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!