A Prologue to my Lifelong Love Affair with Electronic Gaming

This is for my siblings Neil and Chinna – my comrades in the rapidly-evolving virtual battlefields – and my good friend Francis Tan, whose love for console role-playing games served as the first tie that bound us together.

My clearest memory of electronic gaming could be traced back to my 3rd birthday. A marvel that I could remember as far as that, yet a shame that I couldn’t remember who gave me the “grandest” gift I received then. It was a Merlin, a handheld electronic game that allows you to play Tic Tac Toe and a few other board games transposed into electronic form – and slug it out against computer intelligence. It’s about as long as your adult radius bone, shaped like a phone receiver. I’ll spare you the verbose description – here it is.

220px Parker Brothers Merlin

Unfortunately, the only way I got to appreciate it was to tinker the wires looped around the battery slots and pull them out, fastidiously curious about how the darned thing works after being enthralled by my dad, along with an older kid from the neighborhood, giving a Tic Tac Toe demo. It remained in the junk toy basket for quite a while, subject to my relentless poking and wire-mangling. To the outsider, I was the oblivious toddler who cannot be entrusted with a gadget due to my propensity to tear it apart.

I never had another electronic toy until I turned six – an entry-level keyboard synthesizer for my birthday and a FamiCom when my brother turned three later that year. But we’ll save all of that for some other time.

The London Riots (A Compilation)

TLR cover2

If the London riots of then and now had a soundtrack, this would be it. One quiet night at home, I compiled some songs from British artists, finding great interest in the aptness of the titles of each. “Then” has a gritty, uniform sound, while “Now” is relatively more diverse – folksy even.

THEN

1. The Smiths – Panic

2. The Clash – London’s Burning

3. David Bowie – Suffragette City

4. The Jesus and Mary Chain – My Little Underground

5. Blue Aeroplanes – Continually Torn Apart

6. Sex Pistols – Anarchy In The UK

7. Talking Heads – Burning Down The House

8. Joy Division – Colony

NOW

1. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

2. Radiohead – Little By Little

3. Amy Winehouse – Some Unholy War

4. RPA & the United Nations of Sound – Are You Ready

5. Muse – Uprising

6. The Drums – Money

7. Foals – Black Gold

8. Blur – Fool’s Day

Why Your Establishment Should Have a Nuanced Sound Bed

I have decided to declare war on inappropriate background music in restaurants, shops, and many other establishments.

It could get quite exasperating to walk into a restaurant or shop and be subject to endure buckthrashing rap-metal over lunch or while shopping. That should only work for a tattoo parlor or if you’re at the gym delivering punches and kicks at maximum heart rate. However, this war against tacky muzak is beyond personal preference. Glaringly inappropriate background music could kill one’s business in the same way tacky ad copies and brand logos could.

I once went to a clothing store known for its dainty patterns and ultra-feminine designs in search of the perfect white eyelet dress. I was feeling the giddy estrogen rush while walking towards the store, also addled with anxiety over the event I would be wearing the dress for. But once I walked into the store, the girly-girl mood I had started to wane as I had to bear with muzak from Michael Learns to Rock and Guns and Roses. I ended up buying the dress, but only because I needed to. I did not take the time to check out other merchandise or savor the vibe of the place, as it was obviously killed by the horribly inappropriate background music.

416Z23MXTHL

+

File 707363 795294

Okay, that looked like a Chromeo-esque soireé of 90s Danish soft rock icons and headless mannequins in cocktail dresses.

Music for retail is supposed to be carefully nuanced. Studies show that the congruence of music with other ambient variables in retail can influence consumer behavior. Apart from being a malleable, cost-efficient way to help shape a shopping environment, music is also considered effective in triggering moods and subtly communicating with consumers. One mistake retailers tend to make is to focus too much on the visual component of their businesses. A carefully crafted design cannot stand alone, as the products being sold are not merely for visual purposes.

I am not discrediting the importance of collateral and interior design. After all, sight is the first sense the market utilizes when making a decision to purchase – cute pink sneakers, palatable-looking food on the menu, what have you. What retailers sometimes fail to understand would be the process of selling – and the act of purchasing – as sensory experiences. Retailers have to engage as much of their market’s collective senses as possible in order to trigger avarice. If they do not have ad placements in traditional media outlets, then all the more they should pay careful attention to their non-visual in-store properties.

Another mistake retailers might not realize they are doing is to allow their sales persons/store managers to take liberties with the shop’s music player, letting them play whatever they please. Retailers, if your employees are far-off from your target market, please do not be haphazard about this. You will start confusing your market – yes, even your most intelligent customers will feel disjointed. Take the time to sit down, list songs and tracks you think will speak to your market. Let me know if you need help.

Here’s a situation: After a grueling day in law school, my brother walked into a cafe with ambient music playing in the background. Think Deep Forest and Tycho. It induced feelings of relaxation, as he attested to the calming effects of ethnic electronica and synth-manufactured haze. After getting himself a cup of coffee, he opened his legal references and resumed studying. His classmates joined him, and they soon settled in quickly, savoring the melodious environment conducive for studying. However, a few hours into their study session, the music abruptly changed into chirpy novelty songs, assaulting their collective frame of mind. My brother and his friends packed up and left, sourly mourning the loss of their momentum.

I think the only shops that could get away with playing Top 40 hits are brands equally mainstream as the artists on the charts. But if your shop or restaurant is niched, try to create a soundscape commensurate to the image and/or flavor you have meticulously fussed over with your interior designer, graphic artist, and/or chef.

