Song of the Day: Tao of the Machine (by the Roots and BT)

Blade II Soundtrack

After several months hiatus, I am back just in time to see the latest San Diego Comic-Con arrive and pass by with the latest in comic book-related news whether in print, video games or tv and films.  One surprise news which dropped during Marvel Studio’s popular Hall H panel this past Saturday was the surprise announcement that the character of Blade has been recast. He will be getting his own film for the ever-growing juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

While rumors in the past had Wesley Snipes (the original actor who played the character Blade in a trilogy of films) in meetings with Marvel Studios, it would seem that Kevin Feige and his casting crew decided on a new face to reprise the role of the Daywalker. Out is Wesley Snipes and in comes two-time Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali (Moonlight, The Green Book).

Thus with that announcement the character of Blade has returned to the forefront of pop culture. One thing that the trilogy of films had that impressed me as a fan was the eclectic batch of licensed music that was a mixture of techno, rock and hip-hop. I’ve already featured one song from the Blade II soundtrack (“I Against I” by Massive Attack ft. Mos Def).

So, it’s no surprise that the latest Song of the Day comes from the very same soundtrack and this time it’s a collaboration from hip-hop gurus The Roots and techno legend BT.

Neon Dream #13: 川井憲次 – Making of Cyborg

I can’t say that any entertainment franchise has given me more cause to think than Ghost in the Shell. It presents a mid-21st century post-apocalyptic earth in which society has more or less stabilized. Events revolve around Public Security Section 9, a counter-terrorism agency focused on investigating cyberterrorism, which is rather interesting because the original manga by Masamune Shirow launched in 1989, before cyberterrorism actually existed (or the modern internet, for that matter). Throughout their investigations, the team deals with the social and philosophical issues that arise in an age where society is fully integrated across a world-wide network and technology has been integrated directly into the body, rendering people intimately vulnerable to hacks and computer viruses.

I am as guilty as most of having never read the original manga. I became acquainted with Shirow’s world through Ghost in the Shell (1995) and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004), both directed by Mamoru Oshii, and the 2002 anime series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, by Kenji Kamiyama. While the two directors take rather different aesthetic approaches–the movies present Section 9 as a harsh, disenchanted unit in a somewhat dystopian world, whereas the television series is lively and a bit cartoonish–both remain dedicated to questioning the impact of highly integrated technology.

Stand Alone Complex lies much closer to the root of my music series, because some of the key issues it tackles have since arisen online in the real world. Everyone is well familiar with the use of V for Vendetta-styled Guy Fawkes masks in protests originating from the internet, but there is a decent chance you have also caught a glimpse of an odd blue smiley face among the rabble. The Laughing Man image originates from Stand Alone Complex, where it functions as a mask employed anonymously by individuals taking public action independently of each other. At first, an advocate for social justice uses it to disguise himself while committing a ‘terrorist’ act, but the image quickly overreaches his motives. Others commit unrelated political sabotage under the guise. Corporations employ it to discredit their competitors. Pranksters use it as a sort of meme, forming the shape with chairs on a rooftop and cutting it into a field as a crop circle, for instance. The image has no concrete meaning, and everyone who uses it essentially ‘stands alone’, but the public perceive the Laughing Man as a single individual.

The actual anime gives a fairly shallow interpretation of this. The creator of the image, Aoi, explains that he never intended the mask to become a social phenomenon, and that its arbitrary usage dislodged the image from its original meaning. He sums this up by asking “Who knew that copies could still be produced despite the absence of an originator?” The ‘profoundness’ of this ties back to a long history of bad philosophy which assumes that signs have universal objective meaning in some sort of fundamental way which mystically transcends subjectivity of the mind. Basically, certain Greek ideas saw a resurgence of popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, probably as a consequence of high society’s fascination with antiquities at the time. The plethora of ready-at-hand counterexamples to these archaic notions provided easy meat for countless grad students to earn their PhDs, so long as they did not throw the baby out with the bath water and ruin the game for everybody else.

But I digress. While the intended idea behind “Stand Alone Complex” is a bit naive, the Laughing Man does represent a unique sort of game that can only be played in the information age. To the public, the Laughing Man was a single individual, or at most a closely coordinated group, but the participants knew better. They knew that there was no real ‘Laughing Man’, but their independent actions were performed under the expectation that they would be written into ‘his’ public profile. The game was exclusive; you had to be aware of the mask in order to dawn it. The game also had rules; an action totally out of line with the Laughing Man’s pattern of behavior would be perceived as a fraud. (You could not, for instance, reveal the truth behind the Laughing Man.) By playing, you added a little piece of yourself to the puzzle, and it might slowly assimilate you in turn.

