Monday, January 30, 2006

Ask Dungeons and Dragons Complete Adventurer Handbook V3.5

Some people have been asking me for advice lately and telling me that I should have an advice section be a part of my blog. Frankly, I just don't have time for that, nor do I profess to give sound advice. I figured I would turn their questions over to the one source that has never failed me: the Dungeons and Dragons Complete Adventurer Handbook V3.5!

Dear Dungeons and Dragons Complete Adventurer Handbook V3.5,
My girlfriend of three years recently broke up with me. I hear she's been seeing another guy, and she won't return my calls. I've been sending her flowers and letters, but still nothing. How can I get her to come back to me?
-Chet Stedman, Boulder, CO

Dear Chet,
A ninja of 7th level or higher can scramble up and down walls and slopes with great speed. She can climb at her speed as a move action with no penalty; however, she must begin and end the round on a horizontal surface (such as the ground or a rooftop). If she does not end her round on a horizontal surface, she falls, taking falling damage as appropriate for her distance above the gound. A ninja needs only one free hand to use this ability. This ability can only be used if a ninja is wearing no armour and carrying no more that a light load.
-Dungeons and Dragons Complete Adventurer Handbook V3.5

Dear Dungeons and Dragons Complete Adventurer Handbook V3.5,
I have been working at a marketing firm for over three years, and I come up for promotion next month. I have recently found out, however, that one of my coworkers (who happens to be the boss's son) has been gunning for the position and talking bad about me around the office. How can I diffuse the situation without losing my chances at advancement?
-Trip McNeely, Steubenville, OH

Dear Trip,
You can cast [the Blade Storm] spell only at the beginning of your turn, before you take any other actions. After casting Blade Storm, you can take a full round action to make one attack with each melee weapon you are currently wielding against every foe within reach. If you wield two weapons, or a double weapon, you can attack each foe once with each weapon or end, using the normal rules for two-weapon fighting. So, a ranger wielding a longsword and a shortsword could attack each opponent he can reach with both weapons. You can attack a maximum number of individual targets equal to your character level. If you choose not to spend a full round action in this fashion after casting the spell, the spell has no effect.
-Dungeons and Dragons Complete Adventurer Handbook V3.5

Words of wisdom, and words to live by. Thank you, Dungeons and Dragons Complete Adventurer Handbook V3.5. Finally your universal truths can reach those truely in need.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Review: The Buddha Machine

So, what the heck is this "Buddha Machine" thing, you ask? Where do I begin? In today's musical landscape, experimental composers have continued to explore the question "What is music?" Computer programs can be utillized to "create" sounds upon command. Musicians that delve into the little known area of music known as ambient noise, such as Brian Eno, have created albums full of free flowing sounds and loops of noise that seem to last forever. However, the compact disc only has a limited amount of space on which to record music, so it was impossible to create a truely unending musical experience. Pioneering Chineese duo FM3's answer to this dillema is "The Buddha Machine." I wish I could describe to you just how cool this little sound box is.

The Buddha Machine is, in the simplest sense, a piece of avant sound art. FM3 has loaded this tiny soundbox with 9 loops of ambient noise, ranging from 2 to 45 seconds long. The beauty is, each one of these loops beautfully fades in and out, and could theoretically continue forever. The box does have an AC adapter port, so you really aren't even limited by battery capacity. I have been playing with The Buddha Machine since I got it three days ago, and I am obsessed with it. It's sounds are interesting but unobtrusive, and have a tangible quality that seems to fill the room. Even the cheap speaker adds a certain ambience which is lost if you decide to use the headphone jack. Yes, it is a cheap speaker, but the sounds it produces are lush and vibrant. All of my friends don't quite understand why I think this little box is so cool, and I can readily admit that the idea of the Buddha Machine is lost on most people. I, for one, am fascinated by anything that stretches conventional ideas of what music is supposed to or can be.

I'm not exactly sure how the machine is able to produce these beautful loops when it is such a small, inexpensive item. I found this picture on FM3's website that answered my question. A small Bodhisattva is captured and placed at the core of each Buddha Machine. A Bodhisattva is of course any soul of a Buddhist who reaches enlightenment. Each of these individuals become like the Buddha, and when captured apparently create some of the most beautiful sounds these ears have ever heard. Now, I know some of you may think that trapping a soul in a machine for our enjoyment is unethical, but you must realize that the world you live in does not actually exsist, and so therefore neither does the Buddha Machine. See, problem averted!

