A Conundrum

Saturday 28 February 2009

Which is slower, more tedious, more frustrating? Going through a piece of music in a computer program, modifying it note by note? Or writing a script to modify the whole thing automatically, inevitably having to subject the whole thing to trial and error, running it numerous times before you’ve fixed all the stupid syntax errors and made it do what you wanted it to do, then checking the modified work to make sure there are no mistakes?

Please Mister Please

Thursday 26 February 2009

Michael Graeve, “Kriesler, Kriesler, HMV” (2004).
(6’58″, 10.34 MB, mp3)

There he goes again

Thursday 26 February 2009

The worst of the winter seems to have passed, and so the Volkswagen Campers have started parking outside my house again. This is the fifth one to lurk beneath my window.

Secrets of the Vatican

Wednesday 25 February 2009

Both photography and talking are prohibited in the Sistine Chapel. Unlike most churches which don’t allow photography, the Chapel has relatively few punters in it blithely flashing away at something fifty feet above their heads. The chatter, however, is almost impossible to control.
I was about to make a joke about the effrontery of being told to shut up by a bunch of Italians, but it isn’t necessary: the guards, when they weren’t shushing people, passed time by chatting to each other or yakking on their mobile phones. Besides the guards, the worst offenders were Spanish speakers, who seemed to be at pains to point out that their language is completely different from Italian and the two are mutually incomprehensible.

To get to the Sistine Chapel you have to schlep a long, convoluted path through most of the other Vatican Museums first, with the Chapel itself acting like the centre of a labyrinth. After several miles the senses become dulled, particularly during a series of rooms filled with mostly dull modern religious art. Then, secreted between a room of dodgy late de Chiricos and a room of godawful late Dalis, is a little room which you might overlook in your hurry to get to the Chapel before christmas: it has a dozen Morandis in it. Six paintings and six drawings.
Up until then I’d only seen three of Morandi’s paintings, and none of his drawings. Given how excited art lovers can get when they find more than one of his paintings in the same room, it seemed incredible that this bounty was casually plonked off a passageway with so little fanfare, surrounded by so much vulgarity.
His drawing method is as fascinating as his brushwork, rendering all shade, contrast and depth in a careful layering of meticulous crosshatching.

One last piece of advice: don’t ask the cashier in the cafeteria how much the bananas cost. It will only cause you grief and anxiety and you won’t want a banana in any case.

Good with Computers

Sunday 22 February 2009

So today I hacked together a crude many-to-many relational database in Microsoft Access. Yes, I’ve been normalising data to reduce inconsistent dependencies. Blech. I shuddered just typing that out.
It doesn’t help that ‘normalisation’ means something completely different in the sound editing software I’ve been using for years, thus turning every piece of helpful database advice on the web into gibberish. Speaking of music software, I also spent many hours this weekend trying to figure out why some of my software was serenely ignoring every piece of MIDI data I sent to it, in a vain effort to control it.
Tonight I finally figured it out. I forgot I’ve got a new computer, and hadn’t installed the little widget that makes all the music programs talk to each other. Durhey. I was about to speculate how this kind of thing is more likely these days, with so much technical stuff being handled invisibly in the background by computers, but then I realised that I’m equally capable of overlooking that the real reason a piece of equipment is unresponsive is because it is not plugged in.

Please Mister Please

Wednesday 18 February 2009

Sonic Youth, “Stil” (1997).
(7’27″, 8.79 MB, mp3)

The past is a foreign country, and sometimes vice versa.

Wednesday 18 February 2009

What’s on top of the (virtual) pile?

Tuesday 17 February 2009

A whole bunch of stuff by Earle Brown
Brown is an influential but overlooked composer, who’s guaranteed at least a footnote in history for his association with John Cage and his radical experiments in music notation. He’s one of those composers you might hear about a lot, without ever actually hearing them.
The Earle Brown Music Foundation has thoughtfully been uploading sound files of a number of his compositions, in addition to program notes and samples of his manuscripts, so now you can hear them for yourself. Available Forms I is a concise introduction to his open form style, Module I and Module II (performed simultaneously) are a contrasting study in austerity.
A couple of hours’ worth of assorted Bo Diddley tracks
His status as The Originator served as much to constrict his reputation as it did to celebrate it. I’ve only got into his stuff since his death, and discovered that not only did he rock hard, he was an out-and-out loon with a boundless capacity to surprise. The Probe has put up a nifty little selection of eclectic cuts as a tribute.

