Thu, 25 Oct 2007
Philip Glass and Patti Smith 20071019
I've been a fan of Philip Glass's works
for a few years now, although I have not managed to collect many recordings yet.
I'm not even sure where I started with him, but must have heard the music in various
films and other places. He's doing a series of concerts to celebrate his 70th
birthday, so I really wanted to get to see him as there may not be another chance.
I could have fancied Music in 12 Parts, but I thought that my other half would not
last the four hours. An alternative was a performance, with Patti Smith, of some
Alan Ginsberg poetry. I'm not really into poetry, but thought I would take the chance.
I initially assumed that the venue was the Barbican,
but it was actually St Luke's down the road. This is
a former church converted to a performance area. We went to their crypt cafe in hope of decent
food, but they were only serving sandwiches. The performance started, as promised, at 7:30pm.
We were seated on the balcony, itself an impressive steel structure. There was a stage with a piano
and very subtle speakers around it. You barely need amplification in a venue that small.
PG and PS entered to great applause and lauched into the first poem with PG playing one
of his dances that I know well. It was actually one of Patti's poems, but the words
washed over me as I revelled in hearing one of my heroes play the piano with me having
a great view over his shoulder. There was more poetry and som chat from Patti. It seems that
they were both close friends of Ginsberg and she had some nice anecdotes. We enjoyed her
presentation style. PG then played a few solo pieces. His annoucing was very stilted. I'm
guessing that he does not often do public speaking. The pieces were some I didn't know, but
were very much of his style. I thought that he was going to stumble in the first. I think that
at his age this can be pardoned and he kept going well. Patti then sang some of her own songs
with her guitarist, both on acoustic guitars. Then I think there were a couple more poems to
finish. It was all over by 9pm.
I would have preferred to just have PG perform his works, but this was a satisfactory
compromise and a new experience in general.
Thu, 11 Oct 2007
Listening to Rainbows
I downloaded my copy of In Rainbows
last night. I've listened to it a couple of times, but it was whilst working so
it did not have my full attention. It's definitely Radiohead. It is not a massive
change of direction by any means. That's not necessarily a bad thing as what they
were doing was good to my ears. I'm happy with it so far and will wait to see which
tracks grow on me most.
I've seen some comments around about the bit rate of the files. I've not confirmed
myself if it is CBR or VBR. I can't see any reason why it should be the former. Is
there any software or hardware in use that doesn't do VBR? It's going to give you slightly
better quality for a given file size. I'm fairly sure that the old BBC Beethoven downloads
were something like 128kb CBR, which is just silly, especially for classical music.
I accept that your average listener would not know what I am on about, but I think it
matters. They may have been brainwashed in the past that 128kb in some form was
'CD quality', but it isn't. Higher rates definitely sound better to me, but I would
struggle to tell a CD from anything over 200kb. As for recent claims that MP3 and other
lossy formats only contain 10% of the information, that's rubbish too. Most of what they
get rid of is what you can't hear.
There's a lot of rubbish talked about audio quality in general. A
recent Slashdot story
generated a lot of discussion of 'audiophile gadgets', from $7000 speaker cables to $500
volume knobs, to magical digital clocks, to system upgrades over the phone?!?. Various
examples listed here. I'd love
to have a reasonable set-up to listen to my music on, but I'm not sure I could bring myself
to spend more than a few hundred on a CD player, amp and speakers, with some reasonable cables.
Still, I suppose it's not a crime to take peoples' money if it is given willingly.
Tue, 09 Oct 2007
I just had an email update about the Radiohead album
that I ordered. The download is available from tomorrow. I had concerns that it would be in
some locked-down format that I might not be able to play on Linux, but...
THE ALBUM WILL COME AS A 48.4MB ZIP FILE CONTAINING 10 X 160KBPS DRM FREE MP3s. (their caps)
Shame it's not Ogg Vorbis, but you can't have everything.
I expect it to be on the file-sharing networks withing seconds of being available. Personally
I wouldn't care if it had watermarking to identify who bought that copy. That sort of protection
does not infringe on my ability to listen to the music how and where I wish, but would identify
those breaching any restrictions on sharing.
I shall report further when I've had a chance to listen. It's LUG
Fri, 05 Oct 2007
A couple of weekends back Malc held a little
party at his country estate. Lots of music was made that included me doing some singing
and drumming. I was impressed by some great dancing and singing by
Justine. I took the kids and they enjoyed it, but
that meant that we had to leave early, so I missed a few turns. Malc has
listed the performances.
a few pictures.
The big musical news this week was Radiohead suddenly announcing that their new album is
imminent after months of teasing us with reports from the studio. They even issued a series of coded
messages before the announcement. The big deal is that In Rainbows
will be released as a download next week and as a box set of CDs and LPs in December. You can set your own
price for the download, but the box set is 40 quid! (Not Quids).
