Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Lerosa

Lerosa has done some fascinating, different, inventive and soulful electronics, first coming to my attention via Enclave Recordings, and now Kenny at ISM does an interview, which has a ton of interesting stuff in it.

Firstly, Lerosa recalls coming into contact with studio hardware via Graham [D1] O’Sullivan:

I’d never seen a studio proper and he gave me this Nord synth he had. I thought “What the hell is this!”. I was just pressing buttons and instant ambient!

It reminds me of the time I first came in to contact with hardware – a Yamaha cassette 4-track, and a Juno 106 synthesizer. I could neither understand nor control the noises coming out of the synthesizer, and I really had no idea at first how to get good-quality recordings from the cassette 4-track, but it was amazing how a few electronic noises could give you something that sounded like it was from a different planet. There was something magic happening when I didn’t know what I was doing.

He also talks about D1 records (on whom he released some tracks) deciding to abandon vinyl releases in favour of all digital:

Eamonn [D1] said from now on he was going all digital and I was a bit disappointed. That was 2005, I think they had just lost a tone of money with the distributor folding and decided that that was it with vinyl.

There is something that I can’t get my head around when it comes to digital “releases” - I'm deeply uncomfortable with music being released as digital-only, and it’s a partially logical, and perhaps partly emotional response. This isn’t to argue with labels such as D1 who have in their time released tons of vinyl, taken any losses involved with doing so, and may have been stung by distributors going bust while holding shedloads of physical product - it’s not an easy position to be in. But there’s definitely something that doesn’t feel the same with digital.

Firstly, there’s the quality aspect. I recently had a discussion with some audio engineers, in which they expressed the opinion that MP3 is amazing in that it has really moved audio quality backwards for consumers, but at the same time has been touted for the last 10 years as being the latest, greatest development. Noone can possibly claim that MP3 is in any way comparable to CD quality, and this at a time when we were told that even CDs were neither as clear as digital should be, nor as warm as analogue had been.

Or as Lerosa puts it:

I buy a record and I listen to them, I dunno, that’s how I do it, and put it back in their sleeve and they are there for ever – unless you scratch it, and its not there for ever - but you buy an mp3 file its just a cut down version of whats been mastered on vinyl or whats been mastered to CD, it just feels like your getting a bit of a raw deal. And on Beatport now it costs about 8 quid to buy a full EP, so where’s the saving?

The argument that vinyl lasts forever (or thereabouts) is also a powerful one. Seeing as nobody has a commercially available digital storage format, that will last for more than about 10 years give or take, is MP3 (and ‘lossless’ digital) a way of getting our music collections into a format where we will be hostage to operating systems, playback software, compulsory new formats, and endlessly rebuying that which we thought we owned already?

Then, there are the issues that arise from the way in which digital files can be distributed. In a sense, it’s democratisation of access in the same way that cassettes were (home taping is killing music - er - no it’s not), except that being able to transport files via the internet is a much more radical distribution method than anything that has preceded it. Even in its heyday, cassette was never in any danger of actually killing another format (such as CD, or vinyl), so the change that has come with digital files is fundamental.

While digital distribution does no doubt bring some benefits (you can hear lots and lots of music very quickly, and find things you would never have previously discovered), there are also problems in that it does leave a very unstable pack of distribution cards between the producer and the end-user, including the record label, sales websites (bleep, beatport), “review” websites (de:bug) and so on. Why would anyone invest too much time or money in building up these middle-man organisations, when due to the lack of security from the presence of an entrenched physical distribution channel, you could be replaced at any time? And for that matter, why would an artist need a “label”, when all the label are theoretically doing are sending out digital copies of files that the artist has supplied, and emailing press releases – what about that is an artist not capable of themselves? This does not mean that I’m arguing the case for not having record labels - quite the opposite - but it does mean that with the removal of the risk of an up-front expense resulting from pressing physical product, labels need to be careful that they are providing to the artist a service that the artist cannot provide for themselves.

Back to Lerosa and perhaps the most interesting nugget from the entire interview - on the actual process of making music:

I don’t have a full musical understanding of everything I’m doing, so some of it may just be emulation of what I’m listening to at the time.

As someone with fairly significant musical training, there’s a freshness that I remember vividly which seemed to be at its peak back when I didn’t really understand how music equipment worked. There was something more exciting about the sound back then, although whether that was the unfamiliarity of the noises, or that I was actually doing things in a more inspired manner, I don’t know. There does seem to be a certain part of “pointless” messing around that generates interesting and fresh ideas, something that I find becomes harder as you become more experienced writing music. Perhaps the most inventive and original music occurs when your formal musical knowledge is sufficiently suppressed by some other force - in this case, lack of technical aptitude.

Or to put it another way - is “messing around” a more inventive way of writing music, than actually writing music?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Now that's what I call 1983

One the favourite voices I've heard in the last couple years, Laura Clapp, bagged the fantastic gig of supporting legend Howard Jones on a selection of dates during 2008.

Here is HJ, performing with Laura and Robbie Bronnimann live on ITVs "Now that's what I call 1983".



A really well-written 80s song, no miming, and one of the all-time great synth riffs to boot - class.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bleep

A 2 minute slice of what I was talking about in the previous post:

Orde Meikle focuses the beats, The Arches, Glasgow.



Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Slam @ The Arches, Glasgow

In the dark and the damp, under Central Station in Glasgow, lurks The Arches.

For several years, this hidden space of concrete floors, clocks that ran backwards and epic stone arches was stormed weekly on Fridays by local DJ/producer duo “Slam”. Occupying two of the rectangular cavernous stone arches (one dancefloor, one bar) Slam at The Arches was an institution. Anchoring one long side of the dancefloor arch was a fortress-like DJ box – on the other three sides, an array of bizarre projections cascaded down white-sheet-clad stone walls. A huge stack of speakers sat in each of the four corners of the dancefloor, and propelled the angular noises and grinding grooves through the huge stone arches, out through the door and in to Midland Street. From the bar arch, the sound came through as a thunderous booming.

I wandered in to Slam at the Arches some time in 1994, and stayed there for a couple of years. Over a decade later, it’s goosebump-raising to recall the things that made those nights so special. Slam at the Arches would have been stunning as a one-off – but it wasn’t a one-off, and the way in which it maintained its quality week after week for months on end still defies belief.

A night at Slam would start off with an extended queue under the bridge over Midland Street, dodging the attention of pigeons nestling above, the regular chancer walking the queue looking for spare change (in between bottles of lager in the bar next door), and more often than not a steady stream of rain from the rail tracks overhead.

