Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Wed, 23 Jul 2008

Gas Works

I've been thinking that I need to learn some new tunes on my guitar, so I was poking around on Youtube and found a series on the tune Classical Gas (a song with its own web site!). I've done the first couple and it's not sounding too bad, although I think I am missing a few notes that he doesn't properly describe. I'm also consulting some tab versions that I found. I've not learnt many tunes from video, but it's handy for getting the fingering right. I'll see if I can learn the whole thing, but that may take a while.

Youtube has loads of musical tutorials for all types of music. There was nothing like that when I started playing. The guitar magazines I bought didn't even come with CDs (or equivalent) so that you could hear how a piece was supposed to sound. Total Guitar was a revelation when it appeared with a CD. Now they do DVDs and video files on the CD. Budding musicians have never had it so good.

I'm also trying to learn a few classical piano pieces by the old-fashioned method of sheet music. I find that a totally different mental exercise, but the results are enjoyable. I also get some benefit from coaching my kids on their respective instruments.

I'm on the lookout for any local musicians who want to cooperate. I'm listed on a couple of musician sites, but the replies I've had have been from bands who need someone with more time to commit. There's a new site dedicated to the arts in my town. I've been in contact with them about setting up a noticeboard for finding people to work with.

If you are really lucky I may eventually post some recordings when I've polished my technique and gained some studio skills.

[14:03] | [] | Comments | G

Tue, 10 Jun 2008

Beat Camp 2

Sunday was spent in the glorious sunshine over at Malc's for the second of his Beat Camp workshops. This time their were more people I didn't know from other drum circles. We were learning some new tunes by master drummer Mamady Keita. We did three songs. I did a fair bit of kenkeni playing. I enjoy coordinating different patterns with each hand, but also played all the djembe parts and breaks. It will take a while to learn them properly, but this was a great introduction. Malc has written up his own report on the day.

I took along my Zoom H4 to record some of it. Someone else already had his H2 set up on a fancy tripod. I was using a mini Gorillapod after managing to break the tripod that came with my H4. The results sound pretty good. I was having some battery issues, but I think that may be due to my rechargables getting on a bit. I ought to get some new ones and a decent charger as I use them a lot. I was going to edit and post one of them, but I'm having some issues with Audacity playback and don't have another working audio editor installed.

[21:50] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 04 Jun 2008

Mixed Music at Darbucka

As mentioned before I've been following the antics of bassist Steve Lawson and enjoying his music. When I heard that he was playing at a convenient bar in central London I was eager to get to the gig. He even offered free or reduced entry to those who contacted him beforehand. Darbucka is not far from Kings Cross Station, which suits me nicely. When I arrived Steve greeted me by name, having recognised me from my on-line avatars. He was setting up, along with drummer Roy Dodds. I noticed that the drum kit included a Hang. I'd not had a close look at one before and he was nice enough to let me have a play with it.

I got myself a beer and some food then settled into an armchair to await the music. I soon got chatting with Wulf and Jane who introduced me to a few other people. It seemed that half the audience were bass players. Steve opened the evening with a new piece, but had some issues with his Looperlative cutting out. I think he may just have hit the wrong switch. Next up was ukulele player Lloyd Davis. He did some good versions of some classic old songs. He was followed by Steve and his new wife Lobelia. She's a stunning singer and Steve works magic with his bass and loops. They performed some originals and covers. Their Love is a Battlefield can be heard and seen here. The originals were great too and I bought their live CD. Finally, for me, was Miriam Jones. Another stunning voice, she sang some nice folk-tinged songs. The final set was Steve's trio, but I had to leave in order to catch a train home. A shame, but I had still enjoyed a great evening of music. I didn't get to hear the Hang in action.

There are some pictures on the last.fm event page. I'm amazed how well they turned out as it was very dimly lit in there.

There were a lot of Twitter users at the gig and they have been Tweeting madly about it. I have already connected with several of them. It means more when you have actually met the people. Unfortunately Twitter is being abused by a few people. They seem to follow thousands of people in the hope that some will follow them and see whatever spam they are posting. In some cases they just seem to be on an ego trip of collecting names. I tend to block these people as I can see no purpose in them following me.