I don't know what else to say about this remarkable piece of sound art other than you should drop the 23 dollars and purchase one, if for nothing else the fact that it is quite the conversation piece. They can be ordered through I know I have already gotten much use out of mine, and it doesn't seem to be getting old.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Carondelet Coke Plant

Whenever you speak with individuals from the St. Louis area who are into U.E., one of the first locations anyone brings up is Carondelet Coke Plant. It is easy to see why. This 40 acre plot of land located at the confluence of the Mississippi and River Des Peres is one of the most amazing forgotten sites that St. Louis has to offer. Recently I returned to this spot, easily one of my favorites, and as always was awestruck by it's immense scale and eerie beauty.

Located in the economically depressed area of Carondelet in South St. Louis, Carondelet Coke was a carbon gasification plant until it's abandonment in 1989. Barges unloaded massive quantities of coal using the immense crane located along the river, sending it through underground tunnels on a conveyer to the plant, where it was super-heated and turned to gas. The ground all around the plant seems to be blanketed in a black coal powder; this may be why the city has had such a hard time attracting companies to redevelop the site. I read a news release in December, however, stating that certain companies are submitting proposals to the city. If an agreement is reached, this site may not be around for too much longer. That's why you should come to St. Louis soon, White Rabbit.

My partner in crime for the day, SoccerMom, had never seen the plant before, and I recently realized after viewing pics on the web that there is a network of catwalks I had missed on previous visits. How did that happen? There was a fair amount of activity in the industrial area around Carondelet as we walked to the plant, but residents of this small neighborhood seem to be used people hanging out there. On previous visits, I have run into people dumping large pieces of trash, scavenging for trinkets, playing paintball, and fishing along the river at one of the few sites available to residents of South St. Louis. The area is a strange garden of debris, burnt out cars, and broken refridgerators. As I knew she would be, SoccerMom was immediately impressed by the site. So impressed, in fact, that she kept wandering off to take pictures. I reminded her sternly that it wasn't a good idea for her to wander off alone, and that my Tae-Bo skills were all that stood between us and possible doom.

We slowly worked our way through the many buildings on the premises, finally arriving at the two main buildings. It is amazing how much of the original machinery is left, I wish I knew what more of it was used for. Finally, we found the staircase to the catwalks at the top of the plant. They really do take you ALL the way to the top! I scolded myself quitely for being so careless and missing this on previous trips. The view of the river and surrounding neighborhoods was breathtaking. I took my time wandering the catwalks, admiring the plant below me and taking as many pictures as I could. Even after I had taken countless photos, I still didn't want to come down. Eventually I realized that we still had more to see, so SoccerMom and I headed to the river to explore the unloading crane.

The last time I visited the Coke Plant, I thought I was a pretty brave guy since I climbed all the way to the top level of the crane when Matt decided that being that high wasn't for him. I am definately not afraid of heights, but on that day, the massive abandoned crane swaying in the strong river winds was enough to get my adrenaline pumping. On this occasion, as I was busing taking pictures, I heard SoccerMom yell my name. She had climbed out onto the farthest portion of the crane, suspended hundreds of feet above the Mississippi! She may be a girl, but she obviously has huge metaphorical balls, whatever that means. So, of course, I had to follow suit. The view was unmatched. The arch was just barely visible in the distance. There were some curious barge workers that seemed to be wondering what the hell I was doing up there, so I just waved. Or maybe I did air-guitar, I don't remember.

Carondelet Coke always seems to provide me with something new and interesting, and I guess that's what keeps me coming back. I could spend days wandering the site and still not see it all. If the city does decide to raze the plant, I hope they use the land for some kind of public access. It would be a shame for such a great riverfront site to be turned into just another industrial complex. Unfortunately, I'm sure that's where it is headed. I know this won't be my last trip to the Coke Plant....there are still so many people that I need to share it with.

Those of you who are history buffs may be interested in this pic of the plant during it's operation around 1950. Some of the key areas are labeled. Thanks to Chris for finding this one.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

My Top 10 Albums of 2005

As we begin the new year, I feel it is my obligation as one who thinks his musical tastes are better than everyone else's (and I'm only half joking) to let everyone know what I think about the music of 2005. This list is, in no way, meant to suggest that these are the best albums in 2005. Nor are they even supposed to represent what I think are the best albums of 2005. Instead, these are the ten albums that affected me the most, either emotionally or asthetically, and that spent the greatest amount of time in my CD player. And I love every one of them. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you my top 10 albums of 2005:

10. Ladytron - "The Witching Hour" (Rykodisc)
I'm a sucker for female singers, electronic instrumentation, and any droning kind of music that reminds me of shoegazer. Enter Ladytron. I seriously thought I was listening to the female Depeche Mode at first. The vocals seem to melt into the synth and envelope the rest of the song. Whatever that means. They're just really good, okay?!

