Assembling An Album

Community Albums are the rage nowadays, or at least, they are in my immediate surroundings. Quite by coincidence, the time when S*T launched its Community Album was also about the same time when I launched the third version of the Community Album for my Anime Club. It was that great for a community activity.

Having spearheaded these 3 Community Albums for my club, I have some small experience in how to assemble an album. It’s more than just putting in a number of songs, especially when not all the songs are of the same genre or even the same language. For the last album, I really just arranged them by chronological order, but before that, I spent quite a bit of effort assembling it, based on what I’ve observed from other albums and my own preferences. Let me share some principles of arranging songs into an album.

Let me put in a caveat here that if your album has an underlying theme existent, there is no need to follow all my principles. Albums with themes have their own way of presenting the music according to a narrative. For those which are more conventional, however, here is some advice I humbly present.

1. Never put too similar songs together.

This is one of my pet peeves in albums. When you have 2 songs that sound alike, please at least insert a different song between them. Whenever I listen to 2 songs that sound alike consecutively, they invariably sound like I’m just listening to the same song. While this tip sounds pretty obvious, many albums don’t seem to grasp the concept. When I listen to what I think is the same song for too long, I zone out, and fail even further to notice the subtle nuances in each song. What do I mean by songs that sound similar? Firstly, if your album comprises different singers, songs by the same gender of singer tend to sound the same, unless one is much higher or lower than the other. Secondly, if the speed or genre of the song is alike, such as both rock music or both slow-paced, they will sound the same too. The easiest thing to do is just to alternate between male and female singers. If your album is all by the same singer, and the singer sings somewhat the same songs, here’s an additional tip to resolve it.

Certain songs have memorable lines. Maybe the title of the song is repeated many times in the chorus, or it just has some element that is memorable to the listener. These songs can be placed with similar songs without much of a problem, as they easily distinguish themselves from the adjacent ones.

2. Put the best at the first and last.

When I say that, I don’t mean that the same song can apply either at the first position or the last. In most professional albums, if you notice, there is a certain trend in songs occupying the first position, and those occupying the last. Both songs are of course the highlight of the album, but here’s the difference.

The first song should embody the best of how the singer usually does, or in the case of a mixed-singer album, it should be the typical song that you would expect from the album. This sets the expectation for the listener of what they should prepare for in the album. Simply put, the first song should be the best of what you would expect.

As for the last song, it should be just as good and just as memorable, and it should also bring a creative twist to the album. Some albums have remixes of their best songs, or they have a ballad for a metal band (sung very well, of course). Something refreshing and interesting to stay in the listener’s mind, to tell them that the album is capable of its own surprises.

Remember, both the first and last songs are what the listener will remember most in the end.

This is pretty much it for all the important advice I have. Some albums tend to put action-packed songs in the beginning and slower ones towards the end, but I believe this to be a matter of preference (and they also tend to commit the fallacy of putting too similar songs together, doing that). Of course, the beauty of the final product can only be judged on a case-by-case basis, and I’m sure any album that has had its compiler’s heart and sincerity put into it will always shine. So have fun creating the album that best represents you!

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Exalted Salvation’s Anime Beauty Pageant

Welcome, everybody, to the most prestigious contest of the Exalted Salvation Show, the Cutest Anime Girl Pageant! Today, I’m going to present you with a series of cute anime girls, and you get to vote to determine the winner! Presenting our first contender!

1. Kuriyama Mirai

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Mirai is probably already a winner in my eyes, but this girl from Kyoukai no Kanata has red glasses that perfectly match her wonderful hair. Even her personality is cute, such as the way she takes off her glasses and wipes them desperately while stammering whenever she’s lying. Such a clumsy but powerful girl!

