Ready Player One - It's Egg Hunting Season!

In little over a week, the whole Boards of Canada Easter Egg Hunt has progressed significantly. At the time of writing, we have five of the six numbers – but we're still no closer to discovering what it all means.

It turns out that The Record Store Day Incident (as it's now being called – how Fortean!) was just the kick-off. Whilst everyone initially thought that there'd be a different code on each of the six records (of which only four have apparently been found), instead it appears that each code will reveal itself in a different way.

First there was all the rigmarole on the band's YouTube channel. Since then, subsequent codes have been variously revealed through clever gif manipulation; through broadcasts on NPR and on Zane Lowe's Radio 1 show (number stations!) and, best of all, through the above advert that was broadcast on The Cartoon Network (of all places).

The most intriguing event, though, has been a projection on the building opposite London's Rough Trade store (where the second vinyl was found). The staff of the store claimed total ignorance. And, despite rumours circulating that the door of the building would open at midnight (for the first Boards of Canada gig since 2002?), very little came of this.

Still, it seemed to confirm not just the authenticity of this whole thing (as if there remained any doubters), but also the unbearably exciting notion that something's happening.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that my love for Boards of Canada runs through me like the lettering on Blackpool Rock, my part in this will only ever be as an observer. With a string of six numbers making up a 36 digit code, it's obvious that this will ultimately present a mathematical problem.

Reincarnation is a nice idea, and I like to think that, before you regenerate, you get to choose certain traits – like an RPG character creation screen. Well, if I'm given a second chance of life, above all I'd like to try my hands at being somebody with an inherent interest in science, technology and mathematics.

At the moment, though scientific and mathematical theories can pique my interest, I feel as though the very wiring of my brain prevents me from truly comprehending anything I read about – let alone from forming or applying any of my own theories.

It's always been like this. At school I pushed myself to get an A in GCSE Maths, but I was really only learning by rote exactly the information that would be required to pass that specific exam. I had no underlying understanding or appreciation of the information, and I promptly forgot pretty much everything I'd learned the second I finally put my pencil down at the end of the exam.

Still. I might not have developed a very scientific mind, but I think I've more than made up for that through my love of music, films, history, words, grammar and stories – by which I mean books.

So whilst I can't play an active part in the Boards of Canada Easter Egg Hunt, I can at least enjoy it as a bloody good story.

And as a bloody good story, it's particularly enjoyable because the whole thing reminds me of a bloody good story I read recently.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is a very popular book indeed. It's so popular, that people dress as it for Halloween. Not as characters from the book, mind, but as the book itself.

I don't think even Twilight elicited that level of devotion.

Ready Player One takes place in 2044. The world isn't quite a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but society and the economy appeared to have collapsed and things are quite awful. So most people spend their time inside a ridiculously immersive virtual reality environment called OASIS.

Designed by an obsessive savant called Halliday, I really wish that OASIS actually existed in real life. It's a seemingly infinite universe in which you can be whoever you want, do whatever you want and fully-explore the locations of pretty much any sci-fi or fantasy universe you could care to mention.

Before passing away, Halliday reveals that he's hidden an Easter Egg somewhere in OASIS, and whoever finds it will inherit his vast fortune. The novel details the exploits of a player called Parzival and his friends in their quest to track down this elusive egg.

As the novel goes, it's far from perfect. It's told in the first person – from Parzival's perspective – and it's implied that he's telling his story so that future generations will understand “what really happened”. But if that's the case, I've no idea why he feels the need to pepper his narrative with such excessive cultural-economic infodumps. It's fascinating for us early 21st century readers to get an insight into his world, but surely Parzival's intended audience would already be painfully familiar with the world he's describing? After all, they've never known any other.

The world-building, then, is clumsy at best, and the final “message” appears to undermine absolutely everything that's come before. But still, Ready Player One remains some of the best genre fiction I've read in recent years.

This is partly because it's so engaging. The idea that your obsessive knowledge of pop culture might save the world (a virtual world at that) is very appealing to anyone who likes films, music and video games as more than just part of a lifestyle.

But the most remarkable thing about Ready Player One is that everything Parzival achieves he does so under his own volition - using a combination of knowledge, intuition and incredible courage. Parzival is therefore a real hero, and a most refreshing change from the “chosen one” trope that still seems to dominate genre fiction.

