I like this

Silence? Sound?
Better an aeolian harp
Than fool who has
The king's ear.
There are no kings here,
Only torchlights seen
Across dark fields
By beings on business
Of their own.
All illusion is alone.
Could that include this question?

Makes a change to all the Christian devotional poetry about aeolian harps that's appearing online at present.

I mean, seriously, nothing illustrates the superstition versus science argument better than the idea that the sound produced by an aeolian harp is something other than vibrations. Ye olde Victorians thought it was spirits talking from the aether, which is kinda cool in a romantic way but apparently some people thought something similar about the static you can still hear on the radio between stations.

Maybe I'll want to believe there's something beyond the veil of death as it seems closer too?

Murray School of Education videos

Here are a collection of videos I produced with the assistance of final year TV Production students Shelley and Nancy. They also appear on the CSU website.

Distance education with CSU

I don't think I'd finished the first semester of my TV Production degree when I made this. It was screened on TV around Newcastle.

Demand drugs

Susan Sontag wrote that "all genuine moral views are founded on a notion of refusal" and it's a truth that underlies a lot of the values in our so-called Christian society. Refusal is based on what is considered to be right, it's the holier-than-thou attitude that comes from a smug sense of personal satisfaction.

Economists have described interest rates as being "blunt instruments" for controlling inflation and, in a similar way, I believe the law is a blunt instrument for enforcing morals.

The problem with morals is that they're informed by superstition - a dogma. Whereas ethics are based on actually engaging with issues and resolving them through intellectual means.

So reading this comment from Australia's top cop makes me wonder why, if the market dictates demand and price for many services, how come drugs aren't legal?

I guess because morally it's considered poor character to seek escape from personal circumstances. Morally one should confront these flaws and overcome them.

So rather than creating legal avenues that would also create ways of controlling the demand and use of drug, our society casts these issues as moral problems rather than health ones.

It's why people with mental health issues have to demonstrate that they've overcome their drug addictions to receive assistance such as housing. Of course, the catch is that if they're living on the street they're going to seek comfort through drugs.

Another issue is that prohibition doesn't work. Where would problem gamblers be if gambling was illegal and they had no exposure to the harm minimisation messages which are becoming more prevalent? (Well, aside from lining the pockets of Woolworths and the Australian Labor Party.)

Three foxy GFs

Dreams are weird

A friend once remarked that he didn't think there was much more boring in conversation than people recounting dreams. He has a point, Carl Jung thought dreams were specific to the dreamer and my experience has been that the conversation is usually a monologue punctuated with the words 'and then...'.

I read a theory that dreams help us prepare, like some teaching tool for unlikely events. It cited that many people talk after accidents of how it was a dream-like experience. I guess this would be a way for the brain to create neural pathways to cope with challenges.

I like this idea because I sometimes think I see the future in my dreams. It's a crazy idea I know but I guess I like thinking it. This started when I drank a bottle of mugwort beer that had been given to my partner but she couldn't have it as she was pregnant. I drank it and had the most vivid dreams but I won't bore you with the details.

Since then I've had more dreams that seem prophetic but also some I hope aren't. Like after my first child was born I had a heap of dreams where he died or suffered accidents and I guess it was either a sign of my subconscious coping with my new role or it was a way of preparing me for the possibility I will need to react to a seriously challenging circumstance.

Dreams are weird.

Shure shot

Having argued in an earlier post that microphones are fetishised, not just by sound engineers but also the makers of music film clips, I thought I'd embrace the concept in a photograph.

Foxy effect

Another Firefox cut-up, really liking this effect. Pic from Nottingham Forest, where I was surprised to find a couple of fans.

Box Bum

Here's a pic I took for work printed in a Cooma newspaper today. I like the typo in the caption :)

[untitled #3]

First look at one of my latest productions!


Search engines can bring unexpected results, like how Google has decided to make The Canberra Times look like it's moralising on the debate about paedophillic imagery.

Reminds me of a story I was going to write about a guy who gets killed by an angry mob after search engine results paint him as a paedophile.

Things to do in Albury when you're dead

Apparently the coffin here fell out of the back of the hearse while going around a corner. Guess the corpse wasn't ready to go!

Beauty in dial-up

This is an image from Boing Boing that's been given the Firefox 3 on dial-up treatment. It's a cool effect, wonder what it looks like on naked women?

The Dark Knight

I saw the new Batman movie yesterday and, once again, I marvel at how Christopher Nolan and his writing partner brother have reinterpreted the superhero to comment on contemporary issues.

In Batman Begins they rewrote the cornerstone of the Batman story by having Bruce Wayne's father shot by a crim who was then assassinated outside court, like the way Lee Harvey Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby after appearing in court for shooting US president John F Kennedy. At the time I couldn't understand why they'd want to make Batman a metaphor for the president but after the second film I got an idea.

Batman is the most flawed of the well-known superheroes, a vigilante prone to excessive violence in some of the more adult graphic novels like Frank Miller's Dark Knight. As Bruce Wayne he's a playboy with wealth and power who acts like he's living up the bachelor lifestyle. As Batman he thinks he's above the law, able to act where authorities are unable.

The presidential comparisons continue in The Dark Knight when Bruce Wayne arrives at a party triumphantly stepping out of a helicopter in a moment that reminded me of George W Bush's 'mission accomplished' press conference.

