Regarding Apple and the death of the 'cool'.

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Regarding an article I read (When did Apple become uncool? - Yahoo News) I just wanted to quickly talk about Apple.  They're a great company, they've risen from humble beginnings to become one of these globa-mega-hyper-corp conglomerates that you kinda worry could actually enslave us all if they wanted to.  Some would say that they've already enslaved some of us via commercial means, but that's a subject for another day.  

I'm an Apple user.  They made my computer.  They made my mobile phone.  They made my MP3 player.  I wouldn't call myself a 'fanboy', nor do I feel like I have to be 'a Mac OR a PC'.

Basically, I have a bit of an issue with the whole 'Apple = Cool' thing.  

Y'see, as I understand it, they started making personal computers way back in the day which were successful but then slowly towards the 90s they were beaten out by the almighty Microsoft who were producing their more popular 'Windows' operating system which would run on a much wider range of hardware (see 'The Rise and Fall of Apple' section on their Wiki page).  Then with the introduction of the iPod and iMac brands (designed by Jonathan Ive) towards the end of the 90s, they began to rise again.  



It was during this rise that they began to change their marketing strategy somewhat.  The iPod MP3 players Ive was designing were revolutionary and beautiful.  The computers he was designing looked nothing like the Macs of previous years, or like any personal computers for that matter.  So whether it was their returned popularity influencing their marketing strategy or vice versa, Apple began to market their products with a bit of swagger.  I'm not saying they began to cater to a higher clientele, or that they knowingly wanted people to think 'Mac = Cool', but it kinda happened anyway.  The whole 'Mac vs PC' thing of recent years is a prime example of this.  I grew up using PCs, but when I began to look into Apple Macs, I liked what I saw.  I didn't at any point think 'Apple Macs are cool, I should get one so people know I'm creative and cool etc...', nor did I feel 'pressured' by commercialism into owning an iPod or whatever, and this is the main point of my argument:

Maybe, just maybe, some people buy Mac products because they're good, not because they want to look good.

I have nothing against other non-Mac machines; I own other non-Mac machines.  In some ways, they're better; in some ways, they're worse.  Macs are seen as being more stable, more reliable, less prone to viruses etc.  This isn't to say they never crash or break, but Apple made Macs, Apple made the Mac operating system to run on their machines, so it stands to reason they'd be much less likely to experience compatibility issues, to crash all the time, as opposed to Windows running on my piece of crap PC that I'd cobbled together from whatever parts I could find on eBay or have as hand-me-downs from my friends' machines.  Now that's not to say that using them is like some sort of waking-dream, no matter how many 'it's as simple as that' ads Apple churn out - at the end of the day, they're just computers, they're just MP3 players, I could effectively be doing the same thing on any other machine/OS combination, but I choose to do it on a Mac because they have a proven track record in my life of enabling me to get things done, whether they be Googling for kittens, or recording an album.


The article I linked to above basically talks about how Apple are apparently shifting in public image from the archetypal 'cool', benevolent, user-focussed corporation, towards a more self-centred outlook, not unlike the perceived image of old rivals Microsoft.  Whether or not this is true, I don't know, and to some extent don't care - if they keep making innovative, beautiful products, I'll keep buying em, and not because I like what owning them says about me; if some other company's phone or MP3 player or personal computer is better, I'll go a different way.  Some recent reports of Apple cracking down on people modifying their phones, or not allowing third-party developers to publish their applications do smack of totalitarian regimes, but it's their company and I guess they can do what they want.  If they piss off their users, they will probably lose them (I say probably remembering that there ARE a small minority for whom Apple could release the 'iTurd' and they'd be queuing for the midnight launch, but at the end of the day, I think most people will vote with their wallets...).


I don't feel my 'loyalty' to Apple as a corporation is a slave-relationship; they've gained my trust in as much as the products I own by them all enable me to incorporate technology into my daily routine and in doing so enrich my life.  Obviously there's always going to be a percentage of people who let their possessions define who they are, but that percentage is a lot less than 100%.  I, on the other hand, sometimes feel like I'm being judged for owning and using Mac products, and I believe this is unfair.  PC owners especially, or those who feel too 'uncool' for the Mac's sleek vanilla Justin Long social stereotype, feel the need to look down their nose at Mac users, much like the nerds in a typical American high school drama would look down their noses at the 'poor jocks with their crippling good looks and popularity', despite the fact that most of the PC users I know who act this way have never even tried a Mac.

