Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Inspiration

I was listening to ‘Mr Blue Sky’ by the Electric Light Orchestra today; they’re not a band I’m normally a fan of, but it’s such a catchy song. I’ve concluded that that song is one they wrote because, by some oversight, neither the Beatles nor Wings ever got round to writing it. I’m not saying that it might be derivative, it’s not a copy of a Beatles song, it’s just like a song that they missed out. If you see what I mean.

I remember reading an interview with Jimmy Page (I think) a few years back where he was asked, as he often is, whether there is any truth to the urban legend that he was the man who played the roaring, mad guitar solo in ‘you really got me’ by the Kinks. I can’t recall his response exactly but as I remember it he started by explaining that no, he hadn’t played that solo, but he really wished he had - that he envied the kinks because, as he put it, there was a whole group of bands at the time who knew that that song was out there somewhere, and wanted to be the ones who wrote it.

I know that it’s utterly irrational but I often find myself thinking along similar lines to Mr Page; that there are certain ideas, whether they are songs or concepts, that have some kind of existence independent of their creators – that want to be made. You just have to look at the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci to see an illustration of this - he drew pictures of helicopters, tanks, steam engines, etc., at a time when there wasn’t even a glimmer of most the technology that would make these ideas feasible.

With things like planes these recurring ideas not particularly interesting, people have always wanted to fly, but when you look at something like this it becomes really striking.

The central four devices are portable transistor radios made in the early 60’s. The outer four are first generation iPods. The radios were a flop, very few were made and little attention was ever paid to them. The thing is that everyone at apple swears that they’d never seen them before. It could be that the iPod just wanted to be, way before the hard-drive or the LCD display.

Terry Pratchett, British fantasy writer and generally funny man, has written a great deal on that idea. In his strange, pseudo-renaissance alternate world ‘Discworld’ technology and ideas that are familiar to us keep appearing, in garbled form in his world. The reason for this, he explains is that the inspiration for these ideas whizzes thought the firmament looking for a receptive head.

Or, I suppose, it’s actually just that shit happens and coincidences can be as implausible as they want to be.*

- Ben

*take, for example, the name 'napoleon dynamite' - when a bunch of young film makers invented a character with this name they had no idea that Elvis Costello made up the same name to use as a pseudonym on a couple of tracks he produced for other people in the 80's

Monday, December 17, 2007

Oooh

Shazam!

Now I know that this is hardly the most exciting news story you'll see this week, but look closely at the accompanying picture.

You spot it?

Yes that's right, it's taken long enough (judging from what 60's Sci-Fi told us, we're still at least 10 years behind schedule) but we, as a culture, appear to be finally moving into the future. And not the boring future - you know, the one that involves astonishing medical advances, mobile phones, the internet, etc. - but the proper retro-future where there are jetpacks for all, robot butlers in every home, and skin-tight lycra jumpsuits for everyone.

Huzzah

-Ben

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Suicide Songs

I’ve been listening to a lot of music tonight, marvelling at the number of songwriters who write about suicide, and how, despite their bleak and depressing subject matter, these songs aren’t necessarily bleak and depressing in themselves.

‘Better off Dead’ by Bill Withers is a good example of this kind of song; it’s funky, catchy, and has lyrics about alcoholism and death – Like a Raymond Carver story put to music by Curtis Mayfield. It opens with the lines "she couldn’t stand me anymore/ so she just took the kids and went/ you see I’ve got a drinking problem/ all the money that we had, I spent," ends with the lines "she’s better off without me / and I’m better off dead…" followed by the crack of a gun going off, and isn’t much happier in between. Nonetheless it is a really good song - you find yourself singing along with the despairing, suicidal chorus with the same enthusiasm you’d give an old favourite.

I'm not sure if this is just me, but I find that that song reinforces my belief that it's not possible to take in melody and poetry at the same time. You can appreciate both, in the same song even, but not at the same time. How many times, for example, can you remember listening to a song and then, afterwards, thinking about the profundity or relevance of the lyrics. The first time I heard Eliza Carthy's version of 'Worcester City' I didn't register the slightest hint of what the story was about, just how good the song was.

‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ by The Police (I can’t remember whether it’s a Sting or Stewart Copeland song) is another example of an insanely catchy song about suicide, although it is different in its angle on the subject. This isn’t the monologue of a crushed alcoholic; it’s the angry posturing of a petulant kid, trying to make people pity him, caught up in the romantic idea of killing himself over love without ever really considering it.

To flex literary for a moment, the protagonist of ‘can’t stand losing you’ is like wossername* in Northanger Abbey – a personality created by the narrative format they imagine themselves in: in her case, the gothic novel. In this case: the self-pitying suicide song.

I suppose the thing that is interesting isn’t really the fact that catchy songs have been written about killing yourself, but the fact that so many songs get written about suicide all the time. I mean, I’ve got two examples here, but I expect that the Stereophonics alone have probably written about 6 more of the conventional dreary kind. Why this is baffles me a bit - I’m pretty sure that Kelly Jones can’t be writing from personal experience – I don’t doubt that living in Wales is bleak, but I don’t think it’s bleak enough for him to know a half dozen corpses by the time he wrote his second album. I suppose it’s just that Romeo and Juliet thing again, conjuring this image in people’s minds of suicide as something beautiful, rather than just the grotesque and painful end to the life of some poor bugger who’s been in and out of institutions their whole life.

Er, well, on that jolly note, I’m off to bed.

-Ben

*hey, it is 12:30 at night, don’t expect scholarly accuracy.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Science

For anyone who doesn't know, I'm currently working at a publishing firm, sorting and storing their massive archive of strange books. For the first few weeks I was there I was Mr Self-Control. I never caved to temptation and delved in the pile of books bound for the skip. My resolve was broken, however, when I found a children's science activity book (not one made by the firm I work for, I hasten to add) with the most amazing cover illustration.

(clicky on images for embiggening)



Good isn't it, quite the most astonishingly bad picture ever. I didn't open it for a week or two, because I was worried that perhaps what was inside would spoil the perfection of the cover, might explain what it meant and ruin it. But I was not to worry; when I eventually opened it up I found that the illustration in the cover was, if anything, actually one of the better examples from inside the book.

Look at this -



Or this -



By now I was convinced that I was dealing with a master artist, a latter day michaelangelo. But I still worried, perhaps the writing would be incisive, intelligent and educational - making it slightly less wonderfully absurd.

no need to worry on that front, most of the experiments described are bizarre to an almost surrealist extent.




So there you go, further evidence that Look Around You really isn't that far from how science is taught in the UK.

-Ben

Yes, it has occurred to me that these images are probably copyright of someone, but I figure that in order to hand me a copyright violation notice they'll have to admit that the art is theirs first.

and who would do that.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The blagosphere

The internet has many personalities - most commonly seen are the really obscene and seedy sex trafficker, the prejudiced moron, and the opinionated teenage boy. My personal favourite, however, is the strangely creative, subversive, counterculture type. Who, armed with a really bizarre sense of humour, goes about mocking all the sincere idiots and blowhards. It is the internet that glues captions to cats, that worships the flying spaghetti monster and names endangered whales 'Mr Splashy Pants'

Greenpeace have been tracking an endangered humpback whale for a while now, and recently decided to allow the masses of the internet to give it a name. The internet pondered, looked at the 'beautiful' names - and the usual hippy crap - and decided that the best name for a Humpback whale was 'Mr Splashy Pants', well, 73% of the internet did, anyway.

