“Justin had developed this style with Chun-Li where he played very conservatively,” Killian explained. “He’s trying to do nothing and say look, Chun-Li’s options in this game are so safe that I don’t actually need to do anything to attack. I can just whittle you down until I win.” Not only was this a sound, if slightly lame, strategy, it was working against one of the best players in the world. Umehara tends to be a much more aggressive player, and the strain of playing against Wong’s ultra-conservative Chun-Li was beginning to show. “Daigo, in rare form, actually seemed to be upset. He was playing recklessly,” Killian said. “This is one of the joys of fighting game play, you can actually put someone off their game, and get into their head until they start making mistakes.” Soon Umehara had been taken down to his “last few pixels” of health, but Wong continued to play it safe. Umehara had a little room to breathe. “Daigo goes back to his corner to recalculate and think about what he’s going to do here,” Killian told the Penny Arcade Report. “Does he have a way across this expanse of screen to get in and trip Justin up? He knew that he didn’t.” Killian also pointed out that immense pressure that Wong was under in this situation. He’s one of the last Americans left standing in the tournament, and they’re on American soil. He’s also enjoying a huge advantage against one of the best players in the world. Killian put it bluntly. “[Wong] had [Umehara] on his knees, so to speak. Although Justin is at a very strong advantage, ironically that’s creating a huge amount of pressure from the crowd and the situation.” Wong needed only to land a single hit to secure the win. The next attack would deal enough damage to end the match, even if Umehara were able to block. Both players understood that Wong had to attack to win, and it was at this moment that Umehara found his strategy. “If you watch the moments preceding Justin doing the super, Daigo is moving at pace with him across the screen as Justin dances back and forth,” Killian said. “Daigo is mirroring his actions. That’s not an accident. Daigo has made his play.” The bet was that Justin would “mentally break,” as Killian puts it, and go for the most obvious, flashiest way to end the match. Wong doesn’t need to land a solid hit to end the match, even the small amount of damage dealt by a blocked attack would be enough to gain the win. Chun-Li’s super would allow Wong to attack with a kind of safety net: as long as one of those kicks landed, even if it was blocked, Wong has won the match. It’s a safe, obvious play, and it lost Wong the match. “Any time you have knowledge of what your opponent is going to do in a fighting game, that’s something you can leverage against them,” Killian said. “Daigo knows that Justin wants to close this out, and of course the most dramatic way to do so is to use the super. Daigo won’t have any life left to block it, and it’s quite difficult to parry.” So what happens next? “Justin cracks,” Killian explained. Wong attacked with the super, but Umehara not only knew it was coming, he had been keeping the correct distance between the two characters to parry each of the kicks. A parry is different from a block in that you deflect the attack and take no damage, although the move requires precise timing. In this case, Umehara had to successfully parry each of the kicks to survive. “The thing with parrying that super is that it’s so fast you have to be parrying at the time the super flashes, you can’t react to it,” Killian said. “You can’t see the flash and start tapping the parry out. You have to be parrying by the time the super is initiated, which takes a lot of prediction. That’s why Daigo is mirroring, he’s holding the distance he needs to be away from Chun-Li’s super in order to parry.” Onlookers and fans leapt to their feet during this move and began to cheer, but Killian explained that the physical act of parrying was only part of the story. The real genius at work was the mental acuity needed to set up the play. “There was no luck involved,” Killian told the Penny Arcade Report. “The skill in parrying the super is difficult, but it’s something anyone can learn with muscle memory. You can go into practice and tap it out. The real genius of the move was the fact [Umehara] was able to be parrying before the move started, he had the correct anticipation of Justin’s move. The real strength of the play was mental, it was the read of the situation.” Killian continues to talk about the match, and it’s clear that he’s fascinated by it to this day. “It was such an incredible read and such an incredible move of Jiu Jitsu to take someone’s advantage and use it against them in such a brilliant way, on top of it being an impressive technical feat, on top of the pressure of the room,” he said, counting off the many ways the match was notable. “One of Daigo’s great abilities is to ignore the pressure of those situations, at least outwardly. He has a lot of inner calm.” There’s a lesson to be learned here. Once a strategy has proven successful against an opponent, players find themselves tempted by safer attacks in an attempt to end the match by inflicting block damage. “People are still doing it!” Killian said, exasperated. “It’s a common strategy in tournament play, and it makes you vastly more predictable!” The amount of strategy, training, and thought went into that one moment of tournament-level play is inspiring. It took Seth Killian almost 15 minutes to describe and explain all the intricacies of the players' actions and reactions. It took me around 1,200 words to write it out. All for a single minute of a single match of a fighting game. The parry was impressive, but it was icing on a cake that Daigo Umehara baked before Wong had a chance to attack. This is what happens when a player transcends normal play and creates art.
