Friday, September 29, 2006

Donwloading from YouTube

Another not exciting week has almost passed me by.

I have spent most of my out-of-work time this week downloading video clips from popular site YouTube, using the methods described in this article. Although the videos on YT are streamed and thus theoretically undownloadable, there are ways of getting around this. I use the Firefox browser at work, and once I had downloaded the VideoDownloader plug-in mentioned in the article, it was a breeze to get the videos onto my hard disk. I then used a program to convert the resulting .flv files (which can only be watched with an flv viewer) into avi files, and thence onto cd.

Technology aside, what of the videos? Most of the material which I downloaded are clips from the 'Beat Club' tv programme shown in Germany from the mid 60s until mid 70s; the videos uploaded to YouTube are clips which were shown on tv, possibly taped to video, and then digitalised. As a result of this analog/digital/analog/digital/conversion process, the final quality is not wonderful. Most of the videos came out looking ok, but some suffer from excessive pixelisation, especially the older BC videos which were shot in black and white.

A great number of videos show acts miming to their songs, and as their songs are available at higher quality elsewhere, the enjoyment lies in watching the musicians and identifying the instruments. Much of the tv direction is bizarre, focusing on meaningless visual elements (like the stage lighting) or on instruments which aren't the major contributors (eg The Kinks' "Lola", which has more shots of the pianist's hands than of Ray Davies singing). There are some excellent clips, such as Rod Stewart miming "Maggie May" whilst playing football and accompanied by the late John Peel 'playing' the mandolin. There are also some rare clips, such as King Crimson playing "Lark's tongue in aspic, part 1" (beware: there are two clips of this available, one just over seven minutes and one just under six minutes. Choose the shorter one: the longer one gets stuck at around the 2:30 mark). And there are some extremely weird clips, such as a Japanese trio who play a note-for-note rendition of Crimson's "Lark's tongue in aspic, part 2". I downloaded it without watching, so I was really surprised when I saw the result.

There is also a clip of Jimi Hendrix playing "All along the watchtower" as a RIGHT handed guitarist; if one watches closely, it becomes obvious that someone reversed the original film, as there are signs like "STAGE" which have been reversed as to be unreadable. I don't know what the novelty value of this is, but it's definitely worth finding the live clip of "Hey Joe", which has him playing normally (which means with his teeth as well as picking with his left hand).

Other live perfomances include Van der Graaf Generator playing "Whatever would Robert have said?", Roxy Music with "Virginia Plain", and concert footage of a supergroup comprising of (amongst others) Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman playing an excellent version of "Layla".

Sunday, September 24, 2006

New song uploaded

I uploaded a new song to Soundclick today, called "You think that you know him". It's not a new song, but rather a new arrangement. I found an earlier version of this on my hard disk the other day which I had forgotten about, as for the last few months I've been working exclusively on a cd of cover versions (which I'm not allowed to upload to Soundclick for copyright reasons). Anyway, I listened to this version, was generally pleased by it but realised that there were bits and pieces which needed to be improved. A few hours later, I had the music finalised, mixed it with the vocal which I had recorded whenever, and hey presto! A new track.

Here's what I wrote to a friend about the genesis of the song (in February 2002):

On Thursday evening I had been asked to play the guitar at someone's 40th birthday party, and so I played all these old Israeli songs. Most of them seemed to be in the key of A minor, and a fair number were waltzes.

On Friday morning, I thought to myself that I too could put together a waltz in A minor without too much difficulty. I laid down a chord sequence, but it was very stiff. Later that evening I thought that if I change this chord to that, and that chord to this, then something interesting might emerge.

And what do you know? On Saturday morning, I already had a chord sequence and tune. I dug out the bits of paper [on which I had been writing notes to myself], tried fitting words to the tune, and suddenly I had a verse. I typed it into the computer, and off the cuff added a second. I tried singing it, made a few adjustments, and suddenly a third verse (the fourth in the song) appeared. After a bit more cogitation the final verse appeared as if by magic. To make things interesting, I changed the pronouns, so instead of me singing about someone else, I'm now giving advice to a friend about what to do (the title was originally "You think that you know me"). Thinking about it a little more, maybe I should change all the "she's" to "he", and the "her's" to "him" - that'll make it into me singing to a female friend.