Once inside the music would start with floating ambient electronics as the first bodies walked in, with people gathering drinks, walking through the cold space of the empty club, gathering and soaking it up. As the tunes mutating to stripped down-tempo broken grooves, you would find the first people swirling around in the dark space of the dance floor. The spacey early sound of the night would then slowly resolve into a solid, grinding house groove, as more people were drawn through from the bar arch into the wide open dance floor spaces. The pace was always slow at this time of night – surprisingly slow, but deep, and tough, and from early on you could hear one of the magic elements that separated Slam from almost all their guests: a slow, implacable progression. The whole night, the pacing, the refusal to give too much too early, the constant building of atmosphere, the slow creep of tempo, of intensity, was a tangible promise of a future conclusion. Every tune, every noise, every mix, was part of a plan, part of the whole. It grabbed you, it was planned, it was seductive, it was going somewhere.

The crowd was a mix of students and locals, and the mix was important. Too many students, and not enough locals, and the atmosphere became too much influenced by alcohol - it wasn’t the same. On the other hand, not enough students, and it could become occasionally too sparse, and things could become slightly more edgy. Somewhere in the middle, there was a magical balancing point. As the crowd would oscillate between locals and students with seasons, you would feel the atmosphere falling away, and you would feel it when it was on the up. There would be runs where you would go every week, feeling the vibe getting better and better every time, telling others to come down, riding the rising wave of intensity.

The lineups of guest DJs would put many supposedly great clubs to shame: Jeff Mills, Derrick May, Andrew Weatherall, Josh Wink, Daft Punk, Funk D’Void, David Holmes, Derrick Carter, Richie Hawtin, on and on they came. But for me, it was the residents nights that always held a mysterious magic. There were less hangers-on, less name-DJ tourists, a better atmosphere, and (more than anything), the music choices and timing of Meikle and McMillan were on a different planet to even the most admired of their guests. Simply put, very few of the visiting DJs could hold a candle next to the Slam guys when it came to the overall shape and execution of the night.

The Arches may not always have been the best club venue in the world. The crowd may not have been the best crowd in the world. The DJs may not have been the greatest DJs in the world. But a club is the sum of its parts, and for a run of months that never seemed like it was going to end, all the stars were in line underneath those damp rail tracks. Those of us that were there should consider our luck.

While the residents played in different orders, more often than not Meikle would play the first two hours, and McMillan would play the last - it proved to be a devastating combination. A contrast in styles, Meikle would stand inscrutably in the DJ box as huge jacking beats cranked out of the speakers, a fag occasionally lazily dripping from his mouth, smoke slowly twirling up into his face, seemingly gazing down at the decks most of the time. Every so often, he would glance up at the dancefloor, although he was so impassive the gesture came across like he was just checking someone was still there. From behind this veneer of disinterest, emerging from the ambient genesis of the night, came a slowly rising tempo and progressively tougher beats, morphing into the most utterly seamless, jaw-droppingly powerful, building groove.

There was also, often, the track.

If you had come in and gone for a drink first, you might be standing in the bar arch, listening to the groove slowly winding up in intensity. Bodies slowly disappear in to the dancefloor, gliding through the spaces as the atmosphere started to build. Sipping your drink, a tune would come on – and on this tune, the night would turn.

Sometimes this turning point announced itself with the biggest bassline you’d ever heard in your life. Sometimes it was just a repeating chord sequence, every repetition hitting harder than the last. Everyone could feel it. Every time, you knew. As the track ripped from the towering stacks of speakers and erupted through the club, and the roar of the dancefloor went up, people turn to each other; “What, is that?”. Few people survived the transition still prepared to remain only onlookers. As everyone sought out the dancefloor, sucked in by the promise of every new tune and every new mix, the night set sail properly, with jacking house and techy grooves, smiling faces in the pitch black, rotation, repetition, riffs, thunderous kick drums, Meikle's huge extended seamless mixing, and always building, building, building.

With the night teed up perfectly by Meikle, McMillan would come on at the halfway point. His style diametrically opposed to his co-resident, McMillan would practically hover over the decks. Staring straight across the dancefloor at the back wall where the double-tiered plinths ran, by now crammed with enthusiastic dancers, he looked like he was trying to make contact with the underworld. Eyes straight forward glaring like a man possessed, leaning forwards over the decks like he was about to leap out of the DJ box, bobbing and grimacing with concentration as the music tore from the speakers. Tough Detroit and European techno, angular and metallic grooves, double-copies, records that built and built like they would take your head off, records that looped you endlessly into a trance, and an ongoing McMillan trademark: the heaviest of bass drops. The bass would evaporate for seconds at a time whilst the intensity in the crowd built, and built, and built. When the moment had been drawn out and time had nearly come to a halt in this ocean of intensity, he would unload all the bass energy on the crowd in one titanic downbeat, sending the speakers, the club, the crowd, and anything not nailed down several miles into orbit. And with this, still the building, still the building that had been set in motion a lifetime away, somewhere back in the earliest stages of Meikle’s set.

Nearly four hours of this relentless building, twisting, shouting, jumping and cheering later, as Slam approached its end, as you could nearly taste and touch the conclusion it was so close, the perfect musical timing of the night would undergo its final twist. With 15 or 20 minutes to go, the musical brakes, which had so carefully controlled and shaped the night, so expertly applied by both DJs, would finally fly completely off. With the music, the volume, the atmosphere and the intensity at fever pitch following over three and a half hours of calculated construction, McMillan would unleash on the crowd a night-finishing series of devastating tunes – three, or four, or five in a row, each hitting harder, bigger, and wilder than the last. And it was always building, or by this point, more exploding, right up until the last second – no cooling down, no chilling out. It always delivered the most definitive of ends. It always delivered.

Then, as the final epic tune would come to an end, and for the first time in four hours it was not replaced with another, volleys of cheering and clapping would go up, filling the odd silence. The lights would flick on, people would turn around grinning at each other, cheering and hugging, drinking water, and slowly, reluctantly, the dancefloor would clear.

The dancefloor cleared for me some time in 1996.

Over ten years later, the smile is still here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ayman al-Zawahiri - "The parting of Bush and the arrival of Obama"

Yesterday, a new audio recording purporting to be from Ayman al-Zawahiri was released, and subsequently circulated globally. Al-Zawahiri is the right-hand man to Osama bin Laden, and widely accepted to be the ideological top man in al-Qaeda.

The prevalent take on this in the western media so far is that the most significant part of the statement is that al-Zawahiri apparently called Barack Obama a "house Negro". Some of the blogs and comments on news articles regarding this redefine irony - there are US citizens seemingly furious that the second-in-command of al-Qaeda was racially denigrating president-elect Obama. It seems to me if you're going to be angry at al-Qaeda, you can find better reasons than the occasional racial slur!

The balanced and incisive Juan Cole has an interesting take here. Cole has several reflections, which I would summarise as follows:
  • The Iraqi people never substantially supported al-Qaeda style Sunni extremism, and the actual upshot of the US winding down is that both the US and al-Qaeda have lost in Iraq - and that Iran are the big winners.
  • Cole believes al-Zawahiri is terrified of Obama's popularity (particularly outside the US), and that al-Zawahiri fears that support in the Islamic world for anti-US terrorism will collapse with the different dynamic that the new president will bring.

