Friday, December 20, 2013

Synchronising files between devices -- how hard can it be?

It's the age of the cloud, or so we are told. All our documents are available to us everywhere, on our computers, phones, and tablets.

In this golden age it should be simple to synchronise between Android and the desktop computer, in such as way as to take advantage of an internet connection when it exists, but not be hampered by the lack when it doesn't. Seamless editing, with automatic synchronising on each edit, should be a reality in 2013, given that the technology is decades old. But the truth is rather different.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Latest Activities


Almost three months since my last blog post... I guess you could say I've been busy, all the time making photos, gathering sounds, writing poems, delivering lectures, presenting new compositions... interrogating the world around me through as many means as possible. Here follows a short summary, with photo and audio accompaniment.

Back in August the extensive compilation For Tom Carter was released, the aim being to raise funds for Tom Carter's (Charalambides) hospital fees. It will take you over ten hours to listen to all 99 contributions, including my own "Bicameral Dash", a track unique to this venture. The album is available on BandCamp. Highly recommended! (And free to listen, but please purchase.)

listening to HomeBird

At the end of August I delivered the paper "Radio Before and After Radio Waves" at ISSTC 2013, which took place at the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art and Design. I wrote more about that in my last post. This annual event was, as usual, a fantastic occasion in which to listen to vast amounts of music and develop insights into matters both technical and artistic. I was happy with the reception my own paper received, which only means that I have to somehow find time to write it up into a presentable PDF.

Church of Saint Kancijan

I had only a couple of days at home and then I was off to The Golden Boat Poetry Translation Workshop in Slovenia. Guests from several countries (England, Ireland, Slovakia, Poland, Montenegro, Finland) were invited to contribute their own poems and assist in the translation of others. The results were read at the historic Church of Saint Kancijan, and then in a reading at Trubar Literature House, Ljubljana. The week was absolutely fantastic on a professional level, and I must thank all of the participants and especially the organisers, Iztok Osojnik and Tatjana Jamnik.

Reka waterfall

The week was also stupendous in terms of the local geography of Škocjan, which is literally beyond description. The area is know for including the largest cave network in Europe, which we of course visited. Terrifying! Beyond this the psychogeography of the region was compelling. Even if you don't believe in ghosts there is certainly something unusual happening in the vicinity of the Cemetery of the Fearless Dead. I stayed in Betanja, where dreams are known to be dark and fluid, mapping the river that literally runs all around and underneath the limestone terrain.

I not only wrote a poem from this expeience, I made a film for it. Hopefully to be shown at some point! In the meantime, here are some midnight insect sounds:

Later in September my article Making Noise And Reading Noise was published in Interference Journal. This is a review of Hillel Schwartz's massive book Making Noise, which I recommend... under advisement. You can read my detailed critique on the journal's website.

Marco Viscomi with Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, translator

Poetry continued in October at the Cuisle Limerick International Poetry Festival. I am on the committee and so was kept busy despite the onset of an annoying flu. I was particularly happy at the reception of the two lunch-time poets. Though illness precluded the usual late nights socialising in the pub, I found the variety of works stimulating. Pictured is Marco Viscomi from our new sister festival in Italy, with translator Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin.

As each year, the festival was the site of the launch of the annual Stony Thursday Book. No. 12 was edited by Paddy Bushe. I am happy to say it included my poem "Tinnitus", already translated into a few languages at the aforementioned workshop! At The White House poetry session I read a brand new poem, reworking Irish mythology. "Amhairghin Returns" got a great reception, so I immediately sent it out for publication... not something I generally bother with.

Slip 3 Mezzanine concert environment

Most recently I was at the Symposium on Acoustic Ecology at the University of Kent. I met up with no fewer than five other Irish composers -- nice to see us well represented. A special shout out to Fergus Kelly, since I meet him on pretty well every trip I take outside of Limerick! Mikael Fernström and Aileen Dellane each presented papers. Alan Dormer provided an installation while Steve McCourt and myself had pieces in the listening room. You can listen to my "Caged Birds (Augmentation)" on Soundcloud.

It was great to hear the keynotes from Katharine Norman and Barry Truax, somewhat surreal to be chatting to Denis Smalley as we walked from building to building, and a happy accident that I found intriguing sounds to record while I was there. I am sure that the historic Medway docklands would be a fantastic place to wander around when it isn't raining all the time. But I did my best in any case.

The photo above shows the site of the final evening's concert, a huge hangar that appears like the hull of an inverted ship. Imagine an array of forty speakers blasting out sounds here. And freezing cold. Special!

On top of all of this I've been teaching Acoustics & Psychoacoustics on the Masters in Music Technology programme at DMARC, University of Limerick. And working front-of-house at the Limerick City Gallery of Art.

So, yes, busy. And more to come, which I should save for another post.

