One of the highlights of this week was watching the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s (MSO) annual Chinese New Year concert.
Nadia got me a Hapi Mini Drum (C Major scale) for my birthday. This is the only melody I've composed on it so far:
I didn't record this video all that well but isn't that a gorgeous sounding instrument? :)
I think my new favourite web radio station is Pinguin Radio.
They're an independent radio station that play:
a mix of pop, rock, hiphop, reggae, folk, metal, and singer-songwriters
Their music mix includes "golden oldies but especially new music" and they "specialize in broadcasting and developing new indie or alternative music."
Besides, how could you not like a radio station with the motto:
No bullshit, great music
Give 'em a listen. They're well worth it.
Justin Timberlake's latest single, 'Mirrors', is seriously good.
Very few artists and their producers achieve this level of complex simplicity in their music. (In this album the producers were Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, and J-Ro.) The musical layers are lovely and their spatial positioning (in the stereo sound field) is exceptional.
I particularly love the bit in the bridge (from 5:30 to 6:00) in which they layer the "You are / you are / the love / of my life" lyrics. That's at least three, though more likely five (or perhaps six) vocal layers of that lyric alone.
I get a lot of ‘free’ stuff from the Internet – everything from news and entertainment to email and online storage.
By 'free', of course, I mean ad-supported (in most cases) so while I do technically pay for these services with my time, attention, and user profile data I don't directly pay for them in cash.
There are, however, a bunch of online services that I do explicitly pay for with my own money.
These include services you can't access without a subscription, such as:
- Web hosting from Squarespace and domain names from Namecheap
- Online backups from CrashPlan (for my computer) and Backupify (for my social media content)
- Streaming music from MOG
I only recently signed up with MOG, by the way, and chose to pay them over their competitors for two main reasons: they stream high quality music (320kbps over WiFi and 4G) and, since they’re a Telstra partner, streaming music from them doesn’t count toward your mobile data bandwidth. Being both an audiophile who values high quality music and a Telstra mobile customer both of these are excellent reasons.
Payment Optional & Freemium Services
The other online services I pay for/contribute to are the kind that you can access for free but can also support financially if you so choose.
These include the news, information, and editorial services like:
With the exception of Wikipedia, to which I donate annually, the rest I support through automatic monthly micropayments.
The freemium services (products, really) that I pay for include:
Oh, and depending on how Fairfax rolls things out, I’ll probably subscribe to The Age Online, too, once they set up their paywall. And, speaking of news outlets, I also used to subscribe to the Economist but, much as I loved their content and editorial, I wasn’t getting enough of a return on my investment.
So that’s my list. What online services – content services or products – do you pay for?
- The Buzz (Alt. Rock) at 181.fm (listed under the ‘Rock Channels heading on the left navigation bar)
- Soundstorm Radio
- Linn Radio
ABC Classic FM is also nice, though I don’t listen to it all that often. Also, it’s only 64kbps.
That is all.
In Part 1 I talked about how The Presets, Beyoncé, and The Black Eyed Peas have really impressed me with their latest albums.
Those artists impressed me because their music is unusual, interesting, and, musically simple, powerful, energy filled. The following three artists take a different approach.
Lady Gaga is anything but simple, though she’s no less smart, talented, or powerful than the other three.
Unlike artists such as Katy Perry and Ke$ha, who appear to be victims of cookie-cutter, hyper-sexualized American popular music and culture, Lady Gaga is in totally charge of her own destiny.
In fact, her attitude is more like: “I’ll take your cookie-cutter-ness and hyper-sexuality and will raise them to my own bizarre, cliche-breaking, concept-twisting level. Oh, and I’ll make incredibly catchy and insanely successful music while doing so.”
One of the best ways to compare and contrast Katy Perry, Ke$ha, and Lady Gaga is to read their entries on the awesome TV Tropes wiki:
And since it’ll take forever to go through Lady Gaga’s entry here are three quick highlights from those three pages:
- Check out this awesome mash-up between Katy Perry’s ‘California Girls’ and Ke$ha’s ‘Tik Tok’. It’s worth it.
