build-up to that moment on page 370 had been in play since the first page of the novel.
The end result, however, was that the book just wasn't good enough to find its way in a post-9/11 world. It generated no new insights. Or if it did, they remained mostly invisible. The satire was diluted and destroyed by the true reality of our world, yet I'm not sure this kind of victimization has any right to be displayed. It's Too Soon, after all. But 9/11 affected Art, and I'm not sure we even know how deeply. Regardless, the only way to truly process 9/11 is through art, and it is happening all around us. The 9/11 Memorial is such an expression. But the processing has been happening all along, since the morning of 9/12/01, in fact.
Religious fanatics attacked the twin towers of the World Trade Center, but they hit us in so many other smaller ways, too. Those two stacks of books against my wall, for instance. That evening I slowly dismantled that scene and created a small wide square of books in the corner. My little cat Inchworm jumped within the space immediately, and she played in and around the structure for months to come, chasing toy mice, as I slowly gave away copies of the work; it had become an impossible sell: "A novel about religious fanatics? Already? As if I'm in the mood for that!"
Is there a point to all of this? Probably not. The trials and tribulations of a novel lost in a literary vacuum aren't very interesting. But 9/11 was an attack on human expression on multiple levels, so rather than let these memories fade and die, I figured I'd leave them here, probably Too Soon.
One decade down.
Many more to go.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Centers of Old Empires

"The Centers of Old Empires" is story #2 in a short fiction series called Hemegohm's Tendril which expands the narrative begun in the science fiction novel The Rise and Fall of Shimmerism (story #1 located here). A fractured tale of the multiverse, the story begins in the year 2167. Simon Shadow has been abandoned in an escape pod, cruelly dumped in a distant, unknown solar system by the United Galactic Marine Corps. As the hours pass, Simon slowly realizes his survival is tied to an ominous set of choices...

This story has been illustrated and expanded, and is now included with the final story in the Hemegohm’s Tendril triptych "The Gulf of the Architect."

Hemegohm’s Tendril - James Kracht

In the UK or Australia? Just click!

Monday, July 18, 2011

The origin of "Distance to Jupiter"

On October 23rd, 1999, the planet Jupiter was very close to Earth. Jupiter was at opposition (opposite the sun as seen from Earth). This opposition occurs every 12 years or so—it's happening again this October—but the distance to Jupiter from Earth varies. On this particular day, the distance was about 3.96AU (592,407,567.93 kilometers, or 368,104,996.78 miles). I was at my parent's home, in their backyard, with a telescope (a 9" reflector), gazing up at Jupiter and its sparkling moons. I'm not sure exactly when, but at some point during this simple run of observations, I had come to the decision to start releasing experimental electronic music. I know that makes little causal sense, but I had always been drawn to music which tied itself thematically to the wonders of the Solar System, perhaps the result of growing up to the tune of Carl Sagan's Cosmos. I owned the soundtrack to that series and I'd usually fall asleep each night listening to Vangelis' "Alpha" and "Heaven and Hell, Part 1" on perpetual loop, my mind voyaging out there, watching safely from my spaceship of the imagination as inscrutable space empires waged war on the other side of the Milky Way.

So on this cool, October night in 1999, I found the phrase "distance to Jupiter" stuck in my head. The media had hyped this moment (Jupiter's proximity to Earth), and perhaps that's why these words were lodged there. But my mind was oscillating between two powerful forms of awe: 368 million miles was an immense distance, but it was also minuscule, especially when compared to more distant planets, objects, or other stars. I remember thinking that someday, a journey of 368 million miles would seem trivial to the human species; that at some moment in the future, a sight-seeing day-trip to Europa would be common for the citizens of Earth.

The distance to Jupiter is important in other, less-fanciful ways, too. The planet is close to the inner Solar System, and it possesses a vast gravity well. Many astronomers believe this casts Jupiter in the role of protector, partially shielding the planets closer to the Sun from comets and asteroids; some astronomers believe that Jupiter has the opposite effect—drawing comets from the Kuiper belt dangerously toward Earth. Either way, the distance to Jupiter from Earth might affect our survival or destruction. Beyond Mars, Jupiter and its moons could harbor extraterrestrial life. There is evidence that the moons Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto possess underground oceans of liquid water, capable of possibly supporting simple plants or micro-organisms. All these ideas are tied, in some way, to distance.