One of the best things Nolan added to the Batman story was in the first film when Bruce Wayne's father explained his charitable actions as noblesse oblige, the French term referring to the honorable and benevolent behavior required of persons of noble birth. It took the idea in Sam Raimi's Spiderman movie that "with great power comes great responsibility" and used it to give a little bit more credibility to the motivation for becoming a masked crime fighter. I also liked how he made Batman a ninja because they've also been whitewashed as freedom fighters.

In the new film The Joker makes terror videos where he humiliates hostages before killing them and gets the footage screened on the news to terrorise the citizens of Gotham City. Batman uses extensive wiretapping and undertakes an extreme rendition that would do the CIA proud. And there's a bit of the War on Terror in how passengers are held hostage.

I guess the idea of using a JFK reference points to this heavily idealised president as being the model by which all those since are judged.

Anyway, I'm going to rewatch the films and think about these comparisons further. They're good fun and the sounds are also fantastic.

PS - I just did a search and see Andrew Bolt has already viewed Batman in a similar light and, as much as I don't want Batman to be Bush, I think it's great to see moral ambiguity in an onscreen hero - especially in an American film.

PPS - I think Andrew Bolt makes a very convenient and self-serving argument. For a start, in rewriting The Joker's role in the Batman story, it's not so clear to say the two are representations of Osama Bin Laden and George W Bush. Where's the scene where it's revealed that Batman's father profited from supporting The Joker earlier in his criminal career?

If the two characters are different sides of the same coin, it's because the Harvey Dent character shows they are still the same coin. The film goes to great lengths to show that it's human nature to perceive this good/evil binary and clearly shows that Batman is losing his moral ground and becoming a criminal. This is why Batman must run at the end and Harvey Dent is made into the hero - it's the simple explanation that the people of Gotham need to get on with their lives and act like humans.

Humanity is a very thin veneer on an animal that still responds to base instincts that are now given the guise of modern trappings. (Adam Curtis' documentaries The Power of Nightmares and Century of the Self cover the two themes I've raised here brilliantly and are thought-provoking and highly recommended viewing.)

It seems to me that Andrew Bolt's criticism of Tony Coady exemplifies this need for complex actions to be shown in a good versus evil light. Yes, bombing Japan helped end the war but I'd guess that there would be many people who still view this action as "an act of terrorism far greater than any single act of terrorism since by non-state actors". History is written by the victor and personally I think the US, like Batman in The Dark Knight, is struggling to maintain the moral high ground in the War on Terror because it's obvious that they have had a role in creating their enemies. After all, the US provided Saddam Hussein with chemical weapons and funded Osama Bin Laden when it suited their national interests. It also suited their national interests to create the fiction that these two figures were working together as part of the so-called 'intelligence' used to justify invading Iraq.

If there's anything to be learned from Batman it's that people want simple narratives with a good guy and a bad guy when reality is much more complicated. I'd guess that Andrew Bolt knows this all too well.

All to briefs

Now, let's turn our attention from universities to underpants.

Some years ago my friend Emily confided to me that she felt more confident when wearing good underwear. Ever since I've often reflected on this, probably partly because I was always keen to see Emily in her underwear.

At the time I thought it explained how deep her commitment was for aesthetics. Later, while studying feminism at university, I wondered if it was an example of femininity as masquerade, the argument that being a woman in Western society is largely a matter or wearing the right combination of make-up, clothing and attitude or something. I think this was in Judith Butler's discussion of Joan Riviere.

Anyway, for me underwear has largely been a practical choice. It's something I rarely share with anyone and, when it's serving its function, it's out of sight and mostly out of my mind. For this reason I'm often amazed at how much underwear costs, it seems exorbitant the idea of spending more than a few dollars. So I was a bit cross when one former girlfriend named stole a pair of my boxer shorts as a souvenir and, when the opportunity presented itself, I stole them back.

Boxer shorts have been my choice of undergarment for the last decade or so. I like the looseness and, when I learned I had a low sperm count while writing an article on donor insemination, it seemed a healthy option too.

Recently my partner fell pregnant with our third child and I began to get annoyed at how the cheap boxer shorts I'd bought were becoming uncomfortable, the elastic waistband was becoming abrasive because the manufacturers have been saving on cotton by not folding it over at the top and the waistband would get those little balls. (If you know what I mean!) So the option of briefs, where you can buy seven pairs for less than $10, started to appeal to me.

I was amazed to discover they also appeal to my partner. As soon as I tried on a pair and asked her opinion, she started acting very affectionately and said she'd always preferred briefs. It's been nearly a couple of months now and I'm still amused how she'll stop what she's doing to watch me walk to the shower in my new undies.

I can take confidence from that.

Another four minutes

After more weeks of watching Timbaland, Timberlake and Madonna in the single Four Minutes, I've come to appreciate it a bit more and reckon I might have been a bit harsh in my earlier assessment.

This reevaluation is in part because my son has been telling me how much he likes it and I like hearing him discuss Madonna in the same terms he uses for discussing superheroes because, let's face it, Madonna is a modern superhero and she's still raising the bar for women after more than two decades. So the idea of her saving the world is starting to make sense and I've started to enjoy this cartoon aspect of the chorus.

I also liked hearing my partner imitate the way Timberlake says 'Madonna'. I know elsewhere in the song his vocals are treated like a turntable but he has this natural ability to sound like one too. The fast/slow/fast cadence he employs when saying Ma-dohh-na is a good example of drawing inspiration from beatboxing I reckon.

