2 JUNE 2021 — I never meant to keep such a long break from posting here — thank you to everyone reading this! — but I got incredibly busy and hope to make up for it in time.
Right now happy to announce my first large-scale composition, An Iceland Symphony, Op. 1: A Theatrical Symphony for All Ages, is available as sheet music in both paperback and ebook form.
At the time I’m writing this, very glad to see it’s actually at #1 on Amazon’s list of Hot New Releases in the category of Opera & Classical Songbooks! My first time seeing that #1 New Release banner on one of my books.
This is a large-scale work of 21 sections that calls for musicians of all ages and includes theatrical elements. The sections range widely in style and complexity. It leaves no one out.
Every note and rest has been carefully tested through hundreds of listenings since I first realised in early 2019 I had started writing this. I hope it may one day be performed live in Iceland by Icelandic musicians.
Until then, here is the full sheet music complete with performance instructions for the theatrical elements as well. I understand Kindle Unlimited members can view the ebook for free, but until the Look Inside previews come up for the paperback and ebook, here are the covers and some sample pages.
Ideally this music would be performed by live musicians, and there will be recordings sooner or later. The audio versions I have now are basically helpful demos only, to be shared with close friends, prospective performers, and writers on music, for example.
I continue to work on high-quality renditions of my own, but more on that later. I’ll also talk more about this in the next episode of my podcast. And as mentioned, one day I hope to see a full, live, staged performance of this.
Many thanks to everyone who has supported and encouraged me on my compositional journey.
Thank you to everyone visiting this blog even after so long without any updates! I wanted to share what I’m doing right now: making two podcast series with their associated book series. One of them prioritises the book series, with the podcast featuring excerpts as I write.
EDIT 30th May 2020: See this post for an update on — a later adjustment to — the nature of the Northern Exposure podcast.
I’ll do this with every season. At the time of writing this I was recording Season 2. I’m sharing the introduction and a sample chapter from the Season 1 book below.
Then I’ll be covering all 110 episodes of the lovely TV series Northern Exposure in another podcast called As Fresh as Northern Exposure.
Episodes of this podcast will serve as a basis for chapters in a series of books, published after each season, with extra materials that could not be included on the podcast.
So the result of this NX podcast will be a 6-volume book series covering every episode from every angle interesting me (storytelling, screenwriting, music, art, and lots more — I outline my approach in the introductory episode NX 1.0).
This NX podcast will initially appear as a “sub-podcast” of What Now with Simo because my preferred podcast host, RSS.com, doesn’t yet allow for more than one podcast per user. That will hopefully change in the future, at which point I would properly separate the two podcasts.
For the time being, I’m simply labelling each Northern Exposure episode NX, and the numbering for each podcast runs independently of the other.
This latter is also the handiest place to check out the extensive episode summaries for each episode done in a style that used to be popular with books.
Plus there you can also download the episodes, for free, of course.
Between Seasons 1 and 2 of What Now with Simo, I was transcribing the episodes for my own later reference (among other reasons because I’m also writing books on some of the topics I talk about in the podcast), but then I realised it made sense to also publish them in book form.
Reading the same material is an experience all its own. The reader can proceed at his or her own pace and of course flip through and zero in on interesting passages and skip over uninteresting ones.
Plus of course this makes the podcasts available in their entirety for anyone with any hearing loss.
All these books will be 6×9-inch paperbacks plus ebooks, and I’m pricing them all as low as Amazon / Kindle allow. Please see the end of this article for all the links.
Also, I welcome audio messages to both shows. You can connect with me on social media (links at the end) and send any kind of comment or feedback. Written comments of course also welcome.
(Please note that if you do send in an audio message, it means that you are also giving permission to include it in the podcasts in both audio and book form.)
But now here are the introduction and sample chapter from the Season 1 book.
I wish you good reading and welcome you to join me for either one or both of the podcasts.
And if you don’t have the Northern Exposure Blu-ray set yet — with the original soundtracks now intact for the first time on home video! — you can find it on Amazon.co.uk (UK discs — they require a player capable of playing those).
