Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

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.

[21:11] | [] | Comments | G

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.

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

Tue, 09 Oct 2007

Rainbow Time

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...


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 tomorrow night.

[21:12] | [] | Comments | G

Fri, 05 Oct 2007

Musical Fun

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. I uploaded 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 announced 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.

[18:11] | [] | Comments | G

Tue, 18 Sep 2007

Beat It

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 drumming.

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!

[22:20] | [] | Comments | G

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 train.

[12:18] | [] | Comments | G

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.

I saw:

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.

[22:34] | [] | Comments | G

Mon, 11 Jun 2007

Another Gig

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.

[10:36] | [] | Comments | G

Mon, 04 Jun 2007

First Gig

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 ;)

[21:52] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 07 Feb 2007

Free the music

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.

[14:29] | [] | Comments | G

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