Friday, 26 March 2010

Have I fallen out of touch with mainstream media?

When I came to university three years ago, I moved into a flat where the only TV was in the dining room/ kitchen, a room without sofas. It wasn't a big deal really, I missed crashing on the sofa when I was tired, but anyone who spends their first year of university watching TV is missing out.
The next year, I moved out and into a new flat, fully furnished with a separate living room (albeit without and heating), but it never got used. The only things anyone ever watched were Top Gear and sports. TV on demand is so much better in so many ways to living by TV scheduling. Not only can you watch what you want, when you want, but you spend less time watching TV in general. I'd love to say that these new found hours get spent doing more work and expanding my mind in general but theres just far more fun things to do with my time.
Apart from something to watch while eating dinner sometimes, or a film every now and again, its pretty true to say that I watch no broadcast TV whatsoever, I watch iPlayer, 4OD and I watch Lost and Fringe by downloading it and watching it when I want. I suspect I'm not alone here, TV andvertising budgets are shrinking along with their viewing figures for years. Headlines regularly suggest that ITV is fucked although it seems to struggle on, mostly on the back of a few big reality shows.

But recently I saw a video which has been circulating on the internet from The Alan Titchmarsh Show of all things. I've embedded the video below but I'll give you a brief overview of the show. Its that same argument people have been making since columbine, that kids play games then shoot people in real life. In fact, its the same argument we've been hearing since rock and roll was accused of taking our children's innocence away. The problem that I had with it was that Tim Ingham, editor at CVG and the guy brought in to argue for games. He was the only one willing to have a discussion, he said that kids shouldn't be playing adult games and that not only are they legally unable to buy them, but due to the new features in modern games consoles, parents can stop their kids playing age rated games they may have got hold of, without a password. Spot on Ingham, how could you possibly argue that non-violent games are fun in moderation and that kids shouldn't be playing age rated games and that parents should be aware of the content of adult games. He also suggested that violent games are no worse than hardcore pornography and violent films, which kids do have access to, more so than ever before.
But, and heres where I got angry, and frankly disillusioned with humanity in general. Not only were the rest of the guests completely unwilling to have an intelligent debate about the validity of games as art, but the crowd were unwilling to listen. The sheer idiocy of refusing to listen to someone who you disagree with without yelling boo at them so they cant finish their point is so upsetting to me that it worries me about what kind of people actually watch TV. Is this kind of thing really acceptable to the people that haven't migrated from TV to the internet for the bulk of their entertainment? Bear in mind that this is a show on at around 5, thats the beginning of prime time, and its the kind of show intended to appeal to parents. Parents need a balanced view of this sort of thing if they are to make reasonable decisions rather than "no you cant play games with your friends online, you must sit in front of the idiot box and watch good old Alan murder the art of conversation.
Now on the plus side spawned outcry on the internet where us gamers spend our time in between all the murders we're committing and all of the time we spend encouraging children to consume adult orientated content (although that does beg the question, who was watching this drivel in the first place).
There is intelligent TV on this subject, take Charlie Brooker's Gameswipe, which takes a balanced outlook on games. But this kind of stuff is pushed onto BBC4 late at night, where no-one will see it. The fact that the balanced discussion on topics like this is produced is in a way even worse because it means that commercial forces mean that the bilge makes its way to primetime because thats what viewers want to see. its the same reason the X Factor is primetime, but Jools Holland is relegated to late at night.

Oh, and it turns out the idiot shouting woman voice-acted in a horror game called Martian Gothic. Just in case the story wasn't ludicrous enough for you.