2. Shiina Mayuri

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If not for Mirai, Mayuri would have taken the cake for Cutest Anime Girl. She comes from Steins;Gate, the hotbed anime of lovable characters, and her “tu turu” is the reason why I like Hanazawa Kana today. If Mirai and Mayuri are somehow merged to form a super-cute duo, I would love it so much. That said, even though Mirai’s the cutest in my eyes, I must say Mayuri has a much more preferred personality. She is mature and wise beyond her eyes, and shows so much bravery and strength even in the face of difficulties.

3. Sasaki Chiho

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Fans of Hataraku Maou-sama, the un-funny comedy of a devil king who ends up working in a fast food restaurant, will probably recognise his irresistibly cute colleague, Chiho. This picture shows nothing of her greatest appeal to audiences, which is her unbelievably large set of breasts. Her breasts are so big they’re a joke in themselves (but no I’m not laughing).

You may think I have a rather bad impression of her. I kinda do from the show, but her image has been salvaged when I saw this picture in the ending, together with Nano.Ripe’s beautiful voice.

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This is gorgeous. And for that she is one of top 5 cute anime girls.

4. Victorique de Blois

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Victorique is the female lead from Gosick, known for her top-notch detecting skills and also her tsundere personality. She likes to puff out her face when she’s angry, and rolls around on the floor when she’s bored. Not only that, she also has a wonderful dress, with all its Victorian laces and frills. The previous 3 girls had had short hair, but this is definitely a long-haired beauty and all-around cutie.

5. Road Kamelot

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Road Kamelot wouldn’t really be what I call “cute” at first glance, and yet there is a quality about her that I can’t find another word for. I like Road, and she is one of my top 10 favourite D.Gray-Man characters. Her voice especially is done really well, thanks to singer Shimizu Ai. She’s probably one of the best singers in the show, apart from maybe Kobayashi Sanae (it’s a pity Itou Shizuka never got to sing as Lenalee, or as Lero), and her cuteness only makes her evil more terrifying. Road is the most powerful and most senior Noah, and her apparent youth only makes it even more significant.

So be the judge! Which anime girl do you find cutest, and who do you wish was on the list?

RPG ~Rockin’ Playin’ Game~

 That is the name of the only song I know by SuG. The tune doesn’t sound particularly great, but the title of the song sounds interesting. We do know, of course, that RPG stands for Role-Playing Game, but a lot of the time this is too tame a description for something that allows you to take on a character with boundless power, a rich life history, plunged into great epic adventures in vast fantastical settings (no need to go to school or work!). Indeed, if this isn’t “rocking”, I don’t know what is.

I mentioned last week that roleplaying is a word with so many meanings, and someone who dabbles in one aspect of roleplaying may not even be aware of the other meanings. One derivative I’ll talk about today is the tabletop RPG, which is an intermediary between the computer RPG and the forum written roleplay. It’s most similar to the chatroom RPG, in that it takes place in real time, with no writing quality required. However, tabletop RPGs are a lot more structured.

So in basic terms, what a tabletop RPG is is a group of people seated around a table. One of the people is a Game Master who sets out the background of the current story and decides what happens in each scene. The other people are players who each control a character in the story. Decisions are made and resolved via dice rolls, and skills are represented in numerical stats, so it is a combination of luck and skill for any successful thing — much like in real life. Most such RPGs are modelled after stories, such as Dungeons & Dragons being modelled after the sword-and-sorcery fantasy tale, and World of Darkness after the dark contemporary fantasy horror novels. People read these books and say, “I wonder what’ll happen if I were the hero. I’m sure I’d do things differently!”

What I find fun about RPGs is that it has the fun of forum roleplaying without the hassle. You don’t get the hassle of writing perfect posts, or waiting ages for your partners to do the same. Everything is fast and no one cares how well you write as long as you do awesome stuff with your powers. It’s all about meeting an obstacle and using strategy to get through it, much like a game. You don’t have to think of ways to fail too, like in roleplays, because the Game Master takes charge of that. All you have to do is beat the system, whether or not that makes for a great story for other people. I mean, who cares about people who read this kind of roleplay? In RPGs, you are undeniably the consumer, and the Game Master works for you.