A freeform, wide-ranging podcast on any topics foremost on the host’s mind at the time of recording. Particular favourite topics include creativity and all the arts — music, films, screenplays, fiction, poetry, comics, games, comedy, and everything in between. Messages from listeners welcomed for possible inclusion in an episode. Note that sending a recording for inclusion in an episode of this podcast does indeed implicitly give me permission to do so.
What is this?
It is a transcript of every episode from the 1st season of my first podcast series, What Now with Simo.
I would have named it just What Now, but that was already in use, many times over, plus it would have been hopeless in terms of searchability.
There are some benefits to having a name described by one friend as Lovecraftian. Even one fragment of that name makes for instantly improved findability.
* * *
Editorially there were two choices for this book: faithful transcription or wholesale re-editing into something like essays.
For numerous reasons I by far prefer the first option. This is another form of presenting the same material, and I did want to present the same material.
I also find the resulting texts more interesting in this unedited form. There are also questions of information density and memorability that make me sure this was the best decision.
Plus this way all the content becomes available for anyone with any hearing loss.
* * *
For grammar and punctuation hawks:
As happens with spoken language, there are moments of creative grammar here. Mistakes, some call them. All those were knowingly left in.
Likewise I adopt a relaxed and flexible attitude towards commas. Every comma and absence of one is intentional. Languages are living, creative things.
When writing, editing, proofreading, or translating something for someone else, I’ll produce 100% accurate and grammatical English, as sophisticated as desired. And since I may also in the future wish to write something for someone else, the direction in which I’ve consciously taken my use of language in my private life and for my own projects might be seen as shooting myself in the foot.
The fact remains that as a private person and for the purposes of my creative work I now prefer to use English that doesn’t stray too near to the Queen’s English.
Poetry, the First Nations short stories of W. P. Kinsella, David Lynch, and many other influences have shown me there are more expressive and meaningful forms of English than that. So these days I aim for something in that direction.
* * *
Most of the people in this world don’t speak perfect English. Many haven’t had the opportunities in life for schooling like that, and many have dyslexia. That is no reason to look down on or make fun of them.
So no, I have no sympathy for language Nazis. It’s a selfish and entitled attitude to take, especially in this day and age, when everyone should know better.
* * *
I’m also really interested in the evolution of non-fiction as well as fiction books. Among my favourite books and inspirations for this and future works have been John Cage’s Silence: Lectures and Writings by John Cage (1961) and David Lynch’s Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity (2006). Both blew away the assumptions I had subconsciously had about the limits of what books can be.
I was also thrilled when I flipped through one of Kim Stanley Robinson’s science fiction novels in a bookstore and saw that he had whole chapters that were just lists — listing landscape features or things seen, or something of that nature. (I have read his works intermittently in chronological order and haven’t yet gotten to that novel, so I’m vague on this point.)
And I enjoy reading materials that were originally spoken. Interviews, transcribed talks, dictated memoirs, and such. Rod Serling wrote by speaking into a recorder. David Lynch often writes by speaking. Reading text produced this way is a whole different thing than reading something created all along as text on a page.
There’s a biography of J. D. Salinger called Salinger (2014) by David Shields and Shane Salerno. It’s an oral biography made up of segments of interview materials, quote after quote, with each person telling things in their own words. A collage of quotes. Again, spoken words on a page.
Books can be anything.
* * *
I’m interested in the relationship between spoken and written language. How something written sounds when spoken aloud and how something spoken aloud reads when written down.
Spoken language moves through time and appears to us one word at a time, whereas the written word we can see in diagram, from a height, the layout of it, as it lies on the page, and our eye can go sometimes in less than a blink of an eye from one part of the text to another.
A thread of thought may seem to be leading somewhere, particularly when being spoken, and on the written page it can be seen to be a side path that is only seen so far until it disappears behind the trees — like one of the “that’s another story to be told another time” crossroads in Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story (1979). I see value in such meandering.
Sometimes meandering down little byways that peter out — or seeing others do so — can lead to things more useful than fully completed roads or thoughts.
* * *
Many thanks to everyone who has listened to the podcast or is reading this book, and extra special thanks to Maren for her great message for episode 1.7 and for her permission to include it in this printed edition.
Wishing you a great day and good reading.
