Time will tell as it did in the past.

March 12th 2010. Within the first couple of rows at Vector Arena rocking along to The Pixies. I mean, I was getting into it, but tepidly. According to Setlist.fm they were just finishing up their fourth track, “Manta Ray” from their Complete ‘B’ Sides collection. In short, I didn’t know it so my enthusiasm was more manufactured than authentic. Didn’t matter, I was seeing THE MOTHERFUCKING PIXIES. They finished up, we all clapped and from the stage I heard the opening chords of “Debaser”. Involuntarily, my fist launched straight into the air. Unfortunately, the fist of the dude next to me did too, but at an angle that sped straight for my watch. The strap-holder snapped and my watch fell to the ground. I picked it up, forlorn, then crammed it in my pocket and went back to having a transcendent time at THE MOTHERFUCKING PIXIES. Later in the night my boss pissed on a tree then shook my hands without washing his. Clearly karma was in full force.

I tried fixing the watch. I took it to a jewellery store who glued it all up and put a new pin in. A month or two later the pin fell out. They put another pin in. Then the watch strap-holder cracked again. I wondered whether it was worth repairing again if its destruction was inevitable, or if I should settle for a new watch? I asked a friend of mine. “What about not getting a watch?” He asked. “At this point, having a watch is a fashion decision. You work at a computer. You carry a cellphone with you everywhere. The chances of you not having the time when you need it are relegated to those moments you’re trapped on a desert island and even then you can just whip up a handy dandy sundial.”

He was right. That day I stopped wearing a watch and I’ve never looked back.

The other day my iPod Classic broke. I thought my headphones were buggered, because that’s a thing that happens with alarming regularity. I grumbled and looked for solutions. Friends chipped in with some good ones (like this glorious idea to relieve tension). Then I did the logical thing and tried a different pair of headphones. Once again, my iPod shat the bed. I think that was my third or fourth iPod. It’s the fourth to ultimately die to the same issue. The bloody headphone jack. The right audio channel on my first iPod died. My previous one had issues skipping, pausing and playing through the jack. Then after that was fixed, it suffered the same fate as my first. This most recent one has also faced the same audio channel issue. I could spend $50 to repair it. Now I need to decide what place an iPod has in my life.

The last time I was having this discussion, Spotify wasn’t a viable alternative. If I did skip the iPod for streamable music, I’d be paying $10 a month. Keep in mind I use Spotify at work and home too and enjoy the service. However, I was just about to dump it because I didn’t use it enough. There are alternative services (sadly my beloved Grooveshark is no more) I could use, but not without ads. That’d save me $120+ a year though. Not chump change. Given my shitty phone internet and limited hard drive space, if I went with the phone I’d have to rely on intentionality. I could download a few albums when I was on WiFi and listen to those until I got to another WiFi spot. The iPod on the other hand has an absurdly large catalogue that’s available at a scroll. I can switch it up without having to worry about limited inventory. Spotify does have a huge library, but I’d need to be selective, choosing what I desired for that particular day. The iPod is better for the gym and running, but I’d a) need to pay to get it fixed (with a 6 month guarantee) and remain a two device asshole (looks really dumb on the bus clutching a phone in one hand and scrolling with the other. Hands that is, not cheeks).

Do I stubbornly hold onto something that works, knowing that it’s not a viable option forever? Do I wait until technology catches up (e.g, internet speeds and phone hard drive capacity) to my needs and jump ship then? Or do I thrust my fist blindly into the air knowing that it could hurt in the short term, but work out in the long run?

Guess you’ll have to watch and see…

At least I know John Farnham believes in me.

They say if you don’t use it, you lose it. Skills have a habit of atrophying if they’re not flexed regularly. It’s such a waste. If you’ve spent time building them up, it’s important to find an outlet, keep them limber. Which is a roundabout way of saying that it felt pretty fucking great to be back in a voicing studio.

Don’t go getting your hopes up, it was in no way a major deal. Just a nice return to a familiar calling. I met with a guy in radio creative about a job that was up for grabs. I was interested to get back into radio, it’s an industry I’ve always loved. TV is fine, but my heart has truly never left radio. We talked about the job and he admitted that they’d already decided on who they wanted. Applying wouldn’t get me anywhere. He did however notice my accent and asked me if I’d done any voicing. I nodded and told him about my past career in audio production.

He thought for a second and told me about the nationwide company voice bank. There’s a directory of available voices for creatives to go through and find one that’s suitable. They list the type of reads that voices are good at (any accents or specific impressions) and have a few samples of their work. We had the same kind of system back home. It meant that if there was a prized voice in a small market the local producer could record them and send the audio up to another one. My current company didn’t yet have any New Zealand accents in the voice bank. The creative guy sent two scripts my way and brought me down to the studio.