It doesn’t come without its disadvantages though. For one, there isn’t really a lot of character development. Rarely does a character’s history come back to haunt him (I would highly respect any GM who tries that though) and the lack of control of what happens to a character can be quite frustrating as a result. No one wants to listen to the character’s introspection, or find that he can’t fight this boss battle because it reminds him of a childhood trauma with his father. Oh no, you absolutely cannot have an inept character in your party in a RPG. What would be the use then? Nobody would want to make such a character either, so the problem goes both ways. The GM must enforce a weakness if he chooses to, and players are going to complain that they didn’t do anything to deserve it. If the system did not dictate any such weakness, and it is not applied across the board, players are not going to be very happy about it.

RPGs are a great way to make an action-packed story in a short amount of time, but unless the GM and players are willing to break new ground, it’s possible that most of the stories become just a bit repetitive. Then again, the experience is in the players, and if they enjoy doing the same old things, it’s not up to the GM to stop them. What RPGs do teach about is catering to each other’s wants. Players should not attempt to undermine the GM, but similarly, the GM must be conscious of what his players like to do. If he is not sensitive enough to that, there may be a time when the fellowship of heroes must fall apart.

The Depressing Fact of Antidepressants

Whenever you notice that someone has depression, a common piece of advice is to ask the person to “seek help”. Get a psychiatrist and go on medication. However, what you may not know is that these medications, or antidepressants, usually take up to 2 to 6 weeks just to take effect, and their effects are not guaranteed. Patients are often shuttled from one drug to another, from tricyclics to SSRIs to MAOIs and even the new-fangled group of “atypical antidepressants”. A depressed patient can potentially go for months without being treated, and to them a day is already an eternity.

So why are antidepressants so unreliable? Well the interesting answer is that psychologists have gone for years without knowing. Antidepressants are supposed to target the serotonin transporter proteins that control the re-uptake of serotonin hormones, meaning they prevent serotonin from being gotten rid of so quickly from the body. They stay in the bloodstream and continue to exercise their effects of making us calm and happy. Theoretically this works, but in practice why does it take weeks just to keep serotonin in the bloodstream? And not only that, scientists have found out that depressed people have the same amount of serotonin turnover as normal people anyway, so it’s not as if that’s causing the depression. However, for lack of a better answer, psychologists cling to these medicines as the treatment for depressed people, since a large percentage of people do get well, eventually. In modern days, though, we shouldn’t cling to tradition that has no scientific basis! We should think of new and potentially creative approaches, shouldn’t we?

So how about drugs?

Ketamine has been found to be effective for bipolar and depressed people, and it works in just 2 hours. Instead of working on the useless serotonin, it works on glutamate instead. Glutamate is the most prevalent neurotransmitter in our bodies, so maybe that is the answer. However, of course it’s pretty laughable to be feeding depressed people drugs and risk them getting high and addicted, not to mention the many health issues that come with it. There has to be more research done, and people have to be forced off their obsession on serotonin, which has been plaguing them for the past 5 decades. No doubt these existing medications are trustworthy, but they are not a revolution. In order to make a breakthrough, paradigms have to be discarded. And we know that in science, that doesn’t happen so easily.

The -Role- of Identity Formation

The benefits of role-playing have been widely emphasised in education, especially for children and youths, and I don’t mean role-playing in the same sense that I did on Monday. Schools love to incorporate role-plays in their lessons, where students put on skits and act as various parts in a story. Role-playing lets kids learn perspective taking and to express their creativity as well. In the same vein, teens and adolescents may be seeking positive learning experiences when they play computer RPGs like Dragon Nest or Final Fantasy.