Everyone has a band that they think are criminally under popular. Dear and the Headlights are mine. The thing is, I think Dear and the Headlights have the most beautiful melodies ever written. Which means they should be the most popular band in the world, right?
“For I end up in a circular path,
On a pilgrimage leading straight back.
To where I know that I’ll drop my guitar.
I’ll abandon my car on the highway,
Don’t send me away.
Don’t send me upon this wild goose chase”
This piece has followed me in my head for years. It’s on the soundtrack to Heaven, a film that is ninety minutes of living in the times between times, living in the time you’ve got left, living in the time made golden by your doom.
That short passage, where the violin comes in and plays one long note and then goes up an interval and plays another long note, to me embodies the sensation of knowing you are living through an achingly beautiful moment, and knowing it is passing, and knowing that the knowledge of the passing is what turns mundane happiness into stabbing beauty.
I love this shot from Taxi Driver. Even though Travis Bickle is supposedly God's lonely man, we know him as the subject of a Hollywood film. But, earlier in the film, in this shot, he is just another unremarkable guy, alone in the early morning, in the distance, swigging from a bottle of whiskey.
And I love how, in the "Are you talking to me?" scene, you can hear the everyday noise of people outside as Travis Bickle goes mad inside:
Tool and Mogwai made me realise that musicians are allowed to do anything they want.
But Tool had a stronger effect because they were my first real exposure to metal, which meant they were able to crystalise the most consistently important concept in my musical taste: beauty is harsh.
I first heard Mogwai in 1997, when I was about sixteen. I was lying in bed in the dark listening to The Breezeblock, Mary Ann Hobbs’s late night music programme on Radio One. She played Like Herod, a twelve-minute track from Mogwai’s first album, Young Team. I hadn’t heard music like that before: instrumental by default, symphonically structured, spoken word, moods rather than songs, occasional vocals that were accents, rather than scaffolding, and incongruous shifts in instrumentation and tone from section to section. I thought that Mogwai had, somehow, invented all this stuff. It wasn’t until 2002 that I realised that Slint had already got most of the way there by 1991.
I first heard Tool in 1998, when I was seventeen. My friend, Harry, lent me their 1996 album, Aenima, and I took it home and played it through the speakers built into the monitor of my Mac. I played it a lot over the next five or six years on my CD Walkman.
Aenima took me much further than Young Team. It was the first piece of modern music in which I heard the non-standard time signatures. It was the first record I heard that combined anger and sadness and melody into beauty. It was the first record I heard that had an overarching theme. The first record I heard that had continuity between songs. It made me consciously seek out weird, extreme music, music that would broaden my horizons and maybe give my brain more versions of that moment in Third Eye when Maynard James Keenan sings, “So good to see you, I missed you so much”: the joyous/agonising high of a sound that is simultaneously sad and beautiful, melodic and abrasive.
Most importantly, it was the record that made me fully aware of the fact that music doesn’t just come from some obscured, instinctual, idiot savant place in the brain. It is intentional art, just like novels and films and paintings. It is - can be - a series of conscious decisions, some of which the musician is unsure of. This is excellently illustrated in Third Eye by the two moments when Maynard James Keenan sings, “Prying open my third eye.” The first time, it stops the song with the long, arrhythmic pauses between repetitions. The second time, it is in parallel with a polyrhythmic drum beat, and repeated many more times, and totally cathartic.
Fourteen years later, poor Harry still hasn’t had his CD back.
I really like this video. A sad, simple story.
I heard that you’ve turned into a goth, and I think that’s great, if that’s what makes you happy. I have an old pair of black boots with silver buckles that I don’t wear anymore, and you can have them if you want them. Also, I wanted to ask: What, if anything, is fluttering in your heart? I wanted to ask if it has to be a black crow or a vampire bat… or if maybe instead it could be a kite that has broken loose from the string that you were holding—or the string that we were holding—sometime when we were teenagers, or maybe in our early twenties? Could it be a kite which is now rolling over and over on itself in the sky like an unborn baby, and slowly shrinking into a dot, and then a spec of black, and then something we’re not even sure we’re watching, but then, for sure, absolutely nothing at all? Get back to me about this when you have a chance.
I hope you’re doing well.
The sound of summer.
I like dance movies. Somehow, though they often appear indistinguishable from music videos, they are not boring. This clip is one track’s worth of a dance movie of pure joy set to Girl Talk’s album, All Day.
I think I’ve posted this video to every blog I’ve ever had. It shows my favourite performance of my favourite Des Ark song. But, further, it depicts an incredibly rich and specific scene: a gig in someone’s house, members of the audience standing around and as important in the frame as Aimée Argote, her too-small guitar, a gig that appears to be boiling hot when she wipes the sweat from the face with her t-shirt that is part of a utilitarian I-have-been-on-tour-for-weeks outfit, and the intro she gives that lasts longer than the song and that reflects the other bands at the gig.
