about random9q (the long version)


My name’s Talia Loos, but my name’s also random9q. I’ve used that as a handle online since 1996 and since pretty well no one else that I’ve ever been able to find in over twenty years has, I’ve also been using it as a way to sign my art, music, and writing for about as long. I’ve been online about ten years longer than that, and pretty well everything I do (aside from making anything in the kitchen) I make using a computer.

Some people are crafty using traditional craft tools, I got hooked on the imagery of lights, spinning tape drives, and flying punch-cards that were the stereotype of computers in the 1970s, the science-fiction imagery of them, and once I finally got my hands on one I could own while I was still a kid in grade school, that pretty much settled that: I was going to learn how to do everything I did with computers. Which, decades later, has become anything but a novelty in the world, but the novelty hasn’t worn off on me. Neither has the handle. It still has this pseudo-romantic cyberpunk feel to it, for at least myself if no one else.

Creating visual art was something I became extremely discouraged with in Middle School. My then art instructor was less than encouraging, and the kind of instruction I was being given was not something I would ever actually pick up on. Then again, I learn and work with visual art differently than learning how to draw or paint realistically, getting an idea in my head, setting a course for it, and arriving with an approximation of that image in front of me — and that style of creation still eludes me, not only with visual art but also in music and writing. Instead I learned how to proceed by starting, adding, subtracting, and manipulating until I started to see things I enjoyed or felt something from.

There is skill to it, but it’s not your standard toolkit of skills. It’s more like developing a repertoire of magic spells that — individually — don’t do much more than curl smoke around in the air, and then discovering that if you play with the timing, the sequencing, the size, and the interplay between all of them you’ve become a choreographer of smoke. It’s much easier for me to do with a computer, where the smoke can be frozen in time, and rather than that being final, I can turn that into multiple paths I can explore, rewind, alter, and even recombine — like training trees as they grow, and grafting new limbs onto them, until they’re both trees and something else. Finally I found a name for the results that feels like home: abstract expressionism. How I got there isn’t maybe how other abstract expressionists got there, but… that’s just fine, considering the genre.

Music composition takes a similar form for me. I got started with piano lessons when I was a kid, discontinued them but resumed in college for two years. I occasionally make an effort to remember to get my fingers to rebuild the muscle-memories of scales and harmonies. But I also have always been a habitual finger drummer, and now that more and more exotic and expressive control of electronic instruments is available through the likes of touchscreens, MPE controllers and I have intuitive (to me) editing screens like piano roll editors, clip arrangers, and even multiple flavors of virtual modular and/or re-scriptable instruments? I find I spend more time finding ways I want to make the sounds do something interesting than strictly work through playing a passage to record it. It’s both fussier yet a bit more freeing, I find it, to tweak through harmonies with cavalier disregard for chord progression and/or achievable fingering than to pay attention, again, to changes I’m making to the piece and what the emotional differences are between them. How they make me feel.

Unlike my visual art, music has a time dimension, and so it more easily lends towards storytelling. Just like growing up with stereotyped images of computers, I grew up with some of the early evolutions of synthesizers and the popularization of electronic music from merely sound effects and abstractions into a complete invasion into every kind of pop music that then exploded back out as new genres. What always stood out to me were timbres that I could not hear from any other instrument, and timbres that changed in time in ways that traditional instruments could not. From playing with trying to compose music on a Commodore 64 as my earliest electronic instrument until today when collecting more virtual instrument software than I realistically know what to do with as a guilty pleasure, and from listening to the diverse wealth of timbres unleashed by early synthesists, I could never get enough. Timbres to me are sculptures, and instruments that change timbres over time are like mobiles, orreries, or even animatronic dioramas. Trying to get a flock of them moving in a way that’s more chronicle than cacophony, or at least more a mood than a monotony, that’s what I’m at least trying to practice.

Hell, I even “sometimes” write software. As in: I make a living as a software engineer and web developer. “Do everything with computers” always meant the creative and technical coding side for me, as well, starting with my first hands-on time. Now I call them “my little electronic beasties” and occasionally “those contrarian, malcompliant, runaway beasties”. A lesson learned long ago while in college, I joked with classmates that I helped as part of a work-study job, “in computer science classes we learned all about how deterministic computers are and in labs how they are anything but”. It’s not literally meant, but it’s empathetically meant, and it’s the most succinct way of communicating that all the lovely power and complexity these systems have sometimes results in unexpected consequences.

Software engineering to me feels very much like everything else I do in that it’s creative — except that it’s one of the few creative things I can do where I can deliberately and competently start with a fixed end goal and arrive at it. But… in my head? Software engineering is like choreographing a menagerie of anthropomorphized animals, moving walls that have moving pictures on them, mixing in common and uncommon household objects arranged and incorporated in a very Rube Goldberg way. way not unlike trying to create an extended 90-minute cut of Der Lauf der Dinge while planning to add in post production a revue of a dozen different animal-themed animated films where the characters are all acted out by random passers-by who’ve no idea of what they’re doing and hoping that today’s the day the meteorologists are all simultaneously very, very wrong (which you know they won’t all be wrong). Using math. Math that doesn’t occur simultaneously, but instead in very tiny steps you arrange like legos, pretending you have the precision of an astronomer but actually you’re just going to test it out a lot and hope it stays together. I have a lot of affection for this profession, and we can be very good at making extremely complex machines perform extraordinary tasks and make them seem everyday. But as you may have guessed, I’m also extremely glad I’m not the kind of software engineer tasked with building space probes or medical equipment. Taming the complex interactions down to a predictable, processional march that’s not only highly reliable but can reliably set itself back into correct marching order and tempo should anything get confused is not something I have the patience for. On the other hand, I seem to have a lot of patience and enthusiasm for people that find these machines difficult to use, and trying to make the machines just a bit more useful and approachable to them. It’s like trying to make an aspect of the world that I love just a bit less hostile to people that don’t love it nearly so much.

When I’m not making something? Usually I’m playing listening to music, reading, or playing games. Yes, also on a computer. Yes, I’m going to emphasize that every damn time. Although, that said, I also very much like tabletop games, and have tried to remind myself to play those more. But now I’ve found tabletop versions of games on the computer so I can play those with friends who are hundreds of miles away, so… um… yes? More games?

And my writing? Well… You’ve had a good sample above. I write to converse. We don’t have the luxury of sitting down together, so it’s a bit more like writing a letter, imagining you’re there, and hopefully patient with my rambling or ranting. I seem to have two moods for writing: reflective and cranky. And while I’m often cranky about one thing or another (because I’m impatient with a lot of things in the world — more than 99% of it simply the fallout from people treating one another badly and/or acting foolishly), I’m more often just plain reflective.

In any event, all of this has been one long reflection in order to try to give you a sampler.