elliot's blog

Stephen Fry celebrates 25 years of GNU software

National treasure and all-round excellent guy Stephen Fry has recorded a video celebrating 25 years of GNU. Marvellous to see such a public figure supporting and explaining free software and open source. A good one for friends and relatives in need of explanations.

Colleen, Aphex Twin, Cabaret Voltaire, The Free French

Colleen is (as far as I know) a little known electronic/ambient artist, but her work is very subtle, delicate, plaintive. Just plain lovely. I think more people should know about it.

Quite a lot of her music videos are on Youtube, via her record label's site.

This one is a fan-made video, but for me it perfectly captures the spirit of the song:

In case it's never crossed your consciousness, here's the rather excellent, grotesque and hilarious Aphex Twin video for Window Licker:

Nice to see this Cabaret Voltaire video again (recorded in 1979):

These still sound great to me (more Cabaret Voltaire) - No Escape:

Seconds Too Late:

I also keep meaning to mention The Free French, who have a website where you can buy their music. Do. It is superlative intelligent (slightly reedy and eccentric, but in a good way) pop. I've been listening to it pretty much constantly all year. I think my favourite album is It's Not Me, It's You, which is glorious, and has some of the best lyrics of any pop album, ever (e.g. Ghost Writer - which is available as a free download from their site - download it!).

Spill Twins

Set up another Last.fm page for my other music project, Spill Twins. This is other stuff I've written over the last 15 years or so (since I got a PC). I wrote some stuff prior to that, but it's all on tape and I haven't transferred it yet. All free mp3 downloads, if you like 'em.

Good online record shops

I like Amazon - who doesn't - but sometimes they don't have what I want, or they have it at some extortionate price. I also like to support smaller specialist music retailers, so thought I'd mention a few which have great catalogues, especially if you like electronic music:

  • Boomkat - I've mentioned them before, but it's worth repeating. I particularly like the fact that you can get full track previews and they stock a lot of DRM-free mp3 downloads.
  • Norman Records - an indie record shop in Leeds (Chloe!), which has a good online shop, clean, quick and easy. Just put in my first order there, so we'll see how it goes.
  • Bleep - the original DRM-free download site for Warp records. They stock a lot of stuff on other labels now, too; not just electronica.
  • Detroit Digital Vinyl - just downloads, and mainly Detroit house and related, but good if you're after old Underground Resistance tracks.

Lost tapes by Delia Derbyshire

Delia Derbyshire was one of the earliest electronic pioneers, working at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop through the 60s. She was a major contributor to the Dr. Who theme music, and produced some amazing, atmospheric, avant garde music, years ahead of its time. Also, importantly, born in Coventry, in the West Midlands.

Pretty exciting for me, then, to see that David Butler of Manchester University's School of Arts, Histories and Cultures has recently revealed some of her previously-unheard tapes. Some of the snippets can be heard on the BBC website. Particularly remarkable is a piece of what can only be described as dance music, from the late 1960s, which is around 20 years ahead of its time.

If you're interested in more of her work, you can download some of her pieces here. You can also get an excellent compendium of BBC Radiophonic Workshop music which contains about half a dozen of her pieces. An album of her work, Electrosonics is available, but sold out within hours of release (I didn't manage to get a copy, though I tried). Also released this week is an album by John Baker, another Radiophonic Workshop luminary: I've just ordered it.

Here's a video of Delia, set to some music by The White Noise (of which she was a member):

I love Sparks

This is truly marvellous:

Sparks at the height of their powers, with one of my favourite tracks from their best album (in my opinion), Indiscreet.

The shorts! The peculiar hat! The sidewards glances! The moustache! The camp dancing! The lyrics!

Get in the swing, pal
Get in the swing
With everybody and everything
(repeat)

My friends are here
Mind if you go out and not come back again
Well, thanks a lot
Hooray, hooray
The night is younger than the girl who's got the touch
But not by much

Well, I ain't no Freud, I'm from L.A.
But I know certain things
That they also serve who sit and wait
They're cheaper than painting
And don't need explaining

(Chorus)

When Salmon spawn
A ton of water blocks their motion,
Spoils their game
But on they go
Thrashing 'til their mission is fulfilled or else
Oh, but they have their friends
And have a warm bed waiting
Just like I do with you
I'm happy, so happy, I'm happy, oh happy

(Chorus)

All for one, one for all

(Chorus)

Hello down there
This is your creator with a questionaire
Hello up there
I don't have the time to fill out questionaires 

I will always love Sparks, for one thing in particular: helping me survive a particularly gruelling, embarassing, disappointing weekend. When I was about 15, I went to trials for the Lincolnshire under-16 rugby squad. I remember distinctly that my mum got me some jeans to wear, which were basically flares; I knew I'd be spending the weekend away from home with other boys my age, and was terrified of them seeing me naked, taking the mickey out of my flares, taunting me for other reasons etc. (I was quite shy).

