Something for the Weakened

Archive for 2011

Quizdom

December 4th, 2011 by Alastair

A couple of weeks ago I found myself co-hosting another quiz. Once again, I tasked myself with putting together a couple of music rounds. I had hoped to do something new, so started mucking about with reverb, delays, phasing and pitch shifts. Inevitably I only started tinkering around with these a couple of days before my hosting duties were due to take place. I discovered that I could make some fairly well known tunes sound quite interesting, but not in any way that particularly obscured the original tune (having them as normal would have been far too easy after all). So instead, I went for the usual trick of playing things backwards, but with a very slight twist. Instead of the choruses, I used the intros. Here’s the round -

Outros II

It’s actually quite easy – two of them sound pretty much identical backwards to how they do forwards. Only this round was played during the quiz (after a number of technical issues), but I did create another round. This one was vetoed by my co-host as being too tricky, though he did only hear it in a busy pub coming from the mp3 player I recently acquired, which has around half a watt output (the cause of the technical issues when playing the round we did use – I should have thought that one through really). Instead, he cobbled together something with movie soundtracks, which probably saved us from a lynching as my other round was pretty much identical in concept. The vague criteria I used to divide the intros was to split those that were primarily guitar led away from those that weren’t. Here, for the first time ever, is the guitar round.

Outros I

See what you make out of that. If anyone wants to hazard some guesses at either round, sling them into the comments at the end of this post. I’ll try and keep things hidden to keep some illusion of competition going, but if you do see someone else’s guesses, please don’t copy them. You’re only cheating yourself. I’ll probably give away some old tat I don’t want any more to the person with the most correct answers. If you attended the quiz, your answers won’t be taken into consideration if you try answering the round you should already know the answers to. If you’ve forgotten them, that’s your fault and you’ll just have to wait a couple of weeks until I post the results.

On an almost entirely unrelated note, I must repeat my thanks to everyone who slapped some cash into my Movember fund. It was very much appreciated and all for the good of my prostate’s future. The ‘tache is thankfully only a memory on my face now, but if anyone was curious as to how it looked at its full bushiness, here is your answer.

If you still feel any compulsion to make a donation, please do so here.

Progress

November 19th, 2011 by Alastair

That up there is the result 19 days worth of upper lip growth. Look, see, it is actually visible at that distance! Should anyone else like to contribute to the charitable cause it is attached to my face for, please go here. Many many thanks to those who have already chucked a few quid in. Ta.

What I Did (& How I Did It)

November 19th, 2011 by Alastair

What follows was originally written on October 9th and culminates with events that occured the previous day. It is only really relevant to four people, for which I vaguely apologise. Still, the rest of you might potentially find some of it mildly interesting, so here’s a spot of background. For the past six and a half years, myself and some chums have been swapping compilations on given themes once a quarter. The process of the swaps has evolved to the point where we now gather at the home of the person that has chosen that quarters theme, where we listen to all 240 minutes of ‘music’ over the course of an afternoon/early evening. This quarter’s swap occurred on the Saturday just past. I was the host and finally had the chance to put into operation the ploy that had been gestating in the back of my mind for over a year.

The seeds of the idea were first planted when I last hosted a swap. Not being in possession of anything resembling a decent stereo or set of speakers, I had planned on playing all the discs from my DVD player and through my telly. As is the tradition, the host’s disc is the first to be played on the day, so I hit play and prepared to listen. My opening track was Come In by Peter Wyngarde which, as I’m sure you’re all aware, features a certain amount of stereo panning. What I was unaware of at the time was the fact that one of my housemates was using the scart for his Playstation, so the DVD player was plugged in using the connectors that one might use to create surround effects. Knowing nothing about this, I was surprised to only hear two thirds of Wyngarde’s meisterwork coming out of the TV. I monkeyed around a bit, but couldn’t get the full extent of the sounds to come through, so had to resort to using a discman and the speakers from my computer. Everything was a bit tinnier, but at least every note on all the records were audible.

