Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Pipeline Masters

The most perfect wave in the world?

Starting probably today swell-dependent - the 2010 Pipe Masters. Here's the 2008 trailer...

The debt and the defacit

I've got to admit, I don't get the IMF/EU bailout of Ireland. I mean, I understand it from the IMF/EU point of view - Ireland was about to take down the Euro due to systematic risk, sovereign default, bond jitters, etc.

What I don't understand, is why Ireland is taking the so-called "bailout". If the state needs to borrow in order to keep funding services, logic might suggest that there are too many services going on and that they need to be cut. To borrow in order to pay for them surely just means paying interest on the loans, as well as for services that we can't afford anyway.

So never mind the defacit (which I take to be the gap between annual revenue and expenditure) - if the overhanging total debt is not payable, would it not be better to default now, face all the consequences early and get it done with, rather than kicking the can down the road on a debt that will ultimately require default anyway - while we all make the money-lenders a bit richer via interest in the meantime?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Huge surf in Ireland

From earlier this week - the remnants of a Hurricane finding an offshore reef somewhere off NW Ireland.

Mentioned on Andrew Cotton's blog here - he was out surfing it - and if you didn't see it in the Irish Times front page today, an incredible photograph from photographer Aaron Pierce's site is here.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


Where music, visuals, technology, UI and meditation collide...

Check out Andre Michelle's flash audio gadget, Pulsate. Click to make at least two circles, and then watch and listen.

Hypnotic, random and beautiful. Bravo!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Disco Nihilist - "Leaving Bull Creek"

I found out about Disco Nihilist through the new Love What You Feel label - here is one of the tracks on the debut LWYF release, great circular trippy stuff.

For some reason last week, I was wandering about searching for Disco Nihilist to see what other stuff they had released, and stumbled on this track on Construction Paper records.

This is right up my street for dark playing-out club material. The kick seems a bit thuddy at first, but just try that through a big system and watch it go. Then there's the 2-beat synthy groove, which starts off almost inaudible and then growls and grows around the kick as it prowls on. Strident, moody, thudding walking-pace dark house, which just about suits a week full of strident, moody news - more on that later.

For now, happy Friday!

P.s. - another track from the 12" is here, and it's pretty nice too...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Live Music Project - Studio Rebuild

I finally sold the beautiful mixing desk I had available for a few months. Baby on board, it was never really going to work out spacewise.

I'm going to miss the masses of inputs, and the incredible lightshow from the meterbridge when it was all running in the dark. I'm especially going to miss that warm 60Hz bass EQ.

With changes come opportunity though, and so in light of the fact that a change of mixing desk is on the cards, I'm now reassessing the entire music setup to try and squeeze more musical output out of less space. This is going to be a bit of an ongoing project, and I'm not quite sure what shape the final setup is going to be, but I'm going to cherry-pick the most crucial pieces of the studio, and rebuild a new setup from scratch.

The remit is - it must be physically small, it must be very fast to work with, it must produce great quality results, and - it needs to be robust enough that I can take it out live. To look at it from the opposite direciton - I'm going to build a 'live' setup, and then use that setup to be the writing studio as well. The old setup was amazing for in-house, but Logic Pro on a massive rack PC running through a big recording desk, was never going to be any way to go and perform the tracks live. And if you were performing from Logic, you might as well play a CD, right?

So first things first - mixing desk replacement. Flexible, small, good-quality, and gig-proof. I've pretty much decided on the solution for that problem - more news soon.

The second conundrum, which is the big one, is - how to sequence electronic tracks live? It needs to be a totally flexible solution, but it also needs to be a totally robust solution.

I'm wobbling between Ableton Live, and a hardware solution of some sort - options include the MPC3000 (expensive, rare, old, big), the RS-7000 (pricey, looks nasty, bit of an unknown quantity) and the ASQ-10 (floppy disks, old, rare as hens teeth, not cheap for what you get). I did even consider the Orbital Alesis MMT-8 solution, but you have to play everything in live when sequencing, which is a bit of a turn-off for certain experimental tune-writing in the studio.

I had thought about a Machinedrum, but it turns out it doesn't do polyphonic sequencing for external MIDI devices. I haven't written it off as part of the setup, as it does look pretty unrivalled as a modern drum machine if you don't want preset samples - but for sequencing everything, it's not going to work.

So what it's coming down to is - will Ableton be flexible enough, intuitive enough, and (crucially) robust enough to take out live, or do I need to go back and reconsider hardware options again...

Friday, September 03, 2010

S Express - "Superfly Guy"

I had forgotten about this. What a brilliant main groove - 3 drum noises, a bassline, and a couple of micro samples - lethal stuff.

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Man On Wire - tonight!

Just a quick note for those in Ireland/UK - the epic Man on Wire documentary (probably my favourite film of the last few years) is on Discovery Channel tonight, 9pm.

If you haven't seen it - don't miss!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Lupe Fiasco - "Dumb It Down"

I don't listen to a huge load of hip hop - an occasional work trip to LA means that a convertible and cruising the freeways to some chord-laden West-coast rhythms somehow suits the SoCal vibe - but when you really want some serious rap to make your brain stop and back up, Lupe Fiasco has got to be top of the game.

Try "Dumb It Down" from a few years back: an utterly hypnotic beat that keeps stepping up and down just by swapping the kick drum sound, a deathly dark synth line, and outrageously conscious lyrics implicitly lancing gansta rap and everything that goes with it.

You been sheddin' too much light Lu - you make them wanna do right Lu
They're getting self-esteem Lu - these girls are trying to be queens Lu
They're trying to graduate from school Lu - they're startin to think that smart is cool Lu
They're trying to get up out the hood Lu - I'll tell you what you should do...