Sorry for the long absence. I hope this summary will keep my non-Facebook friends somewhat in the loop.
Thursday, August 22, 2013

Convocation of sound and technology in Dún Laoghaire

Every year the members of the Irish, Sound, Science and Technology Association (ISSTA) meet somewhere in Ireland to discuss their latest research, listen to lots of intriguing new music, attend workshops on anything from circuit bending to DJ tactics, and generally have a good time. It's not a conference, it's a convocation, a word that better expresses the plurality of activities on offer.

This year the ISSTA Convocation is 28-29 August at the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art and Design, just down the tracks from Dublin. Wednesday afternoon I will be delivering the paper "Radio Before and After Radio Waves", which draws on my experience in radiophonics in Canada. I want to define what practical qualities make radio special, but also which topological and network aspects allow us to speak of radio as a concept, a powerful spark to imaginative artistic practice.
Thursday, August 01, 2013

Choosing a micro SD card for your phone

Three years ago I wrote an introductory article on choosing an SD card, with the emphasis on camera usage. Times have changed and so have applications. This time around, I want to focus on finding the best microSD memory card for your smart phone. Naturally you will want to examine brand name reliability, price, and performance. To determine which is the fastest card for your money you might read online reviews, manufacturers specifications, and examine closely the strange nomenclature ("Class10", "UHS-1", "SDXC") surrounding memory cards.

But this is misleading. Everything you know about memory card performance is wrong.
Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Root your Jaiyu G2 / G3 phone the easy way

Jaiyu G2 restore screen

Under the hood, an Android phone runs a modified LINUX operating system. Out of the box we, the end users, are given only certain permissions to perform certain actions on this system. We are locked out of other functions, largely for our own good, it is said. Manufacturers don't want us accidentally wiping our OS or allowing apps to do malicious damage.

Anyone who wants to get full control over their computer (I mean, phone) needs root access. This Gizmodo article lists specific reasons why "rooting" is a useful thing. My main reasons are to get full backup capabilities, prior to installing a new Android ROM.

One of the reasons I purchased a Jaiyu G2 is that it was in fact possible to find rooting information. This is not true of all Chinese phones. But the problem is that this information is fragmentary, confusing, and ill-written. Besides which, there are several different methods, requiring different levels of expertise and risk.

The best guide I found, by user "umit" on DroidChina, still lacks clarity for those of us new to this venture. So here I present a rewrite of that guide, all props to the original author.
Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A great Android phone for 100 bucks

Jaiyu G2

I bought my last phone, the Sony Ericsson W810i, on the basis of its long battery life and short charge time. The fact that it was a Walkman and supposedly had superior audio was a plus as well -- until I discovered a playback glitch. After years of use a fully-charged charged battery now dies after a day. Given this, I may as well use a smart phone, where such behaviour is the norm! (I would prefer a battery to last a week, but such is not to be, alas.)

And so, it's time to buy a smart phone.
Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pro audio on mobile phones

As a composer and audio engineer, I am intrigued by what audio apps are available for the potent little computers we call mobile phones. In this article I will look at this particular application, on my way to making a smart phone purchase decision.

To begin, I will limit my consideration to the best supported and most mature operating systems. In 2013, this means iOS and Android. The innovative Nokia projects have died off. Windows 8 is ugly. So be it.

It turns out that iOS and Android are poles apart when it comes to audio development. Both can of course play back sounds just fine, but when it comes to music creation, recording, and control, a great deal more is expected of both hardware and software. How do these systems deliver? The answer focuses on latency and applications.
Monday, July 29, 2013

All my devices are black

my black devices

I am in a contradictory position regarding technology. Simultaneously I am a bit of a tech geek and am deeply suspicious of technophilia. I was researching hypertext before the web existed, when the only way to distribute such products was the not-so-network-aware floppy disk. I was developing web applications before that term was coined. And I have been recording digital audio since the days of the Atari [1]. With some justification I label myself a geek.

The problem is that I prefer to live my life as an artist. In practice, this means that though I'd like to be up-to-date with the latest electronics, I can never afford them. Nor do I delight in gadgets for their own sake, once the initial honeymoon period is over.
Saturday, July 20, 2013

Thousands of Field Recordings

recording at Carrig Aille ring fort

The last number of years have seen an enormous profusion of field recording artists, whose practice is variously labelled as "nature recording", "acoustic ecology", "phonography", and so on. Each term articulates a particular ideology, something I will address in detail in future writings. For now, I'd simply define these artists by the fact that they release untouched or slightly modified in situ recordings as aesthetic artefacts.

Three significant developments have contributed to this burst of activity. First, increasingly portable and inexpensive audio recorders have lowered the practical and financial barriers to recording in the field. Second, the steady broadening of what is acceptable "music" has allowed listeners the latitude to appreciation what might previously have been considered "unwanted sound" (or noise). Third, an increased awareness of ecological concerns has thrown into sharp relief the usefulness of field recordings, both as evidence of environmental impact and as a lasting record of vanishing soundscapes.