I don’t think the idea struck me on the day itself, but within the next couple of days it occurred to me that this could be something I could use to my advantage. I had a means of playing a CD in only one stereo channel. Therefore I could conceivably play just that to my guests when next I hosted, and hide all manner of goodies in the other for them to discover when they got home. Double the length of the compilation I was making. Plus it would be nigh on impossible to review (yeah, we review each other’s compilations, something I’m still against as I am all forms of competition, namby pamby weakling that I am (I’m not against it because it’s sad – that’s you that is)). Effectively create a side two.

So that’s what I did.

To create a decent 160 minute playlist I had to choose as broad a theme as possible, so decided on television. An afternoon was spent compiling a sizable longlist, comprising of songs with titles relating to the TV, followed by a few more hours whittling that down to what I deemed good enough and would fit onto the disc. This was then divided into two playlists, an A and a B. The A would be the one I was presenting as 80 minutes of compilation, the B about 77 minutes that was to be hidden. There were two reasons for my making it that little bit shorter. Firstly because I was rather keen on having a period of just the A side playing on its own before B came in, lulling the listener into a false sense of security. Secondly so I could create an audio tracklist for side B. The jape would of course be destroyed if I were to make any mention of any extra tracks on the disc’s packaging, so an audio description seemed the best way to go. I considered recording it myself, but as the deadline loomed ever closer, it seemed more sensible to acquire a programme that would do it for me (I used TextToWav in the end, fact fans). This was doubly beneficial as it was possible to speed up the file to better achieve the length of silence I wanted at the start of side B.

With this sorted, it seemed like it was time to check that the technology worked. I bought cables similar to those my former housemate had used (we’d both moved in the intervening 15 months) rammed them into the appropriate holes and had a test run with a couple of tracks from We’re Only In It For The Money.

Disaster.

I’d remembered the stereo panning of Wyngarde being complete. But playing the Zappa only resulted in a partial pan. Yes, I was predominantly hearing the left or right channel, depending on which output I connected the wire to, but so much of the other side was bleeding through that it would be impossible to hide another side there without anyone spotting it. I feared that I’d have to abandon the entire plot.

A couple of days after the failed experiment I happened to be rummaging through a cupboard at work. There I found some aged computer speakers that I’d stowed there a couple of years before hand. I had used them to play music in my office, they had broken and, horder that I am, I’d evidently decided not to throw them out. Racking my brains, I couldn’t recall exactly what it was that had gone wrong with them, so decided to take them home and perform another test.

I plugged them in. The light came on and there was a faint buzz. Evidently the power supply was fine. I stuck the Mother’s into my discman, plugged in the jack and pressed play.

The right speaker played Absolutely Free.

The left was silent.

The pan was perfect.

I squealed with smug glee. I was going to follow the plan through and could abandon the back up of buying some new speakers and purposely breaking them (which I had been seriously considering).

The next part turned out to be more laborious than I’d expected. All of the tracks I was using were in stereo, some with panning of their own. To get them onto the compilation sounding as they were supposed to I had to convert all of them into mono. Using Audacity as I was, there followed a fair amount of Googling until the right wording finally took me to a forum that gave me instructions (their own online help pages completely miss out any guidance on how to do this). Unfortunately the program is unable to create the mono files within itself, so each track had to be imported, then exported. Thankfully this was made marginally easier by my just creating two eighty minute long tracks. With that sorted, I then had to import everything again to sync the tracks up. The length of silence I was going to have to use at the start of the B side became obvious after I’d spotted that the last track on side A ended with a short gap before a fuddley dumf. As the end of side B cut off quite sharply, I simply bumped the silence forward until the cut off preceded the fuddley dumf by a split second.

To complete the illusion it was then just a matter of exporting the now joined stereo tracks as WAVs (you can’t do them as mp3s unless you pay for some sort of Audacity upgrade). By cutting and pasting them into another Audacity window, I could slice them where the tracks changed on Side A, thereby making everything appear perfectly normal if anyone happened to look at the discman while it was playing. This all went perfectly well until the very last track. I exported that without cutting and pasting and had forgotten that the original window was panned to one side. I’d also not been saving the files as I’d been going along as I A. like that little sense of danger and B. was worried that the size of the file might kill my computer (it is poo). It wasn’t until I was checking a test disc I’d burnt that I discovered that the last track only contained a mono recording of side A. As the tracks weren’t of the same length, the fast tempoed last track on side B now stopped abruptly half way through. An hour or so followed of me trying to sync everything up again, cutting split seconds here and adding them back there, trying and trying to get the beats perfectly aligned. Eventually I got them to a point where they sounded as close together as they could be and exported that last file. Listening back on disc, I’ve done a pretty decent job and there doesn’t seem to be much, if any of a jump. I am great after all.