The point I'm trying to make is, alright: Apple's marketing strategy might make all Mac users seem like indie-creative douchebags, but in reality, maybe owning a product that makes magic happen on a daily basis isn't a crime.

The 'F' Word.

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I've had this PostSecret saved on my desktop for the past three weeks.  For the uninitiated, PostSecrets is an ongoing community mail art project, created by Frank Warren, in which people mail in their secrets anonymously on a homemade postcard. Frank publishes a group of the 'best' entries every Sunday at his blog.  One of the few secrets that has really make me think, it seems to somehow capture the biggest fear (that's the 'F' word, if you were wondering...) of our generation (myself included) and, in the interest of full disclosure, I wanted to share it with you.  

The image is taken from one of my favourite Simpsons episodes, #52 'Homer At The Bat', where Mr. Burns places a bet on the power plant's company softball team 'The Isotopes' winning it to the championship game and, to this end, drafts nine ringers from the 'big leagues' to ensure his success.  In this scene, the famous baseball player Darryl "The Straw" Strawberry is at the plate and the Simpson kids, feeling sorry for their Dad's failure to be asked to play, do their best to put him off by chanting "Darryl! Darryl! Darryl!", eventually driving even the most hardened of ballers to shed a single miserable and simultaneously hilarious tear.

The episode is often sited by people as one of the greatest ever, but the accompanying caption really changes the whole tone of the image.  This simple, five-word question might be the scariest query in the history of words.  And it's so ambiguous, it can really be about anything.  Anything you really want from life.  Anything you're putting off because you think it'll all come in good time.  That amazing career.  That lucrative idea.  The ideal house.  The perfect spouse.  The chance to make your mark on this world.  What if it never happens?

Actually, I mis-quote.  The version on the postcard has no question mark, which actually has the potential to totally change the entire tone of the piece from a question to a statement.  What if it never happens.  What if.  Who cares if it doesn't. So what....

But still, question mark or none, it's quite a statement.  In my own life, it's about the accomplishments I hope to achieve.  I'm 25 now.  That's a quarter of my life (I know the average male lifespan is around 75 but I plan to go a bit longer...), and I don't really have much to show for it.  

I haven't yet written and directed a zombie-robot apocalypse movie.

I can't play the piano nearly as well as I'd like to.

I don't have a valid driver's license.

I'm in poor physical shape.

I wear jeans to work (which in ANY other situation would be a MAJOR plus, but right now I'm using it to communicate the point that my job is menial....).  

I still have a LONG way to go in the pursuit of happiness, whether that be in the form of a great job, or an amazing girlfriend, or a triple-platinum selling album, or just the ability to live a worry-free life and sleep soundly at night knowing you're enjoying this fleeting life as much as possible.  But what if it never happens?  What if I never get to that plateau of life where you look back at all you've achieved and think 'I wouldn't change a thing'?  I'd like to say I have no regrets, but sometimes I look at how much others have done in the same length of time or less and think 'I must have fallen down somewhere along the line'.  

Shouldn't I be touring by now?  

Shouldn't I be married by now?  

Shouldn't I be a better Christian by now?  

Shouldn't I have seen more of the world?  

Shouldn't I have attained that college degree?  

Shouldn't I be donating to charities via standing order?

And if I'm 25 now, will any of this mean as much to me if I accomplish it by the time I'm 50, or will I just be left wishing I'd done it sooner?

I guess the question 'what if it never happens' is really a statement of the real 'F' word - fear.  Fear of regret.  People often use the phrase 'no regrets' as a cover for this fear, which I think is total BS.  Show me a man with no regrets and I'll show you an arrogant douchebag who's too pigheaded to concede his failures.  So if failure is a part of life, how come it's so flippin' scary?  I guess what it boils down to is that this is it.  This life.  This is like our one chance.  There are no mulligans, there are no do-overs.  There are no extra lives or continues or 1-Ups.  If we screw something up, we have to live with it.  And conversely if we don't achieve something through our own inaction or the wrong action, we have to live with that regret.  The best we can do is learn HOW to live with and through that regret, and try to learn from it so that 'what if it never happens' becomes 'here's how I'm going to try and cause it to happen'.  

