Interview with Coplan / Fulcrum
Your handle &emp; groups?
I am known as Coplan. I've never been known as anything else (to the best of my knowledge). I went on the first few years without a group. I actually didn't join a group until somewhere around 1994 or '95. Specifically, I joined Analogue. Mind Bender, the group leader, lived nearby. So we knew each other from a local BBS. But alas, I had a lot to learn, and I didn't last long in that group. I soon joined Cryptic Stench Records (C.S.R.) and Immortal Coil (iC), concurrently. I released mostly for C.S.R. at the time, and I learned a lot from the members of iC. Well, the leader of iC resigned, and I somehow found myself running the group. I left C.S.R. (on good terms) and continued to run iC for the next couple of years. This is where I met some of my best friends. But when I graduated college, I was overwelmed with the real world and I wasn't able to maintain it. For the last couple of years (at least since college) I haven't really been a part of any formal group. Just recently, I decided to try my hand and form another group: Fulcrum. We're still trying to get things together, but I've got a pretty good crew.
What's your function in the scene?
I'll be honest, while music is my passion, it's not my greatest talent. In fact, I think I'm pretty average. But I'm best at organization and observation. So I'm not very well known for my music. On the other hand, I'm probably best known for my writing (for both Static Line and TraxWeekly) and critique.
How about real life: Name, age, profession?
I sign: D. Travis North. "D" stands for Daniel, though I rarely use it. If you really want to get my attention, call me Travis. I'm currently 26 years old. Regarding my occupation: I've done many things. But I graduated University with a degree in Landscape Architecture. And that is my current, and likely permanent, occupation.
How long have you been involved with the scene?
It sounds crazy, but I'm not exactly sure. Your life tends to blend together. I know my first contact with the demoscene was freshman year in High School, about 1991. But I didn't have internet access, and I had to rely on local BBS's to get my 'scene productions. I think I started tracking somewhere around senior year in high school. So it would seem I've been here for almost 12 years. But some might argue I wasn't "involved" for the first few years. I didn't release anything, didn't communicate with anyone, and I didn't do much more than download music.
Could you describe in more detail how you found out about the scene? It's especially interesting because you're American and the (demo) scene is less popular in the USA than it is in Europe.
Well, as I said, I used to be a member at a local BBS in my area. The BBS was called Neurosis BBS, based in South-East Pennsylvania. Anyhow, the system operator and the assistant operator were both really interested in the demoscene. At the time, I guess they didn't have involvement. But they would often put up the Freedom demo cds on their system, and I would spend many a night downloading from those volumes. This was my introduction to the demoscene, at least for observation purposes. Incidentally, the assistant operator was a guy by the name of Tom Carey, aka: Mind Bender. He was the very same that formed analogue. So I blame him mostly for introducing me to the demoscene. But I didn't truly learn about the demoscene until I started hanging on #trax (back then, I think it was on AnotherNet), and reading TraxWeekly. Of course, you can learn a lot more by running a demo group as well. Lots of people offer suggestions (whether or not you want them), and its inevitable that you learn your way around.
Could you tell us about your motivation to start Static Line, and how the magazine developed in the course of the years?
I came to the realization very early on that I wasn't going to be the next Necros. I was not talented enough to be a truly great musician. But I loved the demoscene and the countless hours of entertainment that it had brought me. one of my greatest talents and my greatest contributions that I could offer was my writing and my reviews of music. So when someone write into TraxWeekly and recommended a music review column, I e-mailed Gene Wie (the maintainer of the magazine at the time) and told him I would do it. Unfortunately, the magazine didn't last too much longer. But then I sat in limbo. DemoNews was threatening to fold, and I had very few other places to write my reviews. I decided I'd start a new magazine. So I started getting together a staff, of sorts, and finding some resources. Draggy, the maintainer of the Kosmic server back then, provided access to majordomo (a group mail client) on Kosmic's machine. And Static Line was born.
At first, Static Line had a pretty steep slant towards the music aspect of the demoscene. While it was my strength, it wasn't exactly where I wanted to be. Especially since DemoNews folded not too long after Static Line appeared on the scene. I somehow managed to get a little bit of code related material in the magazine, but it wasn't until two important things came to be.
First, Seven joined the staff of Static Line in January of 1999 upon recommendation from Psycic Symphony. He added a huge and very popular column to the magazine called "Screen Lit Vertigo. But in addition to that, Seven must provide us with 4 or 5 party reviews every year. Many people look forward to his column every month.