The words themselves have very little basis in real life, so don't read to much into them.
It's been my experience that the arrangements which I did in pre-Reason days need to be thinned out in order to sound good in Reason: Reason instruments take up more audio space and so there should be fewer of them. For this new arrangement, I combined the parts of two instruments into one, which made the result less cluttered. To my ears, there's a nice reverby bounce to this tune which I like.

I remember that when I was working on the song, I wanted something different for the solo section in the middle. I was wandering around the Internet when I came upon a flamenco rhythm in 3/4; ideal, I thought, and incorporated this into the arrangement. The original MIDI sounded much more Spanish than this version does, but that doesn't bother me too much.

Anyway, please give it a listen and also give it a positive vote - I think that this song could do well in the Soundclick charts.


Continuing the unfortunate sequence of rock musicians' deaths, today I read about Boz Burrell, one time bassist and singer for King Crimson and later to find fame with Bad Company. Although he was in KC for only a short time, I managed to see that line up three times in the space of six months. He was 60 when he died.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Stevie Wonder

I wrote before that I found Tim Hughes' Ph.D. dissertation on Stevie Wonder; here's the link. There are two paragraphs which I want to write about here.

In the discussion of "Living in the city", Tim writes (page 29):
This motion in and out of phase by the right hand part occurs simultaneously in two other areas: harmony and register. When the two parts are metrically in phase, the right hand plays F# major triads. As the two parts move into metric opposition, the right hand moves up through a G# minor triad to an A major triad, higher and further away. The A major triad above the F# bass creates an F# min7 chord, blurring the harmony somewhat. As the two parts move back into metrical phase, the right hand moves back down through G# minor towards an F# major triad.

Although this made some sense to me, I didn't fully understand until I heard the part to which he is referring. It seems fairly clear to me that Hughes doesn't play the guitar, for otherwise he would have easily recognised what Wonder was playing. I don't think that Stevie Wonder plays the guitar, either, which is also surprising, considering. Guitarists, try the following exercise: play an E major chord in root position (022100); now slide the fingers up two frets and change the fingering on the G string (044200) - this is F#min7. Now move the fingers up another fret, again changing the fingering on the G string (055400) - this is G6 (or Em7). Play this in the correct rhythm and you have the vamp to "Living in the city".

I discovered this (or learnt it) sometime around May 1972, which coincidentally was about the time that Wonder was recording "Living in the city". My route to this vamp was interest in the differing sounds one could make by moving the E shape up the neck of the guitar without barring - ie just the three fingers - and moving between major and minor chords. This started from learning Simon Nicol's guitar part to Sandy Denny's "Who knows where the time goes", which is slightly different to the LITC vamp, being E/F#m7/G#m7 (or EMaj7)/F#m7.

This vamp forms the basis of my song, "Sunday rain", which was written at that time. I did a rollicking MIDI arrangement of this some years ago which maybe I ought to exhume.

The second discussion to which I want to refer is about "Higher ground":
The drums, bass and vocals sound much the same as they do on "Superstition", but the clavinet sound is quite different. First of all, there appear to be three different parts. Each seems to have been recorded similarly (perhaps in consecutive passes with a single setup, as on "I wish") but they are dispersed in the stereo mix: one to the left, one to the right and one in the center. As with the vocals at the end of "Living in the city", this dispersal seems to surround the listener, creating the effect of immersion in a polyrhythmic swirl of clavinet parts.

This caused a smile of recognition to appear on my face, as this is something which I've been trying to do in my own arrangements, although normally it's a split between two instruments panned left and right. Sometimes one echoes the first (maybe in a different octave), and sometimes they're playing split arpeggios. Wonder does something more complicated: he has three parts playing, each complementing each other and keeping a strong rhythm going. I've found someone's MIDI version of this song which displays the three clavinet parts, and it will be interesting to examine them and see what's going on.

Hughes has to write about Stevie Wonder's music from a musicologist's point of view, which can make it seem more complex than it need be. I think that quite a few players would have difficulty reading what he wrote but could assimilate the music quite easily. Also, I found the discussion about the structure of the songs (verse/chorus, etc) to be something which comes naturally, as a musician and songwriter. With these caveats in mind, I think that most people with an interest in music could learn from what Hughes writes.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Busy busy busy

I've been very busy lately, but not necessarily doing interesting things, which is why I haven't been updating.

