Add Violence: My Journey With Nine Inch Nails

Challenged by friends, I set out to answer the question: “Why do I love Nine Inch Nails?”

It is a puzzling question, for sure. Anyone who knows me would never guess my favorite band. I am a classical musician by training, and a quiet person by nature. Even more puzzling is why I like Nine Inch Nails, but have never found a single other band in the same genre that I can tolerate. For me NIN is, apparently, unique.

[A note: This is NOT an overview of Nine Inch Nails, or a Greatest Hits compilation. Let me just note that although I am a decent musicologist in my own field, I am 100% not qualified to judge rock music. So I am only offering my own subjective reactions, not opinions.]

First I’ll tell you how I discovered Nine Inch Nails. That will probably reveal some things about why I like this music.

Picture it: Second Life, early 2007. I was a few months old and had fallen in with a community led by an artist and builder named Baron Grayson. Baron’s creativity fascinated me. The things he could pull out of his imagination were amazing. He was sort of Goth, which was a new thing for me. The worlds he created were dark, beautiful and rich with narrative.

Baron Worlds Collage

 

Baron and Trent smallBaron streamed NIN as the background music on his sims. The music was a perfect match. As you can see, he even modeled his avatar after him.

So NIN was the soundtrack of my life in 2007. This also tells you at what point in Trent Reznor’s evolution I joined the stream. It was firmly post-sobriety. I love all music by NIN but for this discussion I’m going to focus on music from 2002 on.

When I first heard NIN, I admit I recoiled from the more violent, screaming stuff. But Baron also played the moody ambient NIN and the acoustic and stripped down songs from the album Still. All the music on Still is pretty quiet, so it was easy for me to listen to.

[Adrift & At Peace – Still, 2002 – 2:52]

I remember thinking how much it reminded me of Arvo Pärt: meditative, hypnotic, and gently repetitive, like a mantra. The gentle repetition gives the music a feeling of stasis, of being suspended in time. At the same time, one can sense a subtle sadness underneath the serene sounds. I think I connected with that sadness, even more than the serenity.

Then Year Zero came out. At the time,  my life was in a place where the album’s message that “the world is fucked” totally resonated with me. All that despair in the lyrics, and the more violent sounds, started connecting with the darker places in my head.

Drawn by the darkness, gradually I found myself more willing to listen to the louder songs. And I was surprised by what happened. It was almost as if the music created a container, and instead of trying to push away my black thoughts and emotions, I discovered I could pour them into this container… and they wouldn’t destroy me.

For example, the last half of this next song just explodes in a violent tidal wave of noise – and somehow I found that instead of shrinking from it, I could fucking swim in it. I felt this exhilarating mix of primitive rage and elation.

[The Great DestroyerYear Zero, 2007 – 3:17]

I can barely tell you how liberating it was, after 50 years of trying to deny my dark side, to finally embrace it.

When The Slip was released the following year, I was embroiled in a really twisted relationship in Second Life. I was massively depressed, and one song on The Slip seemed to have been written especially for me. I played it over and over. Like many of Trent Reznor’s tortured torch songs, it’s very bleak and yet very tender.

[Lights in the SkyThe Slip, 2008 – 3:29]

So that’s the emotional underpinnings of my love of Nine Inch Nails.

But there are also some more objective things I like.

I like that the music sounds transparent, even when it’s loud; the various electronic sounds are separated so that it feels like there’s space between them, and you can hear them, instead of having it all blend into one big soup of noise.

I like how he layers all the sounds, building layers and then stripping them away. If the sound was full out all the time, I would become numb. But he controls the level of intensity, letting it rise and fall so it’s never too much for too long.

[Copy of aHesitation Marks, 2013 – 5:22]

I like his use of dissonance and distortion, not gratuitously, but sparingly, to make a point, like the pain represented in the opening notes of Hurt, or the distorted bending as the world begins to come apart in the second verse of The Great Destroyer.

I like that he uses motifs that appear in several songs. They are like clues that connect ideas. Sometimes he will invert the motif, or harmonize it differently, sort of teasing the listener into following him into the maze. He refers to it as a “trail of breadcrumbs.”