This all suits Greenpeace just fine. It may be a stupid name, but it has made them the talk of the interblag and motivated the righteous, sincere types to start a crusade to counter the massed facetiousness of the internet - thus generating them even more publicity in circles likely to give them more money.

I'm not going to link the poll, because I'd rather not be a direct part of the interblag meme fest, but the business end of the campaign is here - it's about trying to stop the japanese 'research' whaling fleets - who, by all accounts, don't do a great deal of research

-Ben

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Face Plumbing

I have a really bad cold at the moment - one of those 'just short of making you throw up everywhere and declare it flu' sort of colds. I know that this isn't particularly interesting; in fact, I'd normally refrain from mentioning any illness I have to anyone, especially women - because generally the phrase 'man-flu' is said, and then the red mist descends - leaving me standing in the middle of a room full of poked eyes and tweaked nipples*

I thought I'd bring this matter up because, whilst I don't really have anything interesting to say, I do have something slightly disgusting to say - and that's nearly as good, right?

I've mentioned before how my body appears to be like a Škoda - It's perfectly sound when it comes to essential functions (I'm reasonably healthy, have no nasty diseases and don't get sick very often) however, when it comes to the less important things, it sort of falls down.

I have a brain that used to give me occasional seizures, knees and back that click and twinge all the time and, as I rediscovered today - some really shitty in-head plumbing.

I was blowing my nose, for about the 15th time today (I was just getting into london bridge station on my way to work). I blew hard, and snot came out, as I'd expected.

but it came out of my eye.

seriously.

my left eye, to be precise.

...

Which is quite possibly the most gross thing that's happened to me since I last drank Carling.

In other news, the Onion's informative world Map is very funny, and should be looked at. hard.

I'm off to oxford tomorrow, to hang with lucy and the edster. huzzah.

-Ben

*Yeah, I know, even when I'm in a berserker rage I still fight like a 10 year old girl

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Nella Last

Mr Ben Reads - Nella Last's War

The edited real-life diaries of a 50 year old woman living in Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire during the Second World War. She wrote about being scared, being tired, getting old, getting bombed, and all the other many and various things that went through her head over the course of any day.

It was written for a scheme called the ‘mass observation project’ which was an attempt, started by some thinkers and anthropologists, to find out about how the war’s hardships affected the average citizen. Despite sounding scary to our post-Orwell ears, it was actually a pretty harmless and fascinating project - a social experiment in which people volunteered to have their daily reflections recorded. Obviously it wasn’t a very accurate cross section of the British public, the contributors were a self-selecting group with some reason to want to write for them – whether they saw it as a soapbox, a place to whinge, or a place to judge the actions of those they didn’t like – Nella Last wrote hers because she’d always fancied herself as a writer but had been sidetracked by circumstance, and life in general.

The book is interesting for two reasons, for one, it tells you all sorts of details about life during the war that mainstream historians don’t seem to bother mentioning. Like, for example, the fact that unmarried women were conscripted as well as men – for ‘essential’ work, auxiliary service and all the jobs left vacant by the soldiers. Or that unwanted pregnancies, with the unfathered children and backstreet abortions that came with them, were far more common than many would like people to believe.

The main reason why it’s so interesting, however, isn’t particularly the events she describes, but the feelings and opinions she voices in her more introspective or reflective moments. She is essentially a one-woman microcosm of all the changes in women’s perceptions of their role in society which, we are told, took place on a larger scale during the war. At the beginning of the war she writes little daily litanies, techniques and tricks, everyday domestic details - after a few years she writes in the same way, but occasionally vents her feelings like this:

I want to shout loudly to all mothers, and tell them how important they are, how much more they matter than all the preaching, talking men, who think only in terms of ‘organisation’. Look at the Hitler youth, and Mussolini’s poor moppets… …Let’s give them background, teach them simple rules of life, mentally and spiritually, love them a lot and then stand aside. Why, we would make a new world in two short generations and wipe out the bitter memories, make racial hatreds perish – and better than no man or men ever could

It’s been a good counterpoint to the endless military history books I’ve been sorting and sifting at work – countless tomes on tactics and strategy which have an odd dispassionate tone which I find slightly sickening. It wouldn’t bother me if it wasn’t for the fact that these books sell so well. I mean, commanders need to learn from examples and incidents, but I’m grateful that I don’t. Why the average middle class bloke wants to feel involved with the whole ugly business baffles me.

-Ben

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Something

It's funny the way that working all day makes me tired. It's not tired in a physical way exactly; I generally go out running or do some kind of exercise in the evenings. It's more a kind of, erm, weariness really, an unwillingness to do small things like go and find a cable, or carry my guitar up from the living room where it has been for nearly a week. I can motivate myself to do big things, but I need to build up a certain amount of momentum to do anything, and small things don't seem worth it somehow.

One particular result of this is the fact that I've not updated my blog in a week. This is partly because I've been feeling generally a bit brain-dead and sleepy, but also because of the aforementioned inertness. I went on a walk in the countryside with various extended family this sunday and saw many very pretty things. some of which I managed to take photos of.

Unfortunately, the camera I took the pictures with is one that requires a special lead - which I haven't been able to summon the desire to find. After writing all this (which has just kinda come out in a big burst) I think I'll actually make the effort and find the cable.

Right after this song

yep. mmmhm.

Aha. I've actually done it now, I persevered even when I realised that, in order to get it, I was going to have to rummage in my mum's school bag, past the snarling and ravenous creatures that have evolved from old, forgotten sandwiches.

The walk started pretty normalwise, there was greenery, (although it was mostly gold, orange and brown) mud, and animals. Things started getting interesting when we noticed the Emus



Although now, looking at the Emu in sarah's photos I'm guessing that this is in fact, an ostrich. Which would fit in better with rest of the birds kept, which seem to identify the owner as someone with a taste for esoteric eggs - the little round birds in the background are quails. There were also pheasants, peacocks and various hues of chicken.

and then got followed across a field by a friendly shire horse.



The highlight of the day though was probably Scotney Castle.



Scotney castle is an old medieval fortified manor, which was a partial ruin by the the 19th century; when a new house was built further up the hill. The owners of the new house decided that, whilst a pretty ruin, it wasn't quite romantic or ruinous enough, and exercised a little artistic licence with the remaining structures to make something very pretty. if not hugely medieval.







So there you go, I triumphed over work-induced laziness, huzzah.

-Ben

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Tube (continued)

Another thing that I noticed whilst travelling by train is the astonishing collision detection that people in general, but commuters especially, have. At london bridge station there is a sort of concourse section underground where about six different pathways meet - people are walking across it, at speed, in every direction.

but they almost never hit each other, or even have to break their stride. I don't think it's conscious - it isn't for me anyway - they just know: weaving between the streams, anticipating the next move of the confused tourist, steering around the determined businessman - never having to stop or slow down.

It's quite beautiful in a strange sort of way, it'd be even more so if I could get a decent vantage point to observe from, and the time in which to do it.

-Ben

I was going to post something about the awesome play I saw tonight, in a church designed by Inigo Jones, but I'm really tired. I'll write about it tomorrow.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Tube

Imagine, if you will, game of twister. One in which all the pads are rails on the ceiling.

A game of twister in which all the participants are strangers, and many of them don’t speak English. Where everyone involved is fully clothed – wearing big coats and scarves. Some of them are fat, some of them are sweaty, and a lot of them have bags - some very large bags. Picture this unlikely game of twister taking place underground in a very small enclosed space. That shakes and jerks around a lot.

...

