Thursday, April 3, 2014

Me: The Beatles

A solipsistic post in response to Dave Stafford's (here) about his memories and experience of the Beatles. It made me think about their place in my musical sphere.

My earliest clear memory is my sister(s? was it both?) being taken with friends to see A Hard Day's Night - and having to travel some distance to see it. We then got various albums for christmas presents. And when we came to Australia one family friend gave us Help as a farewell present. I probably saw them on TV shows, but definitely saw the recording of All You Needs Is Love for the worldwide telecast. A Beatles single (Love Me Do backed by PS i love you, i think) was the first I bought for myself (I bought A Walk In The Black Forest for my mum).

We had a copy of Rubber Soul. I had a cassette taped copy of the double album (with Revolution No. 9 omitted). And at some stage got Abbey Road (through a record club I think). I also had the double single for Magical Mystery Tour which I sold to a second hand record shop years ago (I wonder what it would be worth now?  Hmm not much according to eBay, so I don't feel as bad). But we/I never had a copy of Sgt Peppers, Revolver, Let It Be. Though I did get the horridly ugly Rock and Roll double best of and single compilation.

Following the breakup I was more a Lennon man - collected either directly or via cassette (Sometime in NY City for example) most of his stuff. Had a bit of Ringo - the albums including and following that self titled one: it has the sort of cover that makes you long for 12" releases - full size Voorman diagrams to match each song. Wings was not much to me - I did get the live Wings Over America as it was cheap and gave a sort of best of. George passed me by as a collector - I had 'copies' of All Things Must Pass and Concert for Bangladesh but that was all - though Shankar Family and Friends was (and is) a great album that I still play.

And yet: I bought the Anthology book. Collected the anthology albums (I especially like the 2nd and 3rd) and now have copies of all the albums.

And Beatles music is an underpinning to everything. While I didn't own all the albums, most of the songs were familiar. They were part of my growing up and my development. (I have digital Lennon but not Ringo - says something)

I think what happened is they were at the wrong time for my collecting seeking absorbing specifically side. They were part of the atmosphere - I didn't have to seek them out. But as we turned into the seventies, I turned into mid-teens and started earning money, I moved from listening to my sisters' albums and buying my own. Some things were developments from their taste (Tull, Bowie), some were from friend's (King Crimson, ELP, Curved Air, Neil Young, Elton John) and some I eventually found myself. I was looking forward, not back (though I did follow some of my finds into their earlier past).

But it was as if the Beatles were just there. In some ways I felt that I knew all the music.

I am glad now that I have got it all and familiarising myself with it yet again - because they are amazing.

One thing that surprises me is the groups or artisist who started at the same time: how was it to be around at the that time? Was it a burden to be compared to the success and artistry of them or was it liberating that they had so much critical limelight that you could develop in peace? Or after, when the search for the next big thing was on?

Ah, nostalgia

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Calendar Apps

Having a calendar with you on the phone or tablet is great - makes it easy to add, check or change. We used to use Groupwise & there was a pretty pitiful client for the iPhone (which this post is based on) but things got better when we moved to Google apps. It links to the built in calendar, but I was never really happy with that for the reason of the first app.

I haven't tried many apps - I get hints from reviews and notices, and have three which I use for various reasons. I would note I am not a power user - don't share calendars, invite people or use a number of different ones. They are for me!

week cal
Itunes web link

This was the first calendar I got and I still use it. As an academic, during semester time week view is my main visual handle on my timetable - it changes from week to week and a good visualisation is essential. Week Cal's raison d'ĂȘtre is the week view (day and month views are available). Entering new events is straightforward using the normal touchdate/time, make selection about length from the tumbler etc. All the usual features expected of a calendar are there too - location, link to contacts, repeat, different calendars.

I was happy with it, but then read some reviews of other with different tweaks, and I now use 2 of them.

Fantastical 2
Itunes web link

The first thing is that this integrates calendar and reminders, so it is a nice integration, especially if you keep trying to get todo lists - at least they are together here.

