mens club 2008

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Mens Club wishes you a happy new year!
In no particular order, here are some things I have been and will be working on:

  • Bergamot Studios website
  • Original Mens Club website
  • 2 partnership agreements
  • Re-invoicing accounts receivable for year end
  • Quotes
  • Contracts for new business
  • Putting together artwork for 2 more Pacific Front Recordings releases
  • Preparing the Pacific Front Sessions mix for January 2009

Thats all I want to think of for now. There’s more but that’s it – that’s how I am spending my holidays! I have managed to fit in quite a bit of time with family and friends as well which is great. Work and night classes start again next week so I am savoring this flexibility I have right now. The other night I stayed up til 6 AM – I hadn’t done that in some time.
I have so much photographic material to post to the blog that I could hire a staff of five and they’d be overworked for a year with all of it. So, I am prepared should I lose a camera or desire to take new photos. I don’t see either happening.

at de dutch

This is another test for mobile entries. This time it’s from my iPod. I am waiting for davey at de dutch. They offer free wifi here. I am also testing out the iPhone interface for Movable Type. It’s pretty simple and straight forward. I notice that I am writing fairly short sentences – this must be because it’s somewhat labour intensive to type on a touch screen compared to a real keyboard. All this said, I am typing way more than I ever would have on my Sony phone. That in mind, I am going to have to rethink the way I display mobile entries on my website – an excerpt with a rollover to expand might be more appropriate. I’ll try that out first.

switching from godaddy to dreamhost

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Last weekend I switched this website’s hosting from Godaddy to Dreamhost. My reasons for doing so were:
  • Godaddy’s connectivity was extremely dodgy – it would disconnect frequently during important file transfers
  • Godaddy’s hosting service was excruciatingly slow – posting a comment on this website was taking way longer than it should have
  • Godaddy does not properly support CGI scripts, which Movable Type depends upon to function
  • Godaddy can’t handle sub-domains properly
  • Godaddy doesn’t offer a shell account for SSH
  • Dreamhost has good connectivity
  • Dreamhost offered me unlimited diskspace and unlimited bandwidth for the life of my account at a reasonable rate
  • Dreamhost has very fast servers – this means faster commenting speed and search speed for you
  • Dreamhost can configure sub-domains properly
  • Dreamhost offers a shell account for SSH

Maybe not ironically, the worst part of dealing with Godaddy was the transfer away from them. I had over 12.7 gigs worth of files on my account and Godaddy’s sketchy connectivity meant a lot of retries. I thought about transferring my install of Movable Type over from Godaddy to the new servers but instead I installed a fresh version of Movable Type, but then I would be stuck with all the workarounds in the CGI files that I had done to make it work on Godaddy. Not something I wanted. So now I’m running Movable Type 4.23 and it’s got a few sweet changes to the interface. I also grabbed the Movable Type iPhone interface and installed it as a plugin – I’m yet to use it, but I like that I have it ready in case I decide to start doing mobile updates once again. Perhaps when I start up classes again in September I will find this useful.

In any case, there are my reasons and things appear to be working smoothly. The only real hiccups were, as I mentioned, coming from Godaddy on my exit, but I don’t have to deal with that anymore. A quirk of Dreamhost is that you can’t do absolute path PHP includes – instead you must use relative path referencing. That’s not really a big deal at all.

how do i really feel about Godaddy?

I hate to say something like this, but I never really felt like Godaddy was a real webhost. They’re more of a domain registrar than anything. After two years of dealing with them, I can say that they appear to run their hosting service much like a gas station would run a video store. Yes, they have some things you’d expect, but some of the items are old or out of date or even damaged and it’s just not their focus or area of expertise.

On the other hand, I am very excited to have a real hosting company like Dreamhost serving up my pages now, and I’m also pleased with the proper hosting abilities I have now. I don’t feel like I am compromising disk space or bandwidth for a good hosting fee, as I’m paying essentially the same amount and getting superior service and features in just about every way that I can think of.
Who are you hosting your website with? What have been your experiences? What do they do well, and what do they do not so well?