Friday, 19 March 2010

My opinion on the Pink Floyd case

The other day, Pink Floyd won their court case against EMI, meaning that EMI is no longer allowed to sell the Floyd's music track by track online as well as offline. Now a lot of people think that this is idiotic on Pink Floyd's case, because it is now the norm that people buy individual tracks from iTunes skipping buying the filler on the album and saving money which they can spend on more great music. Pink Floyd put the clause into their contract saying that they did not want single tracks released in the days when the album was king and singles were considered uncool. They wanted people to listen to the whole albums rather than individual tracks because of the way they make music. A Pink Floyd single does not have the same impact that listening to The Wall, Dark Side of the Moon, or Wish You Were Here in its entirety has. Their live shows were based around their albums, the tour on the back of The Wall was essentially an extension of the album. You can see why they would want people to listen to the album as a whole.
The argument that this just doesn't make business sense seems crazy to me. OK, their sales will probably suffer, but why would Pink Floyd care? I'm sure none of them are short of money at this stage, the only thing important to them at this stage is maintaining their artistic integrity. I think that the worst thing that could happen to their legacy is if they ended up being thought of as the band that wrote Money and Another Brick in the Wall, just another band with a couple of hit singles.
Now why EMI would want to monetize their back catalogue, that makes a lot of sense. The two things that EMI does really well is publishing and having the best back catalogue in the world. They're struggling at the moment, possibly more than the other two majors but these two arms seem to be holding up pretty well. The logic of trying to build new catalogue that can support the future of the company, despite it losing money at the moment, on the back of the other two arms makes a lot of sense.
But in a business that hinges on cutting artists a terrible deal that they sign and then milking them for all they can, why would a record company have such disregard for contracts the other way round? This clause in their contract I assume was pretty pivotal in Pink Floyd signing with EMI, and they did agree to it. The idea that digital singles are somehow different from CD or Vinyl singles is the exact argument that the record companies have been arguing against for years. In a standard contract, you will still pay the same packaging deduction from your royalty whether it is a physical or a digital single and yet somehow in someone's head, it doesn't count in the same way for clauses in your contract.
This is the typical arse-headed behavior that makes people hate the majors. Screwing over the people that make them their money.


Every now and again at work, everyone comes across a person who it seems is going out of their way to make your life more difficult. When things begin to go wrong they revel in it, even if it will make their life more difficult later on. Anything that goes wrong is someone elses fault and they will accept no responsibility. Anything that people suggest is a stupid idea even if it is a method that has worked time and time again.
In live music, teamwork is one of the most important skills you can have. The ability to get along with people is as important a part of getting people to trust you as having the skills or the experience. There's no place for massive egos when you're working as part of a team, where anyone can make a mistake and it will effect the running of the event.
Being an arsehole is counter intuative, and to everyone around you, makes you look like the fool, not to mention unexperienced.

Monday, 8 March 2010

A few albums I can't wait for this year.

Jonsi- Go
I'm not entirely sure where I first heard Sigur Ros, probably on a BBC ad for some wildlife program, but I remember the first album I listened to, and I remember how I felt after. The odly named "()" was one of those few albums that comes around that really does change how you think about what constitutes good music, and makes you wonder what else you'e missed with your particular brand of snobbery. Oddly it was probably this mental shift that got me listening to more music, completely unrelated to the post-rock ambience of Sigur Ros.
Sigur Ros haven't released anything now since 2008, but Jonsi released the interesting if slightly disappointing Riceboy Sleeps with his boyfriend Alex last year, which was essentially a solo effort, with alex proiding the visual art for the album. I was only disappointed with Riceboy Sleeps because of what came before it, which was in my opinion the best Sigur Ros album to date- Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust, the perfect compromise between their spacey atmospheric older music, and a more traditional rock band. Also, this album holds a special place because it was on this tour that I saw them on, which is one of the best gigs I have ever seen.

So here we are in 2010, and Jonsi is releasing a solo album, two tracks of which, Boy Lilikoi and Go Do, were released as teasers and sound up there with the best bits of Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust. Boy Lilikoi sounds like pretty typical Sigur Ros, but Go Do is something completely different. It's Produced by Peter Katis, who also produced fantastic records for Fanfarlo and Frightened Rabbit. If Jonsi can match some of the stuff he has done before, I will be ecstatically pleased.

Frightened Rabbit- The Winter of Mixed Drinks
OK OK I know this was released March 1st but I'm still waiting for it to come in the post so its going in. Midnight Organ Fight was an album I only heard about halfway through last year even though it came out in 2008. Frightened Rabbit are a band that encompasses everything I love about british indie rock at the moment. Thick vocal harmonies, interesting folk instruments, catchy but not annoying songs, all mixed up with interesting accents.
This album was written and mostly recorded in Scotland unlike their previous effort, and the band has said that this has effected the sound of the record a great deal. It's been a much more meticulous studio effort, less of a live album than Midnight Organ Fight, with each instrument being tracked individually this time, which front man Scott Hutchinson insists is the way he prefers to make records.
It's been receiving some pretty good reviews, although not in the same kind of way that Midnight Organ Fight did. I'm really excited to hear it.