Monday, August 02, 2010

Buy buy sell sell!

I've recently been having a gander at stockmarkets and the like. There's something that I find utterly fascinating about it - it's clearly a casino and a place to lose a stack of money.

But more and more I can't help but wonder, is there any way that you could take a little slice of money out of it, if you were prepared to trade really quickly, pay huge amounts of attention, and weren't hungry for big profits?

I've been taking a look at the trading options offered by GFC Markets (you've probably seen the banner adverts all over the internet - profit from the falling Euro!). Ignoring the gold, oil, and normal stocks that you can do through them, one of the main things they offer is trading in currency pairs (i.e. buying euros against dollars, or selling Swiss Francs against the Yen - whatever). Just to clarify, crowds like GFC offer you 'leverage' - i.e. for $10 of your own money, you might be able to place a buy or sell order of up to $2000. This has an upside and a downside - the upside is that those microscopic swings in the market that are happening constantly, might therefore be exploited to actually make a measurable amount of money. The major downside of leverage is, if you get stung, you get really stung. Luckily with GFC (and I'm not trying to advertise them), it appears that you are never risking more than the money you put in - so you can't end up owing what you didn't decide to risk in the first place. You can of course, lose everything that you do put in - never gamble with what you cannot afford to lose!

One other thing you need to watch out for, is the spread. The price you can buy at is 3 points higher than the price you can sell at. What this means is, if you place a buy order, the price needs to increase by 3 points before you can break even by selling at the same price you bought at. This is the spread, as as I've found out, it's a killer.

So I've come to look at this like a sort of quasi-maths/stats problem: if you work from a presumption that the rate/price of the currency pair you are purchasing is *totally* unpredictable, is there a way that you could intelligently place buy and sell orders, in such a way that you could be in-profit, on average?

The orders you place are effectively 'positions' that you are taking, which remain open until you decide to close them. When you close them, then you either recoup the profit if the change has been to your benefit, or you are due for the loss! There are two major tools when you have placed a buy (expecting a rise) or a sell (expecting a fall) order. They are the 'limit' (a profitable price at which your order will auto-close), and a stop-loss (a loss-making price at which your order will auto-close).

So if goats are $10, and you place a 'buy' order on 10 goats with a stoploss of $7 and a limit of $12, then if the price rises to $12/goat, then your limit orders execute, closing the position and you get 10 x $2 as profit. If however the price falls to $7/goat, then your stop loss kicks in, your position is closed, and you lose 10 x $3. Easy right?

Well, I've been trying for a little while on the GFC practice account, and I'll put my hands up - I've given up.

I tried a couple of different strategies...

Chasing Momentum
This strategy was to "chase the momentum" on a tiny scale - place buy orders as the price was rising, and try to sell to cover those orders when the price had risen far enough to be profitable (and the reverse on the selling side - sell during little collapses, and then try to buy back and cover at a lower price). Great in theory, the problem being that sometimes the price reverses and never returns. So, it's going up, you stick on 2 or 3 buy orders, then it reverses before your positions are profitable, and keeps going down. You're then left with a choice - do you liquidate the unprofitable 'buy' positions for a small loss - or keep them open as the price plunges, and hope that it comes back up again?

Adjacent Hedging
This was an attempt to basically simultaneously place a buy and a sell order, both with limits and stop losses, and therefore make a tiny profit slice no matter which way the market moved. So if for example, you bought at 1.3000, then you were simultaneously selling at 1.2997. The issue here was that a limit order needed a minimum of 8 points distance, so on the 1.3000 'buy', the lowest limit you could have would be to sell and cover at 1.3008. As a result, the stop loss you needed on the 'sell' order had to be 1.3007, but as that equates to a 10 point loss, you need to make at least 11 points on the 'buy' order to be profitable. Which means the buy at 1.3000 needs a stop at 1.3011. And the reverse on the sell side. Ultimately, what it means is that the buying price going up, is going to bump the stop-loss on the 'sell' at 1.3008, but won't hit the limit to take profit on the 'buy' until the selling price gets to 1.3011 which is 6 points later. Or to put it simply, your stop-losses on both orders are several points closer to your current price than your limit orders, so the statistical likelyhood is that all the micro-volatility in the price will mean the price just drunkenly wandering about, nudging your stop-losses and accumulating you losses, and only rarely getting a limit that will make you tiny amounts. A good way to lose money.

My final attempt was based on something I noticed about the way the price behaved during a day of trading. The exchange prices wobble around set levels for a good while, not doing too much, and then at certain points, they 'break out' of the range they have been wobbling in, and take a quite visible 'step' upwards or downwards, where they then recommence their small volatile wobbles at a different level. So I came up with a new idea:

Capturing Breakouts
The idea here was to wait for the pattern of wobbling to emerge over time - look for a price that had been within a fairly obvious range for half an hour, or longer. Then, set a significantly large buy order several points above this range, and a similar sized sell order several points below - both with limit orders a few points away. The idea was that upon the market price undergoing a 'breakout' upwards or downwards, these automatically placed orders would 'capture' the breakout (while I cancelled the order in the opposite direction) and then as the breakout in price proceeded, the limit would kick in, and I would automatically collect the money. The big orders were a way to limit the need for trading - so that I would only have to capture 2 or 3 breakouts in a day to make the money I wanted. Safe concept, right? No. What I actually learned, is that there is no way to accurately estimate the 'wobble range' that a price will exhibit, so there is no way to safely set the order levels for the buy and sell. Similarly, there is no way to know how big a breakout will be, which means that often what happens is you get a little bust out of the normal range, which triggers the buy or sell order (depending on the direction of the bust out) - and then the price settles back into the range before it reaches your limit, leaving you with a very big bet that may be about to go badly south, taking a stack of your money with it.