It will be interesting to see what people will pay when given the choice. Sucker that I am I went for
the box set, but I get the download too. I wonder what format it will be in and if it will be
usable on Linux.
Sticking with audio, but on a different front, Skype
a new version of their Linux client. It's still a couple of digits behind the Windows one and so still
lacks the much-lusted-after video feature. It's supposed to offer better audio quality, but I have
yet to test this. There have been major changes to the GUI. The menus have gone, but you can get at most
of them via a non-obvious button. One thing I preferred about the old Linux version over Windows was
the way it showed groups. It showed all contacts in shrinkable groups rather than one group at a time.
Now there is no sign of groups and I can't see how to hide those who are off-line. I use Skype mainly for
keeping in touch with people at work, but make the odd voice call. Video will be useful to see the new
baby in the family, but I will have to use my Windows laptop for that.
Tue, 18 Sep 2007
The weekend was mostly spent at Malc's for
Beat Camp. Unfortunately not many
people could make it on Saturday, so basically it was me and Malc playing dun dun (big drums) all afternoon,
with breaks for some chat and playing in his studio. Marjolein came along after dinner for some indoor
Sunday was better attended with up to a dozen of us out in the sunshine learning some new songs.
My brain was totally full. After both days I was exhausted and ready for sleep by 10pm. It was all great fun.
I even got to perform on the debut performance of an
old song. We're due to perform some of the
new material at Malc's garden party this coming weekend. We shall see how much I can remember.
I'm not a drum machine.
The kids got some extra music too when we went along to
Bedfordshire Music's Saturday Music Centre. They are both
showing signs of musical talent so we're happy to encourage them. I quite enjoy making music with my kids.
My fledging music studio (sic) gained a microphone stand from Ebuyer,
along with a solar powered
charger to charge my phone and PDAs. It has an internal battery so that I can take it along to
extend the battery life.
Since my LUG talk about OpenStreetmap I've been playing with
BSGPSPDA on my PDA/GPS thingy. It shows great promise
as it can show the OSM maps for a given location, but you have to download them first. I wrote a little Python
script to do this that works very nicely. I would really like to develop it into a proper GUI application
that shows the maps and lets you choose an area to download. That will mean learning some more Python.
I've had a few issues with the PDA software, but I've been in contact with the author and he is working
on them. I already have a new version to try. Try that with Microsoft!
Sat, 04 Aug 2007
Prince O2 Arena 20070803
My first time seeing Prince and my first return to the
big tent since Y2K. The venue has been totally rebuilt
inside. There's a load of restaurants, but they were all full when we got there. There are
also some empty units and space for more to be built. We got take-away burgers upstairs,
but could have had pizza, stir fry or other options. Not cheap, of course, but it filled us up.
The arena itself is pretty big. Capacity is 20,000, but the top levels, above the private boxes,
are very high up. We were down on the lower tiers and had a good view of the central stage. The
stage is in the shape of Prince's 'symbol'. Those down on floor level might not have been able to see
everything as the stage was above head height and the screens were up near the ceiling.
We were expecting a support act, but none materialised and the main act took the stage at
8:45. The band appeared from beneath the stage. There were two keyboard players, female drummer,
bass 4-man horn section, two backing singers and two apparently identical dancers. To start with
the band played some instrumental New Orleans-style jazz with the horn players taking turns at solos.
Then the man himself rose up though the centre of the stage to deafening noise. He wandered around the
stage singing Satisfied from 3121 before getting things rocking with Cream. During his cover of
Play That Funky Music some bloke appeared on stage and I expected bouncers to chuck him off, but then
others came up from a roped off exclusive area next to the stage. They proceeded to dance, badly,
with Prince and the dancers. I'm not sure what they did or paid to deserve this honour. Luckily they
only stayed for one song.
He went on to play extended versions of an assortment from various albums, but he did disappear
whilst the band played What a Wonderful World. He did Lolita and Black Sweat, with Prince playing bass,
from 3121, Kiss, U Got the Look, Lets Go Crazy and Take Me With U from Purple Rain. One one encore
a backing singer did Gnarls Barclay's Crazy. He kept us waiting for the final encore, but appeared with
his purple symbol guitar to play Purple Rain and finished with Guitar from the new Planet Earth album
that we were given as we entered and I'm listening to now.
The sound could have been better. It was loud, of course, but the vocals were indistinct and everything
was a bit 'mushy'. He played a lot of guitar and did it excellently.
He does put on a good show with lots to keep your attention. He seemed to enjoy it too and kept
excouraging the audience to sing and dance. When he finished at 10:45 the house lights came up, but most
people did not want to leave as they knew he had come out again at the first show after some people had left,
but it was not to be. Eventually we were told to leave and were home a couple of hours later via tube and
Mon, 30 Jul 2007
Cambridge Folk Festival 20070728
This was my first visit to the festival.