At work, one person has been on sick leave for the last two weeks, so I've been having to cover for her, which means between two to four hours a day extra work. There are days when this isn't an imposition and there are days when it is extremely hard.

On top of this, I've been doing some computer consulancies: one is for a clinical psychologist here on the kibbutz, rewriting a set of programs which date from around ten years ago, and one - which is not definite - is advising someone in the north how to convert a program which uses the BDE and TTable component almost exclusively to using mySQL and the TQuery component. Last week we exchanged several emails and I updated one module of his program to show how it should be written, but since then I haven't heard from him.

And on top of that, I've had problems with my teeth. I'm having root canal work redone on one tooth: I had a marathon one and a half hour appointment of Friday which left me very weak for the next 24 hours, and another one hour appointment yesterday. All the root canal work has been done, and now I need the tooth to be crowned. The best part of this treatment is that it doesn't hurt - because I have no nerves in the tooth - but it's mildly unpleasant.

Virtually nothing to report on the music front. Yesterday I stumbled across a Ph.D. dissertation of the music of Stevie Wonder (specifically six songs from 1972-4), which would be fascinating material if I were even slightly acquainted with the songs discussed. Unfortunately, I am not. This isn't meant to be a racist comment, but I think that my entire record collection contains maybe one disc made by a black artist (Miles Davis). Is it my fault that I don't like rap, reggae, funk, r&b and other similar styles whilst liking progressive rock and folk music?

Friday, September 01, 2006

More about Pip

One of the things on my unwritten "to do" list was to burn a DVD from a downloaded session of "Canterbury" bands: two tracks from Caravan, one long Hatfield medley and one National Health appearance. The drummer in the last two segments was none other than Pip Pyle, RIP. Today I found the time to create the dvd, and I've watched the whole thing (about 25 minutes) twice.

I don't know whether it's the quality of the captured picture or whether the original video was trying to be "far out", but the first Caravan song, "Magic Man", is simply weird, visually. Audio is fine. Very youthful and innocent psychodelia. The second song, "Golf girl", is much better, featuring a Richard Sinclair vocal (very straight, showing none of the vocal mannerisms that were yet to come) and Dave Sinclair on Hammond. Pye Hastings looks bored out of his mind. Richard makes an interesting lyrical change towards the end -
And later on the golf course
After drinking tea
It started raining H-bombs
She protected me
The Hatfield medley apparently comes from the late Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park; the footage comes from Japanese TV, complete with announcer. This includes part of "Somewhere between Heaven and Hell", "The yes/no interlude", "Fitter Stokes" and "Didn't matter anywhere". Classic material from "The Rotters' club" album. Dave Stewart is hirstute and rocking about on his chair, fingers moving from keyboard to keyboard. Phil Miller is hiding at the back, playing somewhat normal guitar (although he is always out of focus and smudged in the video - poor lighting resolution), Richard looks a bit older than the Caravan video, and Pip is ... Pip. Very strange watching him; he looks pudgier than his photos. He's also playing quite a bit with his eyes closed - surely an unusual thing to do.

The National Health performance is of "The Collapso", sourced from The Old Grey Whistle Test. This starts off exceedingly strange - part of the "Weird Musician of the month" competition, which John Greaves steals without competition. He is very much the star of the visual performance, whereas Phil Miller - who plays the tune - is hiding at the back again. Dave Stewart is shorn of his long hair and looks even weirder in his movements. Pip is still Pip, plumper than I thought, tapping his cymbals and playing with his eyes closed.

After 30 years of only hearing this music, it's fascinating to watch it being made. And of course, it is a fitting memorial for The Man Of Zinc (as DS's sleeve notes to "The Complete National Health") refer to him.

I've been thinking of recording one of Pip's songs: it's either "Share it" (music by Richard Sinclair), "Fitter Stokes" or "Binoculars". I would most like to do FS, but it sounds like I'm going to have problems singing it as it requires a huge range. I've worked out most of the music (quite weird, but what would you expect from a drummer?) and it would be fun to play. "Share it" also has quite a range, somewhere around 15 semitones, but that's just about manageable. The chords were very easy to pin down; they play it in B, but that's going to be too high for me. "Binoculars" can wait as a third option, if I even decide to go through with this. Of course, I'm so used to hearing the original of SI that it's going to be difficult at first to find a new musical approach, although I know that once I decide on a basic feel, the arrangement will turn out to be quite different from the original.