Back when I worked in production, I didn’t do a heap of voicing. Part of it was pragmatic. I knew how to run Pro Tools and record. If I was recording it was easy to see how the read was running for time. I could hear it through the monitors and know if it fit the aim of the script. If I needed to record myself I’d often flick it to record, run into the booth, voice, then run out and stop the recording. It wasn’t the smoothest process, but it got the job done in a pinch. We also had a lot of conventional radio voices on station who got used way more often. This meant I got brought in whenever a weird little character voice was required. Aliens/monsters. Yoda. Impressions, mostly. Or a soft read for some kind of heart strings tugging cause. I always liked it, but would’ve loved to do more than I had the chance to.

I was of course a little rusty today, but not atrophied by any means. We did a bunch of takes, tried assorted reads trying to emphasise different parts of the scripts. We worked on pace and mood. I warmed up. It’s always easiest voicing when you’ve built up a relationship with the producer. You know what they’re looking for and they know how to get the type of read out of you they’re seeking. It was fun, I’d forgotten how much I’d missed it. Trying to properly articulate while also shaving five seconds off a read and emphasising correctly in all the right places. Being back in that booth felt like something clicked. Familiar and comforting. I’d like more of that feeling.

We’ll see if it goes anywhere. With people knowing my voice is available, they can write for it. Fingers crossed I can start building up a portfolio. If eventually I could start booking paid gigs, that’s not something I’d sneeze at. It’s pretty damn lucrative for work I’d enjoy doing. Fingers crossed, pray for Mojo.

Crossroads didn’t work out for Britney, why should I expect better?

To what extent do you define yourself by your occupation? Is the way you pay your rent aligned with the values you hold dear? When people ask you what you “do”, is your reaction to lead with your profession or hobbies? Or are you so disenchanted with your career that you respond with “lots of things” in order to pad for time (while you try to spin some scenario in which the world benefits from you waking up each day)?

It’s no secret that I’ve been having doubts (I mean, it’s in the fucking title, right?) about my career path for some time. For years I thought audio editing was my calling. Then after stepping off the path for the sake of a relationship and leaving the hellhole of Rotorua, I had to look for something else. I grasped around and in lieu of a career, I found jobs to fill the void. After the relationship imploded I bought a ticket to Canada ostensibly to start anew, but realistically to stave off asking the big questions for a few years. I surmised that the city of Toronto would offer a world of opportunity, and it has. Not necessarily in every capacity I’d hoped. After tripping over my feet for a year, I found them lodged in the door of a prominent media company. A promising path on which to find momentum if ever there was one.

The problem is, I haven’t budged. Despite desire and skills to move onwards, I feel firmly lodged where I stand. I can’t help but feel it’s a combination of naivety, inflexibility, laziness and indecision. I’m not well connected here in Toronto like I was back home. The industry tends to grow from student internships. They’ll typically do an internship as part of their education, which will flow into connections and/or gainful employment. I’m not blaming this system, it’s what got me my first real job back home. What this means for a 30 year old foreigner, however, is I’m battling against a well-cemented structure. The jobs that would let me move up the ranks are either going to kids in their early 20s or popping up in small towns. Here we come to inflexibility. I love Toronto. I cherish the friendships I’ve made here and the communities I’ve joined. There’s so much going on and the city genuinely feels like a part of me. I’m in a stable long-term relationship with a live-in partner.

If I want to move forward on this path, there’s a large chance I’d need to leave that behind.

That’s a hard sell, especially because it’d be re-treading ground I covered in my early 20s. I’ve done all this before. I honed my skills as one of those kids in my early 20s. I moved away to a small town and put in the hard yards. It sucked. At the age of 30, doing that again would be heartbreaking. It’s not impossible to see this as an option, but to uproot now that I’ve gotten settled would be a sacrifice of some magnitude. I’m quite unsure whether I’ve got the fortitude of will to keep my spirit intact over that kind of transition.

The only alternative I can think of requires an immense amount of hard work.

Which is where we come to laziness and indecision. If I want to get anywhere, I need to upskill. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of capacity for me to do that at work, which means it’s something to be done in my free time. Here we come to the hard part: deciding what I want to do. Do I want to work with audio? Learn video editing? Write commercials/promos? Scenes? Comedy? Reviews? Am I interested in performance? Storytelling? Or a form of content creation that utilises all of the above? Unless I can decide what I want to focus on, it’ll be impossible to gain ground in any particular direction. In a city that values exceptionalism, journeymen aren’t employable.