— Simo Sakari Aaltonen, Tampere, 24th of May 2020
* * *
1.13 Simple Human Decency, Field of Dreams, and Some Humour
Greetings, and welcome to episode 1.13 of my podcast.
Today I really did not feel like recording an episode. The answer to the question, “When did I go to sleep last night?” would be that I went to sleep last night about 11 a.m. this morning.
And when I woke up after a few hours, I looked at myself in the mirror, and I looked like death warmed over — pale, red eyes, and so on. I thought there was no way I was going to record an episode today. I simply did not feel up to it, and my voice is probably not in the best shape right now. But I’m going to do my best.
When I woke up, I was exhausted and feeling totally wiped out, but as I slowly woke up, thoughts started coming, and before I knew it, I was writing them down as fast as I could, and I ended up writing several pages of notes. I usually have not had any notes prepared when recording these podcasts. I have usually talked off the top of my head. But this time I felt like I did not want to lose any of the thoughts.
So even though I would have preferred to sleep last night, at least the result of that and just getting a few hours of sleep was a sudden tumble of thoughts. So something happened creatively, and maybe that’s just sometimes what it takes.
And now the problem I have is that I have so much I would like to talk about, and it will take a long time to cover this ground. I want to get to all the topics at some point or other.
Well, a good creative principle is that when any task starts to feel unwieldy, you can simply break it into smaller, more manageable chunks. And the smaller the chunks you break the overall task into — in other words, the more modular you can make it — the easier it is and the more freedom you have. The more freedom you give yourself.
So what I’m going to do is make a sort of serial — short episodes recorded in quick succession, maybe daily or every other day — and simply take things in small chunks.
One step at a time.
* * *
I think the real heroes in life are the people who keep life going no matter what. Even when it’s the last thing they feel capable of doing at that moment.
It’s not enough to manage that only on the good days.
The people that are real heroes in life are those who keep life going also on the bad days, also on the very worst days, and when the last thing you feel capable of doing is, for example, taking out the trash, or putting food on the table, or taking care of other things that must be done to keep life going. Those are the real heroes.
So in that spirit, or at least with that intention, I decided to record an episode today and get back to podcasting after about a week’s break.
This planned quick succession of episodes is also more in line with my original plan for this podcast, which took as its main inspiration or guiding principle to be like a radio programme, something with a comforting regularity that you can tune in to and listen to whatever this guy in Finland might have on his mind this time.
* * *
When I was younger, I read a lot of superhero comics. And of course I thought because they were called superheroes that they must be the greatest heroes.
Well, I wasn’t really thinking about it this analytically. I read them because they were fun.
But they were called superheroes. They weren’t just heroes, they were super.
But as time passes, perspectives change, of course, and you start to see things from a different perspective.
If you consider for example Superman, the history of Superman, it seems like about 50% of the time he goes crazy and becomes a murderer or something, or drops his best friend Jimmy Olsen into the blowhole of a whale.
And when the whale blows it, Jimmy goes flying over the horizon. And Superman laughs, leaning back against some air molecules as he hovers there, and laughs.
Well, as far as I know, this isn’t an existing Superman story. But I don’t want to google it, because it just might be, from the old days.
And even today, about half the time it seems like Superman is turning evil. And when he’s not doing that, when he’s not throwing his best friend Jimmy Olsen into the blowhole of a whale, the other 48% of the time he is engaged in brawls and fistfights with some bad people, like a bad drunk who always ends up fighting with his peers.
And only about 2% of the time he’s being a good son or potential future husband — pretending to be Santa Claus, or sitting down for a cup of coffee with his parents like a good son, and turning down a third cinnamon roll.
So, statistically we know from the evidence at hand, from all these stories, that about 50% of the time, about 50% of the days and nights, Superman throws Jimmy Olsen into the blowhole of a whale and Jimmy goes flying over the horizon, and most of the rest of the time he’s fighting some bad people that he just doesn’t know how to stay away from.
So Superman would be about the worst choice anyone could make for a husband. Unless one wants one’s life to be a living hell of Jimmy stuck in a whale and flying over the horizon and daily fights with bad people.
And only 2% of the time turning down a third cinnamon roll.
Going crazy about 50% of the time is not good.