As it happens, the 'Topes win the title. With the score tied, bases loaded, two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Burns elects to field a right-handed hitter against a left-handed pitcher and pinch hits Homer for Strawberry. The very first pitch hits Homer in the head, rendering him unconscious, but forcing in the winning run. The team wins the title and Homer, still unconscious, is paraded as a hero.  But there are probably countless would-be ballers for whom 'it never happened'.  And musicians.  And inventors, and managers, and chefs, and pilots, and mothers, and husbands.  So I feel that, at 25, I should probably focus less on 'what if it never happens' and more on how I'm going to try to make it happen, and trust God for the rest.

Displays of Affection

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Some might think I have more money than sense.  They clearly haven't seen my bank account.  Or my aptitude test results... Anywho, those who truly know me know that I'm a sucker for a big screen.  I love to have gazillions of pixels flung at my retinas like arrows at Nameless.  When I don't have to squint at programs, I work quicker, longer, harder, better, faster, stronger.  The only thing better than a big screen?  Two big screens.  My bedroom studio setup, therefore, looked like this:


Two beautiful 19" Dell TFT LCD screens plugged into my Windows machine; plenty of space for tracks, plugins, and waveforms.  But alas, despite the massive desktop area, all was not well (said the ungrateful little Lord to his maidservant).  I couldn't both screens with my Macbook, where I seem to be making most of my music at the moment, and they didn't seem to be getting much use.  Add to that the fact that they took up a lot of space, on the same platform as 2 different pairs of speakers, 2 x external hard drives and other collected dongles and docks, and you begin to see my quandry...  And so I have recently consolidated all my screens into one easy-to-view 24" widescreen HD Iiyama display, and it's purdy:


The Iiyama B2409HDS boasts a massive 1920x1080 resolution and features DVI, D-Sub and HDMI inputs, so it's plenty versatile.  It even has a couple of speakers built-in, so I can theoretically keep playing my PS3 in full 1080p HD glory if my big telly ever moves, say, out of my bedroom into the living room??!  (as if.)

One of my favourite features is the stand.  As well as being able to rotate left and right and tilt up and down, it sits on a shaft that allows it to actually raise/lower depending on what height you're sitting it.  Kinda reminds me of how Johnny 5 raises up on his cat-tracks to hug Ally Sheedy.  Damn lucky robot.

But by far my favourite feature, one that I enjoyed with the Dell displays, is its ability to rotate its screen orientation from landscape to portrait, which is really useful for working with different apps.  For example, my setup when creating music with Reason involves using my Macbook as the sequencer screen, and the second display in portrait orientation for displaying my equipment rack, which being long and thin lends itself well to a portrait orientation:



Being able to orient the display in portrait also lends itself to other applications, such as writing long documents/screenplays, organising a playlist, viewing a large photo library, or measuring the exact length of an elongated feline memestar:



The display was second hand from a guy on a computer forum I frequent and he sold it for a good price.  I must admit, I experienced slight buyer's remorse after I'd paid for it, just simply because I felt a little guilty about spending out on yet another gadget, but I'm really glad I bought it now, and I reckon after I've managed to sell the old screens off, I'll feel even better.

Teenage Engineering's OP-1

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Yes, another synthy post.  It's Musikmesse 2010, whatdya expect??

As well as saving for a Roland SH-01, I have also been following the progress of the little synth that could from unknown garage tinkerers 'Teenage Engineering'.  Although you really can't call the OP-1 a 'synth', it's so much more, and so much less, all at the same time... It's hard to explain, so why not read what Create Digital Music had to say about it a couple of months back....





Gaia

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I'm a little bit in love with this newly announced synth from Roland:



The Gaia SH-01 is a small but fun-packed little synth keyboard. It has an infinitely 'tweakable' front panel, with all the synth parameters set out as faders and knobs.  From left to right, you control modulation, oscillators, and amplitude envelope. It also features a pitch/mod paddle, arpeggiator and phrase recorder, and adds newer features like easy preset access, D-Beam, and an effects section.

Ever since I became interested in synthesisers in my early teens, I've wanted to own one of Roland's famed SH series keyboards.  One of my musical idols, Edgar Winter, played  the series' first iteration, the SH-1000 in the 70s.



