Friday, November 30, 2018

I'm A Dad Now


On Monday, October 29th at 1:45pm, my wife Corey had an appointment with a neonatologist to assess why our baby appeared to be smaller than expected given that she was only two weeks away from the due date. I joined her for the majority of that appointment, but had to leave early to go to my own annual physical at 2:30pm.

When I got home at around 4pm, Corey was awaiting a call from her OB-GYN because, she explained to me, the neonatologist had determined that labor would likely have to be induced before the end of the week. I didn't get to learn much more about what I'd missed before the OB-GYN called to tell us that she could schedule us for induced labor at 7pm that night. You see, it turned out that the umbilical cord was no longer giving our baby the nutrients she needed to grow at the expected healthy rate. Since Corey was technically at full term, the earlier they could get the baby out, the better.

We panicked. We texted our families. We finished filling our overnight bags and frantically cleaned the house so we wouldn't have to once we returned home. We entrusted our dog with my in-laws. We panicked some more. We got in the car and drove to the hospital where we would deliver and meet our first child.

The Timeline:

Monday October 29th, 7:00pm: We check in to the hospital.
8:20pm: The first dose of pitocin administered.
~6:30am: 1-2 centimeters dilated. Corey is taken off of pitocin.
8:10am: The OB-GYN induces labor by breaking the water. She says that labor likely would have started soon anyway given how well Corey's body reacted to the pitocin. She doesn't anticipate a long labor due to Corey's hight and the baby's small size. The baby is expected to be born this afternoon.
11:45am: The contraction pains become too great. An epidural is administered.
12:00pm: 100% effaced, 3 centimeters dilated, at -1 station. This all means that, respectively; the cervix is paper thin so that the baby only has the uterus between it and the big world, Corey is only 3% of the way to full dilation (the first 5cm typically take much longer than the last 5cm), and the baby's head was 1 centimeter away from Corey's pelvis (stations are measured from -5 to +5, the latter of which is known as "crowning").
6:35pm: 5 centimeters dilated. The epidural slowed down the contractions and made the pregnancy much more drawn out than we expected. Corey goes back on the pitocin to try and speed things up and make the contractions stronger. We're still hoping to deliver the baby before midnight, but that's much less certain than it was when the OB-GYN visited this morning.
9:30pm: 10 centimeters dilated! It's time to start pushing!
Tuesday October 30th, 11:36pm: After spending 28.5 hours in labor, my amazing wife gave birth to this beautiful baby girl:
Measuring 5lbs 4.1oz and 18.25 inches long, she was the smallest baby on the wing.

One Month Later

As of today our baby is one month old, and holy crap it's been a wild month. We've been getting barely enough sleep to function during the day and all hopes of continuing to be productive while raising a newborn have fallen by the wayside, but I'd still say we're doing relatively well. Besides, it's all worth it for her. Oh yeah, and our dog Henna seems to like her, too.

As for how the baby's doing, she's still got to pass a hearing test in one ear, she's got torticollis in her neck (a short, tight neck muscle) that we and a physical therapist are trying to help her work out, and her belly button has a hernia that should resolve itself by the time she's 4, but otherwise she's totally happy and healthy. She eats a lot, makes adorable noises when she stretches, and seems to be trying her hardest to make sense of the world around her.

In fact, it turns out that all the milk she endlessly consumes is being spent on more than just full diapers, because as of her one month check-up she's already 7lbs 10oz and 20 inches long! While that's still pretty small, it's a lot of growing for her to make in only one month!
Look at those chubby cheeks!!!!
She's slowly learning to hold herself up, and we can tell she's starting to notice more sights and sounds (especially heartwarming when it's us she notices). Still, she has a long way to go. Her eyes don't have any color and can't see very well yet, she won't sleep through the night for a while (though her stretches of sleep seem to be getting longer!), and we're desperately eager for her first smile and laugh.

Corey and I are incredibly fortunate. We have a healthy baby who's progressing well, we have supportive families who can't wait to see her and lend a helping hand, and neither of us has lost our minds quite yet. I don't know what else we could possibly ask for ... aside from more sleep and fewer instances of her making a mess on the changing table immediately after we think we're in the clear, of course.

As a final note, I've been trying to be conscious about how much I share of her online, since I have to bear in mind that one day she'll be a fully-developed human being who may not want her name and baby photos plastered all over the internet. That being said, in closing, I want to share just a few of my favorite photos of her, because as hard as I try to be sensitive to her future wishes, I'm still just a proud dad who wants to show off his amazing daughter to the world.

