Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Latitude 2010

I took a break this weekend to go to Latitude, the first time I've watched live music for fun in about a year. Latitude is held at Henham Park in Southwald, Suffolk making it my local festival. I went a couple of years back but it was bigger this year, bigger acts and more people. The toilets were also noticeably better as was the wrist banding procedure. It was generally better organized although there were a few unfortunate clashes that could have been avoided.
Latitude refers to itself with the tag line "more than just a music festival" in sufferance to its arty nature. There are stages for theatre, literature, poetry, cabaret, dance and comedy and you could easily spend the whole weekend not seeing any music; you'd be an idiot though because the music was superb. I won't go into any real depth of the other stages but I'll say that I did watch some theatre, listen to some book readings and watch some stand up. There are people that spend the whole weekend in the comedy tent; the line-up really was great this year. Robin Ince's book club was pretty entertaining as well this year, a departure from the last time I saw him. The book club mainly focused on a series of books by Guy N. Smith that all focus on giant killer crabs invading the English coast, a topic he explores in more detain in his new book which I'll have to pick up some time.
I'll give a quick rundown of some of the acts that blew my socks off. Firstly Wild Beasts were just amazing. The few technical issues aside they were one of the best sounding bands at the festival and a band that brings a lot of energy to their show, more so than their record which I love. Laura Marling was similar, her voice is breath taking, something you don't fully realize from listening to her recordings. Spoon brought a kind of energy that you rarely hear and were much more raw than I was expecting. I can’t in all good conscience say that Empire Of The Sun were good, but I enjoyed them. It was the most visually striking show I saw, but it was mostly backing track. There were four dancers and very elaborate costumes to the point of silliness, many times there were only dancers on stage dancing to a backing track at which point I saw a lot of people leave and a lot of people either pissed off or laughing at the pompousness of it all. It was entertaining though and I'm still a big fan. I had no interest in watching Florence and the Machine as I saw her last year and frankly she was terrible. I don't know if she was having a bad day, or was saving herself for some of the bigger shows but she killed the atmosphere at last years Camp Bestival. Instead I opted to watch The National, a band I know very little about other than that I loved their new album. As it happens they were brilliant, and got one of the best crowd reactions I saw at the festival.
On Saturday I spent most of my time watching stuff that wasn't music. The only bands I saw were Frightened Rabbit and Belle and Sebastian. Frightened Rabbit are one of my favourite acts at the moment and they didn't disappoint. They sounded great mix wise and the crowd loved them. Belle and Sebastian are a band that I really don't know very much of at all except their bigger hits. They played a set that showed how much they have changed throughout their career and made it feel like a coherent set. They have the luxury of having such a vast library of music that every song they played was brilliantly written and arranged. They were the only main stage headliner I watched all weekend so I can't really compare it, but the crowd adored them and hung on their every word in a way you very rarely see.
Sunday had the strongest line up of any day. As a result in fact I got sunburned to hell from standing outside too long. The night before Tom Jones announced he was playing a second set, this time main stage at midday. I was pleased because I was eager to see him for some reason and I couldn't get to the stage he was playing at in the woods due to all the crowds. He played his new album of blues and gospel covers, which was actually pretty good. His band was great and is voice is just as powerful as you would expect. People kept shouting for him to play his hits, most notably sex-bomb and I'm glad he didn't because what we got was a heartfelt performance of music that Tom clearly loves, free of the kind of trashy cheese he has become famous for. It was genuinely moving. Shortly after I saw Mumford and Sons, a band I don't care for, but they did a great performance and they sounded much better than their recordings. They were followed by Dirty Projectors who cleared a lot of Jones' fans out but treated the remaining fans to a great set. I then ran over to see Yeasayer, who I adore. They sounded great and it was good to hear mostly electronic music played well after the disappointing lack of live playing from Empire of the Sun earlier that weekend. It surprised me how big of a crowd they had drawn but they deserved it. Annoyingly I had to miss Vampire Weekend in order to see two of my favourite bands from the last few years. I really would have liked to have seen them and hopefully I will soon, they looked amazing on the Glastonbury highlights and I only heard good things about them at Latitude. Instead I went to watch Jonsi, who brought new life into an album that I have become sick of. It's interesting seeing Jonsi play solo after watching him with Sigur Ros a couple of years back. Its the mark of a great performer that he is equally as comfortable playing main stage with a band with numbers into double figures, playing epic post rock as he is playing in a tent in a four piece band playing more typical pop songs. The final band I saw was Grizzly Bear, one of my favourite bands, but also a band that looked pretty poor on the Glastonbury highlights. I wasn't sure how wise it was to watch a band that I love on record that might not live up to it and potentially kill my interest in a band that is one of the most interesting around. Thankfully they were mindblowingly good, they sounded amazing, they performed as good and as tight as they do in their recordings, and the crowd adored them just as much as I did.
I've got to say that all in all the Word arena (the second stage) was a far more pleasant place to be than the Obelisk arena (main stage). It sounded more consistently good and it had a far better atmosphere. I remember thinking something similar last time I came, but there were less issues getting in to the tent this year for whatever reason.
On a less pleasant note, you might have heard that there were two rapes over the weekend, a sad issue that could have been avoided with more of a police presence. I only saw one officer all weekend, even after the first rape. I also heard reports of violent behaviour and fires in the yellow camp site (Helen and I slept in the quiet site and had no such problems), which is pretty unacceptable seeing as events like Latitude, pay the police for their services. The people in charge of police numbers and key areas should really be ashamed, I don't know what they could have done but then I'm not paid to know either. I would also say that after two rapes, I had still only heard about them from Twitter and texts from family and friends. I've gotta say that I find it very irresponsible of Latitude and the police to not tell people to adjust their behaviour, both of the women raped were on their own, if the second had have known maybe she wouldn't have been alone and maybe her neighbours would have been more observant.
If you want to listen to any of the music from latitude Absolute radio is hosting some of it to listen to here. I've made a Spotify playlist of all the bands I loved and you can listen to it here

