Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Guilty pleasures

A thought.

I have never understood the concept of a guilty pleasure. Sure, I know that it's liking music that isn't or wasn't cool. But here's the thing - if you like something you should be happy to acknowledge it: you won't be the only one & it's not something you should consume secretly with guilt.

Some of my pleasures have been laid bare here
  • ELP - was big but I doubt it was cool - but I still love all the albums up to the margin of Works. When we7 first started I downloaded all the ELP bootleg series which was available from them.
  • Jona Lewie - perhaps not guilty but seriously underappreciated - a really good fun album
  • Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel - yes, everyone knows Come up and see me, but I enjoy all the Cockney Rebel, SH&CR, and first SH solo albums. They are quirky hooky and great
  • China Crisis - double best of album, chock full of great songs (disk 1) lyrical B-sides (disk 2)
  • PiL = after some recent antics, have to be a bit guilty about this: 
  • John Foxx - probably more on the underrated than the guilty, but it is fabulous to see his recent return, and also the late 90s renaissance: very talented
  • Elton John - have all the albums up to Blue Moves, play them often - even had a bootleg of the early live album.
  • Fischer Z and Pavlov's Dog - won hit wonders of pop
  • Supertramp - Crime of the century, Crisis what crisis, and even in quietest moments.
I thought Jethro Tull might fit here as well, but the importance of acknowledging the music hit me recently. I gave my students my blog address (after playing some varied ambient on the iPhone over the lectern mike while they were doing some quiz questions) and later a student, who we'll call Gerald Bostock, emailed me a question about assessment which was chock full of references across the Tull oeuvre. It was the best email I had had from a student (even more than the ones saying how good I am, cause I already know that). I emailed back in kind as Dr Bogenbroom (though later I admitted maybe I should have been Ray). It made me realize how the music of my/our youth continues, and people are still finding it. I was also able to give young Gerald my copy of the Thick as a Brick LP, because I knew this was someone who would appreciate it as much as I did when I got it so many years ago.

It's only rock and roll, but we are too young to die: enjoy the music without guilt!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Public Eyesore, Eh?

In TIMR 12 I gave a call out to labels that had supported &etc through the years.

One prominent entry was Public Eyesore and Eh? - a couple of labels run by Bryan Day. PE came first and it's first few scores of releases were on CDr in simple cardr sleeves with printed front and back labels (simple structure but often complex and always interesting designs) and in the last few years has moved into some more solid cases (jewel, trays etc) with more details on, and also some vinyl. The remit has stayed a wide as possible - improv, outsider music, ambient, pop-ish and indeed anything that seems to tickle the labels fancy.

Eh? started later, maintains the simple aesthetics, and is more focussed on free form, though not exclusively.

Bryan always sends big parcels of disks - expect double figures. Packages always filled me with excitement and a degree of overwhelmedness - I know the music would be stretching me and that a lot of solid listening was coming - the basis of my reviewing has always been that I have to listen through closely at least twice before commenting; and to be honest but also positive: if I don't like something it is probably me, as the fact someone has created it and then released it means that it has something going for it. I also like to listen in different moods - sometimes noisy freeform is annoying while at other cathartic. PE and Eh? always tested me in a good way.

Of the labels/people who supported &etc Bryan was probably the most prolific: other like M Bentley, Darrin Verhagen or Soundician sent me every release, but the numbers were nothing like Bryan - until last week I had over 90 disks from Bryan from the labels plus material he has released through other labels. If you do a search here for Public Eyesore and/or Eh? you will find a bevy of reviews (there are many more on the PE & Eh? websites - Bryan is careful to copy reviews into release pages at the label websites).

With so many releases there have been some standouts - Ember Scrag's (while not on either label) still haunts my brain, Hollydrift and V are artists who went on to become significant to me (the Zeromoon label is excellent). Marina Hardy's Pink Violin review has the most page views on &etc - there is some uncertainty about her authorship, but it is still a fabulous album.

Anyway, Bryan saw the resurrection of &etc and contacted me, and then sent me another of his musical parcel bombs - another 10 releases from Public Eyesore and Eh? I will slowly build reviews of them over the next few months, so expect to see them appearing. A brief listen to bits of most of them have let me know that my ears are getting stretched again! Excellent.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

TIMR 19 : bill nelson boxes

Looking at my music collection and thinking about long term relationships, an important one is Bill Nelson. And it's a strange one. In my musical world there are three main types of relationships: there is the central trio of Eno/Fripp/Bowie. There are old friends who I often turn to - Jethro Tull, ELP, Steve Harley, Incredible String Band, Beatles, Joy Division/New Order, and many more - people who were important at various stages and who I followed (and still do) and have a warm affection for; but I'll probably not write many TIMRs about them. 
Contents of trial by intimacy

Then there are artists who fall between - people who I have known for a while and followed though their development: Bill Nelson is one of these, David Sylvian and John Foxx are probably the next closest ones, others migh include Paul Weller. People who I have travelled with through various groups and guises, and who offer a range of different music. (Some of my more recent relationships are starting to get long term!)

