Archive for the Uncategorized Category

Trash Can Radio

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 3, 2016 by dazzlesoundproductions

Ever wondered how much red tape is involved in setting up a radio station?  Wonder no more – it’s a lot with Ofcom, PRS, MPC etc etc all getting up in your grill with demands for money you haven’t got.  Does that discourage my friend Mike Spenser who’s DAB labour of love is Trash Can Radio?  Course not.  TCR plays blues, punk, freakbeat, psychedelia, rockabilly, rock ‘n’ roll and generally anything loud hard and trashy.  Run out of a studio in South London it doubles up with the more restrained Golden Radio during the day but at night lets rip (or all day over the web).  Mike showed me round recently, here he is in the nerve centre

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where the magic happens.  There is a wonderous all-valve recording studio next door and various pieces of lush analogue machinery littering the cave.  I am working on a pre-edited show for Mike to help him fill the airwaves, but check the station out as you are sure to hear thrilling, scuffed rock sounds unlike any other.

The personal is political and vice versa

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on September 15, 2016 by dazzlesoundproductions

I am deep into Image result for walls come tumbling rachelwhich is an oral history of pop ‘n’ politics from Eric Clapton’s notorious Brum rant* in 1976 to Thatcher’s third victory in 1987.  The story is told by those who were there which is great, there is no narrative except from those describing events unfolding.  You can see how a party line tends to develop in any organisation and these left-leaning ones are no different.  The fascinating clash is then between maverick musicians who just didn’t think like politicians and er, politicians.  Eventually, there develops an acceptable set of beliefs and whosoever does not share them is marginalised.  Some tragi-comic interludes in the book are one of the founder members of Steel Pulse being ejected because he would not embrace rastafarianism: Rock Against Sexism being comprehensively patronised by the right-on music press; the laughable attempts by the far right to create their own bands and Red Wedge never getting an album together because none of these good socialists could agree royalties splits.  Surely the solution was a live album?

Red Wedge was fatally hobbled from the start because it acted as the Labour party with guitars and could not accomodate anyone who had doubts about both Margaret Thatcher and Neil Kinnock/Tony Benn/Arthur Scargill, which was quite a lot as it happens.  A lot of useful dialogue was started but always ended with an exhortation to vote Labour.  There was no attempt to reach out to the Greens or SDP or anyone else, everything was viewed through the prism of bi-partisan politics.  Oh and electoral reform was a dirty word.  The fact remains that a pile of excellent rousing music was produced by the individual bands within these movements and social attitudes shifted perceptively but as a design for life?  No.  I used to think “the personal is political” slogan was a pathetic cop out, start the revolution without me chaps.  Now I think it could be chiselled on RAR and Red Wedge’s headstones.

*You can find this appalling episode recreated on Youtube.  At best he has only ever half-apologised for this and I find it weird that it has been so expertly airbrushed away.  Also detailed in the book is the truth behind David Bowie’s salute to the crowd at Victoria Station the same year, verdict this time, not guilty, except of reading too many books about the Nazis.

The rest is noise

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 15, 2016 by dazzlesoundproductions

The BBC has broached a subject I have moaned about before, although not in one handy place, irksome production fads and tics.  Alongside the usual suspects are the “fry”, “ukeleleitis” and the “dubstep wob” to which I would add the EDM ringmod.  DJ Cliche rolls off the high end to nothing, brings it back (perhaps with some stereo panning) behind a pummeling 16 on the floor bass pulse, stop dead, burst back with main beat and hook.  Cue much waving of glowsticks and pogoing.  I do think slap bass gets a bad rap,  maybe because the problem is that it appeals to proficient over-players who cannot use it sparingly.  Otherwise good call Beeb.

The Song Machine: No Ghosts Here

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 19, 2015 by dazzlesoundproductions

 

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A book recently published that will be of interest to anyone who listens a bit too closely to music is John Seabrook’s Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, which grew out of this article.

Ever wondered why Top 40 crud is now impossible to ignore as it pours out of radios, shops, fast food joints?  It’s because it is precision engineered with heavily compressed batteries of “hooks”, earworms of particularly vocalised beats and synth sounds and rhythmic samples.  Songwriting has been formularised to a terrifying degree by an elite group of mostly Scandinavian digital technicians who marshall battalions of writers and arrangers, focusing their skills on crafting three and a half minutes of pure sugar rush, flavoured with a triple shot of porno lyrics.  This book lays it bare, it is fascinating and also disorientating.