In short, I've been unable to come up with a way of securing your positions, without the risk of leaving positions behind as the market price moves. The only guard against leaving positions behind is to always use stop losses, but my experience has been that stop-losses combined with the 3-point spread, effectively mean that you will, on average, lose.

I'd love to know if there is a way to exploit the random movements, but I can't help but feel that the spread between the buy and sell prices is the thing that tilts the odds fatally away from you.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Toto - "I can't stop loving you"

I checked in the blog archives, and it was back in 2007 that I mentioned Danish superstar Bjarne Langhoff and his stunning stop-in-the-aisles demonstrations that year (and possibly the year before, I can't quite remember) at the NAMM and Frankfurt music tradeshows.

Bjarne was delivering unbelievable covers of a few songs, culminating with the double-act of "Man in the Mirror" by Michael Jackson followed with "I can't stop loving you" by Toto. Now I've always had a thing about proper, pure pop and songwriting, and one of the overriding principles I've taken has always been that you need to keep your verses under control (if not outright moody), and when you hit the chorus, it really needs to deliver. (pet hate - modern pop tracks that don't really go for it in the chorus)

Or as the KLF instructed, "always use the one you can't believe you're using".

Well here's that Toto track, and while I've got to say that Bjarne's version was probably even better (when you hit the first chorus, you really knew you'd arrived at a very important point), it's really a great song. The verses are perfectly crafted, and although the Totmeisters could do with a the totally open-mouthed power singing that Langhoff consistently delivered, the chorus is pretty epic.

Time passes quickly and chances are few...

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Stone Roses - "Ten Storey Love Song"

Back in the 90s (and it's strange to think about how long ago the 90s actually were), I did all sorts of bits before, during and after university. One of them, was a temporary involvement with big-gig security, working for a company that provided security to lots of the huge English festivals. There were many funny moments that can't really be printed, but there's another one that occurred to me this morning that can.

Security was always a lottery at a big festival - you could end up doing anything from the easy and surreal (guarding doors backstage while famous people came and went), to utterly boring (directing traffic at the edge of the site on dusty trails for hours), to frantic (dealing with an entry gate, particularly the main gate). Somehow fate intervened when I decided to do the 10 hour overnight bus journey south for security at the Reading 1996 festival, and from nowhere, I was plucked to do main-stage security, standing in front of the main stage for 3 solid days in the pit.

The lineup is recorded on wikipedia, and my memory is of seeing The Prodigy, Terrorvision, Ice-T, Garbage, Dodgy, Super Furry Animals, Moloko, Kula Shaker, Sonic Youth, Ash and Reef. It's where my love of Billy Bragg started, I caught all of his set, and it stuck with me since. A guitar, a guy, belting out his songs, and some politics I was utterly in agreement with - evidently I'd started my drift to the left even back then.

I was in the pit when Sonic Youth closed it - that was an all-hands-on-deck set - I think they were last. It was one of the more disconcerting moments I had, after 3 long days, standing on the security plinth above the crowd in the front row in the dark, with blitzkrieg sheets of white noise pouring out of the PA behind for minutes upon minutes upon minutes, while nuclear whole-stage strobes caused the 80,000 odd faces in front of me to flick in the darkness like some deranged film, eventually bringing me to the edge of vertigo. And in the midst of this you were supposed to spot and fish out bodysurfers, many of whom were huge guys wearing heavy duty boots, and every time the strobes fired, they weren't where you thought they were last time.

(The barrier in front of the crowd was about 20 feet separated from the stage by the 'pit' - and had a raised platform on the stage side you could stand on, to see better, or fish people out of the crowd. It looked something like this, only the one at Reading was monstrous and had no 'separations' in the platform, so you could walk/run along it the width of the stage. Anyway, you would stand 'down' in the pit when it was daylight, when the crowd was reasonably under control, when nothing needed attention. When it got dark, you needed to help or retrieve someone, or have a careful look into the crowd, you would stand 'up' on the plinth)

Then there was my front stage security encounter with the crazed and fluorescent Julian Cope, who chose to jump through the pit and up on to the security barrier, saunter up to me, and lean on my shoulder in front of the crowd while singing a couple of lines. Which I thought was very cool being a Cope fan, although not only did I have to maintain the arms-crossed deadpan serious security face, I took some heat for it from my Glasgow security colleagues afterwards ("***t was wearin' a dress!"). Not to worry - they felt more of a man when they got with the herd - Julian - you can lean on my shoulder any time. (Oh - and if anyone who was in the front 10,000 people while JC was playing happens to have a picture of this moment, I'd love a copy. It was a pretty funny moment, so there's got to be a photo somewhere)

Then there was seeing Black Grape live. Even better, seeing Bez live. Never has a man looked so off his face, and jumped up and down in a Sergio Tacchini tracksuit to such massive crowd acclaim. Still a legend...

But the moment that still stands out for me, was seeing Stone Roses live. It's universally gone down in the collective memory as a disastrous gig for them, a shambles, and was the last gig the Roses ever played. But not only did it sound not bad to me, it had some amazing moments in it.

And the most amazing moment for me was standing up on the plinth, facing the crowd, while they cranked out "Ten Storey Love Song" - with the sound blowing outside in the wind, that heaving subterranean thud that you only ever get from a massive PA system, and that huge walking bassline. There was a girl in the very front row, clearly a fan, tears streaming down her face the whole song. It's never left me.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Soundstream - "Good Soul"

Friday! Friday! Friday!