So to Bill Nelson - the dating of my memories is hazy!

I am pretty sure that my first exposure was Do you dream in colour - a minor hit out here. In a fabulous sale (i have very fond memories of sales in various shops, flipping through the bins for known and unknown quatities; queuing before the shop opened to get the one off gems) I bought Live! in the air age (a double album of full album plus 12" ep) which was my broader introduction to BeBopDeluxe [I later bought the double album of singles and rarities (The best and the rest) and then the double cd - and while I enjoy them they are later exposures and not as formative {similarly I have heard Ultravox retrospectively, after getting into John Foxx}]

Around the same time I got Quit dreaming and get on the beam and Bill Nelson's Red Noise. I can't say which I got first, though I am leaning towards Quit dreaming. It came with a free album of ambient instrumentals Sounding the ritual echo - and in a trend which becomes increasingly prevalent in the Nelson discography, this is from demo tapes recorded in his home studio.

Whichever, it was Quit dreaming and Sounding which turned me right into a Bill Nelson fan. The rock/pop album is full of hooks and great songs, while the ambient is mellow attractive and enchanting. I became a seeker of the arcane knowledge. 

I think my next purchase was the four album set Trial by Intimacy, bringing together four albums of the ambient, with a booklet of arcane photos and text, cards and knowledge of the Bill Nelson fan club. I can't fathom how I found out about it in those pre-internet days, and while I am pretty sure I ordered it through the post, it could have been through an import record shop: either way it was a big investment - but worth it.

Many albums followed
The love that whirls - possibly my favourite; though the range of The two fold aspect of everything (singles, hits, ambience) brings it up there.
Then there are many more - Chimera, Getting the Holy Ghost Across, scores for Das Kabinett and Beauty and the beast, Savage gestures, the Orchestra Arcana albums, Crimsworth, Chance encounters in the garden of light (double album plus 7" single of ambience, another high on the favorite list). The music across that list covers a whole range of styles.

His sound is generally recognisable - the guitar, the voice and mood. But the combination of song based albums and ambient across the years is very attractive. His output ranges from Crimsworth (a very minimal ambience) through guitar based ambience such as Chance encounters in the garden of light, beautiful pop like The love that whirls to the early sampling of the two Orchestra Arcana releases.

Another box set came out - the four cds of Demonstrations of affection - which at Peril they broke up so while I didn't get the t-shirt or box, I got 2 of the four disks. Then My secret studio - four albums of demo songs with some small card; the Confessions of a hyper dreamer (my secret studio volume 2). To be honest, by that time in the mid-nineties I was becoming financially Nelson-fatigued. But music still emerged. There was another multidisk set that was tempting (Noise candy), and then the Nelson club got even more active creating even more. There were some ordinary releases as well. If you look at the discography on wikipedia almost half of the three columns are post 2000.

I have maintained a light contact with the expanded oeuvre, but it is that period to just before 2000 which really resonate for me. As with other artists it came at a time when I was being exposed to more new music through the reviewing. 

Looking at my iTunes library I have about 39 albums from Bill Nelson, BeBop (only a couple) and Channel Light Vessel. In many moods I'll whack on a bit of Bill and always enjoy it. And there are the boxes & their contents, which are permanent TIMR reminders. 

two later collections

Friday, July 19, 2013

TIMR 18: building stories, chris ware

A child of the UK and Australia, I never really got into comics (I am not sure if there is any relationship between those two phrases, when looking at them after I typed them. But I feel that at the time I was young (OK, the {late - vanity}50s and 60s) comics hadn't got much beyond the very ubiquitous Phantom and Superman). Though I did read the comic sections of the newspapers.

As time went by I observed the growth in the genre and its maturing - the switch from Batman to the Dark Knight for example. But by then I was too 'mature' to think of reading thngs like the Sandman and others which are now presented as classics of the developing genre.

But I was always intrigued, and bought the McSweeney's issue that celebrated comics (number 13)- partly for its excessive production but also out of interest. And I enjoyed it heaps.

Chris Ware edited it, seemed like a key figure in the graphic novel area, and had won prizes for Jimmy Corrigan Smartest Kid on Earth - which had called to me when it came out but I had resisted. Resist no more.

