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Jun. 8th, 2010

Listening to Music

I love music!

Music is everywhere, in this day and age. Movies and TV shows have background music to set the mood, and it's trivial to put on a radio, or a media player, or on the computer, and have music in the background for whatever you do. Commuters on the train invariably have headphones on, driving in the car there's always music - even shops pump out music in the background as you shop. Music is everywhere!

In spite of this, or I think even because of the modern music culture, I find it really hard to just listen to music. I love music, and yet if I settle down in a comfy chair with my nice audio system, I feel out of place, and somewhat guilty. Sitting there, I get the urge that I should be doing something, as if listening isn't doing anything. I must grab the laptop and web browse, or read a book, or just abandon listening and go browse lolcats.

Why in our psyche does sitting at a PC trawling the internet for amusement seem more productive than dedicating the whole of our self to listening to music?

Even menial tasks are sufficient excuse to "listen" to music. Driving the car, or catching a train, it's effortless and obvious to put on some music. It's ok, we're being productive - we're travelling somewhere! So why can't I just listen? Why do I have to be doing something else?

Of course, there's ways of appreciating a dedication to music - concerts are very popular - but even they have a strong visual performance aspect. It's not just the music, but the light-show, or the crush of bodies on the dance floor. It's entertainment, but the music is just a part of it (and in some concerts, clearly not the main part).

On the week-end, I listened to some music. It actually took quite a bit of will-power, a conscious decision to do nothing but listen. Outside was gloriously sunny, and I nestled under a blanket in the dark theatre, and cranked it up. The TV was blank, aside from a brief display of track information at the start of each track. I listened to Stupid Dream, by Porcupine Tree - a DTS surround mix no less. The sound enveloped me, and I was transported.

As creatures bombarded by visual stimulus, if there's nothing to watch, we're a little lost. Closing my eyes, my body's natural reaction was to fall asleep. I was focussed on the music, though, and so while a few times my body felt like it slipped asleep, my mind entered a lucid state where the music filled it. I was lost with nothing but the sound, and my own thoughts filling my mind. I've felt this before - typically dozing on a bus. You nod off to sleep, yet you can't escape the music, so it fills your mind and shapes your thoughts.

It was wonderful!

I need to listen to more music.

I need a comfier chair in the home theatre.
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Sep. 30th, 2009

Wallpaper Meme

* Anyone who looks at this entry has to post this meme and their current wallpaper.
* Explain in no more than five sentences why you're using that wallpaper!
* Don't change your wallpaper before doing this! The point is to see what you had on!

I'm a big fan of Noir, Pulp, Steampunk, etc, and so Automata, by the Penny Arcade guys, was right up my alley - black and white noir detective story, with a splash of colour, featuring a minority race of mechanical beings? Hell yes!

This wallpaper, though, was by the amazingly talented guy behind AppleGeeks, inspired by the Penny Arcade concept. I love the style, and the texture - and wish he released a hi-res version (or prints) of the poster version.

As a wallpaper it also works very well, as the textured background peeks out around windows, and Regal often peeks out at the RHS of the screen behind windows.

I change my wallpaper very rarely, and I suspect this one will be here to stay for quite some time.

Click through for the hi-res version, and check out the original post over at AppleGeeks.

Another creative person animated the Automata comic to music, which is also pretty spiffy and worth a look.

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Jul. 23rd, 2009

Experiments in Home Theatre Frequency Testing

As most of you have probably figured out, I'm a bit of an Audio enthusiast. The quest for audio nirvana is never-ending, and my latest foray into improving my home theatre was to delve into the guts of system testing and tuning! I recently acquired a SPL Sound Level Meter, and armed with the Bink Audio Test CD to play certain frequencies, set out to test, and tweak the configuration of my system, fiddling with speaker size settings, cross-overs, parametric equalisers, etc...

I mainly wrote this all up to post on DTVForum, but decided to throw it in LJ, with some tweaks, to bore you all to tearskeep it for my own reference, and in case anyone does find it as riveting as I.

Here's a brief summary of some of my observations:
Nitty-gritty (boring) detailsCollapse )
Hmmm, that turned out to be not so brief - at least I didn't include tables of numbers & graphs! wink.gif

So, for future reference, anyone building a theatre: Don't make your theatre dimensions multiples of each other! Having a room 4m by 8m does nasty things to multiples/fractions of 80Hz!

Now I need to go and research room accoustic treatments...









