Saturday 31 January 2015

Dark Review – Whiplash

Dark Review – Whiplash

Written by Casey Douglass

After watching Birdman and getting royally pissed off with the “walking-drumming” music, the prospect of going to see a film that appeared to revolve around drumming didn’t immediately appeal. It’s a credit to Whiplash’s trailer that I finally came around to seeing that it was a film about striving for excellence, amongst other things. It also helped that part of my mind pointed out that the shouting ball-busting teacher character sounded a lot like how I talked to myself about my writing abilities. Did I get any motivational tips from Whiplash? Read on to find out.

Image © Sony Pictures Classics
Whiplash follows the story of 19 year old Andrew Neimann (Miles Teller), a first year student at a prestigious music school. His instrument of choice is the drum-kit and the film begins with him coming to the attention of elite conductor Terrence Fletcher (J.K Simmons). This moment lights the touch paper to what is already a strong desire in Andrew, and sends him straight towards becoming the drummer he has always wanted to be. Except, “straight” is hardly the right word; Andrew’s path meanders from success to calamity and back again with stunning swiftness, much of it orchestrated by Terrence Fletcher himself. He builds him up just to knock him down again. If something isn’t right, they spend hours and hours and hours going over and over and over it, with the rest of the band waiting in the wings, rolling their eyes but glad it’s not them being targeted by his ire.

Image © Sony Pictures Classics
It isn’t all drumming however. We get to see Andrew spending time with his dad Jim (Paul Reiser) and girlfriend Nicole (Melissa Benoist). The film certainly needs these non-music based scenes to give the audience a little breathing space from the high-intensity ball-busting moments. After you’ve seen blood on a drum-kit, some peace is quite appreciated.

Image © Sony Pictures Classics
I enjoyed how the film writ large on the big-screen the troubles and mental issues of trying to become one of the best at something, along with the possible consequences. Andrew makes various choices that seem to cut much of “life” out of his life, which leaves the audience wondering if they would have done the same thing or if it was really necessary. It makes no odds as Andrew very much thought it was. Another constant theme is the “get back up if they knock you down” one, highlighting the effects of persistence and not just luck or ability. Finally, the film passes through a kind of freeing moment where things flow for Andrew because he has pushed on into a more self-confident and ballsy mental state.

I loved Whiplash and I still find myself thinking about it days later. It would have been a film that I wouldn’t have imagined enjoying to the degree I have, let alone looking forward to picking up on Blu-ray when it’s released. Did I get anything out of it with regards to my own creative life? Maybe, I’m still chewing it over.

Rating: 5/5

Friday 23 January 2015

Chronic Illness and the Writer's Path

Sometimes writing takes on the aspect of being called on to do a public speech at very short notice, the blank page mirroring the expectant faces of the audience as they await your words. Your chest might tighten, your hands might tremble and your mind unleash a host of unhelpful thoughts about your abilities and your right to even try.

As with many things, even if you are strong enough to not worry about what other people may think of you, the voices in your own mind may well be the hardest hurdle to overcome. Yesterday I wrote a short paragraph that could have led into a quite satisfying story but anger flared and I deleted it as I declared it to be “A load of bollocks!” I then felt ashamed at treating myself that way. It is said over and over and over by experienced authors: “Write first, judge later!” or words to that effect, so why didn’t I do that yesterday? Who knows?

My health has been very poor, both mentally and physically, so it could have been pure frustration that writing one crap paragraph took more effort than seemed worthwhile.

My Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has been dragging away parts of my life for years. While I have made what I feel to be good progress in many areas, the ones that are left are particularly hard to deal with. It is a mental disorder that is very treatable and I have had various help and treatment over the years. There is nothing else left for me to try, but as with many things, knowing and doing are two different things. I know my OCD inside out, what is going on, why and what I need to do, but when the fear grips you and your body is in fight-or-flight, that is far easier said than done. It still claims a large amount of my time and energy; energy I can ill afford to lose.

My Chronic Fatigue Syndrome forces me to rest for hours on end, my body trying to deal with the pitiful demands I actually ask of it. CFS is a very misunderstood and devastating illness, and far more needs to be done rather than just diagnosing by exclusion, spouting trite advice and then being baffled when the very unwell person fails to improve. I was relieved when I was given the official diagnosis of CFS some 12 years ago, having a name for how I was feeling and some measure of recognition. Now I see it for what it is, a license to be pushed aside and forgotten about, all effort to really find out what is wrong seemingly ending overnight.

I very rarely mention my illnesses on this site as I wanted it to be all about my writing and less about me. I know that, by virtue of the processes involved, my writing is about me in many ways, or aspects of me, but I don’t feel I have blatantly revealed much of myself in this way before. I think now is the time to inject more of myself into this site, especially the parts of me that play such a large role in who I am and what I do. I feel ashamed of being ill, inferior, jealous of others and bitter about life. I am also working on these things and trying to accept myself for who I am.

I am really trying to do something with my life, and have been for many years, but the struggle and strain skewers any feeling of progress or achievement, comfort or connection. I have things that I am thankful for and I know things can always be worse, but damn it, I’m exhausted and about ready to drop. Writing is my thing, the thing. Those blank pages I mentioned at the start of this piece? They won’t be blank for long, even if it’s not words, it will be something of me, a doodle, a rant or a smear of blood from my bleeding hand. Whatever it is, it will be something!