- Someone described Ke$ha as “Stephenie Meyer to Lady Gaga's J. K. Rowling”.
- Lady Gaga is described as someone who regularly “crosses the line twice” :)
Lady Gaga is awesome. Why? Because Lady Gaga is awesome.
Switching genres completely, someone else who is doing things her own way is Theresa Andersson.
And now for something completely different: the fabulous Linkin Park.
Linkin Park are actually why I started writing these blog posts. A couple of nights ago I listened to their latest single, ‘Waiting for the End’, on YouTube and loved it. And since I also loved their previous album, Minutes to Midnight, I went straight to their website and bought A Thousand Suns (DRM-free 320kbps MP3s!).
I started listening to this once it finished downloading and, frankly, I couldn’t put it down. Why? Because it’s been quite a while since someone’s put together a really good rock concept album.
(I’m not a big enough fan of Green Day to have liked 21st Century Breakdown all that much and Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero was released in 2007. Oh, and U2’s No Line on The Horizon was more of an experimental album than a proper concept album.)
To reinforce the fact that this is, indeed, a concept album that should be listened to from start to finish at least once, when you download the album you also get an MP3 called ‘A Thousand Suns – The Full Experience’ which is the entire 47:56 minute album as a single track :)
What’s cooler is that this album fits really well with the kind of music I’m listening to and the kinds of books I’m reading these days: Hans Zimmer’s soundtracks to ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Inception’ and China Miéville’s ‘The City and the City’. So songs and stories about war, dystopia, human struggle, and human perseverance, not only seem to be the order of the day – thanks to our global political and economic climate – they’re also what I’m into right now.
The best part is that, like any good concept album (or, indeed, great soundtrack), this one contains excellent music and is really well textured, structured, and paced.
Also, it sounds like a mixture of Linkin Park, Nine Inch Nails, U2, and, in one song, Public Enemy. How could you not love that combination? :) My current favourite song from the album, by the way, is ‘Blackout’.
So there you have it: six bands (well, technically, ‘artists’ since that’s the more accurate and more all-encompassing term) that have impressed me most over the last couple of years. I hope you enjoy their music, too.
There are three things you should know about me:
- First, I like and enjoy listening to most kinds of music. Tune me into a rock, top 40, 80s, easy listening, alternative, classical, or dance radio station and I’ll be happy. That said, the the stuff I listen to most comes from the rock, pop, alternative, and electronica genres (in their broadest definitions).
- Second, I am a musician (mainly drums and backing vocals) and music producer so, compared to most other people, when I listen to music I hear and pick up on more than they do. This is because I have trained my ear to do so.
- Third, while I do consider myself to be an audiophile, I do not consider myself to be a music critic/journalist (in the best possible use of that term) or a music snob (in the worst possible use of that term).
These things are important to know because, while I listen to a great deal of music – a lot of which I enjoy – there aren’t that many artists who make me stop and say, “wow…now that’s impressive.”
The few who have made me say that – that is, the artists I have been most impressed by – over the last two years are as follows.
The Presets really kick ass. The musicality, energy, and raw-but-brilliantly-produced music whacks you across the face and makes you want to…well, get up and stomp.
Beyoncé blew me away with some of the songs from her 2008 album, I Am…Sasha Fierce.
The powerful simplicity, strong groove, and highly-charged emptiness in her music are fantastic. With so many musicians trying to squeeze more and more into each of their songs it was great to see a powerful musician like her going the other way. Of course, she couldn’t have done this if she wasn’t as talented or as capable.
And, being who she is, Beyoncé took this up a notch and made two fabulous videos that were as simple and powerful as the songs they were based on (i.e. ‘Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)’ and ‘Sweet Dreams’).
The Black Eyed Peas
The Black Eyed Peas have their own version of simple, groovy, and powerful music (though they do say their latest album was partly influenced by The Presets).
In fact, they’ve done stuff on their their 2009 album, The E.N.D., that I don’t think anyone else in the music industry would dare to do.