No matter what the cause, there are literally thousands of field recordings available to hear from the comfort of your own easy chair. Read on for my recommended resources.
Saturday, June 29, 2013

Essential and Inexpensive Camera Accessories


Photography is very much about having the right tool at the right time... and knowing what to do with it. Obviously the camera body and the lens are the two most important instruments, closely followed (depending on your methods) by a tripod and external flash. But what about all those inexpensive little things that make the job easier? I thought I'd empty my camera bag and have a look at what I have accumulated.

As usual, you can click through the image above to get a better look in Flickr.
Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Tandoori Lens Summit Part Three: Images from MFT Sensor

grid of crops from 6 lenses


In Part One of our Tandoori Lens Summit I set the scene and wrote a bit about food. In Part Two I outlined our lens choice, testing method, processing, and motivation. Now let's look at some images. Remember that we shot on two platforms, the APS-C sensor of the Pentax K-5 and the MFT sensor of the Olympus E-PL2. It is the second set under consideration here, because they turned out to be more consistent and easier to (minimally) process.

In fact, let me say more. Metering with the Pentax "green button" is a terrible process, ergonomically broken and inaccurate. We wasted a lot of time shooting on the K-5 only to have the Olympus make a fair comparison possible. Pentax, uncripple the K-mount! OK, rant over.

On the plus side, the Olympus platform allowed us to include in the comparison a native lens for MFT mount. Around these parts we like apples and oranges.

I can't upload every image at full-size, so decided to share the f/2 shots, since that's the widest aperture that all the test lenses can manage. You can click through each shot to get to full-size images on Flickr. These are JPG saved at quality 90.

A more comprehensive look how these lenses performed, across a representative range of apertures, is visible in the grid at the top of this article. This comprises 400x400 pixel crops from the focus area of each image. Yes, it's pixel peeping time!

Now follows our own personal evaluation of these photos. You may have different conclusions or opinions - we welcome comments!

The owner of this blog, Robin Parmar, is joined in this discussion by Robbie Corrigan, whose work you can see here. Let the lens summit begin!

Lens Discussion

K = SMC Pentax 50mm 1:1.2

SMC Pentax 50mm 1:1.2

A = SMC Pentax-A 50mm 1:1.2

SMC Pentax-A 50mm 1:1.2

Let's start with the Pentax lenses. The manual "K" and auto-aperture "A" versions of the 50mm f/1.2 are supposed to have the same optics. The glass is 7 elements in 6 groups with close focus at 45cm and a 52mm filter. Both are 49mm long and similar in weight, 385g for the K and 385g for the A. They are hefty lenses with a tank-like build. Focus is nice and smooth. The only difference besides the aperture control is that the aperture blade count went up from 8 to 9 on the A.

Robbie: I've had the pleasure of using both these lenses for a fair amount of time. As you know, I once had this K as a loaner from you, then I bought it from you, and finally bartered it back trying to persuade you to be my wedding photographer! The A is the third sample I've had; the previous two did not match up or better this particular K.

I would describe them both as mini 85s. They feel like good solid pieces of metal and glass and on a K-5 balance nicely, as if designed for the camera. Or perhaps the camera was designed with these in mind. A K-5 mounted with an A or K 50 f/1.2 does have a purposeful look to it. Focusing feel on both is firmer than, say, a Super Takumar 50 f/1.4 -- which is a silkiness benchmark. Both have been outfitted with Nikon HN-3 hoods which as luck would have it is an excellent fit for this lens in that it is relatively deep, does not vignette (even on a 135 sensor) and the bottom of the hood is only a millimetre shy of the bottom of a K-5.

Robin: The images from the A looks slightly better than the K across the board, in colour saturation, detail, clarity, and contrast. But the difference is ever-so-slight. Just on this evidence I wouldn't want to categorically state that one lens model is better than the other, as it's likely just variation between the two samples we happen to have. Except that this does confirm what I had previously read from other tests, some of which are more scientific than this one!

Robbie: Looking at the two examples, the A just edges it, being a tiny bit sharper, tiny bit better in contrast. It is indeed down to a variation of lens samples. A good K will show up a so-so A -- these both happen to be good K's and A's. Usage-wise, there is no comparison; the A comprehensively out-guns the K with the auto aperture which keeps the viewfinder nice and bright and allows 1/3 stop granularity instead of the 1/2 stop intervals on the K. Set your ISO, dial in shutter and aperture on the fly, and you're in manual photography heaven.

Robin: That's true on a Pentax, for which they are made. Mounted on an MFT camera, that difference is a wash. Both lenses get metered automatically and accurately. But you must rely on the aperture dial for control over f-stop. I notice from the images that both lenses benefit from stopping down to f/1.4 from wide open. It makes you wonder if one shouldn't save money and bulk and simply buy an f/1.4 in the first place! Pentax makes lots of good fast fifties. The answer, of course, is that some people like the soft look a very wide aperture brings.

Robbie: Hmm, f/1.2 is doable, perfectly doable but you have to be really careful with distance to subject, subject type... and no coffee! Contrast and saturation can be recovered with PP and sharpness as well to a lesser degree. It is very plain to see that both begin to recover contrast, sharpness, and pure bite with each step down on the aperture. Each full stop is very different to the stop before. You would find it very difficult to find another 50 that has such a broad range of talents. You want tiny DOF? Check. 3D look? Check. Silky smooth bokeh? Check. Good sharpness stopped down (at least as good as f/1.4 or f/1.7 variants)? Check. All you have to give up is autofocus!

