Taken

I just caught this surprisingly effective kidnap thriller starring Liam Neeson and written and produced by Luc Besson.

.

The plot is pedestrian enough: a former CIA agent’s daughter is kidnapped in Paris by Albanian slave traders, and if he cannot find her in 96 hours, he’ll never see her again. What sets this apart, though, are the taut Bourne-style action sequences – all visceral hand-to-hand combat and genuinely tense shootouts – and Pierre Morel’s unpatronising approach to direction. The Albanian, Arabic and French language sequences are unsubtitled because you can guess what’s being said, and though there are a few too many coincidences, the pace never lets up long enough for you to notice them.

It’s earned almost 10 times its $25m budget, and deservedly so: finding a sleek, genuinely gripping thriller that neither wimps out nor goes over the top is a refreshing discovery. It’s not going to give Bourne or Bond any cause for concern, but is satisfying entertainment to fans of Spooks or 24.

Colour Motion Pictures – The Earliest Days: 1922

“Thirteen years before the first color film, Kodak filmed these lovely ladies as test shots for Kodachrome. Amazing, isn’t it? This among the earliest color motion picture films in existence.” – Buzzfeed.com

“A sample of some of the earliest color motion picture film you will see.
Visit Kodak’s A Thousand Words blog for a post about the video
Music: Killer Tracks CD entitled: KT223 (Inspire). First track used is called “Breath,” the second is called “Kindle.” ” – Kodak

The X-Factor: 5 Uses for Auto-Tune

The X-Factor is back, and this time it’s war. Apparently, those minxy little devils have been auto-tuning the vocals of the contestants they want the public to vote for.

1. Gamu Nhengu

Didn’t think anything was amiss? You’ll probably think it really obvious when you know what to look out for: I know I do. Auto-Tune makes people sound like robots.  It’s an audio processor by Antares Audio Technologies, which automatically corrects the pitch to the nearest true semitone if you go off-key. It was invented by Exxon engineer Andy Hildebrand as a seismic data tool before he realised its potential as an audio device, and now it’s become so ubiquitous that – like airbrushing in photographs – you probably don’t even realise how unnatural it sounds.

2. Cher

This is the first time you probably heard Auto-Tune. I remember assuming it was a vocoder – the device used to distort Pink Floyd’s vocals in Sheep – and they encouraged that assumption for a long time because Auto-Tune was a “trade secret” up to that point. It’s responsible for the weird, robotic sound, so any time you hear that it’s probably because Auto-Tune is in use.

3. Glee

Continue reading

10 Sexiest Nerds

It’s very much been a week for nerds. The coolest video on YouTube is a very not-safe-for-work celebration of Ray Bradbury, and new information on the life of Albert Einstein has been made public, revealing him as a dangerously charismatic philanderer whose wife I hope was not too put out by his outlandish behaviour. (It was said to have been a “marriage of convenience”, and since she didn’t fling an atom bomb at him when he wrote to her daily describing his affairs, we can only guess she didn’t mind too much.)

Meanwhile, teen goth favourite Robert Pattinson topped Glamour‘s Sexiest Man poll, in a list that seemed dominated by sci-fi and fantasy favourites. If Einstein could charm the socks off Marilyn Monroe with sheer brainpower, let’s take a look at some of the other brainy hotties out there …

Louis Theroux

The 40 year-old British-American journalist is best known for his Weird Weekends and When Louis Met … television series. The Singapore-born son of novelist Paul Theroux (and cousin of actor Justin Theroux), he went to school with Nick Clegg and then gained a modern history degree from Oxford. After a stint at the satirical Spy magazine, Theroux worked as a correspondent on Michael Moore’s TV Nation which led to his own television shows. One of the teenaged members of the Westboro Baptist Church developed a very obvious crush on Louis in his famous documentary, The Most Hated Family In America.

.

Thomas Hertog

This guy is a theoretical physicist and colleague of Stephen Hawking. He works at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, and is most famous for “inventing the universe backwards“. So, like a reverse Carl Sagan, but hot.

.

Wil Wheaton

He’s come a long way since he played Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation. A long-standing spokesman for the nerd community with his blog Wil Wheaton Dot Net, he writes about video games for The Onion AV Club and has provided voice acting in high profile games such as GTA IV. He’s now best known as Felicia Day’s lust-bunny in The Guild.

.