What I found was a complex, intriguing character study, with historical aspects, plus using the graphic side to create diversions (such as models you could cut out a build if you wanted to destroy your copy) and to make knowing nods to the format. It is very episodic which reflects its creation as separate vignettes. But a complex and satisfying read. And look. And it looks great - Ware has a spare flat style that carries the whole so well.

So when I heard about Building Stories it was a no brainer:

  • A new novel or set of interconnecting stories by Chris Ware - what's not to want, plus
  • The package. It comes in a box that is 11.7 x 1.9 x 16.6 inches in size - like a board game. Inside are 14 separate pieces in various formats - full size newspapres, fold out card the size of a board game, books, booklets, pamphlets. The picture below (from wikipedia which also has a description of the book and its parts) shows the cornucopia on offer)

It is a colection of stories based around a building and centred on four inhabitants: a married couple, the elderly owner, a single woman (at the start) with a single leg, and a bee. The stories intersect at times and cover many years.

One of the many pleasures is deciding what order to read them. This reminds me of the other book-in-a-box, B S Johnson's the unfortunates (he is a postmodern pioneer) from 1969 whre the sections of the book can be read in any order other than the first and last. With Building Stories it means that you are also having to 'build' the characters stories as you go - is this earlier or later than the bit you read before? Ah, that explains the other section etc. No one reading is prioritised and a sequential order might not even be possible.

Again, reflected in the variety of bits, he plays with conventions on how to read the individual works - some requiring rotating the book or following lines, or understanding the base structure so that you can follow the panels.

But beyond the pleasure of the thing, the story is also excellent. Ware tends seem negative - there is a lot of unhappiness in this and Jimmy, and it is also reflected in his comments in the Acme sketchbook of his I bought. But many stories are sad, and this is not bleak. Each individual is drawn (literaturally and literally) in details which grow and develop. You become engaged in their lives and fortunes - and may even search the bits to see what happened next!

It may be a comic format, it may be in a box, but what it is is a well written series of short stories. A pleasure on many levels

(and on my panorama you should be able to see it perched on top of the bookcase - and we could even start a spot the TIMR in my room competition)

Friday, July 12, 2013

645 pro

On the recent trip to Vietnam I took over 500 photos. This still astounds me. I can remember when you thought carefully about each shot because you only had so many films with you (with 12, 24 or 36 frames each) & on top of that you had to pay to get them printed. There was also a wait - often you would only take half the shots & then the rest later. And finally they might not come our - the film wasn't in properly, you had let some light in, it was blurry, the lens wasn't off .....

The first digital camera I had was a Kodak with enough space for about 20 shots. Extra memory was expensive & it was before you realised how easy photography was going to be. On a trip to Graz I had to cull some photos to take some on my last day there. 

Now you can shoot everything and cull on the spot or later, see if the shot is OK, take things just for fun. Hence so many from our trip.

For simplicities sake I use my iPhone - only one thing to carry round, unlimited space, and I could back up to the cloud if I wanted. I'm not a high end photographer but I can recognise the limitations of the inbuilt camera (and the strengths of simplicity) so a while ago I bought the app 645 Pro - and really used it for the first time on the trip. And while I was away it was upgraded meaning I used it even more in terms of the features.

Basically what it does, I think, is access digital imaging editing before the photo is taken rather than after (cropping, colour balance etc) giving you the opportunity to improve the photo before you take it - like a real camera!

This is what you see on the screen - the viewfinder is reduced (but an expanded view is available) because of the additional controls. The new version has made these a lot less fiddly which is why I used them more. The screen also gives you information on shutter speed and the state of some of your features. 

The ones I found really useful

Camera backs - 645 is the standard size of images. But by changing the 'back' you effectively precrop a photo. When I went to halong bay I knew that there would the pictures with lots of sky and water & the island inbetween. I therefore used a long thin back to make the horizon more prominent. Some shots would look better square so I would then change to that. It is easy to move between frame - press the button and a carousel of options appears, flick through and pick the one you want (the old version had a dial which was difficult to 'turn' easily. (The islands are at the top, and on the right is a 6x17 image.

Film stock - by modifying various aspects such as saturation, lightness etc the camera comes with a variety of black&white and colour films. You can swap between them as with the backs, but I tended to find one where I liked the contrast and output and stuck mainly to that. You can create your own too. 

Filters - this is an area where the new setup makes these a lot easier. There is a range of filters (colour for b&w, warm/cool for colour and 2 graded ones). In the previous version they were chosen by swipes on the viewfinder and changed by a different swipe. I didn't use them. Now you select by pressing a button & getting the carousel, and then to change the intensity you rotate the big button at the bottom. I found the graded filter fantastic for landscape shots to get a darker upper half to emphasise the lower features & get more sky details. And changing the intensity allowed me to modify this.