Honestly, is there anything more boring than a meek hero who has greatness thrust upon him? I'm certainly had enough of that idea. From now on, I only want heroes who know what they're doing, know why they're doing it and, crucially, who want to do it.

Which is why Ready Player One is such an engaging, refreshing read. All this useless knowledge I've built up over the years? It might not always be useless.

So my lack of mathematical knowledge might force me to take a regretful back seat in this Boards of Canada Easter Egg Hunt. But you never know. One day, there might be something greater at stake – the fate of the world! - and it might depend on deep knowledge and appreciation of my specific interests.

But until then, hey! New Boards of Canada album!

Probably. All of this has to lead to something.


The Return Of Boards of Canada

It's funny, sometimes, how things pan out.

I was listening to The Conet Project. I'm still listening to The Conet Project – it's about 4.8 hours long. So far I've recognised numerous sequences from Boards of Canada songs. It seems that every time a sequence of numbers appears in their music, it's a Conet Project sample.

But anyway, just as this spark of familiarity flared, I noticed on my Twitter feed that Boards of Canada are back, and they're back in the best way possible.

It seems that New York's Other Music was visited by a representative from Warp Records at about 15.00 on Record Store Day. They dropped off a record – just one – a supremely cryptic dispatch from Boards of Canada. This record was bought almost instantly by a Reddit user.

On the sleeve were a series of dashes, slashes and Xs, arranged thus:

—— / —— / —— / XXXXXX / —— / ——

On the record were about twenty seconds of music (which sound like a riff on the ambient intro to Everything You Do Is A Balloon) and a sequence of numbers (making it even stranger that I should have been listening to The Conet Project when I learned about this).

The numbers are 936557.

All we have beyond that is an upload to Boards of Canada's official Youtube channel – a new video for Julie and Candy from Geogaddi, entitled “1977 snow computing amateur footage beards synthesizer”. It was originally labelled with a series of dashes, which appeared initially at the 4:20 mark of the video, then, on the next day, at the 4:19 mark.

Consequence of Sound believe that they might be counting down to something. If a new album's in the pipeline, this suggests that it might be out in less than 300 days!

This has made me extremely happy for two reasons. First of all, a new Boards of Canada album. Get in.

But second of all, how often has it been said that the internet's stripped all mystery and romanticism from music? I'm looking at you, Twitter. Now that we're prithee to the every thought of every musician, it does feel as though we've lost something.

Also, we can now hear (and criticise) albums months before they're released. We can sing every word of every unreleased song ever played at a gig.

That Boards of Canada can retain this esoteric edge even in these days when everybody knows everything all the time is wonderful. Truly wonderful.

What's more, they appear to be using the internet not to spread information, but to spread mystery. It's been reasoned that there are six of these records (as there are five more dashes on the front of the record), and presumably they've been placed in locations all over the world.

Boards of Canada attract the sort of fans who'll pore over every clue they're given in an attempt to uncover whatever mystery's waiting to be uncovered. In releasing this dispatch in this way, they're encouraging people to get together online in order to pick apart and piece together what little information we have.

Case in point? On the same Consequence of Sound article as linked to above, it's already been pointed out in the comments that the sequence of numbers – 936557 – correspond to a turquoise sort of colour.

The significance of that is enough to indue a sharp take of breath for any Boards of Canada fan.

So next time anybody complains that music's been ruined irreparably by the internet, point them in the direction of Boards of Canada. It takes a very special kind of band to spread so much hype through saying so little.


How To Overcome Writer's Block

Hey everyone, it's my 150th post!

So now it's perhaps time to address just what the hell is going on with this blog.

It started off as a music blog. Then it morphed into a film review blog. Over the years, I've also written about books, and why you shouldn't shop at Tesco.

I've also written about writing. And I think, ultimately, that's what it's all about.

I started this blog in 2009. Recently, it occurred to me that, since starting this blog, with very few exceptions I've spent at least an hour of each and every day just writing.

I've written many things. Blog posts. Articles. Emails. Letters. Poems. Songs. Reviews. Short stories. Long stories. Plays. Sketches. Sales copy. Static content. Briefs. Drafts. Redrafts. You name it. But scarcely a day has gone by without me dedicating even a short stretch of time to writing.