The second important event requires some very minor background first. Psychic Symphony was running a scene magazine at the time called Demojournal. It was a very useful resource, and he and I often shared ideas with each other. Well, it was about this time that Psychic Symphony decided it was time for him to retire the magazine. I was sad to see it go, but he recommended that most of his readers and staff switch over to Static Line. I can not thank him enough for that very kind gesture. As a result of that move, which came into effect in April, 2000 (Issue #20), Static Line picked up Gecko, another demo reviewer, and Tryhuk, an additional song reviewer. Our readership started to expand greatly over the next couple of months, and this was a major turning point in the magazine.
So the magazine kept growing, and writers came and went. But it has grown to a fairly significant size. In addition to its 300+ subscribers, our server now gets over 700 requests for the current issue each month. It's grown quite a bit, and I'm proud of what it has become.
What kind of group is Fulcrum going to be (music, demo, ...)? What members do you currently have? What projects are you planning or already working on?
I don't want to hype the group too much at this point, but I will say it will be a full service demo group. We have a couple of music releases on our server and we have already begun working on an intro which will be our official debut. We currently have 12 members consisting of 4 coders and 8 musicians. I'd mention their names, but we'll save that for our official debut. Our website is currently under construction (and it's a bit slow at the moment), but you can always visit to keep an eye on our progress: http://fulcrum.scenespot.org. We plan to offically debut late in the summer or early in the fall.
Who are the new editors of Static Line? Could you introduce them to us, especially since there wasn't much more info than their names in the latest Static Line?
There are two new editors of Static Line. Ben Cullver and Ciaran Hamilton. I'll be honest, up until I sent out that help wanted message, I actually knew little about either of these individuals. Aside from my previous contact via e-mail, I never had much contact with them. Some might ask how I can possibly trust a magazine to someone I don't really know. But I've become a good judge of character over the years. Both are very energetic with a lot of great ideas and the intent to carry them out. But the details are what you want, I'm sure. Since I find it difficult to introduce people I haven't been friends with for years, I had to ask them to fill in the gaps.
Ben is not the stereotype of a demoscener. He's 27. He's been married for 7 years. He's an Oregon, USA, resident that works as a Unix System Administrator with a knack for system level coding. His involvement in the scene, however, is tracking. He got started back in '96 with scream tracker after being introduced to the demoscene by his brother. He would tell you that he might not be the best for the job of editing Static Line. But of course, I would tell you the same. So after all my experience with running a magazine, I'll tell you that he's perfect for the job.
Ciaran is a 21-year-old from Britain. He got into tracking about 10 years ago after his favorite magazine, "What PC?", featured several MODs and a copy of MultiTracker on the cover CD. He's been trying to recreate that playlist from that CS, and his current collection can be found at http://theblob.org/whatpc/. On top of his tracking, he has a strong interest in programming as well. He has contacted me many times over the years with corrections for issues I've released, and so on. So it's only natural that he'll be one of the editors now.
The two of them will do an exceptional job. And it's always good to get new blood in on top to breath some more life into the magazine.
How come there are two new main editors? Why not just one?
It was not my intent to find two editors. Two Ciaran and Ben both replied, and I honestly wanted to see if I could narrow down the task to one editor. However, as it turns out, one is more skilled with demos while the other is more skilled with music. One of the things that Static Line lacked right from the beginning was the demo focus. But I didn't want to loose the music aspects of it. They talked it over with each other, and they offered their proposal to me. And I figured it would be worth a try. After all, I have had co-editors in the past.
Have Ben and Ciaran already known each other for a longer time? What are their plans in distributing the editing tasks - who will do what?
As of right now, only the second issue is in process. But I can already see how they are fitting into their roles as co-editors of the magazine. It seems as though Ciaran is doing more interaction with the public and the writers while Ben is doing some system level programming for the magazine. He already automated the formatting of Static Line as well as develop the domain and some cool scripts on the new official website. But both run over the editing of the magazine, and we all know that two sets of eyes is good when reviewing a magazine.
If nothing else, its two guys that knows what's going on with the magazine at all times. I will say that it's a better setup than I had with my co-editors in the past. After all, I was very much a dominant character, and my assistants didn't really understand the inner-workings. As a result, the last few years I ran the mag by myself. Unfortunately, that results in some breaks here and there when I didn't have the time. If I shared equal power with my co-editor, that person would've picked up when I didn't have the time. And vice versa. I think you'll see that with Ben and Ciaran.
Isn't it a bit risky to hand over the mag to people whom you don't know that well (at least one of them) and who haven't had any past experience in creating a magazine?