Everything was in place. All I needed to do now was to keep a poker face throughout the event and make it appear as if nothing odd was going on. Obviously I couldn’t play anyone else’s discs through the partially broken speakers, as that would have been a massive giveaway. I toyed with the idea of faining some sort of dead battery issues and putting everyone else’s through the television, but concluded that that might bring too much attention to things, or there was the possibility that someone might have some fully charged Duracell about their person. That being out, my only other option was to position two sets of speakers next to one another. My rechargable batteries being as old and tired as they are, there was enough of a chance that they wouldn’t play constantly for 160 minutes that I’d have to change them after each disc finished. This would facilitate the perfect opportunity to switch speakers without arousing too much suspicion. All I’d then have to do would be to make up something convincing if anyone questioned the presence of four speakers.

Which they didn’t.

The fools.

The sting was made. At time of writing I await their responses. At time of posting, I believe they are all aware that something is wrong, but are possibly unaware of what I actually did. Perhaps they do now.

No No No, November

November 8th, 2011 by Alastair

This is the first November in four years where I haven’t been attempting to write 1500 words a day. Regular readers will have seen my annual attempts at competing in NaNoWriMo, as can anyone else if they care to wander through the site’s archive. The first year was pretty successful – I managed to get the 50,000 words down within the time limit and was reasonably happy with what I had at the end (which I’m still yet to edit into something I’d be properly happy with). 2009 didn’t go as well. That time I had no real story, so just started throwing up ideas and hoping that if I kept going a story would emerge that would bring them all together. It didn’t. That, combined with some lurgy, falling massively behind on the daily deadlines, the fact that I had no one that I knew to compete against (that competitive aspect really did help the first time around) and a general sense of malaise caused me to abandon that year’s go. 2010 wasn’t a lot better. Again, I didn’t have much in the way of a plot going in, but kept going at one core story rather than just starting lots of threads that I could weave together when an idea struck me. Things coalesced a little bit better when I struck upon the idea that actually one of the protagonists was God, but it became harder and harder to write as both of the principal characters were so bloody nice. Word counts began to conspire with an absence of known competitors and I once again found myself bailing.

This year I’m not even participating. Not because of the past two years failures. I have (to some degree) worked out what went wrong on those occasions and should be able to take measures to not fall into those same potholes. Not because of an absence of known competitors – I know of a couple of people having a go at it this year, both of whom I’d have happily sparred word counts with. I’d even got as far as putting together the beginnings of a plot outline, which is where the start of my reasoning comes in. To do any justice to the idea would involve my conducting some level of research, which I’d not even started by the time October was winding down. Another potential issue would be the fact that around 30% of this particular story would have to be utter filth, which of course my pure white brain would find near impossible to process. But by the start of this month the idea was not fully formed enough for me to really believe I’d stick with it for a whole month. Plus I’m still in the midst of collaborating on a project with someone and dread to think how much further they’d cock that up without my participation.

I am however participating in another month based task which involves using my head in some way. I will assume that you are all aware of what Movember is and its endeavours to raise money for prostate cancer, but here’s some more info if you’re curious. My father was diagnosed with said canker around two years ago. Thankfully it was spotted pretty early, so was whipped out before anything really unpleasant developed, but the operation still left him hopelessly zonked out for several months, which was actually pretty unpleasant. Mercifully he’s pretty much back to normal now, but it was a worrying, hard going time for me back then. It must have been so much harder for him and the way he dealt with it all has increased my love and respect for the man colossally. Though research doesn’t show that it’s a hereditary condition, I’m still hedging my bets, paranoid little worm that I am.

If anyone should wish to chuck some money at a good cause (and I don’t just mean my looking like a tool), please donate here.

Something For Your Consideration 14

October 24th, 2011 by Alastair

In which I move away from the format of the previous installments of this irregular feature and invite you to do some comparing and contrasting. First of all, I wish to bring to your attention the track Widowmaker by hippety hoppity hardcore chaps The Criminal Minds. This is what it sounds like.