The weird part is that I really don’t mind tube travel, it gets me where I’m going and it’s quicker and warmer than walking. I suppose it might be because I got so isolated at home that I appreciate any human contact, even if it is just being squished. It is a bit astonishing though - the way that people keep piling into tube trains until there isn’t any air between any part of your body and the bodies of the people around you – especially when you consider that at peak times the trains go through the station at the rate of about one every 2-3 minutes. Surely people aren’t afraid of being two minutes late?

It’s at times like that that I’m so very glad that I’m above average height for a bloke… I get the privilege of breathing air that isn’t filtered through someone else’s clothing.

Something else I’ve noticed is the way that commuters move in such rigid patterns. For example, the trains always stop in the exact same place and the hardened commuters just walk down the stairs and wait on the platform exactly where they know that the doors will be. I personally like taking a different route through London bridge underground station every day, I mean, you really should show your love for its multiple tunnelled craziness.

...

I’m pretty sure I saw Hugo Chavez on a train yesterday and another man who was stripping off and covering himself in lubricant in preparation for the next train.

I may have made the second one up… and I’m pretty sure Hugo Chavez doesn’t really take public transport… and even if he did then he’d be very lost if he was getting on the northern line at moorgate.

Everyone knows that it’s the District that goes to Venezuela… bloody tourists.

-Ben

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bad Folk

I have a fairly high tolerance for discomfort; my patience can stretch a very long way when circumstances require it to – I can sit around in an awkward situation for hours with barely a grimace, or I can endure a great deal of pain if there’s nothing I can do about it. If physical and social discomfort are mixed, however, my patience snaps like a glass twig. It manifests like a phobic reaction, I just freak out. I get a pervading, nightmarish feeling of being trapped, and have to immediately leave. In the past this has caused me to leave my friends behind at a party (arseholes + migrane) or flee an art gallery (crippling boredom + broken toe).

Tonight I fled from the local folk night due to a similar double whammy of unpleasantness. On the walk over there my knee made an unsettling clicking noise coupled with yelp-inducing pain, I suspect that this was caused by standing on tube trains today being jiggled around everywhichway – although I expect my running 2-3 miles everyday for a month is also a factor. After that I got stuck right at the front watching a band, (guest act, which meant I didn’t get to play) who were an amazing distillation of everything I can’t stand about folk music.

When I say “everything I can’t stand about folk music” I don’t mean that I don’t like folk music, no more than I dislike any musical scene. It’s just that there are clichés, tics and traits of every musical style which I find really grating. Little pet hates, you know, but whether it’s pinch harmonics in rock, misogyny in rap, or self-indulgence in jazz – in small numbers I can generally ignore them and still enjoy the music*. Every now and then, though, you get a band with enough of them to just push me over the edge. I can overlook one or two but a whole set, no. Acts like Metallica, 50 Cent, or ----** set my teeth on edge.

…Anyway, as I was saying these people were amazing in that regard:

Firstly there was their musical delivery: The group consisted of three singers; a woman (alto), a man (tenor) and another man (bass) with no accompaniment. They sang in close following harmony, all singing identical parts, just at different pitches - which, given the idiosyncratic ‘folk’ style of singing they all had (which isn’t a bad thing in itself), made for a very unpleasant sound. Worst of all was the voice of the bass, which I can only describe as like what would happen if you hooked up a talk box to a farting drainpipe.

Secondly there was their choice of songs, they chose teeth gratingly ‘jolly’ songs of the sort beloved by your hardened folkie. These songs are generally dirty, in a vaudevillian, sleazy sort of way and contain ‘rousing’ choruses or refrains, which the audience are expected to join in on, in a fit of tankard-waving enthusiasm. The refrains are often complete gibberish, seemingly inserted to illicit that compulsion some folk audiences have to sing along with anything that gets repeated frequently in a song.

Lastly there was the general haranguing of the audience, which is something that I find completely unforgivable in a band – if the crowd are bored by your set, telling them to be more enthusiastic is just going to make them pissed off at you. If you want an audience to really get into your music, then write better music.

-Ben


*Well, except for pinch harmonics, Don’t even get me started on pinch harmonics… ugh.

**Insert the name of any free-jazz musician you’d care to mention

Monday, November 05, 2007

Classical Sounds

I went to a performance of Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem tonight, it was being performed by a local community orchestra and the choir that my mum sings with. There were a few pieces of Mozart and suchlike, performed by the orchestra alone in the first half followed by the full on 'choir Vs Orchestra' showdown in the second (the choir won, fact fans).

Now I know that this is a little out of character but hey, I didn't pay for my ticket so I figured it was worth a listen. Apart from wanting to hear my mum and her choir sing, I was also curious to see if I found classical music any more interesting when performed live. The short answer is, I think, probably no. I liked it, and the choir were really impressive, but none of it really caught my attention - I had to concentrate on all the orchestral parts otherwise I just glazed over and stopped hearing it. I have no idea what it is about classical compositions, but I've just never been able to get into them. Judging from the average age of the audience I think that appreciation of that sort of thing comes later in life (or after it, seeing as some of the old folks there really weren't moving much). I wonder if it'll be like developing a taste for coffee, perhaps one day, when I'm balding a little, I'll suddenly get an urge to listen to Wagner.

Tomorrow I'm playing at a jazz night (giving the fretless bass an airing) so I should be able to get all these classical cooties out of my system.

-Ben

Friday, November 02, 2007

Pedantry

I found a strange subculture on the internet today - that of a small, besieged group of pedants, desperately railing against the massed armies of the illiterate internet/world in general. There is a blog out there for all manner of grammarian pet peeves, be it misuse of the word 'literally', Abuse of the humble apostrophe or strangely incorrectly applied "Quotation Marks!"

I've tried to explain my attitude to pedantry before (yes the hostility of the last paragraph is genuine - I was in a bad mood and generally sick of being corrected by everyone) with a reasonable degree of success so I won't bother repeating myself here.

On that note, I really should get round to tagging all of my old posts - I did sometimes write things worth reading, although I also wrote a lot of crap.

-Ben

Notes



(Click on the image to get a properly readable version. I apologise for the blurriness but I really can't be bothered to go through all the hassle of firing up the scanner)

I do enjoy finding things like this when I get up in the morning - little tokens of the chaos that accompanies my family preparing for work or school. It seems that today my little sister's voice has gone and Django (the cat) was being particularly vocal about not having been fed yet.

If you feel your note space isn't filled, then I recommend moseying on over to Passive-aggressive notes, it's funny, although I find it a little emotionally draining after a while - too much anger.

-Ben

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Portal



Looks like a mighty neato game. All brainthinky and not deathtacular, which makes for a pleasant change. It's doing things with modern game physics that are actually innovative and original.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween

I have a very uneasy relationship with halloween, I’m never quite sure what to make of it. Much as I dislike being put on the same side of the argument as moralising Christians, I really don’t much care for the whole trick or treat, dressing up thing.

My reasons are of course different from those of the bible waving fraternity. I dislike Halloween, not because it’s nasty and pagan but because it’s a travesty of all the cool aspects of nasty pagan festivals. Britain has no shortage of pre-christian celebrations and traditions and yet, on this most pagan of pagan days, we increasingly choose to follow not our own traditional practices and traditions but a sort of mangled, commercialised version of them. I’m not arguing that we should celebrate Samhain again, no, I'm not a wiccan ponce. ...and we do that on Guy Fawkes’ night anyway – lighting bonfires and scaring off the darkness with loud noises, you didn't think that was really about a gunpowder plot did you?