Second, it uses 'natural language' item creation. Tap the + button and you get a text entry line and as you type it in the program makes its interpretations - meet student at 2 will start to create a meeting at 2 today, add tomorrow and it will shift the draft to tomorrow. Start the typing a todo and it will be a reminder (there is also a sliding button which will toggle between appointment and reminder. If it looks OK hit add, if not you can look at the details and fine tune it and add the regular stuff.

The next difference is the look. When you open it you get a ticker tape of days across the top (not showing sequences of more than 3 days without a meeting) with bars representing meetings for the day. Below is the current reminders and then a list of meetings.(Tap for more detail). As you scroll the list, the ticker tape slides across.

Drag down on the ticker tape and it changes into the month view with dots for meetings and also a search function.

I would use this as my main calendar except that the week view is available only when you rotate from portrait to landscape. As my phone is locked in portrait, that is a nuisance and effectively no use (one cal app I looked at had a button that shifted the view from day to week - much better - but it didn't add a lot more.
Question.
Who has their phone on rotation? As I say, mine is locked for  two reasons.
1. there is no consistency about whether the app will rotate (on the iphone the  iOS doesn't but it  does on the iPad)  . Browsers rotate, weather doesn't ; guardian rotates, ABC doesn't;  Music app does, ecoute doesn't). so you don't know what will happen
2. It makes me feel sick. I don't mind the parallax, but screens rotating and unrotating, doing strange things if you are lying in bed, - all too much for me.
However, with the iPad I use the  manual lock to change screen rotation & in fact tend to have it in free rotation - more programs rotate and I use it less, but in more defined places.

And finally, one with a very different interface which is breaking new ground.

Peek

I like this because it is looking at calendars a different way.

When you open the app you get a list of days as a series of horizontal tabs, a bit like some email. These are the days of the week view - so it is each day until saturday or sunday (depending on when your week starts) and there is a simple statement of date (small) day (bigger) and a bar indicating how much time is booked for that day. Tap on a day and a folding paper unfolds down with the list of appointments. Tap for details. tap again for it to fold away.

Below the week we get the rest of the month view, with a small bar histogram again giving you the time booked for each day (tap etc). the months are colour coded for season (so there are three month blocks) with a subtle (northern hemisphere [they're working on it]) icon for it.

This is all nice block colours (only 2 schemes at present, but I hope they don't offer too many options or it could get ugly).

The next innovation is the mechanism in adding events. long hold on the day and the event portal opens. Name ok. Press the start time and the whole screen opens to a bespoke time entry system - hours listed on the left, minutes right & you slide a marker up or down to select the start, am/pm below and then tick or cross to accept/change your mind.

then when we get to duration, hold your finger on and you are touching a histogram (note a trend) which you can slide up or down to give you the length, or convert it into a day event. Then there are options for repeat location etc. A very different interface which is more touch friendly, layer-operated than apples dials. And works exceedingly well.

2 other innovations. If you shake the phone you can get a 'wellness' reminder (just did & I got 'do what you love' which you can reject or get scheduled randomly soon. The other is more useful - if you cover the screen with your hand, or turn the phone upside down, it sense the shade and shows the time in nice big numbers. Very helpful if you keep the phone in calendar mode.

At the moment I am using all three because they have different advantages and fun (Peek) and would only go down to 2 when Fantastical can replace Week Cal.

But, for any big appointment entry work - like all my classes for the semester - the desktop is the only way. Thanks Google Calendar (I'm on PC).

Monday, February 17, 2014

iTunes radio hits Australia - whoop de do

OK - so it is exciting that it is here, that weare the second country in the world to get it. But it doesn't do much for me - probably because, as we'll see, I am probably not the target. But I'll comment anyway.

To start with I am not a music streamer for 2 main reasons

  • I have a fairly large music library which is made up of music from classical through rock, pop, electropop, experimental, ambient, electroacoustic, phonography through to labels like Dorobo, Stasisfield, and so on. I have a selection on my phone, on an iPod classic and on my iPhod, plus a backup of the music on a portable drive. So where ever I am I can get music that I want. And I'm an album man, but also like variety
  • Download limits - both at home and on the phone - I don't have enough and it's too expensive to waste on listening to music I might not like when I have what I want.
And for the same reason I don't listen to much music radio - OK I might miss a great new track, but I am pretty sure I'll hear about most somehow.