Epic good-times tune, from Erik & Fiedel of that wierd blue MMM record fame (latterly to become known as Donna - more on this one some other time).

Anyway, "Good Soul" appeared under the new name Soundstream, followed Donna and some other more obscure releases on MMM - this is a bit less wierd, and a bit happier. It's utterly superb walking pace thudding happy cut up disco-by-synths house. It's even got chords and stuff - works just as well through a massive system as it does in my car on a sunny day.

Happy Friday!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The 12 days of Chicness

So I started running a "12 days of Chicness" series of videos on facebook. It seemed to be a good way of reminding myself of the utter brilliance of their songwriting back catalogue - both for Chic, and for other bands.

To avoid a blog post every day, I thought I'd collapse them here weekly - so today, 1 week until the gig, 5 days in, here's the first 5 days of Chicness...

Friday, May 07, 2010

Aphex Twin - Analogue Bubblebath

Friday morning.

The UK managed to nearly-elect a conservative government, which is probably what will ensue. There is a honking financial hole to be dealt with, and a conservative government will almost certainly mean that the burden will fall most harshly on the poorest and least able to defend themselves.

The Euro is about to split up. And that's not hyperbole or metaphor. Effects on poor people - see above.

Turn it up and let it go.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Underground Resistance - Journey of the Dragons (UR)

I love Underground Resistance, and Galaxy to Galaxy from 1993 is one of the most mindblowing releases (in my mind) that dance music has ever conjured up - 2 12" slabs of insane deep soulful electronics.

Somewhere in that doublepack is "Journey of the Dragons", a massive building swell of swirling emotions, clicking rimshots, pinned down with an insistent 808. Re-reading the label now, I find out that not only does it have Mad Mike's hands on it, but also features 'magic' Juan Atkins.

The writing on the label reads:

(dedicated to the memory of Chris Hani,
Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee & Yoshihiro Hattori.
May your journey through the stars be peaceful.

Deep, deep, deep shit.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ireland, the Housing Market, and the Future

I've been a bit of a keen watcher of the Irish housing market - well - ever since buying an Irish house. Sinking yourself face-deep into negative equity tends to focus your attention like that.

Without having a crystal ball, and setting aside the possibility of a black swan such as a sovereign default, breakup of or expulsion/exit from the Euro, or some sort of economic disaster driven by an IMF package to avoid one of the first two possibilities, here's some random thoughts on what I (as an untrained eye) see happening and coming in the Irish housing market:
  • Prices - Achieved prices at the lower end of the Dublin market are probably now about 55% of peak asking prices.

  • Activity - finally, yes. Some sales are starting to go through again at the levels prices have now reached - probably a combination of some stability in prices for the first time in 2 years, and a glut of first time buyers who (a) have been waiting, and (b) can get finance at these prices. The employment situation and continued pricing stability is the only thing that will keep that wheel slowly turning.

  • The commuter towns - asking prices boomed fastest, and achieved prices have probably collapsed hardest in the peripheral counties to Dublin. It's going to be a long road back for equity in the area surrounding the city.

  • The city and the country - rural areas physically removed from Dublin (i.e. once you get beyond commutersville) probably see price changes lagging Dublin timewise. As people move less frequently, less urgently, and in smaller numbers in the country, the fall in house prices has much further to go in the more sparsely populated parts of Ireland. The fall in equity and prices in Dublin will eventually drag the rest of the country into line, but it is going to take time. (If I had a big paid-for house in the country, and wanted to swap it for one in the city, now might not be a bad time to take advantage of this presumably temporary differential)

  • No tradeup market - a lot of people are in negative equity, so anyone who owns a house not in the cheaper part of the market (i.e. not a first-time-buyers house) is going to be waiting a long time for someone able to trade up from below.
So if I had to bet any money, what would it be on?

The most likely scenario to me is a distinct two-tier market. As the housing market hits bottom (and there is always a bottom, though you probably won't know where it was until we're long past it), it will likely fracture into two sections
  • Houses in good repair, solidly built, in good locations, together with the best of the apartments, will start to slowly stabilise or recover some value.

  • Houses that are brand new, poorly built, insanely situated, and the vast tracts of apartments in the middle of nowhere (that never made sense), may never recover value.
I'm not sure that fracture has occurred yet, or that it'll even be a distinct event as opposed to a subtle, drawn-out process - but I can't see any other logical conclusion as to what's in our future.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

U2 - "No Line On The Horizon"

U2 albums always go through a process with me - from nonplussed, to interested, to fascinated, to amazed. The last few have been easier to get in to, but there's always a twist.

Their latest, No Line on the Horizon, opens with the title track - an amalgam of everything U2 have been. I know a girl, whose like the sea. Walking-pace drums, rumbling bass, verses squeezed through musical passes with vocals hanging on thirds and sheets of distorted guitars that hark back to Achtung Baby, while the choruses open out into plains of more relaxed lyrics and a New Years Day/City Of Blinding Lights piano line. I watch her changing every day for me. A decent chunk of the album was worked on and/or recorded in Fez, Morocco, and you can hear the first evidence in the first track in the form of an Arabic stringed instrument. There's a lot of more subtle percussive stuff happening as well - lots of toms, tabla-type bits, and the kick has been cut right back, managing to keep the rhythm driving while quietly changing the form - clever and subtle. Every night I have the same dream - I'm hatching subplots, scheming some scheme, oh yeah...