Modern Halloween, it seems to me, is not be a night of deference to the folk superstitions which the Christians find so offensive, but a night in which we mock those superstitions, ones which seem so childish in the glow of fluorescent bulbs. We stand there, in our brightly lit streets, dressed as plastic goblins, and then congratulate ourselves on not being afraid.

All Hallow’s Eve was traditionally a night when the faerie folk, banshees, goblins and other pre-Christian beasties prowled the earth; when the souls of the lost, restless spirits, were especially active. It was a night when you sat around the fire with your family telling stories, and left lit candles in the windows to help guide the lost spirits. A good example of how scary it was is a story like the legend of the Celtic Folk-Hero Nera. Nera was the only warrior brave enough to rise to the challenge of his king: to leave the hall on the eve of Samhain, to walk alone through the darkness to the Gallows on a nearby hill, and tie a white band around the ankle of one of the hanged men decaying there. Going out on Halloween was not something that children could do, nor even most grown men.

It was, in most parts of England (even more so in Scotland), quite specifically NOT a night when you went out. Because if you went out the faeries would get you, and there is nothing whimsical about the fairies in folk stories: they stole husbands and wives, murdered children, killed livestock. I’ve been thumbing through my big book of folklore* trying to find a story that I remember reading, but I’ve forgotten the title and this book is huge.

As I remember it, the story it was about a man who was sitting with his wife on all Hallow’s eve, keeping warm and out of trouble. For some reason she insisted on going out after dark and was taken by the queen of the fairies. Exactly one year later the man’s brothers came to sit with him through the night. Sure enough the fairy folk came back, they stood by his door and called to him, entreated him to come out and join his wife. He heard her voice, she pleaded with him too, and he forgot when he had been told about staying inside. His brothers, however, were mindful of the stories of the fairies, held him down and refused to let him go out. The next morning, at dawn, the noises stopped and the brothers went out to see what had happened outside. They found the door and the doorstep covered with blood, and his wife was never seen again.

A traditional Halloween should be spent sitting in a candlelit house, surrounded by impenetrable darkness and cold, terrified of what might be waiting outside. These days, the closest anyone gets to that is hiding from trick or treaters.

I'm going to go and read some M R James stories and scare myself up good...

-Ben

*Briggs, Katherine M. A Dictionary of British Folk Tales in the English Language. Routledge : London : 1991

Monday, October 29, 2007

Daylight Savings

Say what you like about London's pollution, it certainly makes for pretty sunsets.

I just watched the sun go down, it was gorgeous, and that made me happy. It is only 4:40pm, however, and that makes me unhappy. The clocks went back over the weekend (causing an all-night party I was at to get really confusing) and now I appear to be living in a land of perpetual night. I think they do it so that it is lighter earlier in the mornings, but this doesn’t really help me, I’m not generally awake early in the morning.

Other than stare at the sunset I've really not done much of note, I sent off another job application last night, and I've been ordering prospectuseseses from various institutions today - although I feel like I'm flailing wildly in the dark in that regard, I need to find some sort of big postgraduate guide to help me.

-Ben

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mr Ben Digs

Just the one band today, but they are very good.



The song is called 'Elephant Gun'

They are called Beirut and, as far as I can tell, they are basically the brainchild of a 19 year old from Santa Fe. Yes, young and talented. "Bastard!" I hear you shout? Well, that's as maybe, but he writes good songs.

-Ben

Sinister music

This is a little question for my readers (I'm not sure, but I think that you are at least three in number) - Do you know of any songs that could be called 'sinister' 'creepy' or 'scary'?

I don't mean scary like Boy Bands, or sinister like Gary Glitter - but you know - stuff that's actually creepy. I'm playing a folk night with my dad on Halloween and we were trying to think of some more appropriate songs. So far, we've got 'Paranoid' by Black Sabbath (in an Eastern European stylee - it works, really well), 'Watching the Detectives' by Elvis Costello (more because it's a good song than because it's particularly creepy, although it is pretty odd and unsettling), and either 'St James Infirmary Blues' or 'Death Letter' (old blues songs, included because they are really macabre).

Obviously there's no shortage of grim and scary folk songs, but we are looking to do some more modern stuff. Any suggestions?

-Ben

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A clarification

I was out delivering letters for my mum’s school today – it passes the time – and I feel like I should clarify something about which there seems to be some confusion.

This is a Bear Trap:


This is a Letterbox:


All clear? good. That is all.

-Ben

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Musics

At the moment Mr Ben Digs

The Elevaters
-Damn funky, sitting in largely unexploited territory somewhere between Stevie Wonder and N.E.R.D. I approve. (Via Kristen)

Headlines
-Pretty straight UK indie band, but done very well. (Via the radio, surprisingly - 6music is actually good enough for me to be able to listen to it all the time)

Emo

I wrote this last night, hence the references to being a bit drunk, but my internet was being crappy, so I couldn't post it until now.

Don’t worry, this post isn’t me being emo, nor is it another of my interminable ‘Ben attempts to analyse pop culture and fails’ posts. No. Instead I just thought I’d recount, in my drunken state, a story I was told today by one of my friends.

The friend in question has a job which requires him to work with children, and the other day he and a co-worker were teaching a 9 year old boy. When they were practising something particularly difficult the co-worker started to tease my friend and the boy in a good natured sort of way.

After a while the kid lost patience and retorted with the following:

Boy: Shut up! You… er… Goth!

The adults start giggling.

Boy:Actually no… you’re worse than a Goth, you’re an EMO!

At this point my friend and his co-worker start giggling harder.

Friend: What’s an emo then?

Boy: An emo is the worst. It’s a cross between a GOTH and a GAY



Such insight from one so young…

-Ben

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Funny

As I was dangerously intellectual yesterday I thought I'd lower the tone a little for today. These are two things I've seen in the last few days that have made me laugh until I very nearly peed myself.

- Human Tetris
Anyone who can watch this and not giggle hysterically is dead inside.

- The 213 Things Skippy is no longer allowed to do in the U.S. army
Bit of strange military humour, sort of like an army version of the Bart Simpson Blackboard gag - imply the stupid things done by mentioning only the prohibition to do them again.

-Ben

Friday, October 19, 2007

Killers and Strongwomen

This story on the beeb today led me off on a bit of a Wiki bender, because it occurred to me that whilst I knew the name Dr Crippen, I didn't actually know anything about him or what he did. His story isn't that interesting until the facts (if they are facts) in that news story are added. I mean, so he didn't kill his wife, but er, it's not like the new evidence makes him look shiny and innocent - what with the skilfully dismembered corpse buried under his floor. It just makes it more interesting, who was the dead body under the floor, if it wasn't his wife - I think the incompetent backstreet abortionist theory sounds plausible, if unpleasant.

I find these sort of figures interesting; not for what they did, killing people isn't that remarkable - anyone with a defective conscience, a half decent swing and a big stick can do that - but for the way that their crimes slip into popular culture after a few decades. Consider, for example, these names: Jack the Ripper, Sweeney Todd, Spring Heeled Jack - how many people would actually be certain which of these famous murderers was real, or at least closely based on a real person?* I was curious about the man's actual crimes because often you find that such shocking events and stories echo through the popular imagination, aspects of the case get regurgitated, intentionally or subconsciously, in narratives all the time and it's interesting to see how they reappear and evolve into something more fiction than fact.

In that regard I have a suspicion that all such stories have some grounding in fact. I don't mean that there really was a demon barber, but there might have been a really inept barber who gave someone with a tendency to exaggerate a clumsy shave, and so the story started. It makes me think of the romantic poets and their theories of the imagination (not something I like to be reminded of) specifically of Keats' theory, mirrored in the work of other good poets like Wallace Stevens, that art and, to an extent, perception, is created through the imaginative mind's interactions with prosaic reality - rather than conjured out of nothing.

