Mon, 25 Jan 2010

Golden Section - Jumping the Gun (1993).

Almost two decades ago, when I was at university I played bass guitar in a couple of rock bands; Golden Section and Fishtank. Both bands playing an all original set although Golden Section did cover a song by Fishtank and Fishtank had a song without lyrics but found by accident that the lyrics to the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" worked, despite our melody being different.

Recently one of my bands mates in Golden Section posted a video of Golden Section playing live at the Palais Hotel in Newcastle (Australia) in 1993. The first real glimpse of me playing bass is at 1:10.

Playing in Golden Section was just so much fun! Working up to the 1991 Newcastle University Band Competition (which we won) we were rehearsing twice a week and as a result reached a state where the band synced like clockwork. We could play light and reasonably heavy (Fishtank was heavier) and we were even a bit funky on certain songs.

I absolutely loved playing in this band. Good times, good memories.

Posted at: 22:04 | Category: Music | Permalink

Sat, 31 Jan 2009

Leonard Cohen Concert (28/01/2009).

[Leonard Cohen]
Photo : Jon Reid (SMH)

I was introduced to the magic of Leonard Cohen's music when I was fifteen years old. I have now been listening to that music for two thirds of my life and on Wednesday night I got to see him in concert at the Sydney Entertainment Center.

Although he is 74 years old, Cohen gave a amazing performance backed by a nine piece band of exceptional musicians. He even played acoustic guitar on a few tracks himself. The first set was an hour long and the second, including encores, was one hour and 40 minutes.

As long time fan, I knew the vast majority of the songs they played and more importantly the favourites were all there; from earlier songs like "Suzanne" through to a large slab of the album "Various Positions" the one I consider to be his best.

Highlights of the evening for me were "Suzanne", "Tower of Song", "Bird on a Wire", "Everybody Knows", "A Thousand Kisses Deep", "Take This Waltz" and "So Long Marianne". The most moving song of the night was a personal favourite of mine, "If It Be Your Will". Cohen started it by reciting the prayer-like lyrics and then handed it over to two of his backing vocalists, the Webb Sisters who completed it. The two women sang beautifully with a sparse backing of acoustic guitar, harp and organ. You can get an idea of how spellbinding this was from the video of a very similar performance at London's Royal Albert Hall.

The day after the concert I googled a bit and found that Cohen has been touring since mid 2008 and that the shows have been receiving close to universally rapturous reviews ( Dublin, Manchester, Italy, Berlin and many many more). Personally I am not surprised. This was a truly inspired and exhilarating performance.

Posted at: 16:34 | Category: Music | Permalink

Mon, 04 Sep 2006

Ministry - Greatest Fits.

(album cover art)

Matt Palmer blogged recently about music to hack by, which reminded me of a album that I find particularly effective for some hacking tasks.

I rediscovered this album just recently when working for an employer where I simply didn't believe that the product we were working on would ever do what it was supposed to do and we still had ridiculous time constraints. I knew I was wasting my time, so I changed my goal from "producing something useful" to "producing a large bunch of high quality code with a test suite in as little time as possible". The only way for me to succeed at this later goal was to load up XMMS with some Ministry, crank the volume and crunch code.

The Greatest Fits album, released in 2001, was a compilation of Ministry's greatest hits from the period of 1987 to 2001. The genre is industrial metal; sampled machine gun drums, looped mechanical noises, heavy slabs of guitar and bass, distorted vocals and misanthropic lyrics.

I originally bought this album for the scorching cover version of Bob Dylan's gentle 1969 country ballad, "Lay Lady Lay". I quite like Dylan's version, and although Ministry's version is recognizably the same song, no one in their right mind is likely to confuse the two, dispite the fact that Ministry have kept the cowbell that gently propels the original. By way of contrast, the Ministry version is driven by a heavily distorted bass guitar pulse. The verses use slide guitar to sketch out the chord progression and the choruses use large slabs of meaty guitar chords. The finishing touch is Al Jourgensen's screaming vocals. All in all, a marvelously heady brew.

