Mondegreen Trasho


I celebrate turning 21 (thousand hits)...with a movie that is blue. And systemic.

Sing along, I dare you.

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Music: Doctor Mabuse by Blue System.
Lyrics: Transcribed by cloth ears.

The Road to Kamakura


I met Nick online, six years ago on Songfight. He was kind enough to send me an appreciative email about one of my forays into triphop, and after a few weeks we collaborated on some tracks.

He with no musical training but an instinctive ability to sing and play guitar, keyboards and drums, plus lots of studio experience. And me with, erm, lots of theory and no practical knowledge. He encouraged me to try singing and writing songs - and it's thanks to him that I'm still trying to do that now.

He also had a band - Kamakura. I've heard their demos, seen them play live, carried their amplifiers up a staircase...and now had a sneak preview of their new album, Dealing with Liquids.

You can get your own smaller sneak preview at their website, largely under construction but coming soon. The least I can do is write a review.

1) Courage

How many ways are there to be in love with someone you can't have? I don't know either, but it's a recurrent Kamakura theme, and the album kicks off with one variation.

Shuffling downtempo hiphop backbeat, crisp strummed acoustic guitar, big electric guitar chords on the chorus, and a drawbar organ thickening the harmonies...from the description it sounds like updated prog rock, down to the leftfield spoken samples and spacy synth effects at the end.

The reason it sounds like that, is that's broadly what it is. There's even an extended pregnant chord on a fair imitation of an ARP Solina, straight out of that song about Crazy Shining Diamonds.

There's four decades of influences on this disc, melded together surprisingly harmoniously, into something that sounds a bit like a lot of other bands, but not very like any of them.

Putting this track first was the right choice. It's the earworm.

2) Pink Skirts

Nick does anguish well. In song I mean - think Andy Bell's intonations in David Bowie's voice. But this song isn't about hopeless love or broken hearts at all - and actually I think it suffers from it.

The instrumentation is piano driven, building with rock ballad guitars and understated synth chords. There's also a bridge featuring odd wailing backing voices a la Dark Side of the Moon.

Maybe I just like miserable songs, but the happy message, whimsically clunky lyrics ("Though I'm not a synesthete, if you could turn your smiling face into a colour, the colour would be gold") and meandering structure make it feel aimless, unfinished.

3) Piece of the Heat

This and "Courage" both started as Songfight challenges - as did "Sincerity Machine", "Gin or Ginseng" and "Spring of Teal". My piece of heat song was a falsetto suicide story which no one seemed to get. This one's about...seamy and steamy Lust.

With an anthemic sing-along chorus that just begs for a slightly stoned crowd in flowery shirts to sway with their hands in the air.

4) Sincerity Machine

More Lust, more anguish, more hopeless emotion. Ever met someone in a chatroom and talked each other into considering a plane ticket so you can shag/live together?

I didn't realise when I heard the rough demo years ago, how smart the lyrics are. "Getting jiggy by broadband is just the latest way to wreck your life.". "Who's playing who in this minefield of online desire?".

Musically it's on the bare side, with just rock and bass stabs in the verses, with the now familiar real drums, acoustic and electric strums, drawbar and piano kicking in for the chorus, with occasional electronic noises, and a stripped down singing-harmonies-with-self bridge.

Here's a live version I filmed:

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5) Gin or Ginseng

There's no love like the first. Which means there's no loss like the first either. And if you never quite fall out of love, you never quite recover from losing it.

The tempo is just a few BPM slow for me - something which I find in about half the songs on the CD.

6) One Voice

A power ballad - albeit with a chillout beat - with long screaming guitar solo, and slow building to multiple peaks.

A Kamakura power ballad , which means bathos in the lyrics ("One small voice...tells me the truth, no matter how much it hurts. Everybody needs someone to wash their shirts") and melancholy in the singing.

7) Spring of Teal

Contrast with "Gin or Ginseng". Online love is insane, but sometimes it's real love, and all love is insane anyway.

I find it odd that this most heartfelt song should end with a little coda of the musicians laughing in the studio.

Live:

video

8) Train

I'm thinking...Genesis circa 1978. Sound effects, long intro, scratchy electric guitar breaks punctuating vocal segments, and musical twiddles borrowed from folk rock.

The mood of the lyrics is optimistic, reflected in the jaunty, jolly, somewhat jazzy piano line.

Albums may no longer have A sides and B sides, but they do often divide into two approximate halves, with different moods. This marks the start of side B - more mellow and happy than side A.