For starters, they really stripped down what they put into their songs. Like Beyoncé, they added more space and more silence. This, in turn, made the rest of their music much more powerful. Quality over quantity. Take, for example, their hugely popular song ‘I Gotta Feeling’ which is quite empty musically but it still highly enjoyable and danceable. (It even got its own flash mob live video version thanks to Oprah.)
Importantly, though, in their desire to make a futurist album, they did all sorts of fun things with their music and vocals. For example, they raised the pitch of Fergie vocals on ‘Rock That Body’ so she sounds like a chipmunk and they lowered the pitch of apl.de.ap vocals on ‘Meet Me Halfway’ so he sounds like…er, a deep-voiced robot or something.
Despite all this, their music is fantastic though, admittedly, their lyrics won’t win any literary awards :)
[Continued in Part 2]
This is probably the best cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ that I’ve ever heard:
[Source: Trusted Reviews]
Why a new MP3 Player?
I’ve been wanting to buy myself a new MP3 player for a while now. The iriver E100 that I have is decent enough, but it does have a few problems.
For example, its UI is rather clunky and I didn’t want to deal with slow menus, slow scrolling, and the inability to quickly forward through an audio track or podcast any more.
I was also feeling limited by its 2GB storage space and lack of good quality video playback (though the latter was more of a secondary concern).
So, last week I went into research mode and started to build a shortlist of players that met my needs.
My needs, by the way, were:
- Excellent quality sound
- Podcast support
- Audible support
- Small and light (so, most likely, a Flash memory based player and not a hard disk based one)
- Plenty of storage space (at least 8GB)
- A good UI
- Ideally, good quality video
My early first choice was the Microsoft Zune HD but that’s still not available in Australia so it dropped out of the running pretty early on.
Most of the Sony and Samsung players dropped out, too. They had good quality sound but were lacking in one aspect or the other. The ones that fit the bill were out of my price range. I considered briefly the thought of getting an iPod – either the Nano or the Touch – but the iPods have always far to limited for my liking.
FYI: If you’re interested in this kind of thing, check out Pocketable’s ‘Apple iPod touch 2G vs. Cowon S9 vs. Samsung P3’ comparison.
Shortlist, then a Selection
So I ended up with a shortlist of three players:
- Creative Zen X-Fi: Cnet US, Anything But iPod, Trusted Reviews
- SanDisk Sansa Fuze: Cnet US, Anything But iPod, Trusted Reviews
- Cowon S9: Cnet US, Anything But iPod, Trusted Reviews, DAP Review, Engadget
All three met my needs but the S9, though it cost more than the other two, gave me more than what I wanted while remaining within my price range.
Specifically, the S9 had excellent quality audio while the other two had merely ‘very good’ quality audio.
It also had excellent quality video on a fabulous widescreen display, which was a big bonus. The Fuze’s video quality, meanwhile, was terrible while the X-Fi’s was good, though not widescreen.
And, while the S9 didn’t have the additional features the X-Fi had, I really didn’t want or need all those additional features.
So that was that. I ordered the S9 from Eljo Media last Sunday and it arrived in the mail yesterday. I also bought for it a leather carrying case and a mains charger.
I have since spent the day exploring it, updating its firmware, and copying my media onto it.
My early thoughts: it’s awesome :)
Good Quality Headphones to Match
To round off my move into ‘excellent’ quality audio, by the way, I also wanted to buy a pair of quality earphones.
I ended up getting the HiFiMan RE0 In-ear Earphones Headphones (i.e. canalphones) from Headphonics:
FYI: If you’re interested in quality headphones, by the way, check out Headphonic’s Top Picks in headphones.
These haven’t arrived yet because I ordered them a day after I ordered the S9 but I trust they’ll be awesome, too.
UPDATE: The headphones arrived this morning and they are, indeed, awesome. First off, they're made of lightweight metal and not plastic, which is brilliant. They also have five different eartips of different lengths (i.e. both single and double flange) and diameters. Finally, they come with a detachable clip (to clip the cord to your shirt) and five pairs of fabric mesh filters (i.e. covers) for the micro-speaker bit of the earbud. For much more on these these earphones, check out this awesome review by ClieOS.