I like that the music is intelligent. It’s emotionally raw, for sure, but it’s not mindless. It rewards thoughtful exploration.

As a singer, I have a deep appreciation for poetry, and I find his lyrics very affecting.

And I love the energy and the pure physicality of the hard beats. It’s part of what creates the container for my darkness, capturing my body and making me get involved. I can’t sit still while listening to Nine Inch Nails. It compels me to respond.

I’ll stop talking now and simply offer three songs that illustrate these points.

[Less ThanAdd Violence, 2017 – 3:30]

[While I’m Still HereHesitation Marks, 2013 – 4:02]

[Just Like You ImaginedThe Fragile, 1999 – 3:49]

to be continued…

 

in time of

In memory of my beloved friend Mike, 1954-2018

 

in time of daffodils (who know
the goal of living is to grow)
forgetting why, remember how

in time of lilacs who proclaim
the aim of waking is to dream,
remember so (forgetting seem)

in time of roses (who amaze
our now and here with paradise)
forgetting if, remember yes

in time of all sweet things beyond
whatever mind may comprehend,
remember seek (forgetting find)

and in a mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me, remember me.

 

e.e. cummings

 

forego
The mighty Forego, Mike’s favorite horse

 

Living With Ambiguity

The older I get, the more I know just how much I don’t know.

There are countless things in this life that we simply cannot know. The best we can do is guess. What is the best path for my life? What will become of me? What will happen tomorrow? Is there a God? What happens when we die? Who is right? Who is wrong? The answers to these and more questions are obscured by the “cloud of unknowing” of which contemplatives speak.

And that’s okay.

I listen with quiet bemusement when someone explains to me “how things are” with the confidence of someone who has it all figured out. I know better than to contradict them; confident people are usually quite entrenched, and either unwilling, or unable to visualize any reasonable alternative to what they consider to be the hard facts. So I just listen and smile and nod and save my breath.

Certainty can be an impediment to truth.

But I know from experience that very little in this world is clearly one thing or another. Most questions have multiple answers. Two apparently opposite things can both be true. A thing can be wrong and right at the same time. You can love and hate someone in equal measure. You can laugh while you’re depressed. Ideas that we always assumed were fundamental can turn out to be fictitious.

Admittedly, that’s a hard thing to live with.

Our culture is not very tolerant of ambiguity. We tend to admire people who are confident. We are, perhaps, reassured by their conviction that they have everything figured out. It would be a lot easier to think that we know all the answers.

It takes a lot of strength of character to be able to admit that we might be wrong. Especially when we think we have it all figured out. When we are absolutely certain. But that’s the time when it’s most important to take a mental step back, and consider… just consider… the possibility that we might be wrong.

To be willing to live with ambiguity is considered by some to be a hallmark of maturity. I don’t know whether it is maturity or not. But I do know that certainty is the opposite of faith. Certainty can be an impediment to truth.

Embracing ambivalence is not easy. To consider a question and see that there might be more than one valid answer is challenging. And yes, sometimes we have to take a stand. But maybe if we admit that our stand is based on a best guess, and keep open the possibility that it might turn out to be wrong, it would create just enough of a crack in our armor to let the truth leak in.

What Is Your Virtual World Type?

Find out which of these 12 virtual world personalities best describes you.

What type of virtual world person are you?

In a recent discussion, someone said, “What people want in the virtual world is…” They proceeded to describe a world of zero interest to me. Within a few minutes it became clear that the virtual world cannot be summed up so neatly. Not everyone wants the same thing in virtual worlds.

I’ve identified at least 12 types of virtual world people. Most of us are a combination of these types, but I believe we tend to identify most strongly with one or two of them. Which one(s) are you?

The Chatter — Your main interest is conversation, and to you, the virtual world is a big chat room. You participate in several chat groups. Your favorite people are witty, talkative and convivial; you don’t care much what their avatars look like, only what their text looks like. You have lots of friends and relationships. You enjoy hanging at clubs and social events, but usually your avatar is parked somewhere while you chat. You don’t pay much attention to your surroundings because your screen is usually covered with multiple IM windows.