So how do I pick a path?

Spidey must have such a rubbish time at Haunted House attractions.

It’s been years since I owned a TV. The last time I had frequent access to one was when I flatted with a bunch of friends back in New Zealand. “Frequent access” is a bit of a misnomer, because it was mostly in use already. I’m not hanging lopsided streamers for a pity party here, it was excellent. Not least of all because one flatmate had a PS3 and Wii. Aside from getting verbally abusive playing NBA Jam (2010) and mildly less abusive playing You Don’t Know Jack, access to the PS3 meant I could actually dig in and play quality games, without digging deep in my pockets to get the systems. After my flatmate virtually forced me to play Bioshock (thanks J), he also suggested I give Batman: Arkham City a try.

The game was a revelation. No mere fun romp around the high rises of Arkham, the game made you Batman. Which Batman? Whatever fucking Batman you wanted. Love gizmos? You could be guns-a-blazin’ Batman with all manner of widget stuffed batarangs and bombs in your arsenal. There were stealth components to the game and a plethora of handy nooks, crannies and outcrops for staying out of sight. Then all of a sudden you could swoop in for an unnoticed knockout. Or, if you were like me, you could stick with dickhead brawler Batman and beat the shit out of innocent thugs and louts. The combat system was fluid freeform. You could rack up lengthy combos, even incorporating your fancy whizzbangs and gadgets for more flare. The background characters had fun conversations you could spy on. There were numeros puzzles to solve throughout, unless you took the Riddler route in which case there were hundreds. The boss fights were varied and interesting. The voice acting was impeccable. Top to bottom, the game kicked ass.

Which is why I was so taken with this E3 trailer for the new PS4 Spider-Man game. It’s a near nine minute gameplay trailer that’s worth every second you spend on it. In every way that Arkham City made you Batman, this looks to do the same for Spidey. It’s packed to the brim with all his characteristic quips and webs. Of course this play-through is optimised for presentation, but it looks so goddamn smooth. It moves quickly, with a multitude of options in play style. It’s fun and clever with a bright colour palette. The action is fast and varied. There look to be beat ’em up moments, stealth kills and gadgets galore. This level at least takes into account the surrounding environment in order to aid combat and puzzle solving. There are quick time events like God of War and it flows effortlessly between cut scenes and gameplay. Spider-Man, like Batman, has a fun rogue’s gallery that’ve always been fun in past games (Ultimate Spider-Man was a splendid play through).

I don’t think this is gonna be the title, but one of these days a console game will come along that’s so compelling, I’ll have no choice but to get one. In any case, this definitely has my Spidey Sense tingling.

There were, too, people doing parkour. Seemed apt.

I’ve never been great at relaxing. Something about the idea of sitting and doing nothing stresses me out. If I’m not thinking, why am I awake? I have a constant need to be engaged in an activity, even if that activity is merely hanging out and chatting with others. Given this borderline anxiety over relaxation, the beginning of my weekend was going pretty damn well. Friday I was home sick, learning the intricacies of Watch the Skies‘ ruleset as best I could. Saturday I was constantly on my feet, putting the ruleset into motion for paying customers. By the time the game had wrapped up I wasn’t far from falling into bed. If I was at all afraid of getting appropriate amounts of sleep however, our cat has been going apeshit for the past week or so. As such, it’s been a while since I slept well.

Whatever my feelings on relaxation, both my brain and body needed a break.

Cue the perfect summer day, but in spring. Temperatures going up to the high 20s. A cloudless sky and light breeze blowing through. After a morning spent lugging a microwave around Koreatown, my girlfriend and I decided a park day was not only desirable, but necessary. We put the call out, but didn’t get much back in the way of responses. A few hours later the temperature had dipped to an ideal mid-20s. Some friends posted about hang outs in Trinity Bellwoods. Deal. We strapped on shoes and hit the road.

First stop was Bakerbots. I’m always loathe to mention Bakerbots too much, but figure my readership is small enough that this won’t spread the secret too far. Bakerbots is a boutique bakery that partners with the outrageously popular Bang Bang Icecream. In a one-two punch operation, Bakerbots make the cookies and Bang Bang cream the ice. Bang Bang routinely has a 30+ minute wait time in the summer. Bakerbots takes five minutes at a stretch. Same ice cream, but a slightly smaller range of flavours. I had a cone of burnt toffee and double chocolate, while my girlfriend grabbed burnt toffee and Sam James espresso. Holding the napkin-less cone and feeling drops of delicious dairy melting onto my hands brought me back to childhood beach trips. We’d hang out in the sand and sea for a few hours, then nana and papa would take us to grab massive ice creams. Hokey Pokey and Goody Goody Gumdrops, always. On a sunny Sunday in Toronto, a cone was no less of a treat.

