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Author Archives: paulms

About paulms

My name is Paul Shapera, a musician working under the name Mocha Lab. I make albums, theater shows, videos, dance pieces, commercials and move around a lot.

Building The Bonus Act: Stage One, Nothing To Something

Before New Albion

Before New Albion

This post will contain minor spoilers for the upcoming Bonus Act. If you don’t want to know anything, definitely don’t read.

I started this blog at the beginning of the steapunk opera writing process (the day i played the first note) for several reasons. A huge one was to teach myself about steampunk but another was to show my process. In the interests of creative transparency i continue that practice and will in some regards walk you through the making of the bonus act, with some allowances for major spoilers being kept secret.

So i know i have to make a bonus act. I need to come up with another story and a music angle. Let’s take ourselves back a week, to when i had absolutely nothing and no ideas.

Having no ideas is not a big deal if you haven’t actually tried yet.

So one night i’m about to sit down and do my usual nightly routine when the power goes out. (the power would go out daily for the next 5 days, but this was day one). I stay up long after everyone else has gone to bed. There is no electricity, so i have have nothing to do other than sit out on the porch with a few beers and watch the lightning. (MASSIVE lightning). It occurs to me this a good time to see if i can’t get the process started.

How to start from nothing:

Do i have any ideas floating around? Okay, i know the male will probably be a red haired gangster. Okay, that’s something. No era, could be anytime. Maybe start it a generation before the SO? Maybe… i don’t know.

Any music ideas? Anything?

Well, i was sitting on a desire to make something that contrasts tribal drumming/chant music with industrial sounding music. That has my interest. I was going to save that maybe for some project down the road.

Why save it? Don’t horde ideas. The more you use the more come to you. Just use this idea now. You like it. When you need ideas later they will come as they always do. They come because you let them come on out not because you horde. (this includes bad ideas, but you can just toss them and move on.) Let’s use this one and see what happens.

Okay then. If we say we’re going to start with the idea that i’d like to make some tribal vs. industrial music then…. well hell, the first premise writes itself. Tribal… we’re not starting an generation before the SO, we’re starting a generation before New Albion even exists. I’ve already established that the Albino Tribe who lives in the tunnels underneath New Albion are native to the region. There’s my tribe. And that means we will use a time travel plot device so one of them can go to some aspect of New Albion between the 3rd Act of the SO and the end of the DO. It’ll make a great musical bit when we end the first song with its tribal drumming and catchy chanting and go BLAM into some awesome, majestic industrial audio soundscape. That will work great. Okay, since the premise seems to be going on its own, let’s keep following it.

(for those who worry i’m giving too much away: 1. Everything i’ve told you thus far is revealed in the very first song. No biggie. Secondly, this piece is not like the AO. The Atompunk Opera was all about the reveals. The AO is essentially about truth to balance the DO which is essentially about illusion. In the AO everything is either a mystery waiting to be revealed or what you think is one way turning out to be another. It is about finding out the truth of things in every regard, whether painful or awesome. In this Bonus Act, there will be some surprises, definitely, but i don’t need to keep a lid on so much.)

From that premise, conceptual ideas came and came and came until finally i shut them down and said enough. Plot points, details, angles, things i can incorporate from the larger mythology…. ENOUGH. I don’t need all these. Not yet. It is useless to continue. Grand ideas are a dime a dozen. They mean nothing without the heart and soul. I need the characters and the character arcs. Otherwise the opera has no emotional core.

The next day i was taking a walk with my wife (2 months pregnant and in full nausea mode. The only thing that helped are long afternoon walks). She told me a very sad story about a boy in the village. it was so sad… i realized it was perfect. The detail that struck me the most was that it was a perfect detail for my male’s backstory. And if THAT was his backstory, clearly his character arc would start at Point A and end at Point B. Because he would have this character detail that would drive him to go from A to B. It’s good. I have my male gangstery guy.

The female eluded me. I certainly knew her Point A: she’s the member of the Tribe who goes into the future. But what is her arc? Why? What doesshe do and what is the change that occurs to her over the piece that makes it interesting.