Yet after returning home that evening, those three words—"distance to Jupiter"—did not immediately coalesce into a designation for my music project. Even though I'd been recording tracks since 1996, it had simply never occurred to me to "name" the project, since my rig was so crude and simple. It consisted of a solitary Roland MC-303 Groovebox (music sequencer/synthesizer) and a consumer-grade Sony Minidisc deck. I had tied these two devices together to record live performances. As awful as that might seem, the performances themselves were constructed with loops—sequences of notes and rhythms—not just single tones or random keyboard wanderings. The loop-based approach led to surprising complexity, and the maximum approach to minimalism on the hardware side led to focused creativity. Thus, inspired by visions of Jupiter, I cracked open a fresh MiniDisc and inserted it into my deck to try to capture some of what I had been feeling a few hours before. The unit asked me to name the disc, and I pulled my keyboard close. Those three words emerged—perhaps solely as an honorific—and I've never once reconsidered the project's name.

Later, I extracted the music from the MiniDisc and brought it to my friend Chris Bailey, who put a final mix together. I called the album "To Sleep To Music" (a nod, perhaps, to that habit of childhood) but the title's palindromic quality then caught my eye, and "Music To Sleep To" was released via on October 31st, 1999.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

"Monstrous Fire" Now Available; "Lines in the Sky" remastered!

The 14th Distance to Jupiter album Monstrous Fire is now on sale for $5USD! Available for immediate download in your choice of 320k mp3, FLAC, or just about any other downloadable format you could possibly desire (seriously). Find it here!

Also available: remastered and updated edition of Distance to Jupiter's 13th album Lines in the Sky (2009). Contains two previously unreleased bonus tracks ("Destiny" and "Distant") from the original recording session. $5USD. Find it here!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Description of "Monstrous Fire" by Distance to Jupiter

This is the 14th Distance to Jupiter album. Put on your headphones, turn down the lights, and close your eyes for 44 minutes. Listen to the whole thing using the widget above, with accompanying notes below.

Track Notes

Track 1: Sleep. The origin of "Sleep" (known as "Hypnos" during prototyping, but originally titled "What The Fuck Is This?") can be traced back as far as January 8th, 2009, though work was not resumed on this track until almost a year later (December 31st, 2009). This track was the first track recorded for the prior album Lines in the Sky (2009), but it was quickly abandoned, despite its imagery and potential (it did not seem to fit that album's "electro-medieval" undercurrent); thus, it became the perfect starting point for Monstrous Fire, and there was never any doubt that it would be the first track on the new album. It offers a solid departure point for a distinct new direction.

Track 2: Hidden Reality. This was the sixth track recorded. It emerged swiftly, almost fully-formed, during a rainy, windswept winter day in Phoenix, Arizona (2/20/2011). The track's title relates to its inspiration: the book "The Hidden Reality" by Brian Greene, which I had just finished reading; and that, coupled with attendance at the most recent Origins debate, had really pushed my mind into the deep end of the cosmos. When I awoke the next day, I really had no idea that by dusk this track would exist. Though it experienced some subtle iterations in the weeks that followed, these were primarily related to the final mix. The initial sequence of notes—sadness—manifested at random, as my hands fell on the keyboard. I'd been thinking about Hugh Everett and the effect his "Theory of the Universal Wavefunction" (later called "many-worlds") had had on his life and career. I find it fascinating that Everett stopped his research in theoretical physics after obtaining his Ph.D.

Track 3: Quantum Man. Work on this track commenced the day after finishing Lawrence Krauss's new book on Richard Feynman called "Quantum Man". The track, the 5th recorded, has a distinct structure, with a sort of analytical tone slowly being overtaken by a far more alive sound—that of a buzz-laden guitar. It mirrors a pattern that Krauss points out in the book about the way Feynman lived his life. He was a man who embraced simultaneous life paths (like particles in quantum physics itself). The imagery in this track attempts to embody that simultaneity. A Nobel laureate's life and the life of a rock star inextricably commingled—bound by the distant echo of applause from a Nobel Prize ceremony now lost in time.

