31.10.16

Macbook Woe


Here's a refreshing article in FACT which concludes that the new Macbook Pro is a poor choice for musicians. They even go on to recommend switching to the PC citing the brilliance of  Windows 10 and the Surface. I came to the very same conclusion this Summer when, after loyally using Apple for twenty years, I parted ways with my faithful 12-core Desktop and 2013 Macbook Pro and bought an HP Zbook with the proceeds.

Apple have failed to support their industrial user base. OS X, with its legion of user-friendly gadget-apps has become more and more geared to the consumer market. They're intoxified by selling iPads, iPhones and iBooks. Video-wise it has been one catastrophe after another. Apple arrogantly destroyed Final Cut Pro. Then they released the "dustbin" - the least enticing Desktop machine since their cube. Then they killed QuickTime on Windows. There are still no really powerful graphics cards for the Mac.

This "Pro" laptop is a massive joke. The Touch Bar with its ability to scroll through emojis you can put in your email takes the biscuit. Will Adobe be supporting this in any of the Creative Cloud applications? Can I envision Autodesk implementing it in Maya? They tout the new P3 wide-gamut monitor but only a fool would design in anything other than sRGB (for devices), Adobe RGB (for print - though...) or Rec709 (for broadcast). That is unless they're sure the next user will own one of these ridiculous machines. Who cares how fucking thin it is?

I can't help but reflect that this is incredibly short-sighted in business terms. Apple used the Mac's rep as a graphic design powerhouse in much the same way that Fashion houses use haute couture. Certainly they still retain a dominance in the creative industries, but in my opinion only owing to people's reluctance to consider the alternatives. That appears to be changing.

29.10.16

Somerise


Unruly Milk: Spilagges

Here's a magical slice of New Wave West Country Lo-Fi. Unruly Milk pile up loops of close-miked instruments against a background of three-dimensionally reverberating VSTs. Then smattered with the occasional vocal samples and (on "Ambassadeurs") even a recorded singer. Coming on like General Strike meets Position Normal the results are as studiedly ragged as they are elegantly modern. This will be by favourite ever release which the mercurial Kek-W has been involved with.



Eastville Vending: 23 Minutes - 23 Tracks - 23 Artists

In the same vein as Elliot Sharp's "State of The Union" No Wave compilation in which 34 artists had a minute. Produced and artfully sequenced by Farmer it's an engaging and surprisingly coherent journey through the shadows of Brexit Blighty. My favourite track has to be Runningonair's "The Message" a text message accidentally sent to a BT landline (ever had one of these? I have) is recited by a robotic femle voice and then draped with a creepy synth.

Here

23.10.16

Squeezebox Encounter #2

In April I wrote of how I harangued a seemingly blind street musician playing outside Coram Fields.

In the intervening months the man disappeared. As I cycled past in the evening I have often rued my missed opportunity to let him hear the hornpipe, for him to learn said piece of music and to therefore improve his takings.

I was both delighted and nervous to see last Friday that he was there again. This time I had my strategy worked out. I mounted the pavement, pulled out my phone, found someone on YouTube performing the tune and gently implored him to listen. The pavement was empty and it was growing dark as we huddled round the device, its screen glowed as the slightly weedy speaker spooled forth.

Once again he fumbled with the keys trying to pick up the gist of the song. Occasionally it seemed like he had worked out its shape. I certainly couldn't manage something like that. I regretted I didn't have any cash on me. In an ideal world buskers would take contact-less payments. I must get in the habit of carrying a few bob on me.

9.10.16

Lifeforms



I've been meaning to do this "Lifeforms" mix for so long. After all those purist Hip-Hop mixes I wanted to turn the tables a bit. This not-quite-authentic Hip-Hop has always been frowned on but in the end it has ended up being re-appropriated with surprising gusto. The influence of Techno on "proper" Hip-Hop in particular is undeniable. I've been really pleased with how it came out - how leftfield stuff like Lootpack, Shabazz Palaces, Sensational sits together so beautifully with the beats end of Glitch and Techno.

Sounds of the JHS 126 Brookyn - Chill Pill
Cristian Vogel - Gigantic Tautological Machinery
Roots Manuva - Bashment Boogie
Divine Styler - Make It Plain
Boom Bip - Last Walk Around Mirror Lake (BOC Remix)
The Roots - In The Music
DJ Spooky - Grapheme
Death Grips - The Cage
69 - If Mojo was AM
Infesticons - Theme
Juggaknots - This Morning
New Kingdom - Lazy Smoke
Nearly God - Poems
Boards of Canada - Turquoise Hexagon Sun
Sensational - When I Deal Minze
J Burger - Wunschmaschinenpark
Shabazz Palaces - The Phasing Shift
Scienz of Life - Ghettos tah Galaxiez
Loot Pack - The Anthem
cLOUDDEAD - Unnamed
The Roots - Livin' In A New World
Prefuse 73 - Point To Be
Brandy - What About Us
Sa-Ra - Enter the Sex Shop
Urban Tribe - Covert Action
Cannibal Ox - Iron Galaxy
Nosaj Thing - Caves
Kid 606 - Straight Outta Compton
Run The Jewelz - Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)
DJ Shadow - Influx

6.10.16

Physics

One key aspect of the work I do for a living is Motion Graphic Design. Since the recent wave of procedural animation in apps my clients have wanted to see more of this kind of kinetic and interlocking animation movement in the work I deliver. These animation techniques have always been around but clients have become better versed in its language. When it comes to animation they've actually become more demanding. That's not to say that people really grasp the technique or the technical language. I'm afraid I inwardly groan when I'm asked to put "more easing" into a sequence of movements. "Easing" is a more fundamental technique whereby movements slow in or slow out. But in fairness the point is that people know much better what they want to see - and equally when what they want is not there. Using the language around the procedural animation of apps (that's movement which is calculated by equations) I coined the word "Physics" to describe to clients exactly what it is they want. I'll say - "You want to see more Physics."

