Category: music


It’s amazing how much of the trivia of television history is preserved on YouTube.  I recently came across some clips that had been buried fairly deep in my memory– some of my favorite short segments from the children’s educational show Sesame Street.

To be specific, I’m not talking about segments involving the main cast of human characters or Muppets like Bert and Ernie.  I’m talking about the short (30 seconds to a minute) pieces on a variety of subjects that were shown close to randomly in between those.

They could use animation, stop motion, or live action film.  Most were musical, but some had lyrics and others just had interesting pictures set to music.  They seem to have come from a variety of sources– I still have no idea who made most of them.

But a few of them were among my favorites when I was a kid, and I always enjoyed whenever they would show up.  My faint memories of them led me to look them up on YouTube, and I was pleasantly surprised to find all of them there!

So, in no particular order, here are my favorite non-Muppet Sesame Street segments:

Continue reading

Advertisements

I recently watched a playthrough of the computer game To the Moon, which I knew nothing about except that it was independently made and that a lot of people were impressed by the depth of its storytelling.  I found it to be a gripping story that managed to use the genre of a video game to draw the player into a tale that was both tragic and beautiful at the same time, while giving the player a lot to think about.

To the Moon screenshotI really can’t talk about how the game does this without giving the story away, so if you want to experience it the way I did, you can download it for Windows computers at http://freebirdgames.com/to_the_moon/ for $10.  Or, you can look for a playthrough of the game on YouTube, preferably one without anyone talking over the game, such as this one.  I was so impressed by the playthrough that I bought a copy of the game to play myself.

There’s actually enough to talk about in To the Moon for a whole series of posts, and I’m afraid I will need to reveal most of the story in order to talk about it.  So I’ll just start with this post for now, and include the following spoiler warning:

If you are the type of person who wants no spoilers at all, then I’m afraid you have to stop reading here and play the game!  Be prepared for tears, though– it’s an emotional story.

Continue reading

Hello, everyone!

One of the things I wanted to do this new year was write more often on this blog, so here I am, only 22 days into the year!  : )

I finally got to see the movie adaptation of the musical Les Miserables with my family yesterday.  I thought it was terrific!  Most of the reviews I had seen of the movie were mixed, so I was expecting not to like parts of it, but I thought everyone in the cast did a great job.  (Yes, even Russell Crowe as Javert.)

I think it’s unrealistic to compare the movie to the stage production based just on the singing, because the stage actors are among the best in the world at using their voices to express their emotions.  The movie took advantage of its cast’s screen acting ability, often having more subdued singing performances, but a lot more going on with characters’ expressions, actions, and body language.

That meant that it was wise to change some things about the way the movie portrayed events.  For example, when Jean Valjean decides to steal the bishop’s silver, the stage production has Valjean himself describe the event to the audience in song:

He let me eat my fill; I had the lion’s share
The silver in my hand cost twice what I had earned
In all those nineteen years, that lifetime of despair
And yet he trusted me.
The old fool trusted me– He’s done his bit of good
I played the grateful serf and thanked him like I should
But when the house was still, I got up in the night
Took the silver…
Took my flight!

Valjean practically screams the final word of this monologue, giving the audience a sense that he has made a choice that there will be no turning back from– He was imprisoned and enslaved unjustly for nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving child, but now he has been so beaten down by the world that he has given up and has become a thief indeed.

In the movie, we can see Valjean (Hugh Jackman) steal the bishop’s silver, and having him sing about doing it (loudly, while in fact he is trying not to wake anyone) would likely seem awkward.  So even though this is one of my (many) favorite parts of the musical, it makes sense not to present that part of the story in song.

There are a lot of other changes to the musical.  Some things are left out; others are added.  The order of a lot of songs is changed.  But the impressive thing was that I agreed with virtually every decision.  It made sense for Fantine (Anne Hathaway) to sing “I Dreamed a Dream” after we see the depths her life has sunk to when she loses her job and has to make sacrifice after sacrifice to earn money for her child Cosette– selling her hair, her teeth, and finally her self.  In the stage production, the song is the introduction to the character Fantine, in which we learn what she is about.  In the movie, we can more easily get an idea of her innocence and vulnerableness through her actions, and the song works better as a summary to get us to think back on what we have seen.

There’s so much more I could say about this story– it really resonates with me because of the central place it gives God.  Without Him, it’s just a sad story, but with Him, it is full of hope.

