Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A year in photographs (part two)

As I explained in part one, I have decided to recap the year through my photography. Consider this my "open letter" to family and friends, a summary of what the year has meant to me.

2014 was also a significant year for Susannah, who accepted a month's residency in Barcelona to develop her interest in graphic art. She produced an intriguing time-lapse photo series for the group show. I was lucky enough to visit for a week, and captured this view of her studio.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A year in photographs (part one)

It's the New Year, a time for reflection. And this year I have much to be thankful for, because 2014 was truly enjoyable, stimulating, and challenging. I discovered new health ailments (nothing more about those!), travelled to amazing places near and far, heard some fantastic sounds, presented an inordinate number of talks and papers, launched a new career as a film-maker, and made some (personally) significant contributions to research in my field. I also got to watch my wife and daughter enter new creative phases in their lives.

And I took photographs of it all.

So here, in pictures, is a chronology of my 2014.
Friday, December 19, 2014

Some things to listen to (part two: glass half full)

listening 2014

As someone who creates every day of my life, I rarely spend much time on music consumption. When I am asked what I listen to, it's often easier to say "Actually, I don't listen to music" than to explain the variegated form my listening actually takes. There's a jungle of sound out there, sometimes literally.

I have been in more than one sonic jungle this year. Let me take you on a short tour.
Friday, December 19, 2014

My Top 50 Albums of 2014 (part one: the great refusal)

As we come to the purported "end" of 2014, so starts the flood of Top 10 and Top 20 and Top 50 lists. These have made their way to me through news reader and social media feeds. Each author beseeches me to listen to "the best" music, as selected through their own filter. It's not a bad approach, in theory, though how there could have been 50 worthwhile pop albums released in one year, I will never know.

I will give you but one example of such a list; to provide more would be to encourage depression. Drowned in Sound manages to be a popular music site by pandering to both Taylor Swift fans (she's at #3) and those who can bear the Swans in 2014 but would have run screaming from them in 1983 (#10).

Though their musical choices are dull, I remain interested in their name, which attempts to be both world-weary (there's so much music that we are "drowned") and all-encompassing (notice it is "sound" not "music"). Of course their name is just a pose. There is nothing outside a fairly narrow range of pop music on their charts, certainly nothing in the way of sonic art. Perhaps they are emo. Perhaps they are hipsters. I don't know, since I don't understand these terms. (But I have a comments section below, for those who wish to help.)

Looking back at my own purchases, I see that I obtained exactly one album dated 2014. It's a good album, even if it is not a career best from the artists in question. I am safe in saying it is more deserving of your time than the Drowned in Sound Top 50. So here it is. A drum-roll please.

My Top 50 Albums of 2014...
Thursday, December 04, 2014

Micro-Four Thirds lens recommendations: part two

7.5 / 12 / 20 / 45 / 75 (side view)

Welcome to Part Two

In part one of this article I gave some introductory justification and offered a series of images that would help you compare the very different fields of view (FOV) these lens present. I will next discuss the available prime lenses in five categories, from widest to narrowest. I will relate the focal lengths back to "full frame" as a useful standard.

For each I will indicate the lowest price, taken from Amazon UK and SRS Microsystems, so that those of you in Europe have a good baseline for comparison. I should note that I generally buy on the used market, and have therefore completed my lens set at a significant discount.

My criteria include price, aperture (f/2 or better), weight, size, and image quality.
Thursday, December 04, 2014

Micro-Four Thirds lens recommendations: part one

7.5 / 12 / 20 / 45 / 75 (top view)


The Micro-Four Thirds (MFT) camera format has proven to be very popular. The cameras are small enough to be portable and the sensor large enough to take excellent images. A sensor half the size of 35mm film turns out to be a good compromise. Olympus has known this for some time; their original PEN film cameras took "half frame" shots. (35mm is often called "full frame" and I will retain this nomenclature.) The Digital PEN and OM-D line continue this heritage.

Certainly I am a convert, having moved from the Pentax APS-C sensor format. Pentax have some decent DSLR cameras but several lens price hikes ruined the value proposition. They also fumbled the ball badly when it came to the mirrorless revolution. Possibly only Fuji "get it" in the same way that Olympus/Panasonic do -- a well-designed mirrorless system offers enormous practical and photographic advantages over mirror-based tech.
Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scottish Independents (video playlist)

No, not Scottish independence, though that might be nice too. Assembled 18 September 2014, as Scotland goes to the polls.

