Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Virtual Pets Spread Disease

A deadly blood ailment has been killing off characters in the Warcraft online gaming world. It seems that the God of Blood can spew out infection when killed. According to an article at the BBC, some clever folk found out how to infect an "in-game virtual pet" with this disease and it has spread.

Now at first I was hoping that by "in-game virtual pet" the writers meant a sort of Tamagotchi that virtual players themselves carry for entertainment. That would be a fun image -- some Paladin obsessing over a pixilated space baby as it slowly succumbs to an AIDS-like pandemic.

But instead they mean a "real" pet in the virtual world. Geez, confusing the orders of simulacra is so nineteen-eighties!

Here's exactly how to transfer the disease, assuming you are a high-enough level character to not die from it immediately:
1. expose your pet to the disease
2. dismiss your pet (this stops the countdown timer on the disease)
3. go to an area with same-faction players
4. recall the pet (this starts the disease counter again)
5. pet infects people

Players have not missed the AIDS parallel as this screen shot shows. This thread contains a player discussion.

This is similar to the situation that occurred in May 2000 in the Sim virtuality, where a dirty guinea pig lead to death and transmitted infections.

Remember kids: always clean your virtual pets.
Tamagotchi is a tiny pet from cyberspace who needs your love to survive and grow. If you take good care of your Tamagotchi pet, it will slowly grow bigger, healthier, and more beautiful every day. Bit if you neglect your little cyber creature, your Tamagotchi may grow up to be mean or ugly. How old will your Tamagotchi be when it returns to its home planet? What kind of virtual caretaker will you be?
-- Bandai

No, hold on, I'm a real caretaker surely?
Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Ambient Music Recommendations

Here are some posts I made on the rec.music.ambient newsgroup in answer to specific queries about Gavin Bryars, The Hafler Trio, Hector Zazou, Harold Budd, and suggestions for a best album list. This article is presented here as part of my Retro series. I have made a few small edits for clarity.

Gavin Bryars (1997.05.22)
Speaking of Tom waits and ambient music...didnt he do an album with gavin bryars? i think the title had something to do with jesus, suffering? cant remember.
You are referring to Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet [Point Music 1993], a haunting serialist work based on a religious song performed by a tramp, accidentally caught on a film soundtrack, rediscovered by Bryars, and subsequently orchestrated. The first version was one side of an LP on Eno's Obscure Records (1975). The extended rendering found on the Point CD starts with the solo vocal, adds a chamber ensemble, and eventually a full orchestra with choir. It is extremely emotive and touching, qualities lost when Tom Waits' voice (bathetic faux tramp) enters in the fifth movement.

I also recommend:

Vita Nova [ECM New Series 1994]: Four chamber pieces in a contemplative vein featuring, among other artists, the Hilliard Ensemble.

The Sinking of the Titanic [Les Disques Du Crepuscule 1990], the full-length CD version of a piece again originally released on Obscure Records. This is a totally new recording perhaps also different from the more recent American issue on Point (confirmation?). Based on themes from the hymn "Autumn" and performed by a chamber group in an early 19th-century disused water tower, this intense performance sounds scarily like the musicians are going down with the ship. Long reverb times make this a fitting companion to the Deep Listening Band's recordings.

The Hafler Trio (1997.06.02)
Can anybody provide any insight into their music -- is it kind of so-so, does it have distinct, worthwhile properties of its own, is it fast or slow, etc.?
The Hafler Trio exist to screw with your head by way of two symmetrical entry passages known as "ears". Their music is more slow than fast, sometimes distinct and other times absent, and has many worthwhile properties, not least of which being the ability to clear a room of unwanted houseguests.

Soundtrack to "Alternation, Perception & Resistance" -- a Comprehension Exercise is a lecture on sound perception overlaid with musique concrete. On side two (this being 45 rpm vinyl) more sonorous drones persist. Contains a nice booklet.

Three Ways of Saying Two: The Netherlands Lectures contains more faux scientific discourse punctuated by bumps, grinds, and things that go edit in the night. Recorded more crudely, the voice here is part of the mix as opposed to being the primary foreground element.

Intoutof (1988) is a pure noise soundscape varying from distant factory drones to vertical shards of intense pain. This exceptional record proves The Hafler Trio can sculpt noise like no other "group".

Some of these together with many other vinyl releases have been compiled into a six CD series by Touch for The Grey Area of Soleilmoon. Here's one:

All That Rises Must Converge (1993) includes three tracks originally from The Sea Org ten-inch vinyl, incorporating rhythmic blobs of noise, voice, oscillators, even percussion and musical instruments (?). Five subsequent tracks originally designed for an art exhibition and released as Brain Song in 1986 utilise longer textures but also more intense noise. Two previously unreleased tracks continue in the same vein and out the same artery.
Also, how does this particular album stand up?
I don't know. But if you are not a fan of musique concrete don't sign up for any Hafler Trio outings.

Hector Zazou / Harold Budd Recommendations (1999.01.28)

I just found the Hector Zazou / Harold Budd CD "Glyph" and really love it. I recall seeing a powder blue colored CD by Hector Zazou some time ago... Sad to say I have never heard of him. harld Budd on the other hand, I also have the "Through The Hill" CD with Andy Partridge (nice). Any other recommendations in this vein?
Well sure. Harold Budd makes incredibly beautiful piano-based music, and every album is different. A few are not that great, and I place the Andy Partridge collaboration in that category, mostly because the pieces are so short and sound throwaway.

Early American efforts like The Serpent (in Quicksilver) [Cantil Records, 1981] are mostly underdeveloped. The Pavilion of Dreams [Obscure, 1978] begins Budd's association with Brian Eno, though it's still a solo work. The classical soprano vocal gives it a sound distinct from his other releases. It's amazing. Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror [1980] occupies a still, beautiful place further explored on The Pearl [1984], which also includes contributions from Daniel Lanois.

A denser reverb-soaked sound was evident on Lovely Thunder [Editions EG 1986] and The Moon and the Melodies[4AD 1986]. The latter is actually credited to Harold Budd, Elizabeth Fraser, Robin Guthrie, and Simon Raymonde (fit that on a marquee!) which is basically Budd plus Cocteau Twins. These are two of my favourite records ever, and rather defy description.