I had taken my 5 year old to the village schoolhouse to ride his bike. He was riding it in circles around me when it struck me: The female character has this defining trait. Whoa, this trait is not the kind of trait she would have starting the album. But that’s what makes it so COOL. AND… let’s really work with this. Her character arc is NOT going from Point A (1st song) to Point B (the trait i just thought of) over the course of the album. No, she is at Point B the next time we meet her. I can play with this trait for msot of her songs. Her arc is going from B to C. But B is SOOOOO cool and has SOOOOO many possibilities to work with especially when writing melodies for. AND i’ve never asked Lauren to do this, and Lauren would be GOOD at it. She’d be potentially really good at it.

Okay, so now i have my characters. I know their story arcs more or less, i know the male story arc better than the female, but know the female character better. If the male character is like THIS, then he must a have song like THAT. Just so with the female. Clearly the female will have a song like THIS. Oh, OH, oh…. okay, i get a snippet of the male singing a little lyric line, only… that kind of sentiment is exactly what the female would sing… SOoooooo, we have a connecting motif between them. It’s kind of beautiful and tragic. (Big secret: i kind of sort of love beautiful and tragic. Shh, don’t tell anybody.) Well this sort of suggests what their connection would be. And that snippet used near the end after setting it out a couple times before would make a really powerful little moment. We all know i like to repeat a phrase or melody and then pull it out again near the end in order to try and acheive a very dramatic, emotionally powerful moment.

As days go by from there, the little things start coming to me. For instance, last night i realize something awkward and uncomfortable about myself and then realize it’s an issue the male lead would have. So we can use it. it’s what makes Soul. I am no longer writing about some foreign character who exists in imagination only. No, this aspect that makes me uncomfortable now gives something of actual personal meat i can use to make him breath reality.

I come up with the basic why and what the female is doing, the big reveal of exactly why she’s been in the future doing whatever specific thing she’s been doing while sipping water at an outside table after having picked a bunch of onions from my brother in law’s field. The onions  were going to go to seed if we didn’t pick them then. Since i live in a foreign country people babble on around me and i don’t understand most of it (unless i reaaaaally try) and i sort of space out…. and in this case i came up with the big idea of what the female is doing and how it all ends. I started chuckling out of nowhere and the two women talking paused to glance at me, nodded and resumed conversation.

So… i’m in very good shape. What i’m missing is the middle. I’m missing what is happening in the middle and what specifically brings the two leads together. I’m missing what happens that propels the male to make the deciding step from Character Point A to Point B. I’m missing the details of exactly what both leads are doing when we meet them in the main time and what event propels the plot forward.

The middle plot point should be Simple. I have a good premise, good characters, very good ending. I have lots of song possibilities and especially some possibilities that aren’t about forwarding the plot but great emotional songs to really dig into the audience’s heart.

I decided the first night of the thunderstorm that while i need narration, i will not use a singing Narrator. This is not one of the Operas. We will use a narration device… the male can actually speak as if we are hearing him by playing a tape in a tape recorder we found laying about. These spoken bits can occur whenever i need them and be used to get the plot across as well as appropriate character insights for color.

And there we go. That is how the beginning of the process occurs. Nothing to something.

The next step: i should start writing. Not just writing this down, i don’t need to, i know it thus far. I should actually sit and write it out as a story. Usually that fills in the plot points. For the DO, acts 1 and 2 were written by sitting in a neighbor’s yard while my kid played with theirs, and one afternoon i wrote Act 1, the next afternoon i wrote Act 2. ( i went back the next day specifically because the afternoon before had gone so well, i figured the environment was working.) Since i speak the language so badly, people exchange pleasantries with me and then leave me to be.

So next i shall sit and write it out like a story. When you actually write it out something happens that makes ideas come and fill in the blanks.

Okay kids, that’s it for today. I don’t mean to navel gaze in public, but this is my personal process. I throw it out there just for kicks and giggles.

Cheers.

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Character Background: The Mascot 3000

m1

The Arcadia Corporation was not actually successful in its attempts to create Artificial intelligence until long after it was officially defunct and had been by and large gutted.