The morning I set off from home, probably with mum, I heard This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us on the radio. The tune was so infectious, the lyrics so baffling and brilliant, that even though I only heard it once, I was repeating the chorus to myself all weekend. It gave me a moment of space to retreat into, a glamorous fantasy moment I could hang on to amid the painful, eyes-down fear of that weekend:

By the way, I didn't make the team (the disappointment because a stud in one of my boots fell out and I got horrendous blisters which hampered my performance on day 2), I spent the weekend feeling embarassed but wasn't taunted, but did sub. a couple of times for the Lincolnshire rugby team.

Once I got home, I discovered my dad had copies of Indiscreet, Propaganda and Kimono My House, all absolute classic albums. I used to surreptitiously borrow the tapes and listen to them on my Walkman, practically all the time. People are put off by the high singing, I think; but I think that's part of the histrionic joy of their work, and once you listen to the lyrics, you realise they are brilliant song-writers with a unique world view. Sparks have been cruelly underrated for years, but recently they've been namechecked by all sorts of music industry luminaries. Glad to say I was there twenty years ago. But it's still rare to find anyone who'll admit to liking them (apart from my friend Adrian). I'm coming out of the closet right now, in the hope this will encourage others to dig out their 70s albums (I have to admit I am not that interested in the albums they released after 1979).

mathis - now on Last.fm

I'm going to put the mathis album up on Last.fm as I complete the tracks. All will be downloadable for free from here:

http://www.last.fm/music/Mathis/mathis

mathis - track one - neighbour forgotten like a silent ray

I've completed the first track from my mathis project; the track is entitled neighbour forgotten like a silent ray. I may still do some more remixing (it sounds a bit muddy in places), but I'm generally pleased with the result.

Download it here

For this track, the sound sources were squashed versions of every track on my Johnny Mathis album. Basically, I compressed each of the 18 tracks down to half a second (without changing its pitch), and reversed it. I then used these samples, along with a variety of effects, to put together the piece.

I'm releasing these pieces under an Attribution-Share Alike CreativeCommons licence (same as the rest of the content on this site).

mathis - first listen through

I've had my first listen through Johnny Mathis - The Collection (that link includes previews of the songs on the album). First thoughts:

  1. It's an odd collection dating largely from the 1950s, moving from light exotica, through to jazz standards, some very peculiar time signatures, and some horrendously overblown crooning from JM. He really uses his voice like a blunt instrument. None of the songs you might know as his "classics" (like this or this).
  2. It has a downright bizarre, mournful, slow tempo version of Fly Me To The Moon. I'd always considered that quite an upbeat song, but JM proves otherwise.
  3. There's a Cuban song called Babalu covered. This is interesting, as I've got an obscure Warp single by a band called DSR, with a track called Babaloo. I'm pretty sure the samples in DSR's track are from a version of Babalu (though not JM's).
  4. There's a version of Caravan, which I have two or three other versions of. However, this is the only version where I've actually heard it with lyrics.
  5. I'd forgotten that he has a slight speech impediment (can't pronounce R). Unfortunately, and I don't like myself for saying this, I find this defuses the emotion of some of the songs.
  6. I have to admit I actually quite liked listening to it. The aforementioned Fly Me To The Moon is a highlight for me; and there are plenty of nice beats, extended falsetto notes, string fragments etc. to make the mathis album interesting.

By the way, JM has a terribly old-fashioned website. Dig those slanting silver fonts (I think FrontPage and clipart are probably to blame).

Book thing

My sister did this book meme thing, and I thought the list was interesting, so I decided to do it too.

(Although now I'm researching it, I'm not sure where the original list came from, and am starting to feel like I've just wasted my time.)

The rules are:

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you LOVE.
4) Strike out the books you have no intention of ever reading, or were forced to read at school and hated.
5) Reprint this list on your own blog.

I've adapted this slightly, and have only highlighted things I've read.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 The Harry Potter Series - JK Rowling (some of them)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible (well, 3 of the gospels)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman (first two books)
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens (I hated this)
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller (started, but not sure I finished it)
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (you've got to be joking if you think anyone, other than Shakespaeare scholars, has read every single piece of his work; I've read a fair bit)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald (I think...)
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen (I detested this)
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (now, why would I want to read that?)
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert (it is good, but where's all the better science fiction?)
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen (why so much bloody Jane Austen?)
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville (Jesus, that was tiresome)
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce (yes, really, for my English Lit. degree)
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell (good, but not that good)
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare (isn't this included as part of The Complete Works?)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

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