Jul. 6th, 2009

Bass Odyssey: Week 2-3

As I suspected, my practicing has been sporadic. Not a huge surprise, given that I didn't have any free time before suddenly deciding to learn a new musical instrument. Still, when I do practice they've been pretty solid. It seems the best time during the week is between when I get home after work, and dinner time. On a good day, that can give me a solid hour. Unfortunately, a late day at work, after work activities, or an ambitious dinner I've volunteered to prepare can nix a practice for a day very quickly. On the week-ends, I'm managing to get a solid few hours in on at least one day.

Week 2 I started attempting to play well-known songs (to me) from bass tabs found online - there's quite a wealth of community-crafted tab music. Even better are Guitar Pro files, which include tabulature, as well as the musical score, which I can fire up on my Eee using TuxGuitar. In theory, this is great, since I can fiddle with tempo, and add/remove parts, so I have other parts of the song to play along to. Unfortunately, the Eee really struggles to render Midi in software, so rather than sounding like tinny Midi music, it sounds more like strangled chickens half the time.

One of the problems with TuxGuitar is that I can't easily adapt different instruments to a 5-string Bass. There's an option to change the instrument, along with its tuning, but if I change, say, a Cello from a Bach Concerto to a 5-string Bass, then it keeps the fretting, and screws up the actual notes! It would've been much more useful if it kept the correct notes, and had a bash at adapting the fretting/tabs to the different instrument.

I think it was Week 2 that I discovered the joys of using headphones to practice. It means I can practice without annoying the family (or neighbours), and without being self-conscous about clangers. The down-side is that it's another cable in the mix. Using the Eee for accompaniment and guides, means that I have a cable from the Eee to the Amp, the lead from the Bass to the Amp, and a lead running from my headphones to the Amp. All in all it can get a bit of a tangle - especially if I decide I need to move more than half a metre.

Week 3 started with my first jam session with another "live" musician. I dragged my Bass up to Andy's place and we spent all Saturday afternoon butchering the classics. Most of the time we spent just picking through songs we both knew really well, trying to find easy stuff that we might have a chance of reproducing to a degree that it's recognisable.

I find it really interesting breaking down songs you think you know really well. Guitar Hero/Rock Band do this to a degree - when you're playing along to a guitar or bass line, all of a sudden you realise how simple it is, or how complicated it is. Doing the same on real instruments takes it even further, resulting in some surprises about songs you thought would be easy, and turn out to be tricky, or vice versa.

It's actually the easy ones that can be really impressive, and we found two such songs in our search. Second Solution, by The Living End, for the lead guitar, is pretty much the one finger pattern shifted around the fret-board (obviously the solo is a bit more killer). Are You Gonna Be My Girl, by Jet, is even easier, with most of the song being the one chord, with a bit of a flourish or two.

Not that we're anywhere close to playing either song in full yet...

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Jun. 21st, 2009

Bass Odyssey: Week 1

About a month ago I celebrated my Birthday, and was presented with a wad of cash from a group of friends. I managed to wield enough willpower to put this money towards something a bit different and more long-term than usual birthday bling, and a few weeks later, bought myself an Electric Bass Guitar.

New Bass & AmpNo, not a Rock Band peripheral - the real deal, complete with Amp and the extras (case, leads, strap, tuner, etc). I went over the budget I originally had pencilled in for myself and got a Cort 5 String Electric Bass (Artisan C5H I believe it is) along with a 90W Behringer Amp. I wanted a 5 string from the get-go, and wanted an Amp with some decent grunt (ie; not the 10W practice amps they usually start you off with), and got a good deal on the combination.

Did I mention it's awesome?

The Bass is a matte black with a thin strip of white pearl around the edge. It's quite subtle and neutral, but still stylish, and I think suits me quite well. I'm still fiddling with the sound, but with the included tone & pickup balance you can get quite a range of tones out of it - and in general it sounds great!

So I've had it a little over a week now, picking it up two Thursdays ago. I've managed to practice on and off, adapting the scales I knew all those years ago for classical guitar, and learning new ones. It's closer to classical guitar than electric lead is (which was one of my reasons for going Bass over normal Guitar) - the fingering techniques in both hands are very similar, and plucking rest-stroke style is still very natural to me (after a 15+ year break). I've never used a Pick before, so plucking is all good. Walking scales and arpeggios is also more familiar to me than chords. Muting is something I've not had to tackle before, so that can be quite challenging.