MGMT- Congratulations

If you were alive in 2008 I don't think I really need to introduce MGMT. In case you were asleep, they were very much the sound of 2008 (along with Vampire Weekend). Incredibly catchy drug inspired indie rock with a heavy 70's psychedelia influence. This time they're in the studio with Pete Kember of Shoegazing band Spaceman 3.  Don't expect any big singles like Electric Feel or Kids though because for one thing, the band has been pretty adamant that they don't want to release any singles from this album. Quite how much difference that will make in these days of iTunes a la carte style purchasing but its refreshing to hear a band talking about how they want their album listen to as a whole. That and the album is by all reports, completely different to the first half of Oracular Spectacular.

Stone Temple Pilots- Stone Temple Pilots

I'm gonna come right out and say it, I hated Velvet Revolver. I could tolerate Slash's wankey guitars and the pomp rock of it all, but Scott Weiland drove me nuts. The problem I think was that as shit as Axl Rose is, Weiland pretending to be Rose is twice as bad. But at least he can still sing which gives me hope for this, Stone Temple Pilots' first album in nine years. I don't have very much to say about this. Core was one of the albums that shaped my childhood listening habits and I assume this will sound nothing like Core (you'd hope not in 2010) but it sure as hell can't suck as hard as Velvet Revolver. It's also the first STP album not to be produced by Brenden O'Brien, which should be interesting.


An album which surely can't be bad is Devo's yet to be titled comeback record. Mark Mothersbaugh said of the new album that"These new songs are pretty true to what we would be doing if we would have gone into suspended animation 20 years ago and just woke up". And if it's anything else, we'll forgive them, because they're Devo.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

My New Phone!

I reached breaking point the other day with my old phone, the INQ1 which I can quite safely say is the worst phone I've ever owned. After owning it for six months, the battery would last around about six hours when left alone in my pocket, or about fifteen minutes during a phone call, or mild to moderate usage. Besides the battery life, which I would have been perfectly happy to solve with a new battery, the phone crashed from the day I got it, simply surfing the internet, or opening a Java app would cause the screen to flicker and die, or the phone to reboot of it's own accord.
Now there was one thing I liked about that phone, and that was it's integration with Facebook. I'm not a great user of Facebook, but everone else is. The INQ1 did a great job of integrating people's Facebook profiles with their profile on the phone, meaning you could see their photos, birthday, etc straight from the address book. Also, the INQ1 having a tiny internal memory, and the mind blowing move of putting the memory card slot under the battery so that you couldn't switch it over without cutting the power (despite the fact that the sim was above the battery!) was made into much less of a problem by the fact that any pictures taken could be automatically uploaded to Facebook.
Now I was pretty set from the start that I wanted a phone that runs Google's Android operating system, because I use all of Google's services, from Blogger, to Calendar, to GMail, to Reader and I assumed that these services would be better integrated into this platform better than any other. Also, after the success of the iPhone's app store I wanted a phone with an active community making apps for it so that I could do some of the fun things I see my iPhone equipped friends playing with. I wasn't interested in an iPhone, mainly because everyone has one, but also because of the lack of multitasking, and Apple's stranglehold on their app store.
The three Android phones which seem to get by far the best reviews are the HTC Hero, the Google Nexus One, and the Motorola Droid/Milestone. I flat out could not afford any of these out of contract and I'm not due an upgrade for a long while yet.
What I settled on in the end was the HTC Tattoo which is essentially a stripped down version of the Hero, but unlike the hero, it is currently half price at Amazon. The screen is much smaller than the Hero, and it is resistive rather than capacitive, which means that it isn't as sensitive (although it is much more responsive than I expected). The other thing which has been cut back on is the camera, there is no flash, which doesn't bother me too much, and no auto-focus which does. No auto-focus, as well as meaning that I take blurry photo's like the ones above, also means that apps which rely on a good picture, such as barcode readers and retina scanners can't work, which something I didn't think of before purchase.
A pleasant surprise was that the Facebook support I so loved on my INQ1 is one of the features added by HTC's Sense interface included with both this phone and the Hero. I would go so far as to say that HTC's implementation of Facebook integration blows INQ's out of the water. Photos can be uploaded not just to Facebook, but also to Flikr, Picasa, and to the native Twitter app, Peep which in turn can upload them to your choice of Twitter image site.
An odd little extra that the phone has, is a dedicated website from HTC so that you can design your own covers for the phone (like a real tattoo I guess). I'm not going to do this, because I'd make it look stupid I suspect, that and it's a waste of money, but  maybe someone would like this feature.
All in all, I adore it, even though the screen is too small to type in portrait orientation, and the camera flat out sucks, all the strengths of the software and the not by any means shabby build quality totally make up for it. One of the main advantages over the iPhone is that, while it does have an app store (with far more free apps than Apple's) you are by no means locked to apps just from the store. Just like any computer, you can open up the browser, find an app you like the look of and install it from a .APK file (similar to a .exe installer file). All of this means that there are an awful lot of fantastic apps to extend an Android phone with. Here's a few of my favorite ones that I've found so far. They're all free, although some only for a limited time, or with limited features.
Firstly, The best IM client I could find is Meebo IM.  It is essentially a version of the popular browser based IM client, in an application. It supports Facebook chat, MSN Messenger, AIM, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, Myspace chat and YIM. I cant claim to have used all of those as I only use Facebook, MSN and Google but it sure beats booting up three separate clients
An app which has come in very handy is Total Recall, which is only free for a certain time, then you have to pay for it. The app basically records either all of your incoming, or outgoing calls, or both. This has come in handy for my dissertation research, so I can record my phone conversations without the need for any extra equipment. The sound quality is good, but my voice was recorded much louder than the person's voice I was talking to. It also only records in .MP4, .AMR or .3GPP formats. Luckily Audacity can import MP4 audio, which allowed me to compress the audio so that I could hear the other person and save the file as a .wav or .mp3 so that I could play the file in programs other than Quicktime.
Shazam is a program that can tell you what any song playing is simply by recording a short snippet and then matching it to it's library. Surprisingly, this works almost all of the time. Another cool feature is that after it has told you the song name, it can link you to copies of the song on You Tube, or Amazon mp3. It also saves a log of all the songs you "tag" so that you can look them up later.
Layar is an augmented reality app where you look through your camera and it uses your phone's built in GPS system and digital compass to overlay a layer. Layers include one to show you who has tweeted nearby, information or architecture, London underground info, restaurant  reviews, or directions to things like post boxes, hotels, pubs and golf courses. It's pretty interesting, although I suspect it would work much better in a big city, and would be dull out in the country.
All the Google apps are great (as you would expect) these include maps (which can give turn by turn spoken directions),  Google earth, Google sky map (which tells you what star you're pointing your camera at), Gmail, Calendar and You Tube. Interestingly there is no native Blogger app, so I'll have to stick to the web based client unless I can find a third party app.
Whilst multi-tasking is one of the strengths of android, It's also a weakness. Apps running in the background you may have thought you closed will eat up your processor power and RAM, but there is a solution. TasKiller is an app dedicated to closing other apps. You can either go through a list of apps and close what you want, or add a widget to your desktop that you can click to close all non-essential apps when you feel your handset getting sluggish.
All in all I'm thrilled with my new phone and I would definitely suggest it to anyone looking for a smart phone for under £200. And I'm hooked on Android now, good going Google.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Recording Science Vs Romance

