May 15, 2008

06 AM

Grok: Song for Europe

As mentioned previously on this very blog, last year Grok absconded to the studios for two days where we turned on the recording devices and played whatever came into our heads at the time. This raw creative output has since been mixed, remixed and edited (primarily for brevity, and I must say it cuts like a knife turning a beautiful twelve-minute epic into a three-minute pop-punch) into an album and a single! the album is coming out soon, but the three-track single is out now! You can buy it (and...you should!) from:

iTunes

eMusic

Rhapsody

So there's really no reason not to.

Also, if you're in London, join Grok to celebrate at the single release gig on Friday 23rd May at The Spice of Life, 6 Moor St, Soho, W1D 5NA. (unfortunately, I can't make it).


January 24, 2008

10 AM

Ramius

When my family moved to Hamilton at the end of 1989, we had a housewarming party. At this party, two kittens from down the street wandered into the yard and we fed them some little bits of sausage from the barbeque. From that moment on, we could not get rid of those two little kitties. We would frequently pick them up, walk them back to their property, and by the time we got back to our house, they had somehow beaten us home and were there waiting for us, mewling for more food. We tried everything we could to dissuade them from pestering us (our own cat, Tiger, attacked them relentlessly, territorially), but they just would not give up. I think their original owners moved away and they were still just coming over to our place. I remember the exact moment when they went from being 'the annoying cats from up the road' to 'our cats'- we'd just gotten back from seeing The Hunt for Red October in the cinema (this must also have been the week I discovered I needed glasses because I remember not being able to read the subtitles and being confused), my brother walked through the door, picked up one of the cats (the black-and-white number you see above, who we later discovered was originally named 'Mittens'), looked it in the eye and said: "Your name is Ramius." and we never tried to kick him out again. The other kitty we named Asrael, and she died of a hole in the heart in 1994.

Ramius and Tiger continued to fight over food and territory every day of their lives, which we think contributed to Tiger's remarkable longevity- she was the oldest cat I've ever heard of, she must have been at least 22 when she passed on to kitty heaven a few years ago. Ramius went through some tough years once all the kids had left the house, mum continued to look after him, but didn't let him in the house or give him the sort of pampered attention that kids can, and that he was used to. But in the last few years of his life he was adopted by my mum's boarder (and member of the family, really), Michael, who pampered him and loved him more than he'd ever loved before, brushing him for hours every night, letting him sleep in the same bed, and generally treating him like cat royalty, which I suppose in some ways he was. Which just goes to show: You can go through some dark years and think nothing is ahead for you, but then something you couldn't foresee happens and you spend the rest of your life in happiness. The last few times I saw Ramius, he was a little dribbly, a little doddering, but every morning you'd hear him try to form the word 'Michael' out of meows (I am serious! He really did). Michael said he was losing his memory, but he seemed to remember me when I gave him a hug.

Yesterday the vet said that the kindest thing to do would be to put him down, and Michael held him and stroked him while they did so. Then he took Ramius' body home and laid it on his bed while he dug a grave outside, under a tree where Ramius liked to lie.

He was the last of my cats, and I'll miss him.

Me & Ramius


December 12, 2007

10 AM

beowulfWent to see this at the IMAX in 3D last week (I went with some colleagues, one of whom told me that our job lets us write off going to the movie sas a tax deductable expense. Awesome.)

While the 3D technology has not yet been perfected, there were definitely a few 'wow' moments that made it worthwhile. And thank God really, because the story was a clunky, misogynstic shout-fest that was really only entertaining on the visual level (although the creepy zombie-eyes of the 'synthespians' detracted somewhat from the human characters).

See it in IMAX if you can, if not: I wouldn't bother.


December 11, 2007

10 AM

Oh dear. Just saw this on Dan Harmon's blog. Tom has been covering the writer's strike with enthusiasm and aplomb and I don't have that much to say about it since it is fundamantally an American issue and hence not really much of my business, except that some of my favourite shows (The Daily Show and The Colbert Report most fundamentally- gosh I miss them!) are now MIA and that the script for the new Star Trek movie can't be 'punched up' during filming, as is often done while shooting a movie, which could seriously degrade its quality -which would suck (incidentally, it was the Writer's Strike of `88 that ruined the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well).