The other thing is that I've got an interpretation of the film clip to share.

There's this bit in the clip early on where you see a painting hanging on a wall and if you look it's like a boyish young man in a pair of rubber shorts, which would fit with all the fetishistic imagery Madonna uses in her clips.

When you pause on one of the few frames in which it appears you can see it's a painting that seems to show a young black man emerging from a peeling layer of lighter coloured flesh and the shorts are the pinker shade of another layer of flesh.

I like the idea that this could illustrate how there are no human races, only one race with varying shades of tan. In the context of this clip, however, I think it illustrates the idea that Timbaland is bringing a primal and black (in the African American sense) groove to the track and Madonna, who has basically been described as a strap-on by Aphex Twin, is caught up in the sheer pervasiveness of the Timbaland sound. It acknowledges the huge influence he's had on popular music.

This idea makes sense of the blackness that's pursuing Madonna and Timberlake throughout the clip, cutting through the extras over the course of four minutes and catching our two heroes right at the end. The blackness is the unavoidably funky Timbaland beat that the man himself introduces in a black setting at the beginning.

(And, I should acknowledge, the thing that really spelt out how black the Timbaland sound is was the film clip for his tune with Flo Rida, Elevator. It seems there's only one white face in the film clip, the boyish looking DJ. No doubt that's deliberate. A bit like the recent Soulja Boy clip for Donk, which I guess is about arses, where there's only one white face among the young black folk and he's an older looking bloke. It's like an inversion of all those politically correct sitcoms, ads, university prospecti and even girl groups like the Spice Girls where there's one black face among an otherwise white group.)

I'd guess that Madonna has only got four minutes to make the most of Timbaland's oversaturated sound because, let's face it, American R&B and commercial hip hop are really struggling at the moment. I reckon you can see the trend is moving from the 'boom-tee-boom' sound the Timbaland typified toward something more like four on the floor doof of European dance music. In part this is a natural progression for the super compressed beats that started the mastering wars because it is the most effective way for music to move a speaker, as the push of a bass drum gets to use the suck of sidechained compression on the pull of the upbeat. The other thing is it makes it easy for DJs to mix, for bootleggers to mash-up and for the divide between raves and clubs to be overcome. It also fits with the way R&B have adopted autotune used heavily to sound like a vocoder. Just listen to tracks like Chris Brown's Forever or Ne-yo's Closer for examples of both the doof beat and the robot trend in vocals.

However, I still reckon tracks like Four Minutes would sound better if performed on real instruments. Like if the synth brass were replaced with an actual brass marching band. If Madonna had jumped on the Daptones sound like Amy Winehouse did then she'd really be in the cheerleader position for saving the world IMO.

YouTube WTF?

I like YouTube. Like other Google applications it provides a simple and yet powerful technology for the internet.

This week, while finding the clips to embed amongst my commentary, I found a number where I was told that the YouTube page wasn't available for viewing in my country.


YouTube are censoring the film clips I want to watch?

That's just silly!

And, from a pseudo academic perspective, it undermines my ability to compare the different singles that get released for different regions. I often think this would be a fascinating area to explore notions of hegemony and ethno-musicology.

It makes me wonder if the days of the internet being a lawless and relatively level playing field are well and truly over.

Cilmi tickles me

In a previous post I argued that microphones are fetishised.
The studios in audio production magazines as well as the producers of music film clips both seem to use vintage microphones to connote quality.

One example was Gabriella Cilmi so I was amused to see her follow-up clip today as her microphone has a massive foam protector on it. Dunno what to make of that, is it a case of increasing the visibility of the mic or is this a subtle message to promote covering these phallic objects?

Metaphors in popular music?

It's summer in the northern hemisphere but not here in wet Wagga Wagga.

The season heralds the most ambitious attempts at the consumer market in the blockbusters of the cinema and there's a similar phenomenon that used to be heard on commercial radio.

This song had me hooked from the opening line about putting your sneakers on. It's fun but formulaic, perfect pop. The aural equivalent of a fountain of youth to my ears but part of the appeal is the exact opposite of what's so obvious in...

Of course, both tunes are excellent pop contrivances in very different ways. The first is a call to the dance floor and the second shows how groundbreaking Tatu really were! Hell, maybe I've been reading this wrong. Maybe the Spice Girls are feminist icons and Tatu will be recognised for advancing gay rights in Russia.

Good pop usually delivers a simple repetition musically of an equally simple and repeated concept. Katy Perry delivers a concept that seems unsensational to me and muscially it's unsensational too. Lipstick lesbian is so 90s! Are we back there already?

At least the new single from Estelle (Substitute Love) is still in the 80s. Anyone who listened to popular music during that decade will recognise the debt it owes to George Michael. It ain't a bad substitution :)

But seriously, I think the best thing about pop is the way it can give a voice to kids. The desire to kiss a girl is something I can relate to at one level but imagine the importance such an act can hold for a teen audience and you can see why pop works.

Look through the charts, look at the titles and you're practically reading a list of hopes and fears and desires. That's why pop music works because like poetry or storytelling it's a metaphor for someone.

Andrew Pippos once told me that in Greek the word metaphor means to carry. Like a cart carries wood to the fire sorta thing. It goes a long way to explaining the power of art.

In pop music metaphors aren't usually very sophisticated but they are effective and I think part of their power is the way they often articulate something vulnerable that either the listener wants to hear or may want to say.