The Aesthete — In contrast to the Chatter, the visual element of the virtual world is exactly what draws you to it. Your pleasure comes from what you see. Exploring places that evoke deep feelings and real sensations, dressing your avatar in stylish and beautifully crafted clothes and accessories, collecting exquisitely designed things – these are your source of delight. Your thirst to have them is what fuels the virtual economy; you depend on The Craftsman and The Artist to supply your bliss. You don’t need as much interaction as The Chatter; you can be just as happy spending time by yourself, making outfits, posing and taking selfies for your blog.

The Engineer — You are fascinated by how the virtual world works. To you, it is a toy to be taken apart, analyzed and manipulated for fun. You don’t get very immersed, because you are always thinking about what makes it work. The visual element is only important to you insofar as it tells you what is going on underneath. You script, you build, you may even run your own grid, and you take pleasure from things working right. We depend on you to make the world work. Aesthete types irritate you because the visual splendor they crave causes lag. And they don’t even seem to care.

The virtual world stubbornly refuses to be summed up as one thing. It is many, many things.

The Glitterati — A combination of Chatter and Aesthete, you love bars, clubs, dances and events, but unlike the Chatter, you aren’t just there for the talk; you also revel in the visual surroundings. You especially like how sexy and stylish you (and your partner) look, and how great you feel to be surrounded by the grid’s social elite. You have a charismatic personality and your presence is the magnet that attracts others to the scene. At your best, you use your popularity to energize charity events.

The Artist — You are a graphic artist, designer, photographer, painter, writer or filmmaker. The virtual world is your inspiration and your canvas. You spend most of your time creating scenes to photograph or video, then retreat to editing software perfecting your artwork. You may create giant 3D art installations. You create for your own satisfaction, not for the market. You may be part Engineer, using technology as a tool to expand your artistic palette. You may have friendships, but art is the one love you can’t live without.

The Craftsman — You make stuff. You have the soul of the Artist but the practicality of a business person. You make the things others need to make the virtual world feel real. You build houses, you create clothing, you make furniture and décor, you design sims, you make trees or vehicles or adult toys or body parts. With a little luck, you also make money. Everyone needs you; Aesthetes worship you. You probably began with a starry-eyed appreciation for the virtual world but now you spend all your time alone on a platform making stuff. But you’re okay with that.

The Horndog — For you, the virtual world is a way to create your own porn. You hang out at Sex Island or any place with a large number of willing partners. You’re really only there long enough to persuade someone to go to RL voice and cam sex, so you aren’t that interested in virtual appearance. If you are male, you may be attracted to female avatars with enormous boobs and as little clothing as possible, who agree to sex without too much effort on your part. Good thing, because you probably have a noob avatar, a free plastic penis and verbal repertoire limited to “mmm” and “harder faster”.

How we relate to others in the virtual world, the effect that the visual element has on us, what we find important, and how we think of our avatars are all variables that differ dramatically from one person to the next.

The Player — The play’s the thing… role play, that is. You are an actor and a storyteller, and you want to inhabit the stories you create. Both interaction and aesthetics are important to you, for the sake of immersion. You think of your avatar as a character, a separate person from yourself, as you would regard a character in a story you are writing. You need a community of fellow storytellers, so you seek out writers and groups like Steampunk, Gor, Elves, SciFi, historical recreations and post-apocalyptic wastelands.

The Domestic — While others are role-playing in fantasy worlds, you are most content with a virtual life that looks very traditional. Maybe your RL is stressful and you need some relief. You want to create your happy place. You use the visual element of the virtual world to its most positive effect. You have a lovely home that gives you great pleasure. You may be content with solitude, though you probably have a partner, who has become an essential component of your happy place. You spend most of your time fixing up your private home, and simply enjoying being there.