From Cole's article:
Obama has the opportunity to be the most popular US president in the Middle East since Eisenhower. If he is wise, he will defeat al-Zawahiri not just by military means but by stealing away al-Zawahiri's own intended constituency. Obama is about building communities up; al-Zawahiri is about destroying them. If Obama can convince the Arab publics of this basic fact, he will win.

I'd agree that Obama needs to defeat al-Qaeda ideologically, rather than militarily - in fact, I'd argue it is the only possible way to win. There is no point in arresting or assassinating the key players in a terror organisation, if the inspiration they provide to potential terrorists worldwide remains intact. Plus, Obama has some very difficult choices to make with what military action to take, particularly in the unstable and nuclear-armed Pakistan, so it could be argued that leaving bin Laden and his friends intact, while severely toning down US foreign policy might be the best way to de-tooth al-Qaeda.

One way or another, I cannot see how the terror threat can be dealt with without the US getting Israel to get back in line, and that includes reasonably quickly reaching a fully independent Palestinian state, in a physically contiguous area. If Obama can deliver that, then not only would he have achieved the greatest step forward in peace and general human rights within my lifetime, but al-Qaeda would be ideologically sunk.

In any case, I went looking for the full text of the statement. Western news outlets tend to only carry very limited excerpts and quotes, and I'd rather read the full thing myself. I finally found a PDF version claiming to be the translation from the Arabic here.

So, in the style of a western news organisation, here are the quotes that I find interesting:

[addressing Barack Obama]
If you still want to be stubborn about America's failure in Afghanistan, then remember the fate of Bush and Pervez Musharraf, and the fate of the Soviets and British before them.

This is more than a little bit presumptive - Bush's "fate" was to see through his entire double-term, and the party swap that is in progress is probably more due to the current domestic economics of the US than anything else. As for Musharraf, he was ultimately unseated by a groundswell of public opinion within Pakistan due to his increasingly stubborn refusal to relinquish power.

The Soviets and British in Afghanistan is where al-Zawahiri starts to aim slightly more true. Both the Soviets and the British invaded Afghanistan, and both were ultimately sucked in to guerrilla warfare in the country that they could not hope to win. In fact, the US was largely responsible for the Russian invasion of Afghanistan - Zbigniew Brzezinski (the National Security Advisor to Jimmy Carter at the time) specifically wanted to goad the Russians into a long and unwinnable battle in Afghanistan, in order to give the USSR "their Vietnam". As has been pointed out in the past, a guerrilla war is never over until the guerrillas win.

Again to Obama:
You are neither facing individuals nor organisations, but are facing a Jihadi awakening and renaissance

This is an extensively debated point. Is the bin Laden threat still primarily from a centralised, command-and-control organisation (with trained and instructed fighters worldwide), or is al-Qaeda now an ideology which has penetrated worldwide, and which radicalised Muslim youth can use as their inspiration in perpetrating terror attacks as they see fit, without the knowledge of or instruction from the original al-Qaeda structures?

This goes to the heart of the threat facing western civilians. If the answer is the command-and-control structure, then one might imagine occasional, large, devastating set-piece terrorism might be the future, such as 9/11, Bali, the African embassy bombings, and so on. With this structure, effective counter-terrorism, intelligence and global cooperation might manage to put a lid on the current participants (not withstanding the fact that their place can always be taken by others.)

If however the threat from al-Qaeda is now largely ideologically "dispersed" rather than formally controlled, then the danger is much harder to contain, and terror attacks in western countries from previously unknown participants with no direct links or communication with al-Qaeda may occur. It's very, very hard to see how a threat of this sort can ever be contained adequately in a free society, unless you remove the desire of people to attack you in the first place.

Al-Zawahiri seems to be implying that the threat is more of a physically dispersed one, although whether this is current fact, or wishful thinking is a good question. It may well be the latter, as the next section (directed at Muslims worldwide) seems to be a call to arms:
America, the criminal, trespassing Crusader, continues to be the same as ever, so we must continue to harm it, in order for it to come to its senses.

Which brings us to the final passage, part of the end address which is (according to the statement) intended for the citizens of the US:
You incurred defeat and losses from the foolish actions of Bush and his gang, and at the same time, Shaykh Usama bin Laden (may Allah preserve him) sent you a message to withdraw from the lands of the Muslims and refrain from stealing their treasures and interfering in their affairs. So choose for yourself whatever you like, and bear the consequences of your choice, and as you judge, you will be judged.

This seems more aimed at the worldwide Muslim community to me than it does at the US. As Michael Scheuer (who was the creator and chief analyst in the CIA's "bin Laden" unit) pointed out in this fascinating interview in 1996, Bin Laden and al-Qaeda got quite a hard time in Islamic circles after 9/11, for several reasons.

Scheuer, with my italics:
Bin Laden was called on the carpet by his peers in the Islamic militant movement for three things. One was that he didn't give us enough warning. He's now addressed the American people on five separate occasions since 2002. So he's taken care of that one. He was also called on the carpet for not offering us a chance to convert to Islam. He's now done that three separate times, and Zawahiri has done it once. So they've covered that angle. The other thing they were taken to task for was that they didn't have the religious authority to kill as many Americans as they did. In the summer of 2003, he got a religious judgment from a very reputable Saudi cleric that he could use weapons of mass destruction, specifically nuclear weapons, to kill up to 10 million Americans.

So the end of this latest statement from al-Zawahiri could be seen in light of providing further warning to the US and others engaged in military action in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

And I can't help but wonder every time I catch one of these "clearing the decks" type statements that contains a warning, or an offer of a truce - what are they clearing the decks for?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Obama are you watching?

Israel is blockading Gaza. To which they illegally control all entry and exit from.

Oxfam says Gaza is "facing disaster".

The Israeli government are blockading food from civilians for whom they are responsible under the Geneva Conventions.

Obama - are you watching?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hitting the wall?


This is a particularly interesting press release on the site of the US federal reserve.

It seems to suggest that the US attempted to shift US $150bn in bonds today - offering people the opportunity to purchase US government securities - which as they are priced in dollars, effectively prop up the dollar itself and finance the US national debt. This isn't news, it is a regular happening.

So what is different in this press release? What's different is, of the $150bn on offer, only $12bn was sold.

This may be nothing, or I may have misunderstood seriously - but if the willingness of the world to fund the ongoing debt of the US by purchasing dollars is coming to an end, then it is time to batten down the hatches...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Palin Song

As produced by my cousin, the real musical talent in the family.

The more you listen, the more clever this becomes...



Great work!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Lee Holman - "Phonetics" (Ferox)

For fans of electronic music with soul, it's highly worth checking out the new Ferox 12" from Lee Holman. (Interest declaration - I'm on Ferox too)

I'm not apt to go in to bigging up people's music tooo much, but this is a really good 12" - great noises, great production, great grooves, and like the best Detroit style techno, manages to fuse the strange otherness of the electronics with layers of depth and emotion, all the while retaining the funk that will make it work over a big PA.

