Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Tag: music (page 2 of 2)

The Disgruntlement Factor

When I first came across the facebook group trying to subvert the pre-determined X Factor Christmas #1, I will openly admit I thought they had no chance of even making a dent, let alone headlines.  It turns out that I was wrong. Their push for Rage Against the Machine’s Killing In The Name hit BBC News after pulling ahead of this Joe chap from the show in digital downloads. I still suspect their efforts may be in vain as the physical version of Joe’s single is only released today and will undoubtedly cause a spike in sales.

Simon Cowell’s (unsurprisingly) massively egotistical response labelled it “cynical” and “stupid” and he then proceeded to explain it was all about him. Sorry Simon, it’s not. It’s a retaliation against the whole commercialised package that uses an entire TV show as a glorified advertising campaign to buy/”fix” the Christmas #1 in much the same way as these chaps are attempting. Whatever Simon may argue, both are equally “cynical” and “stupid” if it’s supposed to be about music. People are welcome to buy the X Factor single and if another bunch wish to express their views with their wallets in an alternative direction, surely that’s exactly the sort of audience participation Simon usually endorses…

The great irony is, of course, that Sony BMG wins doubly out of any competition since both songs are released under their label. The strongest argument against the campaign is that they’ve rallied around an old song (albeit one I rather like) rather than something new which they feel isn’t being given a fair chance against the X Factor machine. But what better than Rage in an attempt to take on the system? It’s no wonder Tom Morello approves. All I can say is I certainly know which song I’d prefer you buy. Call it my Christmas present. It would certainly be a moment to be remembered in music chart history.

Amanda Palmer @ Union Chapel

Mobile PianoChatting to people queueing for the gig, we all agreed that explaining to friends what we were doing over the weekend was an impossible task. To those unfamiliar with Amanda Palmer it is difficult to convey how much more than the average gig her concerts tend to be. Event is a more appropriate word, as evidenced by the large number of elaborately garbed fans that made many of us feel horribly underdressed. On Saturday evening I saw amorous puppet replicas of Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman, a mobile piano mounted upon a bizarre pedal-cycle contraption, and upon Amanda’s arrival, the top being set alight as she proceeded to play a flaming piano. Bear in mind this was all before we had even entered the venue. The photo gallery will give you some idea.

Musically her solo work is a logical progression post-Dresden Dolls. Her former band was already a stripped down two-piece affair (most arrangements were for piano, drums and vocals), describing their genre as “Brechtian Punk Cabaret”. Her solo work is arguably less Brechtian, but the punk cabaret and bare-bones sound remains in full force. It really lets the colourful wit of her sometimes playful, sometimes intense lyrics shine. Although the content of her songs may seem at odds with a church, the interior of the Union Chapel, with its gothic Victorian architecture, stunningly lit in blues and purples, was the perfect venue.

Amanda PalmerPolly Scattergood offered a good supporting set despite the limited material she has released so far. Most interesting to me was actually a stunningly honest unreleased song which suggests she has plenty more ground to cover in future albums. Amanda began both her main set and encore with a capella renditions that showcased how tightly impressive her voice can be, particularly in the emotionally charged cover of Tori Amos’ Me and a Gun. The rest of the set covered her solo album and several classic Dresden Dolls songs, as well as requests from the audience and even dipping into classical piano (mostly as a challenge to herself). All the while an artist was painting a large canvas at the back of the stage, the resulting artwork auctioned off at the end of the gig. Such was my enthralment with the entire night that I very nearly ended up spending £350 on it (it went for £450 in the end).

It was broken up by “Ask Amanda” segments, a Q&A via written questions dropped in a box before the gig. Her genial responses covered her experiences of the English and the unfairness of dating Neil Gaiman — catching up on each other’s careers meant she handed him 3 CDs to listen to, while he passed her two large boxes of his collected works. Speaking of Neil, he was travelling with her too and took on singing duties for a tongue-in-cheek “hymn” that contrasted comically with our surroundings as the entire audience broke into (slightly nervous) laughter. Her gigs inevitably feel like “Amanda and friends”, drawing in all the interesting creative people she has recently met. It is a testament to her generous spirit that her immediate desire is to share these talented individuals with her fans, and that is what makes her a beautiful person and her performances a joy to attend.