We wandered down to Bellwoods, noticing just how many people were out and about. Over the winter months, Toronto can seem like a ghost town at times. Strange, for a city. Spring typically has more hours of rain than sun, as locals chomp at the bit for patios to open. As soon as they do, the floodgates open and if the patios are full, everyone under 40 goes to one of the many, many parks (seen here in green). Bellwoods is a great spot for dog watching, slack lining, capoeira, calisthenics, frisbee, a few local beers on the down low and assorted musical jams.

We laid our blanket down with friends and watched the world go by. Everything mentioned above and then some. There was a good nature in the air (and obviously all around, trees softly swaying in the breeze). One of our friends had a Hang, which he proceeded to play for us. I’d never seen or heard a Hang before. It looks like an inverted Steel Drum, but could also pass for a large viking shield. It’s gentle and melodious, a sound akin to wind chimes or the motion of a waterfall. Gentle, soothing and tough to play well. Lying back in the evening warmth, listening to the symphony of life going on all around, relaxing started to make more than a little sense.

Putting the “anal” into Merriweather Post-Analysis.

I’ve seen a fair amount of live music. Back when I lived in New Zealand I’d often drive two and a half hours north from Rotorua to Auckland mid-week to see a show, then back in the early hours of the morning to get to work. This possibly happened more weeks than it didn’t. From 2007-2012 or so, I attended a metric fuckton of gigs (which sadly did not include the band Metric). They varied in quality, as all things do. Some (like Grizzly Bear at Bruce Mason or The Mountain Goats at King’s Arms Tavern) left me with an exultant high while others were a flat out disappointment (TV on the Radio at Big Day Out comes to mind). The middle ground was composed of gigs that fluctuated between the marvellous and mediocre (Smashing Pumpkins at Vector Stadium) or those that weren’t bad so to speak, but different from what I’d been expecting/hoping for (Weezer at Vector Arena. Forgot how not into their newer material I was).

Then there was last night’s Animal Collective concert at The Danforth Music Hall.

I’ve been a huge fan of AC for years. In particular, Feels, Strawberry Jam and Merriweather Post Pavillion have been on constant rotation since they were released. I saw them live back at the Powerstation in the wake of their Fall Be Kind EP release. It was a sweet spot for the band. They’d crested the wave of critical adoration and brought out a similarly cherished bonus release. They sounded excellent and played a bunch of Merriweather stuff. Solid show that left me with a humming feeling in the core of my being. The kind of concert you dream of.

Last night’s gig was a mixed bag and I’m not entirely sure how to feel about it. I’ve been less than lukewarm on the band’s recent releases. They’ve felt fine for any other band, but lacking in that special harmony that seemed to epitomise their late 00s releases. The bulk of their material was from their 2016 album Painting With and the subsequent EP The Painters. They had a few Merriweather tracks plus a scattering of deep cuts and lesser known songs. As I said earlier, I’d consider myself a fan of the band, but I came away feeling sort of isolated.

On the other hand, they weren’t remotely phoning it in. Seeing them compose these hugely ambitious audio soundscapes was fascinating. The craft involved in shaping noise through a critical mass of effects pedals and gadgets boggled my mind. To conceive of sound in that way, taking a couple of notes, stretching and mixing in order to warp into a whole new atmosphere really took a shit ton of skill. A lot of it felt improvisational in nature and the chemistry of the band went a long way towards making the sound gel. It seemed in a sense like an electronic jam session, with band members bouncing off one another organically. That was pretty powerful to watch, seeing such a fluid working relationships (knowing full well of the band’s constant creative tensions). So much of the set seemed like they were out to challenge the audience, both in what they sought from a gig and how they perceived previously known pieces. Even when familiar tunes faded in, the tracks were entirely rearranged, taking aspects of the beloved material to recreate a starkly different piece. It made me begin to question the nature of what makes a song. How far can you go from a recorded piece, cherry picking elements to rework while still maintaining that it’s the same track? If it only casually resembles the former structure, what have you just heard? Experiencing songs I knew so well in a whole different light literally inspired awe in me. It recontextualised the piece entirely, crafting a meaningful memory of its own.