9) Love Song

There's a very particular close echoing reverb on the vocals that Roxy Music liked to use with Bryan Ferry on uptempo tracks like Virginia Plain. They've got it here.

The live version...doesn't have Brian Eno's production tricks:

video

10) Hey Kids

It's a 70s show tune!

One of the tricks used at various points on the album is to alternate lines between a clean single voice, and phased, chorused, falsetto backing vocals like a psychedelic Beegees. Here it's the main structuring principle of the song.

The rock chords are a little odd, cutting out and in at rhythmically jarring moments. I think this is also the most Aladin Sane-like track.

11) Joanna

Begins with dark bass piano, slow triphop beat, arpegiations from one of those two-ton four-grand 70s synths that sound like a 90s video game...then transitions in and out of the relaxed sound of the previous three tracks.

12) Dealing with Liquids

Ah, the title track. The one which is supposed to glue all the others together.

Also, the final track, the traditional place for the song which doesn't fit anywhere else.

It's both. A frantically sequenced bleeping drawbar organ, supporting a thoughtful, simple song...intersperced with spoken word and washing sci-fi sound effects.

Overall...

Emotional singing has to be done very well or not at all - because if it's done badly, it sounds insincere and annoying. At every moment, it sounds sincere.

Some songs are more memorable than others - "Courage", "One Voice", "Spring of Teal" - but I wouldn't call any of them filler. As you can tell, I did run out of things to say for the later tracks though.

You couldn't describe the Kamakura sound as minimal, but it never gets thick. Every instrument is cleanly delineated, even under the dominant vocal. More Alan Parsons Project than The Who.

The result is that, although all the frequency bands are well represented because the producer knew what he was doing, it never gets really big - and there were times when I think it could have done with more layering, or a single instrument cutting aggressively through a bath of backing.

Kamakura describe themselves as an indie band. Well, I'm of the generation that thinks of indie as the ground between My Bloody Valentine and the pop incarnation of The Beloved.

I'd say this is a mellow sounding - but emotionally raw - updated prog rock album, filling the gap between the chilled lounge sound and bands like Coldplay and Snow Patrol.

Weird for Sound


Okay, here's me talking about writing for singing.

A few apologies are in order, for:

  • Being so slow in doing this
  • Recording it with a crappy microphone
  • Hitting a slight technical hitch halfway through


So, consider this part one, with part two to follow, um, soon - when I've recreated a few files I've somehow managed to delete.

And if it makes no sense at all, at least you can watch the clouds go by.

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Dumb Contest - Winner!




We Have A Weiner!



But apart from that, we have a winner too!

So, after my night in the pub after a political meeting, we had nine stupid utterances, and four stupid utterers. And if that's not the word, it's close.

Your challenge was to match the quote to the dope - and win a slightly crap very cheap fabulous prize.

There were three entrants, and here they are, together with the answers.

[Pulls back the sparkly curtain to reveal answers]
































































123456789
AethelreadAACBBCBCA
EroswingsCCBAABACA
CamyBBBCAACBA
AnswersAAACBABCA


Eroswings got 1 and Camy got 3. Thanks for playing along in our guessing game disguised as a real game guys - your guesses are appreciated. The two ladies Roses and Household Goddess very sensibly declined to play and gave us astonished WTF?s instead. which means our winner is...Aetheleadtheunred, with 4!

So here's who really said what:

Socialists

(4) Most teachers think they have a right to sex with their students.

(7) Homosexuality was declassified as a mental disorder at the same time as a conservative government was in power, therefore conservatives don't hate gays.



History Student

(5) Politicians always try to do what's right, and aren't in it for the money.

(8) It's impossible to redistribute wealth because there's always a dictator at the top of the process.



Politics Student:

(1) Everyone who's rich deserves to be rich. Everyone who's poor deserves to be poor. Unless they're former rich people who lost it all - then they're just unlucky.

(2) There's no such thing as luck. Everyone has the same opportunities in life.

(3) To eradicate homophobia and racism, just wait 50 years - because history always goes from worse to better. It's a cast iron law.

(6) It's not wrong for someone to murder you if you're gay in Pakistan, because that's their culture. It's wrong in the UK because it's our culture.

(9) If Rupert Murdoch earns a million times as much as someone else, it's because he works a million times as hard. Literally.



From which we can conclude the following:

  • The politics student is the most fuckwitted of all, by far.

  • Socialists can cluck their tongues and wag their fingers along with the Daily Fail readers.

  • Socialists, in their love of nuance and detail, can completely miss the big picture.

