Learning the Mandolin

I am teaching myself to play the mandolin. I have been toying with the idea of learning a new musical instrument for a while now, but I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to latch onto. I was confident that it would be a stringed instrument since that would be completely foreign to me. 

Megan has stated that she has wanted to learn how to play the violin, ahem, fiddle, for quite some time. One idea I had was to try and find a potential companion instrument, with the hopes that we could one day play together. 

Various instruments ranging from violin, cello, viola and banjo have all been under consideration. All would allow me to play some folk music and some Irish music as well for Megan. 

The mandolin emerged as the top contender a couple of months ago. Not only is an entry level mandolin dirt cheap, but I was surprised to find the wide range of music that the mandolin can cover. Being in the lute family the musical repertoire ranges from medieval court music, to just about every folk genre you can find. It seems to have a particularly strong presence in Italian, Irish and American (Bluegrass) folk music. 

So, mandolin it was. My first couple of days with it were productive, but also a real challenge. My form needs a significant amount of work and many of the notes get a metallic "twang" to them, I think due to my bad finger positioning. Through the book I have purchased and also a fantastic website called MandoLessons.com, I have been able to get down the basic notes, understand the basic fingerings and learn my first three chords. 

I hope there is a lot more to come. 

Music Listening: Vinyl - Tour de France - Kraftwerk

I have a couple of recent vinyl pickups which I will be posting here over the next couple of weeks. The first one up is the album Tour de France from Kraftwerk. This is a 2009 reissue of the album and I received this as a birthday present. If you do not know who Kraftwek are, they are an electronic music group from Germany who has been around since the 1970's. They are early pioneers of techno and the Berlin techno scene. Their music is sometimes quintessentially identified as "robot" music since the beats and rhythms are very mechanical. The group is also known for their live performances and visuals. 

This album follows in their standard music profile so if you know that you like or dislike Kraftwerk then you will know what you are getting here. The opening tracks on side A, Tour De France Étape, are probably the best tracks on the album. They are a relaxing, almost downtempo collection of synthetic textures. 

The album also features a really nice 20 page artbook, which is a collection of typographic images. It is a nice touch for those out there who are collectors of that sort of stuff. 

Great album and certainly a good evening listening type of album to put on while reading or relaxing. 

November 2015 - Videogaming

It has been way too long since I have posted a video game update. This fall has been a bit crazy, but I have thankfully gotten some good video gaming in. 

My gaming has been spread out all over the place so let's take a look at what I have been playing lately. 

Over the summer I have put a lot of time into my Nintendo 3DS. I got in on the Humble Nindiebundle and picked up a bunch of games for the 3DS and WiiU. SteamWorld Dig, Retro City Rampage and a few other games took one some great hours. I have really put a lot of time into Fantasy Life though. I am clocked in at around 37 hours on it right now and I still haven't beat the game. It is a fun, light RPG that has many of the same charms that Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon would bring to the table. It also has some excellent multiplayer so Megan and I have been playing that quite a bit with a little couch co-op. Personally, I think it is a must have game for the system.

The bulk of my gaming over this past summer has probably been on my Wii U. A lot of Splatoon has been going down along with some Yoshi's Whooly World over the past couple of months. Yoshi has an excellent multiplayer game, but let's talk about Spaltoon. This game is really an amazing home run for Nintendo. They nailed a competitive multiplayer game in only the way that they could and in doing so may a game that is fun, charming, fast and intense all at the same time. It also makes great use of the WiiU gamepad. 

But, all of those other games have now taken a back seat to my most recent obsession. Xenoblade Chronicles X. This is a huge open world JRPG released for the WiiU about a week ago. It has been a long time since I have played a full on JRPG so I was itching for some of those old story tropes again. This is another one of those games out for the WiiU that define the system. Not only is the game huge and immersive, but it makes great use of the WiiU hardware. It really in a lot of ways is what I wanted the Monster Hunter games to be. There are simply huge monsters in this game set in incredibly gorgeous environments, but you don't have the deal with a slow and pedantic combat mechanic. 

Lastly, but certainly not the least is the Xbox. There have been a couple of great games that have caught me this past fall. First up is a game called Valiant Heats which was released on Games with Gold I think in October. It is a heartbreaking story set during World War I that follows a family that is torn apart by the war. This game really touches on some emotional and tragic topics and it is accompanied by really in-depth diary logs that explain some of the horrors of the war. It is out on just about every platform so if you have a chance to play it, please do. It is remarkably well done. 

Then we have Elite Dangerous. This is a very pretty space "simulator". It is one of those games that does not hold your hand. The galaxy in the game is rendered in real size to our own and there are millions of systems to discover in the game. It is big and the world is set before you to basically just explore on your own. There is no story and no right or wrong way to play. You can just go explore, or you can bounty hunt, or deliver goods. It is up to you and one of those games like the Golf Cub that I will keep on my hard drive and go back to periodically for probably the life of the Xbox One. It also has some of the best sound design I have ever heard and is the sort of thing you can just put on to listen to the sounds of your ship's engines and space to calm you. It is incredibly relaxing in that way. 

Finally, we have Halo 5. Probably the biggest game release this fall. I am a huge Halo fan. So much so that I have even read some of the books. The game is flat out gorgeous and the multiplayer is as good as ever. It is a fun game and it will likely share the top spot as my goto multiplayer game with Splatoon over the next six months or so.