Apart from these, it's not something that affects me directly, but I have a few thoughts on the process that I think may provide some balance to an issue that, based on my exposure to it (mainly via the web), it isn't really getting. Most people, if they are aware of the issue at all, are under the impression, fostered by writers talking to the media, that it's about getting residuals for work posted online or to other forms of new media (like through cellphones for example). While this is true, it's just one facet of an issue that is actually much more complex yet, if you phrase it bluntly, much more simple than that.

I just want to put a disclaimer that I support the writers in the strike, and I support the strike in general. I write this not to belittle the strike, or the WGA, just to play devil's advocate and perhaps fill in the other side a little.

It's difficult to comprehend (although the strike gives you a clue) just how much clout the WGA and the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) have in Hollywood unless you have worked there and worked with these two institutions. Now I want to stress that these institutions are good things and without them writers and actors would be getting screwed out of money left right and center. The studios will take as much rope as they pay out to them so it becomes by nature a combative process between the studios and the guilds (the money and talent, basically) where each side tries to take as much as they can because if they don't, the other side will. It's important to see this strike as part of that combative process where occasionally each side has to flex some muscle. This strike, put simply, is the WGA saying: "See what we can do?"

Ya see, nothing much gets made in Hollywood without WGA and SAG approval. If you've got a script, it needs to be registered with the guild to get made. The guilds are self-supporting, so if you have a script that isn't registered, the SAG, in solidarity with the WGA, won't let you use SAG-registered actors. One of the problems with this is that it creates a very insular 'Hollywood-only' environment. A good example of this is that SAG sued each and every SAG actor who worked on The Lord of the Rings because they were working on a film with other, non-SAG actors. In other words, they were punished for working on a film outside the Hollywood system, because when you sign up with the union, you agree to support other SAG actors by only working on films made inside the confines of the system. Likewise with tradespeople- SAG only lets you come to them for actors if you can prove you're using IATSE members, and are being directed by someone registered with the DGA, and so forth- all the guilds are self-supporting. So if you don't get your script registered with the WGA you don't get the actors from SAG, and you don't get the tradespeople. You have to fill in all the slots to get your film/show made, and this can get very expensive, which is why films seem to cost 10x more when they are made inside the Hollywood system than they do when made elsewhere- the unions have set the price for their wares, and since there's little competition (because of the self-supporting nature of the unions): it's high.

I should point out that while I am using these examples in reference to their negatives, using guild-registered tradespeople, finding the right actors through SAG, and registering your script with the WGA comes with a host of advantages (for both sides) that would not exist without the strength of the unions. I'm not saying the unions are inherently bad things (in fact: they're essential), and certainly I am fans of many of the writers who are protesting. I'm just saying this isn't a valiant struggle on behalf of the poor wee writers who are being stomped by the studios. It's a struggle between two massive cogs in a bloated, corrupt studio system, and they both seem equally threatening when you're just a guy in LA trying to get a film made. The studios may not give you any money, but neither do they try to shut you down when you don't grease the wheels with money with each and every turn.

Again, I don't say this to attack the writers (or even the system itself really, it is what it has evolved to become), just to provide a little perspective on both sides.


December 10, 2007

10 AM

Matt and Tom are both putting up their 20 favourite games of all time, so I thought I would throw my 2c in. In no particular order, the games that have made the biggest impression on me are:

- Doom: (PC) Who can't include Doom in their list of 'greatest ever games'? I distinctly remember the first time I saw Doom- it was in the computer science lab at my High School. My brother was playing it and I was looking over his shoulder with my jaw wide open. I just...literally...couldn't...believe it! I just kept saying, over and over: "How is this possible?" And the best part was, they gave the first chapter away for free. All class, all the time.

- Command & Conquer: Red Alert: (PC) Another watershed game for me, I must have spent a very significant portion of my university career battling friends over the `net whilst playing C&C. Prior to figuring out all the bugs (the game basically ended the day we figured out that you could move the tanks while firing, and if you did, they couldn't die), this was a very strategically rich game, as you tried to figure out how to crack each other's defences.

- Starcraft: (PC) After hooked on RTS games by C&C, Starcraft was 'the next evolution' and many LAN parties revolved around kicking each other's butts in this game. The massive amount of mods and free missions continues to make this one of the most-played games in the world today. Honourable mention must go to Dark Reign, which continued the evolution.

- Half-Life series: (PC) While not quite the quantum-leap in FPS technology that many claim it to be, there's no denying that Half-Life was incredibly immersive, and it's excellent sequels continued the trend, making this one of the greatest stories in videogame history. The gravity gun! The gravity gun!