The next track, is Magnificent. By far the most commercial track on the record, it's an absolute belting epic of classic U2, featuring the most monstrous guitar line on the album, 4-on-the-floor kick, a thunderously anchored bass playing root lines, and the most celebratory lyrics. I was born... I was born to be with you. Everything here is right - all the sounds are perfectly chosen, and the mix is a killer. Obviously the mixing on every U2 track is amazing, but this one is pretty produced, and they really, really nailed it. I was born, I was born to sing for you. The arrangement (something people often ignore) is also in a completely different class here. In the verses, the guitar riff is history and you're left with Bono's vocals exposed over the bassline. The first verse backs the vocals with real background guitar chords, verse two adds soaring Eno synths and some organ pieces over the top. Backing right off during the verses creates acres of space for the melody to sing, and it also means when the guitar riff comes back in the chorus, it hits like a ton of bricks. The vocals and the guitar back each other from start to finish, stepping out of each others way at the appropriate moments, while the whole track rises and falls in intensity with the verses and choruses. It's a masterpiece of arrangement - if you are looking for the Beautiful Day on this album, you can stop searching here. Only love, only love unites our hearts.

So far, so optimistic but "Moment of Surrender" takes a much gloomier turn, opening in a Thomas Brinkmann style scuffle of looped glitching and resolving into a sequence of strings that heralds the darkest track on the album, an agonising work revolving around getting the wrong side of addiction. I tied myself with wire, to let the horses run free. It's one of Clayton's great moments too, because while the bass work is unspectacular, it's perfectly judged, and (like the verses in Magnificent) without the bass, this song simply doesn't exist. We were barely conscious. Whether the song references Clayton's difficulties isn't clear, but someone writing knows what they are talking about. I've been in every black hole. Horses are always up for a run, but it's difficult to know whether can you get them back in the stable before you take them out. Life, from leaving the house, crossing the road, to playing the stock market, has something to do with judging your own comfort in the face of risk. It's an unremittingly bleak song: I was punching the numbers at the ATM machine - I could see in the reflection a face staring back at me.

This bleak darkness sets the stage for one of the great moments of the album.

Birdtweets, happy muted chimes, clean wake-up guitar arpeggios... Sunshine... Sunshine. Welcome to Unknown Caller. I was lost between the midnight and the dawning. There is a story being told here, and it's not just a series of single songs. Bono carries the pensive verses as he explains the depth of where we've just come from. In a place of no consequence, or company. And over and over again, Bono keeps finding the head of the nail (rusty or not)... I had driven to the scene of the accident, and I sat there - waiting for me... The verses having outlined the troubles of the past, the choruses talk of a hope for the future: Go - shout it out - rise up. These two songs together are the addiction analogy of the lift plunging down, where every so often you pass a floor where, if you are ready, you might be able to get out. Restart and - reboot yourself - you're free to go. The corner around these two songs is a gobsmacking illustration of the power of the album, and it's a stunning reminder of what you will forever lose with single-song download models. It proceeds into riotous ecstasy, bombastic organs and brass heralding the hope of tomorrow. Deep in the second song of this story in two parts, corners are being turned and chances are getting handed out. Shout for joy - if you get the chance. Jaw-dropping.

That done, we're into "I'll go crazy if I don't go crazy tonight", which is a journey into surviving as a couple dressed up as an ode to - well - an ode to going crazy tonight. Every beauty needs to go out with an idiot. There's much revisiting here of ground covered in "A man and a woman", and one understanding the other. It's not a hill it's a mountain, as you start out the climb. Musically it's more straight U2 in the vein of the last two albums, and you have to pinch yourself to remember that while this doesn't stand out on this album, most other bands would kill to have one track like this on their record. We're gonna make it all the way to the light.

Sixth is "Get on your boots" - the lead single from the album, the one that sounds least like the rest of the album, and the one that always made least sense to me. You free me from the dark dream. Heavy distorted bass riffing, drum machines, synth noises battering around, some semitone tuning and weird harmony vocals that certainly aren't straight out of Dalkey - and walls of distorted guitars. I don't wanna talk about wars between nations. Less commercial than much of the rest of the album to my mind, it's got one of the more odd vocal references I've ever heard from U2 on record, when towards the end, Bono starts intoning an unmistakeably Shaun Ryderesque "Yeah hey hey". Madchester referenced in a new U2 record? Perhaps not for the last time!

Next is Stand Up Comedy, a stunning full-blooded emotional call to arms. I gotta stand up - the wire is stretched in between our two towers (surely a Man On Wire reference?). Again maybe it's me, maybe it's just the dominant 7th, but every time I hear Bono yelping Come all ye people, I'm hearing Shaun Ryder again and the drugged out bawling of Reverend Black Grape. Which is weird because at the back end of the instrumental break, the "God is love and love is evolutions very best day" is set back and positively reeks of Stone Roses era Brown. NLOTH Manchester influence - in my head only, or on the album?

As we progress into "Fez - Being Born", it does feel like we're leaving the classic widescreen U2 behind as a half-speed sort of almost William Orbit-esque dub thing winds slowly along with Bono, a million miles away in fields of reverb intoning "let me in the sound". Then suddenly the track breaks, and it's into more classical U2 stylings. Atlantic sea cut glass... It's not a track that immediately grabs you (which probably means it'll be a stone cold classic in a few years) - but it's a pretty amazing mood. African sun at last...

White As Snow follows, and it's a slow, lyrical walk through heart-wrenching territory. My brother and I would drive for hours - like we had years instead of days. It's another strange track, which has been in some corners ascribed to the feelings of a soldier dying in Afghanistan following a roadside bomb. Only poppies laugh under the crescent moon... Loaded with suspensions and emotive harmony vocals (how come the Edge can sing so high?!), it's both absorbing and uncomfortably emotionally claustrophobic at the same time. Now the wolves are every passing stranger - every face we cannot know.