In its heyday, many of its numerous programs which aimed to produce human level sentience in non organic vessels like the MASCOT, PAL, NOMAD, NOMAN, and GPSI programs were begun long before Project Elysium was even conceived as a possibility. Indeed, it was the discovery of the theory that Elysium could be accessed which pulled funding from many of the AI programs and redistributed it towards the dream of The Great Migration.

While many of the various AI programs had similar end goals of placing adult consciousness into non organic vessels, for a long while the only real progress was made using fetuses. fetus consciousness in the last trimester was developed enough to be definitively present but maleable enough that it could accept transfer into a few choice analogue states using scientifically arcane processes. There was even some success with transfer into actual computer based vessels.

Thus the fetus stage was a wealth of education and progress. Granted, fetus procurement could be tricky and a potential PR nightmare. Arcadia encouraged those within certain upwardly mobile circles of Voodoopunks to procreate (briefly) and donate to the cause. They opened numerous Helping Hands Clinics, where youth in an unexpected and unwanted “spot of bother” could go and discreetly and affordably take care of their trouble, while providing Arcadia with raw materials.

The ultimate trouble with fetuses was when success was finally acheived, the fetus consciousness became utterly distant from anything approaching communicative or even human. A fetus had had no time to make any profound connection with a human state and thus drifted away from ti so quickly it was impossible to work with it as it developed into something enigmatic and alien.

Still, no matter, the most important, initial barrier had been crossed. Now Arcadia was ready to concentrate on the next step: babies and toddlers.

The last time Connor saw his daughter she could just approaching crawling. The girl was not immediately transferred to PHISC (Post Human Information State of Consciousness). She actually spent another 3 years being specifically trained in methods that would increase her potential to not only make the transformation successfully, but to retain as much of human consciousness as possible while accepting the new Being State.

At the time the girl was taken into The Program, Amber was already in a meteoric rise up Arcadia due to her accute scientific mind and notable organization and HR skills. Naturally, her daughter was given the most beneficial of treatments available and Amber’s willingness to lead by example through giving her own child to The Program was not only a huge inspiration to other Voodoopunks in certain circles, but also insured her rise was unimpeded.

By the time the girl’s consciousness was removed, successful placement into an electronic shell was still not workable, although hopes were high. Never the less, by this point, toddler consciousness could be stored for years in a state of near hibernation, where they matured so slowly, they were unaware of the passage of time. Amber’s child was of course kept this way using the most advanced containment methods until success was guaranteed.

However, with the birth of Project Elysium, Arcadia’s priorities shifted.

What then was the aim of the AI initiatives?

The aim was to be able to transfer human consciousness into any variety of technological vessels created to suit any variety of needs. Want to traverse the stars? The human body is nothing but a set of problems. if consciousness could be placed directly into a ship itself, then transferred to a probe, a robot, a micro exploration unit for the sub atomic dimensions, then the possibilities of human exploration would be endless. The entire universe would be our playground in any variety of self created, technological bodies. A cosmonaut’s life would be eternal until they decided to willingly go on to the Next Realm. Until Elysium.

But with the Elysium Theorum, Elysium became possible to reach within a number of years. The world of Elysium was already theoretically eternal and in already in an advanced Being State. If humanity could migrate there, them finally the most profound human dream man had dreamed since the dawn of time could be fulfilled: the coming together of Earth and Heaven. New Creation could begin. Humanity could evolve into a state far better than biomachines, it could become Angelic.

Thus was attention shifted. Although many programs were abandoned and those research teams charged with solving new puzzles related to the Great Migration, the MASCOT and NOMAD programs continued, albeit at a reduced budget.

Then came The Great Migration.

While the vast majority of Voodoopunks and Arcadia staff made the crossover, not everyone left. Some teams remained to assist the Settlers from Home Base and some research teams remained to carry on their work. The MASCOT team chose to remain as they were far more interested and committed to their dream of AI consciousness than to Elysium.

