Daily Archives: January 24, 2005

A Musical Interlude

As part of the gradual and continuing process of returning to the Scalzi.com site all the crap I took down when I changed providers, I am happy to announce the return of Music for Headphones, my album of mostly instrumental electronic music that I banged together a couple of years ago.

However, I am not merely content to give you the old, crappy, streaming Real Audio version that was up before; no, the new version features high-end variable-bit-rate mp3s, for the best sound quality while still nodding toward not punishing people with too huge a download (mostly). Also, I’ve added in an extra track which I haven’t put up before: “Don’t Stop,” which features a couple of samples from Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Oh, stuff it, you snobs. It’s pretty good. I’d get in trouble if I was trying to sell this, but I’m not; this is non-commercial exhibition only. So have at it.

In any event, now all this music sounds better (or at least, less compressed) than before, so I hope you enjoy it. I’ll note that when I listen to these tracks, I tend to jack up the high end a bit, because there’s generally a lot of drumming and some of the high end can get lost. But I also tend to jack up the high end no matter what I listen to, so make of that what you will.

Here are the tracks, with links to the mp3s and some general comments about each:

1. Acceptance (5.85MB) — Possibly my favorite track I’ve done. It’s pretty simple and trance-like, and has some nice swelling New Order-y synths in it.


2. Transformation (7.33MB) — This one starts off very harsh and electronic and eventually becomes rather more acoustic and mellow; thus the title.


3. Why Don’t You Love Me (7.97MB) — A rather plaintive flute starts this one off; I think it sounds swirly and moody and a good aural approximation of what it feels like inside when you like someone rather more than they like you. One of the better ones as well.


4. Well Imagine That (5.42MB) — More ethnic flutes; more moodiness. Something about ethnic flutes and moodiness that just go great together, y’know?


5. Athena (3.51MB) — When Athena was three, I gave her a microphone and let her sing into it. This is what came out. She did all the instruments too! Well, no, not really. But maybe one day.


6. Don’t Stop (5.91MB) — I did it because I like Journey, so there. Also, it’s an earworm of a piano line.


7. Night Flight (7.97MB) — If I were writing background music for planetariums to play while they were doing exhibitions about the planets of the solar system, this is what it would sound like.


8. Clear That Up (5.47MB) — This is what I imagine it sounds like to walk home in the fog after a clarifying “discussion” with a paramour that didn’t end very well for you.


9. Kindertransport (8.43 MB) — The “kindertransport” were trains that European Jews put their children on just before World War II to send them to safety to England; the trains would take the children to ships, which would cross the Channel, and then the children would live with distant relatives or sometimes even strangers. Needless to say in many cases those children never saw those parents again. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to put my own child on a train like that, but this piece tries to evoke some of that emotion. I think this is probably the best composed piece I’ve done to date.


10. Converge to Merge (10.6MB) — I call this my “Stairway to Heaven” piece, and when you listen I think you’ll understand why. However, there are no bustles in hedgerows. Because that would be alarming.


11. Let’s Fly Away (7.84MB) — Yes, that’s me singing. Yes, the voice is heavily treated. The actual reason is to cover up deficiencies both in the microphone and in my voice, but as it turns out, I really like the effect; it almost sounds like a guy leaving a song on his lover’s answering machine, and I like that mental image. I’m not giving up my day job, but on the other hand, clearly I’m not embarrassed by the song, either. So there you have it.


I hope you enjoy Music For Headphones, because it’s probably the last you’ll hear of me here for at least a week: I absolutely, positively have to finish writing The Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film this week or both my editors and my wife are going to murder me, and rightly so. So no more Whatever until it’s done. You understand, I presume, that this is meant more as an incentive for me than as a punishment for you.

Enjoy, and see you in February.

Biases

The Washington Post Magazine did a story this week on the Implicit Association Test, which purports to show whether people have an implicit bias for one group over another; for example, for white people over black people, or for fat over thin people. One of the things that it shows, or so the story reports, is that people have rather more biases than they may be consciously aware of, or that they would like to admit — in the opening paragraphs, a gay man and a lesbian take the test and discover their implicit biases are toward straight people (the two, who had agreed to have their names published in the story, withdrew their names for attribution after their results came in).

I was curious to see whether the test would register a bias in me, so I went to the Project Implicit website and took the test for race — specifically the one for a preference for black Americans over white Americans, or vice versa. I had my own suspicions on how the test would turn out, but you never know until you take it. The test description states that the test “indicates that most Americans have an automatic preference for white over black” — and according to the magazine article, that preference includes nearly half of black Americans. Am I any different? Apparently not: “Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for White American relative to Black American,” the test told me once I was done.