Admittedly, having singled out these two clips, Vanessa Hudgens doesn't need a metaphor to invite people to dance and Katy Perry doesn't suggest she's going to do more than kiss someone of the same sex. There are comments attached to Hudgens' clip on YouTube which argue the track is a commercial for her sneakers.

lol they are wearing mark red ecko shoes and she is a model for them...so this was obviously a advertisement music video....

I guess the thing I liked was the call to put on sneakers and go dancing because that's sensible advice. Maybe I'm reading too much into pop?

Maybe I want there to be something more clever about pop music than just trying to sell kids stuff because they've got a disposable income. That seems so cynical and somehow so at odds with the simplicity of what they say.

It takes guts

During my usual weekend surveillance of music film clips, I was impressed with the gore and pseudo gore of Pivot (above) and Santogold (below). I love music that produces a visceral effect so I'm glad to see representations of viscera in music film clips.

It reminds me a very clever German forklift training video.


This would be great in the living room :)

Drug chart

Where's Australia and the UK on this chart? Reckon the Yanks have cut them off the top in a vain effort to look cool?

A grain from the bored

This week I was motivated to write another letter to the local paper. This time in response to the campaign being waged in the letters section by the former One Nation candidate. He has been telling all the farmers who voted for Labor or Liberal that they sold out and contributed to the demise of the single wheat desk.

As I recall the Australian Wheat Board handled this. The same AWB also gave nearly $300 million in the form of bribes to the former government of Iraq.

The Australian Army later assisted to invade the country because the Iraqi government were alleged to have ties to terrorists.

Does this mean the AWB might have funded terrorists?

Really it shows how monopolies operate and the AWB did well to keep theirs as long as they did given the way our capitalist society says market competition is the answer. You've got to hand it to those wily farmers, the National Party are a political lobby group operating beyond the realm of ordinary practitioners of the dark arts of influencing policy for minority groups.

And, as the troops return home from Iraq, you've got to wonder how long it'll be before people start admitting it was wrong for Australia to be involved.

I'm starting to think we'll have to wait until John Howard dies. Then, after the pompous public funeral, it'll be like that episode of Four Corners after Labor won the election when remaining Liberals said "Well, we asked Howard to go but he didn't listen." It's obvious the old guy had hearing problems.

Funny stuff

Ignore the quote, check the attribution: "Wayne Kerr, Manager of the Cock family farms." As seen in an Australian annual report. That's gold.

Brass monkeez

Having played around with presets on (mostly software) synthesisers, I know that the brass settings can be pretty cool - although I usually like adding enough effects that it'll sound like something else in the end.

I've read keyboard enthusiasts say that the early brass settings were often the best sounds in a rather ordinary collection. (And when I think back to the role of synthesisers in popular music, I often think they're something of an acquired taste.) But the synthetic sounds never sound as cool as proper brass.

I remember seeing Wynton Marsalis leading the Lincoln Center Orchestra through a set of Duke Ellington songs and when the 12 brass players were all blowing it was incredibly powerful. The dynamic was almost overwhelming, more so than the sounds at most gigs I've seen. More than the guitars of Fear Factory or Sepultura but probably not the production in an Amon Tobin set, that show seriously felt like my atoms were rearranged.

So I can't help but think the sounds on the Timbaland production for Madonna and Timberlake are incredibly cheesey.

There's an interview with the bloke who mixed this tune in Sound On Sound and he says there are 16 stereo tracks of brass on the track. Trumpets, trombones, tuba and a flute sample. There also sounds like some of those synthetic 'ooh' and 'aah' vocals sounds which adds to the cheese factor IMO.

I can't deny that Timbaland makes some amazing sounds but I think this track is incredibly underwhelming for a combination of three of the biggest names in popular music. (And before you point to the charts and say 'but', let's remember that the charts aren't based on any science other than marketing. They're a combination of figures from select sources and count pre-orders as much as what actually sells. It's basically just a fact sheet to tell kids what's 'cool'.)

It's not surprising, Timbaland seems over-exposed. He's got his solo stuff and he's all over the charts, both solo and writing material for other people. As one of the few producers to become so well-known since Phil Spector, it must be tough to keep the hits coming - especially as he's moving in different and more elaborate directions.

Bjork remarked in an interview with Pitchfork that she felt like she was pulling him back to his early work when they collaborated on a track for Volta. And, as much as you can hear Tim incorporating a more rave sorta sound into R&B (that's obviously influenced the genre at present) with his single The Way I Are and he's also had a go at the other trend in R&B that's reviving the classic soul sounds (a la Gnarls Barkley, Daptones - especially via Amy Winehouse) in his single Scream.

I think he's missed the point a bit with the hyped production style still evident but the thing I do like about Timbaland, aside from his classic "boom tee boom" sounds and the inventive things he's done with pop like the baby sample in one of the Aaliyah tracks or being ballsy enough to distort Timberlake's voice on Sexy Back, is his sense of humour.

At one level some of his vocals are more of the usual music industry sleaze but when he has to lip sync along in the clips you see this short, tubby sorta guy with sleepy eyes and you realise he's actually playful. It's like there's a spectrum between two main roles for men in music film clips, the buff sexually aggressive sort like Nelly and the fun or goofy, friendly but harmless sort like Sean Kingston. Unlike women who really only get one role I guess. I'm trying to think of goofy women and Diaz and Jennifer Hawkins come to mind but only Bjork comes close in the pop world.

