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, 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!