* * *
Well, in case this sounded like I’ve gone crazy, I haven’t. This is just my sense of humour.
But my main point, which I’ll now pivot into, is how these days I see simple human decency as the greatest thing in the world.
And a film that made me really see that for good in my life was Field of Dreams, directed by Phil Alden Robinson, based on a book by W. P. Kinsella, and starring Kevin Costner.
* * *
A few years ago, someone asked me who my favourite actor is, or was. That question took me by surprise, and now that I look back on it, I think the reason it took me by surprise is that I don’t think anyone had ever asked me that question before. Which sounds pathetic — that no one seems to have been interested enough to ask me who my favourite actor is.
Well, I don’t actually really think in those terms. Usually it’s more that I like a particular film or TV series or story in any other storytelling medium. So I don’t really follow actors that way.
And because in that moment I was taken aback — I didn’t know how to respond, suddenly I felt self-conscious — I didn’t actually answer naming any of the people that I would put highest on my actor list — whom I appreciate the most. Those would include people like Edward James Olmos and Christopher Walken and so on, but it’s not like I follow their every film.
So I didn’t really have a good answer to that, and because I didn’t, yet I wanted to keep the conversation going and I felt like I needed to say something, what popped into my mind was Field of Dreams and Kevin Costner. So that’s the answer I gave.
But the reality is I haven’t seen many Kevin Costner films and he’s not really someone I’m a fan of in particular.
It’s more that at that point I had rediscovered this film that I had seen when I was younger, and I had spent a lot of time thinking about how that basic human decency that he was able to portray in that film had come to mean more to me than any kind of heroics — things that are considered usually hero stuff. Like superheroes fighting supervillains or that type of heroism.
I came to see that this most unassuming form of heroism is the type I really appreciate and value in life. It seems to be also the rarest form.
A lot of people do things for the wrong motives. Out of narcissism or desire to impress other people or to stand out in a selfish way…
The people who simply keep life going, who are good people, who provide for their family and make sure the home is a safe place where nobody needs to fear or live under a dark cloud when somebody gets angry — that’s what I value most in life. And that’s probably what gets the least attention when it comes to heroism.
The character that he plays in this film is called Ray Kinsella, and he has a humility and a gratitude at what he has in life, which is really the greatest treasure a person can have in this life: a happy, loving, healthy family.
That quality of course blossoms even further at the end, when he has worked through his issues and the simple pain of never having been able to say to his father that he’s sorry for something he said.
At the heart of this film, its emotional core, is not a murder, and it’s not a physical confrontation or assault, or any kind of physically violent occurrence.
It is simply the pain of having said something you regret and that you were never able to take back because the other person died. And it’s too late for that.
And you are left to deal with that pain by yourself.
* * *
Well, this film is a story of a second chance, in more ways than one, and for more people than one.
It is very moving to me that a film can be made whose heart is simply having said something awful that you regret.
I can’t think of another story like that. Certainly not one told with such humanity and, on the other hand, also genuine feeling. This kind of story would not work if it felt inauthentic.
* * *
Another facet of that diamond-hard pain of this character is his awareness that his father never got to see his grandchild born. He died before that.
This was an element that hit home also for some of the main people behind the film, since that was how it was with them too.
I know for my own part that I wish I could give my parents more than I have been able to so far.
* * *
I don’t know how widely we realise that our parents go through literal trauma in raising a family. I don’t think any of us realise that when we are young. But when we do, when we start to see the price they pay and how they go on from day to day to make the family get through it all, the very least we can do is give them respect and give back as much as we can.
* * *
Field of Dreams is a film that I never get tired of thinking about. It’s very beautifully constructed, and it has a really exceptionally beautiful soundtrack by James Horner.
When James Horner was approached to write the music for this film, they showed the film to him in a theatre on a movie screen, without music, of course, or I think there may have been a temp score (a temporary score).
And when the film was over, he didn’t say anything, he just left the theatre. And the director thought, “Oh my god. He really hates the film. He’s not going to do it.”
But the reason he left the theatre was that he couldn’t speak because it had moved him so much. And of course he went on to write the score, and I think it’s his best one — at least the one that affects me the most, and the one I keep thinking about because of its simplicity and how it also takes its cue from the film itself.