Ghost in the Shell has remained a uniquely relevant franchise in science fiction because it got so many ideas right. In 1989, at a time when internet was still a novelty of college libraries, the manga offered a world of total connectivity, where every human and device belonged to a global network. In 2002, Stand Alone Complex introduced the Laughing Man, and shortly afterwards the real world knew an equivalent. Whether this bodes well for the franchise’s dabblings into cyborg technology, only time can tell, but history has certainly made an inherently fascinating fictional world all the more compelling. In the Ghost in the Shell universe, science has fully bridged the gap between computers and neural systems, allowing electronic implants to directly convert wireless digital information into stimuli compatible with the senses. The average citizen possesses visual augmentations which allow them to directly browse the internet via voice command. More complex technology delves deeper, creating a sort of sixth sense whereby users can engage a network through thought command. Some individuals, especially accident victims with the means to afford it, might have their entire bodies replaced by neurally triggered machine components.

The 1995 Ghost in the Shell film gets especially creative in tackling this–enough that it became the chief inspiration for The Matrix four years later. It revolves around brain-mapping technology and its implications regarding sentience and identity. From the start of the film, the ability to copy and read brain data appears to be common. Presumably, these digital copies would remain stagnant until encoded back into a neural network, but as the government develops better software for interpreting and editing the massive content at its disposal, funny things start to happen. The software gains a sort of temporary sentience while performing its complex tasks, and eventually it uploads itself to a cyborg body in an act of self-preservation. This new entity possesses the capacity to read other augmented brains and incorporate them into its internal network. At least, that is how I’ve interpreted it. The movie does leave a lot to the imagination. Perhaps it is recycled from earlier science fiction, and far-fetched besides–I wouldn’t really know–but Ghost in the Shell presents it all as if it were right around the corner, not lost in a distant galaxy of Star Trek.

Ghost in the Shell is so steeped in ideas that it’s a wonder I don’t forget it is a collection of animations, not a book series. Stand Alone Complex is presented as rather typical–and relatively forgettable–anime, but the 1995 movie definitely denies dismissal. It is a real work of art. The city is dirty and a bit washed-out without feeling downright destitute; the masses still lead normal lives. Emptiness expands upward; the characters are perpetually surrounded by massive, sort of dusty-looking structures that feel vacant despite signs of life. The music is simultaneously vast and minimalistic. Generally, the artistic direction projects a feeling that the protagonists are isolated–cut off from the massive world surrounding them–perhaps by the knowledge they possess.

The score Kenji Kawai (川井憲次) crafted for Ghost in the Shell ranks among the best soundtracks I’ve ever encountered. Without it, the film might easily unravel. The plot really does take a lot of creative liberties. What amount of entertainment value could convince people to open up their brains to potential hacking? Or, if they are doing it to maintain memory backups, why is a brain hack so devastating? Can’t you just resume from your last save? Why would a hacker go to the trouble of replacing an entire memory system in the first place, if they could just encode an impulse into an existing one? To these questions, I say “shhhh!”, because Kawai has so utterly convinced me that my cyborg brain will be shipping in from Japan any day now. The music shrouds the film in imminent mystery. It is a moment of quiet awe, before the very foundations of human experience become uprooted and replaced by a higher state of computer-enhanced perception.

‘Interesting’ nerd note on Kawai: while the majority of his discography appears in anime and film, he is credited with arranging the TurboGrafx-16 port of Sorcerian, one of Yuzo Koshiro and Takahito Abe’s better 1980s NEC PC-8801 projects. I am pretty excited to dig that one up. Aren’t you? …Bueller?

Song of the Day – “Brothers in Arms” by Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL)

As of this writing, Monday is upon us. As many of us are still riding the high from George Miller’s Mad Max Fury Road, I thought I’d share one of my favorite tracks from the film’s score.

“Brothers in Arms” has a mixture of both the madness that Max & Furiosa and the hope of escape. The song itself seems simple, using 3 beats as the background while layering other sounds on top. By the time the strings have joined in on the fun, the song is moving at full throttle. By the halfway point, it switches gears, becoming something orchestral that feels like it belongs on a Two Steps From Hell album. I love this piece.

Hope you enjoy this. For those of you facing rough Mondays, may it spur you towards greater success.

Song of the Day: The Power of Love (by Huey Lewis and the News)


I had no choice in the matter. The moment Lisa Marie posted her review of Back to the Future as part of her “Back to School” review series I had no choice but to post the latest “Song of the Day” in honor of her latest review.