The White Arcades [Land 1988] is another nice one, but the works since have been more uneven. Basically, if you have all of the titles I've already mentioned, then you can start on things like Music for 3 Pianos [All Saints/Caroline 1992] a short collaboration with Ruben Garcia and Daniel Lentz. Unfortunately Budd since started including his Beat-like poetry on his albums, a serious detraction.

As for Hector Zazou, he released a few albums on the Belgian Made to Measure label, all rather undeveloped and silly but with occasional moments of note. He also put out a sappy Celtic album a year or two ago. But you will not be disappointed with Sahara Blue [Crammed Discs 1992], tracks based on poems by Arthur Rimbaud. A host of stars grace this record, which Zazou is credited as directing, in the manner of a movie. And very soundtrack-like it is, with wall-to-wall sound and a very eclectic and international cast. I would not call it ambient, however. Some of the non-stars are the most notable performers, like vocalist Barbara Louise Gogan (old-timers will remember her work with The Passions).

Note that there are two versions of this album. The first has a credit for "Mr. X" and contains two different tracks by unknowns. The second owns up by crediting "David Sylvian" and replaces those tracks with ones by Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry of Dead Can Dance. This obviously has more fan appeal but I prefer the former. (If anyone has a copy they'd part with...)

The second great Zazou album is Chansons des Mers Froides [Sony 1994], again something along the lines of a compilation with a theme. This time it's all female vocalists who invoke the north or a feeling of coldness. Among many brilliant unknowns there's a fantastic track by Bjork that's alone worth the price of admission. My version is all in French with many inserts -- nice.

Finally, I must mention the Barbara Gogan album Made on Earth [Crammed Discs 1997] for which Zazou composed a lot of the music, as well as being the arranger and producer. It's not ambient but has a great mix of pop, soundtrack, and even jazz aesthetics with some hipbeats and abstract lyrics. I cannot recommend this album enough.

All-Time Classic Ambient Albums (1999.01.29)

The problem of ambient.

The first is how to define it, an issue that various threads on this newsgroup have had to contend with. In order to choose "classic" albums in a given category it's necessary to know what that category entails. It's a given that no definition will please everyone, and that any definition is provisional at best. It's perhaps appropriate that such a definition should be a fractal borderline between a mostly-in and a usually-out.

My Pocket Oxford Dictionary has a one-word definition for ambient: "surrounding". This infers music as immersive experience and could include massively loud noise works, so long as they were appropriately textured. By this definition we do not expect an ambient piece of music to contain large variants in dynamics or rhythm. It would also be difficult for vocal music to be ambient, since vocals call attention to themselves as a shifting focal point. They are not (generally) immersive.

Brian Eno, generally regarded as the father of ambient music, said "I regard this music as environmental: to be experienced from the inside." This in 1982 from the liner notes to Ambient #4: On Land. Earlier, in 1978, accompanying the seminal Ambient #1: Music for Airports, he wrote "an ambience is defined as an atmosphere, or a surrounding influence: a tint." He concluded, "Ambient Music must be able to accomodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting." (Note: this text accompanied only the first edition of the record.)

Nowadays, ambient seems to refer to a whole class of electronic music derived from club-based dance genres, even if the music fails to meet any of the criteria stated above. This is easy to understand: ambient has become a marketing category.

As an antidote I'd like to provide a provisional list of albums, most of which can (more or less) be said to reflect the words: surrounding, immersive, atmosphere, influence, environmental.

Durutti Column: The Return of the Durutti Column [Factory 1979]
Brian Eno: Ambient #1: Music for Airports [Editions EG 1978]
Lou Reed: Metal Machine Music [RCA 1975]
Pieter Nooten and Michael Brook: Sleeps with the Fishes [4AD 1987]
Steve Reich: Early Works [Elektra/Nonesuch 1987]
Harold Budd: Lovely Thunder [Editions EG 1986]
E Voce Di U Cumune: Corsica: Chants Polyphoniques [Harmonia Mundi 1987]
Oliveros, Dempster, Panaiotis: Deep Listening [New Albion 1989]
Jeff Greinke: Cities in Fog [Intrepid 1985]
The Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir: Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares [Elektra Explorer 1987]
Richard Jobson: "The Kiss, The Dance and The Death" from Ten-Thirty on a Summer Night [Les Disques Du Crepuscle 1983]
Somei Satoh: Litania (Margaret Leng Tan) [New Albion 1988]
Various: The Shining OST [WEA 1980]
Laraaji: Ambient #3: Day of Radiance [Editions EG 1980]
Bill Nelson: Chance Encounters in the Garden of Light [Cocteau 1988]
Will Sergeant: Themes for 'Grind' [92 Happy Customers 1982]
Cluster and Eno: Old Land [Sky 1988]
Arvo Part: Arbos [ECM 1987]
Recoil: Hydrology and 1+2 [Mute 1989]
Virginia Astley: From Gardens Where We Feel Secure [Happy Valley 1983]
Roedelius: Wenn Der Sudwind Weht [Sky 1981]
Bruce Gilbert: This Way to the Shivering Man [Mute 1987]
Brian Eno: Ambient #4: On Land [Editions EG 1982]
Gavin Bryars: The Sinking of the Titanic [Les Disques Due Crepuscule 1990]
Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works Volume II [Warp 1994]
Bark Psychosis: Hex [Caroline 1994]
Charles Ives: "The Unanswered Question" from Symphony No. 2 (New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein) [Deutsche Grammophon 1990]
Thomas Koner: Permafrost [Barooni 1993]
Ingram Marshall: Three Penitential Visions / Hidden Voices [Elektra/Nonesuch 1990]
Oval: 94 Diskont [Thrill Jockey 1996]
Robert Rich and B. Lustmord: Stalker [Fathom 1995]
Seefeel: Quique [Too Pure 1993]
Michael Nyman: Gattaca OST [Virgin 1997]
Various: Endless 2 [Manifold 1995]
Various: Isolationism [Virgin 1994]

And most other Eno recordings. Naturally!
Monday, September 26, 2005

Tweaks & Updates

After getting my first comment spam I have turned on the word verification option for this blog. You will now have to type in a word displayed on screen before a comment can be accepted. This eliminates the possibility of automated systems leaving comments that are just spam for dating services or whatever. I trust this will be only a minor step as I'd certainly like to see more comments.

