The 3rd Hand

The 3rd Hand

Found via Steve Lawson’s excellent blog , this is a fantastic gizmo that looks bizarre but, if it does what it says on the tin, would liberate many knob-twiddlers. No longer would they develop crinkly spines from hours spent hunched over FX pedals.

The basic use of the pedal is to end the endless bending over and tweaking of pedal sounds. No more bending over to tweak the amount of fuzz, delay time or the level. Just hook the 3rd hand and tweak the pedal with your foot and its done !

A even greater advantage of hooking up the 3rd hand is real time use of the pedal. Take your Univibe or Tremelo and change the delay length or speed in real time. Your tremelo becomes very creative when you change the speed by rocking the pedal as your playing!
(Source: Musictoyz)

I want more gadgets as mad as this. Bring ’em on!

Wristbands Made By Sweatshop Labour

Kate Moss + Slave-labour made wristband

White wristbands sold by the Make Poverty History coalition were made in Chinese factories accused of using forced labour, it has been disclosed.
(Source: The Independent)

Oh dear…

You would think the three charities involved would have taken great care sourcing the wristbands. Apparently not.

Have a read of the full story, link above, for some class stupidity.

Laura Veirs

Laura Veirs - 9
Laura Veirs is a tiny dynamine, a songwriter who has, in the space of a few years, found her own voice and style. Her 2004 album, ‘Carbon Glacier’ is a dazzling fusion of trad American blues/folk with more off-kilter, European melodies. The Independent called it the “most enthralling album of the year thus far.”

Laura graciously agreed to do an email interview with me.

1. When you wrote the line:

“Gonna dig a coal mine, climb down deep inside”
What was going through your mind? Was it escape or actually confrontation?

I adapted the lyrics of “shadow blues” from karl blau’s song “shadow”. In his song he says, “gonna dig the deepest coal mine, that’s where you’ll find my shadow.” So I was just adapting his words and mushing them around to suit my song. It’s interesting to think of a place where your shadow can hide in darkness.

2. Generally In Britain, your genre label is “Americana” which I find about as useless a descriptive term as “Electronica.” I also think your melodies are more Eastern-European (in places) than more blues-derived folk. Is what I’m saying rubbish?

I agree that the Americana label is rather useless in my case. I’ve been steadily moving away from folk/country-influenced songs. I hope that people can find new terms to describe what I’m doing, especially with my upcoming album which has more electric guitar, drums and feedback than I’ve dealt with since my punk days.

I see what you’re saying about the eastern-european melodies – I have no idea where these are coming from though, as I have listened to very little of this kind of music. (Although recently I’ve really been enjoying an album of Bulgarian women folksingers; I love the unusual intervals they use for vocal harmonies.)

3. I’ve only met you once (at the Derby Reveal gig) and you seemed quite shy then. Would you class yourself as a shy person? If so, is performing a release or an ordeal. Or both?

When I’m with my peeps I’m a real ham. And sometimes on stage I really shine. But generally I’ve gotten more shy in recent years, probably since I’m performing all the time and when I’m just hanging around people I’d rather see what they have to say. I’m certainly introspective. But I’m funny too. Performing is strange. Sometimes it’s wonderful and transcendent and other times I’m distressed and want to leave the stage. It’s really unpredictable for me.

4. George W. Bush, president. Happy with that?

Oh yes, delighted! I love the way he’s catering to the ultra-rich, screwing up social security, killing innocent people in the middle east (elect and oil man and you’ll get more access to oil), destroying the environment, threatening abortion and gay rights and flushing subsidized medical care down the toilet. It makes me consider moving to Europe… no, I will stick it out over here. But it’s scary!

5. The final lines of ‘Rapture’ are questioning but the body of the lyrics tend more towards creativity as a curse than a blessing. Is this how you feel about your own songwriting?

Overall it’s a blessing to be a songwriter. But it’s a real struggle to create art, for me personally, and for artists generally. You have to wrench something out of nothing and that’s never easy.

