Archive for January, 2009

Fun with an omnichord

January 31, 2009

This is what I did today:

omni-open-trim

An omnichord really is an amazing instrument. I’m amazed at how much you can get out of something which only makes two different sounds. Today I took mine apart and started circuit bending it using my bare hands (hence the batteries – I don’t want to die of electricity). The results are pretty exciting. You can really ‘play’ it by learning with bits of solder do what when you touch link them with your fingers. I guess you’ll hear the results at some point when I re-jig it into a song.

In the meantime why not watch this old video of me playing it in a graveyard…

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Bearded Magazine

January 29, 2009

bearded1

There’s an interview with me in the newly re-launched Bearded Magazine. It’s rather good and features a nice drawing of a moose – which confused me for a moment until I remembered what I’d been talking to them about. You can get it from their website beardedmagazine.co.uk or from WHSmith and Borders stores.

Bearded is a young magazine with a fiercely independent ethos. Part of their mission statement reads:

“Bearded’s editorial direction is not dictated by advertisers, distributors or anybody else that might generate monetary support. It is put together exclusively by music lovers for music lovers – like a conversation in a pub, but with much nicer paper.”

and part of this month’s editorial says:

“It’s about offering people who sell fifty records a year the chance to sell sixty five.”

I wholeheartedly support their ethos and I look forward to my fifteen additional sales.

Suggested Reading

January 26, 2009

Okay here are some books I read recently which I heartily recommend.

books They’re all in a vaguely ‘get fired up about the world’ sort of vein. I’m listing them in the order I recommend reading them in.

Bad Science – Ben Goldacre

Probably the easiest read, also the only one to be regularly laugh out loud funny. You may have caught a hint I’d been reading this from my last post on the Vitamin D content of sunshine. Goldacre’s a Guardian columnist who takes a very scathing look at shoddy pseudoscience in all forms – from the clueless ‘nutritionist’ nonsense of Gillian McKeith to the hocus pocus of homoepathy. He’s very entertaining and makes the more serious side of his point – that ignorance of basic science leads to people being deceived and ripped off, as well as being unable to exercise good judgement in other areas – in a way which ensures it’ll be accessible even to people who find Science a bit intimidating.

Flat Earth News – Nick Davies

Davies is another Guardian journalist, this time taking a look at ‘churnalism’. His premise is simple everyone was content to believe that the earth was flat… until someone checked. The basic lack of ‘checking’ by journalists leads to huge inadvertant deceptions to the public. He takes an honest look at why this happens, laying the blame in some unexpected as well more obvious places. He also gives a compelling history of investigative journalism at its best and worst and makes the case for why it’s important. Very readable and likely to make you want to shout in the face of the next person you see reading the Daily Mail.

The Tiger That Isn’t – Michael Blastland & Andrew Dilnot

The subtitle of this book is ‘Seeing through a world of numbers’ – it’s a look at how statistics and numbers are misused and abused in the press and by the government. Done in a very lighthearted and accessible way that mirrors Ben Goldacre in that it uses humour and attention catching anecdote to make the same serious point. It’s important to think twice and question the endless figures we’re presented with. If it sounds dry then just to give you a taste one chapter uses the flaw in using the number of squashed hedgehogs on the road to count how many live hedgehogs there are as a springboard to explaining how difficult it is to actually count anything. A short read and one that complements the first two books well.

The Black Swan – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A more outside choice this one. Perhaps not as essential as the first three. This was the one that I read first and got me back into the mood for some polemical literature. This is primarily an economics book. The basic theory being that the impact of unpredictable events on a business, a share portfolio, or the economy as a whole is often devastating yet criminally overlooked by statistical models aimed at predicting how the markets will go. In this case it’s the idiosyncracies of the narrator – Taleb is a charming and quirky guide – that make it more readble rather than the content. Bits of this book are, I won’t lie, heavy going – several pages of graphs in some parts. But you’re always warned which bits you can skip. Taleb generalises the Black Swan to other fields such as history as well in a way that lifts the book somewhat out of an economics niche – but perhaps not often enough for it to be everyone.

So yes, if you fancy a bit of a brain workout with some very amenable guides the I recommend all four of these.

Enjoy.

Vitamin D found in sunshine

January 23, 2009

Any news article which starts “Vitamin D, found in sunshine and fish…” is just begging to be laughed at. That it then continues “But older people’s skin is less able to absorb vitamin D from sunlight” makes it even more priceless.

This article is on the BBC News website. You expect this kind of stupid shit from the red tops and people who believe in ‘fairy healing’ and such crap but the BBC? Frankly I’m disappointed.

Read the whole stupid thing here.

————-
EDIT: The BBC have now corrected the start of the article. But believe me that’s what it said at around 11.30 today. However it still contains the line about older people’s skin not ‘absorbing’ vitamin D from sunlight.