I'm not really a folkie, but I like
to hear a good live band. I've not even been to any other festivals, apart from
the odd free one. If they were all as civilised
as this one then I might go more often, although I had a couple of issues. The
facilities were good. It started off dry, but there were boards down to get you
around most of the site. There was a big camping area that looked more like a
family camp site than some of the festivals I've seen pictures of. There was
entertainment for kids in a quiet area.
The main festival area was a big field with three big tents for the stages.
Two of these were open at one end so more people could see the acts. The problem was
that all the available space outside was taken up by small camps consisting of folding
chairs, rugs and assorted other furniture. Some of the rugs had been pitched inside the
largest marquee, which reduced the available area for the audience. Some of those on the
rugs were not even watching some of the bands.
- Bellowhead, who were great fun
- Show of Hands. An excellent acoustic duo
from Devon with guest female bass player. I was impressed enough to buy one of their live albums
from the well stocked on-site record shop
- Kate Rusby, a singer from Yorkshire. She had a nice
voice and a good band, but the music didn't grab me.
- The legendary Joan Baez. Again a great voice, but
I could only stay for aroun dhalf her set due to the light rain and having to get home.
There were various acts wandering around, not all of the musical sort. It made for an
entertaining day, but not a cheap one. The tickets are not too bad, especially if you can do all
the days, but you have to pay extra for an essential programme. You can't buy a one day ticket
for young children, but at least it cost less than a one day adult ticket. There were lots of food
vans, but prices were a little high. I expect they have to pay well just to be there. I might consider
camping there if I could get on the site, but for a whole family it would be a lot of money. The standard
camping fee is for a small tent and we would need more space to be comfortable for four nights.
Mon, 11 Jun 2007
Following our success at Little Berks
the agents of Secret Bass made their second appearance of the
year at Hertford Fun day. This was a bigger event in nice surroundings. It went pretty well. The first of
our two sets had a few mistakes, but the audience may not have noticed. The second was much better.
I got to play the big dun dun drums on one of the songs. I find I don't really get nervous at these events. I
just sing and play as best I can and hope people enjoy it. It might be difference if money were involved and
I would definitely be more nervous if I were playing guitar as mistakes tend to be more obvious.
Malcolm has more images and
words on the event.
I've made slight progress on my recording studio. A friend gave me an old DJ mixer that I can use as
a microphone pre-amp and to switch between different signals. I've played some more with
Jokosher, but it needs more work before it's stable enough for
serious use. I also had a brief play with the Hydrogen drum
machine. This looks like great fun and is simple to use. I just need to learn how to make decent drum patterns
that I can use as a backing.
I've also ordered the parts for my new PC that should arrive today! More new on this later.
Mon, 04 Jun 2007
It's getting on for two years since I started
drumming with Secret Bass. It's fun to just play, but there
comes a point where you need to get out and perform. I missed at least one opportunity for this due
to other commitments, but last Sunday I remedied that. We performed at the village open day in
Little Berkhamstead, just up the road from where we
practice. This involved lots of rehearsals with varying sub-sets of the perfromers where we honed
our performance and worked out a set. On the day it went pretty well, apart from me fluffing some
moves and our glorious leader getting carried away with soloing ;) The small audience seemed to
enjoy it. We have another gig for next Sunday at Hertford Fun day.
Here are some pictures
of our performance.
Although I've been playing music for most of my life I have made very few public performances.
There were a few things at school and when I was learning classical guitar. I regret that I never
got into any bands, but I'm trying to make up for some lost time now. For a start I plan to do
some recording at home to build my skills. If I can find some outlets for some performance then that
will be a bonus. I'm just not sure I would be up to playing solo just yet. Just don't call it a
mid-life crisis ;)
Wed, 07 Feb 2007
Free the music
<< 1 2 3
Very interesting post by Steve Jobs on the Apple
site. Basically he is saying that the use of DRM
on music could be scrapped if the big music companies would agree to it. They already sell x10 as many tracks on CD
as on-line with no protection at all. Removing the DRM would allow music from any provider to be played on any player,
as long as the format is supported. OGG Vorbis would be my preference. There's even
a new chip that can play it with less power usage than previously.
There are already a number of places where you can already buy
DRM-free music, sometimes in much better quality. Despite what some people say 128 kilobit MP3 is not CD quality.
When I listen to music I ripped in that format several years ago it sounds noticably worse than more recent rips in
190 kilobit OGG Vorbis, at least on my Grado SR60 headphones .
Now I'm using FLAC to preserve the original CD quality, but still have to sort a way to transcode it for portable use.
I have a new toy that is a clone of the Powerball. It's an exercise gadget in the
form of a gyroscope that works your arms. There's a thriving community of users who like to see who can spin it fastest.
I'm still struggling to reach high speeds, but we're running a league
table at work. It seems to be more about technique than strength.
We've seen some very low temperatures this week. It was -7C as I drove into London today. Not quite as cold as our
holiday destination. The forecast is for heavy snow tomorrow, so I intend to
stay at home to work.
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