- Grand Theft Auto 3: (PS2) The only other time my jaw dropped and I started saying: "How is this possible?" over and over again, other than Doom, was the first time I booted up GTA. You felt like you could go anywhere, do anything. While this was not ultimately true, the feeling of having an entire city to wreak havoc in was quite powerful, and the excellent story/mission structure merely helped this along. Quite simply one of the best games I've played, even to this day.

- Deus Ex: (PC) If Half-life was not the revolution in FPS gaming that it promised to be, Deus Ex was. Not a shooter, more like a novel you moved through, the ability to pick the way you played the game meant that the experience felt very unique to you. You could beef your character up and try to fight your way through every situation, or you could load up on stealth gear and sneak your way through without killing anyone (which is what I did). The moment on the plane where you have to choose between your brother and your boss, each one drastically changing the outcome of the rest of the game, was like picking the colour of your character's soul- I've yet to encounter a narrative moment in the game like it.

- Portal: The newest entry on the list, Portal has no guns, no health bar, no enemies that don't apologize to you when you drop them. All it has is the most ingenious and mind-bending device I've ever seen in a game. There were moments, playing Portal, when I literally felt my mind expanding when it came to a breakthrough. Smart, funny, amazing ending. I love this damned game.

- Battlefield 1942: (PC) This is multiplayer gaming at it's finest. I remember the first time we booted this up at a LAN party, I jumped in a plane and flew into Rob's boat. We both fell about the floor laughing, then kept playing for ten hours straight. The sequels both rock, too.

- Bust-a-move: (PS) Okay, so you both control little uhm, dragons, that fire little bubbles, and when you connect there or more coloured bubbles, they pop. That's it. Two-player bust-a-move is just about the damned funnest game on the PS2, bar none. I must have played countless hours of this game on the PS2 with my flatties in 2002.

- Wipeout: (PS) This game is fun for two reasons- firstly, it's the world's fastest racer, and when you really get some speed on, it's awesome. Secondly, when playing against another person, it's brilliantly competitive, as you try to wipe out your opponent with mines, blasters, or giant waves of energy. Probably the best racer I've played.

- Counter-strike: (PC) Best FPS, most influential FPS, best mod, best game? You can't list any of these things without talking about the phenomenon of CS. Even today, ten years after it hit the scene, you can't go into an internet cafe without seeing hordes of kids playing CS and having a ball. Honourable mention must also go to Team Fortress.

- Dawn of War: (PC) There are RTS games that are technically superior (Company of Heroes) and others that are more balanced (Starcraft), but I'll be damned if you can find one that's more out-and-out fun. The game looks great, plays great, will soon have nine playable races, each with a very distinct flavour, and a very strong modding community keeps things fresh and interesting. Extremely fun game in both single and multiplayer modes.

- The Weakest Link: (PS2) Matt gave me stick for including this, but some of the funnest gaming I've had has been after a night on the taps, all back to my place for a game of The Weakest Link. Seven players but only one controller spells lounge-room chaos as everyone throws the controller back-and-forth, and then listens as Anne Robinson tears your avatar a new one. Also lots of betrayals and backstabbings as everyone votes off the best players. This game is a party in a box.

- Time Splitters: (PS2) As loathe as I am to include a console-driven FPS (trying to move someone's head with that stupid little joystick is just painful compared to doing it with naturally a mouse), the bottom line is that Timesplitters is good old time-jumping, zombie-slaying fun. No story that I could discern, but the constant refreshing of setting, weapons, and enemies means the game is never dull. Many a happy hour spent double-teaming with my flatmate on this one.

- Shadow of the Collosus: (PS2) Like Iko before it, this game gave an incredible sense of scale and, at times, beauty. Sometimes you would go into a glade and, even though it was digital, you'd feel at peace, as though you'd just gone into a glade yourself. Sometimes even the monsters you were tasked with bringing down seemed beautiful, or perhaps sad, and you would feel sad you had to destroy them. It made a great impression on me, and figuring out how to complete each level was often quite satisfying.

- Baldur's Gate - Dark Alliance I&II: (PS2) Speaking of spending many multiplayer hours on a game, this game was so damned addictive that I remember walking out of our flat, saying to ourselves: "We have to get away from the game for a few hours." and then immediately turning around, going back inside and playing, because we just couldn't bear to be away from it. Strong plot, amazing graphics and a compulsive need to 'level up' were the drivers behind this game. See also: Diablo.