  • Historians may or may not have sensible ideas about periods and countries they've studied, but where they haven't studied, they're just as confused and dim as everyone else.

    You might think learning about one period or country would cast light onto another, but not here. You might think people who learn about history might learn from history, but evidently not.

  • Being grossly ignorant, painfully stupid and willfully blind about politics doesn't prevent you from enrolling on a course in political studies. It just prevents you benefiting from it.

  • Educating idiots produces educated idiots. Mainly because the definition of an idiot isn't someone who can't understand, but someone determined not to try.


Which just leaves the question of the grand prize. Aethelread gets to chose the subject of my next post, which will be...an audio post! And as an extra added bonus, he gets to tell me which background music to use.

So come on Aethel, what's it going to be?

Dumb Contest



And now, Kapitano's Kompetition Korner!



I had four conversations today, each with someone who made one or more deeply fuckwitted claims. One was a student of politics, one a student of history, and the other two longtime socialists.

Your challenge is to match up the claims with who made them. Here are the claims:

(1) Everyone who's rich deserves to be rich. Everyone who's poor deserves to be poor. Unless they're former rich people who lost it all - then they're just unlucky.

(2) There's no such thing as luck. Everyone has the same opportunities in life.

(3) To eradicate homophobia and racism, just wait 50 years - because history always goes from worse to better. It's a cast iron law.

(4) Most teachers think they have a right to sex with their students.

(5) Politicians always try to do what's right, and aren't in it for the money.

(6) It's not wrong for someone to murder you if you're gay in Pakistan, because that's their culture. It's wrong in the UK because it's our culture.

(7) Homosexuality was declassified as a mental disorder at the same time as a conservative government was in power, therefore conservatives don't hate gays.

(8) It's impossible to redistribute wealth because there's always a dictator at the top of the process.

(9) If Rupert Murdoch earns a million times as much as someone else, it's because he works a million times as hard. Literally.


And here are the people:

(A) Politics Student
(B) History Student
(C) Either Socialist


Just match up the letters with the numbers. Answers in 48 hours, and the prize is...um...

...oh I know. I'll do a special audio blogpost, and you decide on the subject! And the background music!

So don't delay, match the stupid person to the stupid comment, and win a not very good prize!

La La La, Blah Blah Blah


I've been reading about singing. There's a lot of opinions out there, a lot of blogs, youtube videos, and expensive courses - all claiming to teach you to sing "the natural way", though they all have a different idea what that is.

But I've learned a few things:

  • Singing too soon after eating makes you burp. Yep, I discovered that too - start singing less than 2 - 3 hours after a meal and you won't believe how much air comes bubbling up from your stomach - usually at just the right time to ruin a perfectly good take.

  • All that stuff about drinking honey tea soothing the vocal cords, or coffee and nuts furring them up, is a load of old toss. In fact, it's so obviously a load of old toss that I deserve to be hit over the head with a wet haddock for ever believing it. The only way any food or drink would come into contact with your larynx is if you choke on it.

  • A lot of new courses are bunk from 200 years ago, repackaged as amazing new scientific discoveries. There's stuff about "singing from the diaphragm", which is anatomically impossible and doesn't even refer to a misleading subjective sensation of the voice resonating down there. And there's "singing into the mask", which so far as I can tell means shaping your jaw, tongue and velum so as to make it feel like you voice is resonating in your nose.

    Oh yes, all these years I thought I was pronouncing "G" and "K" by pressing my tongue against the back of the roof of my mouth and snapping it away...I was actually lowering my soft palate onto my tongue. The roof of your mouth has muscles in it - that's quite cool.

  • Most people speak - and sing - in a "chest voice", so called because it feels a bit like the resonance is in the chest. There's also the "head voice" where it feels like the buzzing is in your head - think Richard O'Brien in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. There's a "super-head" or "whistle" tone which I don't understand, and one or more "middle" or "mixed" voices between head and chest - think cartoon characters and the muppets.

  • The old school say low notes go in chest voice, high notes in head voice, and in between there's a "break" of about half an octave where it's impossible to sing in either - your range and break depend on your physiology. And to bridge the gap, you've got to develop a middle voice.

  • The new school says that's rubbish - all ranges are available in all voices. Everyone has one or more "breaks" which can be overcome with practice and not trying to force it with shouting.

  • You know how some singers have a kind of "gritty" or "sandy" tone when they sing? And you know how teenagers sound when when they moan "Awwww Muuuuum!"? Same process. The vocal cords are pressed together but not firmly, so although the main oscillations along the whole length are regular, there are random minor ones where air leaks through momentary gaps.