Great stuff!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pakistan fires on NATO

The ongoing brinksmanship between Pakistan and the US over cross-border US raids versus Pakistani territorial control continues this week, as a NATO / US helicopter flew close to or in to Pakistan this week.

A Pakistan border post fired warning shots at the aircraft, a development which is not good, but has been brewing for some time after a series of US raids into Pakistan, against the wishes of the government in place. Any Pakistan government which wants to survive increasing support for extremism in the face of US raids into their country, needs to be seen to be doing something about the repeated violations of Pakistani territory.

It would seem that making diplomatic noises is no longer "doing enough" for the government of Pakistan, and they are prepared to warn off the US with actual live fire - a new and worrying development.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Blowback in Yemen?


The attack in the last week on the US embassy in Yemen is being widely blamed on al-Qaeda type terrorists operating in the territory.

But over at Obsidian Wings, the theory is floated that this could in fact be direct Al-Qaeda blowback from the Iraqi insurgency - a chilling but far from impossible thought.

Al-Qaeda was originally born in the pressure cooker of the guerrilla struggle to liberate Afghanistan from the might of the Russian army. One of the major concerns of the anti-war movement prior to the Iraq war, was that the US going in to Iraq and beginning an occupying power could create a new cauldron, where fighters would flock, youths would be radicalised, new networks would be forged, and people with good cause to hate the US would become highly trained in urban and asymmetric warfare.

In other words, the concern was that if the Afghanistan of the 1980s gave birth to al-Qaeda, then what will the Iraq of the 2000s bring us in the decades to follow?

Could this attack in Yemen be the first signal that the worst fears of the anti-war movement may not have been misplaced?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Closer and closer to the financial cliff

The “Western” financial system has been heading for crisis for quite some time, and this week the most serious developments (so far) have occurred.

On Monday, it was announced that the US investment bank, Lehman Brothers, had failed, and a buyer could not be found. The US taxpayer (who was not asked) had bankrolled Bear Stearns out of trouble, and then Fannie May and Freddie Mac, but the decision seems to have been that it was politically suicidal to use more taxpayers money to prop up a failing bank at this stage.
The immediate aftershocks of Lehman Brothers going down have been huge, with the US Fed putting $50 billion into the money markets today, the ECB contributing €70 billion, and the UK treasury pumping in £20 billion.

Next to go may be AIG, whose shares were depressed by up to 50% today. If AIG fails, the problems will multiply again. If AIG is rescued by the Fed, the debts end up on the books of every US taxpayer.

The ongoing problems illustrate a raft of difficulties with the way that western financial system (and to some extent, capitalist society as a whole) operates.

Firstly, there is the complexity of the system – the financial institutions are interlinked by a spiders web of vast loans, credits, debits, sales, and speculation – the problem being that should one major institution fail, there is a serious risk of the disaster spreading, as the outstanding loans to all the other institutions will not then be honoured. One major institution just has failed, and we’re about to find out how far the rot that this generates will spread.

Secondly, the banks and investment houses have been speculating on highly risky mortgage-backed products. An unknown number of these mortgages are going to default, and whichever institutions are holding the derivitave products when the music stops, are going to be saddled with the bad debts. Due to the leveraging, some, or many institutions, may not have enough capital available to cover the debts that they may be exposed to. If they can’t cover their debts, they either find a buyer who has enough money to deal with the debts, or they go under.

In other words, financial institutions the world over are sitting on bombs. None of them know who has the bombs, none of them know how big the bombs are, none of them know when they are going to go off, and none of them know if they are strong enough to survive what bombs may unfold underneath them. Every bomb that does go off, increases the likelyhood and size of all the others.

Thirdly, and most seriously, these financial institutions are considered essential to the functioning of modern society in the West, but are allowed to function completely for-profit and rake off the money for private benefit. Despite this, they are considered so essential that when they get in serious trouble, they are sometimes bailed out with our taxpayers money.

That being the case, why are these companies not completely nationalised, and run for-profit for the good of the revenue in that country?

If the public is to bail out these financial operations when the going is tough, is it not right that society at large should benefit from the profits flowing from the good times?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Left turn!

It always helps in rallying if you can study the track beforehand. Not in Finland!



Saturday, September 06, 2008

This is the one...

At 2PM today, Scotland embark on the qualification process for the 2010 World Cup -and I feel like I've only just gotten over the dissapointment of failing to reach Euro 2008. As a taster of the highs and lows to come, here's possibly the greatest football video clip I've seen put together.

Launched as a warm up video to the last qualification game for Scotland last time around (versus Italy), it's neither here nor there until about 1 min 34, where the review of the last campaign starts. I'm not usually a massive fan of Coldplay, but combined with Scotland doing this well, it puts the hairs up on the back of my neck.

Particularly great moments - at 3:03, Scotland 1, France 0. Scotland defeat one of the greatest teams in the world at home.

And then at 5:05, a not-realistically-fancied Scotland visit Paris for the return match, and James McFadden scores that goal. I still want to leap through the roof every time I see it.
So here we are, and here we go again. Come on now boys - this time...



Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Riordan is coming home!

On the BBC site here. Oh yes!


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Jordi Fornies

I've never been one for much art (as in the visual, rather than the musical) - either traditional, modern, sculpture, or what have you.

But I'm making an exception for the Barcelona born artist Jordi Fornies, whose "Metaphors" exhibition opens September 3rd in Dame Street Gallery, Dublin.

There's something amazing in the way that he mixes textures, colours and materials that's very immediate - and more than that, many of his paintings seem just so inspiring.

As a couple of examples, check the following two paintings:


"Broken Silence"



"Here to There"


Check Jordi's site out here, and also at his agents site here.

Great stuff.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ghostplane

Read about extraordinary rendition here, as reported by Stephen Grey, who has been following this story for a considerable amount of time...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Man On Wire

"Man on Wire" is the story of Philip Pettit, the Frenchman who in 1974 attempted to walk on a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Centre in New York.

I'd highly recommend seeing it - as well as being an often funny and entertaining look in to the mind of someone so driven and eccentric (he could only really have been French), it's an astonishing window in to what is possible.

It all sounds like a zany if unlikely idea until the shots start of the rigged cabled at the top of the towers, and you consider actually putting your feet on it...

Jaw-dropping.




Friday, August 08, 2008

Listen for the surge

The surge in Baghdad is working - the level of violence is reducing. This is what we are told.

Check this three-part series of videos from Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, which tell a dramatically different story.

Part 1


Part 2


Part 3

Monday, July 28, 2008

No means no


Last week, an organisation in the UK commissioned a poll of 1000 people in the Irish electorate, to explore views regarding the Lisbon Treaty, which was rejected by a healthy margin in a referendum last month.

The poll revealed that 71% of those polled oppose a second referendum on the Lisbon treaty, with 62% saying they would vote “no” if asked again (an even higher margin in favour of voting ‘no’ than that achieved in the official referendum.)

The Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Michael Martin has now accused the UK group involved (apparently a ‘eurosceptic’ think tank) of “meddling in [Ireland’s] national debate on the Lisbon Treaty”.

In what way is taking an opinion poll meddling?

As the electorate of Ireland have categorically rejected the Lisbon treaty, perhaps the government might like to spell out exactly what “debate” it is we are now supposed to be having?

Perhaps in this instance, it might be in the greater interest of Brian Cowen and his cronies to stand up straight and represent the views of the Irish people to the European politicians, rather than trying to impose the views of European politicians on the Irish electorate.

These would be the same European politicians who, when confronted with an amendment to the Lisbon Treaty stating “The European Parliament undertakes to respect the outcome of the referendum in Ireland”, voted “No” (499 to 129) to the amendment.

They may not respect the outcome of the referendum, but that doesn’t mean that the Irish cannot vote however they want.

Also, those parties in Irish government might like to reflect on the likely domestic political implications for them if they choose to go for a second referendum on Lisbon, and then fail to get it through.

No means no…

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Extreme Crosswinds

Ever been in a plane and thought you had a rough landing? A few bumps from wind are ok - the real fun comes when the wind is blowing sideways across the runway - the hated crosswind. Instead of pointing the plane directly at the runway, you have to cant the nose sideways into the crosswind, and allow the aircraft to effectively crab diagonally forward.

And then the fun part being that as you hit the runway, you have to twist the plane back in line with the runway, so that as the wheels grip, you don't run off sideways due to your diagonal approach. Of course, nothing is more fun than an extreme crosswind landing!

Here's a Korean Airlines 747, which having survived the insane approach to the old Kai-Tak airport at Hong Kong, comes out of the final big turn and then manages to mess up his approach horrifically in quite a light crosswind. This should really have resulted in a go-around, and the pilots insistence in sticking it on the runway only just comes off.



Here's an example of someone getting it very, very wrong in a much smaller Airbus, trying to set down in Hamburg, in a much more extreme crosswind situation.



Having nearly decorated the airfield with the plane, the pilot ultimately does well to perform a go-around and manage to get it back in the air again in one piece.

It puts in perspective what most of us mistakenly call a "rough" landing...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Electronic Dancing Music

Wandering aimlessly around the music blogs recently, I stumbled across this post by Pipecock over at Infinite State Machine, which references this post by Ronan Fitzgerald, which references this post by Philip Sherburne on Pitchfork.

The Philip Sherburne post seems to amount to musings along the lines of “everything seems quite grim at the moment”. Ronan Fitzgerald nuances this with an assessment that seemingly the dance music scene hates itself at the moment due to an overload of minimal hype that has yet to be replaced with something else, and points out that purism tends to ignore the murky and druggy aspects of dance culture, that he (rightly I think) points out are nearly as fundamental as the music itself.

I think the minimal hype overload thing is a bit annoying, but it's not so difficult to avoid - just keep buying records (or making records) instead of paying so much attention. The process of the underground spawning mini-scenes for the mainstream to hype for 2-3 years has been going on ever since I've been interested in dance music, and having that overground part taking all the attention seems to be quite a reliable and efficient way of allowing the underground to stay where it is, doing the inventive stuff.

But Pipecock’s post is by far the most interesting, recontextualising the discussion in terms of what dance music is really about, and since this leads him to consider some of the most interesting aspects of the dance music experience, it’s well worth a look over.

Quoting from ISM:
"The reason house and techno are effective is that they bypass so many of the limitations that other musics have and go straight for people’s emotions."
This goes to the heart of the attraction of dance music - there is something in the driving loop of a house groove that is deeply entrancing, to the point where your brain does start to function differently, particularly as you dance. I'd go so far as to say the appeal of the cranking looping kick drum is to a place even deeper than your 'emotions', and Pipecock’s allusion to a Zen analogy may not be too far off. As the KLF said in their tongue-in-cheek (but spectacularly insightful) book “The Manual”, “it is through dance music and dancing we are able to get momentarily back to the Garden”.
"Musicians talk about music “writing itself” while athletes routinely make plays that they wouldn’t have thought possible. It all comes from letting the mind go, which is exactly the opposite of the way these critics have been approaching dance music."
This is a problem, but it’s a problem that is difficult to surmount. Any discussion of dance music necessarily requires an intellectual response, but the ‘switching off’ nature of the dance experience in it’s proper context is one of de-activating some of the higher functions of the brain (such as analysis and ego), in favour of the lower and more primal functions (direct experience and id). It’s difficult to critically analyse music whose central experience revolves around the suspension of analysis – and while this doesn’t mean that analysis of dance music is invalid (many great house and techno tracks stand up to analysis just fine), it is important to be aware of the contradictions implicit in analysing music in this way.
"Thought is required to use Ableton to deejay, the actions are more mental than physical and that diminishes the ability to reach the point of “action without thought”. The same goes for the producers who are more like computer scientists than musicians in many cases."
I have a couple of problems with software such as Ableton (amazing though it is), one of them being the “computer scientist” performance that it tends to elicit from the DJ. While really it should be all about the audio experience, you can’t help but be affected by the attitude and energy coming from the DJ themselves. Another problem is that Ableton and similar Djing software tend to result in perfect beatmatched tracks. There is the argument that beatmatching itself is a redundant and purely technical skill, and automating it allows the DJ to concentrate on selection, set progression, ‘mixing’ between the tracks and parts, etc etc etc. This would be a valid argument if the human beatmatching process contributed nothing to the experience, but I feel there is something in the imperfections of manually mixed tracks that imparts a uniquely human energy to a mix. There’s nothing like the buzz of dancing away, while a mix of two records slowly gets pulled in to shape by the DJ. For an example, listen to Jeff Mills “Live in Tokyo” album – it’s far from perfectly nailed timing, but it has an awesome raw energy to it, partially imparted by the fact you can hear the human pushing, dragging, and willing the records to sit together as he blisters through his set at a jaw-dropping rate.

As for computer software and interfaces when writing music, this is one of the biggest issues for me when writing in music. While I do use a computer, I try to use it as little as possible, and only for the things that it can do best – hardware for me is much more conducive to creativity. This is largely a matter of taste, but I believe that computers and music software in particular have way too many options, and then force you to access these options via the most narrow and awkward of interfaces (mice and keyboards). It compounds the “painting the hallway through the letterbox” problem of programming early digital studio hardware on tiny LCDs, with the problem exacerbated by having so many options in the software to begin with. It becomes very hard to apply quality control, as the endless range of miniscule editing options leads you to believe that endless tweaking of a mediocre idea might turn it into a great track. All of this tweaking costs energy, and I find it ultimately far more inspiring to have hardware with less options. This means your idea is either good straight away, or not good enough – in which case you can ditch it and move on to the next idea.