Anyway, back to the Madonna track. I really like that kick sound in the breakdown section. It's got a buzz about it that's really hyped up. However, it's nothing compared to the breakdown section in Madonna's follow-up single with Pharrell, Give It 2 Me.

Madonna looks great, doesn't she? And Pharrell has always appealed more to my aesthetics by using natural sounds in his samples. That Balinese sorta break that makes the track for me seems ruined by having the first lady of pop say "get stupid" over the top though. Awesome keyboard line in the song, love the way the filter opens up in the choruses.

But, I digress. The brass presets also get a small role in Kelly Rowlands single Work (Freemasons Remix). You can hear a thin-sounding trumpet in the pre-chorus. Weirdly, I can't include the film clip here as the versions on YouTube all say the embedding function has been disabled by request.

The Freemasons remix of this track is the single in non-US markets and I like the way they throw a heap of ideas into it but, to be honest, I haven't heard the original mix so I can't be sure about who did what.

The song itself has the same breathless-sort of lyrical delivery that Beyonce, Rowlands' partner from Destiny's Child, used in her solo hit Crazy. Actually, when I think about it, other female singers have done similar stuff like Christina Aguilera in Dirty. (Dirty would be a killer song to try and sing while dancing.) It's like singing lyrics written for rapping. (And reminds me how much respect I had for Jon Bon Jovi after I tried to sing Bad Medicine on a karaoke machine.)

I'd guess the original version of Work doesn't have the bhangra-style loop in the verses. These remind me of the track Jay-Z remixed for Punjabi MC, Beware The Boys. Then, after the thin-sounding trumpet preset in the pre-chorus that sounds a bit spaghetti western, the song blasts into a disco-style chorus.

Yes your correct the free mason's sample a urdu song, but before that it was a song from the hindi movies's, ie bollywood movies. the song from the hindi movie is quite old, and was then covered in urdu. Practically urdu and hindi are the same, with very little differences in words. Also some the dance moves, are tradional bollywood dances moves, which have been successfully blended and incorporated into modern dance moves. Great video, and excellent pieace of work, by Kelly Rowland.

The lyrics for the chorus really are over the top and you're left thinking the only lines are "put it in, put it in, work". I read an interview where Rowlands said the producers tried to convince her it was actually about the work a bloke needed to put in to get a woman to respect him. It's really just another bunch of male fantasies about how hungry she must be for cock. Which is why the dance move near the end of the clip where she's brushing herself seems apt. Like she's trying to clean off the icky feeling you get about the unsexiness of the tune.

Then again, maybe she's referencing a bunch of Bollywood dance moves. What do I know? The examples I've given of fake brass are dance tracks so everything about them is exaggerated beyond the natural sound of anything. The bass is a sterile kick, probably a few kicks actually, then there's usually a synth and everything pops and breathes with dynamic compression. Great on the dancefloor.

"The mastering wars? Haha! Tim and I are partly to blame for that! We made some records that were clearly very loud and this became a bit of a trend-setter. Of course it can cut the dynamics on some records, and you definitely get fatigue listening to records that loud for a long time. But it's what people want to hear. Whether you want to do this depends on the kind of music. If you like that sound, then great. If you're making a jazz record you're not going to make it as loud as a pop record. You're not going to make a blues record louder than a heavy metal record. Hip-hop is the new popular music now, and pop has to be loud!"

The thing that stands out about the fake brass sound of the synthesiser presets for me is I've been watching them next to Amy Winehouse and the dapper soul revival. The production values are understated and I think it kinda makes me respectful because I feel like I'm being treated with respect. And it's real brass.

Mic check

One of my favourite activities on the weekend is watching music videos and often I find myself pondering the role of the microphone in this medium, since most of the videos aren't shot while recording the song.

Shannon Noll is arguably one of the most intriguing performers in this arena, from his silly lip-syncing gag during in the clip for his duet with Natalie Bassingthwaite through to his pseudo-performance with a mic that isn't plugged in for his lead-in-to-the-footy-ad-break-anthem Loud. Is it supposed to be ironic that the lyrics even say "because you know I can't fake this"?

Sometimes I wonder if Noll might not be taking the piss. After all, he seems to stir controversy on tour when audience members and die-hard fans go on to argue in the letters section of local newspapers as to whether he was too pissed to be performing. It made me wonder if the subsequent single Everybody Needs A Little Help wasn't addressing this debate with it's faux performance.

More recently I've become obsessed with learning the model of microphone that Gabriella Cilmi is misusing in the clip for her song Sweet About Me. The mic gets a starring role, possibly because it's the closest thing to the 16-year old singer in this clip with a bunch of hot and sweaty blokes. (The drummer really nails it IMO, his performance makes me wonder why you don't see what he's sitting on!)

Note how much screen time the mic gets from the opening shot. It makes me think the way that Cilmi is singing into the top of a side-address mic must be a deliberate joke. However, Cilmi isn't the only singer using a big old fashioned chrome-plated microphone in her film clip though and it's this trend that I'm going to try and stay focused upon.

If I take a lead from Roland Barthes and attempt a semiotic analysis here, it seems old chunky mics play an important role in establishing the credentials of the vocalist in a film clip. After all, we're used to seeing the walls of amplifiers to show the band are loud and some drummers rely on an abundance of tom toms and cymbals for credibility to the point where they're all you see when looking at them playing the drum kit.