This is my second favourite performance of this song. You will notice that it includes her whole band. You will also notice that the video has absolutely no atmosphere. However, I love how fast the song moves along, and I love the way she sings the “I know” in “And I know I’m using drugs every morning” as a half-screech.
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea
Circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate
Driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow
Though you may not believe it
You know what she says to me next
As I repeat it
That line about getting a blow job
That Leonard sings
She said it made her
Want to do naughty things
Right about then
I should have asked
If she knew
What the Chelsea charged
If we got a room for two
But I didn’t and I know
I’m a schmuck, don’t you doubt it
The only thing I did
Was write this stupid song about it
If I was Leonard Cohen
Or some other song writing master
I’d know to first get the oral sex
And then write the song after
You may think it’s pathetic
That I sing this song
And that she will never know it
But think a minute about what that means
And you’ll realise it’s actually a wonderful thing
That all around the world
There maybe folks singing tunes
For the love of others folks
They barely knew
And it puts a smile on my face
Yes, it do
And let me tell you
You ought to be smillin too
‘Cos the next time you feeling
Kinda lonesome and blue
Just think that someone somewhere
Might be singin about you
And I love the fact that he released a version that has him gulping part way through a line.
Such amazing close harmonies.
This is the final track from Aftertime. I feel bad posting it in isolation, because the album is a proper collection of tracks that has a beginning and takes you on a journey. Further, it’s unrepresentative of the rest of the album: it’s much shorter than the central pieces that are seven or eight minute worlds, it’s less measured, it’s easier. But the final foghorn blasts are such a perfect ending, such a beautiful replacement of calm and analysis with rage, that it’s my favourite.
Tom Klein Peter wrote a wonderful series essays (see above) about being the lead dev at Audiogalaxy. The excerpt below is one of my favourite pieces of writing about programming. It combines an analogy of springs and weights that illustrates the way programming can change the way you think about systems, and a description of the loveliness of the light in the morning after a night spent programming that illustrates how the demands of your art can show you the world in a new way.
In short, it demonstrates how a part life of productivity and a part life of fun can enrich each other to produce something that makes your head explode with associative pyrotechnics.
As we worked through the bugs, the uptime turned into minutes, then hours, and eventually the service virtually never crashed. With hundreds of instances deployed, we got so much traffic that we were able to remove all the bugs we were likely to run into. We had one or two machines that would crash every month or two with inscrutable core files. Because it was always the same machine, I eventually attributed this to faulty memory. The idea that you could write software that was more reliable than hardware was fascinating to me.
In fact, almost everything about the scale of the software fascinated me. I found that a system with hundreds of thousands of clients and thousands of events per seconds behaved like a physical machine built out of springs and weights. If one server process stalled for a moment, effects could ripple throughout the cluster. Sometimes, it seemed like there were physical oscillations – huge bursts of traffic would cause everything to slow down and back off, and then things would recover enough to trigger another burst of load. I had never even imagined that these sorts of problems existed in the software world and I found myself wishing I had taken control theory more seriously in college.
Keeping up with the traffic at this time was difficult, but in retrospect, it was really a lot of fun. I had graduated from UT in December of 2000 and moved downtown within walking distance of both 6th Street and the office. I spent the summer on a completely nocturnal cycle, partially because of the Texas heat, but mainly because restarting services was easier at 3 in the morning. I was tired of staying up late to deploy new code, so I just changed my schedule. Audiogalaxy users had led me to a set of live trance mixes from clubs in Europe which turned me into a diehard electronica fan, and driving around Texas to catch DJs on the weekend was much easier if staying up until 8am was normal. I bought some turntables and a lot of vinyl. And a couch. The light in my apartment when I got home in the morning was very lovely.
One of Spencer Krug’s side projects. I would often listen to this as I walked home from a party, across Berlin, at eight a.m.
"The girls, all ready in their swimsuits
They are sitting on the pier
I will swim to them like a fish
I have ridden on these waves
I will be there in no time"
"I wanted to say ‘why the long face?’
[slowly slip away with your long face]
Sparrow perch and play songs of long face
Burro buck and bray songs of long face
Sings ‘I will swallow your sadness and eat your cold clay just to lift your long face
And though it may be madness, I will take to the grave
Your precious long face
& though our bones they may break & our souls separate
Why the long face? Milkymoon
And though our bodies recoil from the grip of the soil
Why the long face?'"
I listened to Fee Reega a lot when I lived in Berlin. Her music is very beautiful, and it helped me improve my German.