Just a silly random observation, and also a test of my ability to write one of these posts mostly using my cell phone.

Dr. Mario is a puzzle game for the original Nintendo console, a little like Tetris.  It makes it onto my list of favorite video games, though it’s probably rated even higher by my parents, who had a lot of fun playing each other in it after my brothers and I were in bed.  🙂

The original game had only two tunes to use as background music.

Here’s one of them, “Fever.”

I recently realized that this music sounds a lot like the song “Lady Madonna” by the Beatles!  The two tunes are different enough that it’s not an exact copy, but I think the inspiration had to be there.

See for yourself.

(Incidentally, I am not the first person ever to notice this.  A YouTube commenter on the Dr. Mario recording points out the same similarity.)

It’s interesting how some things stand out sharply in my memory, while other things are a complete blur.  For instance, the names of almost anyone who went on the trip with me.  (Sigh– I don’t know whether it’s faceblindness or self-centeredness or both.)  I really did have a great time with all of the classmates who went with me on the trip, and I’m so thankful for them– it’s just that, with a few exceptions, I cannot remember their names.  Isn’t that awful?  I even have a list of them, and I can’t remember who’s who.

Other things have blurred for me, such as what day things took place on.  I talked about getting caught in the downpour of rain on Saturday night, but based on what I wrote on the postcards I never got around to sending, that actually happened on Sunday night.  It’s strange that I seem to be able to remember things from early in life better than I can remember things from ten years ago.  There are several possible explanations for this, of course:

  • My memories from early in life consist of the most memorable events over a period of several years, while my memories of this trip come from a period of just two weeks.
  • My brain became overwhelmed by input by the time I was in college, and it dealt with this by not bothering to store things long-term.
  • My “hard drive” ran out of memory about when I turned 18.

Anyway, classmates with better memories are welcome to dispute the details of when we did what.
: )

Monday was mostly a “free” day; I think the only thing on our schedule was a visit to the British Library.  Among the items on display there were the Codex Sinaiticus (a 4th-century copy of the Old and New Testaments in Greek from before lowercase letters OR spaces were used!), the Magna Carta, the Gutenberg Bible, and some of Shakespeare’s writing.  All of them much older than my entire country.  Pretty amazing!

Here’s an example of how awesome my classmates on this trip were.  When we were on the bus tour, they noticed that the Palace Theatre was advertising Broadway musicals like Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, at prices that you would never see in the U.S.  Several people in the class were interested in trying to go, though it didn’t seem likely we’d be able to get tickets during the short time we’d be in London.  But my classmates stopped by and got tickets to see Les Miserables on Monday evening, the night before we were to leave for Paris!

I was excited; I loved the story and had a CD with all the songs on it.  It’s one of the most powerful portrayals of Christ-like love and mercy I’ve encountered in art.  Our seats were up in the balcony, but the view was fine.  The seats cost only 10 pounds, which was about $15.  And the performance was terrific.

A few other random memories of London:

  • The pavement near the crosswalks had “LOOK RIGHT” written on it in big letters to keep people like me who are used to cars driving on the right from instinctively looking the wrong way and stepping out in front of traffic.  That was considerate.
  • I liked the simplicity of using the London Underground (the subway) to get around the city.  It kept me from ever getting totally lost.  I also liked the famous simplified underground map, which I would eventually study as an example of efficient technical communication.
  • The British one-pound coins were my favorite coins from the trip.  They have a nice thickness and weight that feels good to hold in your hand (appropriate for a coin worth more than a dollar).  Like all British coins, the “heads” side has the queen on it, but there were a lot of different designs for the “tails” side.  My favorite was a dragon– unfortunately, I don’t think I managed to hold on to that one, because I needed it for a bus ride back to the hotel.  It occurs to me that this was before the U.S. started making a quarter for every state in the union; the different designs may not have made as big an impression on me otherwise.
  • We walked through Harrods, a famous department store with all sorts of things much too expensive to buy.  I noticed a chess set there with an American Revolution theme, with Washington and his blue-clad colonials facing off against the British redcoats.  I remembered the old rule “white on the right, and queen on her color,” and looked closely at how the pieces were set up.  Sure enough, the red queen was on a white square, making the British the white pieces and thus the forces of good in this chess game.
    : )

Look at me; I’m a day behind already!  : )  Oh, well.