Is it not risky to START a magazine without any prior experience as well? I started Static Line without any experience. I learned as I went along. And I'll be honest, I had little help. Trial by fire, so to speak. The trusth is, I haven't let go of the magazine entirely. I am still sorta serving as a mentor for the pair, and I have been making recommendations and so on. This past issue, I even ran over with my own eyes. I still have quite a bit invested in the magazine. And should anything seem to slip, God forbid, then I'll be able to catch it before it falls. Don't get me wrong, these guys have a lot of freedom...but they have been pretty good to keep me in the loop for now and ask advice. The mailing list is still on my server, and I have ultimate control of what will happen with the magazine. I just don't expect I'll have to wield that power. So there isn't really much of a risk, after all.
Could you tell us about your projects Scene Spot and the Scene Resource Union?
I'll start with SceneSpot. SceneSpot became a reality when a good friend, Ben Reed (Ranger Rick) was generous enough to offer me server space and some coding time to get the site started. He taught me quite a bit of Perl, and the project took off from there. Within the past year, I switched platforms a bit, and we're now running a PHP site based on a popular portal back-end called Xoops. Mind you, I've made some customizations, and many more to come. It has appeared as though this project is dead. Alas it is not. The message forums have drawn several sceners thus far, and it grows a bit more every day. I'm currently in the process of upgrading the back-end to support the latest Xoops engine. Once that's all said and done, you'll start to see a lot more done with the site as I add more features and hack it a bit more for our needs. Now that Static Line has been passed off, I'll have more time for this. But of course, there's always the wedding planning that keeps getting in the way, but nevermind that.
The Scene Resource Union was an idea of mine (based on many conversations with Christopher Mann, Eric Hamilton and others) to create a union, of sorts, for demoscene related resource developers. There are a lot of people out there with great ideas that never make it off the ground because they lack the guidence that might be needed to create and promote such a tool. These are tools such as tracking programs or song database websites or news sites that would be very useful to the general scene public. The Scene Resource Union was supposed to be a place where people would discuss such issues as marketing or site development. The long term goal of the project included a central site that basically works as a user searchable resource catalog where users could rate such tools or offer their help if help was needed. The resource developers would have a place to go to find help, advertise that they needed help and get recognized for their efforts. Ideally, the concept would allow people with similar ideas to join forces towards a common goal rather than have multiple sites working towards different solutions for the very same problem. One such example would be a central syndicated news system where any site could submit news to it, and any site could pull the news feed and syndicate the news across many sites. News would spread faster that way.
Alas, the SRU never got off the ground. My timing might have been off with its initial attempt. And while the mailing list still exists, it's pretty quiet, and not much discussion. I'll admit, I should've waited for a more opportune time. Or at least I should've waited 'til I had enough time to do a better job. It's also very possible that the demoscene isn't yet ready for such a collaboration. So SRU was tossed on the back burner for now. When I get more of my other projects out of the way, and maybe when I start the next chapter of my life, I may return with the concept and see if I can get it off the ground again.
BTW, is your friend Ranger Rick the same Ranger Rick who used to be quite a well-known scener in the early 1990s?
Ranger Rick (Ben Reed) was/is PC Demoscene since as long as I can remember. He's a tracker, and he's been around. I met him when joined my old group, Immortal Coil. He and I have been pretty good friends ever since. He's helped me quite a bit on many of my scene related projects and I can never thank him enough. Partially because I could never find a way to thank him. And Partially because he's too generous to accept thanks. Meanwhile, the SceneSpot server is actually his, and he's given me quite a bit of freedom on the system. On top of that, he pretty much wrote the initial prototype before I learned Perl, and he's provided all our services ever since. He's currently a member of my current group, Fulcrum, as well.
What was the most interesting experience you've made as the editor of Static Line?
Narrowing it down to one particular moment is difficult. In a broad blanket statement, getting closer to some of the people in the demoscene, some of the well known guys, is definately worth it sometimes. But I can narrow it down to two times in particular. There's a column that pops into Static Line every now and again called "The Root". The concept is that we track down some oldskool scener and ask him to write a column detailing his experiences with the demoscene and to offer his views of what goes on these days. Needless to say, we've met some interesting people. But if I had to pick one experience, it would've been when we got Gene Wie to write for the magazine.