Mike Patton

The Faith No More frontman is also a composer, producer and film and voice actor. He’s released works on John Zorn’s avant-garde Tzadik label, the first of which was 34 tracks of shouting, screaming, squeaking and moaning (no actual music or singing). Just goes to show how much you can get away with when you look that much like Johnny Depp. Earlier this year, Mondo Cane featured cover versions of 50s Italian pop performed by Patton and a 65-strong orchestra. He was also the voice of the zombies in Left 4 Dead, and the voice of the monsters in I Am Legend.

Continue reading

The Echo Wall – These Shipwrecked Words

“Is he good?” one of Shannon Bailey’s colleagues asked me conversationally. Most people who know of him know that the Bethesda Game Studios programmer is fond of singing, but not everyone’s heard him sing.

“Yes,” I replied. “By which I mean that he’s the kind of good that makes you wonder if he’s in the right job.”

A computer whizz he might be, but he’s also blessed with the kind of voice that, knowing how few people get to make a living from music, makes you think that if there was any justice in the world he’d be one of them. It’s Shannon’s voice that makes the band – an unforgettably beautiful Thom Yorke-style soarer with just the right cracked edge of pain to make it sound bittersweet rather than cloying. It’s the kind of voice that could sing a Miley Cyrus song and make it sound good.

Of course, The Echo Wall is not a one-man band, and there are seven other talented musicians who put this delightful folk-tinged indie EP together. Four downbeat acoustic ballads for $3 is good value, and after hearing the first 20 seconds of Imogene I needed no further persuasion to invest in a copy. It’s definitely the cooler type of folk rock – the sort of thing you’d come up with after too much Kristin Hersh, Lisa Germano and Mojave 3. Dreamy steel guitar, violin, glockenspiel, the odd bit of distortion: just enough bite to give it substance. The weakest track is the last one, At Your Door, which is still rather charming and beautifully-arranged – just rather too up-tempo for my tastes. The Echo Wall are at their best when sounding frankly miserable.

Life might be unreasonable, but if this is the result, it’s making me very happy right now.

http://theechowall.bandcamp.com/

6 Things People Believe (That Are Wrong)

Much as I want to keep this blog purely for the good things in life, avoiding the indignant shrieks of so much of the web, this comes up so often that there’s no avoiding it. So, once and for all, it’s time to dispel a few myths. What’s true of music is also true of movies and games.

“if u were someone of importance u’d be out there making all that money u claim to have more of than Rihanna … “

That is actually a new one. Normally the conversation ends with the other person saying, “Well, I think if they were real artists they’d give it away for free because it shouldn’t be about the money“. Very few people do their jobs purely for money – prostitutes and call centre workers, mostly – almost everyone else has a certain amount of love for their work (even the prostitutes and call centre workers), and few more so than those in the arts industries. Almost everyone wants to do something they like and get paid for it. Besides, almost everyone in music earns almost f*** all anyway.

That’s how the debate had begun. Someone on Facebook recommending someone just (illegally) download an album rather than bothering to pay for it. I pointed out that this is generally a bad idea because it means labels can’t invest in cool new music if everybody steals it.

MYTH # 1: They can afford it

I used the example of Rihanna, who as I put it, “I earnt more than she did in 2008″. What about the $15m she supposedly got that year? Well, see, this is how it works.

Unusually, Rihanna released her first three albums back-to-back. When the first two failed to sell well and the third had below-expected initial sales despite the single, Umbrella, being #1 for 11 weeks, the label panicked. The amount they would have invested in her was staggering and – like game developers or movie studios – one low-seller can kill your business. Factory Records went bust after the Happy Mondays’ Yes Please cost too much to record, and My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless almost sank Creation. Def Jam were entirely correct, in business terms, to refuse to throw good money after bad on Rihanna, leaving her in limbo. She had to finance the rest herself.

Rihanna’s management used the money from her various sponsorship deals to fund videos, recording and tour costs. Out of the $15m she’d earnt that year, she had just $20k (approx £14k) left by the end. If I say I earnt more than she did in 2008, so did most people.

Luckily such a gamble paid off and the album went on to sell a few million – much less than anything comparable in the 80s or 90s, but enough to leave her in a better position than the thousands of pop stars who’ve filed for bankruptcy over the years.

MYTH #2: It’s OK to hurt those greedy labels

In common with the game and movie industries, piracy is hitting the little guy hardest, but even the biggest aren’t immune. The immediate effect is that the smaller independents without vast reserves of cash go bust right away, and the majors simply downsize (mass lay-offs) and refuse to take risks on innovation and go for boring-and-safe every time. The huge rock acts of the 70s and 80s often lament that if they’d have come out now, they’d never even have been signed. Most acts in Rihanna’s position simply disappear immediately, without having the luxury to promote their own material.