AFK – Pacific Front Sessions: November 2008

Pacific Front Sessions for November is my favorite kind of mix to pull off – from chill to breaks to atmospheric house to progressive. Starting off with some really cool and creepy ambient piece from Dynamic Illusion at the beginning, the mood is spacey and dark. From this it turns into breaks with a track called “The Phoenix.” Retroid’s remix of my own Bergamot track debuts next and what a job he did with it. After that there’s a transition to one of my favorite epic progressive breaks tracks – a LoStep remix of Scrambler. I’ve blended that track together with a four on the floor piece, my new remix of Fractal – Oceanography. Hybrid ramps up the intensity with some vocal progressive, and from there it’s not far to the finish line, yet it’s far from over. The two last tracks really crank up the energy levels and the final track ties everything together nicely.
I did this mix in early November while we were in Tofino. On the way back, I stopped at Cathedral Grove where this photo was taken in front of a tree that is over 800 years old. If you ever go to Tofino or Ucluelet, make sure you stop by the grove on the way and have a walk around – it’s an incredible park with great atmosphere and the trees are just ridiculously massive, like this mix!

Tracklisting:

  1. Dynamic Illusion – Alone In The Space (Michael and Levan Ambient remix) [Silk Sofa]
  2. Arthur Deep – Phoenix (Original mix) [Toes in the Sand]
  3. AFK – Bergamot (Retroid remix) [Pacific Front Recordings]
  4. Scrambler featuring Amarevois – Free (LoStep’s Class of 95 Reunion remix) [EQ Grey]
  5. Fractal – Oceanography (AFK’s Ucluelet Detour remix) [Pacific Front Recordings]
  6. Hybrid – Formula of Fear (Hybrid remix) [Distinctive Recordings]
  7. Lanui – Jennifer (Original mix) [Baroque Limited]
  8. David West & Orkidea – Gods Garden (Original mix) [Ava]
Download: AFK – Pacific Front Sessions: November 2008 (mp3)

Right click and Save As, or option-click the link on a Mac to automatically download

nine inch nails live in victoria

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Last Friday I saw Nine Inch Nails at the Memorial Arena. I have been a fan since a highschool friend named Cyril Woon decided to put on Pretty Hate Machine in 1994, 5 years after it had come out. It must have been 1994, because we were playing a card game that had just come out in 1993. I tried to come to terms with what I was listening to. Was it techno, was it industrial, was it metal, was it ambient ballads gone horribly wrong? At first I found his voice annoying, not because it sounded annoying, but because it sounded like an ordinary person who was just really pissed off. What was remarkable about that? Why were we listening to it?
The answer was in the futuristic production and artistic focus. Trent Reznor had a drive to make something different, something raw – heavily produced, but not over-produced to the point where there was no musical agility anymore. The notes, the sounds – they were swings of an axe to a fragile wall of pop music. No apologies were made about the negativity in lyrics or tone for the next album I listened to, because it was about to get darker, more abrasive, and twisted.
But before I get to that 3rd album, I just want to mention Broken and Fixed. Looking at this now, this is the kind of artistic production that I’d really be into if I came across it now. Broken was a new album, the new one after Pretty Hate Machine, and Fixed was a remix album of that music. It never stuck for me, perhaps because I didn’t know much about it or it just didn’t get any play – I knew people that had it but for some reason it didn’t make it into the CD player nearly as much as Pretty Hate Machine or the next album. Perhaps it was the absence of Flood – who had engineered PHM and TDS – that made it stick a little less for me.
The Downward Spiral was a sinister, abrasive and scathing album from Nine Inch Nails. There was something even less innocent about The Downward Spiral – sonically it had been distorted, shredded, sandpapered down, and annihilated. The textures were intense, and even influential for me as a producer over a decade later. The rawness of Nine Inch Nails had hit a deeper level, and there was no going back. There was something about it that made you crave the self-destructiveness of this character. It was deliberately set up this way. Although I still really liked Pretty Hate Machine, I could not listen to it back to back after The Downward Spiral. The order would have to be reversed or else it was just The Downward Spiral. Pretty Hate Machine seemed too shiny in comparison. If you read the wikipedia article about where it was recorded, it makes sense. I have to credit my friend Joel for introducing me to this album. If he had a place on the Internets, I’d totally link to him.
After that I bought Further Down The Spiral – a remix album of the previous, and it was just a bit too indulgent for me in that area so I didn’t listen to it much. I wanted something new and found it in the rave scene at the time, and then lost track of all Nine Inch Nails and all pop music for that matter. Trance had brought me out of the musical haze of the early and mid nineties. That was it – I had caught The Perfect Drug on Much Music, but I wasn’t interested enough any more to buy the albums.
Earlier this year, I had not bought anything further by Nine Inch Nails until I came across the double CD for Ghosts I – IV at Lyles Place downtown. Ghosts has been its own marketing success story, having been available for a free download, or a purchasable double CD, or a deluxe version, or a vinyl version, or a limited edition deluxe edition for $300. Basically you get to choose how much you like Nine Inch Nails, and the options are there for you. The box sets reportedly sold out very fast. There might be some lessons for Warner, EMI, Sony and Universal here.
Ghosts itself is a double album of instrumental industrial music and some ambient tracks as well. I am not going to lie – I was pleased to be listening to Nine Inch Nails again. There was this whole dimension of music that I appreciated and it had been absent from my playlist for a very long time, something like a decade. In that time, I had developed my taste for instrumental music, most of electronica fitting into this category, and I had spent a lot of time myself doing sound design and sculpting audio textures for my own music. I instantly recognized some of the synths used on the album, even some in common with LSG’s “The Singles Reworked,” one of the best electronic albums I own. Like BT’s “This Binary Universe,” it marks a significant artistic progression with little or no regard whatsoever to what is popular or mainstream. It is a creative milestone for Nine Inch Nails, pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable once again.
That is my background with Nine Inch Nails.