- Voyager - Elite Force: (PC) There are a lot of Star Trek games that I had a lot of fun with (Armada, Birth of the Federation and A Final Unity are all great, if flawed, games), but nothing was as immersive, well-written and just downright as cool as Elite Force. Firstly, you could tell in every second of the game that it was written by hardcore fans. It felt exactly like being in an episode of Voyager. Hell, better, since you were actually there yourself. Fantastic plot, amazing characterization, and tied intricately into the story of the show (all the voices were provided by the original actors). Even better than that, it was a bloody decent shooter as well, and came prepackaged with multiple multiplayer modes that made it better than Quake 3, the engine it was based on. Fantastic package.

- Worms:
(PC, PS, Pocket PC) I was going to mention a game called Scorched Earth: The Mother of all Games, which was a really budget, super-fun 2D artillery game where you had to judge elevation and wind speed to hit your opponent's launcher before he hit yours. This concept later evolved into the equally rad Worms, where the artillery concept was strengthened by hilarious weapons and cute little worms firing them. I used to have this on my Pocket PC and it was great to pull out on the tube and play with friends to pass the time. Honourable mention must also go to the similarly 2D puzzle game Lemmings.

- Okay, Tetris: (PC) As Matt mentioned, Tetris is the ultimate game, addictive, intuitive, competitive, endless fun. I still play it today. I once wrote a 'kidding on the square' essay about how you could tell someone's personality by analyzing the way they played Tetris- I think it warrants further research.


December 07, 2007

10 AM

Yearzero_cover323Year Zero is good on so many levels I barely know where to begin. As an album it is solid. When With-a Teeth-ah! came out, I complained that it was a decent album, but not really a progression of the NIN sound. Year Zero sounds like nothing you've heard before. In many ways it is the anti-Downward Spiral. Where that album was the very inward-looking story of someone falling apart personally, YZ is the story of the world around us falling apart, a sci-fi epic that's set in the near future which is really just an exaggeration of how things are now, taken to their logical conclusion. It's a tremendous evolution for an artist famed for his introspective (and, at times, self-pitying) lyrics, to actually take a look around at the world as it is, and write a really powerful protest album as a response. This even comes across sonically- TDS was a very organic album, lots of analog instruments and heartbeats and insect noises. The thesis behind YZ is that it is a warning signal, sent from the future to tell us how things will be- and consequently it is a very digital album, lots of pure tones and beeps, synthesized drums and harsh, staccato noises.

I won't write a track-by-track review of the songs (for that, please check out Jammer's awesome review, which echoes my thoughts very precisely), because I don't think it's really a track-by-track album. I've had friends listen to individual tracks of the album and say they don't find it appealing. That's the equivalent of reading a random chapter in a book and then complaining that it's confusing. It's meant to be listened to end-on-end. There's a very distinct forward progression- each song is the viewpoint of a character in this future-world: first the world is set up, then it is developed, then it is destroyed. It was not designed to be put on shuffle. The death of the album has been heralded by many, but this is definitely one of the last 'story' albums, and should be respected as such.

Beyond the album, you may have heard of the Year Zero ARG. There's been some debate about what this is, exactly- a game, a marketing campaign, a website. Trent says it should not be viewed as a game, just part of the album, and I tend to agree. I see it as one of the booklets that come with an album, except it spans across twenty web-pages and is at times interactive. Basically it just deepens the story laid forth in the album, giving context to certain songs and fleshing out different characters that the songs introduced. At first I was suspicious of the idea, but once you realize it's not a marketing campaign, it really falls into place as part of the story of the album. This is a really ground-breaking an inspiring idea, and I'm so pleased that one of my favourite bands has, again, exceeded my expectations. Navigating from page-to-page, filling in the story as you go, really is a great pleasure- like reading a good book or playing a good text-based adventure. If you enjoy the album, do spend a bit of time browsing through the associated sites, it really can be fun. Feels less like an album than the start of a movement.

200px-Halo25_coverNot satisfied with breaking ground on YZ, the remix album goes a step further- the album (which is really, really good- it's not just a remix album (and, truth be told, NIN remix albums are always a bit disappointing), it's actually an alternate version of the original album- that is, it tells the same story, but in a different way. It's hard to explain, but even if you don't like YZ, check out the remix album, it's really dancing and different and awesome) comes with a second disc, which contains all the individual source files that make up all the songs, so you can create your own remixes. They've also set up an awesome remix site where you can upload and share your own remixes. It's a really nicely designed site and you can literally spend all day browsing through mixes, making playlists- it's great fun (especially as every 'official' NIN remix from albums past is included [and downloadable!] on the site, including the very rare Perfect Drug remixes- way cool). All the source files can be downloaded from there, as well: go and have a play.