I've realised that this blog has been not just an outlet, but also a means of practising what I really want to do in life. I consider myself to be a writer, but I know that I still have at least a decade of fruitless plugging ahead of me before I truly have anything to show for my efforts. Therefore, as writers go, I am still in the “aspiring” category – and I will remain in this category for a good while yet. Perhaps the rest of my life!

So whilst I'm not yet in any position to offer advice to any aspiring writers, I can at least share my experiences. And one thing that seems obvious, even at this stage, is that it's a very good idea for any aspiring writer – whether their aspirations are in fiction, journalism or otherwise – to have a space like this – a place where they can be themselves – where they can find out what works and what doesn't work - with or without an audience.

It seems to me that aspiring writers in the 21st century have it much better than aspiring writers have ever had it before. Susan Sontag might have written realms of thoughts in her diaries, but during her formative years, nobody could ever tell her that she was brilliant, that she should absolutely keep doing what she's doing. However, people can actually swoop in and tell me that my sentences are too long. And then I have something I can work on. Something to address. The second sentence in the previous paragraph, for instance? Far too long! Thanks!

You never know. Perhaps if he'd been able to blog (or, indeed, to self-publish), John Kennedy Toole would still be with us. And, whilst Jonathan Franzen suspects that the internet is detrimental to good fiction, I'm finding the wisdom of the numerous “Advice For Writers” Twitter feeds I follow to be genuinely inspirational.

We have the internet. Have any other generations of new writers had such a vast wealth of advice and pointers at their disposal? Alright, it's somewhat ironic that every day I seem to read the old “writing is 3% talent and 97% not being distracted by the internet” nugget. But still, that the biggest obstacle for aspiring writers to overcome in the 21st century is distraction and procrastination suggests we have it quite good.

Like I say, my comparative lack of success and experience when it comes to writing means that I'm not exactly qualified to dish out any advice, but I have been doing this non-stop for some years now. And it struck me the other day – in my four years or so of uninterrupted and diverse writing, not once have I suffered from serious writer's block.

Yes, I've had long periods of crippling, debilitating doubt. Indeed, I'm having one right now! But it's seldom been the case that I've actively struggled to get the words out.

So don't think of this as “advice”. Think of it as something that's always worked for me.

I don't think of writer's block as a dearth of ideas. The Oatmeal recently did a truly inspirational piece on the creative lifestyle in which creativity was likened not to a lake, but to a river. Your ideas aren't a finite pool that'll ultimately be depleted. Rather, they're a raging and chaotic torrent, the richness of which depends upon the richness of your life, your relationships and your reading.

So if you were truly meant to pursue this path, your writer's block does not signify that your pool of ideas is in danger of running dry. Instead, I've come to recognise it as nothing more than a highly specific fear. It's not necessarily a fear of failure, though that does come into it. However, any such fears are symptoms, not causes, of writer's block. As I understand it, it all boils down to a very basic wariness of the blank page.

Any difficulty I have with writing is with starting or continuing a project. Once I get going I can write uninterrupted for hours. But it's in achieving this desired flow that I have problems, and the problems seem at their most insurmountable when I'm confronting a blank page.

Yet this can be overcome in a matter of seconds. The moment – the very moment – that anything's down on the page, I'm fine. Even if it's just a word, a sentence, or a random stream of characters, it's enough to get me started. So many of my finished stories, articles, blog posts etc. have started life as something utterly nonsensical. Something like fdsjgjlbndaoigjk rw. Anything to make footprints in the terrifying white expanse of nothingness. Even gibberish can act as a great starting point – a nonsensical block of wood to be whittled into something resembling a word or sentence – the forceful kick to the ancient engine that sets the old Russian satellite back on track.

Neil Gaiman's contribution to the noble lineage of advice from writers simply boils down to “keep writing”. If, God willing, I'm ever in a position to offer my two cents, my contribution to the rich tradition of writing advice will probably be “start writing”. The moment anything's down, you're off. Keep going, and don't look back until you're done.

Picking up the thread where you left off is sometimes even harder, but the remedy's much simpler. All you have to do is ensure that you stop your daily writing in the middle of a sentence. That's it. It works! You can then pick up exactly where you left things when you next sit down to create.

Yep, my words are currently meaningless as I've not really had much success in that field. But that's why you have to keep writing.

Right Neil?

Thanks Neil.

We have it so good. We can follow Neil Gaiman on Twitter!