October 24, 2009

Electronic Heartbeats

Electronic music is the voice of the 21st-century human soul, the wailing and the euphoria that have no mouths of their own.

Whether we are letting the power of Tiesto (as seen above) speak for us, or Deadmau5 in his foam cartoon of a mouse head, or the tireless Armin Van Buuren (12-hour live sets!), or French house expert David Guetta, or any of the hundreds of other DJs tweaking synthetic noises until the electricity runneth over, we can be sure that someone is translating our emotions into a language everyone understands. So that we know everyone may understand us.

It's no coincidence that for years the drug of choice on the dance-music scene was ecstasy, a narcotic that inspires almost divine levels of empathy in the user. A club full of "E" users equaled a club full of people who loved each other so very, very much. Clubbers and ravers died for that sensation. That's how important it was for them to understand and be understood.

The best of the genre's music is sufficient.

As unpredictable as a classic jazz jam, as daring as an eighteenth-century symphony, a single set from a master of the movement stretches primary feelings and primal reactions from your heart. Stretches them until your inside is out and THAT is why it is dance music. Because your inside never sits still.

Even if you don't dance (I don't dance) you won't sit still (I can't sit still) when the electronic heartbeats turn you inside out.

Those things you feel with the music- you didn't think you were the only one to feel those things, did you? You aren't. I feel it too, and now we know everyone can understand us through the synthetic noises that speak for the parts of us that don't have mouths of their own.

October 22, 2009

In Defense of Category Romances

Harlequin. Silhouette. Harlequin Intrigue, Silhouette Desire, Harlequin American Romance, Silhouette Special Edition. If you pay attention to the paperback romance section of your local bookstore at all, then you've seen these handy little volumes. Printed in bulk and shipped to shelves everywhere on a monthly, clockwork schedule, these lines of books- category romances- have no trouble catching your eye.

They do have trouble earning your respect. :X

Okay, they're not Steinbeck. They're not meant to transcend the genre, they don't even try... heck, they are the epitome of their genre. 

And that's why I like them.

Stay with me. Category romances are books that know exactly what they are doing.

A low level of description

To me, this is a positive. Descriptive paragraphs tend to pull in the praise and awards... but how often do people read them? A dollop of powerful description = a mountain of prose that many readers won't bother to climb. They'll flip ahead in search of dialogue, or appealing keywords such as "gun" or "zombie". Description stops the action. Description stops everything.

Category romances recognize this. If the male and female characters meet in a restaurant, the readers don't want to read about the restaurant. They want to read about the male and female leads who meet, feel attracted to one another, and banter. A little atmosphere is always good, but it should only support the characters, not compete with them. Category romances are character-driven books.

The focus on true love

One could say that any romance book focuses on true love. But category romances snip out pretty much anything that does not apply to the relationship between the male and female leads, leaving bare that true love. There is no clearer spotlight.

Quick write, quick read

The authors of category romances generally do not take a great deal of time putting together their books. This is one of the elements that make these lines of novels what they are- and their readers love it. A book that takes five years to write is going to read like it, complete with mountains of prose description, several subplot threads, ruminations, and shameless acts of symbolism. This is great. But not every book should read like it took five years to write.

A book that took six months to write reads like it, and for busy readers who want only to read about a man and a woman meeting in a restaurant and finding true love instead of dinner, six months is just right*.

A world in which every novel was The Kite Runner, or the latest Dan Brown adventure, or a derivative of On the Road, would be a more serious world, a quieter one with fewer dreams and no flights of fancy. Category romances supply dreams and fancies on a monthly, clockwork schedule.

And darn it, if nothing else convinces you- those books sell. ;)

*I'm not saying that every category romance takes six months to write. Some take more time- others take less. It's up to the writer. But speedwriting is not uncommon for category authors.

October 21, 2009

Downloading Music- Free and Legal!

Every so often, I filter Amazon.com's MP3 album downloads by price: "low to high". This tends to throw so much gratis music at me I don't know what to download first.

How many people know Amazon has free, promotional music up for grabs? I tripped across this fact, myself, while browsing the site mindlessly. Browsing Amazon mindlessly can be dangerous if you have any kind of money on hand... and it can be depressing if you don't have money on hand. All the more reason to know about the free MP3 albums.

The very first Amazon album I downloaded for nothing was a compilation from the World Music Network. Unfamiliar with world labels beyond the gentle Putumayo, World Music Network's energetic beats and genius vocalists made me hunger for more of that international vibe- that lively "screw you" to the globalized standard for pop and rock. Amazon had no shortage of world music from labels various. Bollywood bounce, Turkish dance, Celtic harmonies.

Indie tracks are also well represented in Amazon's free bin. Freshly downloaded today: Paper Bag Records Fall '09 sampler. Now this is an album. From the Outkast-flavored "That Girl" by Two Fingers to the pretty, synth-heavy melody of Sally Shapiro's "Miracle", there's something for every taste and interest. The last track in the set is especially stand out- as he sings "Young Hussies", Slim Twig's lead vocalist sounds like he's channeling Foetus a.k.a. JG Thirlwell. Impressive, considering Thirlwell isn't dead yet.

Amazon's free downloads are a category you want to peruse often; many albums are available at no cost for only a limited time. Naturally. So if you even halfway like what you hear in the 30-second samples, download the whole thing. If you decide the album's not a keeper, you can always delete it later. (And yeah, some of the albums aren't even worth the price of nothing. The biggest waste of space in my hard drive, beyond a doubt, is Music of Croatia. I sincerely hope that Croatians get to listen to better stuff than that on their radios.)

I was in no way paid by Amazon.com to write this. I doubt they even know I'm alive. :P