So small!

Rawr!

Ready for the game with mom.

Snugglin' with dad.

Hanging out on the ground with Henna.

Looking super snuggly.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Why I'm Skipping NaNoWriMo in 2018

I'm slowly learning that life never gets less busy. New things just keep on piling on without warning and you have to either adapt or risk becoming a slug.

I've got only a little over a month until my baby arrives, and I can see the incoming massive changes she'll bring to my life in the same way you can see a heavy rain creeping towards you. It's palpable, and as a result I've been trying to the check things off my to-do list that will very likely be more difficult to accomplish while trying to also raise a human life to be a pleasant contributor to society. While I haven't gotten as much done as I had hoped to (because that literally never happens), I have made some progress worth noting:

Firstly, through diet and exercise I've gotten myself out of the National Institute of Health's "overweight" category and am now what they call "normal". I'll write a whole blog post about that in the near future once I reach my weight goal, but for now let's just say I'm much healthier and happier now than I was at the start of the year, and my baby was a huge motivation to get in shape.

Secondly, I'm happy to say that I've finally finished the first draft of my science fiction novel Adrift!

That's right, I finally finished last year's NaNoWriMo novel at 387 pages/92,200 words! I had originally expected to finish it either last year or earlier this year, but I really misjudged just how many words it would take to tell the story I had outlined. The good news is that I think it's pretty good by first draft standards, and I'm already accumulating ideas for how to improve it in the second draft.

That leads me to the primary point for this blog post: I'm going to be skipping NaNo this year for the first time since I first took the challenge in 2013.

While I'm definitely not lacking in ideas or motivation to write a 50,000 word novel this November, there are two primary reasons I've decided that the best course of action is to skip NaNo this time around. Firstly is that early November happens to be when my wife is due to give birth to our first child, so I'd like to free myself to spend as much time caring for our newborn as possible.

However, even if we weren't expecting, I'd probably skip this year's challenge simply because I really want to focus on revising Adrift. Although I've tried doing both rewrites and revisions for NaNo before, it's a much messier process and doesn't end up translating very well to the point of the challenge – it's hard to know what counts as "words written" in either case. If I were to participate this year, I'd want to start a whole new novel, which would be more distracting and time-consuming than I can really afford at this point.

Weirdly, even though I don't feel conflicted at all about my decision, it's still rough to think about breaking not only my five year streak, but also my three year "winning" streak. When I first started doing NaNo, I had this vision in my head of me participating in it every single year until I was an old man, because forcing yourself to write 50,000 words in a month each year sounded like a no-brainer way to become one of the best writers in the world. I've grown up and learned about the craft a lot more since then, and while I still think the practice is very useful, there's a so much more to writing – and to life, in this case – then adhering to such an arbitrary goal.

I'm really going to miss the friendly competition.

I wish the best of luck to all my friends who are participating this year! Hopefully I'll be joining you again in 2019!
-Ryan

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Why and How I Created ANOTHER Blade Runner Ambient Soundscape



Okay Kyle. This is for you.

My Blade Runner Ambient Soundscape has grown more popular than I expected it to. What started off as a fun little project just for myself has (at the time of writing) 216,738 combined views/listens on YouTube and a combined watch time of 6.7 million minutes, or 111,666 hours. All of those big numbers are hard to fathom, but what's even harder for me to wrap my head around is that, since those videos were posted, I've gone from 17 subscribers to 655.

That's 638 more people who want to be notified whenever I post a new video. Reasonably, that's an oodle of people who are telling me that they love the soundscape and want me to make more. Unfortunately, I mostly use YouTube for uploading non-soundscape things like my relatively mundane and personal monthly 1 Second Everyday videos. Furthermore, I am not in any way, shape, or form, a professional sound designer, musician, or audiophile. Making soundscapes was not my true calling in life nor my passion. I just happened to have a clear idea in my head for a thing I wanted to exist that didn't exist yet, and I just happened to have the knowledge, tools, and skill set to make it myself, so I made it.

However, there's an anonymous quote that I try to live by. It goes like this:
"Whatever your talent is, don't be precious or stingy with it. Give it away to as many people as generously as you can to the point of exhaustion."
When I first heard that quote I decided that it should be my motto, but I'd never gotten a chance to put it into action. Naturally, this was my chance. Regardless of my own doubts, I needed to make another soundscape. Unlike the first one, though, this one wouldn't be for me. This one would be for everyone who subscribed or left a comment praising my work and thanking me for my effort. This one would be a gift.