Some of the people high up at the studio — they kept asking him to write a big symphonic score, but he felt that would have been all wrong. Because it’s a personal story. You don’t write — at least if you have any sensitivity to storytelling and what is appropriate — you don’t put in a huge orchestral score when you are telling a very personal story of personal pain and redemption.
At the end it builds up to more, and then it blossoms, but that’s because that’s appropriate at that point. Before that there are just a few instruments used, and it’s completely enough.
This is one fascinating thing about writing film music. As in so many things, often less can be so much more.
* * *
I think the greatest people are those who, despite everything, despite whatever difficulty they may be facing on that day, or in the night, they still keep going and they do what is necessary to keep life going.
This is a crazy and unexpected time for many of us. And anyone who can act as a beacon of sanity, to whatever degree, or at least aim for that — I think that’s a really good thing to do and aim for.
We don’t need any more drama, and we don’t need angry outbursts or outrage. I think most of all we need people who carry on. And not people throwing their best friend into the blowhole of a whale.
* * *
Thank you for listening and putting up with my strange sense of humour if you made it this far.
10th APRIL 2019 — The ebook edition of my first book, You Never Know What You’ll See in the Haunted Garden, Vol. 1, is now available on Amazon.
Everyone who buys the print paperback edition can also get the ebook version for free. The next volume in the series will be coming out early this summer. Amazon description for Vol. 1:
“The first in a series of eerie, beautiful coffee table books suitable for all ages. Rex the former game actor introduces us to the Haunted Garden through 30 full-spread wordless illustrations. These are books for leafing through, gazing at, and perhaps dreaming with, well suited for keeping on a living room table or a nightstand. This ebook is an exact reproduction of the paperback edition, allowing every detail of the full pictures to be seen.”
Amazon’s automatically generated preview ends just before the illustrated pages begin, but I have requested this to be changed to show more of the book. The change has been made and that update will soon be live on Amazon.
The new preview will show 20% of the content. Until then, an equally revealing preview can also be found on my site simosakariaaltonen.com.
29th MARCH 2019 — My first book You Never Know What You’ll See in the Haunted Garden, Vol. 1 is now available on Amazon.
More specifically, the paperback edition is — the ebook version is taking longer to work its way through the system, though it has already passed review, so should be available within some days.
The print edition is a large (8.5″ x 11″) 68-page colour paperback. Purchasers of the paperback will also get the ebook for free.
The Amazon product description:
“The first in a series of eerie, beautiful coffee table books suitable for all ages. Rex the former game actor introduces us to the Haunted Garden through 30 full-spread wordless illustrations. These are books for leafing through, gazing at, and perhaps dreaming with, well suited for keeping on a living room table or a nightstand.”
Creating something beautiful and imaginative for young people and the young at heart has long been one of my most cherished dreams.
I feel there can be few greater things a person can do than give a child something that may spark their imagination and create the kind of joy and wonder I remember from my own childhood when I pored over my favourite books. I still return to them and they thrill me as much as ever.
Works such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice books (late 19th century), the most beloved Finnish fairy tale novel Mestaritontun seikkailut (a really beautifully illustrated book from 1919 whose title translates as “The Adventures of the Master Elf“), and Malcolm Bird’s The Witch’s Handbook (1988).
I hope my first book, later volumes in the series, and items featuring this world and these characters will find their way one way or another into the lives of many children and others young at heart and give them something special and memorable.
Amazon’s automatic Look Inside has unfortunately provided a preview that stops short of the illustrated pages, but a more revealing preview is available on my official site here:
JANUARY 13th 2019 — No one chooses loneliness. Some people do choose being alone, but that’s completely different. In that case the person prefers being by himself or herself.
Loneliness is the pain of having lost or having never had the things in life that make for human happiness and sense of meaning. And knowing through regular interaction with others that you matter and that it matters to them whether you are alive or dead.
If someone’s reaction to this would be to say that you first need to be happy all by yourself, then I have to say that that person can never have experienced actual loneliness, or has forgotten what it was like, and most likely in fact enjoys a life full of meaningful human contact. It’s easy to say that kind of thing when not experiencing the thing itself. Happiness can’t start coming out of nothing.
