Thursday, July 20, 2017

On conspiracy theories

It's time for me to make a few observations about conspiracy theories, if only to get all my thoughts in a row. I've been asked a few questions lately, and it gets repetitive repeating fragments. Here they can live in context, under one handy heading.

First, I need to contextualise these comments by saying they only apply to the armchair thoughts of those in the relatively comfortable embrace of "Western society". I have no experience with how these patterns of thought play out in other places. Second, I will use the conventional phrase "conspiracy theory", even though these random persecution fantasies do not deserve the term "theory". By their nature they lack the required rigour, testability, etc.

Third, I am not using the word "conspiracy" in the strict legal sense, but rather follow common usage. These conspiracy fantasies involve hundreds or even thousands of participants, elaborately-constructed plots, duping of large sectors of the media, etc. There is no doubt that small conspiracies with a very limited number of participants have existed and will continue to exist. These generally get exposed in short order. Examples include a break-in at the Watergate apartments or a meeting between the Trump administration and some Russian officials.

But I think we all know what falls under the category discussed here. The government has a UFO under wraps at Roswell. The Twin Tower attacks on 9-11 were an "inside job". Water fluoridation is a plot by a cabal of dentists. Etc.
Monday, July 03, 2017

"Audio Culture": quick look at the revised edition

Published in 2004, Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music provided a one-stop reader for those interested in contemporary creative sound practice. Editors Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner performed an admirable service in bringing together classic pieces from Attali, Russolo, Cage, Cascone, WS Burroughs, Schafer, and many others.

Thirteen years later a revised edition is being published by Bloomsbury, so I thought I'd have a look at what's changed. I haven't had a chance to review a copy of the book, so this is only a consideration of the scope.
Friday, June 30, 2017

Rebuttal to "There Is No Scientific Method"

ERUTAN

It's been a year since the opinion piece "There Is No Scientific Method" by James Blachowicz was published in the New York Times. But only now did a friend on Facebook bring it to my attention.

The author's mission is to pull science down from some perceived pedestal, by way of comparison to poetry. The sad and unfortunate effect is to diminish both vital processes to mere communication. I will review this article in order to assert the exact opposite. The scientific method is indeed special and valuable. Poetry is not limited to mere advertising of meaning, but is the veritable wellspring of life.
Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"Got a light?" The blind centre of the atomic experience (Twin Peaks redux)



The Lynch universe is full of record players, speakers, radios, and other sonic devices. It also sometimes permits a television or movie screen. A chilling scene in Fire Walk With Me froze Agent Cooper's after-image on a CCTV screen, as Phillip Jeffries stormed down a hallway. Here the televisual augurs the supernatural effects that lie behind the normative facade of everyday life. Twin Peaks: The Return has extended this idea beyond all expectation. In episode 8 it literally blows up in our face.
Sunday, June 04, 2017

Sgt. Pepper 2017 and the loudness wars

Anyone with a passing interest in pop music or studio production could not help but notice the fiftieth anniversary of The Beatles' album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It's the first time an album by this seminal group has been released in archival fashion, which is perhaps surprising. There's lots of exciting news here, most prominent being a brand new remix from the original masters, by none other than George Martin's son Giles.

Sgt. Pepper is often mooted as the band's finest album... indeed the best record of all time. It isn't, not by a fair shot. I would give Abbey Road and The Beatles precedence, and have sympathy for those who choose Revolver as well. It's also called the first concept album, though the conceit was paper thin. Mishearing the words "salt and pepper", McCartney imagined alternative identities for his bandmates as part of some local music hall act. This was by no means a bad strategy to break them out of their equally artificial roles as John, Paul, George, and Ringo. But the only trace of this concept that made it to vinyl were the two renderings of the title track and their dress-up antics on the cover. So, no, not really a concept album and certainly not a good example of one.

But what the album does have are cracking songs, fluid performances, unusual songwriting, imagination to burn, and timbres previously unheard on record. It was an experimental album in a way pop music can never again be. Back in 1966 there was technology to figure out. The musicians were continuously asking themselves questions like: "What strange thing can we do with this tape deck that serves the song?" and "What if we played three pianos simultaneously and miked up the full decay?" and "What if we played this backwards, or down a fifth or up an octave?" There are only so many times you can ask these questions before they become part of the formula. The Beatles and George Martin asked these questions first. And, incredibly, answered them best. (I should not forget the wonderful engineer Geoff Emerick.)
Thursday, May 25, 2017

Arduino IDE: Best practices and gotchas

Programming for the Arduino is designed to be easy for beginners. The Integrated Development Environment (IDE) provides a safe place to write code, and handles the make and compiler steps that are required to create processor instructions from your C++ code.

This is fine for trivial applications and school exercises. But as soon as you try to use structured code (including classes and custom libraries) on a larger project, mysterious errors and roadblocks become the order of the day.

This article will consider best practices for working within the IDE. I will document a number of common errors and their workarounds. My perspective is of an experienced Python coder who finds C++ full of needless obfuscation. But we can make it work!
Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Valentine's Day microphone test revisited

OK, so this article was meant to be posted months ago. Something happened and it went into limbo. Only one reader, Wojtek, noticed. I am not sure what this says about the popularity of this blog!

In the original Valentine's Day microphone comparison I tested three sets of mics in different scenarios. The files are still available, so you should visit that article if you haven't already.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Great invention: flash memory



So, as I got ready for my next field recording excursion I reflected on how much easier things are, now we have flash memory. I mean, what a great invention! Non-volatile, no moving parts, light as a feather, and tiny. Did someone win a Nobel prize for this? I hope so.

It's also truly ridiculous how much memory I carry. For fun I thought I'd do a little inventory.
Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Comments on field recording gear

This article will provide technical details and discussion for my Valentine's Day microphone comparison. First I will outline some requirements for field recording and discuss one useful specification. Then I'll discuss the specifics of the gear, typical pricing, and conclude with some remarks about relative value.

Hopefully this article will suit beginners as well as slightly more seasoned recordists.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine's Day microphone comparison

It's Valentine's Day, which means that spring has sprung here in Ireland. I know my Canadian friends will find that hard to believe! But the crocus are out, the trees are budding, and birds are starting their courtship and territory marking.

So I did what every field recording mammal does on a day like today... I went out for a walk with two different recorders and three sets of stereo microphones. I thought I'd share with you some sounds, since every now and then it's fun to compare gear. Well, in truth I have been in more of a philosophical than technical mindset lately, so this was a nice change of pace.

What follows is a microphone comparison that developed over three updates. I think it's done now!
Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Zoom F8 Firmware Update 3

This is a rather belated post. But, as you can see from my website, I've been rather busy.

In August of last year I wrote a number of articles on the Zoom F8. One of these listed firmware suggestions to improve the recorder. Since then Firmware 3.0 was released, so I've edited that article to indicate which of the suggestions have been implemented. The majority have, which is incredible service on the part of Zoom. (I know some of you are reading this, so thanks!)
Thursday, January 05, 2017

The Devil's Dictionary of internet terminology

This internet business is big money, people tell me. And apparently most of the money is spent by the marketing department, inventing new buzzwords. If I had a penny for every time someone used one of these nonsensical terms, well, then I'd have an internet business model.

To aid in linguistic understanding and to further world peace, I've been compiling a helpful dictionary. The start of a new year seems a good time to share, before we are overwhelmed with a new crop of jargon.

Virtual: On a computer.

The cloud: On someone else's computer, trusted implicitly for your security and privacy.

Platform as a service: On the internet.

Web 2.0: A method of refreshing advertisements without reloading the entire web page.

User-driven: Market-driven.

Market-driven: Profit-driven.