6. All of a sudden, Laura Veirs becomes the hip artist to name-drop at all the in-parties in London, New York and Paris. You’re invited to glitzy film premieres and christenings of submarines. Would you go?

Sure I would go! But I’m not a schmoozer so people would have to deal with the real me, who is nothing close to glitzy or glamorous.

7. Coca Cola want to use ‘Icebound Stream’ as the bed in a huge new TV campaign. Yes or no?

No. I don’t like Coca Cola, their practices or their product.

8. What’s your favourite new record of 2005 so far? And why?

I am still obsessing over Joanna newsom’s 2004 record. That one really blew my mind.

9. What’s the best non-fiction book you’ve read in the past year?

“how to cook a wolf.” A strange cookbook from quirky WWII-era housewife.

10. When I’m writing songs, I often sing bits of nonsense that actually turn out to mean something, then I add bits that focus the lyric. Do you work in a similar way or do you start with more fixed, prepared lyrics?

Lately I’ve been grabbing lyrical ideas from stream of consciousness writing that I do on the road. Sometimes it makes perfect sense to me what the songs are about, and other times I don’t really know for sure but I like the way the words sound together and the way they compliment the melody.

Great questions. Have fun! All the best, laura

ID Cards Will Cost £300 Per Head

The government’s plans to introduce identity cards were dealt a body blow last night after it emerged the true cost of the scheme could top £18 billion, more than triple the official estimate.

The figure has been calculated by experts at the London School of Economics, who have spent months producing one of the most authoritative analyses of the scheme.
(Source: The Guardian)

Eighteen BILLION?

Remember when I said that there’s always money for war? Well, apparently Blair and his cronies also think it’s fit to waste huge swathes of our money on unworkable ID schemes.

Will ID cards reduce fraud or illegal immigration? Nope. If anything can be manufactured, it can also be forged. All ID cards will do is create a lucrative new business for organised crime, churning out fakes at presumably the same prices as they now charge for passports. Any biometric data can be copied or hacked, perhaps with greater ease and less traceability than forging banknotes.

ID cards will serve only one purpose: to tighten this government’s increasingly repressive grip on its citizens. We’re already the most watched populace in Europe thanks to the increasing intrusion of CCTV cameras, ID cards will just knock another chip off our liberty:

The scheme, which will see some 44 million people issued with a card containing personal details including their name, date of birth and address, is considered controversial because personal details on the central database can be accessed by public sector organisations, without the individual’s consent.
(Source: The Guardian)

Do you want people able to snoop on your most personal details without even having to ask your permission? Do you want this information passed onto the agencies of foreign governments that our government is pally with?

This is an attempt to control us, to lock every aspect of our lives (healthcare, taxes, work, education) into a centralised bureaucracy that will track our every move. It will be made impossible for people to exist outside of this system, unless they’re willing to live at the level of an eighteenth-century peasant.

I see ID cards as a lose-lose proposition. If they work as advertised, they will reduce our liberty and freedom to an extent never before experienced in Britain. They will be plastic Big Brothers, snitching on us from our wallets and purses. And we will have paid for the privilege!

If they don’t work as advertised, they will have been a waste of billions of pounds of our money. Money that could actually have been spent on making our lives richer and easier rather than more limited and oppressed.

But, as always, there’s no question when government wants to throw our money down the drain on nuclear weapons, the phony “war on terror” or schemes like the ID card. The political will is there so the money magically appears.

Where’s the money for us? Money that could have been spent on schools, hospitals, public transport?

Star Wars Is Not Just Fantasy

Darth Vader

“This is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause,” Padme Amidala

I fell in love with ‘Star Wars’ way back in 1977, when I was 11.

I came out of the cinema with my Dad and my head was buzzing and filled with a thousand flashing images. As we left the Eagle Centre car park, everything seemed futuristic. (Or should that be ancient since it was ‘a long time ago?’) There used to be neon lights lining the exit and I remember them strobing past the car windows as if we were in the final approach to bombing the Death Star.