The latest featured song is none other than the best-selling single from the Back to the Future soundtrack (one I owned and treasured growing up to the point I wore out that vinyl) by the S.F.-based rock band Huey Lewis and the News. The song is “The Power of Love” and I must admit that I pretty much know this song by heart and can belt it out pretty well. Give me enough alcohol and I’m more than likely request it as the next karaoke song and I’ll grab that mic stand and channel my inner Huey Lewis.

This song may not be metal, but it definitely was a sound of the 80’s and I’d be hard pressed to find anyone who lived during the 1980’s and not have heard this song.

The Power of Love

The power of love is a curious thing
make a one man weep, make another man sing
Change a hawk to a little white dove
more than a feeling, that’s the power of love

Tougher than diamonds, rich like cream
Stronger and harder than a bad girl’s dream
make a bad one good make a wrong one right
power of love that keeps you home at night

Chorus 1 :
You don’t need money, don’t take fame
Don’t need no credit card to ride this train
It’s strong and it’s sudden and it’s cruel sometimes
but it might just save your life
That’s the power of love
That’s the power of love

First time you feel it, it might make you sad
Next time you feel it it might make you mad
But you’ll be glad baby when you’ve found
that’s the power makes the world go’round

Chorus 2 :
And it don’t take money, don’t take fame
don’t need no credit card to ride this train
It’s strong and it’s sudden it can be cruel sometimes
but it might just save your life

They say that all in love is fair
yeah, but you don’t care
But you know what to do
when it gets hold of you
and with a little help from above
you feel the power of love
you feel the power of love
Can you feel it ?

Chorus 3 :
It don’t take money and it don’t take fame
don’t need no credit card to ride this train
Tougher than diamonds and stronger than steel
you won’t feel nothin’ till you feel
you feel the power, just FEEL the power of love
That’s the power, that’s the power of love
You feel the power of love
you feel the power of love
feel the power of love

Song of the Day: The Touch (by Stan Bush)


So, I saw Transformers: Age of Extinction this weekend. I know, I know. I’ve become part of the problem and not the solution. For that I am sorry.

My road to redemption begins today with this post of the greatest superhero theme song ever made. It’s Optimus Prime’s theme song from the best Transformers film. Live-action it is not, but the animated film which came out during the mid-80’s.

Stan Bush pretty much made his career on this hit single which remains a nostalgic favorite of the 80’s crowd. This is a song which kids of my generation sung over and over right up to now and we don’t see ourselves stopping anytime soon.

Without further ado, here’s “The Touch”.

The Touch

You’ve got the touch, you’ve got the power.

After all is said and done, you never walk,
you never run, you’re a winner.
You got the moves, you know the streets,
break the rules, take the heat, you’re nobody’s fool.
You’re at your best when the going gets rough,
You’ve been put to the test but it’s never enough.

You got the the touch, you got the power.
When all hell’s breaking loose,
you’ll be right in the eye of the storm.
You got the heart, you got the motion.
You know that when things get too tough,
you got the touch.

You never bend, you never break, you seem to know
just what it takes. You’re a fighter
It’s in the blood, it’s in the will, it’s in the mighty
hands of steel. When you’re standin your ground.
And you never get hit when you’re back’s to the wall
gonna fight till the end and you’re taking it all.

You got the touch, you got the power,
when all hell’s breaking loose,
you’ll be right in the eye of the storm.
You got the heart, you got the motion.
You know that when things get too tough, you got the touch.

You’re fighting fire with fire.
You know you got the touch.

You’re at your best when the going gets rough,
you’ve been put to the test but it’s never enough.
You got the touch, you got the power.

Song of the Day: Never Forget (Midnight Version by Kazuma Jinnouchi)


It looks like I have finally reached a personal milestone on this very site which I began on an overcast morning the day before Christmas 2009.

With E3 in full swing and video gaming sure to dominate pretty much everything entertainment throughout the week I thought it best that the latest “Song of the Day” come from one of the best video game soundtracks I’ve heard since I began listening to them these last 20 or so years.

“Never Forget (Midnight Version)” is the reimagining of the classic song from both Halo 2 and Halo 3 by the franchises original composer Martin O’Donnell. This time 343 Industries in-house composer, Kazuma Jinnouchi takes the “Never Forget” song Halo fans have come to love and gives it new life and adding some minor touches to make it fit the bittersweet end to the very emotional ending to Halo 4.

There’s a bit more electronic instrumentation to Jinnouchi’s reimagining and the nice touch of putting some extra emphasis on the brass section of the orchestra to give the song a martial feel to it.

I love O’Donnell’s version, but after hearing this reimiaging by Kazuma Jinnouchi I do believe that it’s the best version out there, IMHO.