Ultimately, the problem is one of barriers between us and experiencing music as directly as possible. Be it the problem of critical analysis interfering with our direct listening or dancing experience, or be it Ableton Live interfering with our experience of the human playing the music, or be it with heavy music software in the studio interfering with our ability to quickly and directly interpret musical ideas without breaking out of the creative moment, the problem is the same.

Any time that we allow barriers to be raised between us and our direct experience of the music, something is lost - and the removal of these barriers (whether naturally or with assistance) is what makes the experience of dancing to this music so alluring.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Terrorist Watch List


Today, Counterpunch carries the quite stunning news that the US terrorism watch list now contains 1 million people.

1 million people!

The list includes such luminaries as the ex-assistant US Attorney. That's right - the terrorist watch list is now so large, it's starting to assimilate the higher parts of the US governement itself. As The Matrix's Morpheus might have said: clearly, police states are not without a sense of irony.

Those in Britain - now the country with the most closed-circuit TV cameras per capita of any country in the world, might want to stop giggling at this point. As has been very astutely pointed out, once the camera apparatus is physically in place and face recognition software becomes robust enough (if it isn't already), following the movements of everyone at every moment simply becomes a problem of networking and processing power.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Informed Comment

Here's another blog on the politics tip that's utterly fascinating - Informed Comment, by Juan Cole.

Cole is (I think) a professor at some US college, and he presents daily dissections of US foreign policy, the Middle East, and generally very fairly assesses what is going on - compelling reading.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

John D McHugh

Here's a blog worth reading... John D McHugh is an Irish photographer and journalist, who was injured while embedded with the US forces in Afghanistan.

He's now back in Afghanistan, back with the US forces, and telling the story from the ground.

While I have my own opinions on whether US and European troops should be where they are, I do think he's telling a story that is a bit missed generally - the story of what it is like for the soldiers on the ground.

Check out his new diary of this year in Afghanistan here - now added it to the list of recommended blogs.

Friday, July 04, 2008

E-MU SP1200

Today I had the honour of taking apart the peerless SP1200 sampling drum machine. One of the original hip-hop machines (well, that was really the SP12 but let's not pick nits), this thing is a legend. Google for SP1200 and it quickly becomes clear.

It's always a bit bizzare when you take apart a bit of music gear, and suddenly find the electronics that make it work - something you tend not to think about when writing the music.

Here's the main circuit board on the SP - a frightening array of chips:

And from another angle. It was 1985 I suppose - but all this technology gives you a grand total of 10 seconds (!) of sampling time. Chiporama.

As with many early E-MU hardware units, there are cryptic inscriptions screened on the boards. On the reverse of the front-panel circuit board, you find this:

Anyone anything to offer on who Louis McCrawfish might have been?

Finally, a shot of the front-panel board (sitting out of the machine), across the top of the 8 volume faders that launched a million hip hop hits.


I remember sampling a little Boss drum machine on the SP1200 I used to own. What went in sounding tinny and thin came back out of the SP sounding like God playing Satan's own drumkit.

It's inspiringly simple to use, and what comes out aren't "drums" - they're devastatingly heavy, punchy and gritty 12-bit impacts.

Does music hardware get any better?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Sightseeing by Satellite

So I’m messing around on Google Maps recently. It turns out that the more you look for, the more amazing things you find.

I initially started out browsing places I had been. Searching for a big shopping centre in Los Angeles, I came across an airliner seemingly parked in the car park.


Of course it’s actually several thousand feet up, most likely going in to our out of John Wayne airport, but it got my interest going.

Next up was a quick flick at Frankfurt, where a scan of the airport revealed an even more bizzare photographic anomaly – a 747 caught climbing out of the airport, snapped three times in succession by the satellite. Not that I’m that much of a geek, but I guess that this would give you the frame rate of the satellites that Google uses if you could be bothered to do the maths.


Having found that, it just became a general sightseeing mission. First up, Murrayfield (the Scottish Rugby ground), captured in pretty impressive high resolution:
From Edinburgh, on to some of the Middle East’s finest sights – the great Pyramids at Giza:


And the Ka’bah at Mecca, Saudi Arabia:


The nutsoid Burj Al Arab hotel on the coast of Dubai (the one that looks like a sail):

And some European highlights, including Venice:



And down the coast of Italy, the near perfect volcanic cone of Vesuvius:


The Eiffel Tower, in Paris


And on the European historic tip, the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin. If you open the link and zoom in, you can clearly see the line of bricks paved in the semi-circular road that mark the actual line of the removed Berlin Wall.


I hereby release myself from all claims should you become addicted to zooming in and out of places that you have or haven’t been!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Walter Payton – “Never Die Easy”

This is a book that I would recommend to everyone.

Payton was arguably one of the best (if not the best) American Football player to have ever lived. Read this book by written by Payton with Don Yeager and you will discover not only why he was a great football player, but also why he was an incredible human being.

Written in the last weeks of Payton’s life, this is probably the best book I have ever read, about anything. I found it impossible not to become inspired, emotional, and just plain awed by his greatness, his humility, and the perspective he brought to his own life and the way he related to those around him.

Without any intention to infringe copyright (or spoil the book), here are some selected sections, which without even coming close to telling the whole story will give you a flavour.

---

The most prolific running back in the history of the National Football League started his storied career not with a bang but with a bust. Eight carries for zero yards as the Bears lost 35-7 to the Baltimore Colts. After the game he cried. “Zero yards, but it was like I’d just watched someone gain 150,” said teammate Mike Adamle that day. “He made a couple of moves in the backfield after he was stopped for losses, just to get back to the line of scrimmage, and I said, “This guy’s great.” And he got zero yards”

But while the numbers weren’t there [in his initial season] as he played for the hapless Bears, the skills and determination that would lead him to the Hall of Fame were clearly on display. Payton was his normal self, scrapping for every yard no matter how far in the backfield he was initially hit, no matter how many opposing linebackers were leaping on top of the pile, no matter how far behind in the game the Bears were. He fought for extra yards on late-game third-and-longs during blowout losses as if it were first-and-goal in the Super Bowl.

---

On a team that consistently struggled, Walter was the guiding light. By year two… he began hitting his stride, rushing for 1,390 yards and thirteen touchdowns, finishing just behind O.J. Simpson for the league rushing title. In his third season, at age twenty-four, Payton was named the League’s Most Valuable Player, the youngest player ever to receive the honour. He earned it, scampering for 1,852 yards and fourteen touchdowns… including a 40-carry, 275-yard game against the Minnesota Vikings, still an NFL record for yards gained in a single game. He did it all that day despite suffering from the flu.

---

His complete, all-out style of play made him a fan favourite not only in Chicago but throughout the league. In 1981, the struggling Bears played a powerful Dallas squad on Thanksgiving in Texas and lost 10-9. Payton was never better, running like a man possessed, determined to win one on national television despite playing for a team lacking talent. He finished with 179 yards on thirty-eight carries, and as he left the field, head down in defeat, he received a rousing standing ovation from Cowboys fans awed by his effort.

