Wednesday, October 26, 2011

50 People, One Question - Galway

And so, in the shadow of another day-surf-trip, and with a new job starting in just under two weeks - here is one of my favourite ever videos on the web.  50 people, one question, in Galway, Ireland.

One question, but an amazing sequence of answers.  My favourite answer?  6:00.

Thanks to Anna Oliwa for uncovering it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Irish surf and nighttime revelations

Wednesday 28th Sept. looks like the next chance.  What I'd give for an accurate forecast for 2 or three weeks in advance right now.  But Thursday 18th August was going to be this chance.

I had flicked open Magic Seaweed, and checked Bundoran.  The forecast (which like any other forecast tends to become more accurate the closer you are to the time) says there will a very small swell - borderline, and the winds are going to be onshore - not favourable, as they will collapse the waves from behind, destroying their perfect shape and spreading turbulent whitewater everywhere. 

I check again a couple days before.  The swell is still borderline, but... the wind forecast is dropping.  Wednesday 17th, I look again.  The forecast winds for the very early morning are 2mph - almost nothing.  High tide at 09:30.  The board is brought down from it's ceiling abode, the wetsuit is dug out of the attic, everything is laid out, and the alarm is set for 03:40.

03:59.  The yawning silence of the city in the dead of night.  The board is strapped on the car, everything is packed.  Gates are quietly opened, the car is rolled back out of gear with no engine, the gate is closed again.  A quick turn of the key, and we are trundling out of the estate and across the West side of Dublin.  The only other road users are taxis.  Somewhere in the Atlantic, a low pressure system has been rotating, driving energy into the ocean.

There's a diversion on the edge of Dublin, so shortly after 4 I'm sent down a sideroad past a suburban shopping centre.  20 or 30 kids are milling about in the car park.  Yesterday was leaving cert day in Ireland, and these kids have been letting loose all evening and night.  Everywhere is closed now, but they aren't ready to go home quite yet.  Who passed, and who failed?  Who has the marks they need, for what they want to do?

Gone 5, I'm whistling down the motorway towards Kells.  The home of bestsellers.  The radio is on, the pressure of the sound helping the windows to hold back the immense weight of the blackness outside.  Every few minutes a lone car flies the opposite way, towards the big city.

Past Kells, I pass through Virginia.  In the middle of town the road forks, and on the apex sits a massive church.  I've glimpsed it before, on one of these night raids West - set back, deep in the fork, brooding in the dark.  One day I'm going to come back and check it out.  I wonder if the baby is still asleep back at home.  Did I wake him, sneaking the board out of the house at 4?  Leaving Virginia, I pick up the first sign for Eniskillen, 70km.  The other side of the border.  Northern Ireland.

Twenty past five, and I hit Cavan - home to problematic insurance company Quinn.  The whole story of what the Quinn family have been up to with the money is going to come out one of these days.  Still black, everything is closed - but looking straight upwards, there's the very first hint that the sky might be starting to turn.  It looks a bit more dark blue than black up there.

Half past five, and I'm in Belturbet.  The sky is definitely lightening.  It's amazing how quickly that happens, isn't it?  All the shops are locked and dark, and the town is dead.  I ghost on for Eniskillen, another 35 kilometres on.  2 or 3 minutes further on, I'm suddenly across the border, in Northern Ireland.  The road surface changes, alien after 8 years living in the Republic, and familiar from my youth.  The first village speed limits seem bigger than is sensible.  Is this just the first town speed limits, or were the ones in the UK always this size?  UK Radio 1 is on now, and a lightbulb moment suddenly strikes me: nighttime radio is so much better than daytime fare.  The variation!  There's some grinding driving hip hop track clattering out of the radio - raw in a way that wouldn't make daytime radio.  The journey is getting good - revelations are starting to flow.  There's something very interesting in the fact that this takes 90 minutes of driving to start happening - it harks back to the idea that I stumbled upon back here - that with repetition, the analytical portion of your brain that drives it while awake is slowly decommissioned, and something much more interesting starts taking place.  Maybe this really is the revelation that the whole trip offers - but for the moment, the important thing seems to be that suddenly I'm fearing the return of daytime radio, with the tyranny of the playlists and mass appeal.