I should take a moment to mention The Limitless Potential, the fan-made remix album that was released for free shortly before the official remix album. I've given this a listen and, basically, it's too fucking long. 21 tracks? Songs that weren't even on YZ? Learn to edit. This could have been a really good, tight remix album. Instead it is bogged down by too many unessential mixes. If it had been kept to 16 tracks it could have been awesome.

So, put it altogether, and you've got two great albums, an infinite number of fan-made songs all free on the web, plus the cool, novelesque ARG. That's a lot of good shit from one concept. Go to!

[Oh, and by the way? When you put the disc for YZ in your CD player, it is black. When it comes out again...it's white. First time this happened, it seriously freaked me out.]


December 05, 2007

10 AM

nt So yesterday I mentioned the flaws in Radiohead's online release plan and wished they'd just do it right. Well, someone did, and that someone was Saul Williams, whom I have praised before on this site and on the destruct/hour. In this new model, you either pay nothing for a decent-quality version of the full album, or you pay $5 for a version of the album in any quality you like, including lossless encoding. This was more like it- no marketing gimmick, the real deal. It wasn't even going to get a traditional release. Each mp3 came tagged with lyrics and art, and a PDF of artwork and lyrics, like a giant booklet. It felt like the future. Plus it was Saul Williams collaborating with Trent Reznor, so I expected something spectacular.

Only problem was: It wasn't that great an album. It's interesting, for sure. I listen to it a lot, and will continue to in the future (although certainly less so). I really want to like it. But when I try to think of a standout track, or a track I'd really recommend to someone as being awesome, I draw a blank. In many ways it is a companion piece to Year Zero, which I will discuss tomorrow- they were written over the same period, on tour, with a lot of input from both Saul and Trent. A lot of the music is sonically difficult to listen to, a lot of harsh noises and drum effects. But unlike that album, TIR&LoNT! does not have the cohesive theme, story and conclusion that pays off listening to the album as a whole. It's kind of a mess- an interesting mess, with some pleasing moments and lyrics, but nothing to make you sit up and take notice, or start singing to yourself.

And for every moment of 'that's cool', there's a counterpoint of 'that's really annoying'. If the title makes you cringe, then you will be a tiny ball of skin by the time you've listened to the whole album. Ultimately, though, it's not offensive, but it's not unplfiting either- and a lot of Saul's earlier work really is. So I was a bit disappointed. It's not a great hip-hop album, but it is an interesting experiment, and worth a listen, but I certainly can't wholeheartedly recommend it, because it's an experiment that often goes wrong. I wonder how well it has done, as I imagine most people would download it for free 'to see how it sounded' before going back to buy the higher-quality version, and while I did pay before listening, I'm not sure I would have, if I'd decided to get the preview first.

You can download the album, for free, here.


December 05, 2007

10 AM

200px-In_Rainbows_Official_Cover Forgive me for missing the controversy by several months, but it's near impossible to talk about the revolution in the way music is being distributed and paid for without bringing up In Rainbows, the stellar Radiohead album that was released, as everyone knows, via digital distribution, where the customer paid whatever they wished for the download- down to and including nothing at all.

My original intention was to pay twice the price I would pay for a normal album from iTunes- about $30. Not just because I love Radiohead (although I do), but because I liked the idea of what they were doing. Screw the labels, screw the distributors, direct communion between the musicians and the fans. I was genuinely excited about the whole idea. Then the details started to trickle in. First was the audio quality- it was low. Then their agent slipped up- the 'real' album was being released early next year, with additional tracks. It was basically a promo disc for the forthcoming album- and I was being asked to pay for it. Now, I have to admit, it's a pretty good idea- why wait for pirates to put your album out for free when you can do it yourself and get paid? And while I don't know how much they made exactly, I heard it was a lot.