[22:00] | [] | Comments | G

Sat, 24 May 2008

Zooming in

I've been lacking a practical way to do any audio recording for a while. I have an iRiver audio player that can record, but it's a chore to use. A while back I read about the Zoom H2. This looked like a great device for recording via its multiple microphones. Then I saw the H4 that can also have instruments plugged into it. It also includes four track recording with built-in effects. That looked like the gadget for me. After my usual dithering over buying a new gadget I ordered mine last week.

I've had a bit of a play so far and it's looking good. I've recorded some acoustic guitar using the microphones. That shows up my lousy playing. Also recorded the kids doing their stuff. I've been wanting to do that for a while. I've also had a brief play with the multi-tracking. The preset effect settings tend to be a bit extreme. I need to work out what I need, but have never gained much experience of that sort of thing.

One thing I was not totally sure about was how well it would work with Linux. The answer is, pretty good. You get to select whether it should be a USB storage device, to let you read the SD card, or as a USB audio interface. Both work, but the former is a slow way to download data. For audio I was able to select it as an input in Skype, Audacity and Jokosher. This means I have been able to do speech on Skype for the first time in ages. I have issues with the recording apps. I somehow have Audacity set up so that it will not play back and Jokosher is very unstable. I ought to look at getting Jack and Ardour working, but that seems more complex than it should be.

Now I have this gadget I have more incentive to work on my playing and actually work out some pieces to record. I also want to do some recording of my drumming, including our group sessions. When I have something I'm happy with I will upload it somewhere, probably to my Multiply site as that allows for limitless uploads.

For help with using this device I am using several on-line forums:

I've updated my music page to reflect the current state of my collection. Nothing very flashy, but I'm sure I should be able to do something interesting with it all.

[21:53] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 30 Apr 2008

We're Rolling!

Sunday was the day for the long-awaited Secret Bass recording session. The aim was to record a few songs to put on a CD that we can give to event organisers and to beginners. I arrived to find the Strawbale Studio full of microphone stands along with the actual recording equipment. We had 16 channels available to us and used them all between seven musicians when doing vocals as well. We managed four songs in three hours, which is probably more than some bands do. All were done 'live', with no overdubs, but some may get edited to get the best overall performance. I did a fair bit of singing, but didn't play any djembe. I did dun duns on two and shakers on another. I look forward to hearing the results.

Malcolm has done a write-up with all the technical details.

We used two video cameras to try and capture the event. I have the task of editing them. This will be my first time working with multiple views. I expect I will have to line them up as best I can and switch between them. If I just use the sound from one it should work out. Any hints appreciated.

[20:54] | [] | Comments | G

Sun, 20 Apr 2008

Indoor Drumming

Last night I played another gig with Secret Bass. This was a charity event to raise money for stained glass window at a home for MS sufferers in Essendon. I actually did a fair bit of practice for this one and was somehow more nervous than at previous events. This may have been due to playing before an audience who had paid to be there and in an enclosed space, rather than the open air where I had performed before. We were last (top?) on the bill after Irish dancers, Indian dance from Bizia + students, dinner and the village handbell ringers. The nine of us were dressed up in a range of outfits of varying degrees of 'Africaness'. The set went down pretty well with the audience who clapped along and gave us some loud cheers. There were even cries of 'More!' as we finished the last song, but we had nothing else prepared and it was getting late anyway.

I really enjoyed this performance, even though I made lots of mistakes. I managed to add some solo rolls during one song. One difference to previous events was the sound. Outside the sound just disappears, but in an enclosed space you can really feel it. Some people told me how impressed they had been by the sound and the music. It is not something you get to hear much live in this country. I admit that we are mere amateurs of this art, but I hope we can impress some of the flavour of African drumming. Malcolm has done his own write-up of the event. I'm not sure if any of the photos taken will be available on-line.