As if you need another reason, just pause reading this for 9 minutes and watch him rock that thing on the Old Grey Whistle Test:




Then in the 80s, it was all about the SH-101.  Its straightforward systematic interface allowed the creation of fat monophonic basslines and squealing lead riffs, all instantly editable via the no-nonsense knob and fader interface.  I actually knew someone who owned one, but gave it away.  Fool.




And then the series continued with the SH-201.  Adding new Roland features for the 21st century, this was the next logical progression in the SH series.  I came upon one during a visit to Techniquest; suffice to say I didn't learn much about pulleys or refraction or the solar system on that trip....





Something about these synths has always sat well with me.  I was turned on to synths at a time when most keyboards had you delving through menus and squinting desperately trying to work out what letter was was trying to be produced by the 7-piece LED display.  These ones seemed so simple in comparison; a logical progression of 'first I do this, then I do this, then I do this to get the sound I want'.  I always wanted to own one of these, so that I could get really 'hands-on' with my noisemaking.  Unfortunately they were either extremely rare, out of production, or too rich for my blood.  Well, this new model has me thinking maybe I should start saving....anyone wanna buy a MicroKorg??

You can read a short preview/watch some promotional videos of its capabilities here.

A picture-based joke regarding synthesisers.

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Scott Pilgrim is a Teaser

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Great teaser poster for the movie of the only comic book series I've ever really read:


Quite excited for this now.....


P


Conchords

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Just wanted to mention that in June I will be seeing ‘Flight of the Conchords’ in Manchester. And this photo of them playing in Vancouver gets me WELL excited:

OK Go....

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When OK Go stop making videos, I will stop watching them agog:



This is the second video for their latest single, 'This Too Shall Pass'.  The first was equally impressive and featured a marching band, but their record label wouldn't allow users to embed the video to their own sites, a move which effectively killed its chances of becoming as viral as their previous and well-publicised/parodied efforts.

Sometimes..........I worry about the majors...

Chatroulette: Redux.

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An interesting video from one of the Neistat Brothers which briefly documents the aforementioned Chatroulette and proves some of the theories I held about this fascinating website:


chat roulette from Casey Neistat on Vimeo.


Also, Chatroulette Missed Connections, a site helping re-unite disconnected chatters has inevitably been set up to give true love a second chance.

Best Rube Goldberg EVAR.

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THIS is what you can achieve with a degree in engineering......

Chatroulette

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Chatroulette.  Is there any simpler premise for guaranteed fun?

In my day, when all this were fields, we'd hang out or sleep over at a mate's house and insult random peons from other countries via IRC.  But this is 2010, and we live in the broadband generation, where images of your naked genitals can be instantly beamed around the world into the eyes (and unfortunately memories) of innocent chatters!

Chatroulette - for the uninformed - is a site which simply connects you (your webcam/microphone/computer) to somebody else (and their webcam/microphone/computer) from anywhere in the world at random. Once connected, you can talk, wave, type, discuss life and so on. It seems like a great idea in principle. Alas, it seems the only spanner in the works are us - human beings. The exact same people that used to insult randoms on IRC chatrooms are grown up and still insulting people via videochat, only now they've got their wangs out. You're able to withhold video/audio data if you should so choose, but most allow full coverage, which means that a quick skip through the lines of people eager to chat reads like a game of 'Duck, Duck, Goose'. Except, instead of a duck, it's a man's penis.  And instead of a duck, it's a man's penis.  And instead of a goose, it's a pedophile.  I should say now - this site is definitely not for the faint of heart.  Society as a whole can be a pretty freaky-ass place, but I like to think the breakdown of the site is quite similar to a pool of humanity in the 'real world' - 20% weirdos, 75% people making fun of the weirdos, 4% nice human beings and 1% beautiful women.  I was lucky enough to chat to one of the 1% tonight, but more on that later....

The site seems fairly unpoliced; you don't have to register; you don't need to provide any details.  There's no sign in, no logging of your personal data of any kind, so it seems.  I'm not one to quash freedom of speech, especially not on the internet, but to have such weird and offensive content accessible in the same place as innocent wholesome content is a veritable legal landmine.  Suffice it to say, I wouldn't let my kids go near the site - if I had any - until I had at least had a chance to talk to them - and I have NO idea how that conversation would go.....

