I've always had mentors. Usually men, usually older, people who taught me how to think about something, but not what to think.
The first real one was David Palmer, an english teacher who taught me far more outside of the classroom than in it - about art, history, literature, and the way politics and academia really works.
One of the few "grownups" who treated us teenagers as capable of rational thought - not that we always were - and who listened when we knew about something he didn't.
It was him who suggested I "try reading some philosophy", on what may have been our first meeting. I think the last time we met, he predicted I'd end up one of those people who never got a degree, but was always in demand as an expert.
In a strange way he was right - though ten years later I eventually got a masters in his field - art history. A subject I still know almost nothing about - I spent the whole course reading some philosophy instead.
I admit I did rather monopolise his time - even when he had better things to do, like helping a suddenly homeless older student get his life back. The student later became another mentor, and another one was the ex-boyfriend of Mr Palmer's daughter, which is probably quite strange.
Yes, he died recently. On January 5th, and I just heard about it. He must have been 82 or thereabouts. I always meant to thank him, but never got around to it. I think he knew anyway.
I'm supposed to be a teacher, right?
Well, here's me on youtube, trying to teach about music technology.
If you've never head of Adobe Audition, don't know what EBM is or aren't sure about pitch and frequency, these may mean nothing at all to you. But assuming they're not complete gobbledegook...are they useful non-gobbledegook?
Or interesting, watchable, listenable...and worth doing more? I need your guidance.
Computer technology is very good at holding and transmitting large amounts of information. It's just not much good at holding on to it.
I have around 250 CDRs of mp3s, made over the last decade. It comes to about 100GB, which would make for maybe 65 days continuous play. At some point I started putting new mp3s on DVDR, and there's now 70 of them, which at at rough calculation comes to c.300GB.
The thing is, DVDRs last about 5 years before becoming unreadable - assuming the actual burning process doesn't fail, which it seems to 1 time out of 5. A photocopier which gave you a blank sheet one copy out of 5 would not sell well.
Good CDRs might last 10 years, which means my oldest archives will fail soon, and some have indeed started. As for blu-ray...I don't high hopes for its durability at all.
So is there anything better? Something that I can at least rely on for the next 10 years and don't have to keep out of sunlight, and won't be destroyed by stray biscuit crumb or fingerprints, for christ's sake?
Oh, and could it possibly have some way of removing duplicated or redundant files easily?
The answer is...yes, sort of. It's a hard disc. An external one, independently powered and connected by USB, and serving no other purpose than holding backups. You don't run programs on it, you don't run an operating system off it, you don't actually use it very often. You just put files on it that you want to keep for a long time without changing...and when your CDRs and DVDs fail, you use. Possibly to make new CDRs and DVDRs.
So that's my birthday indulgence to myself. GBP90 for 1.5TB. I'll say that again - one and half terabytes. The fact that such devices exist and are sold to ordinary consumers shows how many
All of which means I've spent the last three days doing nothing but copy CDRs into a little grey box 8x5''. And removing a few GBs worth of duplicates. Next comes the stage of "removing stuff I'm absolutely, positively, never going to want, or which has been superseded by stuff on the DVDRS"...
...and then start work on the DVDRs.
Incidentally, my brother - who's made a career out of being the expert the experts go to when they need expert advice - has given up on the idea of keeping backups outside the computer at all.
He just stores everything on absurdly large internal hard discs.
Do you remember mp3.com? The original mp3.com, not the pale pretend version we've got now.
Before they cut the service down the nothing, shut down their European servers and started treating customers like shit - and going bankrupt - they had some cool features - like Recommendation Radio. It was like, "Do you like genre X? Well here's some recently uploaded good tracks you might like".
Well, I was going through some of my old archives, and I found a few hundred of these recommended tracks that I'd downloaded. I got them on January 30th 2001, almost exactly nine years ago. Here's the track listing for the Trip Hop "channel":
Soma Sonic - Crazy Moon
Ikarus - Touched the Sun
Electrostatic - Reflection
Trancenden - Scenes from New York
Full Blown Kirk - Mars
Khurson - Mr Shakra
Voice of the Sallelites - What You Gonna Do
Myrtle - Not Quite Here
Girl Next Door - Gorgeous
Dustlab - Seenz
Sonus - No Egress
Soma sonic - Falling
Silverman - Love Me Too
Market - M6
303-reactor - 303-Agression
10 Watt Mary - Superfly
Dustlab - Over the Line
Transient - Emmel Haw Forte Forte
The Fur Ones - French Bread
Full Blown Kirk? I think they're still around. Same for 303 Reactor. Ikarus and The Fur Ones have respectable followings today.