So, one week in, and I'm finding some things easier than expected, and some things harder. I can do scales just fine, and have adapted to the extra lower string and missing top two strings just fine. Playing along base root notes to other songs is harder than I expected - I think mainly because I'm still very rusty at identifying actual note positions across the fretboard, and am still new to having to judge and translate intervals.

On the flipside, I can play the full bass line to Muse's Hysteria. Yeah, my technique isn't the greatest, but I can hit every note, it sounds reasonable, and is very recognisable. The bass line is an almost non stop barrage of notes, with little pauses. The rhythm is simple, but it just doesn't let up.

In some ways, I'm finding it easier to play Hysteria For Reals than in Rock Band, which is strange. In Rock Band, there's lots of HO/POs, so by the end of the song, my right hand (strumming) is fine, but my left hand (fretting) is falling off. Playing on the real Bass, plucking every single note, I'm not really noticing any fatigue in either hand. It's a mystery.

Hysteria is an awesome song to practice, though, since it's pretty intense, and mixes a good range of other techniques into it. Hurrah!

I'm intending to write here regularly, maybe once a week with a bit of luck, on how I'm progressing (or not). I was going to write up a bunch about why I'm pursuing this, how it came to be, inspirations, future goals, why 5 string, etc, but this post is already large enough, so I'll save them for another post.
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Jun. 1st, 2009

Rocking Birthday Long Weekend

This weekend just past was not a long weekend for me - I work for a University, you see.

But the weekend before, it was long, and awesome, and drama-filled, and I'd like to tell you why...

Prelude: Wednesday, May 20th

Dortamur's Rock Band 2 ProfileBefore the weekend, on the Wednesday evening, I was at home, feeling a little glum, because something I had ordered for myself had not yet arrived, and I really wanted it before the weekend. I'd ordered a copy 2 months earlier - it hadn't shipped due to lousy suppliers. I'd ordered a second copy a coupla weeks back - for a friend. I'd ordered a third copy for myself - it had shipped.

And so, after dinner on Wednesday, I was overjoyed to receive an early birthday present from my loving family - Rock Band 2! It was even gift-wrapped! Yep, they'd hijacked it, opened it, and wrapped it up. I believe this was also the only present I received that actually was wrapped.

Rock, Work, Rock: Friday, May 22nd

The Living End in ConcertI took the day off on Friday - there was a party about to happen the next day, and I had a pile of housework I had to get done. Yes, there was some menial stuff, but it also involved rearranging furniture and other non-standard activities. Still, I ended up playing Rock Band 2 most of the morning (unlocking stuff for the Party - an important task!)

In the evening, we all (myself, the Missus, the Kid, the Brother and the Sister-inlaw) went out to the awesomely loud The Living End, Sound The Alarm concert, with supporting acts Gyroscope and Tame Impala.
Concert Awesomeness Details...Collapse )

Oh, and James, after a very long tiring day, dozed off to the soothing body-shaking bass of The Living End's performance...

Paaar-Tay!: Saturday, May 23rd

So Saturday arrived, and given my distractions on Friday, there was still a fair whack of housework to do. As a result, I was still busily prepping the Chilli Con Carne in the slow cooker when the first guest arrived (guess who) at 3:15pm.

BTW: Dyson Vacuum Cleaners rock!!

It was a Trilogy of parties in one, to celebrate the Turner Twins birthday in addition to my own. The afternoon remained fairly quiet, although half a dozen more people rocked up. Most people hadn't RSVPed, so I didn't really have much of an idea what the turn-out would be.

It was pushing 7pm, dinner was being set out (Tacos, Tortillas, Lasagne, oh my!), when all of a sudden almost everyone else rocked up! Yeah, they know how to time it! We went through all 30 Taco shells, a pile of tortillas, the lasagne vanished quickly, and the taco salads needed refilling several times - but we had enough to satiate everyone!

All in all, the party was awesome! People had fun, with chatting, joking, board games with drunk gnomes, Wall*e (on shin*e Bluray), Wii games, and yes, Rock Band 2 - finishing up with the last rockers departing for home at 2am.

Slack Birthday: Monday, May 25th

I usually go to work on my birthday (when it's a work day), but this year I thought, buggritt, I want a nice quiet day off for my birthday, so I booked Leave. And so my actual birthday was nice and low-key - I stayed at home, slacked off, spent time with the missus, and popped out for a little window shopping. More on Birthday SlacknessCollapse )

It was a really good thing I took the day off (for me, anyway). 11:40pm the night before I responded to a work server alert, and was up till 1am dealing with a Denial of Service attack on our main server, and shifting services to other servers. Around 1am things seemed stable, so I turned my phone off and ignored it the entire of Monday (it's a work mobile). Later on I checked it, to find about 80 SMS messages alerting me to servers bouncing up and down.