Also, I have changed the slogan under the page header. I will likely replace this on a regular basis, just for fun.

There are some updates (in the comments) to the MicroTrack versus MiniDisc article.

I have updated some small facts in Windows XP Configuration For Audio.
Sunday, September 25, 2005

Seven Days: An Archipelago

This page is a bricolage of quotes, sounds, and texts inspired in part by the ideas and performances of Steve Valk, Michael Klien, and Jeffrey Gormly as presented in Seven Days of Everything, a performance for the Dublin Fringe Festival 2005. Their "social choreography" stands in relationship to this article, but exactly what that relationship is had better remain in flux. I thank them for inspiration.

An archipelago is a sea containing scattered islands. I use this term to mean a scattering of texts embedded in a particular context; a cluster without overt pattern but with some as-yet not fully determined connectivity.

ISLAND: Seven Days
Between 19-21 September 2005 I was an invited guest of the Daghdha Dance Company for Seven Days of Everything. The stage at the Project Arts Centre was inhabited by people found in the vicinity, furnished with chairs, lamps, art, and other items borrowed from the local community of Temple Bar. A new community was created from the collision of local inhabitants and passengers crashed in from Limerick and beyond. These were choreographed based on principles mostly subtle and patterns largely hidden.
For this special "Theatre Congress" we are gathering actions and act-ers, dreams dreamers and dreaming objects, food furniture and friends, art music clothes and other things of beauty, things to be said and reasons to say them, passions memories and difficult questions, toys and other distractions. We will gratefully accept whatever it is that you feel compelled to give.
-- Seven Days of Everything flyer
This event was part of the ongoing Framemakers project.

ISLAND: Temple Bar Sounds
Acting as escalation 746, I made numerous location recordings throughout Temple Bar, in an attempt to scavenge the sounds of the streets in a manner similar to how physical objects and people were being collected for the show. Three of those recordings are presented here. [FILES NOW REMOVED.]

This recording was made after pubs closed at 11:30pm Monday 19 September. In it you can hear people searching for their next drink, investigating nightclub possibilities, listening to street performers, and talking on their mobiles. This is a representation of the complex societal audio structure that goes largely unheard in today's visually-dominated culture. It displays a richness that becomes most obvious when presented free of the visual field.

Urban Outfitters
A theme that evolved through these recordings was the over-determined use of music that defines urban environments. Canned music from CD as an imposition on the listener. Recordings designed to cultivate a particular shopping environment. Sound as commerce designed to instill further commerce into the closed system of money that demarcates capitalism. These two field recordings, being named for their respective retail outlets, illustrate this.

In relationship to Seven Days of Everything I would like to say: Even if stranded on a desert island we will reconstruct, as did Robinson Crusoe, a simulacrum of the society we only externally abandoned.

Some of these sounds were used in the performance, particularly on Friday.

ISLAND: Globalisation | Space
"The crash from globalisation into the world." -- Alan Shapiro

But even a plane crash cannot save us, or the participants in "Lost", the television series purportedly about this phenomenon. Instead we need a quantum singularity to estrange ourselves from ourselves, to challenge the replication of replication itself. A cripple walking. A strange beast in the jungle.

It is this difference that keeps us alive.
The analogy between the terms "global" and "universal" is misleading. Universalization has to do with human rights, liberty, culture, and democracy. By contrast, globalization is about technology, the market, tourism, and information. Globalization appears to be irreversible whereas universalization is likely to be on its way out. At least, it appears to be retreating as a value system which developed in the context of Western modernity and was unmatched by any other culture. Any culture that becomes universal loses its singularity and dies. That's what happened to all those cultures we destroyed by forcefully assimilating them. But it is also true of our own culture, despite its claim of being universally valid. The only difference is that other cultures died because of their singularity, which is a beautiful death. We are dying because we are losing our own singularity and exterminating all our values. And this is a much more ugly death.
-- Jean Baudrillard, "The Violence of the Global" in Ctheory, 2003

The very word "globalization" is a fake. There is no such thing as globalization, there is only virtualization. What is being effectively globalized by instantaneity is time. Everything now happens within the perspective of real time: henceforth we are deemed to live in a "one-time-system".... Up to now, history has taken place within local times, local frames, regions and nations. But now, in a certain way, globalization and virtualization are inaugurating a global time that prefigures a new form of tyranny. If history is so rich, it is because it was local, it was thanks to the existence of spatially bounded times which overrode something that up to now occurred only in astronomy: universal time. But in the very near future, our history will happen in universal time, itself the outcome of instantaneity -- and there only.
-- Paul Virilio, "Speed and Information: Cyberspace Alarm!" in Ctheory, 1995
On Tuesday I was one of three guests on stage. Steve and I discussed a clip from the film Network, globalisation, the TV show Lost, why iPods suck, and how to virally market your songs by leaving them in thrift stores for others to randomly find. We were interrupted by Charisma, a twelve-year-old rapper who did a great song about kids on the street.

ISLAND: Speed | Accident
The accident, the crash, the confrontation with a god-like being, with the alien... all are dislocating influences which, rather than challenge who we are, define who we are. The Day The Earth Stood Still could have been an ordinary story of geopolitical power, albeit one in which the dominant force fearing the savages is from another planet. It could have been a simple retelling of the Christ story: an alien of great power comes to save us, is betrayed, dies, but rises again to redeem.