For those interested in the music, here are Spotify links to full albums by Amanda Palmer and Polly Scattergood.

Music and Bats

A year into working life, I’m not entirely sure where the time has gone. These 6-month trainee seats seem to fly by and, we collectively discovered, it’s with some apprehension we suddenly find ourselves no longer first years and instead expected to help out the new crop. I’m moving into a litigation seat, a department that seems incredibly busy and is likely to cut down on my free time significantly. While I shall endeavour not to disappear entirely, at least you know why in advance…

To be honest I didn’t “get” Spotify at first. I thought it was trying to replace Last.fm but without its “scrobbling” feature which tracks the music you listen to and suggests others, as well as comparing your tastes with friends and letting you see what they’re listening to. Eventually I caved and gave it a whirl about a month ago. I swiftly realised that Spotify wasn’t competing (out of the box it supports Last.fm, scrobbling everything to which you listen) and has much loftier goals: nothing short of a paradigm shift within the music industry. In fact, quite how it got away with it remains a mystery to me. After downloading the client music player (which is simple, vaguely reminiscient of iTunes) you have access to a vast library of music for free. While there are still notable gaps at present, every single album recommended to me by someone in the past month has been on there. That’s quite something. For licensing reasons Spotify isn’t available in the US yet, but they are working on it. The service is ad-supported but a subscription fee of £9.99 per month will remove them. With an iPhone App just released for music on the go, this really could change how people acquire their music. I highly recommend everyone with the remotest interest in music signs up to both these services: I’ll probably start mentioning more albums now that linking to a Spotify playlist is as simple as providing a URL.

Batman & Joker

My bank holiday weekend has been equally split between having friends round the the flat each day and playing through Batman: Arkham Asylum. Eschewing the usual film release tie-in model, they have instead crafted a game that stands wonderfully in its own right, feeding off the entire comicbook back-catalogue. By setting the game in Arkham, they are able to wheel out any Batman villain they want, since virtually all were incarcerated on the island at some point. All its required mechanics work wonderfully — stealth, combat, gadgetry — and it looks stunning to boot. Mark Hamill turns in a deliciously gleeful performance as Joker that really pushes the game forward. Probably the year’s best game so far, you don’t even need to be a particular fan of Batman to enjoy it, and I recommend people pick it up before the inevitable “holiday season” crush of new titles begins.

Quick links:

Gaming in the Clouds

OnLive

The biggest news out the Game Developers Conference has undoubtedly been the OnLive service, which has been heralded as everything from the end of consoles to the death of retailers to a complete joke that won’t actually work. Depending on whom you talk to. The basic idea is simply a combination of videogaming and cloud computing. This simply means that rather than installing and running a game locally, you contact a server online and all the heavy number crunching happens at that end with the results being sent back as streaming video. That means you could play high-end games on minimal hardware – even NetBooks are able to decode video, which is all that is required.

The fact this is developed by the guy who brought us WebTV suggests we should take this a bit more seriously than we might be inclined. The key was developing a video encoding algorithm that cut out the usual latency in the process to produce almost-instantaneous results. However limitations even in broadband delivery mean there will be additional delays in sending your control inputs to the server and in receiving the video back. By all accounts the (obviously highly controlled) demo was very impressive. As with many others my instinctive reaction is that this sounds great for some games, but first person shooters and action games that rely on split-second timing will surely suffer. Nevertheless, consider my curiosity piqued because if they can make it work, wow!

A new mp3HD lossless mp3 format was recently announced. It’s backwards compatible insofar as it maintains the same file extension and contains the lossy version as well, so will play on current hardware. However that effectively means putting a lossless-size file onto your player only to get lossy playback which isn’t particularly efficient use of space, so I can’t really see this one taking off.