Finally, as always with Wikipedia benders, I found myself getting more interested in tangentially related characters in the story, such as the friend of the late Mrs Belle Crippen** who informed the police that her friend had vanished - a Ms Kate Williams, known to the public as Vulcana. Who is a fascinating character, much more interesting than the weird quack who murdered his washed up showgirl wife. I insist that you go read about her instead.

-Ben


*In case you were unsure it's only the first one - Sweeney Todd and Spring Heeled Jack are urban Legends popularised in Penny Dreadfuls. Although there are those who argue that there is some grain of truth to the stories, nobody knows where that grain lies.

**Even if she wasn't 'late' at that point, I should think she is now.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Smoothed Out Shite

At the folk club tonight (which isn't really a folk club, it's more of a place where people who like to play instruments and sing gather and do both at each other) there was a man playing who comes there quite often and is, well, terrible. Terrible people at folk clubs aren't unusual, far from it. My personal favourites are the tone deaf old man who sings with, erm, charming enthusiasm and the middle aged woman who sings Bob Dylan and Joan Baez songs - seemingly with the conviction that if she delivers them with sufficient ferocity the chords will get into the right order on their own. But there's this one man who can't be so easily blocked out, or avoided by a swift trip to the bar.

He sings songs that he writes himself, about various predictable subjects - there's one about a break up, one cloyingly sentimental one about his grown up daughter, one generic lovey dovey song, and one about killing nuns... well, actually no, there aren't any about killing nuns, it'd be much more interesting if there was*. Anyway, as I was saying, this man is bad, but there's no specific thing that you can point out about his performances and say 'this man is shite'. His lyrics are clichéd and derivative but they aren't bad exactly - they are competently put together, more so than many songs out there. His guitar playing, whilst not face melting, is above the level of your average folkie - certainly better than Bob Dylan, and his voice is always pitch perfect. The thing is that when all added together these things seem to somehow subtract from each other, or at least, don't add up to something listenable.

He's terrible in the same way that a packet of sausages that only costs 20p are terrible - there's nothing stringy or oddly hard to incur disgust, it's all just ground up so smooth that there's nothing in particular you can object to. This man has perfected a style of songwriting that isn't good, it's just really finely honed, practised and polished crap. He's managed to take the normal cringe-inducing low points and occasional flashes of talent and merge them into one uniform whole. A whole which can only be described with the word 'meh'.

He is living proof that, with enough willpower, you can polish a turd.

-Ben

*And such subject matter really wouldn't be out of place at a folk club, folk songs are waaay more violent and sexual than people realise. I'm guessing it's because it's the music of everyday people, and as everyone knows, the average person is way more filthy minded and sweary than characters on TV

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The heap


These are the guitars currently living in my room (or the spare room) at the moment.

From top to Bottom

Vintage* Acoustic Guitar - This one is mine, used to be my mum's but she traded up. Took me many hours of work with files, wrenches and sandpaper to get it playable, I recently restrung it and have started playing it again.

Encore Stratocaster Copy - Heavily Customised. I've covered the work on this beastie fairly extensively here, quite nice now.

Yamaha Pacifica - My little sister's. I don't actually know what it is doing up here to be honest. I think guitars just gravitate up here.

Hamer 'Slammer' Centaura - My most recent project, new electronics and a clean/set up. It's living here until Ed comes to pick it up.

Yamaha BB604 - My fretted Bass. Doesn't get played a huge amount at the moment, the strings are all manky and my bass amp isn't working very well.

Yamaha RBX200F - Probably made some time in the late 1980's, bought for £60 from a pawnbroker in Plymouth 2 years ago. Refitted the electronics, refinished the body, coated the fretboard.

Gibson EB-3 - Belongs to dad, lives under my bed in a case - I occasionally take it out and check that it's all in working order - probably worth more money than dad's car.

There's also a Hohner Pianet T that lives in my wardrobe, a Roland Guitar amp that sits at the end of my bed and a Giant Behringer Bass amp that sits on top of my chest of drawers.

All of which means that I don't have much room to sleep in.

-Ben

*as in the company, not the adjective - although it probably is about 10 years old.

Swearing

I was thinking about writing something on the subject of swearing and taboo language recently but then I found this.

Which puts it all far better than I can do myself.

-Ben

Monday, October 15, 2007

Zen and the Art of Guitar Maintenance

Metal is a strange genre. It appeals to a peculiar side of the male psyche that wants, more than anything, to be seen to understand things that other people don’t; to possess some insightful understanding that sees the merit in what others discard. It is, essentially, an exclusive club – a shared opinion that allows those who hold it to feel like an enlightened minority, that they appreciate something special that passes lesser mortals by. I dare say that there are some people who are in it because they really like the sound of guitars distorted so much that they sound like a motorbike with a kazoo stuck over the end of the exhaust pipe, but they are rare.

This is all stuff that I’ve said before, probably better and more coherently than I have here, but I was reminded of it today whilst setting up a guitar. The guitar in question, my brother’s, is fitted with a Floyd Rose Double-Locking Tremolo – it’s a bridge that looks like this:


Ugly isn’t it.

This giant chunk of chromed brass is a fairly recent invention: A refinement (of sorts) of your standard Stratocaster Tremolo, designed in the late seventies by a man named Floyd Rose. It has its advantages – it can bend the notes up or down 3-4 semitones without pulling all your strings out of tune when you return to normal pitch – which is useful, if you like that sort of thing. They do undoubtedly have their uses, not uses I particularly approve of, but uses nonetheless.

My beef, however, is with how teeth gratingly frustrating and impractical they are to work with: They take ages to get in tune, finger bending on one string brings the pitch of all the others down, you have to take the strings off to adjust the intonation, and, worst of all, if one string breaks the change in tension pulls of the other strings out of tune, and the locking nut & bridge makes changing said string impossible to do quickly – so if you break a string on stage you are totally fucked.

In this thing, however, lies further evidence that my theories about metal are not completely wrong. These machines are impractical, cumbersome and rarely used to an extent that counterbalances their many faults, even by their admirers. Yet they are, nonetheless, loved by heavy metal guitarists. They adopt very much the same attitude to them as I’d noticed in relation to their music; that these things are perfect in some way that mere mortals can’t understand. They dismiss all the faults as mere trifles designed to put off the casual user, leaving it for the purists who really appreciate it. I assume that this means that they take this approach to everything; I expect they find the turner prize interesting, and think Finnegan’s Wake is great.

I despair.

-Ben

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ed's Guitar

For the last few days I've been working on a guitar again, not mine for a change. My brother recently acquired a Les Paul and since then his old Hamer superstrat has been gathering dust. I was given the task of making it into a blistering funkmachine - something that the Gibson, for all its merits, quite definitely isn't - and generally bringing it up to an acceptable standard for a man with expensive tastes. Which, of course, meant only the finest parts; Switchcraft jacks, CGE pots, Sprague Capacitors, Oak Switches, and a pair of Seymour Duncan Phat Cats.

The part of this process that took longest was the waiting for the parts to arrive - Royal Mail were on strike and I can't just walk down to the road to my local Guitar Technician Supply shop. Once it arrived it all moved pretty fast though. I managed to do the whole thing without burning or cutting myself once, which is a new record - I'm getting better, at one point I couldn't do a refit without gaining some new permanent scars.