lights in the sky

We went to Memorial Arena in half disbelief that someone in Victoria had actually booked an artist that wasn’t far, far, far past their prime. No hack on Victoria, but we’re a small market at best and we just don’t have the numbers to attract the bigger tours. This might not have been a turning point for the city, but for once it didn’t feel like an isolated town on an island, living 10-20 years artistically behind the rest of North America’s performing arts. It’s just a fact of being a small market on the way to no major cities or regions. We are literally on the edge of the earth. What I am saying is that, in that context, it made this show a little more special for me.
The rock brand was very prominent as you can see in the photo at the top of this post. There aren’t too many logos for bands or groups that have quite the strength of the Nine Inch Nails logo. It’s stayed the same as long as I can remember. It is simple, memorable and distinctive. I have seen quite a few rock band logos that are not even logos, but rather illustrations that have been used in place of a real logo. That’s fine – that is part of the culture. However, half of the music business is marketing and advertising, and so it is auto-inhibitive to prematurely discount brand equity. There are not too many groups with an identity as strong as we see with this band. Before the show started, the merchandise machine was in full swing – it’s business time.
At the start of the show, as seems to be the way bands like to do things, Nine Inch Nails came out and started rocking out really, really hard. Beck did this when I saw him at the Royal Theatre recently – and this wasn’t Beck’s forte, but it was definitely Nine Inch Nails’. Since I didn’t know some of the newer songs, I had to resort to appreciating the musicianship and the visuals.
The lead guitarist was head-banging so hard during his solos, I am not even sure how he was able to stand up while playing. I could say this or that about the rest of the band, but Trent Reznor really stole his own show, playing keyboards, glitchy touch-screen computer instruments, drum machines, piano-keyboards, xylophones, almost all of which he threw off the stage when done with. It became really clear early on that the band was not phoning this one in – they were there to put on a performance AND a show.
The visuals, let me say this first: it’s really hard to explain it and make it sound awesome, because as soon as you explain something like this, it takes some of the excitement and mystery away – not unlike explaining a magic trick before doing it. Suffice to say, their choice of visuals to sound were very deliberate and it showed throughout the night. This was not pyrotechnics or an intelligent lighting bonanza. This was a full media experience that was entirely based on the music. Sometimes they were in front of a desert scene, sometimes a swamp, sometimes they were behind or in it, sometimes they were interacting with the visuals in ways that complemented what they were doing musically. Sometimes the visuals were just there in the background, a city smoldering from its own need in the distance. Other times the visuals were based on the music videos for the song, but with real-time effects on a much larger screen. Or they would disappear behind a wall of static, bursting holes in it with notes from their instruments or words into microphones. It was intense.
Here’s the set-list Nine Inch Nails played in Victoria:

  1. 999,999
  2. 1,000,000
  3. Letting You
  4. Discipline
  5. March of the Pigs
  6. Head Down
  7. The Frail
  8. The Wretched
  9. Closer
  10. Gave Up
  11. The Warning
  12. Vessel
  13. 21 Ghosts III
  14. 28 Ghosts IV
  15. 19 Ghosts III
  16. Piggy
  17. The Greater Good
  18. Pinion
  19. Wish
  20. Terrible Lie
  21. Survivalism
  22. The Big Come Down
  23. 31 Ghosts IV
  24. Only
  25. The Hand That Feeds
  26. Head Like A Hole

    Encore:

  27. Echoplex
  28. The Good Soldier
  29. God Given
  30. Hurt
  31. In This Twilight

All the “Ghosts” numbers you see above are instrumental tracks from the new album. They’re fairly left-field for the kind of mainstream audience Nine Inch Nails has these days, which means that some people were confused by the new material, and some others had the door opened for them to broaden their taste. As a DJ I can relate to how hard it can be to break relatively new or experimental music into the masses, and the Ghosts material fits both those categories. Not everyone is ready for it, but sometimes that kind of material can be the most important for the performer to play. Not only is it important for the artist and the sophistication of the listener, but some of it can be really, really good. For a concert and an audience with no shortage of attitude, for me, the Ghosts pieces were an oasis of composition, performance, and completely immersive artistry. It was a treat from the studio – songs that were never meant to be played out. I am so glad I got a chance to see those tracks performed despite all the forces against them.
The most interesting part of the Ghosts pieces were the placement in the set – if I was making a set listing for a band, I would arc the intensity in a similar way I think. Starting hard, moving into catchier tracks, then slowing it down to Ghosts levels before ramping the energy back up towards the finale, with one valley towards the end. At no point did I feel like the energy was dragging or that things were out of place. It was carefully done, and I understand that they take this aspect of their performances very seriously. As Reznor told Rolling Stone during rehearsal for the Lights in the Sky tour, “I think too much about this [bleep].” Well, we appreciate it.
At some point I’ll have to clarify the difference I see between a show and a performance. Someone who is technically very good can put on a good performance, despite other factors. Someone who is not so technically focussed can still put on a good show – and their fans are still happy to pay $200 to see them in concert, even when they do not display that they even want to be performing. This, to me, is sad, because while a show can be quite good, the performance can still be lackluster. Nine Inch Nails did not have this issue. I hope that makes sense.
Every now and then you come across something that forces you to re-evaluate how you judge a certain category of things – be it a book of fiction, a DJ set, a movie, or simply a dinner at a restaurant. After one of these experiences, you can’t be satisfied so easily with what came before it. This show AND performance was one of those experiences which raises the bar for all future concerts.
It was well worth the $55, and a new benchmark to determine value of all other concerts with.