For days afterwards, I’d take my little light-sabre (basically an over-priced torch with a translucent wand attached) and stage fights in my garden in the dark. I’d be fighting evil, challenging Vader and his evil empire. Thank god there was no internet or webcams back then – I’m sure a podgy Indian kid running around with a torch would have been manna to a thousand cruel hearts.

I waited eagerly for ‘Empire.’ The day before I was meant to go and see it, a mate walked up to me at school and said, “Darth Vader’s Luke’s Dad, y’know!” AAARGGHHH! That was the worst spoiler I’ve ever suffered but I still loved the film.

Unlike 90% of Star Wars fans, I even liked ‘Phantom Menace.’ Jar Jar was a bit annoying but I liked all the senate machinations, probably because Ian McDiarmid turns in such a great performance as Palpatine.

While others were gnashing their teeth at the alleged juvenility of PM, I understood that episodes 4, 5, and 6 had also had characters for kids. I mean, c’mon, what were the Ewoks but teddy-bears? When I saw ‘Phantom Menace’ at the cinema, at the first sight of Jar Jar, all the kids cooed and cheered. They loved him! I still think a lot of the criticism of episodes 1, 2, and 3 comes from thirtysomethings who have a falsely nostalgic memory of the earlier films. They can’t forgive Lucas for the fact they’re not kids any more.

In preparation for ‘Sith,’ I bought ‘Attack of the Clones’ on DVD and watched it again, with the volume turned up fully. It’s a rollicking adventure, full of great Star Wars set-pieces. The fight between Yoda and Dooku at the end is probably my favourite duel in the whole cycle. When Dooku turns round and you hear the tapping of Yoda’s stick as his shadow precedes him into the hangar, it’s one of the best entrances in any action film.

Today, I saw ‘Revenge of the Sith’ and I can confirm I still love Star Wars. I probably love it more, in fact.

What I saw was an immensely well-crafted film, a microscopically meticulous attempt by Lucas to unite the ’70s thread with the ’00s prequels. It worked. I loved the little touches such as Kenobi picking up Anakin’s light-sabre after the end duel. The same light-sabre he would pass on to Luke Skywalker in ‘New Hope’ saying it was his father’s.

I loved the way Anakin’s journey to evil was paced-out. Everything started with noble intentions but his love of Padme was his undoing in the end. It’s unusual for a fantasy/SF film to have this as a narrative lever, usually we get some saccharine blahh about love being the strongest magic or whatever. Not in Star Wars. In its universe, too great an attachment leads to fear, jealousy (which is the ‘shadow of greed’) and, inevitably, the Dark Side.

And what about Lucas’ prods at Bush and the US government? How about the bit where Anakin paraphrases Bush’s famous “You’re either with us or with the terrorists” speech? To which, Kenobi responds that “only Sith talk in absolutes” and launches into an attack. So, Darth Bush appears to be in residence in the White House. Certainly all those WMDs he held up to frighten the world with turned out to be phantom menaces.

‘Revenge’ is a great action film. But it goes beyond that in that it at least tries to make you engage your brain. In the depiction of Palpatine’s scheming, it’s a very accurate portrayal of how many politicians, not least Bush, manipulate the public with fear and lies. By wielding this fear as a corrosive acid, they eat away at freedom and democracy, justifying each draconian new law by pointing at the enemy phantoms they’ve conjured.

So, Lucas gives us a wonderful fantasy and simultaeously makes us think about the world we live in now, here. What choices do we make every day? How much power do we give to politicians with our unthinking complacency, fear and subservience? How is our world turning to the Dark Side and who are the Sith Lords that are whispering their sweaty lies in our ears while they steal our liberty?

ID card, anyone?

Lazy/Biased BBC Journalism

I just watched a short report claiming that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Iraq’s al-Qaeda leader, has been seriously injured. Placing him in context, the reporter said:

The man who is behind the carnage in Iraq…

But as far as I’m aware, George Bush is perfectly healthy.

Bush and his axis of evil invaders have killed 100,000 Iraqis. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a rank beginner in carnage compared to the “liberating” forces.