So you wind up with the majors letting their underpaid employees go, and the indies dropping all their interesting acts. There’s no long term benefit to the consumer from this: you might be saving a few quid this year by not buying that album, but in the long term, it’s you who suffers because there just won’t be albums like that in a few years’ time because they’re too expensive to make.

MYTH #3: Bands should be pleased people are “advertising” their music

There are two problems with this. The first is that you are wresting away control from the artist on how and where their music gets to be displayed. One of the most frequent arguments I see is between makers of fan art (game mods, YouTube videos) complaining that someone has uploaded their work without permission. It might be the wrong version, or not have the right artwork with it, or they might have wanted to reissue it in a different format and suddenly that’s not an option they get to make any more. They’re normally furious, and justifiably so. The fan community rallies round them and cheerfully denounces the absolute lack of respect – but is suddenly hypocritical when it comes to those trying to make a living from their love.

The second is that when you download a record, you get to keep it. A song played on the radio is only there for as long as the radio is playing it. When someone made you a mix tape, you were getting one song and if you wanted the rest, you had to buy the album. The “try-before-you-buy” outlets are Pandora, Last.fm and YouTube. Next time you want to “share” music, send them a link to a streaming site – not the album itself.

Myth #4: It’s just like home taping

The issue is one of scale. When we were kids, even with home taping, one album would only be shared between maybe two people. With torrenting, it might be shared between 10,000 people – often much more – with almost no loss of sound quality. There’s no motivation to go out and buy the record. Out of 20,000 albums released last year, only 2,000 sold more than 1,000 copies. If just 10% of those torrenting the album had bought it, it would double the sales of most albums.

Proponents of illegal downloads say that the figures should speak for themselves: that they would prove that most people who torrent music are suddenly inspired to then go out and buy it. The best selling album of 2008 was Tha Carter III by Li’l Wayne. It sold just 3.5 million copies – compared to the best-selling album of 1998, Faith by George Michael, which sold over 20 million copies. Continue reading

Awesome Compilation I Just Found

I just found this home-burnt compilation that I made about 10 years ago. I made it for a friend but kept an extra copy for myself. Some great tracks here …

1. Madonna – Drowned World/Substitute For Love

.

2. Portishead – Numb

.

3. Massive Attack – Teardrop

.

4. Plexiq – RubberSoul

Continue reading

How Much Is Music Worth?

Yesterday, I waffled about the music collection that includes the 21 Nine Inch Nails records we’ve paid for. Today I’m going to talk about the one that was free. It also features a pretty awesome (presumably fan-made) video with NIN as the Village People!

.

.

“You think 925 is a lot?” observed my colleague, discussing yesterday’s post. “We have 5,000 CDs.

OK, so that’s a lot.

“Well,” she explained, “They were only about five pounds each.”

Music these days is cheap. This is a good thing in many ways, because it makes music more accessible. Music fans have essentially divided themselves in two: those who buy music and those who don’t.

Back in the old days *creak*, you either bought a record – again, for around six pounds for a vinyl album – or you taped it off a friend. There were singles you bought and singles you taped off the radio. That was how you decided its value: you’d either put up with the crackling hiss of poor-quality audiocassette or shell out for the real thing. New music was discovered through the radio, cover-mount giveaways with magazines, or home-taped compilation cassettes.

Of course, the scale of the non-purchasing was small: on average, each album would be shared between two or three people – not the 20,000 you might get on a torrent site. If you taped an album, you’d at least give it a listen, not shove it on a CD somewhere and forget it existed.

That’s the trouble with these days. I remember the first time I did it. In the days before Napster et al, my husband’s friend had a huge hard-drive full of songs he had ripped from CDs, and invited us to load up a CD-R full of free music. I grabbed two albums and a ton of miscellaneous tracks.

I realised something very strange quite early on: that I wasn’t happy with my home-burned versions of the albums I liked. I wanted to have that sense of ownership that comes with buying a record: I bought them both almost right away. I also felt guilty about what I regarded as theft.

As for the miscellaneous tracks, stripped from the context of the albums to which they belonged – or to the lovingly-assembled tracklisting of a compilation tape – they felt literally worthless. I didn’t even bother to listen to them. I have played that CD-R twice in a full decade. Any of the tracks I gave a damn about, I just bought the album.