Gene, as you know, was sorta my mentor of sorts when it came to journalism within the scene. He was the editor of the very popular magazine called TraxWeekly, at least towards the end. The magazine disappeared and so did Gene. And I often tried to find out how to get in touch with him. But one day, we somehow reached him and we managed to talk him into doing "The Root" one month. But it was quite a nostalgia trip for me, and I learned a lot more about what really happened than what he told the public. But in addition, he gave me all 119 of the issues plus some unreleased material. We have that on SceneSpot.
What was the most interesting experience you've made in your life as a scener?
Hornet Archive used to run an annual music competion called "Music Competition". A generic name, but it was the biggest online compo in the world. I entered a couple of times, but I never got much out of it. I didn't do well, and I didn't have much fun. But when MC6 came around, I was already reviewing tunes all the time. I decided that I'd judge that time. You would never believe the artists you get exposed to when you're randomly assigned a number of tunes to review. I reviewed my quota (which I think was 12 or 16 tunes that year), and I found myself wanting to do more. I reviewed and judged almost 30 songs in all, and I had the greatest time of my demoscene career. I was exposed to some of my favorite scene songs of all time, and I learned so much about what made a winning tune. And while my song didn't do quite as well as I had hoped, I had more fun than I ever had in the demoscene. It's too bad that MC7 never materialized.
(Or at least has not materialized yet.) Do you have a favourite article of the ones published in all Static Line issues released so far?
There was a short series of articles written by Eric Hamilton (Dilvie) called "Zen of Tracking". I can't pick any one in particular, but there were only five. I believe it wasn't a very popular set of articles. It dealt a lot with inspiration, meditation and things of the sort. The part that might have turned people away is that it was based very loosely on Eric's own beliefs. However, I personally enjoyed them very much as he and I share similar beliefs. But say nothing of that, and I'd have to say they were truly inspirational articles. While I don't think they really helped my tracking, they did help me to think about what I was doing and about my process. My process has changed dramatically since those articles materialized.
Name some of the scene productions (demos, tracks, ...) and artists you like a lot.
I'll do this in a list form. I don't have much to say about most of these.
Demos: "Sunflower" by Pulse -- Some of the best pixeled graphics I'd seen at the time in a demo. "Eden" by Psychic Monks -- I like the near-subliminal commentary portrayed by each scene. Simple...but awesome. "Verses" by Electromotive Force -- It's always good to make fun of Bill Gates.
Music (my specialty): I'm going to stay semi-oldskool to keep the list narrow. "Shattered Skye" by Catspaw -- probably the most inspirational tune of all time. Music from the dark ages. "Sorrow's Triumph" by Obsidian Dream (a co-op group) -- an epic piece that remind me of Andrew Lloyd Webber's work. "Robot Electric Orchestra" by BlueZone -- a nice melting pot of classical music, new age and demo styles. "Rise of the Tides" by Rhythm Greene -- One of my mentors. I'll never forget Rhyg or his music. "Spotting the Devil" by Setec -- Ambient with a bit of a funkey edge. Good soundtrack material. "Not for Kids" by Skaven -- a truly talented musician. Just look at the art that can be done in 4 channels. "Route 84" by Skie -- Skie has always been the master of the syth-sound. And this is one of her best. "Kingdom Skies" by Jase -- Still one of my most favorite tunes of all time. It's a classic epic orchestral piece. The samples aren't the best, but given the time it was written...it's a masterpiece.
Where do you get inspiration for tracking from?
Same place that most musicians get inspiration from. Life, Love, Pain. But I probably get most of my inspiration from other original music and luck. Almost half my music started with a ditty I just threw down on a pattern. And the song grew around it.
What are your personal future plans?
Right now I have two major goals: 1) Get married (October 16, 2004) and 2) Get my Landscape Architecture License...which requires a lot of difficult testing. Beyond that, I haven't had much time to think about anything else.
Do you have a personal life motto?
Not really. I just live off of a complicated belief structure that was based on what my parents have taught me. I don't know if it's a motto, but I always try to learn something new every day. I believe that one doesn't truly live if they aren't curious.
Any last words (greets, message to the readers,...)?
There are a lot of people out there to give you advice, especially in the demoscene. You've heard a lot of it over and over again. But don't neglect a single thing that anyone tells you. I've learned just as much from some of my pupils as they have learned from me. You can learn something from everyone. Don't take that for granted. That's why the legends are so great -- they take criticism well. As frustrating as it may seem, listen.
I would like to send out a quick greet to a few people I've lost touch with. Shaithis and Rhythm Greene, two of my best mentors. If it weren't for you guys helping me to collect the dust... I wouldn't be here today.