This one would be tough.

Blade Runner 2049 is not the same movie as the original Blade Runner. It doesn't have the same legacy, the same tone, or even the same type of score. Whereas I created my original Blade Runner soundscape around the foundation the original movie set up – where the use of slowed-down music, ambient rain sound effects, and wind chimes came naturally from the film itself – a soundscape based on Blade Runner 2049 would essentially need to be shoehorned into the mold that the first one had set for it. I'm sure Denis Villeneuve felt exactly the same way about filming it as I did about making my soundscape from it. Yup. Exactly the same.

So I told myself what all artists should probably tell themselves before working on a sequel to a beloved work; "It will never be as good as the original. The very fact that it is a sequel diminishes its quality by taking away the spontaneity and uniqueness that is so necessary for any art to stand out. People will hate it. People may even hate me for making it. That's okay, because in the end I'll have made something that someone else might really enjoy."

With that out of the way, it was time to get to work.

This Time, Let's Start with the Art

Since I didn't want to forget how to Photoshop the album artwork because it took a while to figure out the first time around, that's the first thing I did. Aside from brainstorm, I mean, but I'll get to that later.

For obvious reasons, I wanted to use the same technique on the album art for the 2049 soundscape as I did for the first soundscape (which I'll refer to as the 2019 soundscape from here on out, since that's the year the first film takes place in, for the uneducated). While there was one pretty obvious candidate for which scene to adapt, I watched the movie again hoping to be inspired by something I hadn't thought of.

First I tried a scene that was somewhat reminiscent of the one I used for 2019:
While the result is pretty cool, I felt that it was lacking in some qualities that made the 2019 one work better. Perhaps the largest flaw was (aside from the text being nearly unreadable) that this scene isn't very iconic, so it's not easy to recognize that this is a scene from Blade Runner 2049. Realizing how important this quality was, I gave in to my initial gut idea and applied the same effects to the most iconic scene in the whole film:
I had to do some tweaking to the effect in order to make the text stand out, but in the end it was pretty obvious that this was the best scene to use. Now that that was out of the way, all I had to do was make the actual soundscape. You know, the actual hard part.

The Same but Different

Sequels are hard. Did I already say that?

Taking Kyle's request literally, I began brainstorming sound effects I could use to differentiate the 2049 soundscape from the 2019 soundscape. Since snow is unique to 2049 and is seen quite a bit in the film, the most obvious idea was to replace the sound of pouring rain with ... uh ... the sound of falling snow? Okay, fine. Because the only sound associated with falling snow is a chilly whistling wind, and that's not really as relaxing for most people to listen to, I decided that I'd make a minor concession in the uniqueness of the soundscape by keeping the rain – though I was determined to make the rain sound more like 2049 rain than 2019 rain, if possible. I figured I could do that by using the sound of a heavier downpour, pairing the rain sound with a cold wind, and alternating between different ambient sound effects layered on top of the rain such as Kyle's idea of crashing waves.

Because this project felt like a gift I was making for the fans (especially Kyle) rather than a little project for myself, I wanted to get an idea for what it was the fans actually wanted in a 2049 soundscape. To find out, I asked the r/BladeRunner community on Reddit what it was they would want in weather effects (as well as if anyone had a way to extract the 5.1 audio mix from the movie as separate files, but more on that later). Fortunately, I got replies that were both enthusiastic and clever. These ideas included heavier rain, subtle wind, snow hitting water, crashing waves at the sea wall, and the throat singing from the "Wallace" track on the soundtrack. Some folks even suggested ideas for the "sounds of the city" version, such as the clink of whiskey being poured into a glass, a dog panting, and bees buzzing like in the Las Vegas scene, or the sound of footsteps in the snow.

Fast forward to the actual creation of the soundscape, and despite all the great ideas being thrown at the wall, there was only one option that was really practical for making a sequel to the original soundscape while retaining the same relaxing qualities. I needed to stick with rain. Just rain. I tried pairing it with different cold wind sounds, but the results were either too creepy, too subtle, or too much. To make the soundscape unique, I went looking for an ambient rain track I could use that was heavier than the original while still sounding like it existed in the same setting.

To elaborate: some heavy rain soundscapes sound more like they were recorded in a jungle or from inside a car rather than in a city, and even then they might have the sounds of passing cars, leaking gutters, people talking, or too thick of rain hitting dense puddles. I needed the rain to be just right.