Seabrook is a middle-aged journalist who should be preconditioned to despise this virulent all-conquering phenomenon, the Japanese Knotweed of pop.  But he admirably set aside the prejudice to dig into the process of construction with a musicologist’s eye and ended up taking the monster home.  He shows how teams of writers specialise to a crazy degree (top-line only, chorus only, ring-mod breakdown only) to distill the product to super-strength, and he spots some interesting wrinkles; ever wondered why so much of the sex-obsessed lyrics have an infantile feel?  They are written by composers in their second language so elegance goes out the window in favour of crunching groin-level impact.

There’s no escaping the commercial forces driving this development either – the music is the sound of decline.  As revenue from recorded music collapsed, the big labels realised that there was no room for sentiment.  If they were going to commit big budgets to new artists they wanted no holes out of which air could escape.  The wall between composing and fronting/performing which the Beatles had demolished came up again, the professionals moved into forensic songwriting and the Rihannas, Katy Perry’s and Nicky Minaj’s became the public faces, with a co-credit once they had sold enough to insist on being cut in.  These “smash hits” don’t generate anything like the money they used to, but they hoover up what’s left of the cake and keep the music industry alive even as it circles the drain waiting for streaming services to (possibly) put it to sleep permanently.

Where does it leave those who aspire to write for themselves?  Out in the cold frankly.  The song machine runs on singles with big-selling albums much thinner on the ground, but autonomous artists have had to vacate the mainstream or accept the shackles of co-writing.  The very idea of a major (EMI) giving a 17 year old prodigy (Kate Bush) an advance and mentor to develop her songwriting and hoping for the best is laughable today.  But hey, when 1% of the roster generates 80% of the profit complaining is like throwing tomatoes at a tank.  There are examples of the 21st century craft that force even cynics to make the shoot sign (Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” to pluck an example out the ether is an outrageous pimping of 60’s girl group pop) but mostly it is like liqueur chocolates being forced into your eardrums, the handy bottle-shaped ones I guess.  The book does a sterling job of showing how the edifice is made in studios in London, Stockholm and LA but left me feeling much as I do when surveying Euston station – I can’t deny it’s huge but I don’t want to go inside unless it’s to leave again.

Wyatting – guerilla musical education or irritating snobbery: YOU DECIDE!!!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 15, 2015 by dazzlesoundproductions

Once upon a time jukeboxes were analogue, holding a defined number of 7″ singles.  if you were feeling brave, obtuse or maudlin you could select the b-side of a hit to play to an accidental audience, but not many did.  Then arrived the CD version, expanding the choice to hundreds of tracks but still keeping safety barriers in place, mainly being stocked with Greatest Hits compilations.  Then at last! the internet connected version where you could search online databases for millions of tunes.  Thus was born the brief craze of Wyatting.

The term comes from Robert’s Dondestan album, a notoriously good choice if you were to find it on a jukebox.  The aim is to pick the most excruciating avant-garde or atonal/repetitive track you can think of on internet connected pub jukebox.  Rules vary but clearing the establishment or prompting the staff to kill the music is considered a victory.  Note that it isn’t enough to simply irritate the punters trying to enjoy their drinks, otherwise Crazy Frog 20 times in a row would actually count.  You must shake their very belief in music and it’s normalised structure.  Neither it is considered sporting to punch up some ripe example of gansta-rap or death metal, as this conforms too closely to conventions of genre.  No, it must be nothing less than a deconstruction of commercial acceptability.

I say brief craze because internet wired jukeboxes did not enjoy wide take-up by the hostelries of our land, running costs and the hazards of giving tipsy musicologists too much choice means they are an exotic rarity today.  But if you do find one, try sticking these on and watch the bonds of civilisation snap.

If they're not putting me on 16 times in a row, it's "are you that Matt Berry?" bah!

If they’re not putting me on 16 times in a row, it’s “are you that Matt Berry?” bah!

A Wyatters Hit parade

Jesus & Mary Chain – any of their first three singles.  Shrieking feedback to test the tweeters in any speaker.

Lou Reed – Metal Machine Music.  Any jukebox that offers an extended barrage of white and pink noise to you is asking for an aural ASBO.

