Below are the five most recent posts in my weblog. You can also see a chronological list of all posts, dating back to 1999.
I have recently released version 2.2 of Wad Compiler, a lazy functional programming language and IDE for the construction of Doom maps.
The biggest change in this version is a reworking of the preferences system (to
use the Java Preferences API), the
wadcli command-line interface respecting
preferences and a new preferences UI dialog (adapted from Quake
There are two new example maps: A Labyrinth
demonstration contributed by
"Yoruk", and a Heretic map Bird
Cage by yours truly. These are
both now amongst the largest examples in the collection, although
generated by a higher-level program.
I have no plans to work on WadC further (but never say never, I suppose.)
Every year, family members ask me to produce a list of gift suggestions for them to buy for me for Christmas. An enviable position for many, I'm sure, but combined with trying to come up with gift ideas for them, this can sometimes be a stressful situation, with a risk of either giving or receiving gifts that are really nothing more than tat, fluff or kipple. I've started to feel that this is detracting from the spirit of the season.
I also don't really want much "stuff". When I am interested in something, it's not something that is convenient for others to buy, either because it's hard to describe, or has limited availability, or is only available at particular times of the year, etc. I'd rather focus on spending time with friends and family.
Starting this year, I'm asking that people who wish to do so donate to a charity on my behalf instead. The charity I have chosen for this year is St. Oswald's Hospice.
Peter Christopherson and Jhonn Balance, from Santa Sangre
A friend asked me to suggest five tracks by Coil that gave an introduction to their work. Trying to summarize Coil in 5 tracks is tough. I think it's probably impossible to fairly summarize Coil with any subset of their music, for two reasons.
Firstly, their music was the output of their work but I don't think is really the whole of the work itself. There's a real mystique around them. They were deeply interested in arcania, old magic, Aleister Crowley, scatology; they were both openly and happily gay and their work sometimes explored their experiences in various related underground scenes and sub-cultures; they lost friends to HIV/AIDS and that had a profound impact on them. They had a big influence on some people who discovered them who were exploring their own sexualities at the time and might have felt excluded from mainstream society. They frequently explored drugs, meditation and other ways to try to expand and open their minds; occultism. They were also fiercely anti-commercial, their stuff was released in limited quantities across a multitude of different music labels, often under different names, and often paired with odd physical objects, runes, vials of blood, etc. Later fascinations included paganism and moon worship. I read somewhere that they literally cursed one of their albums.
Secondly, part of their "signature" was the lack of any consistency in their work, or to put it another way, their style over time varied enormously. I'm also not necessarily well-versed in all their stuff, I'm part way on this journey myself... but these are tracks which stand out at least from the subset I've listened to.
Both original/core members of Coil have passed away and the legal status of their catalogue is in a state of limbo. Some of these songs are available on currently-in-print releases, but all such releases are under dispute by some associate or other.
1. Heaven's Blade
Like (probably) a lot of Coil songs, this one exists in multiple forms, with some dispute about which are canonical, which are officially sanctioned, etc. the video linked above actually contains 5 different versions, but I've linked to a time offset to the 4th: "Heaven's Blade (Backwards)". This version was the last to come to light with the recent release of "Backwards", an album originally prepared in the 90s at Trent Reznor's Nothing Studios in New Orleans, but not finished or released. The circumstances around its present-day release, as well as who did what to it and what manipulation may have been performed to the audio a long time after the two core members had passed, is a current topic in fan circles.
Despite that, this is my preferred version. You can choose to investigate the others, or not, at your own discretion.
2. how to destroy angels (ritual music for the accumulation of male sexual energy)
A few years ago, "guidopaparazzi", a user at the Echoing the Sound music message board attempted to listen to every Coil release ever made and document the process. He didn't do it chronologically, leaving the EPs until near the end, which is when he tackled this one (which was the first release by Coil, and was the inspiration behind the naming of Trent Reznor's one-time side project "How To Destroy Angels").
Guido seemed to think this was some kind of elaborate joke. Personally I think it's a serious piece and there's something to it but this just goes to show, different people can take things in entirely different ways. Here's Guido's review, and you can find the rest of his reviews linked from that one if you wish.
3. Red Birds Will Fly Out Of The East And Destroy Paris In A Night
Both "Musick To Play In The Dark" volumes (one and two) are generally regarded as amongst the most accessible entry points to the Coil discography. This is my choice of cut from volume 1.
For some reason this reminds me a little of some of the background music from the game "Unreal Tournament". I haven't played that in at least 15 years. I should go back and see if I can figure out why it does.
The whole EP is worth a listen, especially at night.
4. Things Happen
It's tricky to pick a track from either "Love's Secret Domain" or "Horse Rotorvator"; there are other choices which I think are better known and loved than this one but it's one that haunted me after I first heard it for one reason or another, so here it is.