For some reason, I get on fine with digital downloads. I think it’s the pain of purchase. Not the hassle of purchase – Amazon’s one-click checkout system is a godsend, and the bane of drunken impulse-purchasers everywhere. (Kanye West? Really?) Nope, I mean the old-fashioned bittersweet transaction of parting with hard-earned cash to enjoy the fruits of another’s labour. My sweat buys your sweat.  (They really need to fix that aircon.) The thrill of online shopping is every bit as tangible as buying something in a store: the price of a cup of tea buys me a song; I can have an hour’s music for an hour’s (minimum) wage.

When you get something free that is not a personal gift, you don’t value it. It is, quite literally, worthless. Through this, we have utterly devalued music. Those who don’t buy music often download tens of thousands of tracks which they don’t bother to listen to and certainly don’t love. There’s no appreciation there. No value. They haven’t sacrificed even the tiniest bit to own it. For me, a music purchase is a choice I’ve made between that album and a video game; that album and a lipstick; that album and a new pair of shoes. My Skechers are so worn through that they’re tearing up my socks and blistering my soles, but my ears are happier than ever.

What’s really making me happy lately is Nine Inch Nails’ 2008 album, The Slip. It was given away as a free download – crucially labeled as “a gift” from Trent Reznor to reward his fans for their many years of devotion.

Continue reading

Offsetting the Uncool Footprint

“Would you sleep with that?” A sleeve-art picture of a young Dave Mustaine was thrust into my hand.

I looked up at the doppelganger. “I do sleep with that.”

Him Indoors shrugged, replacing the CD with its 12 brothers in the Megadeth section of our record collection. It was the first time we’d done this, despite having lived together for nearly a decade. We finally alphabeticised and listed our 925 sound recordings before boxing the CDs into special stackable clear plastic boxes so that we can actually find music when we want to listen to it.

Fear Factory … Filter … Flyleaf … Foetus. I picked up one of the 19 pieces of Thirlwell magic and checked the condition of the jewel case, noting the same moody pout. “Are you absolutely sure you don’t have any redheaded uncles who maybe travelled a lot?”

He laughed. “Is this your copy of Implode or mine?”

Front Line Assembly are by far the most represented act in our collection. That’s the trouble when your tastes overlap – you end up with two of everything. Even taking out the duplicates, we have 32 FLA records; 7 on vinyl, 25 on CD. Two sets of Delerium, two sets of NIN, two KMFDM collections and two copies of Die Krupps vs Front Line Assembly: The Remix Wars.

Of course, we don’t have all the same records. The pop and indie is decidedly mine, just as the metal and most of the dance music is his. If it’s from the 60s, it’s mine, but most of the 80s releases are his. Normally, we can glance at a record and know immediately who bought it. Cardiacs’ Baby Heart Dirt? Mine. ZZ Top’s Eliminator? His. There’s a fair number where our overlapping tastes allow us to neatly fill in the blanks in the collection (Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Mission), and a fair few oddities such as how the hell we ended up with two copies of Pigface’s Gub despite neither of us thinking that it’s actually any good.

Then there’s the ones that you honestly don’t know how the hell they ended up there. Van Morrison & Cliff Richard’s Whenever God Shines His Light. I mean, really? I honestly do not remember buying it. I don’t remember ever even liking it. I’m definitely sure it doesn’t belong to Him Indoors, so how on earth did it end up on this list? Did it get accidentally swapped with a former flatmate for my missing copy of Dark Side of the Moon?

That got me thinking, however: what’s the difference between the embarrassing records you’re quite proud of, and the ones that actually make you cringe? You know how people are trying to offset their carbon emissions. Can you do that with music?

What would it take to Offset the Uncool Footprint of that particular single? I mean, I’m not embarrassed about it because of the content – I’ll happily own up to enjoying spiritual sing-alongs by Donna Summer and Candi Staton – it’s just that it’s Cliff-Bloody-Richard and he kinda creeps me out. Let’s face it, we all know that hardly will his corpse be cold but all the revelations will come spluttering out about how he’s spent the past 50 years snorting cocaine off the backs of boy prostitutes. I suppose I have no real opinion on Van Morrison.

If I combine my original 7″ Magical Mystery Tour EP (which includes I Am The Walrus) with my copy of Diana Ross’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, would that do it? How about if I throw in my glow-in-the-dark 12″ of Kraftwerk’s Neon Lights? Or is that no longer cool?

Continue reading