conductor

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I have 5 minutes to write about this photo. It is of Rick Underwood conducting the Greater Victoria Concert Band at Alex Goolden Hall in downtown Victoria a couple weeks ago. AGH is literally a block from where I live, and it’s a beautiful venue. It seats a fair number of people too, and it always sounds really good. The acoustics are fantastic.
Often times I think about what it is like to be a conductor. Whenever I compose music, I am mindful that the instruments that get played are following my every instruction, at all times. No practice needed from my players, just attention to detail required from me. That can be daunting, but what it really means is that to make a piece come alive, I need to sit down and pick up the instrument that I am asking to be played. Not only does this make droning or looping sections more active, it often time adds to the overall dynamic of the song. Yes, it is very easy to loop something and make a track rest of on the progression of layers, but to me I can hear the flatness of this and it feels unfinished until there is meaningful movement from non-percussion parts, either in tone, frequency cut-off (filtering), volume, or otherwise. I find that I have done a lot of work on replacing volume dynamics with filter dynamics which can make a song sound fuller or more muddy, it depends on what else is going on.
To me, static instrumentation makes a song sound dull and uninteresting. Oddly enough, I am finding that rock bands are more guilty of playing an organ and not adding any dynamic aspects to it than electronica composers, even when the rockers are actually playing it with their fingers. Even though the “anti-techno” movement from hardcore rockers is long dead for the most part, I still think from time to time about what may have inspired or help tip the anti-techno movement to become a mainstream attitude in the early 90s. Perhaps they heard bad techno, or didn’t hear it on the right medium; you need a sound system capable of reproducing all frequencies, not just midrange or treble the way some folks had their stereos set up back in the day. Listening to electronica on a cheap or misconfigured stereo is not unlike watching a movie on a projector in broad daylight. You’re probably not getting everything that you were intended to get from the movie makers — you’re missing part of the dynamic range. With electronica, a lot of the substance is in the lower frequencies.
The other thing that I wondered about was the auto-pilot approach that a bunch of rock bands had to dynamics with electronic lead sounds. It sounds like some of them just put it on, looped it, run to their other instruments and played the song. No doubt this monotony drove people away from liking it – not just that “it’s cheating” (I don’t think it is or was), but it was boring and lacked life. I know when I hear some new bands doing this, the electronic sound becomes my least favorite sound of an otherwise acceptable song. In fact I find it can get to the point where it’s obnoxiously unchanging. I can’t remember the name of the song, but the Dandy Warhols do this. Perhaps it’s the fault of their producer, or maybe it really is artistic intent, but to me it sounds like compositional neglect. Maybe they need an equivalent of a conductor to bring it all together more cohesively.
Dynamics bring energy and feeling to repetitive parts that need to be repetitive to support other elements that have tonal changes or melodic changes of their own. This is done as a matter of course in most concert bands and symphonies, stated by the composer and interpreted, reinforced and accentuated by the conductor. It is something I am appreciating more and more each time I go to a show or listen to music that has had that care and attention given to it. This is something I do in my own music as a way to make otherwise unrelated parts work together to build something bigger. I also have done this in my design work – things like textures being added on a gradient, or a more complex photo vignetting where the vignette is not light fall-off, but rather color and shadow intensity deepening into the corners. It makes the context more intriguing and adds a complimentary complexity that contributes to the overall end result. I believe it leaves the viewer or listener with a slightly different feeling.
I really enjoy making these cross-media observations and extending theory or practice from one media form to another where it makes sense. Does anyone else have any examples of transferring either theory or practice from one source into another art form? Where did you take from and what did you do with it?

close to control

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some really hard to use controls on my sony ericsson phone – click for a big version.

Tonight, Nine Inch Nails is in town and I’m going to go check them out. From Trent Reznor’s latest blog entry:

This [is] an amazing tour and production – certainly the best thing I’ve ever been involved with and likely the final tour for NIN on this scale. Thank you to those who came out to see it and forgive me for having a Kanye West moment, but this was FOR SURE the best show of the year and any bull[bleep] end-of-the-year poll you may read in the next few weeks that says otherwise simply has it wrong. Those of you who saw it know I’m right.

Ok Trent, you’re allowed to have that Kanye moment, but my expectations have been set. I will be disappointed if you’re not rappelling from the roof of Memorial Arena with expensive supermodels flanking you while wearing ultra tacky sunglasses. Thanks for providing the metric.
He goes on:

The venue for Friday night’s performance in Victoria will have a very relaxed camera / camcorder policy… hmmn…

Alright, well I suppose I don’t need much more of an invitation than that to bring my camera to a concert, do I?
www.nin.com/newspost/2008/12/curtain-call.html – it’ll redirect you to the front page but maybe they’ll fix that in the future. I notice they’re doing a lot of cool updates to their site, like allowing users to populate the NIN website gallery through users flickr tagging. Not mind-bending but certainly unusual for an entity as high profile as NIN. That’s putting the power in the hands of the fan. Clever.
I’d mention something about Canadian politics – but I’d like to sleep well, so I’m going to leave that for another update.