But what takes it outside of these prosaic readings is the accident at the heart of the narrative, the singularity that gives the film its title, the negative force which shuts down all electricity on Earth. It cannot be fought, cannot be explained, cannot be avoided. This absence strips speed from society, halts the circulation of capital, and returns us to a pre-post-modern existence. The alien does the one thing we could never do: stop the accelerating catastrophe of contemporary life.
The Accident portrayed here is no longer the haphazard bricolage that it still is in most highway accidents -— the bricolage of the new leisure class's death drive. The car is not the appendix of an immobile domestic universe: there are no more private and domestic universes, only figures of incessant circulation, and the Accident is everywhere as irreversible and fundamental trope, the banalizing of the anomaly of death. It is no longer on the margins; it is at the heart. It is no longer the exception to a triumphant rationality; it has become the Rule, it has devoured the Rule. It's not even any longer the "accursed part," the part conceded to fate by the system itself and calculated into its general reckoning. All is inverted. Here it is the Accident which gives life its very form; it is the Accident, the irrational, which is the sex of life.
-- Jean Baudrillard, "Ballard's Crash" in Science Fiction Studies 18.3, November 1991

"Contemporary civilization differs in one particularly distinctive feature from those which preceded it: speed. The change has come about within a generation," noted the historian Marc Bloch, writing in the nineteen-thirties. This situation brings in its wake a second feature: the accident.... Daily life is becoming a kaleidoscope of incidents and accidents, catastrophes and cataclysms, in which we are endlessly running up against the unexpected, which occurs out of the blue, so to speak. In a shattered mirror, we must then learn to discern what is impending more and more often—but above all more and more quickly, those events coming upon us inopportunely, if not indeed simultaneously.
-- Paul Virilio, Foreword to Accidents, exhibit at Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain

ISLAND: Time | Ecology
There is no ecology. Post- and trans-humans have no need for a supposed balance with "nature" since we reconstruct ourselves and redefine nature with every ingestion. Once the Earth is consumed there will be further resources. But once the sun is gone humans as residents of this solar system will lose the last word in their definition. Long before then they will be something else, but at that moment humans qua humans die.
Development simply wants to continue expanding indefinitely, and whatever restricts that internal dynamic merely registers as a problem to be overcome by the achievement of even greater levels of operational efficiency. Having transcended the human, with all its operational inadequacies, the only limit remaining to development's continued expansion would be the death of the sun; so by implication that limit is what techno-science is working towards circumventing. Thought is of interest to development only in so far as it is necessary to guarantee survival: no humanist ideals lie behind this exercise in preservation.
-- Stuart Sim, Lyotard and the Inhuman, 33-34

[I]f one wants to control a process, the best way of so doing is to subordinate the present to what is (still) called the "future", since in these conditions the "future" will be completely predetermined and the present itself will cease opening onto an uncertain and contingent "afterwards".
-- Jean-François Lyotard, The Inhuman, 65
Thursday, September 22, 2005

Favourite Movies on Blogger

Recently I decided to have a closer look at my profile. Noticing that you can click on each item in sections like "Favorite Movies" I decided to do just that, and see how different titles stack up.

The first thing I noticed is that the number of listings is capped at 50. If there are more than 50 other blogger profiles that share an interest, they will not show up. In fact, sometimes even all 50 don't get displayed; a page might not have a "continue" link when it should. One can of course spoof the URL in order to see the remainder, but it is an odd bug.

For example, this is not the last page of entries, this is.

Anyway, looking at movies, the following have the maximum number of hits (can't say I'm too surprised): Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Local Hero, Solaris, Alphaville, Blade Runner, Wings of Desire, Touch of Evil.

In descending order, here are the rest:
Last Year at Marienbad: 41
The Last Wave: 28
La Jetée: 25
Meshes of the Afternoon: 11
Three Women: 8
16 Years of Alcohol: 2

And finally, there is one film which no-one else picked as a favourite. This is not too surprising, as I first saw it about 25 years ago at a repertory cinema and have never even had a chance to view it again. Knife in the Head is a compelling drama from Germany starring Bruno Ganz, well known for Wings of Desire [Der Himmel über Berlin] and in the news lately for his portrayal of Hitler in Downfall [Der Untergang].

I hope Knife in the Head eventually gets a DVD release. It is highly recommended!
Thursday, September 22, 2005

Email Etiquette

Recently I was sent a link to this email etiquette page by the firm that I consult for. I think that it is very helpful but had a few points of critique I thought I would share.

"11. Don't leave out the message thread." is good advice, but blindly copying entire nested quotes of threads is useless, since the information quickly becomes unreadable. I think it is important to add the following rule:

33. Quote sparingly from the message you are replying to. Snip out redundant text, footers, sigs, etc. However, always leave enough context so that you are not misrepresenting the original author.

And while we're on the topic:

34. Do not top-quote. Put your reply below a relevant quote from the original message. Humans read top-to-bottom, not the other way around.

Here's another efficiency and accuracy enhancer:

35. Link to sources of information rather than copying them. For example, a simple URL to a BBC news story on the web is better than a cut'n'paste job.

I would be stricter about some of the rules here. For example instead of "17. Be careful with formatting" and "18. Take care with rich text and HTML messages" I would simply say:

17. Never use special formatting or HTML. The content of an email should be plain text.

There are only a few points that I disagree with. "16. Take care with abbreviations and emoticons" seems designed for people who never really use email at all. I believe that properly used common abbreviations save time. After all we don't spell out BBC every time so why spell out FYI? Emoticons can help convey contextual info otherwise missing (like humour or sarcasm). However, I do agree they should not be over-used.

Finally I would like to comment on "14. Do not overuse Reply to All." Often it happens that an email is designed to be discussed amongst a small group. The original author might CC it to two people besides the recipient. What is very annoying is when some of those people reply without CCing it back to me, so that I get only some of the thread but not the whole thing. I believe it is a matter of judgement whether a message should be copied around in this way but nonetheless this rule is too cut and dried. Better for group discussions is a wiki. But if email is all you have, don't keep some of your team in the dark.
Sunday, September 18, 2005

New Category and Portrait

I made a small tweak to the categories I recently created. The Media category seemed a little vague, so I moved all of the articles that are thematic links to other parts of the web to their own page, which I have called Web Wonders.

In other exciting news (?) I have changed my profile picture. This is a shadow of my former self taken 10 June 2005. I enjoy taking photos of my shadow, especially when I can find a distinctive texture or colour as a background.
Saturday, September 17, 2005

Framemakers Dublin

Next week the Daghdha Dance Company take their art project Framemakers to Dublin, as part of the Fringe. In June I attended their symposium Choreography As An Aesthetics Of Change here in Limerick. It was a stimulating and always mutating blend of lecture, dance, discussions, music, text, interventions, Q&A, and... Wilson.

This project, Seven Days of Everything, is taking place in the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar from 19-25 September. The space is open from 10am-5pm with a more formal performance at 8pm. Exactly what will happen I cannot say. Not because I am sworn to secrecy, but rather because I don't think anyone can describe the free-flowing mix of activities that is likely to occur. Not even after the fact are textual descriptions that apt. All I can reveal is that there will be no... Wilson.