Breathe is the penultimate song, and it's a triumphant return to the joyous best of the sound of Pop. The verses are nearly scat/rapped in an uncontrollable torrent of ideas (Doc says you're fine, or dying, Please, Nine 0 nine, St John Divine, on the line, my pulse is fine, but I'm running down the road like loose electricity) - while the choruses are transcendent thanksgiving (Walk out into the street, sing your heart out, the people we meet, will not be drowned out, there's nothing you have that I need, I can breathe). If you didn't like old U2, you're not going to like this - and if you love old U2, you need to get yourself a copy of this album.

The eleventh track, Cedars of Lebanon, brings the tempo right down, and closes out the album in a contemplative and densely pensive atmosphere. I'm pretty sure it's been put out there that the lyrics on this album were written from the perspective of different people, and from the lyrics here, it's only possible to conclude that Bono is thinking of veteran Middle East columnist Robert Fisk. The evidence is everywhere - Yesterday I spent asleep, woke up in my clothes in a dirty heap, spent the night trying to make a deadline, squeezing complicated lives into a simple headline. See this brief interview with Fisk (he actually doesn't say he's retiring, despite the title). Child drinking dirty water from the river bank, soldier brings oranges he got out from a tank... Following the greatest studio reference I can remember (the worst of us are a long drawn out confession - the best of us are geniuses of compression), the song and the record close out with cryptic advise - Choose your enemies carefully 'cos they will define you, Make them interesting 'cos in some ways they will mind you, They're not there in the beginning but when your story ends, Gonna last with you longer than your friend.

An awesome album and (I suspect) a massive grower, I expect songs from this to be getting discovered by people long in to the future.

For my money and despite some incredible U2 records in the intervening period, No Line On The Horizon is possibly the best U2 record since Achtung Baby. Don't believe me?

Come back to me in a few years.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Schatrax - First Heartbeat (Schatrax)

A deep one for Friday.

The mythical Schatrax (one of the only labels which I've ever fallen so in love with I've become a completist - mentioned once previously), and the amazingly deep and underdone "First Heartbeat".

I love this track - it's a gorgeous mood. I love the really muted bassline buried around the bass drum (works so well over a PA), and the synth sounds are just gorgeous, and that sort of early 90s UK-style shuffling hat/cymbal/brush thing going on - you're never sure what bit is what, but it grooves.

It was also one of the first tracks on the first DJ mix I ever did back in 98, which scored me my first DJ gig ever. Great times, great memories. Another label that stopped before they put a foot wrong (see also Bluespirit, Basic Channel, Emoticon). Schatrax - thanks for starting, and thanks for stopping.

Schatrax weren't always easy records - some of them were angular and difficult - but when they did sublime, they really did it perfectly.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rudder - "Floater" (live in Amsterdam)

I posted a while back about Rudder's great album "Matorning" - well here they are playing "Floater" live in Amsterdam...

Thunderous, driving jazz for the next century - turn it up... get some!

Friday, March 05, 2010

Maas - 911 Angel

Early Soma records had a sound. Some of them were tough, thumping even, but there was something about the synth sounds - always - sort of smooth. Sophisticated.

Some of them have dated a bit.

Some of them you could release tomorrow and they'd sound just as fresh.

Here's one of the ones immune to dating. Ewan Pearson aka Maas, in 1995, releasing an incredible EP of emotive electronics - and 911 Angel, a gentle odyssey in depth

The start is the thing - the winding portamento synth bass that practically talks to you, then the two-note breathy guide tones with the offbeat brush, with the filter on that winding synth still opening... then the chunky percussion, and the breathy tones moving higher again...

A break and into the 4-on-the-floor section (but with the kick drum ultimately suspended above an articulated percussion groove), and a clanging synth bell, and a crashing/reversing synthetic snare that rhythmically recalls the Positive Education handclaps. More on Positive Education some other time. Things seem getting tougher, more stripped. But then from above, those breathy chords, laid gently down on to the beat... and the chunky percussion, and the sinewy bass line starts grinding away again, and up and away you are taken.

Today is Bundoran, for the first time, and an 8 hour driving round trip to Tullan Strand. Small waves, clean, sunny, clear, and water temperature that should be hitting it's punishing annual low point.

A fragile tune, and a crisp early morning crossing Ireland oceanwards as the weather clears and people wind their way to work.

Ageless sounds for yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

For Sale - Soundcraft Ghost 24LE

I posted a few days/weeks back about my mixing desk for sale... all relevant details for interested parties in the previous post here.

Anyway, I finally got some pics of the desk itself, the actual one, the big kahuna, the evil wotsit.

So for anyone tempted, here's what she herself looks like...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tune for Friday!

Just because I listened to it yesterday.

A second date now added to May in Dublin. Which presumably means the first date is sold out. If it's sold out with a fraction of the people that were melting in the white-hot heat of the EP tent when these guys blew it apart... well...

Turn it up as loud as you can get away with. The bassline, the piano and the chords, the lyrics - that brassline later on...


Happy Friday!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Learning to surf part 2 - West Cork Surf School

So where was I - oh yes - struggling to paddle back on to the beach in Santa Cruz, California. First time in the water, almost no waves around, and a 5-8 minute paddle clear across the bay in front of Cowell's Beach to get to the only area where small waves were breaking. Still, I had stood up on one.

Back in Ireland and the agonising pain in my arms subsiding, there was no way I was going to let the lack of a surfboard, a wetsuit, any fitness whatsoever, and living in Dublin (on the East coast of Ireland - the only completely wrong coast to be on) put me off.