All pictures courtesy of Helen Wright

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Digg is changing

I'm a long time Digg user and I'd have to say its one of the sites I use most often. There is no better news aggregation site to find new articles and discus them (in my opinion). For those that don't know, Digg is a website where links are submitted and voted on by the users, the highest rated of which appear on the front page which everyone sees. Just recently Digg has released an alpha version of the revamp they have planned for the site at, dubbed Digg 4. I'm going to quickly go through a few of the changes.
Firstly, the most obvious change is a cosmetic one. Everything looks a lot cleaner, theres a lot less green and a lot more white. You could say it looks more like Facebook. The older site is on the left, the newer on the right.

Overall I'd say I much prefer the new look. There's a lot less ads too, although I'm not sure how long that will be true for.
The next big obvious change is in the fundamental way the front page ranking system works. When you open up Digg 4 you are greeted by the all new My News section. My News has more in common with Facebook or Twitter than the old style Digg, it shows stories that your friends have dug up or submitted rather than the general consensus of the world, the idea of which is to expand Digg's user base beyond that of tech and media pros, and general geeky stuff. if you only subscribe to your friends, or at least people who share similar interests to you, you needn't ever see another tech story again. To me at this moment in time this feature is largely useless, as most of my friends don't use Digg, there are a lot of content providers who I've subscribed to and this provides an easy way to see them.
There is still the Top News section, which works largely the same as the old style Digg, although I did notice that I get completely different stories in each feed. I personally bookmarked the Top News section as this is where I spend most of my time.
Another thing which has been streamlined is the submission system. content creators can now add an RSS feed of their content, each new item being automatically added and shared in the My News section. I'll be honest, I always thought submitting your own content was kind of cheating and that it ruins the organic nature of the site, but I've added my feed and I'll see if it gets me anywhere.
Digg has also put a big submission box right at the top of the page to encourage new content to be submitted.
Digg is clearly trying to position itself as a more social site, but also as a potential replacement for an RSS reader. I personally would much rather use Digg than a reader with social functions like Google Reader, but the content owners have to make their content available first.
Finally, Digg has added vanity URLs similar to Twitter and Facebook, so that your profile can now be located at user name, a feature that is made all the more useful given Digg's new social focus. Incidentally, if anyone is interested in following me on Digg 4, my profile is here.
All in all, I am overwhelmingly pleased pleased with the new Digg, I just hope that content creators get on board. I cant see myself replacing my RSS reader of choice just yet, but I do like the idea of doing so.