(Way back last time on the pile…)

While Shepherds Watched Their Ducks By Night, or The Decline of the Roman Empire

Sunday 15 February 2009

First of all, the threatened photo of Wussius Maximus.
Secondly, before anyone asks, no I didn’t buy any Fonzies when I was in Rome. By the time I remembered to look for them I was already at the pitiful airport departures terminal and didn’t want to pay an extra Euro for the privilege of possessing a rather sad looking packet behind the only bar. (If you’re a Twisties fan, apparently you’re not missing much.)
The good thing about visiting Rome in the middle of winter is that the city is pretty empty. On a Monday night in January you and your special someone can have a restaurant more or less to yourselves. This makes it an excellent time of year to visit the Vatican, which at any other time is impossibly packed with tourists. Mind you, the low season doesn’t deter the dodgy touts who still hang around on the Rome-Vatican border offering you “special access” to St Peter’s and the museums, even though you it’s perfectly possible to wander in by yourself. (Don’t try this at any other time of year! The queue for the museums gets up to a kilometre long.)
The Vatican houses some of the greatest masterpieces of art from the past two millennia. It also contains some remarkable modern catholic tat. The Holy See keeps its Christmas decorations up until Candlemas, so I got to see two nativity dioramas: a ho-hum, life-size one outside in the piazza, and this monstrosity inside the basilica itself.

It looks like someone just went crazy with the church credit card down at the local garden centre, then just shoved it all together wherever they could get it to fit.

Apparently there was a sale on plaster ducks that day.

It’s good to see the Catholic church still has a good eye for a fine bottom on a young lad. That rooster is totally checking him out (make your own joke here.)

Filler By Proxy LXVII: Rejoice

Saturday 14 February 2009

Muzak has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

After a failed merger with one of its major creditors, the “sensory branding” company DMX last year, the firm which began life as Wired Radio Inc in the 1930s has been teetering on the brink of financial collapse.

There’s a history of the company at The Independent as well:


Visit the headquarters of Muzak Holdings LLC, the spiritual home of Muzak, and you will hear its eponymous product in every room, pumped in from the giant Well database containing 2.6 million tracks. Every room, that is, except for the elevator…. Employees of Muzak say the absence of sound in the company’s own lifts is maintained for “deeply felt symbolic reasons”.

(Via Jessica Duchen)

Please Mister Please

Tuesday 10 February 2009

Earle Brown, “Event: Synergy II” (1967/68). Ensemble Avantgarde /Earle Brown and Steffen Schleiermacher.
(7’57″, 11.40 MB, mp3)

Housekeeping

Sunday 8 February 2009

  1. What passes for my discography is now online. I’m considering ways to putting up my music with better audio quality, but for practicality’s sake all downloadable music on this site will stay in mp3 format for now. More mp3s can be found via the main music page.
  2. A better quality recording of Redundens 6i is now ready, along with two more pieces from the Redundens series: Redundens 1b for piano and Redundens 6 for organ.
  3. Sarsaparilla is down at the moment; I don’t know why. The site is undergoing a redesign in any case, so should be available again soon with a spiffy new look.

My band has said my songs have been a little stale lately.

Wednesday 4 February 2009

The Cure For Headaches (Microsoft Songsmith Default Mix) (3’25″, 5.22 MB, mp3).
Like Dick Without A Hole, The Cure For Headaches was made at about the same time, and adopts the same types of source material: 1980s Adelaide talk radio and beloved TV stars.
In this piece, an intruder has disrupted the cosy little world of Adelaide chit-chat. The traditional Sunday night religious program was always a slightly tense affair, with a scarcity of earnest callers and, thanks to a reliance on importing extra content from wherever they could find it, the chance for lunacy to spring up either side of the microphone.
Much of the imported material came from the USA (of course), in the forms of both pre-recorded material and real-life talking from evangelists who had been flown in, usually by the Paradise Assembly of God (Paradise being the name of the suburb in north-east Adelaide). The regular host, a soft-spoken pastor in one of the more wishy-washy Protestant sects which thrived in that city, never seemed fully at ease with the fire-and-brimstone Yanks who confronted him from across the studio console.
The Cure For Headaches originally set an edited speech by one of these Americans to a slightly bemused host, against a backdrop sampled from a record sung by sometime Adelaide media titan Ernie Sigley. The juxtaposition of the two had always seemed a little arbitrary, so recently I began to think of possible ways to re-set the speech, without success… until Microsoft released Songsmith.
Songsmith generates musical accompaniment to match a singer’s voice. Just choose a musical style, sing into your PC’s microphone, and Songsmith will create backing music for you. Then share your songs with your friends and family, post your songs online, or create your own music videos.

