Hello, everyone. I hope everyone is doing OK. My last update was pretty rant-y, so I thought of steering the wheel in a different direction and talk about my recent inclusion in this year's Newgrounds Underdogs Audio Contest. Because why not. Imagine sitting around a campfire, have a drink in our hand and let your mind go adrift.
Truthfully, I haven't joined any contest or community event in years. It is incredibly hard to commit to anything outside of academia, let alone for sport, so for the longest time I have actively avoided any additional source of stress. Contests don't define my existence as an artist. I mainly join for the fun of testing myself and my own stamina. If it's not fun, then why bother. I may have also let down a few people looking for collaborations along the way and I can only say that those projects may regrettably not happen due to reasons ranging from lost interest to me simply moving on with my life, as I bring the spotlight onto other things and I also change as a person.
So, why this time? I've spent the past couple of years crunching all sorts of things in increasingly shorter, but intense bursts of energy, sometimes forcefully. It wasn't a matter of seeing if I could take a multi-round tournament all the way through because the answer would have easily been 'yes'. I still consider myself an experienced amateur. I'm not entirely new to the game. I know what it's like to work under the clock. I have composed entire game soundtracks while struggling to come up with new ideas. It was a matter of how. I wanted to see how I would deliver.
I, like many others, received an invitation from the contest mastermind himself, Mr. @TaintedLogic. I auditioned an old track I composed in 2016 for a game called Tears of the Machine, for no particular reason except it sounding good enough in my head, like many other older tracks I feel personally attached to. It's an intense piece, it's bombastic, it's orchestral, why not. Let's give it a try. I made myself a boss fight before the real contest could even begin, which I thought was humorous. Every time I fire tracks like these, I immediately feel a surge of nostalgia for a time when bouncing ideas back and forth and being in the 'zone' with fellow artists was intuitive and simple. You don't think too hard about it, you just do it.
Up until this point, I didn't have any plans other than using the contest as an excuse to shrug some of that late summer drowsiness off my shoulders and propel me towards the next season. However, as the audition phase progressed, I began maturing the idea of composing a short, experimental album featuring my contest entries. It would have motivated me to try something new while directing my focus to the competition. Under such premise, I began working on my would-be opener track.
It turned out an oddball. While I had a clear vision of its structure and some of the sounds I wound up using, much of it remained a complete mystery to me until I crunched the last 12 hours and submitted at 4 AM with three hours to spare. Please, don't follow my example. This track was unlike anything I had ever composed prior to the contest. Some of it sounded chaotic and abrasive, with a somewhat disjointed structure and video game tropes peppered all over the track. It was a proper experiment in the sense that I did employ a handful of techniques that were new to me, as well as a different approach to composition. Abrupt tempo changes, sudden glitches and transitions—for all intents and purposes, I wanted it to sound unpredictable, like a machine that could break down at any moment.
The track was released to a mostly positive reception. It did allow me to advance further into the competition, albeit barely. This is when my vision of a short experimental album began to erode as the final round loomed ahead like a slowly advancing demonic wall, crushing everything in its path like a mad kaiju monster. A WallZilla, if you will. A little voice in my head knew that the concept had a high What Would Have Been potential, but I refused to heed it immediately. I first needed to try, and tried I did. I didn't even save my very first attempt. It was too embarrassing to store, granted my folder is filled with source files of similar quality, or lack thereof.
By the second take, the realization and subsequent feelings of disappointment and dishonor started seeping in, but I still wanted to see how far I could take that concept. And I tried again, and again, started anew, third attempt, I sampled what I had and included it in my last take. Scrap that. Repeat. Fourth attempt. That's when I knew for sure anything remotely sitting beyond my comfort zone would have needed more cooking time. With this new knowledge, and no longer confined by my own genre myopia, I only had a few days left before the deadline.
I retreated into familiar waters. When in doubt, compose Ambient music, is what I thought—my 'default' musical mind state. I was inspired by my own compositions from 2010 and 2011, as well as old media like Ecco the Dolphin, Donkey Kong Country, and Vangelis. I imagined themes of space exploration. New worlds, new life lurking somewhere in outer space. With that in mind, I thought that was it. That is what I needed to do, for better or worse. Ebb and flow.
How did that go? Well, not too bad. I took my 6th place (3rd in my category, with an Ambient piece, no less), and the overall positive feedback from the community figuratively back home.
There's a side of me that still doesn't know what to do with that short album idea, whether it served as some kind of sacrificial lamb for the sake of elevating a more 'easy-listening' cinematic experience, or perhaps something to cook at my own leisure someday, somehow™. Yes, I could recite the old adage of the journey mattering more than the destination, the friends we made along the way, and how the power of anime friendship saved my world from collapsing, but the truth is... I made it. I needed that confirmation, and my actions proved it. That's what matters to me the most.
For now, I will keep lurking. Until next time, stay tuned.