Friday, 9 July 2010

BT TalkTalk and the Digital Economy Bill

I'll start off by stating my position on the Digital Economy Bill, or at lest part of it pertaining to music copyright. I'm have a pretty moderate stance on piracy, I don't do it, I don't think people should do it, but I understand that people who can't afford music will do it, and that it doesn't have an entirely negative effect on the music industry.
Sure it's changed the recording industry (although thats not the only reason the recording industry has changed), but there are a lot of bands that couldn't have made it to where they are today without the immediacy of the Internet, and the publicity that can generate from a band who's music is being heard everywhere. I'm also a strong believer that the record industry fucked up, and thats why their profits are plummeting. They have lost all of the trust that they once had, and lots of music fans don't want to give their money to the kind of businesses that sue children for millions of pounds for downloading a song for free from the Internet.
Do I wish that piracy was a non- issue again? Sure! There would be an awful lot more money changing hands in the music industry, maybe I'd get more of it, but you cant put that genie back in the bottle, file-sharing is the norm, and any successful music business understands that.
The real problem I have with the digital economy bill is that it puts the power to judge people guilty of file-sharing in the hands of the content holders. There should never be a point where anyone but the courts and the police should be the people in charge of judging when someone is in breach of the law, thats lunacy. They're not trained, they're free of bias and they hold no authority.
So when I heard yesterday that BT and TalkTalk broadband want a judicial review of the DEC, that gives them more power in warning persistent file-sharers and eventually cutting them off, it made me mad. It made me mad because they are in no better stead to judge whether someone is innocent or guilty than the copyright holders themselves. Cutting off file-sharers would benefit them greatly, because without people using bandwidth heavy services like file-sharing, they need not update their struggling systems so fast.
What we need, is a system where the content holders contact the authorities, who investigate the matter and if it is deemed that the person accused is in fact guilty, then they get punished in whatever way is deemed fit (not disconnection, maybe suspension, bandwidth caps and fines though) AND that they are given a means to appeal this judgment (such as, my wifi was open).
So I say that if BT and TalkTalk want more power to cut people off, rather than suggesting that the courts take care of it, I will not use either of them ever again. We'll have to see what comes of it.

coming this week

A review of the new Digg.
A discussion on the digital economy act, and why you should boycott BT and TalkTalk.

Sorry its been so long, and sorry this is so brief. Oh and by the way, for those of you who don't know, I graduated with a first class honours the other day!

And for Digg : 6f5afc26b8bf4a0fb6cf6d3103c2b2a4
Thats a verification key for any human beings out there, I'll write about it when I review the new Digg updates

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

For those that are interested

Here is my disssertation! Feel free to read through it and share it around if you feel like it. Bear in mind that it isn't the most easy piece of text to read, Bucks has pretty strict guidelines about the format and the content of its dissertations so it might not be laid out in the most logical way.
The goal of the dissertation for me was to talk to as many interesting people as possible and it turned out pretty well, I learned a lot about digital consoles, particuarly about their weaknesses and strengths.