The Dreamer — Your imagination takes flight in the virtual world, more than most others. You immerse so completely that you forget the “real” world. You crave experiences and you eagerly soak up everything the virtual world has to offer. Your curiosity is boundless. You want to see strange new worlds, meet intriguing people, and see what it’s like to live as someone – or something – else. You may have a non-standard avatar, perhaps an animal, kid, robot, monster or supernatural creature. You want to dream it and be it.

The Gamer — You like online games, and your main interest is turning the virtual world into a game. In RL you probably played Farmville, Skyrim, Call of Duty or Pokemon Go. It’s all about the game for you. You probably can be found in the virtual world playing Greedy, collecting breedables, fighting in a combat zone, racing vehicles or solving a MadPea quest – as long as it yields points and prizes, levels and achievements. You might form friendships with your competitors, but you probably just think of them as NPC’s.

The Publicist — You are here with a message to share. You are devoted to a cause; you may champion a charity, or perhaps you are a survivor, an enthusiast or a scholar. You use land in the virtual world to create exhibits and educate people about real life things like health, religion, social issues and history. Your work adds value to the virtual world. You participate occasionally in festivals and charity fundraisers but your primary interest is in the “real” world and you rarely let down your guard in the virtual one.

I think it’s great that there are so many different perspectives on the virtual world, and that it stubbornly refuses to be summed up as one thing. It is many, many things. I find it fascinating that others look at the virtual world so very differently from the way that I see it. How we relate to others in the virtual world… the effect that the visual element has on us… what we find important… how we think of our avatars… all are variables that differ dramatically from one person to the next.

I’ve intentionally omitted a few types like griefers and spammers. But I know there may be some others. What else have I left out? What type of virtual world person are you?

Southern Lane Cake

Bourbon. Butter. Sparkles. What’s not to like?

And now, for something completely different.

I do realize that it’s Thanksgiving, but a dear friend just asked me for this recipe, bringing up all the very rich memories that go with this very rich cake. And I just felt like sharing it here. I will be celebrating Christmas quite early this year, so it’s not too soon to think about it.

Lane Cake is one of those things that is as much an event as it is a dessert. It is an incredibly rich butter cake, almost a pound cake, with an intense bourbon filling. This cake is not for the faint of heart! But it always wows the crowd.

This cake is not for the faint of heart! But it always wows the crowd.

My mother was from the deep South, and this cake was a tradition in our family at Christmas. Before my best friend, whose birthday it is today, moved away, he always asked me to make it for Christmas dinner. My mother used to make the amazing decorations shown in the photo: red and gold roses made from white chocolate. But that is almost gilding the lily. I’m no good at fancy decorating, so I just make plain white boiled frosting and sprinkle it with edible white glitter.

This Southern tradition gets its name from Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Alabama, who won a prize for it in the state fair. She first published the recipe under the name “Prize Cake” in her 1898 cookbook Some Good Things To Eat.

Notes: This cake MUST be made from scratch; you cannot substitute a mix in any way. And if you substitute anything else for the bourbon, don’t call it a Lane Cake.

Equipment Notes: You must use 8-inch round cake pans which are smaller than the standard size, so you may need to buy them (you need three); Williams Sonoma carries them. A stand mixer is necessary; hand-held mixers generally don’t work on the frosting. A candy thermometer is helpful for the frosting. For decorating, buy edible white glitter and/or red/green/gold Luster Dust or Shimmer Dust where cake decorating supplies are sold.

Filling:

3/4 c. raisins
1/2 c. shredded coconut
1/2 c. pecans
1/2 c. butter
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. bourbon
8 egg yolks
1 t. vanilla

Chop raisins and chop pecans finely. Melt butter; add sugar and bourbon; bring just to boiling to dissolve sugar. Beat yolks slightly; add a small amount of hot mixture to yolks, stirring vigorously; then add yolks back to hot mixture, stirring vigorously. Cook over low heat, stirring, until thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in raisins, pecans, coconut, and vanilla. Mix well. Cool to room temperature (no cooler or it will be too stiff to spread). While filling cools, make cake.