Enniskillen is reached at ten to six.  A tiny bit of traffic, but not much.  I was out of Dublin so early that everything is still closed so no breakfast roll here, which may complicate my eating an hour before water rule.  How can you surf without a breakfast roll?  I'm thinking of bacon (this is very distracting) hesitate for a millisecond, and get owned by a Micra at stoplights.  I'm supposed to be in relaxed surf mode, so I let them go, mentally wishing them well on the way.  I'm hungry.  It's very light now, I could almost switch off the headlights.  There are still some Union Jack flags flying defiantly, a reminder of how strange things have been in the past in the North.  Left for Belleek.

Reaching Eniskillen escape velocity.  By five past six I'm racing down the side of Lough Erne.  I've raced down the side of Lough Erne before, but this time, it's very different.  The sun is coming up behind it, making the whole body of water seemingly glow with early-morning radiance.  There isn't a single ripple on the water, dead calm, a hugely promising portent.  Jaw dropping beauty that I couldn't quite capture with the camera.

By six twenty-five I'm back in the Republic, and 13 miles to run to Bundoran.  I'm a huge fan of the beach at Rossnowlagh, so I go there first.  Unfortunately, the swell is too small to be causing anything more than a shoreline ripple there, so after hanging about for five minutes, it's back in the car, and down to Bundoran to have a look at Tullan Strand.

Tullan is reached around seven, and it's beyond perfect for me.  A really small swell running, not a single person there, and amazingly, not even the tiniest puff of wind. Dead calm.

The swell is so well behaved, I spend four hours in the water.  Some amazing waves (for me) caught, I even manage to weave my way through some people at a beginners surf school on a couple of waves later on, and due to the small size I'm able to manoeuvre myself all the way outside the breaking waves (still something of a novelty for me).  This means I end up sitting, bobbing in the sea, watching in amazement as 3 dolphins appear a few hundred yards out to sea, leaping completely clear of the water, arching, stretching and diving back in, slowly leaping across Donegal Bay in the sun as I sit on the board and bob up and down on top of the water.

Now, if that's not worth getting up at half three for, I have no idea what is.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Music, Waves, and Jack Russell terriers

Having not written anything for some time, there was a bundle of small stuff circulating trying to find a weak point in my brain and escape.  Normally I'd separate them into some sort of structure and blog separately about each, but seeing as they were all in there mixed up together, they can all come out mixed up together.  It's a more accurate representation, and it's been that kind of fortnight.

Frankfurt.  Musikmesse.  It's hard to believe that it's my 15th consecutive Musikmesse, but that appears to be the case.  Juggling a huge list of companies to go visit with a sudden-onset migraine on Thursday morning was no mean feat, especially given the cloud of pulsating colours occluding part of my vision - but luckily some guy in a tiny tradeshow-shop-cum-barber outlet hidden in the Starwars-like Torhaus was able to help me out by fetching from some hidden (no doubt gimp-holding) cupboard a packet of horse choking paracetamol.  They were of a mg size that I didn't previously know existed, let alone legal, and the packet and instructions were strangely all in Spanish.  The barber assured me that 1 tablet twice a day would be unlikely to kill me, so I risked swallowing one and got on with business.

There were some cool things at the show - like Club of the Knobs (an impressive beast for sure, but where might sales come from for such a monster?), and Elektron, who are now bringing out a knob upgrade kit for the Machinedrum.  This is particularly good news, as I find the knobs a bit hard and untactile - the new rubberised ones they were showing are a vast improvement.  On the downside, us existing hardware owners have to pay to get the new knobs - bah!  It should have been right in the first place, guys.  Anyway.  Nord have the Stage Piano 2 out which is rocking, and the Electro 3 HP (which stands for 'hammer action portable', obviously).  Both units look absolutely stunning, play brilliantly and sound amazing, as is typical for Nord.  I also found Innerclock Systems, who make a range of boxes for pushing and pulling MIDI Clock, MTC and Din Sync around the place.  It's for lining up old hardware with new sequencers, but it's also solved (possibly) one of my longstanding problems with how I want to play out live... more on that in the long distant future.