Happiness flows from meaningful human moments, not from this particularly cruel and coldhearted self-help mantra, which involves blaming the lonely for their loneliness. No one can know the enormous private efforts a person may have made, day after day and year after year, to change their life, and still being as far away from happiness as ever.
I was looking at my past photos on Facebook and it really hurts to see how obviously many of them are the result of a very lonely guy just trying to make it from day to day, hoping and making every effort possible for something better. There aren’t many photos of other people or of me in happy moments.
Looking at many of that haphazard, desolate collection of photos — of course not including the ones from times when things were briefly different, moments for which I was happy and grateful with all my heart — feels like looking at a broken life. It’s not how life should be. Not at all. I don’t know if anyone knows how that hurts. I didn’t choose to come from a family that got broken by some things that happened when I was very young.
But what hurts at least as much as this thought itself is that very possibly many people think I have chosen this, that this is just who I am. That I am an unhappy and depressing person who remains that way by choice. Nothing could be further from the truth and I feel the sting of tears when I think that people I care about may think this of me. I did not choose this. I know what a full, good life would involve, and I wish for nothing else as much as I wish for that:
A life full of human warmth, of family life, of seeing friends, of fun and laughter, of constant activity, of raising children, going to the cinema, family dinners, trips to summer houses and beaches, rowing on the lake, concerts and plays, music and good food, creating together, cuddling up under a blanket with a special someone while watching something nice, going to sleep holding that person and feeling in so doing the greatest happiness and gratitude that it is possible to experience, knowing she and your healthy family are safe and warm and tomorrow will be a beautiful new day with many more happy moments.
That’s who I am, that’s what I would choose in a heartbeat, and that’s what I wish for. Not how things have been most of my life.
I am only sad when there is reason for sadness. Absolutely not a moment longer. I smile and laugh very easily and with a fullness of heart when there is reason to. I very easily experience great joy and gratitude and happiness when there is reason to feel those. The way my life has been for too long — except for those very special, radiant times when I was happy again — is not at all who I am.
OCTOBER 24th 2018 — Nearly everyone must know the feeling. Coming across and looking through photos that trigger waves of memories, remembering what it was all like. People we miss… memories of happy times… good moments.
In lonelier times this feeling can be overwhelming. There may be tears. And we may remember with infinite regret things we didn’t do as well as we should have. Perhaps causing that happiness to flee. If we had done things differently, we might still be happy and those times may never have fled.
Did I say there may be tears? Of course there are. All the above being true, of course there are.
OCTOBER 18th 2018 — The photo is from IceCon 2018, between panel discussions at Culture House Iðnó in Reykjavík (early October), but it made me think of theater.
Theater is special. There is a magic to it. This post is a small tribute to that.
From the heavy curtains to the wonderfully worn, scratched stage floors, to the costumes and props, makeup and music, light and shadow, real people and things in physical space sharing an experience that will always be new, never exactly the same, and of course the amazing, intoxicating smell that many theaters have, theater engages all the senses and involves us as human beings in a beautiful world of art.
I support the idea that parents should let children discover this magic in one way or another at a young age.
Some things in life simply make for warmer and often — not always, but often — more empathetic souls. And theater is one of those things.
OCTOBER 16th 2018 — I had a lovely dream. Sometimes our subconscious mind, or some other providence, gifts us with moments of beauty in dream no matter how waking life is. The only downside is, of course, waking up.
In the dream I mentioned to someone a wedding of persons who were strangers to her. To my surprise, she got tears in her eyes, even though she did not know the people who got married. The topic of weddings in general could move her so deeply, or maybe there were more specific personal associations for her.
I felt such affection for this sensitive and beautiful soul. She smiled and laughed as the tears kept coming.
As we continued speaking, it came as the most natural thing in the world to lie down on the couch — we were in a living room I have not (at least yet) been to in the waking world — and seek out the other’s hand with our own as we kept talking, both unexpectedly so happy in the special moment that had suddenly happened that it felt like nothing could ever change it.
Talking, sharing, holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes, both warmed by the rich warmth of the other and of that moment, it was like swimming in happiness and the beautiful promise of life.