Cake:

8 egg whites
2-1/4 c. sugar
1-1/4 c. butter, softened
2 t. vanilla
3-1/3 c. cake flour, sifted
4-1/2 t. baking powder
1-1/2 t. salt
1-1/2 c. milk

Lightly grease and flour three 8″ round cake pans. Heat oven to 375º. Beat egg whites until stiff; set aside. Cream sugar and butter thoroughly until light. Add vanilla; mix. Sift dry ingredients together; add to batter alternately with milk, beating after each addition. Fold in whites carefully. Bake at 375º 18-20 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Carefully remove cake from pans to cake racks and cool completely. While cake cools, make frosting.

Frosting:

2 c. sugar
few grains salt
1/3 c. corn syrup
2/3 c. water
2 egg whites
1 t. vanilla

In saucepan, combine sugar, salt, syrup and water. Cook over low heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Cook over low heat, covered, without stirring, for 3 minutes; uncover and continue to cook over low heat until syrup spins a thread from spoon (240º on candy thermometer). Beat egg whites until stiff. Pour the syrup slowly over the egg whites, beating constantly. Beat until frosting begins to lose gloss and hold shape. Stir in vanilla. A drop or two of hot water can be added if frosting becomes too thick.

Fill cake and frost. Decorating ideas: Christmas Ribbons & Roses (see separate recipe below), sugared pecan halves, or white Cake Sparkles glitter.

Christmas Ribbons & Roses

lane cake photoThe recipe below produces a taffy-like pliable material that you can sculpt and cut into various shapes. You can color it (use paste, not liquid food color) and add Luster Dust or Shimmer Dust for a frosted effect. To make the decorations shown here:

20 oz. white chocolate
1/4 c. light corn syrup
1/4 c. (or less) vodka
Gold Luster Dust (two 2g jars)
Green Luster Dust (two 2g jars)
Red Luster Dust (one 2g jar)
Paste food colors: green, red
1 c. icing for decorating
large silver dragees
toothpicks
small clean new paintbrush

Melt white chocolate in double boiler over low heat. Remove from heat; add syrup. White chocolate will separate. While still warm, divide mixture into thirds, and place the portions in separate bowls. Using paste food color, tint one third green, and one third red. (Do not use liquid food color, or material will be too soft to shape.) Knead each mixture by hand until color is blended in and material is cohesive and elastic. Discard the excess cocoa butter that comes out. Wrap portions in paper towels and plastic wrap and chill 15-30 minutes, or until firm but pliable.

While shaping roses and ribbons, if material becomes too firm, microwave 5 to 10 seconds. If it gets too soft, refrigerate 15-30 minutes, and keep batches chilled until ready to use. Your hands will get very oily; keep paper towels handy to wipe.

Make ribbons: Between sheets of foil or plastic wrap, roll out green mixture to 12 by 8 inches. Cut into eight 12-inch by 1-inch ribbons. Chill until firm. Cut four strips in half and shape into loops. (Important: shape loops first, then paint them.) In cup or shot glass, mix green Luster Dust powder with a few drops of vodka to thin to painting consistency. Brush onto one side of ribbons and both sides of loops. If paint dries as you work, thin with a little more vodka. Set aside or chill until dry (it dries rather quickly).

Make roses: Shape untinted white chocolate mixture into 1/2 inch balls. Cover baking sheet with plastic wrap or wax paper; working with 20 balls at a time, flatten balls into 1-1/2 inch discs. To form a rose, first roll one disc into cone shape to form center of rose; attach each of five more discs around bottom of center cone for petals. Make some smaller roses using only five discs. Blend gold Luster Dust powder with a few drops of vodka to painting consistency. Paint roses gold. Set aside or chill until dry. Repeat with red mixture to make red roses, painting with red Luster Dust powder. If desired, place one silver dragee in center of each rose.

Pipe icing shells around bottom and top edge of cake; dot shells with a silver dragee between each. Arrange loops and ribbons on top of cake and flowing out over edge of cake. Top with red and gold roses, using icing as glue, or toothpicks as needed to position roses.

Happy Birthday, Jax!

A fresh coat of paint

When I realized that I had not changed the appearance of my blog since 2010, I decided it was time to spruce up the place a little.