Really? Positive learning lessons? Well, theorists have used Multi-User Dungeons (which in my opinion are highly primitive role-playing textual chatrooms) to study identity formation in youths, and deduce that youngsters play out different roles in these MUDs to get a better sense of themselves. Teenhood is after all the prime age for identity formation, where they try out various personalities and even their handwriting and signatures are known to differ substantially during this time. RPGs are like the modern version of MUDs — though I admit they’re more restricted — and allow players to play out different archetypes of personalities. They can be the staunch hero, or the necromancer demon, or the seductive witch (even if they’re male), and these fantasy characters, though nothing like how real people would behave, sorta give them the experience of the kind of person they want to be, and that’s where we get our self-esteem and our sense of self. You may be doubtful, though, that playing as a seductive witch can really be healthy exposure for an adolescent boy, and there is really a limited number of fantasy characters you can find in this genre, but the mere act of acting out another person’s role can teach us a lot about our own, or so they say.

Of course, most of us see the bad side of this. We see students gunning down schoolmates and teachers after playing the role of gunmen in video games. I agree that if people don’t get catharsis from their gaming experiences, some of them might instead see the characters as role models to emulate in the real world, which is a completely different context and therefore makes for unfortunate consequences. And we see how teenagers can be so impressionable as to pick up role models from television, but if you think about it, these teens do grow up and shake off these embarrassing traits. And that’s what growth and finding one’s identity is about. You have to try them out — and hope they’re safe — and then change out of them if you dislike them. The process may be inconvenient to those around them, but you’d rather they tried them out now than later in life, wouldn’t you?

And if someone in the game is really adept at, say, being a Rogue, he may pick up some stealth techniques to use in real life, and maybe even be known around his circle for being a dexterous, cautious fellow. Of course I’m really only hazarding a guess here, but I see many people choosing particular preferred types in games, such as Rogue or Warlord or Wizard, that this might also be their outlook on life. “I play Wizard often” may signal a particularly strategic, intelligent or power-hungry type of person. In any case, this is as good a way as any to determine the kind of person a person is, so do consider adding this to the list of benefits a game can bring, to help in establishing a person’s fixed identity.

Master Languages The Efficient Way!

Anyone interested in foreign countries will be interested in languages, which are the most obvious symbol representing each country. It’s never authentic to know all about some country’s culture but not its language. Supposing that you want to learn the most languages in the shortest time possible, in order to show your extensive knowledge of different parts of the world, and supposing that as of now you only know English, can you guess which languages you should focus on?

The answer can be found in this infographic made just for you.

http://voxy.com/blog/index.php/wide-infographics/what-are-the-hardest-languages-to-learn-infographic/

I guess I feel just a twinge of pride that I was blessed to know both English and Mandarin from young, which are recognised as diametrically opposite languages in this classification. Knowing Mandarin did help me a lot in learning Japanese, and similarly, English helped me with French. I think the greatest benefit I derived from knowing these 2 languages is the access I got from thoughts and ideas in 2 halves of the globe. Asia is a whole different world from Europe and America, and having a foot in both regions prevents me from closing my mind to the paradigms and mindsets of one or the other.

That said, sometimes knowing a similar language to what you’re learning, and applying that to the new language, can be detrimental in itself. You get frustrated because the new language is simply not the same as the one you knew before, and the “illogical” differences blind you to experiencing the world in the eyes of the native speaker. Rather than accept, say, that the Arabs have a strange way of pronouncing their words, think about how the Arabs feel pronouncing English. Think about how the Arabs view basic concepts like syllables (which are defined by a consonant plus a vowel, at least to most of us), and how Arabs with a stuttering problem will encounter different speech difficulties from a stuttering Spaniard. Languages are used everyday, every minute even, in a land different from your own. How have those people coped? How have their children lamented on grammar, or spelling, or compositions, in school? Learning a language is living a life all over again.

I have often emphasised, perhaps one too many times, that one simply cannot base one’s prior language knowledge to learn a new one. And yet when I think about it, maybe I was too sure of myself. I mean, arguably related languages have to help, right? Why else do kanji words become much easier to learn when you know Chinese, and Spanish and Portuguese can converse with each other fairly easily? What I should instead say is to avoid over-relying on your prior knowledge. Certain things are similar but not alike, and one disastrous example of language transferred too liberally is when the Japanese still pronounce English words in their katakana way (meaning English itself must be Ingurishi). Use your prior knowledge as a stepping stone to become like a native, but once you’re a native, don’t ever look back.