Song of the Day: The Battle Is To The Strong from Fate/Zero (by Yuki Kajiura)

Slowly, but surely I’ll be posting more and more of my experiences over at this past Anime Expo 2012 and the latest “Song of the Day” was a song that began one of the highlights of the Expo.

The song is “The Battle Is To The Strong” by Japanese composer Yuki Kajiura for the anime series Fate/Zero. It’s one thing to listen to this song when it plays during the series and even when listening to it as part of the official soundtrack, but to hear it live in an auditorium was a different experience altogether. The song is a mixture of choral symphony with modern rock. Kajiura’s vocal quartet that she chose for her solo work with FictionJunction provided the vocals in the song with longtime band member Koichi Korenaga handling the electric guitar work throughout the piece. His guitar solo which begins around the 1:46 mark got a huge response from the audience.

What made this song stand out is Yuki Kajiura’s work as it’s composer. Unlike ome of her contemporary who have done soundtrack and score work for anime and video game she’s quite eclectic in her stylistic choices. This song is a perfect example of how she’s able to combine both classical styles and hard rock influences and make them work well together. She’s quite similar to one of the masters of the Japanese music scene in Nobuo Uematsu who also defies being pegged as just a composer who sticks to one or two styles.

The only thing that would’ve made this song sound even better and the experience infinitely more memorable was if the concert had been held at the larger and more acoustically sound concert venue in the Nokia Theater, but the X-Games had taken over the area (another reason why the X-Games was the bane of most of the Anime Expo attendees).


Song of the Day: Smoke Without Fire

How much do I love the 2009 film An Education?

I love it so much that I once unfollowed someone on twitter when he said that he hated it.  And even though I eventually refollowed the guy, it was on the condition that he rewatch An Education and fall in love with the film.  Unfortunately, shortly after he promised to do just that, he announced that he felt that Rooney Mara was a better Girl with the Dragon Tattoo than Noomi Rapace and I had to unfollow him and his xenophobic film criticism.  So, I’m not sure if he’s rewatched An Education but I doubt it.

As you may have guessed, I love An Education.  It’s one of my favorite films of the past few years.  The rest of you can have your Rooney Mara and your Avatar.  I’m more than happy to watch and rewatch An Education, thank you very much.

Today’s song of the day plays over the end credits of An Education and, with its retro feel and smoky lyrics, it provides a perfect ending to a great film.  Performed by Duffy and written by Duffy and Bernard Butler, Smoke Without Fire is the song of the day for June 29th, 2012.

Song of the Day: Small Recollections (by Uematsu Nobuo from Lost Odyssey)

We’re now two-thirds into the 33-day Shigematsu Kiyoshi short story marathon and for the last third I decided to kick it off with my third favorite track from the Lost Odyssey soundtrack. The latest “Song of the Day” is the simple and playful tune “Small Recollections”.

This track gets used a lot in the game’s collected dream-memories. It’s usually used in concert with other music when the dream involves children Kaim has met through his 1000-year and more journey as the eternal warrior. I like this song for it’s simplicity. It’s a solo piece done on a calliope and made to sound like it’s coming from a child’s music box. It’s really quite a great use of this instrument and one I’ve rarely heard used in a soundtrack for a film or game.

It’s hard not to listen to this song and not think of the simpler times when one was a kid and the biggest worry in our mind’s was whether we’d get to eat ice cream, cake or both at a birthday party. “Small Recollections” is definitely something one can hear at a fair or a carnival and always something that would make one smile like a kid again.

Song of the Day: Eclipse of Time (by Uematsu Nobuo from Lost Odyssey)

The latest “Song of the Day” is another favorite music track from the Lost Odyssey soundtrack by Uematsu Nobuo. The title of this particular track is “Eclipse of Time” and one of the most beautiful pieces in the game’s soundtrack.

“Eclipse of Time” becomes a sort of motif for one of the game’s characters, Queen Ming Numara who also happens to be another immortal like the game’s main protagonist, Kaim. We first hear this music playing when we enter her Ming’s room and it creates an ethereal musical backdrop which accentuates the Queen Numara’s eternal beauty. The track is quite simply played as a harp solo and it’s a rare thing to hear the harp as the main instrument in most game soundtracks. It’s Uematsu’s inclusion of such an instrument which raises the Lost Odyssey soundtrack to classic status.

This particular track reappears time and time again in different version and tempo throughout the game. It usually means that Queen Numara is either the focus of the scene or something she’s involved in a way. Unlike “A Return, Indeed…” this song doesn’t really appear in any of Kaim’s 33 dream-memories which is a shame, but understandable since the piece doesn’t really match the tone of Kaim’s dreams.

Of all the pieces of music in the Lost Odyssey soundtrack this is the one I can listen to over and over and not get tired of it.