Light meter - you can swap between focused or widescreen metering, and playing with this made me realise in many situations it did make a significant difference.

There are other features I didn't use, or much,

  • Grid - I started using it to set up shots
  • Night mode - does allow you to take pictures in low light
  • Shutter timer - for those group pictures
  • Locking focus, white balance or exposure - if you want
  • 3 shot options
  • RAW images can be saved, and of the original image rather than that processed through 645.
  • And a lot more in various preferences. 

I think that my pictures benefitted from using 645, partly because of the options I chose but also as I thought more before taking many of the pictures - about the shape, whether to filter, how to meter, where things sat in the grid. And point and shoot or panorama was still available with the standard camera.

But I would highly recommend the app for people who want to do more without having a separate camera with them. (Michael Hardaker makes a few simpler 'cameras' - PureShot is for example a cut down 645 pro which shares the same look but many fewer features.)

The app web site is here

UPDATE: latest version has more graded filters

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Free drones (updated)

This is NOT a Dave Stafford sub blog, but.....

As you all know I like free music, especially if it is good.

For a few years in the middle of the first decade of this century a group of four musicians traded samples and sounds, and created a wealth of drones. One of those musicians was the (here) ubiquitous Mr Stafford). The music they created was released under the moniker Drone Forest. Ian Stewart was the main driver (and released solo efforts under the name), but each of the quartet curated some of the albums and were involved in creation (including a live album).

Daves recollection and the pointer I got is here.

Any way, in the end Drone Forest is associated with 19 releases to date (original albums, remixes, 10 disks of Mega:Drone selected from 100 hour long pieces, drones created by processing other artists work). Many of these are available for free download from the Drone Forest website.

I have downloaded a handful of them and can recommend them as diverting and varied minimal ambience pieces. Drone has a powerful ambient history - names that come to mind are Jilat and the Rain series started by Mystified on Webbed Hands label (which I have noted in the past & went to have a look at yesterday and there is a huge number [nearly 300] releases there, a significant proportion fit under the Rain banner) or the Mystery Sea label reviewed many years ago (and still going I see) let alone the 7" Drone records that popped up in TIMR recently.

The Forest is notable because the origin of sounds from four very different artists together with their individual or group responses to the sounds leads to a more varied set of albums. I have 8 albums (or 10 if you count 3 from the Mega:Drone separately) and of course haven't been able to listen to them all intensely yet; but each one that comes on has a different perspective on the genre providing varied experiences.

Definitely well worth delving into.


I have now downloaded almost a gigabyte of music - 11.4 hours, and have listened to a fair wack. I see three forms of drone here:
classical drone - exemplified by the Meta:Drone albums (I have 5) which do work on the continuous slowly changing note/chord form of the drone

collaborative drone: most of the other albums have been created by the group or individual members (each has curated some albums or parts of albums [for example drone forest IV has a mix of tracks, while Zoso is just Dave Stafford {credited as Davie Blint - Consequences again}]). Here they took/take the remit of beatless samples for whoever to mix. There are drones, site recordings, guitars, noises - mixed into a complex ambience. This was taken to the extreme with the live album, where they each went into the studio at an appointed time, created an hour of music, and then assembled the whole. These are not pure drones, but a complex ambient form.

applied drone: here a sample is taken and processed into submission. For the two remix albums tracks by other, identified artists are used (the longest is via Godley/Creme and bears traces of Consequences - and I just checked and the track is by D Blint) to create glitchy minimalism, but the whole Drone Forest oeuvre was also manipulated for Forester.

There is also an album by John Gore of 'kirchenkampf' using the source material, so could be considered a collaborative drone.

Anyway - a very varied and enjoyable set of musics.

Update update
I now have downloaded all the downloadable albums (three aren't available - the vinyl release, a 3"cd and the first remix album) and even highlyer recommend them

Sound Apps

A bit of a note on some apps I have been having fun with.

First, a free one through Apple for the app-store-birthday: Traktor DJ (separate iPhone and iPad apps, both free). Load 2 tracks from your iTunes library and make a mix - switch between them, scratch a bit, add FX to one or both, and then record the noise you have made. I have only had it a few days but by mixing Fever Ray with Robert Fripp or Dave Stafford have made some diverting noises. Power users could even record their outputs.  Have just put on Steve Roden's Lines and Spaces - two piano tracks designed to interact: there's definitely an ambient opportunity here

And then to really just play I have bought Loopy which allows you to record/import a large number of loops and layer them - I made some 'interesting' mixes of airport sounds.