It became a weekly occurrence, Walter receiving huge ovations from opposing fans who appreciated his abilities and style. He became one of the league’s most popular players despite toiling for a losing team. The ultimate sign of respect came in Green Bay – home to the Bears’ ancient and despised rivals – where, as his career wore on, he began receiving standing ovations from the Lambeau faithful during the pregame introductions. It was the first time a Bear has ever been cheered in Green Bay. And the last.

---

On his first trip away as a Bear, he sat in the first window seat on the left side of the plane in the coach [economy] section. At the time, the veteran players, particularly the stars, took the first-class seats and the rest of the team sat in coach. Walter sat in that same seat for every flight for his entire career. Long after he could have moved to first class and stretched out, he stuck with the rank and file of the team and flew coach class.

---

Mike Singletary: “Walter never gave us a lot of speeches about what it took to be a professional. He never took rookies aside and discussed it with them. He led by example. It is the best way to teach people. Little things are always caught by people. Even my own kids catch things. That’s something I have to remember myself, to lead by example. It’s a lot easier to talk, but man, I tell you what, walking that talk is very, very difficult. And Walter walked the walk every single day and the rest of us watched in awe.”

---

Kim Tucker: “I remember a woman who volunteers quite a bit at the foundation, and she was telling me that when she was a teenager that the Boys and Girls Club had held an event at a real nice hotel, and it was in a really nice suite at the hotel. It was a fund-raiser, so everybody was there, they were all people that had money and were all dressed very nice. These two teenagers were there and they were kind of just alone, nobody came up to greet them or anything.

She’ll never forget that when the elevator opened and Walter Payton walked out of the elevator, he looked around the room, and spotted them, and everybody’s running over to greet him, and he’s smiling at everybody and waving and telling them, putting his finger up, saying, “I’ll be right back,” ran right over to them and grabbed and hugged them, and said, “It’s great that you’re here, I’m so excited to be able to come and be part of this.” She said that when Walter came over, then everybody else wanted to come and meet them too. It was then okay to go up and hug these kids.”

---

Mike Lanigan: I called him on his mobile and acted like I was not aware of what he was going to tell me.

I said “Walter, how are you doing?”
He said, “Well, Mikey, I got some good news and I got bad news. Which one do you want to hear first?”
I said, “What do you mean, Walter?”
He says, “What do you want to hear first?”
“Tell me the bad news.”
He says, “Mikey, I’m not going to be around very much longer.”
I say, “Oh, don’t tell me that, Walter…. What’s the good news?”
“I’m alive today.”

Think about that. That was his attitude from then on.

---

Mike Singletary: Walter taught me to smile and he taught me to be courageous. And the other thing he taught me was to be a professional and how to handle myself. There were some games that we played, there were times that he played against some great athletes. I don’t care who they were, sometimes he would get the crap knocked out of him, bounce right back up. Bounce right back up. Wouldn’t say a word, he would turn and give the ball back to the referee, straighten up his helmet, and go back to the huddle. You knew at that moment he was saying, I’m coming back. Get ready, I’m coming back, and I’m coming with all I got. To me, that’s what he exemplified. When I looked at him, no matter what I felt like before a game – when I saw him run with such courage and authority – I don’t care who you were, he was going to dish it. He was gonna hand it out, he was gonna do the punishing, he was going to set the tempo.

---

Walter Payton: That’s the way everyone should really want to be remembered, that whatever they did, they did it as best they possibly could. That’s all anyone should want in our life. It’s not being the best, it’s not winning this or not holding this record… but for people to say, while he was on the football field he gave all he had, and then when he was off the football field he was just that much of a person that you could relate to, that you could talk to, that he had feelings. That’s what you want to be remembered as. Because football is a business. Walter Payton is a human being. If all I’m remembered for is a bunch of yards and a lot of touchdowns, I’ve failed. That was just my work. I want to be remembered as a guy who raised two pretty special kids and who taught them to be great people. Please have them write that about me.

---

Buy “Never Die Easy” by Walter Payton with Don Yeager (Random House publishing), wherever you can find it.

Contribute to the Walter and Connie Payton foundation here.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Laura Clapp - “Leaving Nashvegas”

Laura Clapp has a new CD out, and I’d highly recommend it to all.

Recorded (almost entirely live) in Nashville, it’s a fantastic collection of tracks. With stunning and direct songwriting, hooky choruses, great arrangements, and really well recorded and mixed, it’s a CD you could listen to over and over again.

It's also accompanied by one of the best constructed artist photographs I've seen - which somehow manages to combine music and artistry, a dichotomy between strength and a hint of crucifixion, wedding rings, and even matching coloured nails and watch face. I have no idea if that was all planned, but it's an amazing photograph either way.

Some of the really good tracks include the gorgeous acoustic guitar led “Back to Us”, “Beautiful Limbo” (which to my ears is dying to be catapulted into the charts in a fully blown studio recording), the haunting drawl of “Something about you”, and the devastatingly underdone “Not for Me”, which rounds off the collection.

You can get the CD from Laura’s website here – so get one, and if you are quick you can say you knew about her before she was huge.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Ireland must vote No to the Lisbon Treaty

In one week’s time, Ireland will vote on whether to ratify the Lisbon Treaty.

The last time something like this came around was in 2005, when the electorate of France and the Netherlands both voted “No” to the EU Constitution. Since then, European politicians have been tinkering with the formula, trying to preserve as much of the failed EU Constitution as possible, without calling it a constitution. Giuliano Amato (the vice-chair of the convention responsible for drafting the EU Constitution) stated “The good thing about not calling it a Constitution is that no one can ask for a referendum on it”.

Ireland is in a unique position, as due to the constitution of Ireland, a referendum is absolutely required. The Irish electorate will be the only non-politicians to be asked to approve this treaty, across 27 European countries!

The treaty is impossible to read, which is a good reason to be very suspicious.

There are many bad parts of this treaty, but the main part to be worried about is that part of signing up means that you agree the treaty can be changed after the fact, without your further approval. In that sense it is a blank cheque – and changes might be made that could be pushed through without a referendum at a later stage. In other words, this would be the last time that the politicians had to worry about the Irish public actually being able to make a meaningful decision. It’s clear that after the disaster of the Netherlands and France expressing their democratic right to decide (and deciding the way the politicians do not want), they will do everything to avoid having to ask the public for our opinion.

This treaty obliges Ireland to increase military spending. It provides a means for the EU to promote Nuclear Energy. It undermines workers rights (and if you are a normal person working for money, you are a worker). It passes 105 powers to the EU from Ireland (including International Relations, Security, Trade and Economic Policy), and more than 60 of these power-transfers may see Ireland unable to stop law changes that are not in the interest of Ireland.

There is nothing un-European about voting no to Lisbon. I am pro-Europe, and the way to make Europe more like it should be, is to protect our right to decide who speaks for us. Millions of electors across Europe are relying on us and our right of referendum (enshrined in the Irish constitution – at the moment) to vote no on their behalf.