As it turned out, my now brother-in-law (living in West Cork) had been interested in giving it a bash for some considerable time, so on the next trip down to the rebel county, we booked ourselves in with West Cork Surf School for a lesson.

It was here we learned the sacred art of struggling into a cold, damp wetsuit in the middle of winter, discovering halfway on that the knee pads are on the back of your knees. Swearing quietly, glancing around hoping no-one has noticed, then struggling back out of a cold, damp wetsuit. Turning it around, and then struggling back into a cold, damp wetsuit again. By the time the wetsuit is on, you've nearly had enough exercise for one day.

That done, the WCSS guys take you down to the beach with their super-safe foam-topped boards, and give you a long run through on the beach of what is involved once in the water. Starting off easy, the basic aim is to lie on the board in the whitewater (long after the wave has broken), and either paddle or be pushed into a wave, while lying down, just to get the feel for it. The first thing that strikes you as you start doing this for the first time, is the power of a seemingly small wave. When you don't 'catch' the wave, you get a nudge from behind, and then a torrent of whitewater burbles under you and the board, and the wave is gone. And you generally fall off the board in excitement/panic/stupidity. When you paddle fast enough at the right time, or the correct push is administered as the whitewater comes to you, then you catch the wave properly - that is to say, the wave catches you, and administers the most astonishing burst of forward speed. I defy you to try it and not get a huge grin on your face.

The rest of the first hour is spent doing that - walking the board out in the shallows through incoming waves (and boy does that sound like less work than it is!), turning around, lying on the board, and getting pushed, or trying to paddle at the right time to be caught by onrushing lines of whitewater.

Halftime sees the surf school lads haul everyone back to the beach to regroup, and go over the next part. The standing up part. Ha ha. So the idea is, that you want to be lying on the board, and then at the right moment, be pushed (or preferably paddle yourself) beachwards to be 'caught' by the incoming whitewater. And then, when you feel that rush of speed from the wave catching you, you then quickly and smoothly push up (like, uh, a push-up) on the board, and quickly and smoothly jump from lying down, to standing up crouched on the board. This ninja-like maneuver is the pop-up.

You practise a good few times on the beach, just to make sure that you have it right. And then it's back out in to the water to give it a go.

And in your first lesson, you can take it as read that you're going to get it wrong, a lot! Doing a pop-up on a board in the beach seems so easy. When your board has just been hit by whitewater, and you're shooting across the surface of it on your board at a speed you couldn't have imagined, the thought of doing anything as stupid as trying to stand up couldn't be further from your mind (holding on tight and enjoying the ride lying down seems like a much better option). But you give it a go a few times. And hopefully, with a bit of luck, a bit of timing, and a bit of what-the-hell attitude, you jump up once at the right moment, you don't lose the wave - and suddenly, you're standing on the board as it is driven smoothly forward across the water by the wave.

Nothing beats that. And once you've got your first one (and if you persevere, you will get it) - you will be back...

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Irish housing market - another moment of truth?

I took a moment this week to update my ongoing tracker of asking prices in our area of Dublin, and staring at the graph that gets spat out by my figures every time I update them, a bit of a pattern seems to be starting to emerge.

As a disclaimer - you've got to be careful with patterns - too much staring and you see patterns everywhere, but this one does seem to be reasonably clear.

My figures are sorted by house size and street, so there's a trace on the line for every street in our area, and where there is more than one house size, an extra trace per street for each size of house too. So the actual graph spat out is a messy splatter, resembling a rats nest of cables... something like this:

So it seemed to me the longer I looked at this, that there was a fairly clear "stepping down" thing happening. I took the average of all the streets on a clean graph, and tried to get a "line of best fit" happening that would bring out the steps. In other words, could I find discrete sections where the price was quite stable, and discrete sections where it was plunging?

The totally unscientific messing about seems to reveal something like this:

up to Jan - Stable
Jan to Apr - Falling
Apr to Augt - Stable
Aug to Oct - Falling
Oct to Dec - Stable

Jan to May - Falling
May to Dec - Stable

Or in terms of the monthly length of the stages: falling (4), stable (5), falling (3), stable (3), falling (5), stable (7).

The falls are precipitous, and the stable sections are wobbly, but the pattern does seem to be there. Whether this indicates general human nature (when prices are dropping, you'd better undercut your selling neighbour if you want out fast), estate agent strategy (hold fire on price reduction every 2/3 months and test the market resistance to asking price) or something else altogether, I don't know.

What seems reasonably clear though is that every fall is ultimately arrested by at least a brief ledge - and every ledge for the last 2/3 years has eventually collapsed into another precipitous step down.

The question in my area now, therefore is - after a half-year of relative stability, is this something of a bottom - or another ledge?

The recent (2-year) record would suggest that after 6 months without a major fall, we're likely to find out soon...

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

For Sale: Soundcraft Ghost 24 LE Mixing Desk

So for anyone that is in need of a pretty big, fantastic-sounding and visually impressive analogue mixing desk, let me sort out your problem.

I have a Soundcraft Ghost available for sale - pickup in Dublin, Ireland (it's heavy!).

Looks a little bit like this:

That's not a picture of my actual one, but I can get high-res pics of the desk and any individual bits you want to see for anyone that's interested.

EDIT - pics of the actual desk I'm selling are now here...

Anyway, it's a serious 8-bus desk for someone that wants to do serious music. 24 channels inline means you get 48 line inputs (up to 24 Mics), plus 4 stereo FX returns gives you 56 inputs on mixdown.

Individually switchable phantom power per-channel, channel, group and mix inserts, HP rolloff per-channel, 4-band EQ on every channel (2 shelfs inc. a super-warm 60Hz bass shelf and 2 fully parametric mids), 8 Aux busses (6 mono, 2 stereo), PFL or Solo-in-place, built in talkback Mic, level and peak LEDs on every channel, full level metering for all groups and master bus.