"Billy....now you're gonna see some things.....terrible things......but if you're really brave and reeeeaaally lucky, you might just make a friend!"

It's really not worth the risk.

There are, however, a few good souls online.  I was one, and she - let's call her 'Sonic Youth Fan' - was another.  She was from New York, so naturally I struck up a conversation about my love of all things American.  Read the full, uncensored, unedited conversation after the jump.....


Previously...

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Lost, the show that launched a thousand questions, is finally back on air for its final season. And I'm loving every minute of it.

I just wanted to take a moment - I couldn't not, really - to share these amazing Lost illustrations created by someone called Grickle:


















Only In Gateshead...

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I'm so proud to hail from Gateshead.


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The Biffy/Thrice Conspiracy

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Ok, so not so much of a conspiracy as one of those moments of audio juxtaposition that I somehow tend to spot (see: case of the Coldplay/MacNamara Conspiracy of 2005):



The chorus of Thrice's 2003 single 'All That's Left' -

Thrice - All That's Left (Chorus)




The chorus of Biffy's 2007 single 'Saturday Superhouse' -

Biffy Clyro - Satuday Superhouse (Chorus)




The chorus of Thrice's 'All That's Left' mixed with Biffy's 'Saturday Superhouse'...


Questions?  Comments?  Conspiracies??

Thrice - Cardiff Uni

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On Thursday, one of my favourite quasi-Christian rock bands 'Thrice' from Irvine CA played at the venue where I work.  I was especially excited as I got to operate lights for the show.

Here's a sample of their rocking (and my flashing), uploaded by a random concert-goer 'TheBatsMouth'.




Check out his other videos from the show, too!


80's movie logos

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While I was at home I came across a rather strange anomaly of film promotion…

I am, for those that don't know, a bit of a fan of 80s teen movies - heck, I'm a bit of a fan of the 1980s in general, although I only lived through 6 years of it…  John Hughes is obviously a huge part of this obsession, and will be sorely missed.  So in my old bedroom in the house where I grew up, I have a couple of posters of movies of his, both of which have accompanying logos.  By logos, I'm not simply referring to the typeface of the movie title or the way in which it is displayed.  I'm talking about separate, stylised logos, which I can only imagine were made to further promote the movies in the years of their release.  Here's a closer look:

photo 2.jpg

From the 1985 movie 'The Breakfast Club', a circular logo beneath the title typeface:

photo.jpg

…and from the 1986 classic on which I base my life 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off', this rather more inconspicuous logo (possibly based on Robert Indiana's 'LOVE' sculpture) in the lower-right corner:

photo 4.jpg

…and again, in for a closer look:

photo 3.jpg

I've searched online for any information relating to these logos but as yet have found nothing.  If anyone reading this has any information, I'd be interested to find out more about the ideas behind giving the films a logo.  Was it something that was utilised during the original release period?  An instantly recognisable moniker alerting kids to the new Hughes hot property?  Answers on a Molly Ringwald postcard, please…

Be Kind Please Rewind

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On a recent trip home, I found the following sticker on a VHS copy of 'Mac & Me' (no, not an instructional pasta video, but a kids movie - an 80s 'E.T.' but with half the talent involved...) which I pretty much wore out over the few years I owned it (prior to the release and subsequent world-domination of the DVD format…).


I'll always remember the Chester-Le-Street video shop.  A tiny upstairs room in a hovel of a building located outside a dingy train station.  Floor-to-ceiling tape walls, the stench of stale cigarette smoke imbuing each tape with nicotine and cancer, I'd spend hours (or as long as Dad would let me) trying to pick out a movie which looked good.  This was difficult in those days; as a kid, visiting the cinema was a once-a-year activity, a world away from my now bi-weekly visits to the local multiplex.  There was no Quicktime Movie Trailers dot com, there was no internet yet.  Which raises another question - did life actually exist before AintItCool.com??  A question for another time, perhaps…