Robin: And coffee. Remember that you also have to give up the coffee.

C = Cosina 55mm 1:1.2 MC

Cosina 55mm 1:1.2 MC

The Cosina 55mm 1:1.2 MC is a lens made by Tomioka, also marketed under their own name plus a host of others: Yashica (Yashinon), Ricoh (Rikenon), Revue (Revuenon), Chinar (Chinon), and even Vivitar Series 1 (for serial numbers beginning with "84"). Yet it's not an easy lens to find, and will sell now for much more than the initial cheap "clone lens" price. This Cosina version is in K-mount. Like the Pentax K and A, it's a 7 elements in 6 group design. It weighs 325g, has 60cm close focus, a 58mm filter, and 9 blades. It requires an after-market hood.

Robin: Bringing the Cosina into the equation I find the K is slightly preferable wide open. But could this be that the slightly longer focal length of the Cosina (55mm versus 50mm) is throwing detail more out of focus? At f/2 lens C appears to have more contrast and detail than K or A. By f/4 you wouldn't really be telling these three f/1.2 lenses apart, except the stronger colours of A still win me over.

Robbie: I was very interested in the Cosina having never used one before. Build is 6/10 compared to the Pentax variants 8/10. Focusing was smooth but not as precise. It does not impress when compared to the other two. Built to a different budget and price and it shows and feels it. I suppose at this stage I should submit to being a lens snob -- can't help it, won't change. I adore precise, finely-engineered optics that reward in a tactile sense. While I would respect this lens if I had not experienced the other two, I would not love it. And what were Cosina thinking with only allowing full stop aperture changes? I was stunned when I discovered this.

Robin: I have to agree on the build thing. As far as image quality goes, all three f/1.2 lenses are in the same ballpark and will produce the look people want from a super-fast lens. But it does seem that the more you spend the better image you get.

Robbie: It puts up a good fight to the other two at f/1.2. I'm wondering if it is down to the extra 5mm in reach but it does go softer faster than the Pentax variants in the immediate OOF area. It also exhibits a ghosting effect in higher contrast areas which is not showing on the others. Coating perhaps?

Robin: Yes, there is really no beating the Pentax coatings. They are being continuously improved but were remarkable even back in film days.

Robbie: I agree with you on the cost analysis. Cosina is half the price of an A, with the K somewhere in between. I think the Cosina is actually very good value if we carry on the analogy from Part One. It is not that far off the Pentax lenses in IQ, giving 90% of the flavour for 50% of the price of the pedigrees. Would I buy one? Nope, I have a good A so I'm sorted!

L = Pentax SMC-FA 43mm f/1.9 Limited

(Note that this lens does not have a manual aperture stop for f/2. Unlike the others presented here, this photo was taken wide open at f/1.9.)

Pentax SMC-FA 43mm f/1.9 Limited

The Pentax 43mm f/1.9 FA Limited is part of a triumvirate of lenses built by Pentax with exceptional attention to optics and physical detail. It is also the only lens in Pentax history to have been made for Leica M mount. The focal length was chosen to be the perfect normal on full-frame (135). The optics has 7 elements in 6 groups, a Double-Gauss design with an extra element before the rear glass. It has a 45cm minimum focus distance, a 49mm filter, and 8 aperture blades. It is only 27mm long and 155g in weight, and comes with a dedicated screw-on hood plus push-on felt-lined cap. Very nice!

Robbie: The FA 43 Limited. I'm going to admit straight away that I adore this little lens. If Pentax ever comes out with a 135 digital camera, this will be without doubt the first lens I'll put on it. On the forums there have been battles raging to and fro about this versus the DA 40. But for me this is the ultimate wolf in sheep's clothing. We both have one; we both adore them; we both have shots that have been taken with this lens that have wowed us. My biggest problem with this lens is that it is so unassuming. I'll throw on the A50 or FA77 or FA31 because they are more fashionable and forget that I have the 43. Then I remember it, put it on, and it just delivers.

Robin: Looking at the images, the L is sharper and clearer than any of the three f/1.2 lenses, and this is true starting wide open at f/1.9. Wow! Though I love this lens I wouldn't have quite expected that. Well, OK, maybe I would! I have shot thousands of great images with this lens. Plus I know that it's extraordinarily sharp wide open in the centre of the frame. From f/2.8 to f/5.6 it's the sharpest Pentax lens ever tested by Photozone.

Robbie: Surprised? Not in the slightest. It takes on any normal 50 and with a completely insouciant manner slaps them silly. As you've said quite eloquently, it has it all: sharpness, contrast, bite, a lifelike rendering that has bags of character. Colours are returned with extra deepness and tone. This lens is not about charts or comparisons even though it does well here. It is a reportage lens, 7 to 15 feet is its element.