Actually, here I'll digress but I think I spotted an interesting new trend for drummers in the clip for Motley Crue's Saints of Los Angeles - just have a look at the size of the kick drum!

But to get back to microphones, let me suggest some of the messages you might associate with seeing a contemporary singer pretending to sing into an old fashioned microphone.

First, a big chrome mic looks serious. It's probably no coincidence that there are clips like Prince's Sexy Motherfucker where he's holding a microphone that looks like a gun. Hell, it's probably no coincidence that there are mics called shotguns. You wouldn't mess with someone with a gun so you'd better take that gun-shaped mic seriously. Really.

Second, you could take a Freudian view and see the phallic shape as making the user look powerful. After all, porn and fashion are built on fetishism and Freud argued that fetishism derives power from being misplaced phallic power. Check out this clip for Mercy by the wannabe Duffy and tell me she wouldn't look like a porno actress if you substituted her mic with a cock. (The opposite is also true, try substituting the knobs being fellated on porno covers with Shure SM-58s and it's like magic, the actresses look just like pop starlets!)

Third, the old fashioned mics give reference to the old fashioned singers that used them. Want to give the idea you're in the same league as Elvis or Frank Sinatra or whoever? Easy, use their props and if there's any room for doubt then add a bunch of attractive actors admiring the singer.

For an example of the latter, look at the earlier clip for Mercy by Duffy - which I'd guess must've failed to convince the younger audience because there weren't enough young people in the clip for them to feel interested.

Revive rail

Remember when there used to be green and yellow Australian Made signs attached to products to encourage consumers to feel patriotic and like they were helping balance the country's bottom line or something?

I want to see something similar promoting products that have been transported by rail rather than by road.

Here's the argument, a letter in Crikey.com.au, that prompted this thought:
James McDonald writes: Re. "Kevin and Brendan fiddle with excise as the world burns". Never mind your fuel tank, what about the truck that brought your lunch today? For a lateral way of beating fuel pain we should look at boosting freight rail in this country for regular non-bulk haul. The price at the pumps is an easy rally point for consumer desperation, but try to estimate the road-transport cost we pay for our apples and bread. Layer upon layer, somewhere along the line that cost burdens every thing we buy. But according to the Freight Rail Operators Group, rail transport is nine times more energy efficient than road. A 2005 Australasian Railway Association study estimated a potential for $27 billion increase in Australia's GDP from reforming our freight rail network. See last year's House of Reps report on the freight transport bottlenecks and inefficiencies that hold us back more and more every year, and its proposed solutions. How about if our reformer PM looks at spending the lion's share of infrastructure budget on rail reform, both freight and passenger, instead of only $192 million on all rail combined and the rest of the billions on roads? Trucks carry 80 per cent of our non-bulk freight other than to and from WA (for which rail moves 80 per cent, and over that distance sea transport is even more efficient). It doesn't need to. Exports are suffering too, ports clogged with ships waiting weeks to be loaded. Only banana republics can't get their railways sorted out. There are brilliant modern technologies out there. Road-railer trailers can be transferred between train and truck at distribution points, so trucks can reach journey end-points without the need to unload the goods inside. We're not short of steel. Road use by the heaviest vehicles could be reduced, bringing down maintenance, congestion, hazards, journey times and thus fuel consumption by those vehicles still on the road. The list of potential benefits goes on. Our long-haul truck drivers are heroes who've carried this whole country for years, but it's time to offer those of them who want it a safer job in a federally reformed freight rail industry. Expensive, yes. And lacking the instant smiley gratification of road upgrades in marginal seats. But also anti-inflationary, growth-making, and planet-saving.

Deluxe schmucks

In the face of declining CD sales, it's interesting how a new format for music has emerged. Namely the hardcover-style packaging for albums that seems to often hold the deluxe version of the stuff that also exists as mp3, vinyl maybe and presumably standard-issue jewel case CD.

I confess to owning a couple of these and, to be honest, they mess with my storage space for CDs a bit as they're about four times the size of the others. It's like the upsized version of a CD, the boutique flavour of beer, the superlative of words or something.

I've bought two so far: Angus and Julia Stone because I was curious about the packaging and, Beck's Guero for the extra content.

The extra content is a defining characteristic of the deluxe edition, an incentive for the would-be collectors. With the Beck came a couple remixes and an over-designed DVD, the latter oft freezes up while playing these sorta interesting designs.

In fact, Beck seems to be strongly associated with the idea of a deluxe edition album. Odelay has recently been re-released in this format and I think The Information, with its DIY cover and accompanying DVD, was a kind of blueprint for the concept.

However, on this occasion I'm going to disagree with Beck. IMO the deluxe album concept would be better served by having people dream up new content as much as repackage it.

Here's what I mean:
  • Imagine your favourite album.
  • Now think about a similar and perhaps massively popular album. Say, Massive Attack's Protection album.
  • Now think about how excellent the massively popular Massive Attacks's Protection album was in the Mad Professor's No Protection interpretation of it.

That's the deluxe album I want.

Let me suggest some possible deluxe album releases, starting with the Red Hot Chili Peppers' BloodSugarSexMagik. In a recent interview with Tape Op magazine, John Frusciante said that album came back from being mixed with Rick Rubin and sounded different to how Frusciante had envisaged it. I would like to hear his version of the album. (And, while they're at it, they should include the track Soul to Squeeze since that was a strong single in its own right even after they squandered it on the Coneheads soundtrack album.)