When Connor came with his warrant, the warrant was designed to dismantle Arcadia swiftly, thoroughly and brutally. Due to the events of The Deceit, he now knew the Voodoopunks were immigrating to some realm of Inner Space and as far as he was concerned it was win win. They wanted to be there and he wanted to insure they never returned. From the moment he appeared with the warrant, the dismantling and confiscation of equipment was stunningly fast. Entire floors were gutted in hours, staff led out of the building never to return again. However, the MASCOT team was deep in a sub basement and it took quite some time before anyone reached them. They were able to salvage and smuggle out through underground tunnels a sizable amount of equipment and materials. They were still set back enormously, but unlike almost every other aspect of Arcadia, they were able to survive, regroup and eventually carry on their research.

Ironically, their greatest help in getting set up and running again was Connor.

When Connor discovered that his son had been among the Pilgrims, there was nothing he could do to undo the wheels he had set in motion. Arcadia was gutted. The machines were dismantled. The swiftness and thoroughness he had planned into the operation backfired against him.

However, as committed as he was to Arcadia’s fall, he was equally committed towards reclaiming his son, the single dearest thing in the world to him.

Connor combed through the building and discovered the tunnels, eventually tracked down some of the rogue scientists, helped them get set back up and over a years and years, track down pieces of the dismantled equipment or parts needed to make it from scratch. He creatively diverted city funding here and there, in bits and pieces, practically invisibly to ensure the scientists could carry on their work.

Thus, over 15 years after the fall of Arcadia, triumph was finally achieved, and the first successful permanent transfer of consciousness occurred. Connor’s daughter, sleeping away in data storage for so many years, accepted transplant into a Mascot 3000 tablet, merged holistically with the analogue quantum electronics, and awoke.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Moxy Fruvous: The Drinking Song

For no particular reason, here is Moxy Fruvous’ The Drinking Song

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

The Atompunk Opera Q&A

First things first:

We have been having Old Testmant style thunderstorms for 5 days now and my internet, hell my electricity has been mostly non existant. The very post could be written during a brief hour long respite  at which point i won’t see electricity again for another 5-10 hours. So far weather’s clearing up and it looks like the sun is coming out, but i’m just warning you. I will answer not only best i can, but WHEN i can.

Second things second:

I realize it’s only been a few days and it can take awhile to figure out exactly what the hell is going on. You can ask later. I just thought since there are a few more loose ends plotwise on this one than on others ( i think. I mean, the DO can be a bit more confusing with the whole 4th wall things and meta-narrative shenanigans, but the plot otherwise is pretty well explained) i thought i’d give an opportunity to ask questions. Basically, my test listeners had more questions this time than on other times (although each about completely different things. Had they all asked about the same character or event it would have been easy to pinpoint a place to clarify better) so…

Hang on, i’m rambling. I don’t want to ramble. Basically, you have any questions, ask away in the comments and i will answer. It’s the end of the series. I have few secrets left. (Although i might be coy about a subject or two)

If anything was unclear or you wanted to know exactly what was going on offstage so to speak, you could ask away. I realize i COULD just write a bunch of stories that clarify such things, but i don’t have the time currently and while the desire to know and ask is still fresh…. i am at your disposal.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Why I’m Leaving New Albion

After years of working in complete and utter obscurity, making albums for absolutely no one, i have made a series of fantastical musical opera albums that have garnered a following who love the series and want to see more. For them i will throw out a little bonus act(s) and hell, i’d love one last waltz too, but in truth, the trilogy is over and i’m leaving New Albion, despite for the first time in my life having a creation that is popular, well liked, is actually purchased and has people coming back for more.

This seems rather stupid if not outright insane.

But…

It’s what’s best for the piece.

What i care about, month after month of making each and every project is the question “What is best for the piece?”

If i end the New Albion trilogy, right here, right now, it stands with distinction. It did not go on too long (okay, matter of opinion, but i don’t think so), it did not keep sadly going long after it’s initial glory days, i did not turn into the kind of artist who keeps some fantasy series going forever because it’s a paycheck, and finally, you don’t have to cry as you watch with each successive album it go down the shitter because the artist ran out of ideas/motivation/fire in his belly. The series that should have ended seasons or books ago.

Walk away now, and none of that happens. The series stands proudly. You want more? Better you want more than wish it had stopped at less.

Besides, i will be better as an artist if i continue to push myself onto new things.