I ended up playing three pounds, or about $8. That's pretty good for a promo album, considering I'll be buying the genuine article when it comes out, just as they intended. Because the bottom line is: it's a great album, and I'd be happy to have the extra tracks, and the higher quality that a CD entails. But I really feel like they missed an opportunity. Why not release the entire thing as a full album, at CD-quality? I'd pay a fixed price for that- hell, I do, all the time, on iTunes. I'm still giving most of my money to either a label or to Apple. I'd rather give all my money straight to Radiohead, but they inexplicably don't give me the option. What seemed exciting and revolutionary ended up just being a bit frustrating. Fortunately a very short while later, Niggy Tardust was released with exactly this model- more on that album tomorrow.

As for the album, distinct from the hype, do I really need to review it? If you're a Radiohead fan, you'll have it by now, and you'll love it. If not, you're a dingus already- go get it (it's free). It's brilliant. A bit short, for the reason already listed. But all the songs are gold, not a lemon among them. The Bends is still, and will ever be, my favourite Radiohead album, but this sits comfortably with OK Computer, although sonically it is quite different- this is much more mellow. Great to sing along with. Upliftingly depressing.

The album is downloadable here. Can't wait for the real thing.


December 04, 2007

11 AM

Okay, so, firstly, go and read this now. I posted it on Facebook a month or so back and it did the rounds on digg so you might have seen it already, or you might have opened, seen how insanely long it was, and not bothered. That would have been a mistake. Seriously, make yourself a cup of tea, print it out if you like, but read it before continuing.

I just read it for the third time and it's just as full of energy as it was on the first read. It's a stunning, rambling tirade on the state of the music industry and it's absolutely the best thing I've read on a very complex, difficult matter with no clear resolution in sight. And you can even feel the conflict even in the author- he doesn't want a world where artists don't get paid for their music, but recognizes that it's inevitable. This is important. I watched a debate between Charles Firth and Cory Doctorow at the Melbourne Writer's Festival earlier this year, and the most important point to come out of it is that it doesn't matter if you agree with file-sharing or piracy or DRM. It's going to happen. CDs have been replaced by mp3s, and the morality or even legality of it really doesn't matter at this stage. It's done. You can get indignant about it, which doesn't solve anything, or you can recognize the new reality and get to work on making that into a business model. Either way, the age of the rock star bathing in champagne is over, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Several things have happened since this article was written that further bolster its essential point. If you think his characterization of the clueless music exec was a bit cliche, check out this one-part jaw-dropping two-parts hilarious interview with the CEO of Universal Music Group, the most powerful music licenser in the world. For an industry that goes on about the fans feeling entitled to free music, he sure seems entitled about charging the fuck out of you. Here's an excellent parody of the interview that, like all great satire, is barely a parody at all, just a retelling. And that's the problem. The labels are clueless money machines. They are rackets, and we're the patsies. Or at least, we were. And you know, you may well say, a lot of the bands I like, my favourite bands, bands that have really changed my life, Radiohead and U2 and Muse and NIN, I would never have heard of them if they hadn't been popularized by the labels. This is true. But we really don't need them anymore. The fragmentation of popular culture means that we can get in direct communication with music we like, not just take what is shoved down our throats.

Yes, this means a certain kind of artist can no longer exist- but it creates the potential for whole tiers of artists who have never had any exposure to get some. The last three new artists I've seen were all local, Melbourne bands who I saw live. I've bought music from all of them. None of them are rich, but they are doing what they love. I know certain people, perhaps the majority of artists, are only in a band because of the promise, the hope, that they might one day get signed and become rich. Yes, the odds of that happening are only slightly better than winning the lottery, but still, take that hope away, and maybe they'll stop trying. Well, yes, some will. Others can't stop. They just love making music and will do it regardless of how it rewards them financially- those are the best musicians. And there's still a fuckload of money in the music industry- it's just getting distributed more evenly, and that is pissing the labels off.

Three albums have been released recently that have impacted on this issue and got me thinking about it more. They are:

In Rainbows
Niggy Tardust
Year Zero

...and I'll be talking about each of these over the next three days.


December 03, 2007

11 AM

headphonesThese are my new headphones, I got them about two weeks ago and have been enjoying them a lot. You may think it odd that I'd mention my headphones so specifically, I mean, headphones is headphones, right? Well, these are a bit different to any headphones I've had before. You may have already encountered the whole 'in-ear' headphones thing before- if so, this post will be no great news to you, but let me tell you, if you haven't encountered the whole in-ear headphones thing before, they actually are quite different.