Even though I often thought the success of Nirvana's Nevermind was largely due to the sparkling production of Butch Vig, it would be interesting to hear those seminal tracks reworked with a drier sound like that on their other albums.

Fugazi would provide great material for a remix. I liked what Luke Vibert did with Tortoise, so he'd be a good starting point. (BTW, the guitar picks below came from Kris Novoselic and Ian McKaye when they played the ANU Bar, Canberra in the '90s.)

EMI should think about splitting up the Radiohead master tapes amongst some talented producers. I'd like to hear Brian Eno take the edge off the electronic sessions that became Kid A and Amnesiac. Or it would be good for Photek to add new programming. Hell, I'd be happy if their greatest hits package had come with an album of remixes like the best of Prince CD I've got.

And Dub Side of the Moon has already shown the massive potential for Pink Floyd to be reworked. If the Mad Professor weren't available then Massive Protection could do something fascinating. Or that producer who did so many great remixes for them, I think the name was Underdog. Hell, I'd guess Pink Floyd could pick and choose by doing something like Radiohead and offering up the stems from their recording sessions. That could be interesting.

There are so many opportunities for recording artists to be given a new life through this sort of repackaging. It's a shame that all I see is new packaging in the shops when it's what's inside that counts.

My thunderstorm pics in The Midcoast Observer

While on holiday at Valla Beach I photographed a spectacular thunderstorm off the coast and sent one of the lighter images to the local paper, The Midcoast Observer.

You can see other photographs of the storm here.
They were mostly taken with a 30 second exposure, so you can see the stars streak from the Earth's orbit and that blur of light on the horizon is a fishing boat that was travelling up the coast.

The love I share with Russell Crowe

As someone who makes music (mostly) for my own pleasure, I can appreciate where Russell Crowe is coming from.

Even after Jack Marx wrote a lengthy piece for the SMH about being courted to "champion" Crowe's music, I thought 'well, why not pay journalists to do your PR?'

However, I was totally amazed to round a corner near Nana Glen (outside Coffs Harbour) and see a massive sign saying "TOFOG".

Guess that's where Russell lives then! Thirty Odd Foot Of Grunt is the name of his band and I gather he's got property in the area. Wish I had a pic to share.

Now, I should get back to making my BASSLING.COM sign for out the front of my shed...

Make your petrol go further

It occurred to me, as I started driving to Gundagai and the light came on to say the fuel tank was nearly empty, that if people drove slower then their petrol would go further.

Apparently your car uses 25% more fuel to drive at 110km/h than it does to drive at 90km/h.

Perhaps we should lower speed limits on highways to decrease the demands on the dwindling oil supplies?

I don't know the math but that would have to be like giving hybrids to a significant portion of the driving population.

Sure, it would probably be more unpopular than giving $35 million to Toyota to come and build hybrid cars in Australia but, it would mean we could encourage car manufacturers to build lighter (and, therefore, more economical) cars for our roads and make further efficiency savings.

I applaud the government for ensuring Toyota have a presence here. Look what happened to Kodak, they had factories that had an error rate that was basically zero but couldn't keep selling film for cameras and jobs were lost.

We know the modeling for climate change paints a really depressing picture for the future. We also know that politicians only think in terms of the next election.

It's time to provoke people to think how they can make a difference.

Because they can keep their heads buried about climate change but the world has passed its peak for oil production.

Sell the smokestacks but open the grid

State electricity assets need to be sold and quickly.

When Telstra started to be flogged off in 1997, most Australians hadn't seen the internet. Most didn't realise how the ageing copper telephone network was not going to serve the digital needs of the 21st century.

Ten years later, politicians are still arguing about private investment and control over a new digital network. Web 2.0 is one technology that Australians haven't been able to adopt at a rate like they've taken to DVDs or mobile telephones - a shame because the richest markets in the world have and the internet basically provides free entry.

NSW electricity is the same. Coal power is another antique technology that can not continue as the world shifts to carbon neutrality through alternative fuel sources.

Previous privatisation experience shows consumers should be concerned about the conditions attached to such a sale. Will households be locked onto the grid? Will people be able to trade surplus power if they generate their own? Perhaps the profits should be invested in subsidising solar power or building upon NSW's geothermal resources?

These last questions show how much further the debate needs to go I think. I mean, can you imagine a situation such as the narrowing of roads that's supposed to 'encourage' drivers to use private roads like has been seen in Sydney?

Fruity notion

Apples are supposed to be the forbidden fruit but it's bananas that take the cake as the naughtiest looking fruit. Furthermore, I've recently discovered that the flower on the banana tree is also kinda phallic. Check the full frontal in this pic!

Smartarse Melburnian

This was in Wagga's Daily Advertiser newspaper today.

I've heard the paper referred to as The Daily Agoniser and I can reel off a few of my favourite typos. (Like the headlines "First insect in space" for a story about spiders; "Haystack loses top $1 million" and it wasn't about money stashed in drying feed; and the poetic license of "Carnage" after a storm knocked trees down.) They're getting better though it looks like some smartarse Melburnian pulled one over them.

If you haven't got the joke, Axel Foley is Eddie Murphy's character in the Beverly Hills Cop movies. Also memorable for the Axel F theme performed by Harold Faltermeyer on the soundtrack, later recycled by the Crazy Frog.