Sunday 18 January 2015

Dark Review - Satellite Reign

I look at a very early version of cyber-punk PC game Satellite Reign, the game billed as a 'spiritual successor' to Syndicate Wars. It shows a lot of promise but at this early stage it still needs a lot of development. You can read my full review on Geek Syndicate here.

Satellite Reign Early Access Screenshot

Saturday 17 January 2015

Dark Music Review – Altered Dimensions

Review of Altered Dimensions

Written By Casey Douglass


At a time of year when many of us are probably struggling with the altered dimensions of our waists after Xmas, this review brings another kind of dimension into the mix, an intangible and ethereal mingling of the senses that goes far beyond too much cake and pie. Alphaxone’s dark ambient album Altered Dimensions is a dose of something that certainly I need at this time of year, even if few others do. Anyway, on with the review.

Alphaxone is back with a stunning album of smooth frequency manipulation fitting for exploring the concept of altered dimensions. The push and pull of sizzling layers creates a storming sea of resonating bliss, until the dark waves of deep crashes in upon us. Mehdi Saleh (IRAN) is no stranger to dark ambient with 6 full length albums behind him. With Altered Dimensions he reaches a new level of audio fidelity and there is always something subtle in the background as protruding from beyond the physical plane.

I hadn’t had the good fortune to hear any of Alphaxone’s albums until Altered Dimensions. What I experienced upon listening to it was a smooth audio treat that calmly yet firmly gave a soundtrack to my own mind’s wanderings. As I listened, many of the tracks impressed upon me the theme of journeying, such as in shamanism or dreams. As such, many of the track impressions I detail below feature the idea of a traveller breaching different realities in different ways.

The Tracks:

The first track begins with voices and birdsong that bristle at the edge of your conscious attention. It’s a great lead-in that hints at the mind being drawn away from mundane things and being led to other places. This fades into a pleasing beat that drips into the sounds of someone sloshing through water, a traveller making for some secluded temple on some hidden cave path maybe. The whispers seem to urge them onwards whoever it is.

Human Frequencies
What sounds a little like a distant growl fades into a synth-like tone of tinkling techno-chiming and a deep drone. This feels like a contemplative track that cushions the mind in comforting vibrations.

Passing Through
Static begins this track. It takes on the guise of fabric flapping in the breeze from some strange place, the same air currents carrying noises and sounds from the denizens that live there. It conjured to my mind, a lone traveller making their way through a tight canyon, dozens of flags caught in a blustery wind that just doesn’t reach him/her far below. A deep intonation seems to reverberate from the canyon walls as the secret place, a temple, gate or whatever, is reached.

Midnight Waves
A building up of tones and noises creates an impression of scrambled messages and old CB-radios. A background swell of voice lifts the track and then fades a little to the sound of harsher tones that dance back and forth in the ear.

A high-pitched tone begins this track, shortly followed by an echoing drone, the sound reflecting from deep deep down. Water begins to trickle and a buggy insect-like noise niggles at the ear summoning to mind a large underwater cave system filled with hundreds of tiny lights, flickering and floating out of reach like corrupted titillating fairies. A louder sound emanates further on, maybe the sound of alarm...or lunch approaching. A kind of crescendo is reached when everything evens out and some of the tones die down. Maybe the danger has passed now the inner sanctum of wherever the traveller is going has been reached, or maybe even the evil sprites dare not follow into this place.

A loudish clang gets things off to a flying start here, the echoes reverberating from ear to ear and setting up a very pleasing sensation. The sound distorts and changes but this audio swaying keeps going throughout, joined by clicks and small noises that add a feeling of movement in another plane to proceedings. This track sent my mind to some kind of other-worldly engine room or physics lab, where strange beings tinker with light and sound in strange apparatus, all with the aim of keeping physics as we know it functioning in the way that we’ve come to expect.

Bird song and rustling merges with faint chimes, creating the impression of some forbidden forest, a place that the traveller is free to enter, but may not be free to leave again. This music from the forest between worlds seems to ebb and flow with shriller bird calls and voices, as if two realities are fighting for dominance. A larger sound begins to emerge at the midpoint that seems to overpower all else, a tonal fog rolling in to smother the trees and turn all to darkness.

From the Passages
This track is the complementing one to the very first, the strange other worlds seeming to slide back into each other as the sounds of mundane reality impinge on consciousness once more.


Upon my first listening to Altered Dimensions, I think something intruded and I had to stop after the first three or four tracks. I remember coming away with the impression that it was enjoyable dark ambient but I wasn’t sure it stood out for me in any particular way. Consecutive listenings proved this to be hasty. I think it was because, for me, the stand-out tracks on Altered Dimensions come nearer the end of the album. Aftermath grabbed my attention, Equilibrium rocked my mind to and fro with its binaural sounding beats and Encounters tapped into an interest I’ve had in shamanism and nature sounds for quite some time. I enjoyed the earlier tracks for the smooth dark tones and relaxing vibes they gave me but those three tracks really resonated with me.

As a whole, I give Alphaxone’s Altered Dimensions 3.5/5. I liked how the album eased me in and out at the start and end, and how all of the tracks flowed with detail. It’s certainly a strong entry to the dark ambient genre. I don’t expect to love every track on an album but I think to get a higher score than this I would have to really love more than three. Still, I urge anyone into dark ambient to go and check out Altered Dimensions on the Cryo Chamber bandcamp page here.

I was given a free copy of the album to review.

Album Title: Altered Dimensions
Artist: Alphaxone
Label: Cryo Chamber
Written and Produced: Mehdi Saleh
Mastering and Artwork: Simon Heath
Released : 13th January 2015