I'm not normally one for retrospective posts. This year, in particular, I feel ill-suited to type out a retrospective post because much of our year has been spent in cautious, even terrified waiting. But I think I'll type one out this time -- because it grounds me in the knowledge that this year is about to end, and I'm about to cross the threshold into a new year, even if it's looking to be similar to this one.
This year has seen me at my most creatively active to date. And I think that warrants a post all on its own. Let us begin, shall we?
Before Lockdown 1
On New Year's Day of this year, half my drum kit was stolen. I would only manage to find one of the stolen drums before the whole nation shut down due to the pandemic. My beloved Seán and one of my bandmates, Greg, helped me to procure a secondhand kit to replace the one that was stolen.
I spent January working on my first solo release of the year, child of the woods, my longest song at the time of writing at nearly eight and a half minutes.
My doujin circle, Aetherhythm, released our first full original, an EP titled Astgaban. I did the last two tracks of that EP. The final track was the circle's tribute to one of our own, AvaliaKasa, who suddenly died at the end of 2018 -- she and a number of the doujin circle friends went way back, and so it was devastating to have lost her. Aetherhythm would wind up tabling at the Spring M3 convention, which was sparsely attended due to Covid-19.
Mere days before the first national lockdown was announced in the UK, my band (The Just Numbers) and I had our final performance for the year, on 15 March.
The first lockdown in the UK would last a whole three months. That was our spring and summer gone. To begin with, I took part in the Shelter in Place jam on NG with this entry, the first drawing of mine to have gotten frontpaged in a while.
Now I'm aware that it was probably because of the whole tag attached to the drawing, but hey, I'll take what I can get.
In April, I took part in the penultimate 21 Days of VGM. I say "penultimate" because there was one last one, held in the summer of this year, which I didn't take part in -- and the organisers are not holding these marathon runs anymore. Instead, they're holding shorter, more thematic challenges called 7 Days of VGM. I posted my progress regularly on Twitter, and some of the tracks made their way to Newgrounds after varying amounts of time. This period gave me not one, not two, but three whole frontpaged tracks, which I certainly didn't expect.
My output with 21 Days of VGM was noticed by @ForgottenDawn, who linked me up with @ZackTheGreat, who brought me on as a soundtrack writer and concept artist for an RPG in development called Adventures of Zack the Great; I have posted a good few pieces of concept art for it on Newgrounds this year, including this one which got a frontpage feature:
As my current circumstances dictate me to do things strictly nonprofit, my involvement with AOZTG is currently strictly nonprofit.
I also released hallowed silence in early April, as a sort of reflection on the national lockdown, the pandemic, Holy Week, and the lives lost.
On 12 April, which coincided with Easter Sunday this year, my Seán and I celebrated my 29th birthday in a very low-key celebration. There were only two of us, some lemon cake, a bunch of tubs of Pringles and other snackeroos. The day after that, 13 April (Easter Monday), I hit quite a milestone of 1,000 followers.
For both these competitions I wrote thorough reviews for each piece at every stage, and compiled them all in PDFs exported from MS OneNote. I still have archives of every single last review I've written, so if any of you have taken part in either of these contests and would like to hear the feedback I gave over your pieces, hit me up.
In July I auditioned for the Newgrounds Audio Underdogs competition, and got in by a whisker. I made my disdain over the process known across forum threads, and even on the Newgrounds Podcast server immediately after recording for the NGADM Finale Show had stopped. My suspicions and outcries were proven to be correct when a number of people who were eliminated from the NGUAC for not being "industry standard" enough actually made it far into the Newgrounds Audio Deathmatch -- which was meant to be a step up from the NGUAC. One even got second place!
Nearly everyone I mentioned this shambles to was speechless that this happened. I began my entry for the NGUAC immediately after learning that I made it in -- but as the hours progressed, it left even more of a sour taste in my mouth, and so I resigned from the competition.
This song, which I started and finished within a two-week period, would have been my Round 2 entry.
I much value artistic integrity and emotional literacy over the thought of winning. But one of the reviews I received said it all: that point marked a dramatic change in the way I made music and mixed it. I felt unstoppable. I could pull off anything I put my mind to, however difficult it might seem at any given time.
Also in July, I began a small Dungeons & Dragons group on my Discord server. We are currently on the slow march towards the end of our inaugural campaign.
Not long after that, I revisited A cause de l'ombre, a piece I composed in 2018 in the depression that I suffered and still continue to endure. I added to it and made it the definitive version, and it was given a feature.
The results were simply legendary. I had the help of @AkioDaku, Juan D. Cruz and my bandmate Greg for A Stroll Down St Pancras, which was released on the 10th anniversary of my arrival in the UK.
That would become the music for a feast of weird, wacky, unsettling, and uncanny animation:
In between the making of Pancras, Seán, Greg, and I travelled to Glasgow for a few days, and saw the sights. I also had the opportunity to present this drawing as a gift to @matt-likes-swords, in large part as a thank-you for the games and for what involvement I had with bits and pieces of the soundtrack and having one collaborative track of mine and @Phyrnna's in the game.