The event is free. I will be there Monday and Tuesday, maybe observing, maybe disrupting, maybe encouraging.
Saturday, September 17, 2005

Éigse Michael Hartnett

Today I was out in the lovely town of Newcastle West, for the second night of the Éigse Michael Hartnett, a poetry festival celebrating one of Ireland's most loved recent poets. It's a very personal affair, with relatives and friends remembering Hartnett though bawdy songs, poetry, music, food, and drink.

Last year was great craic and this time around it's proving to be just as much fun. The site was the Desmond Hall of the local Geraldine castle, built as early as 1298. It's been restored to a beautiful state, with other parts of the grounds following on. Candle lighting was well-suited to the occasion as Gabriel Fitzmaurice opened up the evening with his usual pithy introductions.

The first poet was John O’Donoghue whose intense delivery and dense texts are likely not to everyone's tastes, though he is undoubtedly a great wordsmith. He studies Hegel, which to some is a warning. Personally I enjoyed the reading but would have preferred a shorter dose.

No greater contrast could be found than in the lively delivery and spirited poems of Jackie Kay. Living in Manchester, born in Edinburgh, adopted, and with a Nigerian birth-father, she can certainly write from an outsider perspective. But she does so with such wit and verve that one never gets bogged down. Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) is filming one of her novels. You read it here first!

Providing musical interludes was none other than Niamh Dunne. I haven't seen her in some time, since she's busy summers travelling from festival to festival. Last year she went to Canada playing solo and with Díorma. (Scroll down on this page or search for her name.) She has also played with Beoga. A review of The Dunne Family CD Legacy should convince you to buy it.

The organisers, from Limerick County Council, have done a great job. I am so looking forward to tomorrow. Maybe see you there?
Saturday, September 17, 2005

Articles Are Now Categorised

Before this site got too big I thought I would help you find your way around it by putting articles into different categories. Blogger has no automated way to do this, so I had to do the categorisation manually.

You can see the results in the sidebar. Categories may change a bit over time but not much as it's a fair amount of work. Note that I back-dated all of the category articles so they wouldn't clutter the top of the blog with silly index posts.
Monday, September 12, 2005

Oblique Strategies

The Oblique Strategies were originally a set of one-hundred cards, each bearing a short phrase. They were devised by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt as ways of working through creative problems. When a blockage occurs, draw a card, and see if it can direct you in a tangential way that helps solve the problem.

I have created a Python implementation that includes two different decks.

The first deck is made up of version four of the printed cards, including all corrections, plus any strategies that were deleted from that edition but
found in previous printings, and also additional strategies taken from "A Year With Swollen Appendices: The Diary of Brian Eno".

The second deck is made up of my own strategies, devised over some time and still evolving. These were not written with any reference to the original Oblique Strategies but are designed to function in a similar way.

To use this program you will require Python 2.3 or higher. It is available as a free download. Download ObliqueStrategies.py and run it from the command line or your favourite Python interactive environment. It will print a random strategy. There is a parameter to specify the deck; the standard UNIX "--help" switch will tell you all about that.

Thanks to Paul for inspiration. Hope this helps you make some music!
Sunday, September 11, 2005

Windows XP Configuration For Audio

This article was first posted on the web before May 2003. It is presented here as part of my Retro series.

The following is an extensive list of tips for setting up and running Windows XP. It is targetted at audio professionals who want to get the best possible performance and stability from their computer. Windows is a complicated operating system. Even if you know what to do, it may be difficult to find out how to do it, since the interface is designed more to shield the user from such concerns than it is to provide easy access to system internals.

Although it is difficult to trash your system with these optimisations, the rule of thumb should always be "if you do not understand it, don't do it." Certainly I will not be held responsible for any problems that may occur.

A second proviso is to not follow any instructions which contradict recommendations from your hardware provider. Every computer is different, and audio interfaces can be tricky beasts. They may very well have specific needs outside the norm.

With those disclaimers out of the way, I think you will be very pleasantly surprised by the increase in performance, disk space, boot-up speed, and other metrics that you can get with a little tweaking. Benchmark your system before and after these tips and bask in the warm light of your accomplishments!


While this is not primarily a hardware document, a few tips are not inappropriate.

• Install two hard drives, the first for your OS and apps, the second for audio data.

• Performance is reduced if you share a HD with a CD-ROM or burner on the same IDE cable. For this reason some recommend having the CD on its own controller, while other recommend having your audio data drive separate. The former seems like the most reasonable option.

• Get the fastest possible processor you can afford. Audio apps are more processor-intensive than other applications. Likewise, consider upgrading an old motherboard to increase the speed of your Front Side Bus (FSB) to 533MHz or beyond. This allows the use of faster memory.

• Speaking of RAM, ensure you have 1024 MB. Do not buy the cheapest possible memory, but rather get high performance memory that will fully exploit your FSB speed.

• Consider how you are going to back up your work. For one backup set use DVD, which allows you to store seven times as much data per disk as a CD. For your second backup set use a removable or Firewire drive.

• Serial ATA (SATA) hard drives match the performance of SCSI and cost less. New drives from Maxtor and Seagate are super-quiet, fast, and dependable. To go the extra mile, get a RAID controller (for example, from Promise) so that you can write a backup as you work, or interleave two drives for even more performance.

• Think about reducing your system noise. Do not get an enclosure larger than you need, that just increases the amount of air that must be moved. Replace noisy fans with quiet ones. Ditto for power supplies. Sound-proofing material is available both for your case and your drives. Do not install a high-performance video card that carries an extra fan --they are only for gamers. This article from Quiet PC is useful.

• Think about ergonomics. Use an LCD panel instead of a CRT to reduce radiation and eye strain. Get a chair that fits your body and a desk or workstation at the correct height. Be sure your work area is appropriately lit and configured for your physiology. Replace your mouse with a touchpad. Use a keyboard that is flat and responsive.

• Be sure you have a recent motherboard with a decent USB controller. Otherwise, add in a separate USB card. Read this article from RME for details. The same applies to Firewire; not all controllers are created equal.

Before Installing

• Install the latest BIOS for your motherboard.