Then there is the implementation. First, it is through the music app which I have stopped using since they stuffed up the album view - now I have three players on there
  • Ecoute is my player of first choice: it has a nice grid view that shows 12 artists or genres on a 4s, then a small icon list view of albums in alpha order.The player is good & interestingly has dispensed with a volume function - assuming you'll use the buttons or earphones, 
  • Picky is interesting for large libraries and filtering - you can do it by number of songs, and then within an artist sort by name, release. It doesn't have a genre setting, but in Albums you can select genres, including more than one at a time, and
  • the interface of Listen is fascinating, very fluid and simple, but the selection process is difficult - it shows all the albums in a grid which extends alphabetically to the left. Dersigned largely for shuffling.
  • But my main player is Ecoute for music and some podcasts (Pocketcasts for ones that I haven't downloaded in iTunes which I do for ones that I want to put on Carol's iPod).
And then, very little styling seems to have gone into the design. The default block view that a lot of podcast apps use also, for your libraries. I don't think you can change the icon.

Finally, the choice, which seems to be
  • a group - like I like the Beatles but not a whole station!
  • generic chart stations - 70s, 80s and 90s; pop hits, etc
  • genre stations - like ambient. Genres are hard to define anyway, but these are either too broad (like ambient) or refine but not enough - within classical you can't pick 20th century or minimalism
Maybe if you have genius working, or iTunes match, or there is some sort of like/dislike the system might learn my preferences, but I haven't got the time. I would rather say to myself - i need some dirty ambient or some muslimgauze or a bit of atonal classical or some environmental sounds to complement my real world and pick an album or genre or artist from my library.

Like I said, not for me: but I wish they had made it look good! A stand alone app at least.

TIMR 25: The Official Andy Partridge Fuzzy Warbles Collector's Album

OK - I came to XTC just a little late: Life begins at the hop and especially Making plans for nigel were big hits and got me into the band and all their albums from Drums and Wires on came my way. This included the vinyl version of their first Best Of which was which came as a double album: Waxworks and Beeswax (the first was the singles, the second B sides). I got the numberered English Settlement, Black Sea in the green bag, the round Big Express, Psonic Psunspot, Take Away/Lure of the Salvage on a tape which was badly mastered with the 'start' about halfway through which made identifying the songs even harder!

I could be argied that XTC were the true heirs to The Beatles in broad musical terms

  • the move from punk/rock through to more complex deep music and unbridled variety
  • a pair of writers whose individual songs could usually be identified (made easier with XTC as they kept separate writing credits
  • a whimsical one and a darker one
  • lyrical and musical depth 
  • experiment - the dub experiments are like John and Yoko - XTC had more room for experiemntal B-sides (thanks to the Beatles)
  • a very britishness, although that musichall vibe comes from and through quite a long line
  • a sad internal decline
Anyways, XTC are THE group of the 80s I think.

At the turn of the century I got the rarities, B-sides etc that is a Coat of Many Cupboards.

Then quietly, unbeknown to me (why didn't he tell me) Andy Partridge started releasing the Fuzzy Warbles. These were compilations of demos (XTC, Dukes of Strosphere and more), musical musings and doodles, songs for soundtracks and more. Each covered a range of ground and included extensive liner notes and lyrics. the covers were based on  stamps
Between 2002 and 2006 8 albums were released, and it was about the time of 4 or 5 I became aware of them. As imports each was quite expensive, but the as the series was drawing to an end, the Collector's Album was released

This takes the stamp theme and runs with it. The box is a stamp album - with theedges printed to look like the sides of a book. It comes in a plastic slip casewhich has the album contents printed on it. Inside the front cover is a book plate for you to fill in.