A Primal Instinct

aquathlon

During my late teens into my early twenties I got involved into running and triathlon, among other sports. It went on for a good four years until the reality of being a struggling entrepreneur sank in, leaving me to put my Ironman dreams on hold. Apart from that I developed chronic back pain, which was a result of a bike crash, an oversized road bike frame, and an abrupt increase in running mileage. (Not to mention keeping a horrible posture all throughout my teens.) That, however, did not stop me from moving. I embraced ashtanga yoga, kept swimming, and walked around business districts in between meetings instead of hailing a cab or making my driver wait.

In one of those walks, I kept pondering over what drove me to engage in those athletic pursuits. It wasn’t to lose weight, as I had very little regard for my diet at that time. Neither was it about competitiveness, as I did not obsessively follow a training program nor fuss over my personal records.

Upon turning around the corner near my client’s office, I realized with great clarity that I was merely indulging a primal instinct. With the advent of sports technology and the overwhelming need to keep fit in a sedentary world, running and walking in the 21st century is an amalgamation of what the human body is predisposed to do and the vastness of what the human mind is capable of. For instance, shoes built to simulate the experience of running barefoot acclimatize the human being into moving fluidly amidst nature just like our ancestors did, yet offer adequate protection against the elements and preventing possible injury.

However, if it were fashionable to show up soaking wet, or if Manila’s flooding was as sterile as a chlorinated pool, I would rather swim. Now that is an instinct more primal than having to walk on fours.

Social Experiment: Obliterating The :-)

ShineySmileysOriginalFull

Electronic communication tends to get constantly punctuated by an accompanying emoticon, the Internet acronym LOL, or an onomatopoeic “hahaha” when it is triggered by amusement, laughter or elation. But are they necessary?

Gratuitous use of emoticons – or smileys – are a personal pet peeve, whether it be via SMS, instant messaging, email, and the like. I think once is enough for the sake of emphasis, or to soften the blow of a seemingly acerbic remark.

Looking at my Twitter feed last week proved to be quite overwhelming. For some reason I was less tolerant than usual, so I decided to come up with a self-imposed rule-slash-social experiment.

I decided to completely abstain from using emoticons and onomatopoeic laughter in my public accounts – Facebook, Twitter, email, and the like. I still punctuate my IMs and SMS occasionally, but only when I have a close personal relationship with the person I am corresponding with. Let’s see what sort of conflict I could possibly get into because of my absence of 🙂 or “haha.”

Solitude Standing – Suzanne Vega (1987)

One of my earliest memories of the musician and songwriter Suzanne Vega – apart from the hauntingly flippant “Luka” and the overt eroticism of the “Tom’s Diner” remix – is from the early nineties when, alone in my parents’ bedroom one weekend night, I found myself idly pressing the “Channel” buttons up and down in search of something interesting to watch. I was probably six or seven, and our television didn’t have a remote control back then. Cable channels haven’t found their way into Philippine television yet, so options only ranged from channels 2 to 13.

A music video – from some show called Video Hot Tracks – piqued my interest. It was shown on the now-defunct ABC 5 or RPN 9 – I couldn’t quite remember well, but I was certain that it wasn’t in the two then-emerging giants ABS-CBN 2 or GMA 7. Note that music videos back then belonged to the culture of the young, early adopters and setters of pop culture trends, as MTV hasn’t reached our shores yet and Internet access was limited to the most affluent corporations.

Much has changed in almost twenty years. MTV and other similarly-formatted channels are currently in stasis after peaking during the mid-nineties and declining during the inception of Youtube. Internet access has become a ubiquity in the Filipino middle-class household, neighborhood coffee shop, and mobile phones. But such is the life cycle of trends. At that moment in 1992 (or was it 1993), watching Suzanne Vega’s music video of “Solitude Standing” was a novelty. The existing image of an artist usually was, for the most part, limited to an album cover, but music videos allowed the image of one in motion to reconcile with the already-familiar auditory experience . It was going to be my first time to see Suzanne, as my experience of her music was limited to the occasional “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner” airplay over the radio.

Suzanne Vega – Solitude Standing

Suzanne wasn’t the most beautiful woman I’ve seen on screen, but she had an air of aloof intelligence that set her apart from the searing guitars and falsettos of pre-grunge glam rock and giddy, bubbly synthesizer-driven pop. Her voice was a soft, tepid tone thinly-veiled by a veneer of nonchalance. However, it balanced out the prominence of her songs’ heavily syncopated beats, the jangly folk guitars, pronounced bass line – with a sprinkle of keyboard notes every now and then. Tempered, yet far from lackluster.

There are no heavily stylized melodies, no vocal acrobatics. She did not have a powerful voice nor a commanding presence. Neither was she a performer, in the kinesthetic sense of the word. In the video you will see her do an androgynous, tensely mechanical pirouette, with her head cut off from the frame. Beneath Suzanne’s phlegmatic expression lay a simmering intensity riveting enough to trigger flashbacks of her music, years before the Internet came to serve as a collective repository of pop culture memory.

Whether her apostrophé on solitude was something arbitrarily abstract or just too sophisticated for the average audience, one thing was certain to me that early on – she knew how to string a sequence of notes that will tug at your soul like a blunted sliver of something glaringly, painfully real.

Back to the (Digital) Drawing Board

I have become uncharacteristically terse due in part by the xxx-character limit of social media accounts. While I appreciate the tempering effect it had, it also crippled my ability to write more than two paragraphs without scrambling for words and made me a little less confident – and fussier – with my sentence structure.

Hence, the return to writing longform on the digital slate. Be nice to the rusty, fellas.