It was a simpler time, but not without its charms.  The 'Be Kind Rewind' era is long gone now, and I think it says a lot about the world which we now inhabit.  We no longer have to 'rewind', nor do we have to even visit the video shop.  But it's about more than video shops - I guess it's about the worry that we're no longer a part of a society that would go a little out of its way so that the next person in line can enjoy the same experience as we have.  Maybe I'm overreacting, but I can't help but feel that our world no longer 'rewinds' when we're finished with an experience, and I don't mean 'mentally' rewinds, I mean...well...we leave the hotel room in an untidy state because there'll be somebody in to do that for us.  We don't pick up our rubbish when we leave the cinema because somebody else is paid to do it (well I do, but that's because I've been that litter-picker-upper-guy…).  We don't bus our own trays when we leave the fast food joint, or refill the paper in the office printer, or keep that library book in pristine condition.  We have, in a lot of situations, exchanged our expendable wealth for our sense of community 'niceness'.  Am I overreacting?

Let's say there was a new format of entertainment tomorrow, one that asked that, once you were done enjoying it, you'd do a little bit of work to make it easier for someone else to enjoy it the same way.  Maybe 'rewinding' is today's equivalent of 'seeding' an illegal download that you've enjoyed.  If so, I'm happy to say that there is still a large proportion of society that is functioning by working together, even if the big companies do want to lock us all up for, oh I don't know, 'breaking the law' or whatever….

I can't think of any perfect examples right now of what I'm trying to get at, but hopefully you can catch my drift.  I just worry sometimes that the times of holding a door open for someone even if they're miles away, or giving somebody a lift in a flash rainstorm, or checking that kid crying in the park is ok might be long gone.  I'm not saying society has crumbled since the death of VHS.  If it has, then I'm as much to blame for it as anyone else, but I don't think we're all doomed.  In fact, one thing I've noticed in recent times is that 'random acts of kindness' are everywhere.  And every now and again, if you're watching very closely, you'll see somebody 'rewind', and it's really heartwarming.

When was the last time you 'rewound'??

Testes, testes, one, two....uh...three?!

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Ok, so today I bought a domain and some webspace from the kind people at iPower.  How much space, you ask?  Oh, only......INFINITY SPACE.  They were suggested to me by close personal friend Mike Monaghan of the world famous 'Dusty & The Dreaming Spires' and seems to be working out well, so far.

The domain is www.peanutismint.com; it currently redirects to this very site (a fact you'll already be privee to if that's how you arrived here), but in the future I may try to design my own page or even a whole site; just something to help catalogue and promote my various blogs and musical projects.

I also added some code to my blog's HTML which will hopefully turn all .MP3 links I include into a nice little player.  This is, therefore, a test.

How big a nerd do I sound right now?


This is a demo of a song I've been working on for my band -

PROS:

  • It has a super-long and ultimately pointless synth-pad intro.  What are you talking about?  Of course that's a 'pro'...
  • It's a bit of a spoken word epic - although any comparisons to R.E.M.'s 'Country Feedback' are purely coincidental.
  • It's helped me learn how to record a song that will mix well; layering different guitar techniques (like power-chords/jazz picking/lead solos) instead of layering the same guitar technique (power-chords/dirty chords/clean chords).
  • It does have an Edge-esque pealing guitar lick during the chorus...
CONS:
  • The vocals were recorded in a sitting position in the passenger seat of a Volvo XC60, a technique which at first seemed like a really brilliant alternative to getting in an isolation booth, but ultimately proved detrimental to my singing.
  • The drums aren't real.
  • The bass I recorded was out of tune so I replaced it with a synth bass from my MicroKorg.
  • The guitar I used won't play in tune - I'm probably going to have to buy a new guitar.
  • ..............sigh.............it has a super-long and ultimately pointless synth-pad intro....


Anyways, what I'm saying is, it's far from finished.  But these are all things I can build upon!  Huzzah!

If On A Winter's Night...

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So, this being winter and all, I just thought I'd mention one of my new favourite winter records.
It's called 'If On A Winter's Night' and it's by my favourite Wallsend-hailing musician, Sting.  Somebody, the label I guess, asked him to put out a 'Christmas' record.  He basically told them that he didn't want to make a 'Christmas' record, but that winter was his favourite season and he'd love to do some wintery songs.  Some are of his own creation, others are re-workings of old hymns, others still are traditional folksongs which suits his recent preferences for more new-age and 'world' music down to the ground.  It's a really good record; it's just a little bit classier than your standard 'Christmas' faire of tunes, not that there's anything wrong with those, I'm probably guilty of 90% of the Christmas tunes that get played in our house during December, but I digress...