Post Script: Being an Audiophile
So, now that I have excellent quality music equipment (and most of my music is encoded in high bit-rate MP3 format), I can go back to being an active audiophile.
I’ve actually been an audiophile – though not of the insufferable variety – since I co-produced an album for the band I used to be in back in 2004. During that period I trained my ear to listen to music much more deeply and I haven’t looked back since. So much so that badly produced, over-produced, or over-mastered music now really irritates me.
So, while I’ve had this love of quality music for a while, I haven’t always had the equipment to enjoy my music to the fullest. Well, with the Cowon S9 and the HiFiMan RE0, my situation has changed: I’m back :)
FYI: If you’re interested, here are some articles for your inner audiophile (with a focus on MP3 compression, modern music mastering techniques, and the loudness was):
This was probably the best concert I have ever attended. Yes, it was even better than watching The Police live at the MCG on Australia Day a couple of years ago. I guess it helps that I own almost every Moby album and that I knew all of the songs he played :)
Instead of writing much about it, I’m just going to share some of the photos and video snippets that I took.
Joy Malcolm and Moby:
Kelli Scarr and Moby:
The whole band at the end of a song:
Joy Malcom and crowd participation:
‘Feeling so Real’ and concert end
It was awesome.
My blogging has been sporadic of late (I’ve been very busy at work) so here’s a quick catch-up on all the exciting things that have been happening in my life recently. This works quickest as a Q&A.
Q: How’s life?
A: It’s going well:
- We’ve moved apartments so we’re closer to the city. Nadia can now walk to university and my daily commute to work is shorter by 20 minutes each way.
- We now have high speed, large bandwidth broadband Internet (ADSL2+) at home thanks to awesome iiNet. This also means we have a land line telephone, which is nice.
- We have a bigger TV (inherited from my sister) and Foxtel have added new channels to their line-up. I’m particularly enjoying SciFi+2 (which is the SciFi Channel time-shifted by two hours) because I can now watch shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Trek: The Next Generation at more convenient times. I’m also watching a lot of Inside the Actor’s Studio, which I’m really enjoying.
- Work is going really well. Melbourne Water is an awesome place to work and I love my job (I’m the Websites Manager there). Importantly, I’m having lots of fun.
- Over the last six months I’ve had much dental work done from the excellent dentists at East Melbourne Dental. And, though this had hit my wallet quite hard, it has made me a much more pain-free (and, therefore, a much happier!) person.
Q: What have you been up to?
Last month Nadia and I visited the Gold Coast for the first time.
I’ll upload a photo gallery from that trip to my PicasaWeb account some time soon. We hope to go back for a longer trip in the future.
Right after the Gold Coast trip we attended the Australian Skeptics National Convention in Brisbane (hosted by the Queensland Skeptics) which was both exciting and hugely inspiring. More on this in a later blog post.
We also saw the fabulous Tim Minchin (official site) perform at the Palais Theatre in St Kilda. In a few days’ time (3 Jan), I’ll be going to see Moby (official site) perform at the Palace Theatre on Bourke Street! :)
Q: What else is happening in your life?
A: Well, starting with the geeky side of life, I’ve made a few excellent purchases.
For backup and media storage, I bought Western Digital’s My Book World Edition external hard drive:
This gives us 1TB of storage and lets us do daily backups over the network. It’s a fantastic network attached storage solution for the home.
I bought a 7” digital photo frame (via the brilliant Catch of the Day website) which we’ve placed in our living room.
I downloaded and installed Amazon’s Kindle for PC software, though I’ve only bought one book for it so far (‘Groundswell’ by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li). I’ll probably buy more once I get myself an actual Kindle device (which I hope to do some time in the near future).
On the music side of life, I joined the Melbourne Water Choir (which was lots of fun) and I bought myself a drum kit. That drum kit is the really basic Roland HD-1 V-Drums Lite:
I bought an electronic kit because an acoustic one, no matter how muffled, would be too loud for the apartment. I bought this particular one because it’s the quietest, most acoustic-like in its price range. It’s also one of the cheapest electronic kits available :)
I have discovered since that not playing the drums for about a year makes you a little rusty!