Track 4: Forgotten. This track (the 10th recorded) emerged from the up-tempo wreckage of the second track recorded in the Monstrous Fire project (a track which never made it beyond prototyping). Dropping the tempo considerably and jettisoning most of the performance, I discovered there were some truly mind-expanding note progressions hidden in the murk. The vibrating bass drone was of particular interest, and it seems to hit all the right regions of the brain in just the right ways. The place this track describes is a forgotten one. It speaks of the ruins of a vanished civilization, carved into the black stone of a frozen continent.

Track 5: Monstrous Fire. The title track, recorded late in the project (12th). The imagery here is subtle, backed by a driving electronic tempo, evoking trance-like feelings; this is a meditation session aboard a faster-than-light star ship. This is a journey into a distant planet's unexplored countryside beneath a darkening sky. The title emerged from a curious bit of synchronicity. Back in 2008, the bookseller Barnes & Noble released a gigantic tome of H. P. Lovecraft's work, called "H. P. Lovecraft: The Fiction." It's a feast for any Lovecraft fan (1,100+ pages). Despite already owning a set of the definitive Arkham House editions of Lovecraft's work, I grabbed a copy without hesitation and promptly forgot about it once I lugged it home. So years later, as I listened to what would become track 5 ("Monstrous Fire") through headphones, I stood before my bookcases. I had the track on repeat, listening to the final mix, and I randomly took down the Lovecraft tome. However, I had just glanced at my computer screen, noting the track was 6:14 in length. I am not sure why, but I turned to page 614 in the book, and the first two words on the page were "monstrous fire" - but more than this, as it turns out, this passage is from my favorite H. P. L. story of all time: "The Colour Out of Space" - and in fact, it's from the very paragraph I often cite as to why. Here's a clip: "...the farm was shining with the hideous unknown blend of colour; trees, buildings, and even such grass and herbage as had not been wholly changed to lethal grey brittleness. The boughs were all straining skyward, tipped with tongues of foul flame, and lambent tricklings of the same monstrous fire were creeping about the ridgepoles of the house, barn and sheds. It was a scene from a vision of Fuseli, and over all the rest reigned that riot of luminous amorphousness, that alien and undimensioned rainbow of cryptic poison from the well—seething, feeling, lapping, reaching, scintillating, straining, and malignly bubbling in its cosmic and unrecognizable chromaticism." Monstrous fire, indeed.

Track 6: We Have Always Been At War. Another dark scene, documented, presented, and processed: war. The last track recorded, the initial three notes were found in an abandoned project file from some earlier point, akin to some blasted out warehouse in the middle of a battlefield. When transformed from guitar into a brooding synth, the track took off. The images presented are of war approaching, at first on a horizon, but coming ever closer, until finally it's right outside your door: machine gun fire, explosions, roaring jet fighters, and the shouted orders of soldiers on the run. The title did not occur to me until I was listening to the final mix. Those who've read George Orwell will understand the reference. In keeping with the theme of synchronicity at work in the Monstrous Fire project, I had started to feel vaguely creeped-out by this track, having listened to it so many times. I'd been upstairs for four hours and decided to head back down into a darkened house. The room below was bathed in a subtle gray-blue tone by the television. When I realized what was on screen, all I could do was smile: Michael Radford's amazing 1984 version of Orwell's "Ninteen Eighty-Four." We have always been at war.

Track 7: Silver Key. The 9th track recorded. A sequence of agonized, searching notes, growing, repeating, augmented by a blooming, infectious beat; winds of swirling synths, and the guitars which attend to them; distant bells like a beacon, conquering the buzzing digital swarm, before giving way to a seething bank of corrupted violins. A track not so much about imagery as raw feeling. It's about a revisited dream place, overflowing with mysteries locked within the unconscious. The album almost took its title from this track, but something kept that from happening. Something... monstrous.