[21:19] | [] | Comments | G

Tue, 15 Apr 2008

Björk at Hammersmith Apollo, 20080414

We previously saw Björk perform at Hammersmith in 2003 on the Vespertine tour. Then we were about six rows from the front. For 2008 we were back again for the Volta tour. The day was marred by some public transport issues for Tanya. First she had trouble getting a train to London due to signal issues, then her underground train was stopped for a medical emergency. She completed the journey by taxi. This meant that we had to rush a quick dinner in Smollensky's, rather than something more relaxed.

There was a big queue outside the venue, but it moved fairly quick. Some people were obviously a bit over-excited as a couple seemed close to blows over some issue. We went straight to our seats half-way up the circle, not far from where we sat for The Flaming Lips. I thought that Toumani Diabaté, was doing a set, but the stage was occupied by Leila doing some DJ stuff with various spoken recordings and beats. Not really my thing, but I quite liked it when she played Peggy Lee's Is That All There Is and Danny Kaye's Inchworm at the end. This was much better than the noise set that served as support last time and had the audience booing.

The stage was already set up for the main act, but we still had to wait around 30 minutes. Then the lights went down and on trooped her all female Icelandic horn section followed by the rest of the band. Then the lady herself. They launched into Earth Intruders. We got Hunter (one of my favourites) and Unravel, then Toumani came on to play kora on Hope. The next track threw me as I had never heard The Pleasure Is All Mine with a regular band, but it was good. The next guest was Antony Hegarty to sing on Dull Flame of Desire. I don't much like the song and was not that impressed by him, although he does a good vocal vibrato. That was it for guest, despite Björk's remark that there would be 'many'. There were more tracks from Volta and some old favourites. Army of Me and Hyperballad were amazing with lasers firing and some body-shaking bass. These were contrasted by Vökuró (just harpsichord) and Anchor Song (brass). As expected she finished with Declare Independence where everyone rocked out. The audience could have taken much more, but it was getting late.

I'm amazed by her energy. She is the same age as me, but can still rock and still belt out those amazing vocal effects. I wasn't too sure about her costume with pompoms on her hear and shiny frills. She was barefoot as usual.

There was a lot of use of the Reactable to create audio effects. I expect there will be a version you can run on your PC in a few years.

Other reviews and some pictures on Björk's site and last.fm.

I had another musical close encounter this week. I created an account on Orkut to check it out ages ago, but was not that impressed. I had a quick look the other day and saw I had been visited by Joe Elliott of Def Leppard. I guess he was looking for his deceased guitarist.

[17:45] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 26 Mar 2008

Talking to musicians

When I started messing around with the bass I searched around for tutorial material on-line. There is plenty to be getting on with for now. I also found a podcast by a solo bassist called Jeff Schmidt. The podcast and his blog give a great insight into how he works and what drives him. Some of his music is free to download, such as his Ruiner Severhead side project, but I was also able to buy a download of his album for about £2.50 through CD Baby. That's a real bargain and he gets most of it. He's not making a loving from his music yet, but I hope it at least pays for his studio toys.

Jeff is very engaged with his audience through his blog and on Twitter. We have exchanged a few comments on both. Through him I found another bassist, Steve Lawson who is based in the UK. I could have seen him play at a local gig, but couldn't make it. I have also communicated with him, mostly on Twitter. Today I was doing so whilst listening to one of his albums that he made available for free download. I shall be checking out more of his material and hope to catch a gig. Interestingly he is also subscribing to some of my feeds. I hope he finds something of interest there.

I realise that the internet has been playing a big part in helping bands get to their fans without having to deal with record companies. People like the Arctic Monkeys have used services like Myspace to do this, but I haven't really got into that. It's happening on Facebook too, but I'm not sure that is why people are using that service so much. I find it more interesting when the artists use their own sites and more open services, like Twitter, to reach out. It does require them to be technical, but may reap benefits.

I need to get on with my own musical projects. I don't aspire to reach a mass audience, but I should have some chance of reaching a few people by using the same technologies as the above virtuosi. Check them out.