This is not something I've done before, because every YouTube playlist comes with the good (remastered sound and rare footage), the bad (still images holding place for the music), and the ugly (crappy old music videos with VJ voice-overs). You'll get all of that here, plus built-in obsolescence.
Monday, August 04, 2014

Using the lowly semicolon

Though it is treated like some sort of a third-class citizen of the world of punctuation, I love the lowly semicolon. It performs two handy tasks that arise quite often in writing. Despite this, I have noticed that a good number of students avoid the semicolon entirely. Perhaps this arises from fear of using it incorrectly, or perhaps from simple lack of writing experience. In either case, this simple article might help.
Friday, July 25, 2014

My presentations at Invisible Places | Sounding Cities

I recently returned from an exhilarating few days in Portugal, where I ate grilled squid, walked up and down urban cliffscapes, explored the local beer culture, recorded some amazing environments, and presented no less than three times at the Invisible Places | Sounding Cities symposium in Viseu.

This conference ran for three days, but had activities embedded in the larger festival Jardins Efémeros (Ephemeral Gardens) which enlivened the entire city with song, dance, installations, food... everything really. I don't think I have ever seen a more joyous congruence of cultural activities. It seemed at times that the entire population of the city was on the streets enjoying themselves.
Thursday, July 24, 2014

From Dublin Airport to Limerick (the easy way)

Limerick is a great place to visit, and an excellent base of operations if you want to explore the beautiful West coast of Ireland, plus the hinterland of Limerick, Claire, and Tipperary counties.

But it's not as easy to get here as it should be.

It used to be that there were many flights into Shannon Airport, which is the closest and most logical choice. Unfortunately that once prestigious transportation hub is only just coming out of a long period of decline and mismanagement. It currently has far fewer flights than Dublin.

Both airports suffer from what is a terrible Irish problem, the poor rail service. In fact, there is not a single Irish airport connected to the rail system! Worse yet, if you choose Cork, Knock, or some other point of entry, you won't even get good coach service, and will be practically forced to rent a car. In my role as festival organiser I've often advised people against Cork, which, though significantly closer to Limerick than Dublin, requires a change of buses in Cork City, making travel next to impossible at morning or evening hours -- when flights are actually likely to arrive.

So that leaves Dublin as the next best choice, in the event that you can't get a good connection to Shannon. You'd think it would be a piece of cake to get from Dublin Airport to Limerick. There are indeed several options, but read on and I'll fill you in on the best choice.
Monday, June 09, 2014

An Evening with Pauline Oliveros

An Evening with Pauline Oliveros

I am overwhelmed to be an invited guest at a very special evening of food and improvised music. Pauline Oliveros was just granted an honorary doctorate in music from UCC. Now it is time to celebrate!

Musical contributors include John Godfrey, Karen Power, The Quiet Club, Harry Moore, and yours truly.

At the Guest House, Shandon, Cork, 9 June 2014.

Advanced ticket sales only and sold out long ago I assume!
Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Two short films at Transit Spaces

Here's some news for you: I have not one but two films featured in the conference Transit Spaces/Transitory Encounters, happening over the next few days, 29 May – 1 June, here in Limerick. This is the international conference of the Association for Intercultural German Studies (GiG). As such, it is conducted mostly in German. It is being hosted by the Irish Centre for Transnational Studies at Mary Immaculate College and University of Limerick. You can visit their website for details.
Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sonic Vigil 8 - Out In The Field

Sonic Vigil 8

Announcing my next performance!

Sonic Vigil is a festival of improvised music, sound art, and video that takes place every year in the wonderful city of Cork. For Sonic Vigil 8, the festival is extending its reach into 3 days of activities, from 2-4 May 2014. The main event is Saturday from 2 to 8pm in St. Anne's Church, Shandon. It's easy to find, since the steeple is the famous tower with a clock on each face, visible from all over the city.

The format is amazing... musicians will be selected at random with a Max patch, and will then create an ad hoc performance with whoever else pops up on the computer screen.
Monday, April 28, 2014

Reaktor reaches end of life?

I have been a big fan of Reaktor for some time, and use it exclusively in my live work. Recently I have encountered some absolute stupidity on the part of its developer Native Instruments. And this is forcing me to rethink my commitment.