Oh, but I’m forgetting again: when we kill Iraqis, that’s good for them and all in the glorious cause of democracy.

The way the BBC journalist framed the report is classic mis-direction. Any casual viewer would be left thinking that Iraq is in shattered splinters as a result of “insurgent” action, not the massive bombardment by US/UK invaders.

Pure Orwellian Newspeak.

Amnesty: US Supports Torture

“The US, as the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power, sets the tone for governmental behaviour worldwide,” she [Irene Khan, Amnesty Secretary General] said.

“When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity.”

The administration was seeking “to dilute the absolute ban on torture”, Ms Khan added.
(Source: BBC News)

Of course, the above report was immediately rejected by the US government. Apparently, when the US tortures people in its prison camps, that’s completely different to when any other country carries out torture. US torture is good for people, good for democracy and great for business.

The US staged a pre-emptive invasion of a country that wasn’t attacking it. So, why shouldn’t any other country, say North Korea, do exactly the same? Can’t North Korea make up some dossiers and rant at the UN, as Colin Powell did, before invading wherever it pleases?

Once it’s invaded and killed hundreds of thousands of people, it can then pretend WMDs or national security were never issues and it was invading purely to liberate the population from an oppressive capitalist regime.

The actions of Bush and the US government have changed the world and the true effects haven’t even been felt yet. They will trickle down through the years. Their unilateral flouting of international law will be copied by every other tin-pot dictator as and when they see fit.

When questioned, future dictators will be able to cite the invasion of Iraq and simply say they are acting in accordance with US strategy. If they feel like torturing people, they can say that any torture carried out was the result of individual aberrations and fail to prosecute any military commanders or politicians. Just as the US has done.

Bush and his cronies have pushed the world away from law and towards rule by force, fear and barbarism.

The Best TV Programme Ever Made

Ascent

In 1969, the BBC wanted to make a series that would be a scientific counterpart to Civilisation, their highly successful series on Western Art, given by Lord Clarke. They turned, eventually, to Bronowski, though not without experiencing some difficulties. It was not a light undertaking for Bronowski, either, as he described later in the introduction to the book of the series:

“It demands an unflagging intellectual and physical vigour, a total immersion, which I had to be sure I could sustain with pleasure; for instance, I had to put off researches I had already begun.”
(Source: Dr. Bronowski.com)

I was about six or seven in 1973 when Bronowski’s hymn to reason, his history of science was first broadcast. I must have watched a repeat later when I was older, maybe ten or eleven? Whenever it was, it made an impact on me that even now, over thirty years later, remains with me. This TV programme changed the way I think and definitely changed the course of my life.

Over thirteen chapters, Bronowski gives a breathtaking overview of human history, culture and scientific progress. This is one of the best historical programmes you will ever see and that’s not even its central remit!

I was blown away by the precision and power of Bronowski’s expositions. I still remember how stunned I was seeing him sit on top of a hill and explain Pythagoras’ Theorem with just a few triangles. He made it real, and in so doing, made me understand the genius of Pythagoras. Maybe in these days of fancy-schmancy 3D CGI whizzing about in educational progs, Bronowski’s patient, slow explanation may seem like an anachronism but I disagree. In fact, Bronowski paved the way for many pop-science programmes with the huge success of ‘The Ascent of Man.’ Without Bronowski, would there have been the will to make ‘Life on Earth?’

What I also love about this series is that it’s an emotional examination. Bronowski throws himself into the stories behind thinkers such as Ludwig Boltzmann, Galileo and Alfred Russel Wallace. In particular, I remember my anger at hearing the barbaric treatment meted out to Galileo by the Catholic Church, simply for telling the truth, and that anger solidified my atheism into a deep abhorrence of all organised religions. The Catholic Church, with typical humility, did apologise for its persecution of Galileo, only 359 years after his trial.

The most moving moment for me is when Bronowski visits Auschwitz, where many of his family were murdered. I’ve quoted his voice-over of that scene many times, sadly it always seems apt:

There are two parts to the human dilemma. One is the belief that the end justifies the means. That push-button philosophy, that deliberate deafness to suffering has become the monster in the war machine. The other is the betrayal of the human spirit, the assertion of dogma that closes the mind and turns a nation, a civilisation, into a regiment of ghosts.