And since this has clearly turned into an unashamedly techie post:

Zombies, Sharing and Folklore Stamps

Stubbs the Zombie: The Soundtrack

These days my exposure to new music has become somewhat limited since I don’t listen to the radio. Instead discoveries tend to stem from browsing the latest releases and sales at 7digital and amazon mp3 and listening to the samples. Delving a little deeper into their stock occasionally turns up a delightful gem, most recently Stubbs The Zombie: The Soundtrack from the last generation videogame. The game itself, a twist on the zombie genre by having you play the titular undead character, was entirely mediocre, never quite living up to the humour it promised. The soundtrack however, is a wonderfully quirky mix with modern indie bands covering pop classics from the 1960’s, when the game is set. Think a Death Cab For Cutie rendition of Earth Angel alongside a Flaming Lips cover of If I Only Had a Brain.

Long time readers will remember I used to share a lot of my photographs through the royalty free archive at morgueFile. Although there is no remuneration, it’s rewarding to see your work end up in all sorts of interesting and unexpected places. Undoubtedly the weirdest was a close-up headshot of my sister in traditional Bharatha Natyam dance dress which someone turned into a cushion! For no particular reason I stopped around two years ago, though around that time I started taking more shots of friends and family which are less useful to share. After this long hiatus I have just returned to the site and uploaded some of my recent work so I’m curious to see where it’s used this time. To date full size versions of my photos have apparently been downloaded there over 5770 times, which I have to admit is slightly scary number.

Perhaps as a corollary to my love of Neil Gaiman, I am a big fan of artist Dave McKean, so I was greatly excited to see he has been asked to design a series of stamps based on mythical creatures from folklore. The samples look beautiful and they are due for release on June 16th this year.

Nine Inch Nails and Jane’s Addiction have released a free Tour Sampler EP to promote their upcoming NINJA 2009 tour (see what they did there?). Trent giving away free stuff is hardly newsworthy any more, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth listening to. Arguably more interesting is that it means this promotion model is clearly working for him if he is continuing to do it. Giving the fans what they want makes them happy so they buy stuff — who knew?

I realised the Questions FAQ was horribly out of date, so I’ve updated it to bring it in line with, well, now. The new version is marked “beta” since I’m currently open to suggestions for new questions. Anything you want to ask, now’s the time…

Pure Reason Revolution @ Dingwalls

Since nowhere in London could sell it to me, I ended up buying the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 lens from Amazon and, as if by design, it happened to arrive on the day I was to see Pure Reason Revolution play at Dingwalls in Camden. My main reason for selecting the lens was its low light ability (due to its wide aperture) and there are scarcely more extreme lighting conditions than at a gig. Time to test it out.

Of The I - guitarist purple smoke

This was really my first attempt at gig photography and you can see the results in the Pure Reason Revolution gallery. These were my first few hours with the lens so I’m still learning how to use it. Interestingly a lot of my favourites are actually the more abstract/body shots towards the start. Capturing a concert is a considerably different skill and one that I’d like to hone. The general theme here was dark and moody with a lot of high contrast black and white shots, though I’d be keen to get more variety. The real issue with using this lens is that its lack of zoom means framing close-ups is virtually impossible unless you can position yourself right in front of the band, so it’s certainly not what professional concert photographers would choose. Dingwalls is a small venue with capacity for around 500 and it’s easy enough to get round the front/right side of the stage (particularly, it seems, if you’re carrying a sizeable camera as people happily let you through and even security give you space). While this offered a decent vantage point for the support acts (Of The I and The Domino State), PRR sadly set up their keyboards here, blocking clear shots. I’m generally less happy with those, but given they were the band I went to see I kind of had to include them!

Guitar Heads

The band had their new album on sale and hung around afterwards to sign copies too. Titled Amor Vincit Omnia, line up changes in the band are matched by a sound shift. Although still familiar, the new sound includes a lot more electronica and even some dancy beats in places. The result is a less ethereal record than The Dark Third. While still good live (if not quite as incredible as their old stuff stills sounds) my initial impression was that I would not be listening to the album very often. In fact the first half has really grown on me. It’s disappointing that later on there are a few tracks I will always skip over, since their debut is one of those wonderful albums I can happily listen the whole way through.

And as with every PRR gig I’ve been to so far, I bumped into Jon from uni. With him were Philly J and James, so it was great to catch up, grab a beer afterwards and get home far later than I’d intended. Great music, a nice first set of concert photos, a signed album and catching up with friends — if I can improve, gig photography might be a lark worth getting into.