How might operational use of live digital consoles be improved? A Dissertation

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


I've been using Spotify for a while now and seeing as I have just decided not to renew my premium membership I figure now is as good a time as any to write a bit about it.
For those who don't know what Spotify is, Spotify is a music streaming service. You sign up for an account and you can listen to most of the music in the world (maybe) for free, with adverts. For a fee you can upgrade from this basic package and remove the audio ads. For a larger fee you can remove the ads, save the music to your computer to listen to offline, and use the mobile service.
Sounds great huh? Well it is, I would argue that there is no reason anyone in the world should have not to have Spotify installed on your computer to listen to a bit of music thats stuck in your head but you dont own, or to see what this new hyped band you've been hearing about sounds like. To listen to more that twenty hours a month though, you're going to need an invite. Spotify has two free plans, Open and Free. Anyone can get an Open account, but as I said before you're limited to how much music you can listen to in a month. Invites upgrade you to Free membership which as far as I can tell is a lifelong deal. This is a new system and if you signed up when Spotify started you wont have needed an invite because at the time they didn't have the same kind of traffic to their servers that they do now. You only get invites to give out if you have at some point paid for a subscription.
So you've tried out the free version for a while and Jonathan from Spotify is starting to grind your gears, or maybe you're just interested in trying the mobile client, or offline syncing? There are two paid options, Spotify Premium is what I've tried, as it was the only option available at the time. It's £10 a month and for that you get unlimited ad free streaming of Spotify's fairly extensive library at a higher bitrate than any other plan (320kbps VBR Ogg Vorbis no less). The mobile client is ok, although streaming over 3G will quickly show you how crap your mobile network is, and it currently has none of the social features I'll go into later. It's available for Android, iPhone and Symbian. You can sync albums offline on your phone and you will need to do this to listen without getting frustrated. Offline listening also has the advantage of allowing you a higher bitrate version than they allow streaming. There's also exclusive albums that only Premium subscribers can listen to although I can't say that I remember listening to a single one of them. The thing is, to justify spending £120 a year on a Spotify subscription you need to justify that to yourself somehow. You may think "well without ads I can listen to Spotify instead of CD's/ MP3s". What you will quickly realise is that Spotify isn't all the music in the world, far from it. There's a lot there, but there's a lot of very important classics missing, and new music generally arrives later than it does on iTunes. That and I'm pretty sure people like me who spend over £10 on music every month are definitely in the minority. Frankly you'll get a better experience listening to music with ads and buying albums you really like. If you're buying Spotify for something to listen to on the move, may I suggest the vastly superior, which seems far more reliable over 3G. Now what it is good for, and what I have found myself using it for, is building playlists for filler in between bands, syncing them offline, and using that rather than CDs. It's a good enough quality when synced that I can barely tell the difference between it and CD or lossless formats like Flac.
The £5 client simply removes the ads, no offline sync, no enhanced bitrate, no exclusive albums, and most of all, no mobile client. I guess it's worth it if you really hate the ads and just use Spotify at home and work with a reliable connection, and don't care about the audio quality.
Just recently they introduced a few really good social features that tie your Spotify account to your Facebook account. Once the accounts are connected, you can look at your friends playlists and subscribe to any you like, as well as see tracks that they have starred. The idea of sharing Spotify playlists is not a new thing though, you can post links to Spotify playlists like this, which I have seen done particularly well by Latitude, who compiled playlists of the best tracks by all of the bands on the roster. I think once Spotify is more commonly used, this will happen more.

To summarise, here's 5 reasons you should get Spotify free:

  • Great for listening to new bands
  • Share playlists with your Facebook friends
  • See what your Facebook friends like
  • Great for gig filler
  • Mobile client is interesting to play with (if faulted)

Monday, 26 April 2010

What I've Learned About Writing a Dissertation.

Finally it's all done! My dissertation is out of the way, all finished, all printed and bound. I'll post a copy online once it's been handed in, I don't want any risk of anyone claiming it as their own or anything.
I think it reads pretty well, I'm especially proud of the primary research. I think all in all it provides a pretty good grounding on many of the issues surrounding digital consoles in live audio.
It struck me that there was a lot that I could have done to make my life a lot easier, most of which I was told and ignored. I thought I'd post a list of the key lessons I learned, so that any undergraduates preparing to write their dissertation might be a bit more prepared.

1) Pick a Topic You Will Enjoy
I'd argue this is the most important point, and it's one I did actually obey. Needless to say it's a world easier to write 10000 words. More importantly though its a lot easier to read around a topic that genuinely interests you, and its near on impossible to pretend to be interested interviewing people about a topic you dont care about.

2) Start Early
Everyone says this and everyone ignores it also. It's only human nature to leave things till the last minute and when all your friends are doing them same it makes it all the harder. A better way to think about it is decide on a topic early and start reading around it. Take notes on everything you read.Other things you can start doing early is finding people who know people that you can interview.

3)Structure Your Essay Well, and Early
If your essay is well structured it will not only be easy to read, but much easier to break up into managable chunks and write. As silly as it sounds, the thing that helped me be most productive was writing a time table of topics I should write every day. Of course you're not going to stick to it, but at least you won't be sitting there wondering what you should be writing.

4)Use a Refferancing Program
I don't think I could have written my dissertation without the help of Zotero, a free plug in for Firefox which can connect to either Word or Open Office. Refferancing is the most tedious part of writing an academic paper and there really is no need to to it manually.
In addition, for a dissertation like mine, where most of my secondary research came from websites, it allows you to take notes all over the pages, automatically back up all of your sources, both on your computer and on their web servers automatically.
Zotero also automatically populates your refferance list and bibliography, as well as formatting and alphabetizing them.
There's also a social networking feature which I found to be mostly useless but might be of use to other people (my profile)