Its been a while, I need to post more often really but uni is starting to get really busy now. my dissertation is well and truly under way, I've had a fair bit of work recently, and Mass Effect 2 came out which may well be the best game I have ever played (although thats probably a tie between it, the original, Metal Gear Solid and Psychonauts).
On top of that I've been in the studio with Science Vs Romance, which was my first time in the studio in about a year, and my first real experience with Pro Tools 8 (despite me buying it months ago, as I said, it's been busy).
SvR have had a slight change in direction with their new material, it's much less pop-punk meets Minus The Bear and much more indie rock meets At The Drive In. 
We've had two weekends so far of tracking and most of the editing has been done at home on my LE system. The first weekend was split between pre-production and tracking drums, bass and rhythm guitars. We've been fortunate in being able to get a band made up of such great players that we could blast through all of that in two days, I certainly wasn't expecting to get so much done. Tracking at the university's new studios has given me my first experience with an Icon desk, which is beautiful, and much less daunting than the three interfaces I've previously used (the C24, Digi 002, and the Control 24) and yet far more powerful.
Comping afterwards was made infinitely quicker by PT8's new playlist track view, which if you haven't seen it yet allows you to see all your playlists for one track at once, solo them one by one, and send sections to a new playlist at the top. This is pretty similar to the way logic takes care of it, except that it doesn't necessarily insert auto-cross fades for you.
On the second weekend, we recorded all of the vocals and Stu's twiddley guitars which is now the bulk of the session recorded down.
I'd love to show you some of the stuff we've recorded but you'll have to wait until it's all mixed I'm afraid. This is definitely the best recordings I have produced to date and I wish SvR all the luck in the world, they could do great things.
In other news, I got a new phone the other day to replace the atrocious Inq1 I've been struggling with for what seems like an age. Its great, I'll give you a run through some time this week.