 A new company called Smithson Martin have a system out for DJing on a huge transparent touchscreen.  It's called "Emulator", and is basically a MIDI controller software that sits on top of Traktor.  It's as expensive as you'd expect a transparent multi-touch touchscreen to be though, and I can't see it getting bought by many normal DJs - it'll probably find a home in huge clubs full of questionable clientele, who will appreciate the DJ show.  Less lights, deeper bass cabs if you ask me.
 SPL (always the home of high-quality hardware) have a new desk out, the Neos.  This thing is an analogue summing mixer, so no EQs, no aux busses, no bells and whistles - just straight line in and mixing on to a stereo bus.  The difference - it runs internally on 120 Volts, which means it can generate astonishing amounts of headroom.  I tried it, and it's really amazing - even with all the faders maxed and everything at Spinal Tap settings, you just cannot get the desk to overload.  Even more important, with everything set to stun and nothing playing through it, you can't hear anything from the outputs - no hum, no hiss, no noise whatsoever.  Incredible quality stuff, and highly recommended for anyone looking for an external analogue summing solution.

I also stopped by the Apogee stand, where they have two pretty well judged new pieces - the Duet 2 soundcard, which is a gorgeous piece of 2-in, 2-out industrial design, and the Jam, which is a brilliantly thought out Hi-Z input for iPad etc, so you can jack your guitar in with really good quality for only $99.  Very nice stuff.  This is where the Frankfurt show got really interesting, as I met by chance Sophie Kipner from Apogee, who was able to wax lyrical about the new stuff.  I'm always a fan of finding out who is who when I get home, so running through doing the job on all the business cards from the show, I find that Sophie not only works for Apogee, she runs her own blog publishing strange and interesting illustrations and verse.  Well that's more interesting than the geek dead ends that most of the business cards lead to.  Following the rabbit through the net leads to Forth Magazine, some extended reading of which leads me to the most disturbing conclusion:  there is interesting, kooky art in LA.  To think that until now all I thought of LA was a great airport, NAMM, and some character-forming experiences at Sunset.  When randomness leads you somewhere, follow it - there might be something interesting at the end.

So back from Frankfurt and just the dog in the house for a few days plus a promising swell forecast, means a one-day return dash to the West coast chasing waves.  I've tried Tullan and never really got on with it - last time I was across, it was Rossnowlagh for the first time.

 I loved the waves, although the water quality wasn't the best.  I've tasted worse - the aforementioned Sunset being a prime example.  This time there looks like a good bit of swell, 14 feet @ 12 seconds straight out of the North West, which in my amateur judgment may be a bit beefy for Rossnowlagh, and will certainly render Tullan a train wreck.  Combined with a wind which is starting onshore, but likely to swing around from the South later, the die is cast - the South wind will be crossshore in Tullan and Rossnowlagh, but close to offshore at Streedagh, which will also be a bit more sheltered from the guts of the swell.  3 hours chase across Ireland later, I walk over the dunes at Streedagh to find that I've been spot on interpreting the forecast - there are waves heaving on to the beach, and spray ripping off the top of them in a near-offshore - beautiful!  The only thing is that instead of peeling neatly one way or another, they are closing out and slamming shut in huge sections - one of the hazards of Streedagh.

Still, first surf of the year, so into the gloriously cold water of an Irish spring, followed by 50 minutes of battling with the elements.  It would have been longer, but I started to get a strange sensation after a while - dog guilt.  I didn't know that such a thing existed.  With the rest of the family humans in Cork, and the dog home alone in Dublin, it started to feel wrong to be out there.  I'm not sure if the dog needed me home, or if I needed to be home with the dog - but it suddenly felt very far away.  Something karmic was not right, and I couldn't fight the feeling - so five minutes later I was heading back up the beach, packing up and roasting off in the car.  When I made it back to Dublin, the dog, of course, was fine (if slightly desperate to get out to the toilet) - but things were definitely better just being there.  Nearly 6 hours driving and 300 miles for only 50 minutes surfing might be considered a poor return - that's how I felt at the time - but in retrospect, it was worth it.  I even attempted (just for my own personal amusement) to pop up on the board the wrong way around on one wave - right foot forward - and didn't fall in.  Not for the first second anyway.  Something I might pursue, as being able to pop up either way around would be a huge bonus if I ever get even half good.