[21:56] | [] | Comments | G

Sun, 02 Mar 2008

WinterDrum

Yesterday I attended my first WinterDrum event in High Wycombe. This was an opportunity to participate in workshops with some of the best drummers around. I was there for the African drumming, but there were also sessions for steel drums, Japanese Taiko, singing and dance. I did a session in the morning with Nansady Keita from Guinea. His English is limited, but his drumming was incredible. He really pushed me technically. Two hours of solid drumming was hard work, but I was smiling all the time. In the afternoon I was with Hans Sutton learning more about playing dunduns. These are the backline in African drumming. That was fun too. I just hope I can remember some of the rhythms I was taught.

In the evening there was a concert featuring many of the tutors, some with their pupils, although I did not perform. It was an amazing evening with some outstanding playing. You can see some pictures over on my Multiply site. That ended around 11:30, so I was pretty late getting home. It was a great day. I shall have to do more events like this.

On the web front I finally gave in to temptation and joined Twitter. This is a 'micro-blogging' service where you can let people know what you are up to right now. As opposed to here where it takes me a while to put together my thoughts. Twitter has some nice features like being able to update via Jabber. You can also tag messages as replied to what others have said. I have a few friends using it and have also connected with bassist Jeff Schmidt who I have been following on-line. There are other ways to post your status, such as in IM systems or on Facebook, but Twitter just seems more useful. It is another possible distraction, but I shall see if it is useful or entertaining.

[21:59] | [] | Comments | G

Mon, 10 Dec 2007

Bask to Bassics

Please excuse the pun. Although I've been playing the guitar on and off for many years I've been thinking about trying the bass for a while. I suspect that I will never be a great guitarist, but I think I might have the makings of a reasonable bass player. There's also the hope of finding more outlets to play as there is probably an excess of guitarists out there. My good friend Lance has been kind enough to lend me a bass that his son started playing, but abandoned. It's a bargain basement job, but enough to start with. I've hardly played bass before, so I have to get used to the differences from a guitar. Firstly it's heavy. Then there's the big left hand stretches required around the low end. My hands are fairly big, but this feels like playing a giant's guitar. There's also the dilema of how to play it. I don't have any suitable heavy-duty pelctrums, so I'm using thumb and fingers. I've already developed a "blister on my thumb". (Thanks to Ian for pointing out the reference). I don't have a proper amplifier, but my old Peavey may do for practice as long as I don't blow the speaker. Played acoustically it can be hard to hear the notes properly.

I'm trying to figure out various well known bass lines. Single line stuff should be fairly easy to follow, but the bass can sometimes be buried in the mix. I've been listening anew to some music to try and hear what the bass player is up to. I'm on the look out for any on-line educational material. I have some old Guitarist magazines that may have some tutorials. I'll have to get around to learning to read bass clef properly as I don't like to rely on tab.

I still have hopes to do some home recording. I've not found a way to get sound input working on my Ubuntu system since it broke, but I would have to get something better at some point anyway. There are dozens of sound cards and interfaces available, but Linux support is patchy. My requirements as I see it would be for something with build-in microphone pre-amps to reduce the amount of stuff I need, although I realise that may involve compromises. I'm not sure I need multiple inputs for now, but it may be possible to expand, e.g. by using several USB interfaces. The Edirol UA-4FA is appealing for £100, but it seems that not all features are supported. An alternative approach occured to me whilst reading about the Zoom H2 portable sound recorder. Apparently it can operate as a USB sound device, but would also be handy for recording away from the PC. There seems to be a sight sterling tax as it costs more here that the US$200 transatlantic price would suggest, but that seems to be a common phenomenon with musical equipment as well as in other markets. You still get a lot for your quid. It seems everything electronic is getting incredibly cheap these days, but you can still pay silly money if you feel the need. Even conventional instruments are available for ridiculously low prices thanks to the low paid chinese workers. I feel sorry for anyone in Europe trying to compete, but there's never been a better time for musicians on a budget.

[21:35] | [] | Comments | G

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