It’s always possible to agree to changes to Europe at a later date. A no vote is not a step backwards - Europe is functioning quite well as it is, the world will not cave in. The politicians are entitled to redraw their proposals again, and bring them back to us.

But from a ‘Yes’ vote in Ireland, there is no way back. We will not be asked again, and the politicians can decide what you said ‘yes’ to after you have committed.

One final point - this treaty is unreadable, and can be changed after you agree to it in principle.

Would you sign a contract that was so complicated it was impossible to read, and that could be changed after you signed it by the other party?

Do the right thing for Ireland, the right thing for people across Europe who don’t have the privilege of a referendum, the right thing for you - vote no.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Peak Oil

If you haven’t read about peak oil, now might be a good time to start.

Oil is a finite resource. We are consuming it at a rate which will exhaust it completely (this is not in question). So what is the ‘peak’ bit? The peak bit is, at some point we will reach a stage where all major oilfields have been discovered and exploited, and the ‘production’ of oil will be running at it’s historical maximum. Then, slowly, production will start to wind down, as the oil continues to be depleted with no new discoveries being available.

As oil goes past this ‘peak’ of production, there will still be a lot of oil left – but as production starts to come down slightly, the demand for oil will very very quickly outstrip the supply. This will mean two things – firstly, constantly rising prices. Secondly, rationing of oil, and spreading it out thinly to essential services. There are good sites which give a bit of a deeper background on peak oil here and here, and another great article here which explains why the tailoff in oil availability following the peak may not be the smooth ride into the post-industrial abyss that would be the preferable option.

This wouldn’t be so critical, if all of the industrialised western world was not completely contingent on a continuing supply of cheap oil. As the price of oil skyrockets, and supply becomes limited, the wheels are going to come off the current way we live.

Oil is the basis for all transportation – of you, of everything you eat, everything you purchase (how do you think it got to the shop?), and most likely how you get to work and back. All of this will be stood on its head when Peak Oil strikes, and we don’t look too ready.

When will the peak be? Nobody can be sure - some think it may have already happened. One thing which is for sure, is that we won’t know when it happens until after it has passed.

If you can’t grow potatoes and tend chickens, now might be a good time to learn how. (Unless your in Southern California, in which case you’d better hope that you can survive on the oranges that are left when the water isn’t pumping any more)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Theo Parrish – “Falling Up” (Carl Craig remix)


Carl Craig is one of the most prolific remixers on the scene these days. While some of his stuff is a bit ‘miss’ for me, he does occasionally produce something that is genuinely jaw dropping. For examples, check his remix of “Domina” by Maurizio, or his reworking of “Nairobi” by As One on New Religion. Both of these remixes trawl the deeper and more emotional recesses of dance music.

On this remix of “Falling Up”, Craig does something that looks much more to the dancefloor, and in the process creates an absolute monster.

Starting off with an even-tempo clicky rimshot-driven beat, it loops round and round for a minute or two, before the pivotal sound of the remix fades in. It’s a grinding, droning one-note chord noise, pulsating in time with the beat. It covers three devastatingly simple notes over 2 bars, then returns and starts the cycle again, over and over. It’s like the techno interpretation of the scene in “Close Encounters” where they are determining the perfect way to communicate with the aliens.

“Root note.”

“Root note again.”

“Go up a perfect fifth.”

“Up another perfect fourth, and hold it.”

“Ok – keep repeating that.”

Once this pattern starts to burn itself in your brain, and the beat is locked in, then the kick drum drops and the intensity cranks up another notch. This is a ferociously addictive record. (What is it about mantra-like repetition in music that appeals to a certain part of your brain?)

Another couple minutes of the thudding kick drum, the neatly clicking rimshots, and the grinding, pulsating, insistent synth, and then a set of neatly shuffling brushes are added to the mix. Suddenly, the kick drum has a lifting offbeat to play off against, a slice of freshness is added to the unrelenting drive of the chord drone, and from nowhere, the track has bounce.

Another minute, and a held synthline comes in, hanging on the 5th.

There’s something about suspended notes over driving drumbeats that is magnetic, and for some reason, none more so than the suspended 5th. As it grows and grows, suddenly there is a slight phase, and dissonance, and suddenly the suspended synth note starts to wobble and diverge, with two identical notes slowly parting tuning company. The further they go apart, the more harmonic friction is created, the more energy is released.

And all the time, the grinding chord is pulsing out the 3-note pattern, over and over. This is a heavy riffing monster of a track.

Released in 2006, it’s slightly old now (and a bit hammered, as it was understandably wildly popular when it came out) but it’s difficult to believe that this won’t be one of “the” remixes that will withstand the test of time, and end up rightly regarded as a classic.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

François K - Road of Life


For the first time in ages, a house 12" single that's nearly faultless. François Kevorkian has done some amazing tunes and mixes over the years, but they can be a bit hit-and-miss. This one, however, is a hit and then some.

The original version of "Road of Life" is super-slow deep and spacey house, probably too slow for the dancefloor in fact. But it's got so much depth and is so musical, that it commands attention. Perhaps music for the head rather than the feet, but no less brilliant for it.

On the flip side, the "Quiet Village" remix is something else altogether. Ditching most of the elements of the original, this speeds up the track to an even-paced minimal house track, which loops around for the best part of 10 minutes. Rotating around strident walking-speed drums and a clarion-call synthetic bell sound, it's tough, grinding loopy dancefloor house of the highest order.

Highly recommended!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A land without people?

How does Israel treat the Palestinian civilians for whom it is responsible while maintaining it’s utterly illegal occupation of Palestinian territory? There’s a good article in the Irish Independent here, which sheds some light on one aspect of the collective punishment.

The more vivid points are outlined as follows:

“Across the occupied West Bank, raw untreated sewage is pumped every day out of the Jewish settlements, along large metal pipes, straight onto Palestinian land. From there, it can enter the groundwater and the reservoirs, and become a poison.”

“in order to punish the population of Gaza for voting "the wrong way", the Israeli Army are not allowing past the checkpoints any replacements for the pipes and cement needed to keep the sewage system working. The result? Vast stagnant pools of waste are being held within fragile dykes across the strip, and rotting. Last March, one of them burst, drowning a nine-month-old baby and his elderly grandmother in a tsunami of human waste. The Centre on Housing Rights warns that one heavy rainfall could send 1.5m cubic metres of faeces flowing all over Gaza, causing "a humanitarian and environmental disaster of epic proportions".”


In other news, Israel is to build another 100 settler homes (BBC article here), in flagrant violation of a stack of UN resolutions.

If Israel cannot keep to the 1967 borders and dismantle the illegal settlements in the (illegally occupied) West Bank, how about we abandon the 2-state solution, and instead have a 1-state solution, with all Israelis and Palestinians living in the same state. One person, one vote. Surely the self-styled “only democracy in the Middle East” couldn’t object to that?

Failing that, how about an EU goods and services embargo against the increasingly apartheid Israel?