9. M83 - "Before the Dawn Heals Us" (Mute)
I had never heard of M83 before when this album was recommended to me. Okay, so they're kind of emo, but I thought since they're ELECTRO-emo, I'd let the squeeze onto my list. Many of these songs are cinematic in scale, evoking lush soundscapes and cathartic moments. Any band that can evoke both The Cure and My Bloody Valentine mixed in with ambient atmosphere is alright with me.

8. The Joggers - "With a Cape and a Cane" (Star Time)
This is a band that I just started listening to, but I had to find someone to take Q and Not U's place! These guys do so quite nicely, with math-rock melodies that would make even the most hardened of Fugazi fans proud. The hooks are not always apparent at first, but that's what makes them so effective.

7. Animal Collective - "Feels" (Fat Cat)
I'm a pretentious music nerd, and even I have to admit that "Man, Animal Collective is weird!" This is not a band for those of you who don't like to be challenged by your music. However, this is the first one of their releases that I feel like I can sing along to. And I do. They're one of the most prolific and intellegent bands out there today, and "Feels" doesn't let down.

6. Architecture in Helsinki - "In Case We Die" (Bar/None)
This eight peice outfit from the land down under completely surprised me with their hyper/happy/kiddie/laid back yet taken completely seriously brand of pop. They use every intstrument the could get thier hands on, and the album is a circus of instrument and vocal change-ups that will only make you ecstatically yell "Dude!" At least, that's what I did, and then I sang along......and I didn't even know the words yet! Listening to the vocals on "Wishbone" prove my theory that sometimes it's the not so good singers who make songs more fun. This does not apply to the Sugarcubes, however.

5. Sleater-Kinney - "The Woods" (Sub Pop)
I swear I'm not a sexist, but most girls just do not rock. It's a scientific fact. The exception that proves the rule are the girls from Sleater-Kinney, and they rock enough to make up for the slack all you other girls are leaving! With "The Woods," the trio has gone in an edgier, more powerful sounding direction, and it suits them well. Corin Tucker's bandshee voice is as impressive as ever. I also had the pleasure of seeing them live this year, and I seriously think Carrie Brownstein is channeling Pete Townshend. Most guys don't have moves like that girl!

4. The New Pornographers - "Twin Cinema" (Matador)
Seeing these guys live was one of the more memorable performances I've seen in years. The crowd only fueled their enthusiasm, and it was obvious why they're one of the most beloved indie pop bands around. A.C. Newman takes the wheel for the majority of "Twin Cinema," and it's definately a good thing. With one listen, you will not be able to keep from humming these songs! I even tried cutting out my own vocal cords with a grapefruit knife, but even that didn't work!

3. Cursive - "The Difference Between Houses and Homes" (Saddle Creek)
Okay, so I worship a the alter of Tim Kasher. I admit it. I was a little wary when I heard Saddle Creek would be releasing a CD of rare 7" Cursive songs from the pre-Domestica incarnation days. Yes, they sound like an immature version of the Cursive we know today, but this album makes up for that with rawness and energy. Instead of songs you could take or leave, these are essentials cataloging the beginning of one of today's most intellegent rock bands. With the departure of cellist Gretta Cohn in 2005, I am excited and optimistic to hear how the Cursive boys adapt. This is my #1 most anticipated album of 2006, but "The Difference Between Houses and Homes" is a pretty good appetizer.

2. Bloc Party - "Silent Alarm" (Vice)
You bought the new Franz Ferdinand, didn't you? Well, if you're starting to feel like those cliche' "rock dance" rhythems are getting tired, check out this other foursome from the Great Britian. Bloc Party will make you want to dance before you even realize that you want to dance, since they do it using a completely different drum/guitar dynamic. There are some of the catchiest songs I've heard all year, and I can't stop listening to this album. God, I wish I would've found it sooner!