There’s been a lot of personal ownership so far. Defining this concert by how “I” felt. Looking around though, it was plain to see that the gig wasn’t what everyone had bargained for. Witnessing the almost desperate response to familiar material- feverishly energetic dancing, as if re-engaging calcified joints- I can’t have been the only one expecting a more crowd friendly set. I get it from the band’s perspective. Maybe they don’t like touring that much, but see it as a financial necessity. Perhaps they feel constrained by the rigid structures of their recorded material. They could even see delivering a polished, tight setlist as a method of giving up and phoning it in. Does a band owe anything to its audience? Is it fair for concertgoers to have expectations of what they’d hope to hear and, if those aren’t met, are they justified in feeling disappointed? Is it entitled to presume that the cost of a concert ticket implies walking away satisfied? Or is that a gamble inherent to the mercurial nature of a creative endeavour?

At what level can it be seen as self-indulgent to fly in the face of what your crowd seeks? There was a specific instance during a fantastic rendition of “Floridada” where Avery Tare seemed borderline antagonistic. Everything was humming away merrily, until he begun singing his part of the chorus in half-time, throwing off the rhythm of the track. It was in defiance of the rest of the band’s timing. How’s an audience meant to dance to that? Is a concert a performance or performance art? Something put out there to be critiqued, experienced or enjoyed? There’s no clear cut line, but it really begs the question: Who are you touring for? Yourself or adoring fans who’ve supported your career for years?

At this stage, I still have yet to determine how I really felt about the gig. Was that the point? We live in a world of nuance where it’s possible to hold a number of opposing views simultaneously. By the same metric, the next time Animal Collective roll through town I can’t say whether or not I’d want to go. This wasn’t a gig I’ll soon forget.

More like nostaljerk.

Why is familiarity so comforting? I’ve been on a nostalgia kick lately (primarily because I’ve deep dived back into the Laser Time archive for my workplace listening enjoyment) and it’s been delightfully tickling my brain. I listened back to the early 90s “Mortal Kombat: The Album” (you’ll surprise yourself by remembering the absurd hit “Techno Syndrome“. The rest of the album is, if possible, even more cheesy. It features songs about the various characters (or in Sonya Blade’s case, a ballad she apparently sings about herself? And she’s been outfitted with a British accent?). The best part is how token most of the lyrics are. The Immortals were never given comprehensive background information about each character, so they had to write about what they know from playing the game. The result is a bunch of songs about assorted special moves each character uses, or in the case of Sub Zero…

“Whoah, Chinese ninja warrior
With your heart so cold sub zero
Whoah, your life is a mystery
Why you wear the mask? Sub zero”

Also a blatant rip off of Marky Mark’s “Good Vibrations”, but instead with the dubious line “Freezing Vibrations” (which makes no fucking sense, but I’ll go with it). AllMusic gives it a grand two star rating. It’s a festering piece of shit. Stock 90s techno coupled with the aforementioned flaccid lyrics. It should be a pain to endure, but instead it’s so fucking bonkers that it comes 180° to being a blast to hear. It’s not even a guilty pleasure for me and the only downside is that “Mortal Kombat: The Album” isn’t on Spotify, making me realise what a colossal waste my $9.99 each month is. If I can’t groove out to dancefloor suicide, what am I paying for?

It’s not new to me how much I adore nostalgia, but what is a recent revelation is how much I want the sensation without doing the work. Anime is a great example. I think so fondly of my years spent watching anime. I’d lounge around with friends into the early hours of the weekend and try to marathon an entire show. So many goddamn series. Casting my mind back to those days warms my heart, but whenever I think about getting back into anime, I realise how little I actually want to watch it. I’m way more critical than I was and getting into a new 24 episode series is a hard sell. I don’t have the time I once did. Much like video games, theory wins out over practice 80% of the time. Even knowing that, I still yearn for the underlying emotions they brought. The excitement of experiencing a whole new fictional world. Or in games, of facing and overcoming challenges coming my way.

Both industries were way smaller back then and I honestly think that was a large part of the attraction. Back in high school, anime and video games were super niche interests. We were the nerds and belonging to rare fandoms made it feel like we were venturing into unknown territory. We’d talk about them constantly, but they seemed like conversation topics only for our little group. When we found anyone else with similar interests, sharing those interests was a revelation, like we were sharing a central part of ourselves. We felt special somehow, because we were different. It may have been an illusion, but we clung to it tenaciously. These days fandom is all too easy to find. Hyperconnectivity means that others like you are only a few clicks away. Neither video games nor anime are particularly esoteric these days, they’ve expanded into normalcy. As dumb as it is, inside me there’s the sense that the experience is now cheapened. There’s nothing unique about them and with that gone, this remote concept of being special has dissipated. What’s more, the plots and character progression don’t feel like they’d live up to other available content. There are way too many clever shows to watch now, so why would I spend time on anything flimsy?

Wait, so I think I’m too cool for school now? That gives me freezing vibrations all over.