I’m not terribly surprised. I am white and raised predominately among white people. The high school I went had a high percentage of minorities but they were predominately Asian and Indian/Middle Eastern with very few black students: There were none in my graduating class, for example. My college was also racially mixed but again fairly few black students. Work life? Same set-up. And now I live in a small Ohio town with almost no minorities of any sort, and I write science fiction. I was at a science fiction convention this weekend, and out of 900 or so people, you could have counted the number of black participants and not run out of fingers.

Do I feel bad I have this bias? Well, I wish I didn’t, of course. But this bias is not news to me; I’m self-reflective enough to know where many of my biases lie. I would feel bad if I let this bias go unchallenged in myself, so I try not to do that. If one looks at the actions of my life, it’s fairly clear I don’t let this particular bias rule how I live, where I stand politically or how I make my friends. A stupid man would take a bias as an excuse for behavior; I, hopefully smarter, see bias as something to question.

I also take (small and possibly not appropriate) comfort in knowing whatever automatic white/black bias I have is subsumed by a much more active automatic bias I have, which is arrayed along economic/educational lines rather than racial ones. I can pretty much guarantee you that if I were to take an implicit association test which featured white-collar black people working in an office and white folk in John Deere caps coming off a hunting trip, I’d be skewing toward the black Americans at least moderately. Educated, reasonably affluent people are “my” people, because I’ve always lived among the educated and reasonably affluent (even if as a child I was poor myself), and my attitudes are molded therein.

This is the “Target vs. Wal-Mart” class bias; basically, people whose biases slice by way economics and education are okay popping into Target for cheap products from China, but would be mortified if anyone ever saw them walking out of a Wal-Mart with the exact same products in tow. One of my favorite stories is the time I was in a small Illinois town with two good friends with whom I went to high school, one a lawyer and the other in the film industry. My friends needed to get a DVD player and the only place to get one in this little town was a Wal-Mart. Pretty much all Wal-Marts have their departments in the same place, so I steered my friends to the electronics section. They were appalled at the fact I knew the Wal-Mart layout at all. They, of course, had never been in one.

(Later, all three of us went to the Subway in the strip mall and were arguing about the merits of the then-current Adam Sandler film Punch-Drunk Love; my friends loved it and I didn’t hate it, but then the guy behind the counter said that Adam Sandler’s other films were better because they were funnier, and everyone in the store who was listening in was nodding their head in agreement. Same “Target vs. Wal-Mart” attitude, different exhibition of it.)

This “Target vs. Wal-Mart” bias is, I should note, is no more fair. And it’s with no small irony that I’ve found myself living in a small rural town where the vast majority of residents have no more than a high school education and work as truckers, farmers or in other intensely blue-collar fields. Aside from the color of my skin, there is very little I have in common with most people in my little town. And yet, for all my automatic biases against the lower-income and lesser-educated, I will tell you that I have truly excellent neighbors, who go out of their way to help us when we need help, and for whom we do the same. I’m glad to live where I do.

Is this the end to my biases? Goodness, no. I’ve got a bunch, and aside from the two mentioned I won’t bore you with them. Basically, I know what my biases are. I also know that my biases are wrong. My biases are what they are; I work to change them and keep them from making me approach individual people unfairly.

One of the things in the Washington Post article that I think is interesting is that the people who developed the implicit association test don’t think that one’s automatic biases are destiny, and that we can make a conscious decision to work against our own biases. Naturally, I agree, and I find it encouraging that they believe so. It’s a reminder that psychologically speaking, human beings are more than a mere bundle of their basest fears and desires. Or can be, in any event.

Midnighters Down Under

Many congratulations to my pal Scott Westerfeld, whose most excellent YA novel Midnighters: The Secret Hour picked up the 2004 Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel. The Aurealis Awards, according to the site, “were established in 1995 by Chimaera Publications, the publishers of Aurealis Magazine, to recognize the achievements of Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror writers,” and Scott is Australian on his wife’s side and currently avoiding winter by living down there, the bastard (it’s currently 21 degrees Fahrenheit here, which wouldn’t be so bad if the wind chill wasn’t making it feel like single digits). The book was also written in Australia, in an earlier flight from cold weather. See, this is what eternal summer gets you.

You can get more details of Scott’s award winning ways here, via Justine Larbalestier, Scott’s spouse (whose own YA is mere months away). Justine’s entry here also details a most amusing projectile vomit story, so even if you’re not awards-minded, it’s worth a visit.