Christmas 2008

Merry Christmas from P-2006

Christmas has very much snuck up on me this year, largely since it’s the first time I have been working right up until Christmas Eve. I have no complaints though, and a couple of boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts successfully lightened the mood in the office. Because of the way the weekends have fallen, taking time off between Christmas and New Year barely uses up any holiday this year, so I am left with a surplus to use up realistically some time in January of February. The current plan is to take two weeks off and just sleep, watch films and generally indulge without ulterior motive. I am, however, open to suggestions.

I spent last weekend on a very brief trip to Ireland with several uni friends, masterminded by Irina who had bought Andy tickets to see Coldplay at the new O2 venue in Dublin. It actually felt like a rather studenty trip between the hostel accomodation (Barnacles — cheap, clean, secure but with no curfew) and the decidedly alcoholic bent to our sightseeing. By which I mean both the Guinness brewery and the Jameson distillery. The former was prettier with plenty of marginally related photo opportunities, despite the fact I have scant interest in the drink itself. Jameson offered a more informative guided tour followed by a tasting that compared Scotch whisky with Irish whiskey and American Bourbon. Despite being offered a place, I relinquished it to Sparkie which only made sense given that we were also celebrating his birthday. I also seem to have ended up with a couple of hundred photos so expect more once I’ve managed to get them sorted out, which may take some time.

And finally as a sort of Christmas present, here’s some unashamedly geeky free music by Jonathan Coulton. He’s an interesting chap whom I initially came across when his Code Monkey song did the rounds online, and more recently in Portal’s closing credits which he composed. His blend of folk and rock styles lead to interesting results but he really showed off his versatility in the Thing-A-Week project in which he, uh, released a new song every week, free to download under the Creative Commons licence. I recently stumbled across this trove. The breadth of his work covers topics as varied as the Mandelbrot set, the problems with being an evil villain in love, Olympic Curling, a sort of dumped stalker’s anthem, a very odd apology with monkeys, the zombie apocalypse, DNA and of course a folk cover of Baby Got Back. Obviously. Because why wouldn’t you.

And on that note, have a very Merry Christmas!

Free Words ‘n’ Tunes: American Gods and Ghosts

Harper Collins: Browse Inside American GodsI mentioned the idea a while back but never mentioned that the chosen Neil Gaiman book, American Gods, is now available for free though publisher Harper Collins. For those unfamiliar with Neil’s work it’s a fantastic piece of fiction that follows Shadow’s journey across America meeting the old gods brought over to the this melting pot country and then forgotten. It’s slightly heavy but the fact it reached the top of the New York Times’ best seller list is testament to its popularity. If you haven’t read it I thoroughly recommend it.

Nearly as free at the negligable price of £1 is Neil’s new children’s book Odd and the Frost Giants. The story was written for World Book Day where children can trade £1 book vouchers for various titles written by authors who wish to promote reading without making a profit. Of course there is nothing to prevent the rest of us from enjoying this generosity and his children’s fiction tends to be a light, fun read. I’m sure there are several children you can “buy it for”

Nine Inch Nails: Ghosts I-IVOn the theme of free media is Trent Reznor’s release model for the music he’s produced collaborating with a wide range of artists in the latest Nine Inch Nails album. Titled Ghosts I-IV, it is available in no fewer than 5 different packages through his website. Following in the steps of Radiohead there is a completely free offering allowing anyone to download 9 tracks. For the ridiculously low price of $5 one can purchase the full 36-track collection to download. Equally cheap is the $10 2CD release (providing the digipack is as stylish as one expects from NIN) and it also offers immediate access to digital downloads. More expensive is the $75 package with a fabric slipcase and a DVD and blu-ray disc as well as the standard CD album and an art book. Finally the insane signed $300 ultimate package has already sold out (a testament to the fanaticism of the hardcore Nine Inch Nails crowd). Trent has already shown his willingness to embrace new forms of media in releasing and promoting his music but this presents an ideal model for music releases, fully empowering the consumer to choose how they wish to enjoy the product. Naturally it is bigger artists with an established fanbase who can afford to take risks like this, but if he can show it turns a real profit, hopefully we can expect to see more offerings in this style as the music industry struggles to find a new working model.

Ghosts I-IV

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