The desk sells now for around £3150 sterling new, and in addition to the desk and 2U rack PSU/cable, included is the 24-channel meterbridge, which gives you full LED metering for every channel and is worth another £500 new... plus a Proel mixing desk stand for it if you wish.

Home non-smoking studio use only, gorgeous desk but I need the space so I'm downsizing to something slightly smaller!!

€2,200, or make me a very near offer... available now!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Surfing Sunset Beach LA

Here's the beach (Sunset) I was attempting to surf Wednesday morning after arriving in LA. It was a bit much for my whitewater beginner status, with boulders on the shoreline meaning you had to jump in between waves and then paddle like crazy just to get out before the next wave claimed you on the rocks. I spent a couple hours giving it a go, and mostly got paddling practise - either paddling out of the way of the larger sets coming through, or attempting to paddle for waves, and not quite having the positioning right.

Here it is working - a near perfect Southern California righthand pointbreak...

Generally, as the waves jacked up underneath me I was pretty glad that I didn't quite get them, as I ended up on a good few balanced on the top as it feathered looking down the front of the wave, and muttering swearwords to myself about the carnage that would ensue if I actually tried to throw myself down a green face that large, and then in my inept beginner phase try to struggle to my feet in the half a second before it detonated on my head.

I'm free on Sunday afternoon and the swell is supposed to be much smaller (in fact, I'm not sure there'll be anything), but I expect I'll give it another go and see what happens.

Here's one of a stand up paddle surfer making their way outside, with Santa Monica in the background.

747 @ Schipol

Here's the 747 that kindly and without breaking sweat transported me the 5500 miles from Amsterdam to LA on Tuesday, sitting in the snow at Schipol prior to the journey.

Without doubt the most beautiful airliner ever, this shot was an attempt to somehow capture the grace and massiveness of it.

NAMM 2010 - Eigenlabs Eigenharp

Here's a slightly different but very impressive looking offering:

The Eigenharp is a new musical instrument from a company by the name of Eigenlabs.

There are two models - the Alpha, which is a pretty tall thing, and looks like a thin fretboard almost, except it's populated with a vast array of buttons which are astonishingly touch-sensitive, pressure-sensitive, and can detect both roll and yaw (so effectively every button is a 3-dimensional controller). To add to that, there's a ribbon controller down both sides, the whole thing is driven by a breath input (not unlike a bassoon crook) at the top, and supported by a cello-style spike at the bottom. Confused yet? Don't be - despite an eye-watering $5,900 price tag, it's a stunningly gorgeous piece of design, especially in the custom-available dark wood variations (to see one is to want one). It's great to see companies coming out with genuinely new ways of physically playing live music.

The other model is the Pico, which is a cut down version, much smaller with less buttons (but just as sensitive), also featuring a breath controller and one ribbon controller up the back - all for just $590.

Both units have a cable that runs to a main brain, that then feeds to a computer - but the physical unit you play really does look amazing, especially the big one, and both are shipping now.

Nicely done!

Friday, January 15, 2010

NAMM 2010 - Teenage Engineering OP-1

First cool thing from NAMM 2010 - the Teenage Enginering OP-1.

I mentioned this last year, and it's looking cooler all the time. There's a new tape function which seems to basically work like an old-school 4-track, talk of multiple sequencing modes including "very basic" and possibly some "quite random" variations, and the whole unit just seems extremely immediate and exciting. I'm planning a massive studio strip and rebuild (if anyone wants to buy a large mixer in Ireland, please shout - more on that soon) - new ways of working are the order of the day, and anything which strips out administrative overhead and allows you to get the music down fast is going to be a winner. The OP-1 sounds awesome in it's current format, and the emphasis on a slick and fast physical user interface and quick results puts it very high on my list.

The question now is, how long is it going to take to ship? TE currently say they're shooting to get into beta this year, but notwithstanding the fact they need to get it correct before they ship, they also need to get it out before some larger company cherry-picks the best part of the idea and eats their lunch.

Come on TE, get this thing shippable and get it out there - as long as it's a viable proposition at shipping, you can add more bells and whistles as future updates!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

98 Toyota Avensis - Spinning Key / Central Locking problem

So in the hope that the wonders of blogger's high google search rankings might bring someone knowledgeable to stumble on this... I've got a problem with an Irish 98 Toyota Avensis.

The issue seems to be that the key is spinning endlessly in the drivers door, without ever 'catching' the mechanism to lock or unlock the car. It's been getting progressively worse over the course of months, and it's finally refusing to actually lock the car full-stop today - it just won't catch the locking mechanism or engage the central locking at all. It either spins endlessly, or if it ever does 'catch', then it jams and won't turn the mechanism.

Has any wonderful person out in internet land ever come across this problem, and a solution? It has been degenerative, so it's gotten slowly worse and worse over time, but it's just suddenly jumped from really bad to totally broken today. The garage (who are normally very very good) have said it can be fixed but it's the barrel in the door that needs to be replaced, and that's the thick end of €900... could it really be that?

The key will start the car perfectly, so there's no problem whatsoever using the key in the ignition chamber - but it just will not work now in the drivers door, which is the only way to get in/out of the car and lock it. The car was 2nd hand, and never had an electronic key fob for remote central locking, so there's no way to try that. (Though that'd be a great solution if there was a way to get a fob for the car and program it to work with this specific 98 Avensis... is there any way to do that?)

Anyone? Is there a reasonable cheap solution to whatever this problem actually is?