For a couple months I couldn't find the perfect rain, so I just used the 2019 soundscape rain as a placeholder. Fortunately, about a month ago, someone uploaded a brand new rain recording to the internet that fit my criteria just perfectly. The timing couldn't have been better.

Marking Time

Speaking of time, in the original soundscape I used the sound of faint wind chimes to mark every 10 minutes, which was meant to help those who wanted to track time keep it (such as for timed meditation) while allowing people who wanted to lose time ignore it completely, since wind chimes are featured in the movie enough to make them just another part of the experience. I wanted to do something similar for the 2049 soundscape, but I ran into the big problem that comes with doing a sequel such as this: there was no iconic sound that immediately came to me that could be used to subtly mark time in the same way as the wind chimes did. I managed to brainstorm several different ideas, all of which failed compared to the wind chimes when tested. These included:
  • A Singing Bowl — this was too harsh
  • Sound from beginning of "Pilot" — this was too soft
  • Peter and the Wolf — this was too distracting
  • BR2049 Chime (a singing bowl-like noise from the actual movie that I discovered) — this was both too low and too distracting
Much to my dismay, after testing out all of my ideas at different volumes, none of them worked quite as well as the wind chimes. I had to make yet another concession of uniqueness and keep the wind chimes.

Stretching the Score

As with the 2019 soundscape, the ambience in the 2049 soundscape comes not only from the pouring rain, but also from the sounds of the movie's score stretched out to nearly unrecognizable lengths. Personally, I love the Blade Runner 2049 score that Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch came up with, but it is very (intentionally) different from that of Vangelis' score for the original. While it fits the movie perfectly, it doesn't have the same beautiful dreamlike quality to it. It's darker, dirtier, not nearly as iconic, and doesn't stand on its own (without context) as well as the original. I knew that these differences would drastically impact the quality and tone of the new soundscape as compared to the first, and I had to come to terms with that being completely out of my control.

Still, I knew there were some profound moments of beauty in the score that would work perfectly for the soundscape. To find the right tracks, I simply listened to the soundtrack on loop and noted what songs I thought would do the job, or, in some cases, which songs would need to be edited in order to do the job (for example, I thought the second half of the track "2049" could work, but the first half was full of booming bass and eerie ambience that didn't fit what I was looking for).

I then stretched the songs out 6× using Paul's Extreme Sound Stretch and listened to those versions several times to see if any potential issues revealed themselves that way. I was especially listening for tones that might irritate others even if they seemed normal given the reference point, since my wife and I found out that we couldn't sleep to the original soundscape because there's a loud, high-pitched tone that wakes us up at around 1 hour and 50 minutes every single time – something I wish I'd noticed and corrected during its creation. This led to me eliminating tracks like "2049" because, although it contains the incredibly beautiful synth melody that sounds distinctly Blade Runner, that melody also sounds incredibly distracting when stretched out over what's meant to be a calming soundscape. 

In the end, I had to stretch out two tracks to 8× their original length in order to make it to my 3 hour goal (I chose "Rain" for its distinctly Blade Runner beauty and "Wallace" for its iconic throat singing) and I had to actually remix a small segment of "Wallace" to remove one of those distracting tones that would have kept my wife and I up at night – a blasphemous act, no matter how small the change – but in the end the stretched-out 2049 score proved fully capable of supporting the soundscape and providing the 2049 vibe it needed.

Capturing the Sounds of Los Angeles 2049

When I made the original soundscape, I was fortunate enough to have access to decades of fan-made resources, specifically the multitrack bootleg CD "Los Angeles - November 2019" By Esper Productions, which remixes the background audio from the original film to create audio vignettes of locations visited throughout. It proved incredibly valuable in the creation of my version of the soundscape with city sounds, and unfortunately there was nothing of the sort created for 2049, as the film hasn't even been out for a whole year yet.

Again, here's a case of me trying to shove a 2049 peg into a 2019-shaped hole. If I'd started out with a 2049 soundscape, I probably wouldn't even try making a city sounds version. I brainstormed all sorts of ways to get around the issue, such as including generic sound effects that are associated with the movie (such as footsteps through snow and crashing waves) and scrounging up whatever little bits of audio I could find in the movie without dialog over them to try and create some sort of ambient loop out of, neither of which was ideal.