• Check to ensure APIC is supported by your motherboard and enabled in your BIOS.

• Ensure you have at least 2GB of installation space for XP, though 10GB is a safer number.

• Run the Hardware Compatibility List and the Windows Upgrade Advisor to review your system for possible incompatibilities.

• Download the latest XP device drivers for your hardware. Also get the latest Service Pack. While you're at it, get the latest Direct X subsystem. You may want to burn a CD of these, so they are handy.

• Download the freeware Scanner so you can check disk utilisation and see how much these tips will save you!

• In your BIOS, ensure that the CD-ROM is the first boot device.

• Plan your partitioning strategy. If you are using the same computer for non-audio applications (especially games and internet cruft like instant messengers) it is best to have two separate boot partitions on your OS disk: one which you will use only for critical audio apps, and the other which can be for everything else. On your audio disk, have a separate "current work" partition of a reasonable size, so you can defragment it quickly and often. This Multiple OS Installation Guide may help.

• The choice of installing XP Home versus Professional is largely one of cost. Use the professional edition if you need dual processor support, the ability to log onto an NT domain, or more complete user access controls. Otherwise Home is fine.


• Install by booting from the XP CD. Perform a clean installation, not an upgrade. Partitioning and formatting can be handled during the installation.

• Use FAT32 allocation tables only if you need to boot earlier OSes that can't read NTFS file systems. Otherwise, use NTFS for better performance, ability to compress tracks, access rights control, and the ability to have partition sizes of greater than 32 GB.

• Use a cluster size of 64 KB for audio partitions, since larger blocks means fewer separate disk writes.

• Install XP with the default option, an ACPI (Advanced Configuration and Power Interface) computer, unless advised otherwise by your audio hardware manufacturer.

• Install as a APIC computer to reduce or eliminate IRQ sharing.

• Set up multiple user profiles: one for audio (with administrative rights) and another for general use.

After Installation

The remainder of the document assumes that you have booted into your audio OS partition, and have administrator rights.

• Update your system with the latest Service Pack.

• Update your system with the latest Direct X drivers.

• Upgrade all the device drivers that you previously downloaded. It is best to reboot after installing each one.

• Create an XP boot floppy using the appropriate MS utility. Read this.


It is best to reboot after a series of changes to clean the slate of any system components that may be running. For example, make all of the Service changes at once, and then reboot before making other changes.

• Check all of the running applications in your System Tray (right-hand part of the status bar at the bottom of your screen). Turn off any you do not need, as they take up memory and resources, as well as increasing boot time. The general procedure is to right-click and uncheck settings like "load at startup" and "run in background". Then exit the applet.

• In particular, disable Windows Messenger, which uses a minimum of 3.6 MB. After right-clicking select Open -- Tools -- Options / Preferences and uncheck "Run this program when windows starts".

• Stop unnecessary apps from running on boot-up by removing their shortcuts from your Start Menu Startup folder.

• Disable visual effects in Control Panel -- Display -- Appearance -- Effects. Turn off things like "Show window contents while dragging".

• To speed up screen redraws, set colour depth to 16 bits in Control Panel -- Display -- Settings.

• Turn off the screen saver in Control Panel -- Display -- Screen Saver. On this same panel, set monitor power saving to "always on" and turn off any hard disk or CPU power down features.

• In Control Panel -- Sounds and Audio Devices turn off system sounds as these can interfere with recording.

• In Control Panel -- System -- Advanced choose "adjust for best performance" under Visual Effects and "adjust for best performance of background services" under Processor Settings. This ensures the lowest latency with ASIO drivers.

• Disable "fast user switching" in Control Panel -- User Accounts -- Change.

• Disable unnecessary "System Services" in Control Panel -- Performance and Maintenance -- Administrative Tools -- Services. This can save between 12 and 70 MB of RAM. However, doing so is for advanced users only. Be sure you know what you are turning off! For a detailed reference see the Black Viper site. Some of the following tips assume a knowledge of these Services.

• If you wish, disable System Restore to reclaim about 3GB of space. With this off, you will no longer be able to restore your system to a previous safe snapshot, but instead will have to do a clean install manually. However, if you are using a separate boot partition for your audio work, this should not be an issue. In Control Panel -- Performance and Maintenance -- System -- System Restore check "Turn off System Restore". Then disable the services "System Restore" and "Indexing".

• Disable Themes by going to Control Panel -- Performance and Maintenance -- System -- Advanced -- Performance Settings -- Visual Effects and selecting "Adjust for best performance". Then disable the Themes Service which
saves 4-12 MB RAM.

• Disable Automatic Updates in Control Panel -- Performance and Maintenance -- System -- Automatic Updates. Then disable the service "Automatic Updates". This prevents Windows from checking and prompting you to get updates to its software. Instead, you should manually check the Windows Update site periodically for important fixes.

• In XP Pro, turn off "Remote Assistance" and "Remote Desktop Sharing" in Control Panel -- Performance and Maintenance -- System -- Remote.

• Disable "Disk I/O Performance Logging" by selecting Run from the Start Menu and typing diskperf –n.

• Disable "Write Behind Caching" in Control Panel -- System -- Hardware -- Device Manager. Select each drive, choose Properties and uncheck "Write Cache Enabled".

• Check DMA settings in Device Manager (access as above). Under the "IDE ATA/ATAPI Controllers" branch of the tree, do the following for both Primary and Secondary Controllers: right-click, select "Properties", go to the Advanced Settings tab, ensure "Transfer mode" is set to "DMA if available" and "Device Type" to "Auto Detection". If these options do not exist, you likely need a BIOS update for your motherboard.

• Disable AutoPlay so CDs don't start up automatically. Go to Start -- My Computer and select the drive you wish to modify. Under Properties -- AutoPlay choose the appropriate drive type and behaviour.

• After all of your installations, uninstalls, and optimisations are complete, defragment your hard drives. Do this periodically or after major file changes. If you followed the partition advice given earlier, you can quickly defrag your current work partition after each work session.

• Download BootVis from MSDN and run it now and whenever the system changes significantly. It will optimise files on the disk for fastest sequential access during boot-up.