I wanted to meet @ronjaw as well, but she was self-isolating. Maybe next time, hopefully, when things are a lot saner and safer.
@AkioDaku interviewed me for his podcast, Heady & Weird.
From that interview a friendship began to blossom, and possibly my involvement with a second band, as its drummer.
I also hit the milestone of 1,100 followers during this period, which I was honoured and humbled by at once.
With the help of a friend, I set up an Instagram page. In addition to my compositions, I wound up doing a number of drum improvisation videos which I shared on Twitter and Instagram; Instagram is probably the easier place of the two to access them. Sadly, the bass pedal on my e-kit (which was a trigger switch) gave me pains that travelled up to my spine, so I stopped playing the drum kit for a while until Seán and I could replace the pedal mechanism. However, I still continued to do improvisations on my medieval snare and a number of hand drums.
Lockdown 2 saw me returning to the game jam scene after five years of absence. I set up a page on itch.io. I also joined a number of game jam servers, the first of them being the Wholesome Game Jam, an unranked jam. Halloween was approaching, so I scored some quick tracks for a game called Haunted Yard. Two of the tracks were featured on the front page. I was astounded to have come up with a soundtrack in such a short time again after not having done this exercise for years.
In mid-October, I brought back the Newgrounds Worst Song Competition after a five-year hiatus. The contest in question would also be covered by the Newgrounds Podcast, and gave us side-splitting, ear-shatteringly painful tracks just in time for @PsychoGoldfish Day.
In secret, I began lyric-writing and recording the various drums at home for a project which I hold close to my heart. I'll get to that later.
I took part in the 3rd Beginners' Circle Jam and the inaugural Miracle Tea Jam in November, and the Geta Game Jam earlier this month. The tracks for the Beginners' Circle and Miracle Tea Jams are up, but not the Geta Game Jam; I shall be uploading that one soonish.
Towards the end of November, that personal project I mentioned earlier, which would turn out to be my rendition of the Carol of the Drum, went in earnest. It was intended to feature both @Spadezer's and @Riy0's vocals; unfortunately due to computer troubles, Riy0 needed to pull out. Spadez and I began recording vocals in November and finished in early December; I finished it on 14 December and waited a whole ten days till the promised release date of Christmas Eve. I go over the process, and what it means to me, in another newspost.
I would spend the week and a half before Christmas playing the organ for funerals, rehearsing with my choir, doing socially distanced carolling and a couple other services, and singing, playing the organ, and drumming for the Christmas Masses. I did two vigils and one on Christmas Day.
On Christmas Day, I finally found the words to express what I want to do with my music, and what kind of music truly fits me best. I took the plunge and released a video of myself singing and beating the drum to a medieval carol, Gaudete, all on my lonesome on the organ loft of one of the two parishes I attend. I consider myself relatively small-time on Twitter and Instagram; for the small size of followers and friends I have on those places, that video held a captive audience, and I received a good few outpourings of love. You can view it here.
This is notable, in that it was the first piece of artwork whose drawing process I streamed live anywhere; specifically, I went live with the drawing of this on the Newgrounds Podcast Discord server. This was the first time anyone had actually ever seen me drawing on MS PowerPoint, and from that moment, people began to take me at my word when I talked about drawing on MS PowerPoint.
Cover artwork for please take care of this star and a drawing otherwise done in grief.
My first frontpage of the year.
The first piece of concept artwork for Adventures of Zack the Great that I ever posted on here.
The piece of AOZTG artwork that got frontpaged.
The drawing that was printed on a canvas as a gift.
Cover artwork for A Stroll Down St Pancras.
Cover artwork for Carol of the Drum.
And with that, that's me done for the year. A heady mix of depression, trauma, and all sorts of feelings positive and negative have transformed me into the artist that you've seen this year. While I have been prolific and better able to channel my emotions into my artistic output, I still have a lot to grapple with. I don't think 2021's gonna get any easier, but I'll at least still keep fighting.
I'm writing this whole thing as impassively as I can because I am struggling to positively connect with a lot of the things I've done, and I've lost all sense of time. I still hold some of these things fondly, but this year, my heart has bled for others and with others. I've also made a lot of friends in the VGM scoring community, and I am thinking of them and my other friends more than I am thinking of myself and my own state of well-being.
I shall be greeting the new year with those whom I hold closest to me, especially my Seán, with some food, drink, friendship, the beating of the drum, prayers, and the warmth and light of a fire. This is what I want to cherish. I want the passage into different times to be marked with the things that last, and I want it to be done in the presence of, and together with, the people whom I am most grateful to have in my life.
I am grateful for every single one of you. But when crossing the threshold into rites of passage and important times, I think these nights are best kept intimate.