Others, like Substructure, Not Applicable and Gorgrous Girl, had big fanbases on mp3.com, but seemingly went nowhere after it ended.
PPK had a great following - then got a label contract and deleted their page. My old friends Abney Park have gone from strength to strength - thanks in no part whatsoever to the track I contributed to their remix album.
My track's the one they got the name wrong, and dropped from later pressings. Ah well.
When I was 10 I wanted to be an actor. Well, actually I wanted to be the actor who played the maniacally laughing criminal mastermind. In fact, I think I wanted to be Anthony Ainley, hamming it up madly as The Master on Dr Who.
When I was 20 I wanted to be a philosopher. I read lots of books about it - mainly the empiricist and related traditions, with smatterings of Heidegger, Schopanhaur and Sartre. Computer people are often into philosophy, but for some reason it doesn't work the other way around.
When I was 30 I wanted to be 20. I also wanted to be thin and living somewhere else.
Now I'm in hailing distance of 40, I want to be...a synthpop duo. Somewhere between Yazoo and Yello. Maybe the Pet Shop Boys - who are in their 40s.
People keep telling me life begins at 40. But they're all over 60 and have boring lives.
Of course, I did spend 20 straight hours yesterday changing the pitch of 400 snippets of noise, and some people might consider that boring.
But we were never being boring.
Technician isn't so much a job description as a mindset. Or a lifestyle.
A lifestyle composed mainly of:
- Slowly figuring out how to do things quickly
- Clumsily figuring out how to do things elegantly, and
- Painfully figuring out how to do things easily
FAWM is coming up, and I'd like to have a crack at it - assuming life doesn't get in the way and mess things up. I'd got some synths, some synthy drums, a recording setup, some plugins for production, and even a vaguely witty title for the collection. Don't have any songs yet but...well, that's part of the point.
Now, I like to put snippets of dialogue from film and TV into music, but as FAWM is all about doing things quickly - 14 songs in 28 days - I'll take all the samples from one half hour TV show. Like, for instance, a classic episode of The Twilight Zone.
Download the episode...no problem, even though I'm not supposed to be able to. Extract the audio...hmmm.
The easy way to do it is to play the episode in one program, while recording the output sound in another. Easy, but not very elegant, and there's a marginal loss in sound quality.
But wait, I've got a little program designed specifically to extract the audio from FLV files. And it does it. Except this particular soundtrack isn't in MP3 or RA - it's in AAC, a format which, had it been invented a decade earlier, would have made sure no one would now have heard of MP3s. No one except people like me, anyway.
But I can't work with AACs directly, so I've got to find a program to convert them to WAV. I'll ask Mr Google. Mr Google knows everything - even more than Mr Wikipedia.
Mr Google gives me lots of lists of free programs that'll do it. Unfortunately
- Actually they won't
- Actually they're not free
- A lot of them don't exist anymore but are still listed
Welcome to the world of websites that use badly written automatic software to create lists of other software and list the lists on Mr Google.
Oh-kay. I used a program called Goldwave years ago, and from what I hear it's got really good in the meantime - able to read and convert every audio format you can think of. And there's a free demo version from the site.
Find, download, install, run...and yes it looks really impressive. And yes it can import lots of formats. But not AAC. Huh.
Oh I know what to do! Dariusoft make some very highly regarded conversion software, and I read somewhere they do a free AAC converter. Great, problem solved - go to their website and get the proggy.
Which seems not to be free anymore. But there is a demo version, so I get that, and install it on my virtual machine like I do with all new or transient software, just for security and easy removability. Install and run...and it's missing a DLL file.
Sigh. Go to dll-files.com to get the file, copy it over to the virtual machine, put it in the installation folder, and run the program. Ah, it's also missing another DLL file. Get that, run the program and ask it to convert my ACC files.
This is the point it chooses to inform me that, this only being the demo version, it'll only convert the first minute. Great, thanks for letting me know.
And so I...play the ACC files in one program while recording the sound in another.
So there I have it. Half an hour of eminently sampleable and recontextualisable speech to make my songs just a little bit more interesting.
And that, my friends, is the technician lifestyle.