Widowmaker by The Criminal Minds

Good, eh? Well I rather like it, so nyerr. This particular track opens the compilation TCM that was put out by the fine folk at Rephlex last year. It continues on in a similar fashion and I would highly recommend it if you like this sort of thing. My first exposure to them came in a Norwich based secondhand record shop. I was completely unfamiliar with their output and even their name, but having been a fan of a fair amount that Rephlex have put out in the past, decided it was worth a punt. Plus being the massive cheapskate that I am, the fact that it was only three or four quid made it all the more appealing. But the reason for the low price wasn’t just the fact that it was pre owned. It was a promo copy.

Now I’ve bought promo copies a fair few times in the past. I can generally live with the fact that you don’t get all of the packaging or occasionally end up with something that isn’t a final mix (though I’ve yet to hear one that sounded any different to an actual release yet). I’ve read all the disclaimers stating that they’re still the property of the record company, but as (in my experience) they’ve always been on sale at some point after the material has had its proper release, I don’t see anything wrong in reviewers flogging/giving away something they seemingly no longer have any use for. To be against that would be akin to going against the very idea of secondhand record shops, which would be the mark of a madman (even though I have none left in my general vicinity, sniff). The fact that a lot of them seem to be just CDRs these days, rather than properly pressed CDs is a bit of a blow to me and my slowly dying stereo, but I can see why the labels have started doing that in these cash strapped days. My issue and of no consequence to anyone else. Anyway, as I said, all of my promo acquisitions have contained recordings indistinguishable (by me) from the actual releases. All, until I listened to The Criminal Minds.

What I present to you hear is a snippet of the version of Widowmaker that features on the disc in my posession. The whole thing is commercially available, so in a vague attempt to stay within legal parameters, I’m not going to put an mp3 of the whole track out there for public consumption. Go and buy it. Granted, I didn’t in any way that actually benefitted them fiscally, but as regular readers should know by now I am nothing if not a morally compromised, hypocritical skinflint. Does that make it okay? Probably not. Hey it’s some free publicity (not that anyone reads this shite anyway). Actually, having done some more digging, I’m not 100% certain that it is officially available any more. Rephlex don’t even acknowledge the album’s existence on their own site and there don’t seem to be any obvious results coming up for paid downloads. There were apparently various issues with sample clearances when some of the tracks were originally released (early to mid 90s! I thought it was all brand new! Maybe I only enjoyed it all because it sounded old…), so maybe they reared their ugly heads again. Dunno. I’ve not been able to find any further information after some pretty weak Googling. But no matter, we’re veering further and further away from the point. You’ve listened to the first clip, yeah? Well go back and do that now. I’ll still be down here when you’ve finished. Done?  Now wrap your ears round the first 2 minutes again.

The Criminal Minds – Widowmaker Extract

Having tracked down the Soundcloud version, I was quite surprised to find that there was an intro. The promo version starts exactly where my extract does, which to be perfectly honest I much prefer. I suppose it’s partially down to familiarity (I have listened to the album a fair bit during the month and a bit I’ve had it), but I really think it has that much more impact coming in straight with the beat, rather than a sample and some fannying about. But that’s not what we’re here to discuss. Have you got 1 minute 46 seconds in yet? You’ll know when you have. Hear that? There’s one of those on every track! Almost all with a different message. Catalogue number, release date, website details, all sorts really.

Obviously I have the ability to cut them all out – I can make an extract with a fadeout, it’s not tricky to hack out five seconds of audio from the middle of a track. But I’ve no intention of doing so. Why? Because I really like them! I presume they’re put there to deter people from piracy, to at least make it faintly possible to track the pirates down, without distracting the reviewer/potential pirate too much from the music. I am obviously neither of these things (honest, m’lud), but I don’t find that they detract from my listening experience. Again, it’s familiarity with what I’ve listened to. Hearing the Soundcloud version, I was slightly disappointed when the “Crunch!” came in without any preceding message. I don’t find them distracting anymore, they’re just parts of the tracks as far as I’m concerned and I’m really rather fond of them. I have to wonder if all Rephlex promos contain similar incidents. I’d rather like to hear some more.