Fallout, and Family: Tuesday, May 26th

Tuesday at work was chaos, dealing with the fall-out. As it turns out, that DOS attack was students, legitimately trying to access certain systems. Seems someone alerted us Friday (when I was already on leave) as to the possible high load on Monday. *sigh*
Even more work dramas...Collapse )

Tuesday evening was a pleasant visit to Mum & Dad's, including even more Birthday Lasagne. Om nom nom.

Phew! And that was my exciting rocking birthday long week-end (with a little bit either side)!

May. 18th, 2009

Daylight Savings

Ok, so everyone else seems to be posting their $0.02 about Daylight Savings, so here's my take on it. ^_^

Frankly, I'm surprised people are so passionate about this topic - surely there are many other issues that are more important? Or is it because that people were hit with this trial against their will, and then given a personal say on whether it continues or not?

For me, personally, I didn't mind Daylight Savings, and for my lifestyle, it was beneficial. I could work a long day, get home, and still have time to mow the lawn. Yes, we tended to have dinner later, but that opened up more time between work and dinner for doing "stuff", whereas typically that time is a period of not long enough to do anything, ergo typically wasted.

An even better plus was the "Darkness Savings" in the morning. With the sun getting up earlier & earlier, meant that I'd be woken up earlier (often by cats demanding food), so having an extra hour of darkness meant more sleep. Yes, I'm not a morning person.

However, after all that I voted "No", since most of my close friends and family have good reasons for it messing up their lives, and really, I don't care either way. Also, back to the passion thing, a lot of the Pro-Yes people come across as more abrasive and abusive than the Pro-No people. It's a lifestyle choice, people - there's no right or wrong answer, only personal opinion!

If it's such a divisive topic, then stick with the "don't mess with it" solution. At least then we don't have to fiddle with clocks, or computer timezone files.

And my Xbox 360 will keep the correct time (since MS were too slack to update its timezone settings).

May. 12th, 2009

Movie Impressions: Slumdog Millionaire

I finally got around to watching Slumdog Millionaire last night, and the short summary is, it's very good!

The storyline was pretty much what I expected, which is good considering I had pretty high expectations after all the hype this film got. There were no huge surprises, but it was very well told, and was interesting. The cast, mostly young kids with little to no English, did a really good job as well, making you forget this was just actors in a movie, and immersing you in the story.

However, the presentation simply blew me away! The visuals were simply stunning (apparently shot on prototype compact digital HD cameras), the editing of the storyline excellent, but the real stand-out for me was the amazing sound and music. This would have to be one of the best films I've ever heard, with a simply fantastic use of the entire sound stage, both front and surround. Busy scenes didn't just have sound portraying what was shown at the front, but included a hive of activity all around. This is what a surround track should be like! Fantastic!

The music complemented the story and scenery very well, and was also a fantastic full 5.1 sound mix. Both the sound & music were also very dynamic in range - quiet dialog was crisp and clear (the only problem being the occasional strong accent muddying english dialog), and when loud sound kicked in it was extremely powerful.

If you have an appreciation of sound & music, I highly recommend catching Slumdog Millionaire on a decent home theatre. While watching it on a normal TV would give you a good movie, the audio is an exhilirating experience. We watched it off Bluray, with high def audio, and it made my home theatre shine.

Slumdog Millionaire won a slew of Oscars, and while I hadn't seen many of the other contenders it was up against, I believe it rightly deserved a lot of them. I can certainly see why it was nominated for cinematography, editing, sound & music, and won most of them.

Apr. 22nd, 2009

Cinema Rant

Why is it so hard for a massive cinema complex to maintain a base quality standard in film audio-visual presentation?

Being Cheapass Tuesday, and currently kid-free, we decided to splurge and blow $20 on "Fast and Furious". We ended up going to Hoyts Carousel, where the screening was in #1 (one of their large La Premier cinemas).

The trailers buzzed by, and the sound quality was a bit crappy, but I'm not too fussed about that. It seems quite common for trailers to be in Pro Logic with the main feature kicking in with digital surround.