So, back in the 80's, headphones sat completely on top of your head, didn't really do much other than sit over your ears, right? Then you got the ear-bud ones, the sort that come with your iPod, and these kind of sit, or kind of hang really, in your ear canal. Well, these in-ear ones go a step further- the little rubber seals actually slot right into your ear canal, so that they cover them up completely, make a seal rather than sitting on top. This is quite different from the earbuds I had before, for the following reasons:

1. They block out pretty much all other noise. They're not just headphones, they're earplugs. When I have them on, even if I am not listening to anything, I can't hear someone who is standing in front of me and talking. This is quite useful when dealing with ambient noise- with my last earphones (the iPod ones) I was always having to turn the volume up and down, depending on what environment I was in- on the train, volume goes up. Get off the train, volume goes down. Not exactly a chore, but because I was generally in motion when moving from one environment to the other, often in crowded areas, it helps not to have to do this.

2. Possibly as a result of the above, the fidelity of the music is definitely the highest I've ever had on earphones. Earphone music frequently loses the lower frequencies as they try to compete with the other noises around you, which is why earphones often sound 'tinny', or higher registered. These don't- you hear the whole song as it was meant to be heard, not just part of it. This makes a pretty profound difference, especially when listening to sonically dense music like Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails (which is pretty much all I've been listening to lately- more on this later in the week)

Now, so far this all sounds pretty good. But there are a couple of downsides: For starters, it really does feel invasive having something come right into your ear. It's not just going into your ear, it kind of goes down your ear, as well. If you're the sort that is touchy about having stuff in your ears, you will not enjoy them. Having them go so far down is disconcerting because you worry about what they might be doing to your ear drums- they're snuggled up right close. If earphones do damage to your hearing, and I hear that they do, then these are the uber-earphones in more ways than one.

You also feel kind of spacey wearing them. We all use subtle audio cues to place ourselves in our surroundings and keep track of what is going on around us, and most of us are familiar with the feeling of being a little bit displaced, or at least in a different mental space, when you have earphones on and are walking around. These amplify that feeling because now you hear no other noise- it's like your ears are in a completely different place to your body. I often walk the streets at lunchtime with my headphones on and I feel oddly disconnected from the world.

And finally, when I said they blocked out all other noise, I neglected to mention the fact that this does not include noise that directly touches the rubber wires that connect the buds to the iPod. If you touch these with your fingers, you hear a big 'wub' through the ear buds. If the wind blows, you hear the noise of the air on the wires through the ear buds, quite loudly. No joke- if you hold the wires to your chest, it acts as a rudimentary stethoscope. This can be quite annoying in the wrong conditions.

So, what's the verdict? Well, I was on the fence until yesterday. Did the improved audio quality match up against the invasive feeling? Was hearing no other noise a good thing or a bad thing? Well, yesterday I found my headphones in my washing machine, along with the jeans I'd clearly left them in. They'd had a 30-minute rinse with a 90-minute drying cycle. And they still work perfectly.

Wow.


November 30, 2007

12 PM

Mo manWell, it's the last day of Movember, and as you can see the mo is in full effect and looking pretty full. We're heading to the Mo Gala tonight and tomorrow I will very happilly shave it off and return to my Mo-less existence.

Thanks to Katie, Mum, Ben, Mike, Chris, Adrian, Matt, Nat, Keri and Craig for donating- together you contributed $488 for men's health. Big claps to you!









Speaking of victories:

nano_07_winner_large I win! I have now completed the first draft of my third novel. Please read it! Just a disclaimer for those that do/have read it: I know it's a bit odd. It was really more of an experiment for me than anything else. I just found that in my previous nano entires I was extremely plot-heavy, and didn't take much time to really describe environments, or people or thoughts. My favourite literary discovery of last year was Ian McEwan, who I've been very inspired by, and I wanted to, well, not mimic him exactly, but certainly be more like him where I could. So I thought it might be an interesting experiment to write a book that wasn't about people doing things, but rather about trying to evoke the feeling of being somewhere, or try capture small moments completely.

Unlike The Trusted Professions, which I always intended to be the first and last draft and never be changed, warts and all, I will take some time with this one to edit and improve it. I think it really went off the rails in Chapter 18, I originally wanted Cammie to actually fall for Anthony, but when it came to it I just found I didn't have it in my to convincingly write that- and I found, as I wroet it, that there was something pleasingly cyclical about the idea that, wheras he seemed to want to change her life by dying, she might sacrifice her life to save his. That's a sort of love, I suppose. I also originally wanted to be vague about when exactly Alison visited Cammie- before or after the spider incident. I thought it might be fun to play with the idea that Cammie was testing his honesty with the spiders, but that you could read it both ways, if you wanted to. However again, when it came to it, I couldn't make that idea work right away so went with the easy option. As it is, the timeline seems screwy. So there's a lot to work on and improve, so any suggestions would be welcome- don't worry, I won't be offended! I am my greatest critic.