I've been sitting around playing it for the last few hours now, after troubleshooting the last of the little niggling problems that always appear, and I think it's rather awesome. I've not had to opportunity to have a go with the amp cranked up to 'Obnoxious Wanker' levels but from what I've heard so far it all seems to have worked. It is indeed a face melting funkmachine, but it also has a huge array of different sounds for its owner to play with, once you figure out what .

Before!


After it had been stripped down, the cavities extended, and the new holes drilled.



And this it what it looks like finished. I cleaned the Fretboard (despite Ed's protests) and gave it a polish to get all the masking tape marks off the body.



Oof. The modifications are much more complete and elaborate than those 'spot the difference' pictures would suggest, but they were almost entirely internal. It was quite interesting work - there weren't any frustrating setbacks that caused me to pull my hair out, or faults that I couldn't understand. Most interestingly, a circuit that I, an English Lit graduate, designed, Actually Worked!

In accordance with my witty naming scheme this guitar will be called the 'Stratobastard' until Ed gives it a better name.

-Ben

Oh, and if I ever meet Floyd Rose, me and him are going to have words. Honestly, who'd design a tremolo system where you have no individual string height adjustment and you have to take the strings off to adjust the intonation? eh? A madman, that's who.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Meme


I really should learn never to underestimate the number of brilliant madmen on the internet. They hide amongst the normal everyday madmen, who are busy gluing captions to your cats, and create something like Lolthulhu - which merges the simple humour of cat macros with the unspeakable horror of the Great Old Ones.

-Ben

This is also rather excellent

Monday, October 08, 2007

Odd

want a repainted green godess?

Have a craving for an armoured police car?

or can you simply not live without a combat engineer tractor?

Man, there are shops for everything on the internet, this seems a good shop for anyone who wants a distinctive car to stand out in the office car park.

-Ben

Monday, October 01, 2007

eew

Just now I was sitting around playing the guitar, strumming away happily, then all of a sudden I started to feel a little bit jazz. So I started playing fingerstyle, picking out strange and wonderful jazz chords that are all wonky and askew; the sort that have names like Bb7sus4aug19th. I came up with a chord progression I liked, I recorded it. I came up with a lead riff I liked, I recorded it.

- - -

I then realised that I had spent the last 20 minutes playing whilst holding a plectrum in my mouth.... A plectrum that I picked up off the floor of a tube station on my way back from oxford a few hours previously...

I suspect I may have only minutes to live.

I leave my guitars to any who will play them, my CDs to Izzy and my body to medical science.

-Ben

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

pretty noises

What I posted earlier was in fact incorrect, this is the best thing ever.

-Ben

pretty noises

I like this

Antoine Dufour (guitar) and Tommy Gauthier (violin). It sounds like music from the future to me, proper futuremusic - none of this bleepysound, just new ideas, techniques and arrangements with traditional instruments.

This one is good also


As is Antoine Dufour's solo work.

Anyway. I need to go and think of something to do with myself today.

-Ben

In other news I've managed to stub my toe four times today (little toe on my left foot twice, and the first time was very hard) I think this must be some sort of karmic retribution for something.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sunday

Unusually for me, something actually happened this weekend. Well, someone happened, but Sarah tends to be an event in herself, worthy of mention - like a visit from the pope. only more fun. and with less homophobia.

We went off for a rambling journey around London on Sunday, which was an uncharacteristically beautiful day. It started strangely: my London pride (not the ale) was somewhat dented by the fact that Sarah, who is from a land far, far away, seemed to know her way around the touristy parts of London much better than I do. We went to Trafalgar Square, which I've stood around in plenty of times*, but never really actually looked at in any detail - I've certainly never looked up at the column properly or taken photos of the lions. From there we went to St James' Park (which I've been in before, but only when drunk) which was a lovely place - it had pelicans, which at first glance I mistook for bizarre hallucinations of swans, an army of cyclists, and Buckingham Palace - which I've never actually seen before, and, to be honest, don't feel any the richer for having seen - it's pretty urgley.

After some tasty lunchings and lounging around in the park sunshine for a while we moved on to somewhere else, and the balance finally tipped so that I knew more about where we were going than the person from the other side of the Atlantic.

We went up to Camden where, to my shock, no-one offered us drugs (I'm not being snobby, it's just that I used to go up there a lot, and never walked more than about 200 metres without being offered something.) we shambled around looking at the emokids, goths and hipsters shaking their bony asses and spending this months allowance on various ironic, almost-witty or 'random' T-Shirts and sweating like pigs in their ankle length leather jackets. There was cool stuff left right and centre but seeing as neither of us had any money it was kinda like dry humping retailwise.

At that point the period of me being the one knowing where we were going ended again as we walked down regents canal from Camden Lock, which was lovely; all the weeping willows sinking into the water, the funny shimmering reflections on the walls and under the bridges and the little jetties at the end of people's gardens. I was walking along, possibly giving the impression that I knew where I was going, but in fact I was just following the prettyness. Luckily, the walk down the canal led down to Regent's park, where we sat around in the sunshine and observed (from a safe distance) some sort of traumatising mass aerobics event where middle-aged saggy women in pink t-shirts were enthusiastically shouted at by the gayest man in the history of aerobics instructors (and lets face it, it's a pretty gay history.)

From there we tubed it back to Greenwich, loafed about in the park & riverside, and drank tasty beer until it was bus home snoozetime.

It was a good day.

-Ben

*usually whilst waiting for the N21 at some ungodly hour of the night on the way back from somewhere fun

recruitment consultants

I've been trawling through pages and pages of job listings today - specifically looking for positions that require graduates, because I think I'll have better luck with those than with many other jobs - and I've noticed something rather unsettling.

There appear to be more advertised positions in the recruitment/human resources/head-hunting sector than all the other sectors put together.

Which I can only assume means that London is heading for some sort of 'shoe event horizon'*. A point will come when there are five recruitment agencies for every company that needs staff to do actual work and the economy will collapse in on itself in a horrific pileup of middlemen and consultants.

until then... hmm, they pay well.

-Ben

*see Adams, Douglas. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe Chapter 10 for a full illustration of this principle.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Guitar is Finished

I'm going to leave the poor thing alone now, just play it until it grows old and confused and has to be retired, never more will it see me bearing down on it with a soldering iron in hand.

The action wasn't as low as I like (as low as I can possibly get it) and tweaking the truss rod, whilst improving the situation, hadn't got it perfect. I didn't want to admit defeat so I brought in some of my more invasive methods of treatment.

I used a knife sharpening stone to level out the frets, you can see from the different amounts of metal dust around each fret caused by scraping the flat stone over them that they weren't of equal height. Generally a sharpening stone is all that is needed - only really, really badly missaligned frets require the use of metalworking files.



This gets the frets level but leaves them scratched and rough, with a big flat part on the top of many of them, which can mess up the intonation a bit. So I masked up the fretboard thusly:



Then wrapped my thumb in light sandpaper and started to use the fleshysquishy bit of my thumb to re-profile the frets. I do this by rubbing my thumb along the length of the fret, smoothing the frets back to their normal shape - taking care to stop sanding before the height of the top of the fret drops below the height of the flat part put there by the sharpening stone.

After the neck was all unmasked and the fretboard oiled (to prevent the wood from getting all dried out by the masking tape) I put the guitar back together and put the new strings on. The action is crazylow now - like so



At the same time as doing the work on the neck I was elaborating on the designs on the guitar's body and headstock - I coated the designs on the body with a layer of clear varnish to prevent them getting worn off by playing. The body now looks like this:



and the headstock like this



Anyway. I'm going to wander off out for a walk now.