Simple aeolian harp recording

Hadn't tried this before, ain't too bad. Next I'm going to record the aeolian harp (or 'The Wires') with pick-ups and also through a polystyrene box and compare the results. I've always been a fan of the latter for its character but, after jamming along with drums to Josie bowing on the harp, I'm looking for ways to isolate the sound.

PS: Here's a recording of the wires vibrating and a bit of bowing, through both the guitar pick-ups (left channel) and a SM57 in the polystyrene box (right channel). The two sources complement each other and the polystyrene adds some frequencies between 1-3kHz, which I guess is the warm distorted character I like.

PPS: Here's a tune I made with the recording in the link above. It's a dubby sorta thing that gets a bit dynamic in places.

New album: VISCERA

This title is a bit misleading as I've only got a bunch of demo tracks really. It's the product of February's RPM Challenge. Gentle Borrower was the first track I was promoting and, at this stage, I'd pick Blue Moon as the follow-up. My partner Josie likes Amazonian.

You can hear it on the
=>RPM Challenge Jukebox<=

Just remember the version at RPM is only the first draft. The level of the vocals really sucks and the balance is a bit askew in most places.

Home invasion pictures

It's disgusting what you can find.

Remix challenge

Let the music flow through your computer and share your interpretation of this track about copyright and music.

All the parts are available for download here or you can hear the version sent in for the RPM Challenge. Give it a go - share your style!

Hear Dazzleships' gentle remix
Hear The Oxygen Tent's garage-style remix
Hear our acapella live over aeolian harp
Or hear bassling's electro-style pulsing wires remix

And click the picture above to watch our video of an acoustic live interpretation and a bit about the aeolian harp that's something of a motif.

Song for Creative Commons

After reading The Culture Club, I was encouraged to read further and got Audio Culture, edited by Cristoph Cox and Daniel Warner, a collection of readings. One of the most potent essays in it
is Bettered by the Borrower by John Oswald. As I read it I jotted down ideas and later thought they would make good lyrics.

I'm in the process of recording the song but thought I'd share the text:

We share in ears
vibrations in air
it's more primal than blues
this form we share

I am a sound
a song that is true
this music that flows through me
can flow through you too

Gentle borrower
transform me
gentle borrower
transform me

Brainstorm elation
marks transformation
save condemnation for
straight imitation

There are more than these notes
there are more than these keys
an infinite soundscape
needs your diversity

Gentle borrower
transform me
gentle borrower
transform me

For me the lyrics pick up on my enthusiasm for Creative Commons as much as my desire to see everyone make music. I often say that music is too much fun not to have a go. And then there's the strength that can be taken from music, not to mention its application for purposes of propaganda like advertising.

What I like about Creative Commons is the idea that every endeavour relies upon building on existing ideas. Jared Diamond has an awesome chapter in Guns, Germs and Steel (I think it's called Necessity's Mother) that discusses how much we seem to like the idea of a single creator when the truth is more often the case that progress relies on developing existing research. He gives a bunch of examples, like James Watt's improvements to the steam engine.

Anyway, I'm drifting off track. The thing with music is that, of all the possible combinations of notes, only a limited number sound good together. So, really, we have no choice but to recycle (at a fundamental level) and some of the ideas that get promoted to protect copyright are really petty. Like, can you imagine being taken to court for making a video of someone singing Happy Birthday?

Post script: I've put the song I recorded with these lyrics up for remix. Grab the parts and have a go.

My PR for RPM

Local artist rises to international challenge

The RPM Challenge, now in its third year, encourages musicians to record an album of music in the month of February. Last year 850 albums were produced, including one effort made entirely on a Nintendo Game Boy!

The idea is a simple kick in the arse for musicians to stop dreaming and procrastinating and to realise their songs.

Or, as the RPM Challenge entry in Wikipedia puts it:
There is no winner of the challenge, which functions solely to give musicians a needed push towards finishing original material and help them achieve a sense of satisfaction.

For Jason Richardson of Brucedale (recording under the name Showcase Jase) this has meant a number of sleepless nights. "It's almost funny but probably a bit dysfunctional. Last year I decided to take time off work to get hands-on with raising my children and have a sabbatical. I picked up the guitar again, rediscovered the joys of composing and now find myself sneaking off to to scribble lyrics or tweak my mixes."

His passion for music isn't entirely new. In the last three years Jason has released two albums of electronic music (under the moniker Bassling), as well as performing as part of Wagga Wagga's 2006 Unsound Festival, contributing to the Ninja Trax mixes curated by Gascomm.org and exhibiting in ABC Online's Poool project for regional artists and at Charles Sturt University's HR Gallop Gallery in 2007.

"The internet cops a lot of bad press for people pirating music but there are many, many, many musicians collaborating and distributing online. It's been acknowledged there are probably more people making electronic music now than people buying it. And I think that's great - music is way too much fun not to have a go."

One of the benefits of personal computing has been people are now able to have a home recording studio. "I was listening to demo tapes from a Canberra band I played in during the mid-90s and, in comparison, the quality you can achieve with a PC is brilliant," says Jason Richardson.

Of course, there have been a few technical issues. Jason's soundcard broke prior to beginning so he's had to improvise with other equipment. But that's all part of the challenge, according to the blog entry of another musician. "I went into the Challenge last year with no experience for recording an album with actual songs," writes 19-year-old participant Mian Laisa, of Littleton, Colorado in the United States.
"I came out of the challenge with a new understanding of how the process worked."



Post script: Here's a video I've made about my experience with the RPM Challenge