Thanks to the five-hour difference in time zones, our flight departed Newark at 7:00 PM on Friday and arrived in London about 7:00 AM on Saturday.  I tried to get some sleep, but that was a bit tough, because they served us dinner, followed by breakfast only a few hours later!  Also, the pilot kept waking everyone up to make announcements about turbulence.  “Turbulence is fine,” I thought.  “Just let me sleep!”

It was neat to watch the overhead screen that showed the plane’s position and altitude.  We took a path that curved northward near Greenland in order to follow the curvature of the Earth.

Impossibly soon, the sun came up, and I watched out the window as the ocean was suddenly replaced by green farmland.  The roads and fences divided the land in haphazard angles and curves rather than neat rectangles.  I wondered if that was the result of having so much more history than my home country.

I realized that despite my mental picture of it, England was a big country.  I was going to see London, but that didn’t mean that I was seeing what the whole country was like, any more than all of the U.S. is like New York.  Soon, I could see the roads and buildings becoming more and more dense as we neared our destination.

With the plane on the ground, we groggily collected our luggage.  The speakers on the plane played songs by British musicians.  I still remember them playing the song “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by The Police, even though I had no idea what it was at the time.  (I’m not exaggerating when I say that I would not have even recognized a Beatles song unless it was “Yesterday”!  Sad, huh?)

We stopped by our hotel to drop off our suitcases, and at that moment, all we wanted to do was go to sleep.  After all, we had been travelling for most of the day until then, and it felt like we were getting in a little past midnight.  One problem:  It was actualy 8 in the morning, and we had a full day of touring lined up!  We piled onto a bus and met our tour guide, a cheery young woman, who began to show us around the city.

I knew that American tourists had a reputation in Europe for being rude, so I wanted to do my best to be polite.  The situation prompted me to wonder if the reason for the rude reputation was that Americans were always arriving in Europe cranky because they hadn’t had enough sleep!

Thankfully, the things we were seeing were interesting enough to wake us up.  It helped even more to get a good lunch of fish and chips!

One of the first places we visited was Westminster Cathedral.  The amount of history in a place like that is staggering.  So many famous writers, poets, and kings are buried there– there is scarcely enough room to mark them all.  It was very crowded there as people filed through.  When I saw The King’s Speech several months ago, I was struck by how different the building looked with no one in it during the rehearsal scenes for the coronation.  (Then I found out that they didn’t film those scenes at Westminster.  No wonder it looked different!)

We also visited Buckingham Palace.  The Queen was not at home, as indicated by the lack of a flag flying on the roof.  I’m not sure if that meant that more or less of it was open for guided tours, but we did get to see a little bit of it.  I bought some postcards at the gift shop, hoping I’d have a chance to send notes to my parents and grandparents.

After that, we saw the Tower of London.  There’s an interesting combination of things on display there– the crown jewels, suits of armor with swords, shields, and maces, and a wide array of torture devices that thankfully aren’t in use anymore.  The tradition surrounding the custodians of the tower was really interesting.  They wore distinctive black and red uniforms and were also responsible for taking care of the ravens that lived around the tower.  A legend says that the tower will always stand as long as the ravens do not desert it.  The ravens had colored leg bands to make it easier to identify them; I got a brochure with a list of their names and the colors they wore.

We saw lots of other London landmarks– Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Big Ben, the famous London Bridge, and the new Millennium Wheel.  I have to be honest; I thought a Ferris wheel was a really strange idea for a landmark, but people probably felt that way about the Eiffel Tower when it was first built.  Maybe I would have felt differently if I had gotten to take a ride on it.  : )

At the end of the day, I went to dinner with a small group of my classmates, and we were caught in a sudden downpour on the way back.  We were delighted– rain is certainly part of the London experience!  It had been a very full day, and I had no trouble falling asleep once I was back at the hotel.

A lot of video games are patterned after movies, with voice acting, cutscenes, and creative use of camera angles.  The goal is to make players feel as if they are controlling the events of the scene they are watching, or even to imagine themselves as a character within the game’s world.  One of the things I love about old video games is that the best of them accomplish this in creative ways, even in a very limited medium.

One of the oldest games on my top 80 list is Air Fortress for the original Nintendo.  The concept is simple, but it combines two different video game “genres” in a clever way and uses music to tell a suspenseful story.