In the extra documentary that comes with the crisp transfer to DVD, we learn that this scene, where Bronowski plunges his hand into the pond and comes up grasping the ashes of the holocaust, wasn’t planned. It was just Bronowski, going with his feelings, connecting at more than a “narrator” level:

Ascent

As he does this, his voice-over says:

We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.

It’s a horrifying, intense moment. A testament to Bronowski’s view that television could be more than just an idiot-box, more than gameshows and sport, soap operas and celebrity. To Bronowski, television was worthy of being taken seriously

Throughout ‘The Ascent of Man,’ Bronowski takes familiar names (and some not-so-familiar) and fleshes them out, brings them to life for us. He skips from abstract concept to hard reality with a grace and deftness that’s sorely missing in contemporary television. At no time do you feel he’s out of his depth, either scientifically or historically. He has the ultimate historical skill: he stands back, shows you disparate points in history, different discoveries and revelations, and then manages to synthesise a sweeping overview.

But is any of this important? Sure, we need boffins to make flashy mobile phones for us but why care about science? What does it matter in our everyday lives?

Well…

A couple of years ago, I was watching a lunchtime news bulletin about xeno transplantation. A scientist was explaining to the newscaster how maybe one day it would be possible to breed pigs with enough of the right kind of human genes so that their hearts could be used to transplant into humans. The newscaster was horrified (as I am, but for different reasons) and asked about the dangers. The scientist was confused. The newscaster said, “What if someone has a pig’s heart transplanted into them? What happens when they have children, won’t their children have pig genes in them?”

The scientist did the same amazed face as I was doing at the telly and, in the middle of her astonishment, tried to explain the basics of germline versus soma. Basics the newscaster, a university-educated professional, should have understood. And if you’re as befuddled as him, have a slow think about this: if you get a tattoo, will your kids be born with that same tattoo? If you have your leg chopped off, does that mean your kids will be born with one leg missing?

This is a big problem with contemporary Western society: vast swathes of the population are ignorant about basic science. If you don’t have a grounding in reason, what takes its place is un-reason: religion, superstitions, rumour, fables, magic, astrology, new-age bullshit. All the intellectual clag that gums-up your brain and then makes rational thought as easy and pleasurable as shoving a fork in your eye. You become a gumby:

Gumbies!

I believe that if everyone at some time sat down and watched ‘The Ascent of Man,’ they would be enthralled and enlightened. The world would make more sense, it would be far less frightening and opaque.

That’s a lot to claim for a TV programme. But then, this is the best TV programme ever made.

Scary Robot Cats

Robot Kitties!

Courtesy of Project Bongos, one of the scariest things I’ve seen in a long time. I don’t know quite why these robot cats are scarier than the Sony Aibo jobbies, there’s just something…creepy about them. It’s the eyes. Those eyes!

Judge for yourself, watch the video by clicking here.

I really, really hope it’s all a fantastic fake by Chris Cunningham

The eyes!

Do It Yourself!

DIY!

I recently wrote a rant for Sandman Magazine in wich I complained that people weren’t doing enough with CD-Rs. I see CD-R as being the perfect format for indie music releases: it’s cheap, cheerful, good audio quality and most people have access to a CD player somewhere (unlike a vinyl deck).

I’m very pleased that this email popped up in my inbox a couple of days ago:

Dear Jyoti,

I recently read and enjoyed your article in Sheffield’s Sandman praising DIY and wondering why there aren’t more CD-R labels.

I recently tried to get some of my releases in a shop but was told that they “weren’t of retailable quality” and “customers complain” about CD-Rs – hang on I thought, aren’t we buying it for the music? not some glossy package!

Anyway, you know all this anyway, just thought I’d let you know that there is plenty of DIY out there. Solidarity, brother!

Ian Baxter.


www.quietrecords.co.uk

Now that’s the way to do it! 🙂