The 8 disks are nicely arranged and separated by card, so it keeps neat. There is a long book with an essay by Andy about the project - how he did his home recordings. And two little extras. One is a sheet of the 8 images, plus the AP logo, as stick on stamps (who would stick them on something! mine are still here nice and pristine) and an extra cd in a card cover, entitled Hinges (those of you who have never collected stamps will be left in the dark about why that name, those who have will remember the little bag of hinges that came with stamp albums) with another 9 tracks on it - making 161 altogether. There is no seeming rhyme or reason to the individual volumes - they mix early, mid. late XTC with Dukes with other demos, with film music. So each is a lovely separate compilation.

I see the set is over $200 on Ebay or nearly $300 from Amazon links (well over $1000 for a new one from Japan) (even coat of many cupboards is about $250). But it isn't for sale, even though I have ripped it & when I play it, it's the MP3s that I play. Because it is a lovely Thing In My Room!



Thursday, February 6, 2014

Blancmange - Blanc Burn

After mentioning Blancmange as a nostalgic treat a couple of posts ago in the KTP I came across news that they were performing Happy Families in concernt and are rerecording/mixing and releasing it as Happy Families Too next month. And a bit of websearch revealed that an new album (their first in 25 years) Blanc Burn was released in 2011.

I had to get it. I got it.


Blancmange had a couple of big hits (Feel me, Living on the ceiling and some more) but were never as big as I thought they should be. They combined great beats, eclectic influences (mainly Indian), experimentalism, a great ear for a song (if you wonder about ABBA, listen to Blancmange's version of The day before you came).

After 25 years there have been technical developments and aging - Neil's voice is perhaps not as strong as it was, but this has added a greater air of world-weariness and possibly ennui. The opener, for example, By the busstop @ woolies uses a vocal that sounds like it could have been a voice message, and a focus on the local and small is reflected across the album

Musically it is strong and sounds fresh and very varied. There are some that sound like they could have been on the earlier albums - such as Drive me or The western and surprisingly they are the ones which excite the least - although they are exciting but more along the lines of developing the sound a bit rather than dramatically.

Ultraviolent, a story of local thugs in masks and with dogs as weapons, uses dense vocoder or autotune and has a descending chorus line which reminds me of the No no nos in I don't want to lose your love.

Radio therapy reminded me of Freeze Frame era Godley/Creme, and I'm having a coffee notes the focus in the album of the mundane smaller things.

What is hard to determine is how much I like this album because it's a new(ish now) Blancmange album and how much is the music itself? The way the songs have hooked into my brain I think it is probably the later - like Bowie's The Next Day the initial suprise and excitement has bled into just playing it because it is good. The name has probably helped push them through (though not so much that I had heard about the album!) but their skill has taken it on.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sayonara Kyoto - Midwinter parts 1-9 (Kickstarter comment 3)

The third project I backed was Sayonara Kyoto's album Midwinter.

This one is more of a long shot. Chris Sheldon has some basic tracks for the album, but needs a significant injection of funds to master the album. This means he is looking for 3500pounds. At this stage he is a long way off, and suggested to me he was going to pull the project, but got a new burst of wind.

To me targets like this seem really hard for small, unknown artists to garner. Considering the maths, as I did in a message to Chris, a 5pound pledge gets you a download and beyond that you get additions like being on the liner notes, personal thanks etc. The 5 is likely to be the most common pledge, which means that you need to find 700 backers. Which would be decent sales for many small label CDs I would think where 500-1000 is common for limited editions (such as Muslimgauze).

I hope that Chris can find the funds or the means to get the album released - it is a strong album in the beated ambience field made popular by groups such as Tangerine Dream. The samples which are on the Kickstarter page indicate where the music is going and suggest that there would be a market for it - I just wish there was a way Chris could finish it for a little less! (But I don't understand the costs). He also mentions Mike Oldfield, Vangelis, Michael Jarre, Enigma - which sounds about right: and the last two have heardtracks and responded positively.

One other thing, the image that Chris used for Kickstarter is probably not strong enough - again, I don't know what WILL pull the punters, but the photoshoped text doesn't seem like a real eyecatcher. But then I did get past it, so it worked on me!

There is enough on the kickstarter page that allows you to hear how good the music is. Fingers crossed!

(just to note - my only connection to this project is as a backer, and as I was the first Chris has offered me a copy of the sound files if it is not successful & something else [such as a mention in the cover] if it is)