Thanks to all.


November 30, 2007

10 AM

It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

-Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

Continue reading "20 - Reality"

November 29, 2007

09 AM

Remember: It's not a lie, if you believe it.

- George Costanza

Continue reading "19 - The Visitor"

November 28, 2007

04 PM

Funnel-web spiders are medium-to-large robust spiders that tend to be dark or black in colour. These spiders measure up to 5 cm. They have stout legs and prominent fang-bearing chelicerae that deliver a neurotoxic venom. The common name derives from the funnel-like entrance to silk-lined subterranean burrows built by both males and females. The Sydney funnel-web spider (A robustus) is responsible for most reported envenomations and the only confirmed deaths in humans. However, bites from other funnel-web spiders, particularly the northern tree spider, Hadronyche formidabilis, are likely to cause serious envenomation syndromes and are potentially deadly if untreated.

- Excerpt from Funnel-web spider bite: a systematic review of recorded clinical cases, Medical Journal of Australia

Continue reading "18 - Spiders"

November 28, 2007

11 AM

Married in White, you have chosen right. Married in Grey, you will go far away, Married in Black, you will wish yourself back, Married in Red, you will wish yourself dead, Married in Green, ashamed to be seen, Married in Blue, you will always be true, Married in Pearl, you will live in a whirl, Married in Yellow, ashamed of your fellow, Married in Brown, you will live in the town, Married in Pink, your spirit will sink.

- Old English rhyme

Continue reading "17 - Marriage"

November 26, 2007

10 AM

Fear is an emotion that makes us blind. How many things are we afraid of? We're afraid to turn off the lights when our hands are wet. We're afraid to stick a knife into the toaster to get the stuck English muffin without unplugging it first. We're afraid of what the doctor may tell us when the physical exam is over; when the airplane suddenly takes a great unearthly lurch in midair. We're afraid that the oil may run out, that the good air will run out, the good water, the good life. When the daughter promised to be in by eleven and it's now quarter past twelve and sleet is spatting against the window like dry sand, we sit and pretend to watch Johnny Carson and look occasionally at the mute telephone and we feel the emotion that makes us blind, the emotion that makes a stealthy ruin of the thinking process.

- Stephen King, Night Shift

Continue reading "16 - Falling"

November 25, 2007

10 PM

Most people reach a point in their lives, some at eighteen and some at 88, when they ask, 'Work, buy consume, die: is that all there is?' Each time someone asks such a question the market shudders, because if there is more to life than earning and consuming the odds are that when people realise it they will devote less time to paid work and consume less.

-Clive Hamilton, Affluenza

Continue reading "15 - Broken"

November 24, 2007

10 PM

I can't tell if a straw ever saved a drowning man, but I know that a mere glance is enough to make despair pause. For in truth we who are creatures of impulse are not creatures of despair.

- Joseph Conrad, Chance

Continue reading "14 - Frozen"

November 23, 2007

11 AM

Not much new Mo news to report. All is proceeding according to plan. Some people have asked if I am going to keep the Mo past Movember 30th. My answer is this Venn diagram:






Tomorrow is election day here in Australia. I can't vote, but there's definitely something in the air. Everyone is excited, like they're all going to personally change the world tomorrow. Feels good. I'm going to a party where they are going to have a John Howard piñata. Should be fun.


November 23, 2007

10 AM

What's the worst part of the job?

"Skydiving suicides."

Skydiving suicides?

"Yeah these nutters come on board the plane wanting to top themselves. Bloody ridiculous. They just jump out of the plane and never pull the bloody rip cord. Some of them get out of their harnesses before they hit the ground. Other ones wait till the chute is pulled, then cut the cords one by one and fall from there. Worse than that are the ones that change their mind at the last minute. One joker I was jumping with refused to pull, looked like he was going to go el splatto, but then he pulls it at the last second. Must have smacked the ocean at a fair clip. Maybe he drowned. I never saw him again, anyway, but he didn’t ask for his money back I can tell you that much! Fuckin' bastards."

- Interview with Hildy McVeigh, Australian Skydiver Magazine, August edition

Continue reading "13 - The Rub"