So to support this recording, Sting put on a show in the city of my birth, Durham, in the beautiful and majestic hall of Durham Cathedral, to be filmed and broadcast on the BBC.  My Uncle Roy, tour manager extraordinaire to the likes of Zeppelin, The Who, R.E.M. and Michael Jackson (to name but a few...), had recently worked with The Police on their most recent tour, and was asked to put this show together.  My lucky parents were offered the usual guestlist spots; in fact my own dear Mother was snapped backstage eating pork pies with the bearded songsmith himself...

I was quite clearly gutted at missing such an opportunity.  Although I'd much rather see The Police, I do also appreciate Sting's solo work, and I love a bit of folk music, when the mood catches me right...


My mother; the groupie...


From what Uncie Roy told my parents, it was obviously quite a difficult show to put on.  Getting lights, sound and rigging into a cathedral built in 1093AD was difficult enough, and this was only compounded by having to fit television cameras and all the related gubbins in there too.  Nevertheless, I caught the show on BBC Two over the Christmas period and it was absolutely spellbinding.


Sting's band featured this percussionist from Brazil, Cyro Baptista, who is one of the best I've ever seen.  The tools this guy brings to the table.... He uses everything.  I mean, EVERYTHING.  Shakers, beaters, sticks, toys, bottles, a set of chimes made out of keys, pipes, gongs, refrigerator, frog bells, triangles, woodblocks, newspapers, tamborim, vacuum cleaner hose - if it makes a noise, he uses it.  What a dude!

Check out this video for more of his instruments:



My favourite part of the whole show, though, was a folk interlude played at the end of a song.  Sting had asked folk stalwart, Northumbrian Pipes master and local music LEGEND Kathryn Tickell to accompany his band.  She and her brother Peter, a talented violinist and small pipist, took the cathedral roof right off.  Talk about toe-tapping - it gave a whole new meaning to the word 'jig'.  Not that I didn't enjoy the entire performance, and Sting's songs, but these two and the rest of the musicians really made the performance magical.   And thanks to the sheer MAGIC of YouTube...



I DARE you to not tap your foot...


The diary of an amateur recording engineer...

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Music for me is a pretty big deal.  I like writing it, I like playing it, I like listening to it, I like going to see it performed.

I have a huge passion for recording music - the endless sonic possibilities enriched by modern digital recording and editing/mixing makes the computer a veritable audio playground.  One of the hardest elements of the process, I find, is getting what I hear in my head to match up with what I hear from my speakers.



Here follow a few examples of things that often trip me up when recording...






Part Un - Recording


I constantly encounter problems in this, the first step of any project, probably something to do with being overcome with excitement and wanting to get my ideas down on tape.  I'm a big fan of fixing problems 'in the mix', but I've learned from experience that the recording process is made exponentially easier if you get things sounding right from the moment you hit the 'Record' switch.


Instruments need to be in tune (where possible), and at the correct levels, i.e. loud enough for the recording.  I like to play along to a click track, when necessary, so it's also important for me to be able to clearly hear the metronome, as well as the instrument I'm playing.  This can often be difficult to achieve without an external mixer or headphone section (if you're using headphones…I usually do….especially when recording with microphones) - I use a cheap Behringer monitor/headphone amplifier which enables me to quickly control the level of the recording/the click track independently, and has plenty of headroom.  You shouldn't need the click track too loud, especially if your headphones bleed sound which could be picked up on the mic you're recording into.

So many times due to eagerness to get results, I'll record an instrument out of time or sing off-key because I haven't taken simple steps to make sure I can hear myself correctly.  If you get a decent 'sample' of sounds from the outset, you can usually fix any mix problems a lot more easily, without having to re-record.  It also helps me to be more creative with my mix, as I'll often come up with new ideas on the spot that I can then incorporate into my recording, like banging on my glass for extra rhythm, or singing into a cymbal for shimmery reverb, or adding a whistle-track…. The possibilities really are endless.



Part Deux - Mixing



Up until I tried it for myself, I never realised quite how much work went into mixing - it can often be quite difficult to get a decent sounding recording, especially when working with lots of instrument tracks that each need to be heard.  It's a lot easier when you're recording acoustic tracks or instruments with very different timbres, but when you're making dirrty rock & roll it can be difficult for a bitchin guitar solo to slice through a wall of distorted power chords.