-Ben

oh, and I removed the profile information bit because I'd prefer it if this wasn't there for all prospective employers to see on google when you type in my name. I'm not going to stop writing, nor will it make any real difference to my listing on google, but at least this way it's not blindingly obvious.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Art


This is a piece entitled "Dissolution of Sound" from the series of works created as part of the Artist's work with the Unknowable Contexts Collective. Whilst characterised primarily by its conceptual naïveté, this work contains many of the hallmarks which earned its creator both acclaim and controversy in his later career - such as the bold use of anglo-patriachal textual motifs, which playfully explore the relationship between logic and contingency, and the use of subtly erotic abstraction. The paint is actually rancid Llama milk mixed, by the artist, with PVA glue - creating both an exciting artistic medium and a stinging critique of the failure of liberation theolgy in Argentina. The upward dripping paint evokes the upheaval in psychosexual politcal discourse which greeted the election of Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London in 2000.

The asking price is £7,500 - although with increasing interest in his work the value of the piece will undoubtedly increase with time. A good investment for any art collector with an interest in crochet.

-Ben

It's actually a piece of cardboard I used to dry my paint roller on whilst decorating the living room. I think I could still get a monkey for it though, if I find a suffiently gullible mark.

hmm

I was bored the other day, and I had a permanent marker, so my guitar looks a little odd. I think I really should leave the poor thing alone now, let it die with dignity rather than molesting it something rotten.

-Ben

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Radioactive Unsexiness

I'm not sure about the rest of the world but in britain at the moment there is a huge inflation in quackery - an army of 'nutritionists', homeopaths, and other insubstantial witch doctory. It has to be said though, bad though the quacks are these days, they used to be much worse - I refer you to this bottle of delicious radithor! A life improving radioactive tonic sold in the late twenties and early thirties which contained about enough radium to kill you after a few bottles of the stuff. It was discontinued after a wealthy industrialist called Eben Byers drank enough to kill a small town, and well, sort of dissolved.

I also discovered that today is the 20th aniversary of the Goiânia Accident in which a large proportion of a city had to be decontaminated after some tramps rummaging around in an abandoned hospital found some pretty glowing metal and sold it to a local scrap dealer. Which led me off to the interesting category in Wikipedia of "List of Civilian Radiation Accidents" which contains many similar instances to the Goiânia Accident in other poor countries around the world in addition to a couple of soviet union ones which show such a bizarre recklessness they are almost funny. Like this incident for example

"December 2000 – Three woodcutters in the nation of Georgia spent the night beside several "warm" canisters they found deep in the woods and were subsequently hospitalized with severe radiation burns. The canisters were found to contain concentrated 90Sr. The disposal team consisted of 25 men who were restricted to 40 seconds' worth of exposure each while transferring the canisters to lead-lined drums. The canisters are believed to have been intended for use as generators for remote lighthouses and navigational beacons, part of a Soviet plan dating back to 1983."

who on earth thought that that was a good idea, and how on earth did they get them out there without killing themselves? I'm assuming it wasn't a very professional disposal operation.

Then of course there are the Radium Girls whose story just makes me angry.

-Ben

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Footwear

Up until about a week ago I had been wearing the same shoes for about a year and a half; which may not be that long for some people but it's a long time for me - I'm heavy, I walk everywhere, and I've never owned more than three pairs of shoes at any one time. Generally, my shoes crumble and wear through after around 8 months. Not that the last pair of trainers I had were much more resiliant than their predeccessors, it was just that I had no money to replace them this time. By the time they were finally retired they had a powerful funk - the sole of the left shoe was worn through at the heel and the front, the sole of the right shoe was almost completely detached from the upper, and the insole had fallen out of the gaping hole in the back - leaving me standing on the sort of rubber waffle on the inside of the sole.

I managed to find a cool pair of shoes for fifteen quid, so the crumbling relics were retired. Someone, who shall remain nameless (I'll just refer to her as mother), was so scared that I'd keep wearing those shoes out in public that she threw away all of my old shoes, even the ones that weren't in that bad a state.

Which was fine. I never really had any occasion to wear them... until today.

I've been redecorating the living room, which means getting splattered with paint and standing on top of a ladder for long periods of time. I didn't want to get my new shoes all painty but standing on a ladder barefoot really hurts if you do it for more than a few moments.

So I devised a new form of footwear - one which combines the disposability of flip-flops with the ruggedness of gaffa tape.



They were safe to wear on a ladder but not hugely comfortable and greatgreasyjesus! they hurt when you take them off.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bender Crapocaster


Well, I was wrong with both my guesses last night - "agathis or basswood" ... really, I should have remembered what I was dealing with - this aint no good value korean made fender copy: this is the people's republic's finest plywood beast of a guitar.

Which of course makes me love it all the more - i mean look at it, it is now a guitar with no illusions, it is the shittiest piece of crap you ever will see and now, thanks to me, it can be proud of it.

look at those lovely laminates

and I think it sounds quite nice as well.

-Ben

Sunday, September 09, 2007

I've got blisters on me fingers



I think I'll borrow a power sander off a relative before I think about doing the rest of it - that or get some really coarse bastard sandpaper. I think it looks quite good though. No idea what wood it is - something cheap I guess, but I don't know what, probably agathis or basswood.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Unemployment



Cat, Strat, Kerouac and cable

-Ben

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Instrument Ethics

The following is mostly written about guitars and basses, mandolins and banjos, but could be applied, to some extent, to every instrument… Except for the Bassoon - I don’t see the appeal of an instrument that looks like a shisha and sounds like a farting drainpipe.

---

The reason I repair guitars, even when I’m not getting paid or particularly interested in the work is because I believe that guitars are made for playing. Guitars that aren’t being played aren’t guitars, they are guitar shaped objects – things that adorn a wall or fill a case – they aren’t complete anymore. It’s like the distinction between a living, breathing person and a cooling cadaver – they are made of the same parts and are for all intents and purposes the same thing, but the latter lacks the spark that defines the former.

Many people have guitars that live in cupboards or attics because they’ve got nicer guitars or consider their guitars to be unplayable, I don’t approve. I know it is a heretical suggestion, and many a guitar nerd would dispute this, but I don’t believe there is such a thing as an unplayable guitar. I have yet to encounter a guitar that wasn’t, with a certain amount of work, playable. I’m not saying that people aren't justified in replacing the guitars with something better, nor am I saying that I can make any heap of shite Encore play like a Fender or a Gibson. I can, however, make them playable enough, playable enough that playing them isn’t a case of man versus machine, which is enough for someone to learn to play on it.

If a guitar is actually completely beyond repair or so profoundly shite that nothing can be done (it happens, generally only with acoustics, they are more difficult) then I strip down the guitar for any useful parts, screws, pickups, wire, pots, jacks and switches, hardware of all kinds. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t very high quality, the key thing is that if you stockpile parts you can repair guitars for no cost, you never have to ask yourself if it is worth your money to do it, and so even the lowliest of axes can be brought back to life and passed on.

Some people have vast collections of guitars, largely unplayed, they may have reasons, they might sometimes want a certain sound that can only be obtained from a certain guitar other than their primary one – but I think that when someone buys a guitar they should ask themselves the same question people ask themselves when they buy a dog – they may want one, they may think they look cool, but they need to consider whether or not they can give the guitar the attention and care it needs. I have no problem with people owning more than one guitar, as long as they aren't part of a collection of instruments owned for vanity and not neccessity. I have two basses, a fretted and a fretless, I play them about equally – I did have another fretted (which had been replaced by the new one) I knew that I wasn’t going to play it much anymore, so I passed it on to someone who would – I have two guitars, an acoustic and an electric, I don’t play my acoustic much so I let my little sister play it.