The first thing you’ll see in the video is the poorly translated story of the planet FARMEL, which was having the GLORIEST DAYS before it was attacked by these mysterious AIR FORTRESSES.  In a plot development that gets used more often than you’d think in video games, the leaders decide that because this mission is so dangerous, the best course of action is to send one person to take on the fleet by himself.

That man is the intrepid HAL BAILMAN with his LIGHTBRASNER.  (Based on another version of the game with a better translation, they meant to say “LIGHT-BLASTER.”)

I love those cheesy stories for old video games– they can be hilarious!  Needless to say, this game does its best storytelling without using words.

There are eight levels in the game, one for each Air Fortress in the fleet.  The video shows you level 1, and believe me– the makers of the game were being kind to the player in this level.  Later levels get more difficult very quickly.  I don’t remember if I even made it halfway through this game back when I used to rent it as a kid.

Every level has three basic parts:

1. Approaching the Air Fortress by rocket sled.  This part of the game is a side-scrolling shooter, like Gradius, Defender, and other classic arcade games.  The screen scrolls by itself, and you have to pilot the sled to avoid the walls of the fortress and the enemies that fly around and try to shoot you down.  If you collide with any of these things, your rocket sled is destroyed, and you only have three of them.  It’s crucial at this stage to pick up the energy (E) and bomb (B) power-ups for you to use in the next section.

2. Inside the Air Fortress on foot.  Here, the game turns into more of a standard platforming game, in which you can explore in any direction.  The goal is to find the main power reactor of the Air Fortress and destroy it.  I like the way the energy meter doubles as fuel for your rocket boots in this part of the game.  This means that you have to be careful about how much you use the boots, because draining your energy puts you at more risk of being destroyed by an enemy.  It also places a limit on the amount of flying you can do; if you run low on energy, you will need to stay on the ground for a while as your energy recharges.

3. The escape.  This is where the game really draws you in to the story.  When you destroy the main power reactor, the whole fortress goes dark and quiet, unsettling music begins to play.  The Air Fortress is going to explode in a few minutes, and you need to find your rocket sled and escape before it does!  In the first level, the game designers were feeling generous, so they put the exit right behind the reactor.  But in most of the levels, you have to go searching for it.  You might pass the exit on your way in to the reactor, or it might be in a part of the fortress you haven’t seen yet.

The game doesn’t give you a timer, so you can’t know for sure how much time you have to find the exit. After a while, you start to hear a low rumble and the screen begins to shake.  The shaking gets gradually more severe and the rumble grows louder until it almost drowns out the music.  The screen begins to flash white just before the end until the entire screen is washed out, and — GAME OVER.

The game is great at building tension, and it’s here that you reap the benefits of collecting (E) capsules during the rocket sled section– the more energy you have, the more you can use your rocket boots to hurry through the air fortress.

 

Continue reading

Hello again!  I decided to try out a different blog theme for this page.  All of the content is the same still.  What do you think?  I like the colors in this one, but the old one had a less complex background and may have been easier to read.

In general, people usually don’t like changes that aren’t necessary, but sometimes people on the autistic spectrum can be bothered by changes that others barely notice.  A couple of months ago, I read a blog entry posted by a mother whose little girl is on the autistic spectrum.  It was about a time she found her daughter struggling to hold back tears, telling herself “Sometimes things change, and that’s okay” in a method she had practiced to calm herself down.  The cause for her distress was that the TV show she was watching had changed its opening sequence for a new season.  She had been expecting the familiar opening that had been there every time, and something different was suddenly in its place.

I found that post very moving, because I can remember going through some of the same things as a young child.  One time, I was watching an episode of Sesame Street that somehow involved a marching band visiting the show.  I can barely remember the episode itself, but I do remember that as the credits rolled, they had the marching band perform the theme instead of using the piano and harmonica recording that had appeared every other time.  I was caught totally unprepared and burst into tears!  On a half-conscious level, I was familiar with each note and time interval in the song, and not only was the band using totally different instruments to play it, but they weren’t hitting all of the notes exactly right!  I just wanted to get away from it.

I had a similar reaction if I was listening to a song and the record or tape speed got messed up and the sound got distorted.  I always found it very disturbing to hear something familiar distorted into a grotesque form, with the essence of the original still there, just… twisted.