Robin: Yeah, sharpness is not everything. I know from experience that the FA43 renders volume second-to-none. This enables it to produce that special "pop" when all the planets align just right. Compared to the lenses we've looked at so far, this one is tiny and furthermore supports auto-focus. However, this inevitably means that the manual focus feeling is compromised. It simply doesn't have the nice firm friction of a Pentax Takumar or K lens, a Zeiss, or a Leica.

Robbie: Focusing as you say is not as silky as a Takumar, K or even the A. Only the lightest touch is needed but you feel a certain roughness due to the AF mechanism.

Robin: Is auto-focus the biggest evil inflicted on photographers? All our lenses are now designed for motors, not human hands.

Z = Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar 50mm F2 T* ZK

Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar 50mm F2 T* ZK

Zeiss discontinued support for the K-mount, so the ZK version of the Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar 50mm F2 T* we are testing here is no longer available except on the second-hand market. It has a 6 elements in 8 group design with 9 aperture blades and a 67mm filter. The Makro-Planar is not a true macro, attaining 1:2 magnification at its 24cm minimum focus distance. It's a huge lens for a normal prime. The 65mm length is extended by an extra 32mm at full magnification. And it weighs 530g. The hood is small but sufficient since the front element is deeply recessed. The ZK version has auto-aperture but otherwise no coupling to the camera. It is, of course, manual focus only.

Robin: It has to be said that the image from Z trumps the Pentax offerings overall. There is more clarity and saturation, even in the out-of-focus regions. You can clearly see that the highlights in the OOF have distinct shapes. Yet this does not detract from the bokeh, which is appealing. Though this is subjective, of course, as some might prefer the more smeared look of, say, the Cosina, for its "artistic" effect. I do not.

Robbie: I was expecting this result, to be honest. The f/1.2s are all well and good, but this is not a fast fifty but an uber fifty! What I like about this lens is the smooth, oh so smooth transition to OOF. Sharpness is there are you'd expect, nay demand from an optic of this calibre. I know from experience that the distance we were set from the subject is in the optimised area for this lens.

Robin: That's a good point to emphasise. Some of these lenses might perform differently at longer distances. But it's a preference of mine to have close focusing lenses, since I like a lot of magnification. I'm a detail-oriented person. That's also consistent with the fact that all my lenses have a narrower field of view mounted on MFT sensors... and I don't mind.

Stopped down, Z gains definition and a bolder look. I have to point out the possibility that this is down to subtle light changes over the course of our session. But that's just me waffling, since we really saw no such thing!

Robbie: With each stop it gets sharper, deeper, revealing more and more... but you know what? The FA 43 is not that far behind and on some of the shots at the same aperture is showing just as much if not a little bit more in the OOF area.

Robin: Yeah. I think I swung to the Zeiss camp a little easily since I have fond memories of using their lenses on the Contax system. And I am over-familiar with the Pentax Limited series, so I see change as good. Your viewpoint is more fair.

O = Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm 1:1.8

Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm 1:1.8

The Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm 1:1.8 MSC is a native Micro-Four-Thirds lens, so it was made to cover a much smaller image circle than the others we've looked at. It has 9 lenses in 8 groups with 2 of these being special E-HR. This is somehow not the same as Extra Dispersion. Oh how marketing departments confuse! The 7 blades form a circular diaphragm. Though 37mm in length it weighs only 116g, being constructed with plastic compounds (though the mount is metal). It has a 37mm filter and an "optional" hood. The MSC designates silent auto-focus operation, especially for video. Manual focus is "by wire" as there is no direct coupling to the helicoid.

Robin: I was ready to declare Z the winner in our little shoot-out, but then I looked at O. The comparison is made difficult given the focal length difference. The 45mm puts more into focus than 50mm and so the image is going to look better at first glance. Even despite this, I see significantly more micro-contrast with the Olympus, showing detail that Z simply doesn't render. The colours and bokeh are very similar, I must say.

Robbie: Hmm, here I'm going to disagree with you. From f/1.8 to f/2.8 the Olympus is amazing; after that it tails off in my opinion. Colours, saturation, sharpness are all there which is astounding really but then again is it? This is a 45mm behaving as a 90mm, tuned no doubt to the MFT sensor. I'm wondering if it is another example of lens and sensor tuning that makes the sum better than the component parts. Remember the Photo.Net article "An Optical Paragon"? Perhaps this is another example.

Robin: I doubt it really. I don't think for the accessible price that Olympus would go to that design extreme. I am not even sure what it would mean to tune optics to a sensor. Especially as sensors have been improved in different generations of their cameras. They'd be chasing a moving target. And I must point out that all the lenses are operating with half the field of view on this sensor. The baseline is the same for all, so it's still a fair comparison.