1. Sufjan Stevens - "Illinoise" (Asthmatic Kitty)
No other album this year was, in my humble opinion, as emotional, epic, beautiful, distressing, or complicated as "Illinoise." It is without a doubt my number one pick, by far. I will admit that I am new to Mr. Stevens's work, but from the first track of this album becamse immersed in his intricate songwriting and orchestrations. At over 75 minutes of music, this album is not an easy listen, but after many journeys with it so far, I can confidently say that it is a rewarding one. Since those of you who know me know how I am one for the "high fives," "Illinoise" receives the highly coveted 2005 Irrational Ecstasy Best Album High Five Award. Well done, sir!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Illinois Terminal Railroad Tunnel?

I am so far unable to find out any facts about what this abandoned railroad tunnel is in old North St. Louis, but a fellow urban explorer seems to think it was once used by the Illinois Terminal Railroad. So, for lack of my own information, I am going to assume he is correct for now. Matt and I were actually trying to figure out how to get somewhere else, but when I realized where we were, I made him stop the car. He reluctantly agreed to come along on this exploration, even though he "just doesn't find an old railroad tunnel intriguing in any way." I think he knew, deep down, that if he didn't come I would question his sexual orientation in public every possible chance I got. He may have been right.

The first thing that I noticed before we even reached the tunnel was this opening in the concrete wall to our left. I couldn't help but wonder why there was so much trash piled up into a makeshit ramp leading into the doorway. After coming closer, I realized that this was obviously somebody's home, and it would be best to leave it alone. Continuing into the tunnel, it was apparent that at least this part of the tunnel was not entirely enclosed. We were definately underneath the street, as I was reminded of every time a car above us drove over a bump and I (I mean Matt) jumped like a little prissy girl, but the part of the tunnel where we entered was more like a half-tunnel, half-bridge hybrid. Hopefully the pictures will illustrate this point better, because it is quite hard to describe.

As we continued on, we began to notice many areas where dirty old pieces of furniture and old mattresses had been arranged into little living areas. In some areas, someone had obviously even created makeshift walls out of trash and rubble. As much as I wondered what was on the other side of these walls, I again thought they were better left alone. I would have hated to peek my head into one of these areas to see some person who was none too pleased with my presence in his home. Further on, the tunnel did become completely enclosed for awhile, and we began to see loading docks alone the wall with still working lights illuminating them. This area was obviously not completely forgotten. Matt kept wondering how much furthur I was planning on going, so I agreed that once we got to and saw what was in the next open area that we could both see up ahead, we would turn around. As we got closer, I could tell that there was actually an old engine car still on the tracks! This also was obviously not forgotten, as it was surrounded by a fence topped with razor wire. As I got closer, I noticed the "No Tresspassing" signs posted on the fence. All of a sudden, a spotlight above me turned on. I can't understand why this car would be here protected by fences and motion lights, when it's owner could have just as easily relocated it somewhere. We began to hear voices coming from the sidewalk above us, so decided that it would be best to just head back.

This trip left me with more questions that it did answers. Now that I know what is down there, I want to figure out why. Does this tunnel keep going, or is the remainder of it unpassable? As much as I want to know these answers, I doubt if I will return to this place. Knowing that it has become a home to many people who have no homes made me feel quite out of place, if not extremely uneasy. If anyone has any information about this tunnel or it's current use, please contact me. And if you plan on going yourself, bring some friends and a bo-staff or something.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Live Review: The Click Five

Saturday night, I let my buddy Jon drag me to see a band he likes. Maybe you've heard of them: The Click Five? Well, I was unprepared for what he calls his "sugary pop confection." Here is The Click Five:

As a pretentious music nerd, here is what I wanted to do while watching The Click Five:

Never again will I let you drag me to see any band that I'm not familliar with, Jon! Seriously, we were the only people there who were not 1. fourteen year old girls or 2. their parents. I have to admit, though, that the lead singer was kind of hot.

National Memorial Church of God in Christ

Matt and I just happened to stumble across this site while checking out the remodeling done to the Fox Theatre off of Grand Blvd. Ruined shell of a church? Say no more! We're totally there! Despite having an extremely long name and being fairly small, the structure is quite picturesque and interesting.

Built in 1893 and also known at times as St. John's Church, the National Memorial Church of God in Christ was struck by lightening in and burned in 2001. Luckily, the stone walls were not affected by this blaze (because stone does not burn-that's right: science, kiddies!) Apparently, the Grand Center was at one time going to turn the church into an outdoor sculpture garden and removed all of the burnt out debris, but work on this project has currently ceased.