Helpful Tips

• Complete your security setup my modifying your accounts. For XP Pro disable the "Guest" account and rename (not disable) the "Administrator" account. First, go to Administrator Tools -- Computer Management -- Local Users and Groups -- User folder, right click "Guest", go to Properties -- General, check "Account is Disabled". Second, go to Administrator Tools -- Computer Management -- Local Users and Groups -- User folder, right click "Administrator", and select "Rename". For XP Home go to Control Panel -- User Accounts -- Owner and "Change my name" to something other than "Owner". Then, "Create a password" so your account is protected.

• Do not customise the Virtual Memory swap file, despite some recommendations to the contrary.

• Do not install virus scanning apps that load in the background or run as services.

• Do not install RealPlayer, Quicktime, games, or any other large multimedia system. In fact, install only what you need to get work done, at least on your audio boot partition. Play around with new plugins and fun stuff on your other OS copy.

• Compile a CD of your current driver and install files for every essential application. Note which apps do not need to be installed (but can instead simply be copied into a folder). Have these ready to go without needing to unpack, etc. This will save a lot of time during a system restore.

• If you change the Windows registry manually (recommended for experts only), make the change to a .REG file, and archive all of these so you can replicate the changes easily.

• Develop and implement a consistent and thorough backup regimen.

• Note where apps store their configuration info and try to standardise this. Don't forget to backup this data.

• Keep a text file with all product serial numbers for ease of reference.

• If you wish to use the Recovery Console, install it from the XP CD. In this way, should you ever need it you will not need to scramble for your setup disk.

• To improve system stability, at the cost of slightly decreased performance, go to Computer -- Tools -- Options -- View and turn on "Launch folder windows in a separate process".


In addition to what has been mentioned already, you may want to consider these third-party products.

• Lavasoft's Ad-aware removes spyware from your system, hence improving performance and security. The Standard Edition is free, or at least used to be (?)

• The free Litestep is a replacement shell that provides enhanced customisation and may reduce resource usage.

Diskeeper (commercial) provides some additional hard drive optimisations.

Norton Ghost (commercial) can create full disk images, which helps in making more complete backups.

PartitionMagic (commercial) allows partitioning a drive dynamically, which is handy if you think you may have to change things after OS installation.


Optimizing Windows 2000 and Windows XP for Audio is a PDF from the makers of Gigastudio.

Pure Performance has various tips.

• The Black Viper site has much discussion of system services.

RME provides a variety of good technical articles, most of them hardware related.
Sunday, September 11, 2005

Programming Language Features

This article was first posted on the web sometime before 2002. It is presented here as part of my Retro series.

Things I'd like to see in a programming language suitable for text, database, interface, and system scripting work. Each feature is followed by a brief description.

Package and general features:
  • Orthogonal structure: Constructed from a small number of powerful constructs for ease of learning and understanding.
  • Reasonable syntax: Simple, clean, readable.
  • Portable: To all major platforms.
  • Access to system calls: UNIX and Win32.
  • Interface to external programs: Ability to catch errors, note the exit status, and redirect I/O.
  • Foreign function interface: Ability to dynamically load and execute functions written in another language.
  • Module system: With protected namespace.
  • Extensive standard library: For functionality not provided by the language.
  • Language standard: One implementation.
  • Freely distributable: Avoids license fees and restrictions.
  • Interpreted implementation: For quick ad-hoc development and machine independence.
  • Compiled implementation: For faster execution and protected code if distributed.
  • Embedded implementation: For use within another application (eg: web server).
  • Interactive source debugger.
  • High-level portable GUI: For easy data entry.
Specific language features:
  • Automatic memory management
  • Full set of data types: Support for strings, lists, arrays, records / structs, tuples, sets, unions.
  • Fully assignable data types: Ability to make list of lists, array of strings, etc. without recourse to pointers.
  • Recursive functions
  • Binary (8-bit) data handling
  • Unicode (16-bit) data handling: Needed for proper XML.
  • An object system: Multiple inheritance a plus as it allows a high degree of code-reuse.
  • Strong typing: To prevent type mismatches.
  • Exception handling: For better error checking.
  • Static typing: Catch type errors at compile-time.
  • Definable control structures: A macro system or normal order evaluation.
  • Pattern matching: regular expression support.
  • Dynamic calling sequences.: The ability for functions to accept optional or unlimited arguments.
  • Dynamic typing and name resolution.: Allows expression of generic operations.
  • Multiple return values from functions
  • Circular data structures: In a natural syntax.
  • Reflexivity: Ability to access data about the language and programming environment itself.
Following this analysis, I chose Python.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Artwork For Control Tower Sound CD

Here is the premiere of the front cover for the Control Tower Sound CD. The CD label itself is similar.

The photo of the Shannon airport control tower was used prominently on all of the promotional items for the event. However, I decided for the CD to relegate this to a secondary role. Instead I prefered to emphasise text.

CYYZ is the code for Pearson International Airport in Toronto; EIDW represents Dublin, Ireland. It is these two control towers which provided the ATC recordings used on the CD.

Back cover below.

The black text is the piece To Measure Us, track 9 on the disk. The grey text is the weather readout from CYYZ at the time of the ATC recordings. This dates to 2 August 2005, three days before my live performance, when Air France Flight 358 from Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris ran off the side of runway 24L and crashed.

Far from being a piece of sensationalism, the recordings illustrate how matter-of-factly the ATC professionals deal with the events of their day, no matter what they may be.

While on the subject, I have updated the previous post with the latest track listing.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Build Your Own Apollo Computer

I can do little more here than to quote the site itself.

"This report describes my successful project to build a working reproduction of the 1964 prototype for the Block I Apollo Guidance Computer. The AGC is the flight computer for the Apollo moon landings, with one unit in the command module and one in the LEM."

"I built it in my basement. It took me 4 years."

See those plans here. Everything you want to know about the Apollo programme is at the NASA site or this one.

To give you a flavour of the event I have the Apollo 15 launch transcript nearby. I can clearly remember listening to these growing up. And watching the BBC announcers with their little plastic models. How times have changed. <-- Me, momentarily nostalgic. You won't see that often. Promise.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Apollo 15 Launch Transcript

Here I have a fragment of the Apollo 15 launch transcript, made by the NASA Public Affairs Officer on 26 July 1971.