Then, pretending I was a real electronic musician I bought Audiobus which allows you to have input from various apps (such as Bebot, Figure, Mixtkl, Garageband) put them through effects (I picked up a free one called AudioEffects to play with) and then output to Loopy, earphones or garageband or others. Again, I am mainly making noise to pass the time - but it is fun and underscores the power that real music makers now have at their fingertips (literally)

Monday, July 8, 2013

TIMR 17: vietnam

OK - not really a thing in my room - though I do have this carved box - but rather an opportunity to reflect and bask in a recent holiday. Not a blow by blow but some thoughts.

And yes, we went to Vietnam. Just over 2 weeks, most in Hanoi but a 3 day excursion up to Sa Pa, one down to Halong bay.

First off, it was fabulous. We stayed in the old part of town, narrow streets full of people, noise and excitement: the antithesis to home here on the property. But we fell into it surprisingly easily. It was our first time for an extended visit to SE Asia and concerns and preconceptions were not met. We moved carefully - kept away from markets where there could be live animals, didn't stray to areas that could have dog restaurants: overall we were pleasantly surprised by the number of well loved dogs and cats around. So to some thoughts

The people - were overall the most friendly we have met or come in contact with anywhere. A young punk in a clothes shop was dismissive and the hotel staff didn't apologise for the sour milk & sent housekeeping up to check we hadn't raided the minibar when we left (minor irritations). Most people we cam in contact with had good english - including the 'minority' women in Sa Pa - and we were approached at the lake in Hanoi by a couple of students wanting to practice their excellent skills. People were helpful but not diffident and had a great sense of humour. (The most annoying people all trip were an american and some aussies in a cafe; a group of french, american and english trekkers; and being stuck in a bus with for late 20s silverspoon expats).

Technology - Mobile phones everywhere, in the hands of everyone; free wifi all over the place (the only time you have to pay is expensive hotels); big TVs even in the low Sa Pa valleys. A reminder of how ubiquitous this all is.

Hanoi, Sa Pa, Halong - We saw three different parts, to get a taste of the country. Hanoi is busy, exciting, full; Sa Pa is beautiful and the overnight train trip (done in style on an orient-express style sleeper with dinning car) was wonderful. The mountains are the home of various 'minority' group (see also the Museum of Ethnology) whose way of life has been maintained and is being supported as a major attaraction. We went on a walk through a couple of villages with a Hmong guide and it was eye opening. And then Halong, beautiful and relaxing - though the ride down is long (3 hours in a minibus) and there isn't enough time on the cruise)
Sa Pa

Ho Chi Minh museum - an amazing high point. The first two floors are ordinary, the second has photos of local heroes etc - but the top floor is dazzling. As you move round the circular building you see episodes from the history of the world, communism and Ho's life in modernist dioramas. A constructivist painting of a tower lives as a model, parts of Guernica emerge from the walls as sculpture, there is a bit that looks like a cross between superman's citadel and the tardis.It is really weird and yet also an overwhelming sculptural artwork, full of symbolism and mystery.

Traffic - the only time it is quiet is from about 2 to 6am: when we got back from Sa Pa it was strange to be able to walk almost empty streets. motorbikes, motorbikes, motorbikes, cars, people people people, parked bikes. There seem to be few road rules, just suggestions; size matter (don't mess with a bus); go with the flow, even through red lights; take care but be forceful. We didn't see any accidents, and the closest we came was someone coming to park their bike on the pavement (which is full of bikes, walk on the road) and just came straight for us.

Food - we were less adventurous here. Vegetarian so fewer options, western worries about street food. We found a few good places in hanoi we liked: the Tamarind, only 5 minutes from our hotel and a begetarian menu we never got through; Cafe Kangaroo, better than you would think, excellent local food plus some home comforts (vegemite, weetbix); the restaurant at the Museum of Ethnology, run as a training centre; The Loft, a little french based cafe/patisserie. And the hotel in Sa Pa and the boat on Halong were great.

Music - or should I say musak: terrible piped music of slow torch songs in many places. My portable sound system came in handy. And I even played Quet Americans Vox Americana in Hanoi. Nice one.

Communism - what is communism these days? There were people driving Bentleys, you have to pay for late secondary or higher education, is there equality?

I could go on, but I don't want to bore y'all. But it was an epiphany (if you can have one over 2 weeks) about a reality of Asia. Loved it.

puppets at the museum of literature

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

new roden sounds

Steve Roden has done some sound tracks for a Hans Richter film for lacma

can watch the short film plus hear the new sounds here