The real question is who the fuck wrote it in the first place? Who checked it and how the hell neither of them spotted it? Don’t the BBC have any science correspondents?

Interview with Shape Functions

January 21, 2009

I’m doing a gig next week with Max Tundra, which is ace. What’s also ace is that it’s being put on by Cardiff’s joint* finest record label and event promoter Shape Records & Functions. What is, furthermore, ace is that head honcho Mark (who is also 33.333rec% of Attack + Defend) interviewed me by e-mail.

In the interview you will learn how much I like spreadsheets and what exactly ‘Lu’ means, sort of…

Read it here

*jointly with businessman records and all the other ones I’ve probably forgotten

Haircuts

January 20, 2009

What is a man who doesn’t like football supposed to talk about when he gets his hair cut? I don’t hate football – despite what disgruntled listeners of ‘The Gentlemen’s Game’ may believe (nor am I a huge racist as someone on last.fm thought) – I just don’t care. I don’t know who Kaka is, I just know that’s what french kids call poo.

So this time I tried a different tack:

Barber: Do you follow sport at all?

PWL: No, I’m more into my music and stuff.

[See I’ve been told it’s okay for a bloke to not like sport as long as he likes music. I don’t want to feel emasculated by a man waving scissors round my head.]

Barber: Oh right, so what music do you like then?

[damn, the fatal question – what do I say? ‘Well recently I’ve been really inspired by the guitar/noise experiments of Christian Fennesz. How about you?’]

PWL: Well, I’m into electro and stuff.

Barber: What? Not like the Eighties!

PWL: No, no… [uh oh, massive misstep] I’m into like… Aphex Twin? [play it safe, mention the most high profile artist you can who’s still relevant]

Barber: Yeah, I’ve heard of them (sic).

Phew, safe.

For what it’s worth I’m not ashamed of the Eighties. They weren’t the worst decade for music. The worst decade for music was the 70s. Which gave birth to Classic Rock and Punk. The two most conservative genres in music. Punk as a movement was exciting and spectacular, but the story’s miles better than most of the music. Except the Clash obviously, who were amazing.

Here’s my official ‘Best Decades’ chart, which is factually correct and with which no man can argue.

  1. the 60s
  2. the 00s
  3. the 80s
  4. the 50s
  5. the 40s
  6. the 90s
  7. the 70s

For a sneak preview of my new haircut pick up a copy of next week’s Hello magazine.

Songsmith will Change Your Life

January 19, 2009

There’s a good article on NewMusicStrategies this week:

“the idea of a resurgence in parlour music really appeals to me. The idea that kids will find it a normal part of play and not necessarily a career decision to play music seems like a good thing”

http://newmusicstrategies.com/2009/01/11/amateur-nonsense/

Basically Microsoft have released some new music-making software called Songsmith where you just sing into a microphone and it automatically creates a backing track. It sounds kind of fun but I can’t try it (because I use Macs), and I haven’t seen the apparently excruciating advert for it.

[edit: I just watched it after I found the link. I can’t believe I turned Stereolab off for that.]

It’s the discussion in the article and comments that interest me.

Rich & Famous

From the moment you express an interest in owning a guitar people start saying things like ‘so you want to be a rock star, eh?’ – i.e. rich and famous. There’s a deeply entrenched narrative of; ‘buy guitar’ -> ‘form band’ -> ‘attempt to become famous’. Part two goes like this; ‘spend years working shit jobs’ -> ‘become laughing stock’ -> ‘die alone covered in own piss’.

I’ve seen articles saying the thing most people wish they could do is play an instrument. Perhaps it’s fear of part two that stops so many people trying to learn?

People like simple binaries like success and failure. But you can’t ‘fail’ at playing music. Sure you can fail at having a music career, but the best way to become rich and famous is to fuck a footballer and write a book about it. If that’s all you’re interested in don’t bother forming a band.

Talent?

Songsmith is probably not very good. I expect that every song anyone makes on it will sound the same. But all musicians are limited by what they have. I started out with an acoustic guitar and a portable cassette recorder. So I couldn’t have drums, orchestras, bagpipes, or eskimo choirs (I don’t know enough eskimos) but I could record a song. This is just the latest version of that.

The old ‘talent’ question rears its ugly head. A lot of kids will have loads of fun making some really awful music. Some people are offended by this. But lots of kids have fun making bad music with ‘proper’ instruments. Lots of boring old men enjoy themselves playing dull-as-shit blues covers too. At least Songsmith will be quicker.

There is no direct correlation between instrumental virtuosity and what you make being any good. Sometimes it helps but not always.

“Change Your Life”

There is a downside in that some kids will look at Songsmith and think ‘because I am so inherently awesome I will use this to make a song, upload it onto myspace and become famous’. Then they’ll drop out of school and end up knifing an old lady for crack.