Some Conclusions

Robin: In terms of the image the Pentax FA Limited, Zeiss, and Olympus may be the winners, but how can one possibly choose between these in a practical sense? The Zeiss Makro-Planar is a 530g chunk of metal that grows to 10cm long. The Olympus M.Zuiko is a featherweight 116g and only 3.7cm long -- though a lens hood adds more. The Zeiss is built like a tank with great manual focus but no auto. The Olympus has a cheesy plastic feel but auto-focus works silently and instantaneously. Then you have to consider that the Olympus is a fraction of the price.

Somewhere between is the FA 43 Limited, since it is indeed small, but is well built. It can't possibly achieve the lovely focusing of the Zeiss, and it too is not exactly cheap.

Robbie: The little Olympus. What an awful lightweight horrible little thing that blows us away optically. Carl Zeiss, built and engineered like a Panzer! Which would I choose? I have done already; I have the Zeiss. It can be used on MFT, APS-C and the so-called full frame. And it will deliver on all of these. If only Olympus would throw away the plastic and replace with lightweight alloy, give it some tactility, some sense of pride in its build which optically it deserves.

Robin: Though I own the Olympus 45mm I have never liked using it. Hand feel is so important for me too, as is manual focus. Plus I prefer an aperture dial. The fact it is optically superior is astounding to me, considering how much time it spends in my drawer. I did not expect this result and it will force me to rethink.

Robbie: Cosina is outclassed here optically; the K50 falls by the wayside by virtue of usability. It's a much-of-a-muchness between it and the A optically. Then I would say the Olympus because I think it falls off earlier but it is frankly astounding really. It really does pack a punch pound for pound. Yes the Zeiss wins optically but not by that much over the FA 43 which is a credit to Jun Hirakawa and his design team. Because the 43 Limited has AF and is one-third the size of the Zeiss.

Robin: That for me is the trump card. I moved into Micro Four Thirds to get a smaller system that would enable me to keep shooting all my favourite Pentax glass. Zeiss is simply too big. It's an ancient optical design that they have seen no need to update. And as we can see, there is no need when considering only optics. But Olympus shows us that they can build a tiny modern lens with Zeiss rendering.

Imagine for a moment if Zeiss used some modern tech and shrunk their lenses. Or if Olympus built lenses with aperture rings and manual focus. That would be my heaven.

But until then, I think we are agreed, taking into account image quality, handling, build, form factor, and other practical considerations. On a Pentax camera, the FA 43 Limited is the winner. On a MFT camera, the Olympus 45mm wins. If you really need f/1.2 for some reason, mount the Pentax A 50mm on either system.

OK, now where's that tandoori chicken?
Monday, June 03, 2013

Tandoori Lens Summit Part Two: Working Methods

Robbie on the K-5

In the first article I gave some context for our lens summit. In this article I'll provide some rationale for our lens choice, testing method, and processing, along with our motivation.

Lens Choice
The initial incentive was to compare our fastest lenses, after we realised that between us we have the three available f/1.2 lenses for Pentax K mount. Then, because neither of us are fixated on shooting that wide open, we expanded the comparison to other more-or-less "normal" lenses.

I gave the six lenses in the test single-letter codes for convenience.

C = Cosina 55mm 1:1.2 MC
K = SMC Pentax 50mm 1:1.2
A = SMC Pentax-A 50mm 1:1.2
Z = Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar 50mm F2 T* ZK
L = Pentax SMC-FA 43mm f/1.9 Limited
O = Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm 1:1.8
Monday, June 03, 2013

Tandoori Lens Summit Part One

some well-loved Pentax optics

Robbie drove up from Cork on a Sunday so we could enjoy a long-overdue lens summit. He has some new glass that complements my collection and we figured it was time to see just how good it all was. All done in a good natured way, because sometimes it's fun to just geek out.

Plus there was fake tandoori chicken to be eaten. I say "fake" because I don't have a tandoor in my kitchen... a shame really, but no doubt the sort of practical constraint that can be excused. Still, no matter how much love you put into the preparation, you can't really call it tandoori chicken if you don't have the oven. You can gather and combine the ingredients, take the time to properly marinade, double cook to ensure tenderness on the inside and a bit of a crunchy exterior, and serve with all the right accompaniments. But no matter how good the result, maybe it should be called something else, just to be accurate.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Vivitar 135mm Close Focusing lens part two

garden flowers
In the first part of this article I took a look at the "Vivitar 135mm f/2.8 Auto Telephoto Close Focusing" lens (to give it the full name). I covered its history, physical qualities, and distinguishing features. Plus I compared it briefly to some similar lenses (though see my older article for more on that). Figuring that it was time for some photos, I simply stepped out into my garden.

All of these shots were taken with an Olympus PEN E-PL2 camera. The lens is M42 mount, first adapted to K-mount, then to Micro Four Thirds. I used a tripod and timer. You can see pictures of this setup in my last article.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A look at the Vivitar 135mm Close Focusing lens

Vivitar 135mm f/2.8 Auto Telephoto Close Focusing

Back in 2010 I published two articles on 135mm focal length lenses. The first was an overview with a special focus on Pentax, since I was using that system extensively at the time. The second article went into more detail and recommended three specific models.