EDIT: Yes, afterwards I did find a program I downloaded months ago and forgot about, that does exactly the right job. And yes, it was while looking for something else.
You know my greatest failing? Patience.
I once spent two years waiting for a relationship to start working. In my early 20s I sat through interminable sessions of "spiritual healing" and "christian fellowship", waiting for some semblance of something worth believing in - or even comprehensible - to be said. And I once sat through a year's worth of theology classes waiting for them to be about something besides internecine squabbles in the early church.
I've been known to spend a year waiting for inspiration to strike to finish a half written story. One time I waited 18 months for a returned phone call - from someone whose last words the previous night were "I love you", and whose words 18 months later were "I hate you".
There's someone I've known for 20 years, who I've been waiting to take the hint that sneering at everyone in the world gets old very quickly. I spent 7 years waiting for my parents to grasp that I knew more about me being gay than they did - I would have waited longer but they decided to develop amnesia on the whole issue.
I wonder how many of us spend our lives waiting for our lives to start. Or rather, I wonder how few don't.
So, having spent the first half of my life being patient - and how the fuck did I get to be halfway through already? - I think the second half calls for some impatience. Not least on the grounds that it may not be a full half.
I've made a start.
I've been busy. But it's not the interesting kind of busy where you do lots of interesting things - it's the dull kind of busy where you do lots of boring things so you can do the interesting things in the future. Also called "Preparation".
That's probably the difference between "having a full life of stuff" and "having a life full of stuff".
This is some of it:
- I moved my embryonic musical blog to blogger. One dot com offer a pretty good combined hosting/domain package, but the blogging part of that package...does not partake of that goodness. It's slow, limited and limiting.
So now I've moved my musical musings to a new home. And I challenge you not to groan at the name.
- I started making instructional videos for YouTube. The most difficult part of which was finding a video editing program which didn't crash all the time.
The other most difficult part was describing how to do something and why I was doing it at the same time as doing it, under the entirely spurious performance pressure of a screen recorder. Odd how it's difficult to remember and talk and do all at the same time.
Anyway, this will be unleashed upon the world properly...a little later.
- A lot of technical stuff involving frequency analysis, windows registry editing, and graphical plugins.
Would you like to know what I'm wearing?
* Two pairs of socks
* One pair of fluffy slipper
* Two pairs of sweatpants - one under the other
* Two teeshirts
* A fluffy dressing gown
* One woolly hat.
There's been snow outside for four days, there's heaters on in every room, there's two duvets over an electric blanket on my bed, we're all dressed up like michelin men...and it's still bloody freezing.
This, by the way, is why I don't especially want to live in Canada.
Now, you know how the default token gift for christmas or birthday is supposedly socks? If there's a relative you see once or twice a year, you're supposed to exchange socks with them at christmas - at least according to self-proclaimed "Normal" people I've met.
Well it's my birthday next week and I want a dozen of the thickest, woolliest, normalest, warmest socks in the world.
I've found the best way to get a flurry of new ideas about something...is to finish development and prepare to announce it to the world.
This guarantees some insight or brainwave which kickstarts the whole development process over again. Often in the form of some overlooked factor which turns everything else on it's head.
If you want to have a brilliant new idea for the look of your website, finish implementing the previous idea and load your FTP program ready to upload the result. As soon as you log on, you'll be inspired with an idea of how to redesign it much better - and the better the inspiration, the more of the week's work you'll have to throw away and start again from scratch.
The same goes for the range of virtual synthesisers, the collection of filtered-noise drum samples you've been working on, the portable version of Photoshop you hardly use...and the arrangement of cables which gives you a kettle next to your laptop.
Speaking of which, I've just had an idea.
I spent a large portion of today biting a pillow and trying not to make a lot of noise.
It's to give me gravel, you see.
I was trying to record a little rap, but I wanted gravelly vocals. And the way to get a growly gravelly voice is to hurt the vocal cords. And the way to do that is to shout quite a lot. Either that or smoke three packs of cigarettes a day for twenty years, but I'm told that's got side effects. But anyway, I didn't want to make a lot of noise, so I tried shouting into the pillow.
You see? There's a perfectly sensible explanation.
Unfortunately it didn't work very well, and after quite a lot of throat abuse I wasn't notably guttural. So instead I've gone for "telephone vocals" - where the vocalist really can phone in their performance.
Tomorrow it's the hymn. So I go from pillowbiter to choirboy. Such a varied life I lead.