I blame Simon Cowell. Those poor doe-eyed fucks who queue up in the rain to prostrate themselves before the celebrity panel on X-factor are clutching at a dream which has very little to do with music. They all want to Change Their Lives.

What’s wrong with people’s lives? Is everyone really so miserable? We’re surrounded by adverts telling us to start anew, get away, breed alpacas, quit your job, throw your kids down a mineshaft… Hang on, we need these jobs to pay for all the other crap you try and sell us! Make your minds up.

How about some TV shows which point out to people how nice their lives are already? Like ‘I love going to the pub for a quiet drink and a chat with friends’, ‘The 50 greatest places to have a nice walk’, or ‘Person who knows interesting facts about the history of your local area Idol’.

The Pop Delusion

I saw the final of X-factor this time (by accident), with Alexandra’s film where she went back to her old school and sang, signed autographs, and got treated like a ‘star’. I detected a look in her eyes that seemed to say “I deserve this”.

Alexandra didn’t enter because she had a ‘beautiful’ voice – personally I think she’s got a voice like cold sick on lino. She didn’t have any music in her waiting to get out. It was because she thought herself a suitably excellent human being for the world to hand her universal adulation on a plate. She probably thought it was her destiny or something.

People think Pop Stars are deities who glow from within like they eat nothing but Ready-Brek. Just plain better than normal people in some magical way. X-factor is a fantasy for people who have Lives they want to Change. Everyone who enters ‘knows’ they’re special and will definitely win – even the awful comedy ones they show early on.

‘Fun’

So rather than focus on music as an enjoyable activity in itself, the whole creative enterprise is degraded to a scrabble for the golden ticket. Any kid who views music as anything other than an attempt to reach the standard of laminated Leona Lewis is doomed to be mocked by their peers.

Instead kids start to play music for the same reasons their parents play the lottery. Until you can no longer call it ‘play’. Music ceases to be a sandbox and becomes a construction yard. Making big shiny buildings full of flatpack furniture and despair.

But on balance we should be optimistic about things like this.

Think of all the kids who’ll fiddle around with Songsmith and get the bug. In a few years you’ll be reading interviews with the hot new act of the day and they’ll be telling you about how they first got into making music using cheap and nasty software.

And somewhere out there is a kid who’ll use Microsoft Songsmith to come up with something genuinely inspired. I guarantee it.

Meanwhile huffy old men who did everything properly and ‘paid their dues’ (yawn) will still be moaning down the pub and on the internet about how it’s not fair that less talented people are getting recognition (and rich & famous) when they ‘failed’ and are now trying to Change Their Lives.

————–
“You met the girl from Sleater-Kinney
You said you couldn’t understand
Why it was that she continued to play
when she was only earning ten grand p.a.”

Brakes – ‘ Heard about your band’
————–

POSTSCRIPT:

Apparently Microsoft have done some clever viral shit by deliberately using a Mac in the video so that everyone all over teh internetz can lol their cats off at their ‘mistake’, thereby also watching the advert. Marketing really is sickeningly clever…

Animal Collective – ‘My Girls’ Official Dance Moves

January 15, 2009

As part of my attempt to break free from traditional reviewing formats I will now show my appreciation for the frankly fucking spectacular new Animal Collective album ‘Merriweather Post Pavillion’. I will do this by publishing some dance moves to their song ‘My Girls’.

These moves have been painstakingly choreographed by me using a team of highly trained dancers from the Adamsdown & Splott National Ballet.

I think I can safely refer to these as the ‘official’ Animal Collective dance moves until such time as I am requested to desist, or Animal Collective release their own officially-endorsed moves.

I hope they will enhance your enjoyment of the song, and the album.

[Legal: Pagan Wanderer Lu accepts no responsibility for injury sustained whilst using these moves]

Update to PWL web shop

January 13, 2009

The Pagan Wanderer Lu website shop now uses PayPal instead of NoChex. This makes it much easier to buy multiple items and means we’re both covered by whatever it is PayPal actually does to protect people. I think they invent swear words based on your name then attempt to popularise them.

This doesn’t affect the current megadeal to purchase both ‘Fight My Battles For Me’ and ‘The Omega Point EP’ for £15 including P&P. And that’s cutting my own throat.

Go now quick before I change my mind!

Second post

January 10, 2009

I’d been thinking long and hard about what to use as the second post in this inaugural blog and nothing I could think of seemed profound enough. So I thought instead I’d post a picture of the waste paper basket in my studio which I found to be satisfyingly full.

bin

Now anything which follows this post can only be an improvement.

In other news I was in the post office this morning, it appears Chris Tarrant is allowed to do racist impersonations of Chinese people on national radio.