  • You can train your vocal cords to pinch together tightly halfway up, so only the looser half vibrates - and that's how Jimmy Somerville sings counter-tenor.

  • The currently fashionable approach to teaching singing is called "Speech Level Singing", and it begins with the quite reasonable premise that speaking well and singing well are essentially the same process. Though it does assume that people speak well naturally - which I'm pretty sure they don't.

    Before abandoning the idea and replacing it with...actually I don't know, because I haven't spent $200 an hour a day for six months to find out.


Anyway, I've decided all I want from my singing at the moment is to hit the right note. So I've got some free software to tell me when I'm off-key.

...with a Single Bound


I think I've been bitten by a radioactive website designer.

Because I now know just enough CSS to have a two column website design, just enough PHP for a mailsend form, and just enough Javascript to have a randomly selected graphic display next to a navigation bar made of reusable external code.

And I know about three different kinds of margin a block of text can have, which is nice. Still haven't been bitten by ASP though.

Now remind me what I wanted a website for?

The Mists are Clearing...


There ought to be a word for the kind of situation where you know exactly how it's going to end, but you're obliged to go through it anyway.

You know what's going to happen if you go out for a "quick drink" - you'll be staggering home blind drunk six hours later. You know what'll happen if you go for a brisk healthy walk that includes that road with all the fish and chip shops - you'll walk home with indigestion and high cholesterol.

I think most love affairs are the same, but you still start them knowing they'll end in a few months with blame and accusing rumours flying about like hornets in a honey factory. And you'll having a "quick drink" to make yourself feel better.

Well, last week someone wanted me to "have a look" at their computer. The machine's seven years old, and runs Windows 98. Yes. And the owner wants to upgrade to XP. Now I know perfectly well I'll end up telling him he needs a new computer - a laptop for preference - and I'll end up selecting it for him, probably installing the operating system and giving a quick lesson - instantly forgotten - on how to use it.

But before that I have to get there. Which involves catching a train and then a taxi...which goes straight and speedy to the street with the same name in the wrong town. And then after some confused mapreading to the right street, doubling the fare - all fares reimbursed, of course.

In the right house, I'm introduced to the wife - an Armenian lady with fluency in Arabic and a Russian soul - and the computer. I go through the motions of trying to backup the data to USB stick and installing his copy of XP. Except the single USB port isn't working...and the installation process produces a Blue Screen Of Death with the ever-so-helpful message "Your computer has encountered a problem".

TinyXP? BSOD. MicroXP? BSOD. Boot into DOS? Wont. Shan't.

Okay, so he needs a new computer. Can he buy a new one over the internet? Well he could...but he's only got dial-up and it's a painfully slow process to register, select and order. Oh and it needs and email address and he hasn't got one.

Yes, you read that right. In 2010, he's on dial-up. Without email. Running Windows 98.

So could he go to the computer shop and get a new one? Well he could...but it's an hour's drive away...and he hasn't got a car.

Right. How about I go home, purchase the new laptop, install XP, take it around over the weekend, take apart the old computer, transfer the contents of its hard drive onto the laptop...and get reimbursed for everything. That sounds like a plan - oh and could I just get the printer working too?

The printer is an laserjet affair large enough to use as a stool and loud enough to make pneumatic drill operators complain about the noise. It was first prize in a raffle. Without installation CD or instruction manual.

As the wife said, if you win a rope do you hang yourself? You see what I mean about the Russian soul.

So at least I know what I'll be doing over the next few days. And I've known since last week.

Sod the Dratted Thing


I have spent the last week reading ebooks on CSS, and experimenting with style sheets.

I'm duly impressed with what it can do, and decidedly unimpressed with its ability to do what I want without resorting to messy kludges that don't even work on all browsers.

It should be quite simple to center graphics vertically in a window, and have musical info arranged in repeating sections - one section for each song - down the page with blurb in a left column and lyrics on the right. And it should be easier to do these things in shiny new CSS than in rusty old HTML.

But it isn't. I can do these things with DIVs and classes, but it gets just as knotted as doing it with table rows and elements. Using DIVisions embedded three deep to recreate the effect of a single deprecated HTML tag - "valign" - isn't what I call elegant.

Well, there comes a time when you stop trying to make the technology do what you want, and start selecting what you can live with from what the technology can do. If you can't make your guitar sound like Jimi Hendrix, you explore what you can make it sound like - and if you're lucky, you invent a distinctive new sound that'll get you legions of adoring fans.