I like the New Albion series, i love it, i’ve lived with it for 3 years now, but i can do better. I know i can if i just keep working… trying… pushing myself… this is not my Song Of Ice And Fire. New Albion has taught me valuable lessons that will serve well as i develop. I cannot develop if i stop here. I am not done travelling. I am not ready to settle down. I have not made my magnum opus.

With New Albion i have arrived at a level of vision and competency i have worked years and years to get to. I have musical projects from when i was very young you will never hear. Caravan… The Dogs Project… okay The Fallen i kept updating for years because i had other folks who kept wanting to make it a theater thing… but that updating for years into new version after new version taught me a valuable lesson: DON’T DO IT. Move the fuck ON.

That early, early work never made it anywhere because, frankly, it wasn’t good enough. My artistic ambition far outwieghed my skill set, the tools i had available, and the maturity of my artistic decision making.

It took me a long time to finally reach the level where i can make stuff like New Albion, but now that i CAN, holy shit, i’m not stopping here. Just think what i could make if i keep going. I have to keep going. To stay in New Albion is to artistically stop in a way that i’m not ready for. It’s not you, baby, it’s me, i’m just not…. ready to settle down.

Basically, it’s best for New Albion if  we leave it here, where it has a beginning and an ending and didn’t outstay its welcome. It’s best for me to keep trying new stuff, like a Horror Opera, i mean, see, that? I’m EXCITED about it. I have NO IDEA WHAT THE HELL TO DO and yet i’m SO sure i can do it. That is how i make my best work. That’s how i felt about the steampunk opera. I had an idea that excited me, no idea what the hell to do and was SO sure i could do it.

I’m excited for one last little New Albion forray, but it will be bit… off the beaten track. In the way that New Albion 7 is a different creature than the other New Albions. (I made New Albion 7 because  i had decided after the SO that i could NOT make a dieslepunk opera. It was a cute idea, the whole trilogy thing, but after considering it, i decided i couldn’t actually pull of a dieselpunk opera. I didn’t have the sounds, couldn’t make a good jazz era style… oh well. Nice idea but can’t do it. Then i thought maybe i’ll make a single little track. Instead of an opera i’ll just a make a little bonus track that takes place after the SO in the dieselpunk era and that’ll be in place of a dieselpunk opera. No trilogy, just a little bonus track. it’ll skip oevr the part that would have been in an opera, i.e. the actual war.

But then… it went well. I did okay. I enjoyed it. I thought… well hell, i could make something like this for a bit longer. I thought about no dieslepunk opera, just a series of tracks that take place in and around the civil war. No real continuing story line, just a bunch of snapshots. Each track would be like a different issue of a pulp magazine. But in making New Albion 7 i started watching film noir and researching and thinking about dieslepunk things and the fever started to grow.

Then one day i was sick and laying on the couch and i read the first paragraph of the book I-O by Simon Logan. It’s a book of dark, industrial short stories. I read the first two paragraphs, where it described this… roboty thing made of rusty iron who lives in a junkyard. I put the book down, lay back, and John O’Brien appeared before me.  And i knew for sure i would going to make an entire dieslepunk opera, come hell or high water. (also my natural father, John Gwynne-Craig had very recently died. And his sister, my aunt Patsy i had grown to really love. I hadn’t known either very long, i’m adopted and raised, happily, in another family, but the whole meeting my natural father thing and then him dying just a few years later was kind of… weird and affected my strangely. It all ended up in the opera although i didn’t see how much i was doing it for a long time.)

Each one of these operas was made with the motivation that nothing, NOTHING was going to stop me. And NOTHING was going to stop me from making absolutely sure they didn’t suck. I was going to make them. They were NOT. GOING. TO. SUCK. And i would fight my way through the bowels of hell itself if i had to.

And that’s why they don’t suck. Because i wasn’t coasting on an already existing reputation. I wasn’t phoning it in for another paycheck.  I cannot keep making blank-punk albums that take place in New Albion because that is exactly the road that leads there from here.