Matt and I didn't spend much time here, as there is not that much to see, but it was a rewarding spot nonetheless.

Live Review: Criteria

Along with my many adventures, I also plan on posting music commentaries and reviews. My first will be of Criteria, who played at the Creepy Crawl on Friday night. Some of you more pretentious folk may know Criteria lead singer/guitarist Steve Pedersen from his previous work with fellow Omaha band Cursive. Pedersen left Cursive in 1998 to attend Duke School of Law, but continued to make music with his new band the White Octave. He finally returned home to Omaha, forming Criteria. Saddle Creek records finally decided to sign Criteria with their second album "When We Break," a pretty straightforward rock record full of fist-pumping anthems and math-guitar exchanges.

The Criteria boys were in top form friday night, playing to an apologetically small crowd. Those of us who did make it didn't hold back on the love, though, and the show seemed intimate rather than "small." Petersen concluded every song with his apparent patented "Thank you" said in the most friendly and optimistic tone you could ever imagine. His onstage banter consisted mainly of questions about St. Louis, the weather, and other local points of interest. Whenever someone would answer one of his questions, he'd respond with "Oh, sounds like Omaha." Come on, that's REALLY funny.

True to his word, Pedersen and the boys blazed through an hour long set so that we could all "get home in time for the late airing of the Daily Show." Already the band sounds exponentially more confident than they did during the "En Garde" era, and they only seem to be getting better. I took a very large personal step that evening: Attempting to overcome my fear of talking to musicians that I admire, I spoke with Pedersen after the show. He's got to be one the nicest guys in indie rock today ( not that I have many experiences to compare him to, but he's definately easier to talk to than ...and You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead's Conrad Keely ). Overall, it was a great show. I hope they decide to come back soon.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

River Roads Mall

Sunday my faithful sidekick Matt and I decided to explore the abandoned River Roads Mall in Jennings, as we have heard that it will perhaps either be torn down or renovated in the near future. Since we're never ones to miss a great oppertunity, we knew we had to visit it soon. This location holds a special place in Matt's heart, as both of his parents used to work there many years ago (his parents are really old). His dad even used to steal money from the fountain!

River Roads is in the very latest stages of ruin and decay, with water pouring through the ceiling like a faucet in many places. On a clear day like today, I have no idea where that water was coming from! The mold that grows on the outside windows paints the entire complex in an eerie yellow light. The building is never silent, because wind blowing through the open holes in the ceiling and broken windows create all manner of strange and spooky sounds, not that Matt and I ever got scared and stopped dead in our tracks and looked at each other with that look that says "did you hear that?!," because we're tough guys.

River Roads was built in the 50's, and was one of the first enclosed malls in the United States. It was a prosperous shopping center until the mid 80's, when the crime and poverty of North St. Louis spilled into the suburb of Jennings. The mall closed it's main corridor in 1995, and today the only operating business on the property is a Food For Less, which has no access to the rest of the mall. One of the most striking features is the iconic clock tower that sits in the center of the main avenue. Considering the disrepair of the rest of the mall, it is in amazingly good condition. If only it would have fit in my pocket.... The larger anchor stores are completely empty, save the great chandeliers that we found in one of them. Matt and I began to venture up an escalator into the upper level, but soon turned around when we realized that it was PITCH BLACK and the flashlight that I had brought was fairly crappy, and that we were huge wusses who are afraid of the dark.

That didn't stop us from exploring the bowling alley that used to operate in the basement of the mall. This place was also completely dark, but the idea of an abandoned bowling alley was enough to make us at least attempt to act like men for a few minutes, just until we could take a few photos. Many of the lowest parts of this basement level were flooded, making exploration of the rumoured loading dock tunnels impossible. Perhaps next time when I bring a suitable light source.

River Roads Mall was an interesting exploration, one that I'm glad I got to see before it is either restored or razed (the latter more likely, I'm afraid). It is sad that River Roads is in that unfortunate category of forgotten places that are too old to do anything with, too new for anyone to really care. It really is a shame, but I can understand why the setting of modern day Jennings doesn't cause investors to salivate at the mouth or anything. Just driving through the area was depressing. But then again, I'm kind of a mopey whiner.

One thing, if nothing else, is certain from my day of wandering the abandoned halls of this mall: the vision of this, this demonic creature, whatever the hell it is, will haunt my dreams for all of my years. God help us all.

Lung Cancer
Lung Cancer