I like this new theme because it is clean, with a very readable typeface. It has all the most up-to-date features, but will take some getting used to.

I will miss the deep blue of my old theme, which, to me, felt like serenity in motion. But without loss, there can be no change; without change, there can be no renewal, no growth. And our ability to change and grow in wisdom is part of our humanity.

Please pardon any awkwardness as I re-format some older posts to help them fit into this new layout.

Bigotry and Ignorance at HG Visionz Magazine, Opensimulator, Hypergrid

Bigotry is a commitment to ignorance. In the Information Age, ignorance is a choice.

Recently Walter was asked by the staff of HG Visionz, a small online magazine that covers various Opensim features, to submit an article about Littlefield Grid’s BDSM regions. At their request, Walter wrote a great article highlighting those regions on Littlefield Grid that cater to people who enjoy BDSM.

We were just informed that, even though the article was written at their request, the “staff” (which I think means one or two people) decided not to publish it because — get this — although the article was very general in nature, with no adult content, the acronym BDSM was deemed to be X-rated.

This was clearly a not-very-well-concealed pretext for displaying the prejudice of the “editor” against BDSM. Is there a fear that simply reading those four letters might make someone think about… omg… SEX?!? Well, then, I am sure that HG Visionz will also decline to publish any article that mentions lesbian, gay or transgender communities, since that acronym LGBTQ is clearly too dangerous to read.

Or, for that matter, they had better decline any article that mentions marriage, or romance, or dancing. Especially dancing. And rock music. You know, like it says in the movie Footloose, dancing leads to relaxed morality. We certainly can’t have any of that in Opensim!

Sarcasm aside, I continue to be astounded by the ignorance displayed about BDSM. Even more so, by the fervor with which some people willfully cling to that ignorance. That is what makes it rise to the level of bigotry. Bigotry is an emotional commitment to ignorance about groups of people. And in the information age, ignorance is a choice.

What’s even more astounding is the hypocrisy behind the public posturing. It is well known that “adult” activities are wildly popular throughout the virtual world. I’ll wager there are very few people who haven’t tried sex animations. And of those who have, I’m sure a hefty percentage also enjoyed at least a little bedroom bondage, if not more.

D/s relationships are founded upon love and respect.

First let me address the ignorance head-on. D/s, the foundation of BDSM and the central letters of the fearsome acronym, stands for Dominance and submission, which is a consensual agreement between a couple where one person surrenders control to the other. Within that extremely broad container, there are many different types of relationships; I’m not asserting that all are the same. But in my experience, any sexual content in most of those relationships is no more public than that of “vanilla” couples. In the eight and a half years we have been together, Walter and I have never had sex in public, only in our own home or on our own sims.

Also in my experience, D/s relationships are founded upon love and respect. I made a consensual choice. I chose to surrender control to Walter because it gives me pleasure to do that, and it gives him pleasure too. I wear a collar, which is not a symbol of slavery, but a symbol of love and commitment to the vows we made… not unlike a wedding ring.

But, you know, love and commitment… those are things that HG Visionz can’t mention in their magazine, because they seem to believe that love and commitment are not family-friendly.

Anyone with any knowledge at all of BDSM knows that the attitude of the HG Visionz “staff” is ignorant. It’s important to me to speak up about it, because perpetuating that kind of ignorance is a very, very dangerous habit.

They may believe that we should keep to ourselves and only whisper about our relationship behind closed doors. LGBTQ people have been told the same thing. Thankfully, they realized that keeping their loving relationships secret simply helped to feed the ignorance and bigotry, and the hate that grew from it. They stepped into the light, and showed the world that gay couples can be a shining example of love and commitment. They can have children and raise families that are just as wonderful (and just as flawed) as straight families. They are human, with all the promise and possibilities of any other humans. Had they remained in the shadows, the world at large might never have figured that out.

By relegating BDSM relationships to the shadows of “x-rated” content, HG Visionz Magazine is participating in the fostering of hate, by choosing to be committed to ignorance. That is bigotry.

And in the 21st century, it is a disappointment to find people still trying to justify it.