I am thankful that, as I have grown up, I have become less sensitive to that sort of sensory input.  I’m not entirely sure what has helped me besides experience, but I suspect that my love of science fiction may have helped me in this area.  Science fiction often uses a distorted or unfamiliar point of view to show readers or viewers something about human nature.  It can use a creature from another world as a mirror for ourselves, or it can show the consequences of our ideas by removing all limitations and showing what kind of future might result.  I’ve come to appreciate how storytellers use the weird and unsettling at times to tell a story of great importance and beauty.

Like anyone, I still worry about unwelcome changes in my life, of course.  But I still have the same thing to cling to as I did when I was a child– God never changes, and he has promised me that I belong to him.  Despite all the things in life that can scare or worry me, God is over them all, and he will not break his promises.

“I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”

— Malachi 3:6

Hmm– I think I’ll keep this background for a while.  It seems to be helping me to start writing again.

A few days ago, I got to see some of my classmates from Cedarville again for the first time in quite a while.  One of my friends was getting married, and it was a lovely wedding in which God was honored.

After the wedding, we went to the reception, which was held in the church’s gymnasium, and I found where my Cedarville friends were sitting and sat with them.

Have you ever been annoyed with yourself because you were in a time that should have been joyful and fun, but you were in a gloomy mood for no good reason?  I think that sort of happened to me.

As I think back on it now, there were a few things that were working against me.  To begin with, a wedding is the type of occasion that tests a lot of areas that I am weak in.  Making sure I am ready to go to the wedding requires using a lot of those executive functioning skills that are often tricky for Aspies.  I needed to make sure I had planned out what I was going to wear, what I needed to bring, and especially when I needed to leave in order to get there on time.  Driving increases my stress level a little more, and being in a social situation by myself bumps it up another level.

(What a whiny person I’m being!  I’m making it sound as if it’s such a hardship to do things that are a matter of simple courtesy.  This is part of the reason I’m annoyed with myself.  The fact is that it wasn’t that hard– I was glad that my friend invited me to her wedding, and I wanted to be there to share my best wishes for her and her husband.  I have a love/hate relationship with social situations in that part of me tries to avoid them, but I think deep down I really want to spend time with other people, and I almost always feel better after I have, even if it’s tiring sometimes.)

But the thing that seemed to mess up the meeting with my Cedarville classmates the most was unexpected– it was because I had a lot of trouble hearing what they were saying.  I mentioned that the reception was held in a gymnasium.  With so many people in a room with a basketball court for a floor, the echoing sounds of people’s voices in the background made it really hard for me to understand what my friends were saying.

It made me wonder if I’m losing my hearing.  I do like to listen to music a lot– is it possible the music is too loud?  Or is this more likely due to my brain processing sound input differently?  I have a difficult time tuning out background noise.

Whatever the case, I tried to have a conversation with each of my friends from Cedarville, but I wasn’t able to follow the larger conversation they were having as a group.  It got me thinking about how back when I was still going to Cedarville, I often felt the same way– not that I couldn’t hear what people were saying, but that I just didn’t know how to participate in the conversation on the same level as my friends.  It was sort of like being behind an invisible wall.  I wonder if it seemed to them like I was pushing other people away.

When I was talking to each of my classmates, I asked about how they were doing and what they were up to since graduating from Cedarville.  They are a bunch of really neat, talented people!  But it made me think about how little I knew about each of them even when I was still at Cedarville.

Anyway, sorry for making such a gloomy post.  I suppose that the positive side of this story is that it means I am getting a little better at interacting with others than I was ten years ago.  Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been such a shock to think back to how I was then.

We sang one of my favorite hymns in church yesterday, “How Firm a Foundation.”

This hymn has been a comfort to me whenever I have been struggling with doubt and need to be reminded of God’s promises.  The wonderful thing about it is that for most of the hymn, the “speaker” is not you– it is actually God!

Do you ever feel uncertain of your own faith in God, or unsure of whether you love him?  Even if you do, you can still sing this song at the top of your lungs, because it’s about God’s love for his people, not their love for him.  And that never changes and is never in doubt.

Apparently, it’s not known who wrote the words to this song, but they did a good job grounding it in what the Bible says (which is essential; it’s very dangerous to put words in God’s mouth otherwise!)

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus hath fled?

“Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed!
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
that soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake.”

This song helps me to stop thinking about myself and picture things from God’s point of view.

“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
that soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake.”