Going back to my Reddit post that I mentioned earlier, I got a big break in the form of a user by the name of SleepyBacteria pointing me in the direction of a SoundCloud page where the sound designers for 2049 had apparently released eight whole minutes of sound effects from the movie without any dialog or score layered over it (the "BR2049 Chime" I mentioned earlier is what you hear in the beginning of this). On this eight-minute-long track alone, I knew I had a fighting chance to make my three-hour-long 2049 soundscape version with city sounds. It was discovering this resource that gave me enough confidence to actually begin developing the soundscape, and I quickly went to work breaking it up into smaller chunks (separating the scenes) so I could be more selective about what I was going to use.

My next big break came when another Redditor by the name of m0rp shared that they had gone and separated all the 5.1 audio channels from both films into individual tracks for sampling. For a few weeks prior to this I had been tinkering with the idea of trying to do this myself since my original plea to Reddit went unanswered, but I wasn't confident that I would be able to do it. Now, however, I had access to all the sounds from the movie that I could play around with myself. While some scenes were still useless to me due to dialog or score being present in every channel, this resource gave me much more freedom in designing my own samples from the movie's sound effects, which is exactly what I did.

With the separate audio channels, I was able to work around score and dialog to create new, "cleaner" ambient mixes to be used in my soundscape. The most challenging of which was the Chinatown scene (pictured above) in which I had to work around the "wub wubs" from the score as well as the dialog between K and Mariette by turning those moments down and replacing them with sounds from other areas of the same scene.

In the original 2019 soundscape with city sounds, I foolishly drag-and-dropped each city sound in manually, adjusting the volume levels multiple times for the same (repeated) sound, and had gaps in between each city sound track. For the 2049 soundscape with city sounds, I wanted the sounds of the city to never leave your ears, and I also really wanted to make work a lot easier for myself. As such, I next created my own 2049 ambience track made up of all the different city sounds that I had made so I could easily loop one track throughout the entire soundscape. I then imported that ten minute track into the overall project, adjusted the volume levels once, and then copy-and-pasted it back-to-back throughout the entire three hours. My suspicion had been correct; it was better to work smarter, not harder.

Wrapping Up

After months of work, I finally had the entire final version of the soundscape in front of me. It looked like this:
Cautiously, I exported both versions of the finished project and got to work on the final steps: listening through them on loop to make sure they work, adding notes (as lyrics), album art, and other information in iTunes, teasing the release to some Blade Runner fan groups, uploading them to Google Drive, creating the YouTube versions, and writing this blog post.

On listening to the non-city-sounds version, I was honestly a bit let down. It was too much more similar to the original 2019 soundscape compared to what I had originally imagined, and the 2049 score made it sound so much less compelling than I'd hoped.

On listening to the city sounds version, however, I was pleasantly surprised. The sounds of the city really brought the track to life in a way I hadn't anticipated. Whereas I prefer the non-city-sounds version of the 2019 soundscape to the city sounds version (and if YouTube views mean anything, so do the rest of you), I consider the version of the 2049 soundscape with city sounds to be far superior to its plain counterpart.

So here I am with one version that's not what I hoped and another that's better than I expected. You know what? After all the work I've put into it, I'm happy with that.

I hope you're happy with it too, Kyle.

Thanks again for reading! Stream them here or click one below. Download links are in the descriptions. And if you happen to like reading short stories or know someone looking for a freelance writer, please check out my true passion over at www.RyanMatejkaWrites.com.





Just the Facts:

  • Three hours long
  • Fades in and out for interruption-free looping
  • Consistent heavy rain throughout
  • Two alternating wind chimes every 10 minutes to mark time
  • Several short rain variations intermixed approximately in the middle of each chime

Elongated Background Music:

[All tracks stretched with Paul's Extreme Sound Stretch]
  • 00:00:24 Sapper's Tree 600% Slower
  • 00:10:00 Rain 800% Slower
  • 00:28:30 Wallace 800% Slower [Small Ear-Piercing Segment Removed]
  • 01:11:48 Memory 600% Slower
  • 01:24:50 Someone Lived This 600% Slower
  • 01:41:38 That's Why We Believe 600% Slower
  • 02:02:32 Her Eyes Were Green 600% Slower
  • 02:38:00 All The Best Memories Are Hers 600% Slower

Intro and Outro:

  • Clip of unaltered "Rain" by Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch plays at start
  • "Tears In The Rain" by Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch plays at end in place of wind chimes

City Sounds Version Intro and Outro:

[Taken from Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and The Wolf]
  • Begins with Joi Emanator Startup
  • Ends with Joi Emanator Shutdown