"Mark: T-minus 2 minutes and counting. Still going well. Propellants stable onboard the vehicle. The crew here in the firing room monitoring more than 300 redline values, watching temperatures and pressures to ensure they do not go above nominal. In the case that it did, any one of these key people could call in to hold the countdown. 1 minute, 36 seconds and counting; still going well."

"The pressurization sequence is still continuing in the vehicle. We're now 90 seconds away from lift-off. All still going well. We'll go on internal power with the vehicle at the 50 second mark in the count. We now get indications from our status board that all is still going well, and the third stage is now completely pressurized. Coming up shortly on the 1 minute mark, we're now 70 seconds and counting."

"Second stage tanks are pressurized as our countdown continues. Mark: T-minus 60 seconds and counting on Apollo 15. The Astronauts are Go. Launch vehicle and spacecraft components all Go as our countdown proceeds."

"Now 50 seconds; we have the power transfer. The vehicle now on the battery power on the vehicle and all is still going well. Lunar Module Pilot, Jim Irwin, making some final checks now."

"Passing the 40 second mark. Spacecraft Commander Dave Scott now has made his final check; that is, aligning the guidance system."

"30 seconds and counting. The guidance system will go internal at the 17 second mark."

"Now 25 seconds. We have complete clearance to launch. We are Go. 20."

"15 seconds, guidance internal, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, ignition sequence start."

"Engines On. 5, 4..."


"...2, 1, all engines running."

"Launch commit."

"Lift-off. We have lift-off at 9:34 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time."

Corrected Transcript and Commentary © 1998 by W. David Woods and Frank O'Brien. Fair use claimed here.
Monday, September 05, 2005

RME Multiface II Announced

RME make some of the best audio interfaces for your computer. Buy one of their products, plug it in, and it will just work, at the highest possible standards for the money. Their drivers are the bomb and provide features unheard of in other products. I use their Multiface and now there is an improved model, the Multiface II, which is so new that it's not even on their home page yet!

But here's the scoop.

For full information you can download the official manual. The quick summary is that this box is the same as its predecessor except:

* The headphone output is improved to 119 dBA signal-to-noise ratio and has a volume control. It's a little-known fact that the headphone output has a better spec than any other output on the box! Maybe you should wire this to your monitors?

* The internal power supply has been improved.

* The analog inputs have increased signal-to-noise ratio by 10 dB, and lowered THD as well.

* The analog output stages likewise have lower THD.

* There are switches on the front of the unit to change the reference level of the inputs and outputs. This previously required opening the unit for a jumper change.

* The little-used ADAT Sync interface has been removed from the back of the unit in order to increase socket spacing.

* It's got a new funky blue panel. :-)

Otherwise this is the same beast, completely compatible with existing firmware and software, and at the same price as before. I can easily find it for €685 (or €859 including the PCI card interface).

For some that looks like a lot of money. But this is a 36-channel 24-bit/96kHz interface with eight analog inputs, ADAT digital I/O, SPDIF digital I/O, and even MIDI. Best of all, it can operate at absolutely minimal latency on even older-generation computers.

As a bonus, you can get a CardBus interface and use the same Multiface with your laptop.
Sunday, September 04, 2005

Pre-Announcing New CD

The mastering for the Control Tower Sound CD is complete! All recordings were made to reproduce the live improvisations of the Friday August 5th performance. That is, these are the same pieces as those heard on the night, but different versions.

I can now announce the track listing.

1. Theme From "Control Tower Sound" 2:03
2. Integrated Noise Model 7:09
3. Floating Threshold 11:09
4. Fly Quiet Program 6:09
5. "Sound Is..." 4:53
6. Ground Run-Up Enclosure 3:52
7. "Control Is..." 6:39
8. Weather Deviation 4:47
9. To Measure Us 1:29
10. Instrument Approach 2:44
11. Terminal Radar 8:28
12. Finale From "Control Tower Sound" 2:05

Next I must finish the packaging design and create a quantity of disks. These will be hand-made in small batches.

A CD release party will be forthcoming once I secure a venue.

For some sound samples and notes on the evening see my previous post. Browsing through the archives will yield up further treasures.

I am already working on future musical endeavors. This is going to be a very busy fall, and a great time for anyone in Limerick who enjoys something a little experimental in their music.
Thursday, September 01, 2005

Field Recording Resources

On and off through the years I've been involved with phonography, the art of field recording. This started with a Sony Pro Walkman, which in fact got very good results on cassette (remember them?). DAT and Minidisc dramatically increased the ability for non-professionals to make good -- even excellent -- recordings with a minimum of equipment.

phonography.org is one home base for this field (pun intended). The best resource here is the personnel list, since the gear page is out of date and spare.

Better for the equipment side of things is the Vermont Folklife Center, which has a thorough Audio Field Recording Equipment Guide.

The BBC have some basic courses online, though these focus on radio.

I feel I must point out this insane recorder, especially for those planning their next Antarctic field trip.

The Freesound Project is an audio clip resource. Recently a nice article, The Adventures of a Freesound Member, was posted.

One of the most famous sites for phonography, and rightly so, is The Quiet American. Every week a new One Minute Vacation is added. These are unedited excerpts of sound from somewhere and somewhen. Fascinating.
Thursday, September 01, 2005

New Orleans Mon Amour

After viewing the scenes of devastation in New Orleans, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said: "I can only imagine that this is what Hiroshima looked like 60 years ago". This according to the BBC.

In the flooded city of New Orleans hundreds, perhaps thousands, are dead and people are dealing with lack of drinking water and loss of their belongings. The storm came slowly, with much warning and media coverage. People had time to move to safer ground, although some might not have had the means. Now, the rest of the country is mobilising to help them.

The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed 80,000. Those few remaining dealt with horrific radiation sickness and burns, massive outbreaks of disease, complete vapourisation of their belongings, a country collapsing after years of warfare, and a society in crisis.

The flood was a natural phenomena, exacerbated by optimistic and shortsighted city planning. The Hiroshima bombing was an act of terror by one state on the citizens of another. Anyone who thinks there is even a reasonable comparison to be made between the two is a brain-dead idiot. Or, yeah, a US politician.

The irradiated, terrified, and numb viewers of television news are the ones who in fact most resemble atomic blast victims.

The picture on the left is from the BBC and that on the right comes courtesy of Wikipedia. Please check these sources for copyright info.