Swans – Raping a Slave.  Only 6.22?  It just seemed to fly by.

Pink Floyd – Scream Thy Last Scream.  Laughing Gnome without the laughs.

Pere Ubu – 30 Seconds Over Tokyo.  Does this sound like fun to you?

Neu – Super 16.  Makes even hardened proggers sup up and flee.

Brian Eno – Thursday Afternoon.  A classic exercise in minimalism; except for the terrifying attenuation.

Flux of Pink Indians – Tapioca Sunrise.  I got this mixed up with a Monkees song once with hilarious consequences.

Merzbow – Requiem.  Don’t be fooled by the cheery title, this is an aural assault course likened to being conscious during a kidney transplant.

The Greater Game: Part 3

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 29, 2015 by dazzlesoundproductions

Some Foley was required for our play:

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As you can see, not all work no play, some of the props were drinkable.  There were also football kicks, footsteps and suchlike – I used the Tascam DR-40 for this, there are many portable digital recorders available out there but I found this had the best feature set for me, up to four tracks record and overdub and the internal condenser mics are excellent, really crisp and clear.  For the outside work I used a possum sock over the mics to cut wind noise, though best option is to watch the forecast and try to get recordings in between summer gales.  Sounds duly ‘flown in’ this now leaves the final mix and edit – more on that later.

We’re losing you…the fade fades out

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on February 2, 2015 by dazzlesoundproductions

The fade out is disappearing fast from pop music.  Once upon a time gradually attenuating your finished track and leaving the listener with the impression someone had stolen the microphone and was making their getaway was a very standard production trick, but times have changed.  Prior to tape the fade was the special-ist of special effects, try moving a heavy gramophone away from ensemble singers in a confined space, it ain’t easy.  The big F’s popularity grew from about 1959 for both ballads and rockers leaving as they did a sense of possibility or wistful retreat.  From 1964 they started to become ubiquitous – 50% of Beatles singles feature one – and remained so until the 1990s when the surging popularity of dance music (which hates a fade) led to a gradient reduction of gain to zero.  Why? The ease with which digital tracks can be skipped, the tyranny of radio mandating 3.30-3.45 as the perfect length for a top 40 rap/r’n’b track, the fact that clubs require beat-driven songs that can be easily cut and shut by DJs.  All of these and the reality that fades suggest a sense of bittersweet irresolution; and we can’t have that in the 21st century.

Fades can conceal or reveal all kinds of information about a record was made.  These are some which display real creativity and make an interesting hook of necessity.

Elvis Costello – Oliver’s Army

What happened here?  After three minutes of pop perfection Elvis seems in a mighty hurry to get out of earshot.  Incidentally Armed Forces is fade-tastic, every track drifts away.  Except for Busy Bodies which with a nice touch of irony fades in!

Monkees – Pleasant Valley Sunday

Turning up the reverb until the tail throttles the music in sheets of white noise subsequently became a cliche.  Here it was a first and still sounds outre.

Buzzcocks – ESP

A track lasting 4.47 with a fade that starts at roughly 3.05.  The band power on while the volume drops excruciatingly slowly.  I love it.  See also Roxy Music’s Jealous Guy.

ELO – 10538 Overture

The rest of the band go home and leave the strings to it.  Double bubble MU rates for the last 30 seconds.

Elton John – Song For Guy

Well before the end Elton starts scat singing and absent-mindedly hitting the piano chords harder and harder while holes open up in the track until it falls apart like a moth-eaten jumper.

Raspberries – Overnight Sensation

A power pop song about transient fame that features an epic false fade.  First it goes all AM radio at 2.59 before bursting back to life at 3.15.  Then at 4.08 it’s all over, until a massive j-turn on the drums at 4.18, massed harmonies, power chords the lot.

Billy Swan – I Can Help

He wraps his easy country pop tune up to an appreciative crowd in the studio, but they ain’t letting him go.  No less than two codas to whoops and cheers.

Love – 7 And 7 Is

Utter garageband rave up until God smites the players of the Devil’s music down!  When the smoke clears the next band booked at the studio is warming up with a lame blues jam.

Beatles – Paperback Writer

Someone starts assembling a bedside cabinet during the brief fade.  See also Clash’s I Fought The Law.

Teenage Fanclub – The King

Nothing but endings – AND IT FADES OUT!!!!!