Although I bought this album for "Lay Lady Lay", its not actually my favorite track. That honor would have to go to the album's opener "What about Us?" [0]. Like many Ministry tracks, this one also uses a hypnotic bass line over chunky drums as a foundation for crazy ass slide guitar and screamed vocals. The lyrics are great; like the rantings of a very diseased mind. These lyrics, their delivery and the relentless propulsion of the bass and drums make this track a real winner.

To avoid describing the rest of the tracks I like in detail, I'll just state that others of note are "Thieves", the 10 plus minute live version of "So What", "Jesus Built My Hotrod", the frantic "Supermatic Soul", "Bad Blood" and "Supernaut".

This album is definitely not for every one, but some people might find it useful stimulus for some hacking tasks. Funny thing is that I mentioned to someone at a SLUG meeting that I was hacking to Ministry at work and they went out and bought a Ministry of Sound dance music/techno compilation. I'm pretty sure Ministry of Sound is very different from Ministry the band.

[0] While researching this blog post, I found that "What about Us?" was on the sound track to the 2001 Spielberg movie, Artificial Intelligence.

Posted at: 20:08 | Category: Music | Permalink

Thu, 06 Jul 2006

Experimental Electronic Music.

Denis Crowdy the convener of SLUG's Audio Music Special Interest Group has informed us of an upcoming performance here in Sydney by Nick Collins, author of BBCut, a beat chopping library (under the GPL) for the Supercollider (again GPL) audio synthesis and performance engine.

I always attend events like this with a great deal of optimism. Sometimes I am rewarded. Other times my reaction is along the lines of this review I wrote for some friends about an event I attended in 2004.

Hey guys,
You didn't miss much last night. Three guys performed.
The first had a guitar lying down on a table being fed through a laptop while the guy dropped things on the strings of the guitar and bashed the guitar body. Extremely "fucking tedious.
The last guy had a whole pile of stuff going on with some external controllers hooked up to an iBook. The main result was some really crappy sounding digital distortion. If it wasn't for the guitar guy I would have called this extremely fucking tedious. The presence of the first guy elevated this to merely "fucking tedious".
The second guy was significantly better than the other two. He started off with noise running through a resonant filter with the occasional echoing bleep and bloop. After about 5 minutes of this he brought in some stuff being manipulated by one of those Nintendo-like data gloves. This was border line interesting.
At no time during the night did I hear anything from the performers that was rhythmically, harmonically or melodically of any significant interest. The thing that made the most impact on me was the fact that I'm pretty sure that given enough time to develop software/ideas/whatever, I could have done significantly better even within the confines of being "experimental". In fact, I know I have created more interesting results with a guitar, a fuzzbox and a digital delay.
I'm glad I went and would probably go to another event like this because I think the chances are good that other people performing at events like this should be able to do so much better.

I hope I can make it along on Sunday.

Posted at: 22:18 | Category: Music | Permalink

Tue, 23 May 2006

Gillian Welch - Time (the Revelator)

(album cover art)

I watched a bit of Rage on Saturday night and heard a song which sent shivers up and down my spine. The song was "Time (the Revelator)" by Gillian Welch. Yesterday, Monday, I went out and bought the CD of the same name and its been on high rotation ever since. I'm stunned. This thing is just amazing.

Gillian Welch is usually listed as a country artist, but its not the lame assed, over produced, formulaic crap that people usually associate with mainstream contemporary country music. No, this is something deeper, more mysterious and more breathtaking. This is the country music of the 1930s, mixed with folk and blues and lyrics which range from timelessly tradional to contemporary.

The majority of the songs are just Gillian and her musical partner David Rawlings; two voices and two acoustic guitars. Both musicians have avoided bright, ringing, comtemporary acoustic guitar sounds and chosen instead the slightly duller, rounder, more percussive sounds of smaller bodied, tradional acoustic guitars. The guitars are simply but skillfully played. The voices croon and harmonize beautifully, but never over reach. The excessively florid vocal gymnastics of singers like Whitney Houston are completely absent.

This is music stripped down to the bare essentials; music which maximizes its impact on the listener by use of understatement and subtlty. This is one of the most impressive things I've heard in a long time.

Posted at: 20:52 | Category: Music | Permalink