So that’s why. I’m going to do a bonus New Albion thing in whatever shape that ends up. I’m going to make a creepy Slenderman Opera (which i going to rule, i swear). At some point after i will begin a new epicy thing, but of course, only if it’s truly what’s best for the piece. Still, i like epics. I think in epics. I want to make Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. I want to make A Song Of Ice And Fire. (Hell, i wanna make Dr. Horrible. Don’t think i couldn’t do a real Lovecraft Funksical. I know i did the Cthulhu Funksical, and i could TOTALLY go WAY the fuck past that. However, i have no plans to pursue that line of thought at all.)

So: that’s the why. But stick with me, after the bonus act, i’ll have to work REAL hard to keep y’all with me, knowing that the default is often “yeah, but not as good as his New Albion stuff. Yeah, not as good as the steampunk opera. Yeah, but it just isn’t….”  That awaits every artist. And the only way past it is to work real hard and grand slam it next time around. Basically, you like this stuff? Well don’t worry. Stay tuned. I ain’t done yet. I’m just getting started. I got more goodies in my bag for you, coming round plenty soon enough.

 

Oh yeah, and: The Steampunk Opera, with a little luck and people putting it up, might just blow the hell up one day. Maybe one day here, you all would be able to go to the theater and see a balls to the wall performance of the SO. Put it out there. Perform it. And one day…

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

The Complete Atompunk Opera Is Out

Yes, as promised, here is the post trumpeting that the complete opera is out. On Bandcamp. I’m sending it off to iTunes and all other online distributors today so give it a few days for those. But.. yay! Completed opera!

 

SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO????????????????? Whaddaya think?

Fun facts (might be a SPOILER, if you haven’t listened to the album best don’t read):

There are a few of you who have been around since the steampunk opera sampler, way before the album was released who know this: BUT, Elysian Nights was NOT the original song Jasper sang in Act 3. The original song was in fact Lost Night’s Lullabye. Jasper sang it and i’ve still got a copy floating around here somewhere. However Lauren sings it A MILLION times better, omg, like a million million times better. The song however predates even that. I’ve got an even older version laying around with ANOTHer girl, also named Lauren singing, but a different Lauren entirely. I’ll do a blog later this week and play you the 3 versions.

I couldn’t fit every piece of info into the AO, but mathematically represented, if r=p+c then l=s+t

I may post a filler post tomorrow and wait one more day to do a Q&A since i know many of you need some time to actually digest the damn thing. So Q&A will be on Friday. Any questions anyone has about the opera i will answer. I have few secrets left, although there is one line of questioning i KNOW will come up, which i will be coy about, since although it seems like what’s going on, it is just theory 1 and there is a theory 2 out there and sooner of later someone will go through the trouble of uncovering it.

But enough of these coy, vague shenanigans…. OH! OH YEAH! Wait, one more thing:

My power went out last night so i sat on my porch all night and considered the “bonus act”. And i thunk a lot of thunks. Here is the deal: the bonus act will likely be longer than a single act. Not a double album opera, but a single full length, 45 minute album, same length as the fairy tales albums. It will begin beFORE the steampunk era. It will feature the albino tribe, who btw, are the native inhabitants of the region, before New Albion was built. It will also feature one of the red haired line. Parts of it will take place in a very specific period of New Albion history, sometime during the operas but not directly connected to the opera stories. I will, just to be cheeky, have a moment where a specific song from one of the operas plays briefly in the background as a character passes by what’s happening, but this is not important. An albino princess, far from home, well, not far from where, just when, on a trying task, now lost. The tribe knows: The Game will be played, and they want no part of it.

Anyway, the complete Atompunk Opera is out! Thank you, thank you, thank you to all who have bought it and been following the series and listening and making this endeavor so joyous for me. I love you all, my dears.

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Act 4, The Final Act of An Atompunk Opera Is Out Now!

Why yes, i WOULD like to initiate consciousness. All right, Mascot 3000, you’re up.

Buy it here, folks!

And with this we complete An Atompunk Opera.

I will have the complete opera up and available later today.

As usual i hope you have enjoyed our little tale, our little excursion together.

An Atompunk Opera, The New Albion Guide To Analogue Consciousness, Act 4

Cover by Sarah de Buck

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

 
 
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