I started with Reaktor back in version 3 and have been hacking away steadily for 15 years. It's a fantastic system for developing your own instruments, effects, and audio utilities. One does this either by hacking together pieces from existing tools or simply building virtual circuits from scratch in a graphical interface. It's a lot like Max/MSP except easier to get started, and with thousands of ready-to-go ensembles, many of excellent quality. Back when I started all this, Max had a poor interface and provided no way to customise the look and feel for performance. Also I didn't like the sound. Both of these factors are no longer the case, but still Reaktor has the edge in some departments. (For one, it works as a VST so it is easy to integrate with any DAW.)
Monday, March 24, 2014

Urban Soundscapes and Critical Citizenship

This week the Urban Soundscapes and Critical Citizenship conference rolls into the University of Limerick. Guests from around the world will be visiting our fair City of Culture this Thursday and Friday, 27-28 March.

In this interdisciplinary conference, we explore the intersection of soundscapes and acoustic ecology studies with urban, applied ethnomusicology’s focus on human subjects and with sociological understandings of the cultural restructuring of urban space, through an evocation of "critical citizenship".

Given my ongoing attempt to interrogate this field, it should surprise no-one that I will contribute in no fewer than three ways. An excerpt from one of my pieces is being included in the soundscape collage Echo-Locations, which will be played at various locations in the city.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014

My new album "...between..." now available!

I am proud to announce that you can now purchase the album "...between..." from the lovely people at German label Gruenrekorder. It comes in high quality FLAC files with an assortment of photographs.

Places are made real as we encounter them, through our physical presence, memories, and imagination. This album was created using location recordings and the timbres of musical instruments. These have been transformed into landscapes that are perhaps as fictive as they are real. Birds eat bread from a frost-covered wall. Trains rattle over bridges in the centre of London. A mysterious drone sounds out in rural Ireland. Someone throws stones into a stream. A police siren plays a duet with a piano.
Saturday, March 08, 2014

L-System Garden: Max implementation of Lindenmeyer

Iteration is the act of repeating a task in order to approach a desired goal. This process is at work in many natural phenomena, notably plant growth. Aristid Lindenmayer, a Hungarian biologist), first modelled cell formation using a simple iterative process. He later discovered that the same principles could be extended to larger plant forms: stems, leaves, petals, and so forth. He introduced the L-system (Lindenmayer System) in 1968 and subsequently proposed various geometric interpretations in order to create 2D and 3D renderings of this data. The best source for information is the book he co-authored and in 1990 (shortly after his death). The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants is available as a free PDF download.
Sunday, February 23, 2014

Olympus PEN ISO comparison

Although the internet is full of such comparisons, I periodically step up to the plate and provide another "camera this" versus "camera that" insight. I guess you can never have too many. Or, more to the point, I prefer to do my own testing, with my own equipment, so that I have a basis for deciding how I will use these tools out in the field.

So, being recently in receipt of the Olympus PEN E-P5, I decided to compare its noise characteristics throughout its ISO range, which extends from 200 to 25,600 plus a "pulled" ISO 100 that is useful on particularly bright days. I put this up against the Olympus PEN E-PL2, which has settings for ISO from 200 to 6400.
Friday, January 31, 2014

Recommended headphones for audio pros

Beyerdynamic Tesla DT 1350
It's hard to imagine I haven't written about headphones before now, but apparently it is one of my many interests that hasn't made it to the blog. It's time to rectify that omission. First I'll discuss the applications for which different headphone designs are suited, and will then make recommendations, drawn not only from my own listening experience, but industry knowledge in the main. My results accord with those of other experts, so if you are already knowledgeable on this subject don't expect many surprises. Headphone choice may be a personal matter, but it's still far easier than discussing studio monitors, microphones, or a host of other topics.

My focus here is on headphones for audio professionals [1];, and without getting too bound up in what that might mean, let me simply say that the goal is affordable quality without much compromise. We want to hear the actual sound, rather than some filtered, sugar-coated, bass-emphasised version of the audio truth. So you won't find any Beats or other rubbish [2] in my list. Neither will you find those mega-expensive audiophile models that require special amplification, cable modifications, etc. This is mostly snake oil [3]. There is simply no reason to pay sky-high amounts to get excellent sound. And the minute differences in frequency response and rendering that differentiate a €500 pair of headphones from a €2000 pair are generally swamped by other listening factors.
Wednesday, January 01, 2014

slug trails trace morninglight

green and gold (leaf and slug trails)

slug trails trace morninglight
across specular shards of granite
silverflash catches my eye from the kitchen
I stand in dressing gown
carefully wiping sharp crystals
from my eyelids
I track my tongue across the inner
surface of gritty teeth, worn enamel catching
that sticky muscle still
bitter from travels taken
through night's dark concourses

I dreamt of a long passage, worn feet,
and typewritten pages left to rot in thick, damp grass