I hope that despite this infographic, English speakers continue to learn languages like Korean. Similarity is only half the picture! Remember that exposure and interest are even more important. Anyone can learn any language if they set their mind to it! We have all the time we ever need after all.

Super-Similar Songs?

There was a period of time when I frequented this site known as Last.FM. It doesn’t really do much for you, but it has a cute feature for your account which tracks the songs you’re listening to on your computer, and creates a playlist of them which you can stick on your signature. It also updates automatically, so your signature will always reflect your updated tracks. It would be snazzy for people to stumble upon mutual songs you like, though in my case it’s not very possible. It’s still cool to see what your friends happen to be listening to at the time, and sometimes by some stroke of chance you might be listening to the same thing!

But another feature of Last.FM, which I believe I’ve also used, is the “similar artistes” line. It’s pretty accurate, and tells you which artistes are similar to the ones you like. I believe UVERworld drew me to Flow and High & Mighty Color, and while I disliked the latter, the former definitely became a favourite with me. They base these similarity ratings on tags. For instance, if UVERworld is tagged as J-rock and alternative rock, the similarities list will include artistes also tagged as J-rock and alternative rock, with artistes that’re tagged as both (or basically as similar to UVERworld as possible) listed at the highest similarity level. I wonder, though, how accurate this can be. Have there ever been times when someone told you that if you liked so-and-so, you’ll most certainly also like XXX, and when you listen to XXX you think that it’s nothing like so-and-so at all? I know for me, it’s hard to tell whether I’ll like a song or not. It’s really unpredictable with me, and has nothing to do with whether it’s the same or different from what I listened to.

And I think people are indecisive like that when it comes to preferences. If a song is too much like the kind they’re used to, they don’t see the point of listening to this new one. If it’s too radically different, it “doesn’t suit their tastes”. It’s really a matter of fate and mood, not so much the music, that determines what they like. Social Psychology also brings in another point known as the Mere Exposure Effect, which explains why songs seem to sound better after listening to them multiple times. The Mere Exposure Effect says that you tend to like something better once you have been exposed to it even just once by mere contact. What this means is that if you’re asked to choose between a song you’ve heard once before and a song you’ve never heard before, you’re apt to choose the former just because you’ve heard it before.

So, really, do people really use the similarity tags to find other songs they might like, and are they always satisfied with these recommendations? It would be interesting to conduct a study to find out.

Inori Aizawa

Does that sound like an unfamiliar name to you? Well, how about Internet Explorer? For those still not in the know, this is the name of the new anime girl mascot that Internet Explorer has adopted. She appeared (cosplayed by Valerie) on the AFA stage last weekend, accompanied by an impressive promotional video that depicted everything an otaku wanted, with epic fight scenes and a “magical girl transformation” routine. And the best news? Inori Aizawa was designed by none other than Collateral Damage Studios, a popular doujin group from Singapore! CDS has collaborated with NUS’ Comics & Animation Society plenty of times, so we’re on good terms, so of course we’re proud that their art has made it big worldwide, even on a pretty meh internet browser. I don’t think this promotion will drive many youths back to IE, but it sure might help to boost sales directly from the merchandise itself. Why, it’s up for a contest against Danny Choo’s own mascot, Mirai! (I know I know, most people think of Kyoukai no Kanata’s Mirai now).

You can Google how Inori Aizawa looks. She’s pretty much the typical genki anime girl. They’ve even meticulously included biodata about her, such as her birth date, which happens to coincide with the founding date of Internet Explorer or something. And her likes and dislikes, which includes stuff like ice-cream and antivirus software. What I really like about this entire set-up is the fact that the anime culture has become quite a big deal now. It used to be that anime lovers were a bunch of snivelling antisocial teenagers, but now large companies have found profitable opportunities delving in this industry, and they’ve found that otakus can spend big and wild, even wilder than the most rabid shopaholic in a boutique sale. Internet Explorer, we’re honoured that you think so highly of us. Really, thanks a bunch.