Track 8: Unexplored World. Recorded 11th, this track is all about exploration. It is a theme I couldn't escape during 2010 and into 2011, attending several Origins events at Arizona State University. At the kickoff seminar for the 2011 event, Werner Herzog was speaking about his new film Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and as I listened to him speak, I realized there were likely more places on our planet still waiting to be discovered. For as much as humanity has spread bacteria-like across the planet's surface, places of mystery remain, and this is culturally very important. This track is an ode to the unknown people of the Cave of Forgotten Dreams. This track is my internal theme to the Origins initiative. There is a rhythm here, and a depth. This is mystery and discovery. The bass notes seem to dive, to burrow, to uncover new things, like sonar pulses in the ocean of Mind. A fitting end to Monstrous Fire.


The album has had two working titles. Throughout 2010, the project was known simply as "Ready" (which was a nod to the text prompt you see on the bright blue screen of an Atari 800 computer). In early February, 2011, thematic elements related to the unconscious started to manifest and it was dubbed "The Gods of Sleep." In late April, 2011, the album's final title was determined (see above).

Inspiration for the Monstrous Fire album flowed from several Origins events at Arizona State University in 2010 and 2011, as well as from the pages of "The Hidden Reality" by Brian Greene, and "Quantum Man" by Lawrence Krauss. It was a fascinating project to bring to completion. So many strange little details fell into place during composition and recording.

The Monstrous Fire project originally contained 12 tracks. 4 were cut. The following list contains the sequence of track creation along with the number of prototyping iterations each track experienced:

#1 ["Sleep"] - 21 iterations.
#5 ["Quantum Man"] - 19 iterations.
#6 ["Hidden Reality"] - 14 iterations.
#9 ["Silver Key"] - 17 iterations.
#10 ["Forgotten"] - 6 iterations.
#11 ["Unexplored World"] - 5 iterations.
#12 ["Monstrous Fire"] - 13 iterations.
#13 ["We Have Always Been At War"] - 8 iterations.

Tracks #2, #3, #4 and #7 remained unnamed, and never really emerged from the prototyping phase. Weirdly, an empty project file exists for track #8 though nothing was ever recorded.

Friday, March 25, 2011

MP3s, planet-killing asteroids, and the RIAA...

Initiated in 1999, Distance to Jupiter is an experimental music project.

The following article was taken from the Distance to Jupiter information page at, and it focuses on and how it was ultimately destroyed by the RIAA (an "industry group" that clearly views the digital distribution of music as an Earth-bound planet-killing asteroid). It was last updated in 2009, but the kernel was written long before, in a time when the iTunes Music Store was still a fantasy. I am posting this here because rumors continue to circulate that Apple will soon unveil a cloud-based music "locker" and it sounds a lot like's disastrous "Jukebox" initiative that ultimately destroyed them. I make this point not as a warning, but as a simple observation of irony. Clearly the situation has changed. Clearly, the RIAA has figured out how to survive in the 21st Century—they must become the asteroid.

It's 2009, and the RIAA continues its struggle to adapt to the digital music distribution model. This is telling. In case it isn't already obvious, the RIAA is the Recording Industry Association of America, a group which supposedly represents the recording industry in the United States. I think it is important to take a look back at one of the true casualties of the RIAA's greed: No matter what you may think (or rather, thought) of, it is undeniable that they unleashed—and gave power to—a legion of creative individuals. By removing the need for the RIAA entirely (the recording industry itself was bypassed), and giving musicians a means of production, artists were allowed to produce what they wanted to hear, regardless of "market need" or genre concerns. A small percentage of users were already well-established in the music business, but they participated because they recognized the power of the paradigm. Scorn's Mick Harris comes to mind (he's been creating rhythmic, hypnotic drum and bass since '91 or so). Harris offered rare tracks and new productions on, giving him direct access to his fans. But the true foundation of was the world of the "unknown" artist; the bedroom-based knob-twiddlers reigned supreme. Every genre of music found its way onto's servers. This was technology that offered us an outlet for a creative impetus we didn't understand, nor cared to analyze; all we knew was that we loved making music, and the ability to get it heard—for free—was intoxicating. Those of us who really embraced did so because we had no choice. We were tired of consuming the mediocrity that littered record store shelves. But we all had our inspirations—we all had artists to emulate—and we all began to grow in creative ways. became a thriving boutique of music never heard, in styles beyond comprehension. was a cheap, efficient means of production for people who would otherwise toil in obscurity for the rest of their lives because the RIAA—and especially the record labels—had no interest in pushing envelopes or cultivating innovation.'s mistake, however, was their "Jukebox" idea (later branded as ""). It made sense: If you owned a CD, you inserted it into your CD-ROM drive,'s software identified the disc via its serial number, and magically, a copy of that CD (from's server) was placed in your online "library"—a digital warehouse of music that you could access from anywhere, using your Web browser. The music never left's servers. But to the collective hive-mind of a greedy industry, the potential for abuse was monumental.