As it turns out, there's been renewed interest in these articles lately, plus I've been discussing the same topic on a couple of forums. It struck me that I have never covered the very lens that turned out to be my favourite of the bunch. With spring flowers begging for photos, it's time to set that right!

Read on for the scoop on the lens with the maximal moniker, the "Vivitar 135mm f/2.8 Auto Telephoto Close Focusing".
Monday, May 20, 2013

The joys of digital media


One of the joys of digital media is managing all the darned content. Considering this, I thought I would outline my typical workflow the day after an event, say a sonic performance. I attended two of these this weekend, so the process is one I'm currently busying myself with.

I am sharing this even though it's likely the least interesting topic ever to appear on this blog. Still, I have learned that self-documentation is a good thing. Further, stuff I take for granted others find useful... even if only as a reminder. Third, I am waiting for files to copy and so have time on my hands.

To make this slightly more palatable, I have included an unrelated photo of a dandelion.
Friday, May 17, 2013

Raggle Taggle exhibition and music extravaganza

Five bands are to play at Raggle Taggle in downtown Limerick, tomorrow, Saturday 18 May 2013. This is the final event before this arts and culture space closes. Entry is a mere five Euro at the door. We open early and will start the music soon after 8pm.

Innercity from Belgium and Modulator ESP from the UK are on tour, supported by three brand new acts, each of which includes some of your favourite local Irish performers. Projections and video work plus visual art complete this evening of deep listening and fun experimental vibes.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sonic Vigil 6 album launch and concert

If you are at all interested in experimental and improvised music, you want to be in Cork this Sunday 19 May at 3pm. Specifically, get to University College Cork at the beautiful Glucksman Gallery for a concert involving many of the participants in the sixth Sonic Vigil. These include The Quiet Club, Katie O'Looney, John Godfrey, Harry Moore, Mersk, Karen Power, Anthony Kelly and David Stalling, Kevin Tuohy, Jeff Weeter,... and myself.
Wednesday, May 08, 2013

On being a man & etc.

abandoned shop: blue and red

I was recently made aware of Susanna Caprara, an Italian sound artist and field recordist based in Dublin. From her blog I see that she was awarded the Grand Canal Commission by the Offaly County Council, an award for which I was short-listed. It's a small world in Ireland!

I read with interest her post "High heels & XLR cables" (witty title!) and drafted a short response that somehow took on a life of its own. Realising that my own blog is becoming rather derelict, I thought I'd post it here and hopefully encourage further dialogue. Consider writing your own personal response, so that greater awareness is brought to these issues.

First read Susanna's post and then continue.
Saturday, March 09, 2013

Microphones For Portable Recorders 3: How To Choose?


This is the third in a series of articles on choosing external microphones for portable digital recorders. Part one discussed why we might want to improve on the mics that come with our recording devices and part two was an overview of microphones themselves plus power and cabling requirements.

If you have been reading with your own needs in mind, it should be becoming clear which mics you should be looking for. Otherwise, now is the time to fix your objectives in mind. Are you recording lectures or community meetings? Are you gathering dialogue for a video? Are you conducting interviews in the street? Are you recording live concerts or your own band in rehearsal? Are you making nature or soundscape recordings?
Friday, March 08, 2013

Microphones For Portable Recorders 2: Microphone Types and Powering

Sennheiser ME66 + K6
I hope you checked out part one of this series, which set the stage by discussing portable audio recorders and the possible limitations of their built-in microphones. Given that you have decided to purchase some external mics, what types are available? Which are appropriate to the task at hand?

Microphones can be defined in several ways, but two of the most important concern how they work as transducers and their pick-up pattern. I won't get into details that are too technical, but will rather restrict myself to practical matters. Then I will examine microphone power requirements, which has important ramifications for matching them to recorders.
Thursday, March 07, 2013

Microphones For Portable Recorders 1: Recorder and Rationale

short shotgun and recorder

It's so easy to buy a good portable digital recorder these days, but once you have such a device the next issue is getting a good set of microphones. The topic of mics is significantly more complicated, since there are thousands of possibilities and numerous related technical issues.

What types of microphones are there? Which are optimal for which tasks? What connectors do you need? Does the microphone require power and how do you provide this? In this article I will start to address these questions, assuming limited knowledge. Though this series is only a primer, it will give you a head start on understanding the more detailed information available all over the web.

In the first blog entry I will review my articles on choosing an audio recorder, and then discuss certain limitations of the built-in mics. In the second part I will define different types of microphones, and discuss their power requirements. In the third article I will examine several common recording tasks and discuss the most appropriate microphones for each.
Friday, February 22, 2013

Six Million Sounds Per Second: A Guided Listening Session

six million sounds per second

Not only is John Greenwood proprietor of the best bar in Limerick (great tunes, fab drink selection, lovely decor, smashing sound system), but he also has an open and community-oriented ethos. The general sound at Dr. John's favours acid jazzy dance beats, but he hosts everything from film nights to country music once a month. His new series is called Steps 2->3 and involves practitioners talking about their stuff.