The effect is only rarely achieved by using scripts and expressions. If you want to make it work really well you have to animate it by hand. This thing drops. It's counterpart explodes upwards before slowing to an imperceptibly slow speed as though almost static. It knocks something else which swings around and triggers thirty things which happen simultaneously. The most endlessly referred to example of this style of animation is the Designed by Apple in California animation. I get handed this as a reference about once a month. And of course, not really meaning to sound jaded, I understand its appeal.

Thinking about "Physics" as a phenomenon of interlocking rhythm got me to reflect that this kind of very beautiful and satisfying symphony of motions is one of the key and very under-appreciated aspects of music. Of course musicians themselves, especially ensemble players in bands and orchestras where figures are passed around a group of people understand exactly what it is. But critics have rarely commented on it. Indeed I can't think of a single example - though of course that might just be my ignorance. And it's fair to say it's not necessarily a very interesting thing to break down in writing either...

The best place to hear "Physics" in music is Jungle. In fact there was a dialogue at the time about just that that deepened around Drum and Bass. Truthfully the physics got worse. It became progressively less entertaining to listen to it ricochet around itself as the discourse around it got stronger. The best physics you can hear in Jungle are on the best tracks. Because that's what defined the music at its strongest.

One apposite example is Firefox's "Warning" (Roni Size Mix): how the differently-textured snares interweave like hocket; how the bass-line sneaks into the track like tiptoeing villain, that goose bump-inducing double-time pairing of the bass-line and skittering drums; the way the bass line suddenly girds its loins and makes nimble jumps; how vocal samples at once float over the maelstrom (Junior Tucker), burst forth like hiccups (Snaggapuss) or suddenly, like Tarzan, swing into the carriage of the riddim's high-speed train and swagger in time before swinging out again (Shabba Ranks). Other good places to hear physics in music are Music Concrete and Dub.

For me "Physics" in music is all about the essence of what it means to be a flesh and blood manifestation, to understand what it is to be a  life-form under gravity. You bring to the experience of watching or listening to "Physics" what it is to be alive. And equally a sense of the very boundaries of physical possibilities. It's like gymnastics for the soul.

5.10.16

Shock and Awe Roadshow in London


It's a big week for us Simon Reynolds fans!

Don't miss this great radio show at The Quietus or this talk Simon's giving tonight at The Forge in Camden.

4.10.16

Musical Psychogeography in Cheltenham

A recent weekend trip to Cheltenham for a family wedding brought back some very strange psychogeographical memories to me.

I spent a lot of time in Cheltenham in the mid-eighties as a teenager. I used to get the bus into the town and visit the record stores: Our Price (where I bought such records as Einsturzende Neubauten's debut LP and Big Black's "Songs about Fu**ing") and the brilliant Badlands where I bought too many discs to mention (though Pere Ubu's "360 degrees of Simulated Stereo" springs to mind).

Driving into the town on the way to the wedding along the London Road I pulled up at the traffic lights and remembered that this very location is always inextricably linked in my memory with The Velvet Underground's "White Light, White Heat". Indeed whenever I think of the album I flash on this very spot. I recall turning the record over and over in my mind as I was riding the bus into town; listening to "Sister Ray" at the traffic lights on my Walkman.



And it didn't stop there. This view and location on Clarence Street (below) always makes me think of Pere Ubu's "The Modern Dance". This was before I actually owned the record which I eventually found at the Our Price on the Kings Road. I think the association was owing to a rave review of the reissue that appeared in either the Melody Maker or NME. I must have been reading the review at this location. A family friend owned the newsagent and it's likely I bought the "inky" at their shop.



Turn 180 degrees around the same crescent and here I have a powerful association with David Bowie's "Alladin Sane". I'm pretty sure I bought the record at Badlands and, walking back to the High Street was gazing intensely at the cover. Or perhaps daydreaming about it.



This, below, is where the Old Price used to be on the High Street.



And here is Badlands. Still open. Still great with a great mail order too.



For a long time I used to have memories of particular records in London. Often they were things that that I heard on pirate radio as I was bombing round town in my car at that impressionable age. A certain tune at the corner of the Euston Road etcetera. On re-encountering these Cheltenham memories however I realised their London equivalents have all faded away. Worn away by other associations. These kind of cultural and musical memories are written in one's mind as though magnetised. We are the tape which receives these signals and we are imprinted by them. However, with the passing of years, the signal fades.

Postscript. Just remembered another great record I bought at Badlands. Brian Eno's "Before and After Science". Secondhand. With the lovely prints.