The main feature starts, and immediately I notice there's no bloody sound coming from the right side. How?? How can such a prime screen, with thousands of people going through it today, screw up the sound balance so badly? Sure, the centre was still blisteringly loud, but as soon as music kicks in (often prominent left/right, while the centre carries speech & local sfx), there's a wall of sound from the left and nothing from the right!

I mean, I am a bit of an audio buff. I'm not a hard-core audiophile, but I know I spot sound issues a lot faster than most people. But this was just so obviously unbalanced that I'm sure anyone with two functioning ears could spot it! I know some people call this "fussy" - to me this is as fussy as someone objecting to nails on a blackboard is fussy - it really just clashes and unbalances me! It took me a good half an hour to adjust and block the "hole" in the sound-field and start to enjoy the film itself.

Oh, and the picture wasn't exactly the most crisp either. It was ok - maybe the crispness of Bluray on my puny 1080p screen at home has spoiled me. Some of the action scenes were hard to follow, but I don't know how much of that was shaky-cam vs blur vs massive FOV-filling screen. Not so fussed about that compared to the sound.

At home I have better, properly (in comparison) calibrated sound, and a great, crisp screen (albeit not as FOV-filling), a pause button and cheap refreshments - why am I at a Cinema? Because this movie wasn't out on Bluray for rental yet, and we wanted to see it.

Not all Cinemas have problems - I wonder if that is because some of them actually hire people to maintain and test their gear, or maybe their gear is still functioning as it was when installed. Reading Belmont have had a good quality track record (given the many Swancon screenings I've gone to there), and Hoyts Freo have always been good (newer Cinema, only been there a few times).

The movie itself was enjoyable - tough guys, fast cars. Some annoying shaky-cam for some on-foot chase scenes - every film should really have a rollerblading camera man (see Crank!). The company was tops, and after we had a lovely meal, so all in all the evening was enjoyable.

Apr. 20th, 2009

Achievement Unlocked: Rock Band Overdose

The Usual Suspects got together Saturday night for an impromptu Rock Band session, and one overly enthusiastic person was gunning for us to all do The Endless Setlist. And so, at 5pm we started - 5 players sharing the fun across Expert Guitar & Bass, plus Hard Vocals & Drums.

The Endless Setlist consists of all 58 Tracks from the original Rock Band game. That's the entire main setlist, and all the bonus tracks, in a somewhat random-ish order - except they did end up saving a lot of the nasty songs for the home stretch. If played without any failures or stops, that's about 4.5 hours.

So we started at 5pm, and blazed through the early tracks. We paused between each song to shuffle who was doing which part, took loo breaks, etc. About 1/3 of the way through we stopped for dinner (Tacos, with Roo mince, done slow-cooker style. Yum!), then it was back to the Rocking.

There were only a few songs that kicked our ass, with the first one to cause real problems being Freezepop's Brainpower. Harmonix's pet Synthpop band is just punishing on real fake instruments - especially for drums - and as we limped to what sounded like the end of the song with our drummer down for the count, there's a string of simple double-beat-pause outro notes that just killed us time-wise.

The endurance-fest of Green Grass & High Tides (Outlaws) tested us, but with well-timed Overdrive we battled through and conquered it.

We feared Foreplay/Longtime (Boston), but it was no problem, and was loads of fun.

By far the worst was the second last song, Run To The Hills (Iron Maiden), with its Triplets-fest for all instruments, and annoying vocals. It's not even a very enjoyable song to listen to, let alone struggle fake-playing. It was late, we were all tired, and this song was just a bitch. We almost failed at this late point, but eventually managed to 5-man play it: with one person doing the Drums foot pedal separately from the rest.

So - suckers for punishment, we completed the Endless Setlist from Rock Band on Hard (it goes by the lowest difficulty)!Twice we had to pause for emergency drum repairs, as the red pad broke down twice - different wires each time. Next drum kit I buy I'm going to count the screws on it first (although a kit without crappy wires would be even better). By the time we stopped, a wire on my blue pad had also gone dodgy.

To even access the Endless Setlist, you need to have earned over 500,000 fans. We had well over 600,000 fans when we started, but since you lose 24,000 fans every time you fail or restart a song, we actually ended up only having barely 200,000 fans by the end. We only earned back 48,000 fans from completing the set...

All in all, it took us nearly 9 hours (including rest breaks & dinner), with us finishing just before 2am (after which we played a little more to wind down, plus some LBP, stopping around 3:30am).

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