An Unfortunate Realisation

October 20th, 2011 by Alastair

For as long as I can remember I’ve been able to do slightly odd things with various parts of my anatomy. Popping the ball of my shoulder out, a weird sort of belly dancing thing, oddly dextrous shoulder blades have long been in my armoury of party tricks if ever I feel the desire for attention or to accidentally repel women folk. Sadly though, it would seem that I am to be deprived of one of the major weapons in this armoury.

I’ve always been able to bend my leg around in such a way that I was able to place my foot under my rib cage and hold it there. I did try to find a picture online of someone else able to perform this feat, but to no avail. Perhaps I’m the only one. That’s the best description I can come up with anyway, you’ll just have to use your imagination. Because I am no longer capable of pulling it off.

That’s not entirely true. I did do it on Monday. It wasn’t the best performance of the double jointed feat I’d ever done, but I imagine that it will be it’s swan song, because I’m assuming it’s the reason why my ribs have been giving me such gyp over the past couple of days. I stated that it was going to hurt inthe morning at the time, but oddly it didn’t (or perhaps I was paying the hangover more attention). The following morning I began to wonder if my liver was going to explode. It took me most of that day to realise what was actually going on. The issue seems to be increased belly size, meaning that I just don’t have enough under rib area spare these days to store a whole foot. Either I start going to a gym or I retire the trick and I think we all know which of these two is the most likely.

Or my liver will explode over night and the whole thing will be moot.

Defrosting Tip #348

September 22nd, 2011 by Alastair

If you’ve accidentally stuck your diced lamb in the fridge instead of a cupboard and when you come to make dinner you find that the lamb is still partially frozen, just slip it into your pocket for five minutes. Never underestimate the defrosting capabilities of your trousers. Do check that the meat is in a sealed bag before hand. Don’t learn the hard way.

Shameless Self Promotion

September 17th, 2011 by Alastair

The third issue of the small press ‘zine Ferment is now available for purchase. I mention this for a couple of reasons. It’s co-edited by old chum of the site Paul and features writings by him (at least I assume it does – my complimentary copy is still yet to arrive. Sniffle.) and Torquay’s poet laureate Gorgeous George Chopping amongst many others. There is also the utterly self aggrandising fact that it contains a short story I wrote a couple of months ago within its pages.The brief was to write a poem or story no longer than forty lines long on the subject of food, which I think I alluded to in a post here shortly after I submitted the now published work (Friend of Aldrin – I might try and follow up the communion wafer idea at some point). I’ve held a copy in my clammy hands and it is a very pretty object, especially if you like newsprint, drawings and words. Only had a brief look at the picture that accompanies my piece, so I’m afraid I’m unable to name the artist, but they seem to be working in a style somewhere between Noah Van Sciver and David Collier, with perhaps a tiny hint of Peter Kuper in there, which is pleasing to my eye and almost certainly means nothing to you. Not sure I agree with what they’ve chosen to depict, though I think that’s because I still assume that everyone in the world is far thicker than me and won’t have worked out what I was doing. They probably will have by that point, won’t they? Look at me, talking my way out of criticism while not giving too much away about my having done anything. Wooo. Anyway, it’s a cracking picture, the rest of the mag looks great too from ny brief perusal and I look forward to reading the rest.

Copies can be purchased online from the Ferment site, where you can also download a free PDF of at least one issue if you’re a cheap arse punk motherfucker. It’s a bit vague about whether you can download just the one issue, the lot, or which single issue it might be. Asking the editors would be like some sort of effort so I’m not going to bother. Just buy the ruddy thing. Copies are also available from Oxford’s main branch of Blackwell’s (nothing to with me, honest!), up on the first floor, amongst the tiny magazine section, between R and S in Classic Fiction.

Please read generously.

We Were So Young. And oh so very hairy.

September 3rd, 2011 by Alastair

Sud Afrique, Sud Afrique

August 24th, 2011 by Alastair

Do you ever find yourself looking at the words ‘South Africa’? And when you see them, do you find yourself poorly translating them into French in your head? And then singing them to the tune of Rick James’ ‘Super Freak’? It can’t just be me can it?