5. The Anal Staircase
Track 1 from Horse Rotorvator. What the heck is a Horse Rotorvator anyway? I think it was supposed to have been a lucid nightmare experienced by the vocalist Jhonn Balance. So here they wrote a song about anal sex. No messing about, no allusion particularly, but why should there be?
Bonus 6th: 7-Methoxy-B-Carboline (Telepathine)
From the drone album "Time Machines", which has just been re-issued by DIAS records, who describe it as "authorized". Each track is titled by the specific combination of compounds that inspired its composition, supposedly. Or, perhaps it's a "recommended dosing" for listening along.
If those piqued your interest, there's some decent words and a list of album suggestions in this Vinyl Factory article.
Finally, if you can track them down, Stuart Maconie had two radio shows about Coil on his "Freak Zone" programme. The main show discusses the release of "Backwards", including an interview with collaborator Danny Hyde, who was the main person behind the recent re-issue. The shorter show is entitled John Doran uncoils Coil. Guest John Doran from The Quietus discusses the group and their history interspersed with Coil tracks and tracks from their contemporaries. Interestingly they chose a completely different set of 5 tracks to me.
BBC Radio 4's long-running "Thought for the Day" has been in the news this week, as several presenters for the Today Programme have criticised the segment in an interview with Radio Times magazine.
One facet of the criticism was whether the BBC should be broadcasting three minutes of religious content daily when more than half of the population are atheist.
I'm an atheist and in my day-to-day life I have almost zero interaction with people of faith, certainly none where faith is a topic of conversation. However when I was an undergrad at Durham, I was a member of St John's College which has a Christian/Anglican/Evangelical heritage, and I met a lot of religious friends during my time there.
What I find a little disturbing about the lack of faithful people in my day-to-day life, compared to then, is how it shines a light on how disjoint our society is. This has become even more apparent with the advent of the "filter bubble" and how irreconcilable factions are around topics like Brexit, Trump, etc.
For these reasons I appreciate Thought for the Day and hearing voices from communities that I normally have little to do with. I can agree with the complaints about the lack of diversity, and I particularly enjoy hearing Thoughts from Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, and such.
Another criticism levelled against the segment was that it can be "preachy". I haven't found that myself. I get the impression that most of the monologues are carefully constructed to be as unpreaching as possible. I can usually appreciate the ethical content of the talks, without having to buy into the faith aspect.
Interestingly the current principal of St John's College, David Wilkinson, has written his own response to the interview for the Radio Times.
No spoilers, for those who have yet to watch it...
Channel 4 have been broadcasting a new 10-part series called Electric Dreams, based on some of the short fiction of Philip K Dick. The series was commissioned after Channel 4 lost Black Mirror to Netflix, perhaps to try and find something tonally similar. Electric Dreams is executive-produced by Brian Cranston, who also stars in one of the episodes yet to broadcast.
I've read all of PKD's short fiction1 but it was a long time ago so I have mostly forgotten the stories upon which the series is based. I've quite enjoyed going back and re-reading them after watching the corresponding episodes to see what changes they've made. In some cases the changes are subtle or complementary, in other cases they've whittled the original story right out and installed a new one inside the shell. A companion compilation has been published with just the relevant short stories in it, and from what I've seen browsing it in a book shop it also contains short introductions which might be worth a read.
Things started strong with The Hood Maker, which my wife also enjoyed, although she was disappointed to realise we wouldn't be revisiting those characters in the future. The world-building was strong enough that it seemed like a waste for a single episode.
My favourite episode of those broadcast so far was The Commuter, starring Timothy Spall. The changes made were complementary and immensely expanded the emotional range of the story. In some ways, a key aspect of the original story was completely inverted, which I found quite funny: my original take on Dick's story was Dick implying a particular outcome was horrific, whereas it becomes desirable in the TV episode.
One of the stories most hollowed-out was Sales Pitch which was the basis for Tony Grisoni’s episode Crazy Diamond, starring Steve Buscemi and Sidse Babett Knudsen. Buscemi was good but Knudsen totally stole every frame she was in. Fans of the cancelled Channel 4 show Utopia should enjoy this one: both were directed by Marc Munden and the directing, photography and colour balance really recall it.
The last episode broadcast was Real Life directed by Ronald D Moore of Battlestar Galactica reboot fame and starring Anna Paquin. Like Sales Pitch it bears very little resemblance to the original story. It played around with similar ideas explored in a lot of Sci-Fi movies and TV shows but left me a little flat; I didn't think it contributed much that I hadn't seen before. I was disappointed that there was a relatively conclusive ending. There was a subversive humour in the Dick short that was completely lost in the retelling. The world design seemed pretty generic.
I'm looking forward to Autofac, which is one of the shorts I can remember particularly enjoying.
as collected in the 5 volumes of The Collected Stories of Philip K Dick, although I don't doubt there are some stragglers that were missed out when that series was compiled. ↩
Older posts are available on the all posts page.