I'm still an absolute beginner at mixing, but I've started to rely on several 'cheat sheet' techniques to help me get a decent sound.  Little things, like…

A little Panning goes a long way - give your recordings an element of space by panning tracks left & right.  Even a little bit of movement can loosen up a dull recording.

Reverb is about more than just making you sound like you're screaming in a cave on the moon.  It can create the illusion of sounds being close or far away; think of it as lateral Panning - forwards & backwards rather than left & right…

EQ can hurt as much as it helps.  It can help to fill out that part of the audio spectrum that is hitherto left untouched in your project, but overdoing it can make your beautiful recording sound crap.  Best to use it sparingly to highlight the frequencies already present in your recording.  Don't use it, for instance, to try and make your tinny, trebly guitar part sound more 'beefy'; it usually won't do anything but needlessly distort it (unless that's the sound you're going for, in which case there's absolutely nothing wrong with that....).






Compression is a term that's used more often than not these days in the perforative.  There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the technique of compression; it basically refers to reducing the dynamic level of an audio signal so that the quieter signals are made louder and the louder signals quieter.  This can be useful when you have a very dynamic instrument which needs to be audible at all times in your track.  The human voice is a great example of this.  Voices sound different when sung louder or quieter, and if your recording has vocals then varying the singing volume can obviously add emotion and 'feeling' to the track.  Compressing the track means that listeners should be able to hear the vocals or whatever clearly irregardless of the level at which they were recorded.  Compression therefore, like EQ, is only as good as you know how to use it.  I still don't understand all the parameters completely, but you can always rely on the user-made presets found in most computer plugins.  There's no point compressing things like distorted guitar parts as they are usually 'compressed' during the act of distortion anyway.  But if you have a drum track, for instance, that's getting lost in the mix, compression can really help to keep it afloat, providing you know what you're doing and don't overdo it, obviously.  It's technically the same process as 'riding the fader', manually controlling the volume level of a track over the course of a recording, but it's usually more accurate than the human perception of dynamics.




Which brings me to another point of recording via computer.  Since the advent of digital recording, the entire process seems to have changed.  A lot of people nowadays, me included, seem to record with their eyes, reacting to the shape of waveforms on the screen rather than the sound in their ears.  Which is clearly bonkers.  Sound is the king here; it's the sound that's going to get people moving when they're rocking to their ipods, and they won't give a hoot if the section they're listening to looks dodgy through a spectroscope, providing it sounds good.  Personally, I always find it hard to ride the fine line between sending track levels into the red or not being able to hear the track clearly in the mix.  Let's just remember: VU meters are there to help you, but don't let them control you….  If something's clipping, it's not the end of the world.  A little EQ here, a little compression there, or better still, just turn everything down.  My most recent project went from sounding like utter crap to sounding like the best mixing I've ever done as soon as I stripped everything back, turned all the levels and the compression down, and then gradually brought each part back in, bit by bit, with more headroom.  Of course then I added 4 vox parts and I was straight back in clipping hell, but that's another story.....



I'm sure I'll comment more on my adventures in sounderland as and when I have them.  I haven't even started learning the art of 'mastering' yet.  When I was just starting up, the problems inherent in recording were annoying enough to discourage me for a little while.  Now that I've learned a little and gained a little more experience/half-decent equipment, I find that most issues can be solved by a quick Google search or a post on the Reaper forums.

At this point I should probably thank my DAW of choice, the fabulous 'Reaper' from Cockos, which is the cheapest, easiest, cleverest and mostest bestest recording program I've ever had the pleasure of owning.




Oh and if you're so inclined you can hear my most recent recordings on my SoundCloud page.

All is quiet...

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Went out with my parents for a nice new year's day walk on Friday.  The snow was deep and the light was perfect for some dusk snapping:




























One thing I always notice on walks is that people talk to other people.  Not friends they know, but complete strangers.  Only the occasional 'how-do' or even just a nod as you pass, but this is the only place I can think of where this happens.  Are the only people still walking for recreation from another time where people spoke to one another?

It's bizarre, it's abnormal, and it flies in the face of the world we know today.
And I love it.