The RIAA balked, to say the least. The RIAA showed—in the legal crush that followed—what they truly thought of their consumers. We were all assumed to be criminals. No critical thought was ever applied to that assumption. What followed can only be interpreted as panic. The irrational scenarios that must have played themselves out in the vapid minds of those in power at the RIAA will never truly be known. We can guess, of course, about the supposed wrongfulness of people borrowing CDs from their friends, or the looming threat of someone nefariously using's Jukebox functionality to amass a collection of music they didn't actually "own"—but the reality was simple: the RIAA and its legal juggernaut became a modern re-enactment of a species trying to avoid extinction. was an asteroid—and it was heading straight for the RIAA.

The end result was that was forced to change. Their legal costs grew. And that growth was passed on to us - the artists who had sought only to be heard. We were told "If you're serious about your music, you'll upgrade to our Premium Artist service for $19.95 per month." Like the RIAA, had sunk into irrationality and greed instead of just being honest about the battle they were losing. At what point had I—as an artist—become less serious about my music? How did's legal woes change my attitude towards my music? How would paying a monthly fee make me any more serious? The assumption made by in the guise of a marketing slant to cover their legal costs was nothing short of a slap in the face. rapidly declined. There were still plenty of users—addicted to the crumbling paradigm—who paid the fee. But these so-called artists were also aggressive marketers, obsessed with being famous. For most of us, artfulness was the key. We weren't making the music to make money. We were making the music because we had no choice, and because we wanted it to be heard. is now gone. It vanished, and in my case, it vanished silently, and without a word. I was surprised to learn—upon attempting to order a batch of Distance to Jupiter CDs—that had disappeared. What was left of it—and all the music of all the artists who ever used the service—was sold to CNET. What they do with our music remains to be seen (or heard, as the case may be).

UPDATE (3/30/2011): Amazon decides to place itself in the path of the RIAA asteroid...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Distance to Jupiter on Soundcloud

Initiated in 1999, Distance to Jupiter is an experimental music project.

I've been using Soundcloud for about a month or so now, primarily as a way of prototyping new tracks. What does it mean to prototype a track? It's about perspective shifting, and Soundcloud bestows a form of objectivity when you're immersed in a project. Working on music can become a perplexing endeavor; it's similar to that effect which occurs when you stare at a single word (on a page, on a screen) for too long - it ceases to be that word, and starts to lose context and meaning and just becomes, well, weird. The same thing can happen to a track if you listen to it repeatedly. You lose critical perspective. Knowing that the work is "out there," however, almost instantly forces you to listen with different ears - the ears of an anonymous audience, either real or imagined. It resets the context. It restores meaning. Though my music doesn't get a lot of listens on Soundcloud, knowing that someone might be listening forces me into a more objective place and lets the music breathe again in my mind. Real imperfections are more readily perceived. Imagined imperfections dissipate. Though seemingly intangible, this is one of Soundcloud's great benefits, especially since my workflow is about immediacy and capturing instinctual, improvised "moments" (getting caught up in post-processing can ultimately become damaging to the music).

Update (April 17th, 2011): The album "Monstrous Fire" is complete:

A note about track 2's evolution: it emerged swiftly, almost fully-formed, during a rainy, windswept winter day in Phoenix, Arizona (2/20/2011). The track's title relates to its inspiration - namely, The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene; I had just finished reading this book the night before, and that, coupled with attendance at the most recent Origins debate, had really pushed my mind into the deep end of the cosmos.

Update (December 3rd, 2015): Shortly after I wrote this entry, I discovered I no longer leverage Soundcloud in my process.