Being prepared to be bad at stuff seems to be a skill that we lose as we get older, which is a shame, as it's so often a prerequisite for becoming good at stuff.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Iness Mezel - "Amazone"

I heard Amazone by Iness Mezel on the unpredictable and fascinating RTE Lyric FM show, Reels to Ragas.with Gerry Godley.  It's on 7-8pm on Tuesdays, and I was putting our 7-month old to sleep upstairs, as one does.  Not with reels to ragas I might add, not exactly sleeping music good though it is.  So anyway as luck would have it I was descending the stairs tentatively baby-monitor in hand, listening for the telltale rustle-clunk-pause-scream that denotes the loss of the soother during the critical going-to-sleep phase - and for some reason this night, sleep happened before the loss-of-soother incident.  The point being, I was in the kitchen a few minutes short of 8pm, while Reels to Ragas was still on, and Mr Godley played "Amazone" as his final track.

It's been a long time since I've actually stood jaw-open at a track, but this one did it for sure.  It's tempting to describe it as a car-crash collage of styles (which implies that it's a bad thing - which it most definitely is not).  What is is, is a quite astonishing collage that (to my mind) draws the links between styles across thousands of years and thousands of miles.

It's the sound of Berber Africa looked at through a French lens, and (most compelling of all), is driven by the most African of all modern musics, pure Chicago house.  The verses are the thing - that spinning loopy 1-bar feel, and the stomp of the kick and the claps together, the echoes of ancient Africa as only Chicago made them sound, with that North African vocal floating and imploring over the top as the beat grinds away.

Thank you Iness Mezel, thank you Gerry Godley.  Cracking!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Larry Heard - "Alien"

I always forget about Larry Heard.  I'll forget for ages, and then hit on one of his old records, put it on, and I'm always blown away by how good they are.  Flirting a bit with the 'proper' musicianship side of things (I like the dislocated emotion you get from stripped machines, alright?) - he still made just jaw-dropping soundscapes.  From a production point of view, his tracks were always flawless as well - the mixes are so good, and he always chose the perfect noise for every part.  Lush.

I came across Alien by him earlier this week, and knew immediately that this was the track for Friday.  I think it's one of his greatest tracks of all time - the easy warm bassline, the open spacey pads, the clicking drum pattern, a mix that feels like there's so much space you could walk in and between all the sounds inspecting them from every angle, and piano and lead sounds draped over the top like a satin sheet.

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Blowing Bubbles

From time to time, I've had some small share stuff going on.  Nothing that's going to buy me as much as a spare tube for my bike, which I seem to need on almost an every-two-days basis at the moment (thanks everyone breaking glass in and around Dublin!) - but as a result of having shares here and there, I preferred to have them through a company that knows what they are doing.

Anyway, said company (Edward D Jones fact fans) occasionally send out letters explaining the state of the world, the markets, etc.  They don't offer to make you rich, which is one of the attractions (most people offering to make you rich actually intend to take your money and make them rich).  But I digress.  I've been trying to dig out one of the letters from Edward D Jones for ages, and I finally found it.

For context... the dot-com bubble in all stock prices Internet-related was exploding from about 1995 until 2000.  The massive collapse of this bubble in prices occurred in spring of 2000, with the NASDAQ peaking on Friday March 10th.  In the following three business days - Monday 13th - Wednesday 15th March, 9% of this peak value was erased.

In April 1999, one year before the cataclysm, I received one of the occasional missives from EDJ.  It still stands today as a spectacular example of someone keeping their heads when everyone else was losing theirs.

Future lessons from the past...


Friday, February 11, 2011

Dawn Landes - "Young Folks"

© Alex Solmssen

I came across Dawn Landes in an article about music production..... in..... Tape Op.  The name may come as no relief to you, but I've spent the last *month* trying to remember after losing the magazine!  Anyway, I digress and I've hardly even started.  Landes has done a great deal of production and engineering herself, and really knows her stuff.