Q: What else?
A: That’s about it, I think (though I will probably remember more later). Well, other than the fact that we’ve been watching lots of movies, listening to lots of music, hanging out with lots of friends (including one who was here from overseas), and generally doing stuff we enjoy.
All in all, life is really busy (mostly because of work) but it’s going well and we’re having fun.
There are very few songs that affect me deeply in an emotional (and almost physical) way.
For more on this song:
- Lyrics and translation [Farah’s Log]
- An account of the recording session [ZooWorld of a U2 Maniac]
- Coke Studio webpage for the episode (Season 2, Episode 1, ‘Individuality’) in which this was featured
Pogo, the Perth-based electronic musician, recently released his latest song ‘UPular’, which is “composed using chords, bass notes and vocal samples from the Disney Pixar film 'Up'”.
It’s awesome and I can’t stop listening to it over and over again!
More about Pogo:
I first heard of Coke Studio late last year but, when I checked it out, I wasn’t particularly impressed with its first couple of episodes. It was good stuff, yes, and I did like the idea…it just wasn’t all that great.
Then came Season 2 and everything changed.
But Wait…What is Coke Studio?
For all you poor, lost souls who haven’t yet discovered the wonders of Coke Studio:
Coke Studio is a Pakistani television series featuring live music performances. The program focuses on a fusion of the diverse musical influences in Pakistan, including eastern classical, folk, and contemporary popular music. The show provides a platform for renowned as well as upcoming and less mainstream artists, from various genres and regions, to collaborate musically in live studio recording sessions. [Source: Wikipedia]
Okay, That Sounds Exciting (I think)…Where Do I Start?
Start on YouTube (see links and embedded videos below) by watching the videos that have been uploaded there (don’t forget to rate, comment, and favourite as you see fit). These are available both on the official Coke Studio channel as well as on other users’ channels.
Then visit the official site to download the audio and video of all the performances. Once you’ve been suitably blown away and you still want more (which you will), watch the behind-the-scenes videos for Season 2’s episodes, read the artists’ profiles, and contribute to the site.
Let Your Journey Begin…
Start with these three videos.
‘Chal Diyay’ by Zeb & Haniya and Javed Bashir:
‘Aik Alif’ by Saieen Zahoor and Noori:
‘Husn-e-Haqiqi’ by Arieb Azhar":
You can thank me later.
There are two things (so far) that I wish my mother had been alive to see, read or experience: the last few Harry Potter books and the following performance of ‘Love and Justice’ which was composed by Kavisha Mazzella and sung by over 400 women of Victoria late last year:
I get a shiver down my spine every time I listen to it.
The anthem was commissioned by the Victorian Women’s Trust to celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage in Australia and was performed at the BMW Edge auditorium at Federation Square in Melbourne. For more on the anthem, check out the ABC News’ coverage of it.
Also check out Mazzella’s MySpace page which features more of her awesome music.
In early 1999, while I was a senior at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), we were planning for the annual student variety show called ‘So?’. Now the ‘So?’ is organized jointly by the all the student clubs who want to participate and, being president of Alpha Hour, I was a part of that year’s organizing committee. [I also co-wrote ‘Zahoor: A Musical’ – Dr. Zahoor being our Associate Dean at the time – that some of my classmate and I performed there but that’s another story.]
A lot of the performances at the ‘So?’ were musical ones. Indeed, we started the show with a song from Jahanzeb and Adil Sherwani, had lots of Ali Hamza in the middle, and even ended the night with the hugely popular cover of The Strings’ ‘Sar Kiye Ye Pahar’ as performed by Saad Ansari, Sameer Anees, Jahanzeb Sherwani, and Adil Sherwani.
It was around this time that we all realized that LUMS needed an official music society and so we encouraged the musicians who had performed at the ‘So?’ to start one. That’s what Saad, Jahanzeb, and Ali Hamza did and thus the LUMS Music Society was born.
