Panasonic DMR-HS2

This was my birthday present this year and at the moment it’s my top gadget.

It’s basically a combination DVD-R recorder coupled with a hard-disk-based video recorder. The built-in HD is 40 gigabytes, which is enough for 52 hours of video in lowest quality mode. In this mode, the picture is still better than VHS LP mode and it’s what I use for archiving frazzly old VHS. With the highest quality mode, you really can’t see any difference between recorded and live.

Why is it a great gadget? Well, firstly, I can wave goodbye to VHS. No more hunting for a blank tape, no more hunting through an obsolete, serial storage format trying to find a bit of free space. If something comes on telly, just press ‘record’ and you’re taping (ummm… or should that be disking?).

Then there’s the DVD-R recorder. Say you tape a whole load of programmes and halfway through there’s one good one you want to keep. What to do? Simple – just edit out all the shite (via the very intuitive divide or partial erase fucntions) and then dub the prog over to DVD so you’ve got it forever. Or at least until the DVD gets too scratched up.

You’ve got loads of functions for assembling your DVD, including choosing the top menu, playlisting exact bits of footage (without wiping any). So, in a pinch, you could easily use this machine to assemble a film from raw DV footage, so it’s handy it’s got a DV-input on it as well as normal video and S-video inputs. Personally, I’d probably still use iMovie for the extra flexibility but where the Panasonic wins out is in its speed and robustness – I’ve not burnt one DVD-R coaster so far. I wish I could say the same of my PowerMac.

I’ve been going through old VHS tapes, archiving across films that aren’t available on DVD and telly progs that have vanished into the haze of history. So I’ve now got my own Gilbert’s Fridge and Smile DVDs.

A truly, truly great gadget!

Oh, and I nearly forgot – the freakiest feature is chase play. This means you can set something recording, potter off to do something for a bit and then when you come back, start watching the programme from the start at the same time as recording the programme until it finishes When I tried this function out, it was as freaky as when I first used a domestic video recorder. It may seem gimmicky but it’s actually very useful.

Why bother with Pop Idol?

I’m just watching Pop Idol and it’s made me very puzzled…

Firstly, I’m not slagging-off anyone who’s gone for the auditions. Though they may provide easy laughs, they’ve got more courage than 99% of the population. I admire them, even the maddest of the mad.

But what I do find strange is why folks with such determination are applying to Pop Idol in the first place.

If you think you’re a great singer, why queue up for hours for a 30-second audition? If you’re that good, why don’t you form your own label and release your records yourself?

This is one of the central problems with pop music nowadays – there is seen to be a “proper” route to becoming a pop star. And this path is a return to the A&R model that was successful before the 60s influx of singer songwriters: find pliable talent, find the song, assemble the package and then sell. All of this is controlled by the label, artists are merely vessels for the creative ideas of a pop Svengali, a Pete Waterman, Berry Gordy or Don Kirschner.

Now, I’m not knocking that approach. It’s produced some of the finest pop records in history. But it’s only one approach to making pop music. To imply it’s the best way is to ignore the other half of great pop music, often made by freaks and weirdos, singer/songwriters like Buddy Holly, The Beatles or the Beach Boys.

But the other danger of the Pop Idol approach is the homogeneity it both requires and encourages. I haven’t heard one person audition so far who’s sung in their own voice, with their own regional accent. It’s all come out in that hideous fake-American accent, coupled with r’n’b-lite hyper warbling. Nothing is sung simply, everything is over-egged and over-trilled. I’d blame the contestants but in truth they’re just trying to deliver what they think the judges want to hear. They’re following, not leading. Something an artist doesn’t do.

Then there’s the awful spectacle of the people who have great voices but are too fat or too ugly or just too weird looking. So you don’t just have to sound conventional, you have to look conventional too. It’s like the Pop Idol process is whittling away anything different or unique and thus ending up with a performer who can be nothing but a bland, inoffensive amalgam. Hello Will Young, hello Gareth Gates.

But none of the above would matter if people didn’t take it all so seriously. All those kids, waiting around before subjecting themselves to the trauma of being judged by criteria that are, at best, doubtful and at worst just plain dull. I’m now watching young women in tears because they think they’ve blown their one chance.

But why are they crying? Am I insane? Why do people who are obviously creative stake their entire lives on someone else’s opinion? They’ve got enough self-belief to go through a gruelling audition process – doing that is about a hundred times harder than setting up your own label and bunging a record out.

If you’ve got anything, anything at all, all you have to do is persevere. Make music, release it somehow, raise the money for a press person to get it reviewed somewhere somehow. If your work is good, eventually it’ll be recognised. You may have to spend years/decades at this but eventually, it’ll happen.

Don’t put your life on hold, waiting for the perfect opportunity to materialise. It may never happen and then what? All that time you spent grooming yourself, turning yourself into someone you aren’t will have ruined what individual flair you once had.

Meanwhile, you could have been doing the most important thing for any musician: making music. Writing songs, performing, recording, releasing records, being hurt by bad reviews and then picking yourself up and making more music. In other words, you could have been learning the core of your trade instead of spending hours primping and preening.

I think Shakespeare encapsulated all the above perfectly in the speech Polonius gives to his son, Laertes, in Hamlet:

“This above all, to thine own self be true,
And it must follow as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”