She's also got a great voice, writes great tunes, and radiates unaffected believable love of music.  Here in honour of her brilliantness, are three Dawn Landes tunes for Friday.  Well, actually two of them are the same tune, Young Folks.  One version sung with young folks, and the other version sang with old folks.  Pretty cool huh?  And in fact Young Folks isn't even her tune.

Alright already, here's 1 Dawn Landes tune for Friday, and 2 different versions of Dawn Landes singing someone else's tune for Friday.  Pedants.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Black Dub - "The Birth of Bellavista Nights"

I came across the Black Dub project following a feature in the latest Sound on Sound.  Black Dub is the latest project from Daniel Lanois, who produced The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby and a stack of other U2 and non-U2 stuff.

From Sound on Sound:
One very noticeable feature that unites both Le Noise and Black Dub is that they appear to be painted with fairly broad brush-strokes, using raw, free performances. In the past, Lanois has been responsible for his fair share of layered, very detailed, almost perfectionist records, works that seem to embody his one‑time adage that an image of beauty is greatly enhanced by the introduction of a piece of grit. On Le Noise and Black Dub Lanois appears to have reversed his maxim: they sound more like grit greatly enhanced by pieces of beauty.
“Thank you for noticing the qualities of grit and freedom in these new albums,” replies Lanois. “I like the broad brush-stroke analogy. It’s a very painterly way of looking at things, and I love for music to have pictures. That part of my work has never changed: I like things to be cinematic. I also think that the detail is always there in my work."

Lanois has always had interesting idea about music and art, and how to get there, and this is no different.  There was lots of talk in the interview, both from Lanois and from his co-producer Mark Howard about the importance of capturing the actual performance of the instrument, and how the technology was really secondary to the music that you were recording.  I hadn't heard of Black Dub before, but it was enough for me to go searching.

It's interesting stuff, and here's one great example - three and a half minutes of perfectly captured guitar nestled in those Lanois delays.  Just an amazingly perfect guitar sound, a great rolling riff, and a story all in one noise.  It's the sort of thing you want to have on vinyl, with an immensely expensive hifi to play it through.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Signature SP1200 project

I've been quite lucky in salvaging a couple of things that were getting thrown out at work. Deemed surplus to requirements - one of them was an original SP1200 sampling drum machine. Killer 12-bit angry sampling, drum noises go in weedy and come out like a lump hammer. It's not hard to see why it's popular.

Then, in the course of an office clearout, I discovered that I'd also come in to possession of the full service manual for said SP1200...

Which was even more interesting. Component lists, circuit diagrams, engineering troubleshooting - everything that went into making this machine the legend that it is.

But then at the end, it got even more interesting - the credits page, not present in the end-user manual (not the end-user manual I have anyway).

I pondered over that list of people responsible for this most legendary of machines. Then I realised that I had buried in the house at home (another thing I got in trouble for bringing home!) - an unused overlay for the SP1200.

Never before stuck on a machine. Virginal. Still with the sticky back ready to go.

So this has me thinking. What if I could rustle up everyone on the list of original SP1200 credits? I know where to find four of them right now, another guy I'm sure I can track down through the first four - and I think I've located another four, which would leave only four heads to find.

What if I could get the overlay to them all individually?

What if they all signed it, and got it back to me, and I pulled off the overlay on my SP1200, and stuck the signed overlay on it?

Would I then have an SP1200, signed by the entire original team that put the machine together?

Is it just me, or would that be not only unique, but a physical piece of music and sampling history?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Lykke Li - "I'm Good, I'm Gone"

It's Portuguese Government Bond auction time! But more about that later.

I've liked Lykke Li for a long time. Really, really good tunes, good singing, and catchy without being infuriatingly annoying. Music that (hopefully, probably) will still sound good in 10 years - and that's the trick.

It's also great to see someone who can *really* actually do it - who has real musical talent. You can tell the difference - the people who are trying less, and still producing more. The people who can do it without any technology fixing their mistakes and polishing out the human element. The ones who can just sing, with no amplification, and convince you.

Here's Lykke Li, in a toilet, no amplification, and again the song just shines through. I'm not sure about the need for the spoons, taps, etc, but when you're a kooky Scandi, you can get away with anything.

Happy New Year!