Fast-Forward to the Present
The Music Society has come a long way since then: They now have their own fully-equipped recording studio (as opposed to the single room next to the gym that we started out with) and they organize all sorts of musical events, some of which you can check out on their YouTube Channel. Also visit their Facebook Group page for event listings, photographs, and discussions.
This year they’re celebrating their ten-year anniversary with a music conference on 9 May and a big concert featuring the likes of Noori, eP, Laal, and Aunty Disco Project on the 10th. They’ll also be launching their official website at that time.
My Association with the Music Society
I owe a lot to the LUMS Music Society because it was through them that I learnt how to play the drums and it was at their launch concert (called ‘The Jig’) in early 2000 that I first performed in front of an audience as a drummer. I even have a recording of the very first song I played at that concert (‘Zombie’ by The Cranberries) with Mehreen on vocals, Vex on bass, and Saad on lead. Yes, it’s terrible of me but I’ve forgotten who was on rhythm guitar.
Even though the actual performance of that song is mostly a blur, I remember that I started out too fast and was mimed to slow down by Jahanzeb who was sitting in the audience. I also made one major error – a hand-spaz miss-hit on the snare drum – that, not only did no one there notice, you can’t even hear it on the audio recording so it obviously wasn’t as big a mistake as I thought it was. I performed in two more songs during that show – Pink Floyd and Alanis Morissette covers, no less – the latter of which was on the bongos which were also new to me at the time.
A few months later, I performed at their first proper, on-stage concert (called ‘It’) in the central courtyard. This time I was on the drums (‘Dosti’ by Nazia and Zoheb), tambourine (‘Smooth’ by Santana and Rob Thomas), and bongos (‘Those Were the Days’ by Mary Hopkin). Later in the year I travelled from Islamabad to Lahore to specifically attend their first big concert (called ‘The Show’) which featured a professional sound system and hired musical instruments. They could afford all this now that they were officially sponsored by LUMS. I last checked-in on them in 2003 when I went to guest lecture at LUMS and they’d already grown quite a bit. Now, of course, they’re the largest club at the University.
In spite of all that, my strongest memory of the Music Society is still that of me, Ali Hamza and Saad packed into a hot, stuffy jam room as we rehearsed a rock version of Nazia and Zoheb’s ‘Dosti’. I used to have a recording of that performance as well but I seem to have lost it along the way, which is sad. That was the first time I came up with my own drum beat to a song (yes, we really changed it around from the original) and I remember being proud of myself for that because I’d grown quite a bit as a musician over those few months.
It’s been ten years since I graduated from LUMS and ten years since the Music Society was formed. Unfortunately, I’ll be missing both my reunion and the 10th anniversary concert because I’m going to be in Australia during both events. That sucks, I know, but I will be there in spirit. And, at the very least, I do get to blog about it and encourage other people to be there on my behalf. Here’s hoping some of you manage to do so.
Let me move beyond my introductory blog posts on skepticism and hand you over to Tim Minchin performing his brilliant 9-minute long beat-poem ‘Storm’ (audio only):
Moby has just announced that his upcoming album will be called ‘Wait for Me’ and that it will be released (presumably in the US) on 30 June.
He has also released his first single (and accompanying video), called ‘Shot in the Back of the Head’, on Pitchfork:
UPDATE: You can now download this single from Moby’s website!
The Sound of Music sing-a-long-a is back in Melbourne this year. It’s on 15 and 16 May at the Hamer Hall (tickets from Ticketmaster, details on the Sing-A-Long-A website) and I would love to attend but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to (it’s expensive!). Besides, it won’t be as much fun without, say, either of my sisters going with me. Still, I’ll see if I can make it.
Meanwhile, have you seen this bit of Sound of Music awesomeness? It’s an Improv Everywhere type of flash mob performance of ‘Do-Re-Me’ at the central train station in Antwerp, Belgium:
Brilliant, isn’t it? Or should I say “Charming. Quite charming.” :)