Saturday 23 February it's my turn. But I am not as interested in talking so much as I am in listening. So I will play you a special sound and you can tell me what it reminds you of, what it sounds like. Or try to guess what it really is. Then I can fill in the background and answer any questions you may have.

I have gathered a set of amazing sounds, including some that I can guarantee you have never heard before. So please drop by at 2pm. The only requirement is a pair of open ears. Admission is free (of course).
Thursday, February 07, 2013

Kraftwerk's Revisionist History

Kraftwerk's current concerts at The Tate are generating the sort of hyperbole one would expect, given their (apparent) immaculate staging, excellent sound, inspiring setting, and apposite visuals. Paul Morley in The Telegraph, Alexis Petridis in The Guardian, John Doran at The Quietus, are among those critics ensuring a five star reception for a musical act that has long been granted a critical "pass".

Had I afforded the admission, hotel bills, and airfare to see the show, had I won the ticket lottery and been one of the chosen few (male, middle-aged, middle-class), I would no doubt have enjoyed the spectacle. But it would have required a rather large suspension of disbelief, as I know from similar exercises at which I have been present. I think that a less fawning evaluation of the creators of synth-pop is overdue, and that these concerts might provide a good moment for critical reflection.

At the Turbine Hall, Kraftwerk have literally replaced the engine of industry. But where once energy was generated, the function now is to generate nostalgia for a futuristic vision that may have been novel when it first appeared, but is now entirely safe and predictable. Oh look, four men acting like robots. Counting like computers. Again.

That's the bit that would have required a suspension of judgement. But some things are harder to ignore, notably the revisionist history that has erased the contributions of many people integral to Kraftwerk's development.
Monday, February 04, 2013

video fragments

"fragments" videos

I had a great time at the Abandon Reason launch last week. How could I not? Playing in an abandoned parking garage, in the dark, with sea water seeping throughout, the sounds of other artists reverberating their way through the concrete space... what a fantastic mood! Read on for video footage.
Monday, January 21, 2013

Abandon Reason launch in Galway

Join me in Galway in an underground car park this Sunday, as Abandon Reason launches their first release.

Declan Kelly started Abandon Reason as "a radio programme that showcased recordings made in a disused underground car park in Galway, Ireland made by various musicians and sound artists. It has since evolved into an independent label dealing in sound and visual art inspired by those underground experiments."

The debut release is a compilation entitled I'm in the Abyss!, featuring highlights from the last year of recordings. With such vital Irish musicians as Raising Holy Sparks, Áine O'Dwyer, Tony Higgins, and Gavin Prior you know it's going to be great. I was particularly taken by some of the simple vocal tunes, starting with one by Brigid Power Ryce. These work so well in the reverberant environment.
Thursday, January 17, 2013

My 2012 In Composition

If 2012 was a busier than usual year for performance, it was an insane year for composition... and not only for those works released in some sort of fixed format. I also had seven pieces (five new) played in exhibitions and festivals. I'll summarise them here -- read on for lots of listening!

"2003 UB313" was written some time ago following the discovery of this solar system's largest dwarf planet, Eris. Last year it was included in "the sublimated landscape" exhibition at Oboro, Montréal (3 March - 7 April). Curated by Helen Frosi (SoundFjord, London), Yann Novak (sound and video artist, Los Angeles) and France Jobin (sound artist, Montréal).
Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My 2012 In Releases

In 2012 I released two CDs and appeared on three compilations. It is a measure of how busy the year was that I completely forgot to let you know about one of these, so read on for not only a summary, but some "new" music to grab for free.

Though I had plans for more titles, time and financial constraints only allowed the release of two compact disks on my Stolen Mirror imprint. These are made by hand and this takes a good deal of time! (Please support my activities by buying the very reasonably priced limited editions. You can be sure that any funds go directly into future releases.) Both are actually re-issues of work I put out some years ago, but in both cases I wanted to update the contents and packaging.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013

My 2012 In Performance


This year just passed was likely my most productive yet in terms of sonic output, spawning numerous performances and collaborations. I had the opportunity to both cement partnerships from previous seasons and initiate some brand new relationships. Who could ask for more? This article will summarise the performance side of things; in future articles I will write up my compositions and releases.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

My 2012 In Photos

Abbey River under mist

I am not a commercial photographer. Though it's true that sometimes certain tasks or purposes are foremost in my mind, in general I can shoot what I like. I don't need to distinguish between shots taken for fun, for documentation, or with artistic intent. And that works just fine for me.

Apparently, in order to be a success, one must carefully select and present only one's best work to the public. With over 6,000 photos on Flickr I am not sure if I have taken that advice to heart. As near as I can tell I uploaded 1160 photos in 2012 and many of these were from events I was covering. My goal in those cases was to be thorough, so this inflated the total significantly. So I've certainly slowed down. I tend to be a lot more reluctant now to press the shutter.

Nonetheless, selecting only a few images to represent an entire year is difficult for me. After some consideration I managed to filter the flow down to 11, which is close enough to a Top Ten for me.