I don’t know how else they can bring Inori Aizawa further (I’m calling her by her full name because I’m confused which is her first name and which is her surname), but I do hope she shows up in more Windows-related events. Also, can anyone make a guess why she is Inori Aizawa? I haven’t paid attention to the kanji, if any, of her name, so I can’t make out the meaning behind this. I can only surmise that Inori has some relation to Internet, perhaps? And Explorer is… Aizawa? Sounds a bit of a stretch, but I suppose they wanted to give her a more authentic and likeable name than Intane Ekusupulo or something.

But well, best of luck to this cyber heroine! Kawaii!

Roleplaying

Since I’ve been tasked recently to write a couple of blog columns about roleplaying (or anything else, really, but I figured roleplaying would be a more relevant topic that leads back to the roleplaying forum in question), I may as well get some practice at writing about roleplaying, which I find I haven’t been doing. One main reason for that is because roleplaying itself is so difficult to explain to somebody who has had no experience. It unfortunately shares the same name as RPGs, which can be tabletop or computer gaming — which themselves have a vast difference. Up to now I have not been able to develop a comprehensive explanation of the kind of roleplaying that I am envisioning, and the looks of confusion on people’s faces make me think that what I’ve been doing must have been some kind of dream, or something that hippies do. And so I gave up on ever talking about roleplays.

However, I shall skip the trouble this time around and assume my readers know the kind of roleplaying I’m talking about (for easy reference, visit a roleplay forum, which you can Google). And I’ll go into some challenges people may face about roleplaying, and also the rewarding parts that cannot be found through solitary writing.

One big challenge is of course the loss of control over the storyline. Many times the eventual roleplay looks nothing like what any of the individual roleplayers expected. You cannot predict what other roleplayers will do. A few roleplayers do try, though, by structuring a gist of how the roleplay should go, but they do this at the risk of restricting creativity. Roleplaying can sometimes be an example of “too many cooks spoil the broth”, and I daresay the quality of a roleplay will never beat the quality of a story written by a professional author, or even just the best of the roleplaying group. If you’re looking for a great final product, roleplaying is not the way to do it (it could be, but it is a more convoluted route that defeats the point, which is the experience).

Sometimes you don’t even have to expect a great final product, because there isn’t a final product at all. So many roleplays just end halfway through because they die from inactivity. Some people also plan roleplays without considering the ending, and they can go on for pages and pages, if you’re lucky. Some roleplays have gone on for tens of pages without showing any sign of ending.

Last of all is the greatest tragedy of roleplaying, which is when you simply lose interest in the tale and cannot imagine what made you so excited in the first place. This is one big reason why roleplays get inactive, aside from lack of time, and it is a lot more likely to happen when people can wait days between posts. Sustaining interest gets more and more difficult in this era of instant gratification and quick distractions, and it requires a lot of commitment to keep this going and invested over the long term.

With these bleak and gloomy disadvantages out of the way, I’ll go into why people still do it despite these costs. The main reason is of course the fun in making a character and casting them in unexpected situations. You don’t know how others will interact with your character, or what romances or conflicts will emerge. You don’t always have a killer plot idea that can tide you through an entire novel, but sometimes you just feel the urge to write and go wherever the encounter takes you.

In addition, the human interaction makes roleplaying much more fun. It’s a collaborative exercise — almost like a game — where everyone gets to exercise their individuality and hopefully take the story on a positive route. You get to make friends, share ideas, sympathise when real life makes it hard for people to post. And you get to learn the writing styles of others, so it helps your own development too.

As you can see, roleplaying is more about the process than the product, and a lot of the time, the process can be the product. It is an activity with its fair share of obstacles, and can ask a lot of time and effort in a person, but you’ll find that your commitment is well worth it, if you meet the right people.