The full glory of Songsmith can be appreciated in this promotional video, made by Microsoft.

It was quickly discovered that Sonsgmith has the power to add new, improved accompaniments to pre-existing songs too. This seemed like the ideal software to try out on my evangelical friend. Unfortunately, Songsmith doesn’t have a randomise function, but it does load up a different default genre every time the program starts, so deciding on the new music for the piece was a breeze. I think it’s worked, don’t you?

Late Rothko Late

Tuesday 3 February 2009

The Rothko show at the Tate closed on the weekend. Notes From A Defeatist saw it late in the season, as did She Sees Red, as did I. Both of them found the crowds come to see the Big Name artist offputting to a greater or lesser degree, and really incongruous with the introspective nature of Rothko’s art. I didn’t find the crowds so bad, but perhaps I’m getting used to them, or there were fewer people there when I went on a Friday night.
NFAD was especially narked by those egregious little headsets that everyone was wearing, which are supposed to explain the art to you but instead prevent you from seeing it. SSR took the novel approach of listening to her own ipod when visiting the show, thus providing a personal music soundtrack. I don’t mind this idea too much. Usually the ideal match for Rothko is supposed to be Morton Feldman, but amongst the Tate’s usual hubbub Feldman’s music would be obscured even more than Rothko’s painting.
It was a neatly focused show, built around an expanded version of the Tate’s Rothko Room, creating a vast room filled with double the usual number of paintings from the series of so-called Seagram murals. While the larger room lost the intimacy and atmosphere provided in the more distilled experience of the usual room, it gained the overwhelming presence of seeing so many paintings from the same series united in one place, impressing all the more how each painting contributed to another in this period of Rothko’s work.
The following rooms can’t help but contribute to the legend of Rothko’s decline into despair and suicide. A room of remarkable black-on-black paintings, and lastly, two rooms of works from the last year of his life, when ill health forced a change in his materials and working methods.
The last paintings remove what little illusion of comfort remained in the Seagram murals. A uniform arrangement of black over grey, negating the previous ambiguity of figure versus background; few and thinner layers of paint; a white border to frustrate the perception of depth. They’re an extraordinary achievement in testing the limits of what can be communicated in painting. I don’t like them.
Critics have called these last paintings “unreadable”, claiming they resist being looked at as landscapes. I find them too ready to be interpreted, and have great trouble looking at them as anything other than landscapes. The application of colour lacks the subtlety of the earlier work, making it seem too expressive and in need of analysis. The illusion of figure against a ground is too easily resolved in the mind, unlike the mysterious ambivalence of the preceding paintings. The border restricts and diminishes the image it contains. Maybe I need to spend more time with them, without the distraction of people all around me, shuffling through the heavy exit door to the merchandise store, filled with Rothko jigsaw puzzles and coffee mugs.

Snow Day! Rothko post postponed.

Monday 2 February 2009

And it did end up snowing all night. Not having a job to go to anyway, I missed out on the thrill of being forced to skive off work because all the trains and buses were cancelled. I did get to spend the day at home with the girlfriend, however. Nice.
In any case, the girl was confined to quarters with a dud leg, so no skidding about on the snow outside for us. She contented herself videoing teenagers outside tobogganing down the street on a tea tray while I considered going out alone to take in the picturesque scene before deciding bugger it. I’m not getting cold and wet just for a few snapshots when thousands of much better views will be plastered all over Flickr by lunchtime.
Meanwhile, all across the island, Britons were rediscovering the innocent joys of a day (or evening) in the snow.

  • Page 1 of 2
  • 1
  • 2
  • >