It is these principles that I cite when asked why my guitars and basses are so strangely modified and upgraded, why they are so covered in switches & knobs and filled with peculiar electronics. I modify my guitars because I don’t want to have a heap of unloved, unplayed guitars around just so that I have access to the sounds I want. With modern amp modelling preamps and a decent amount skill you can make pretty much any sound you want with a well tweaked guitar and that saves wood*, money and storage space

-Ben

*Don't get me started on 'environmentally aware' musicians playing something like 'live earth' holding an instrument made from mahogany or bubinga.

Quotation

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture"

--Elvis Costello, in an interview by Timothy White entitled "A Man out of Time Beats the Clock." Musician magazine No. 60 (October 1983), p. 52.

The citation is from here
It is otherwise attributed to just about every comedian, architect and musician that has ever stringed a sentence together.

I think it sums up what I have been trying to say for the last few years.

-Ben

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Mr Ben Digs

At the moment.

Minus The Bear - Crazy funky, electronicky guitary weirdness-- and what's not to like about about a band who give songs names like "Pantsuit...Uggghh" or "Monkey!!! Knife!!! Fight!!!" or "Lemurs, Man. Lemurs"

The Hold Steady - No nonsense party rock, singer who writes amazing lyrics and sounds like van morrison, which is odd considering he is from minneapolis*

Basquiat Strings - er... a Jazzfreaky Penguin Cafe Orchestra? Tosca Tango Orchestra minus the tango? Hard to describe, damn good though

Loney, Dear - Swedish songwriter, catchy tunes, sings in a soft falsetto most of the time, pleasing sounds.

Go forth and listen, hypothetical readers!

-Ben

*I mean that it's odd that he sounds like van morrison not that he can write good lyrics

Monday, September 03, 2007

Reviews

Summer is a strange thing; I think it must be something to do with the fact that for the entirety of my life so far summer is associated with doing nothing, enjoying oneself, running around and getting drunk (that’s a fairly recent addition) but I find it very hard to motivate myself to do anything that I don’t particularly want to do during the summer. I am some sort of seasonal hedonist, during the autumn, winter and spring I am capable of self control, discretion and determination but in the summer I eat drink and am merry. This, I rather suspect, is the reason why I spent the whole summer finding the whole ‘getting a job’ thing distasteful in the extreme and why, now, as the summer is coming to an end I’m feeling a real need to get a job and sort myself out.

I could also be argued that this is because I’ve got a bigger belly than I had at the start of the summer, because my bass amp is broken and I don’t have the money to replace it, but I’m feeling like I’ve done enough relaxing now.

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I’ve been reading reviews of albums on pitchfork media today. I find them fascinating because, if nothing else, they seem to be the established template that all the godawful music reviewers in campus newspapers across the globe try to copy. They always write some kind of introductory paragraph which serves a few different purposes, firstly it sets the tone for the review, secondly it establishes a voice for the reviewer* and thirdly it allows the reviewer to make himself sound all clever, imbuing the review with a sort of gravitas which it doesn’t really deserve. They aren’t all bad, some of the writers are quite good, the problem with the others is that they are all presumably mimicking the idiosyncratic style of a small group of writers, a style which they don’t have the ability to carry off.

A couple of times I’ve tried to write music reviews, little pieces about albums I’m listening to and like or dislike, but I can’t ever grasp the style that most reviewers, pretentious or otherwise, aim for. I am unable to get past my own opinions and tastes when assessing music; I find it impossible to give some sort of assessment of the quality of a piece of music because I don’t really have any universal criteria with which I can put it into words. I know that many of my reasons for disliking music are unreasonable and unusual but I have no other methods of assessment. When writing a review of a piece of music I invariably feel like a man trying to transcribe a piece of music in words, trying to express changes in specific pitch and duration without any objective standard to use – writing something like ‘it is now getting higher than the last bit, but not as high as the bit that came before that’ isn’t going to help anyone play the piece of music. By the same token I think that that saying that you find a piece of songwriting to be ‘somewhat derivative’ will not provide any useful cues to someone who wishes to discover its quality for themselves.

Despite all this, however, I think that there is such a thing as good music and bad music - different people like different things, but there is a dim and vague universal standard of quality which would probably manifest if you polled people over whether an album is bad or good. The best reviewers seem to be able to tap into this. It makes me wonder if perhaps the closest thing we have to objective perception in this society is a sort of strange composite of a multitude of subjective ones – I mean one person sees something then that doesn’t count for much, he could be nuts, wrong or stupid, if more than one person sees it then it is considered more likely to have been so. I suppose the logic is that two unconnected people are unlikely to be crazy in the same way and so what their perceptions agree on must be truth.

Hmm. I should shut up now. I have no idea what I’m writing; I’m an English graduate veering dangerously into musical and philosophical territory, which is somewhere I don’t understand in the slightest.

-Ben

*which is very important if you are a creative writing student with gonzo pretentions

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Writing

I've been working on a covering letter for a job application today, which I'm sure will come as a shock to you, dear reader. Well it would if I had any readers. I was sitting around slaving over each sentence, writing and rewriting - trying to get the tone and style just right - trying to make myself seem like a better person than I actually am without deviating from the truth - and it occurred to me why my blog is generally crap.

It's not because I'm neccessarily a bad writer (although I dare say that might be a factor) it's just that writing isn't easy for me, good writing anyway. It tends to require much more torment and struggle than I like of an evening. I'm like a man who can shit gold bricks - it's a useful skill but the actual process is unpleasant enough to put you off the whole thing.

When it comes to my blog I just really can't bring myself to sit around agonising over every single sentence in the same way that I do when I'm writing under duress. I know that I should try harder, if nothing else because I think it'd probably make me feel good to know that I can write good work without being forced to do so, but I'm not really in the mood for it - it feels too much like work, which isn't something I ever intended this to be.

In addition to that I'm currently worried that prospective employers might be smart enough to google me and find this thing. Which would probably scupper any chance I have of getting a job when they see how much I whinge about nothing in particular.

-Ben

EDIT: Looking at this post after I've written it the other thing I notice is that i'm not generally a very verbose writer - a verbose talker, yes, but not a verbose writer. I spent my time at school expanding my vocabulary to the point where I could usually express myself fairly neatly and efficiently... and then spent most of my time at university desparately fluffing out my prose in attempt to meet the ever increasing miminum word requirements on my essays.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Incoherent Rantings

I've not written anything on here in a while, which makes me feel bad, although I'm really not sure if now is the best time to try and write something new. I'm still unemployed, but I'm making a point of being more constructive and active about this that I was before – you know, actually doing things with myself rather than just sitting around eating and wondering why I'm getting fat again. I'm now going to do something really stupid, which is try and write a piece making a point – this never works for me because I end up arguing round in circles and generally deciding, after giving it too much thought, that I'm too confused to make a stand for either side.

A few days ago (or perhaps weeks, I'm no good at placing things like this) a man, a father and husband, was beaten to death by a bunch of pissed up teenagers for confronting them about vandalizing his property. The public were shocked, I think, the papers said they were anyway – I wasn't shocked but I was sickened by it, a new low in the world of random street violence and a good reminder of why I avoid confrontations as much as I do, people get killed for no reason all the time and I have no desire to join them. When I die it's going to be doing something really stupid, don't get me wrong it'll still be a senseless death but at least it'll be funny in a sick sort of way when I'm crushed by a giant rubber elk or something.

As always with incidents such as this questions are asked, collective souls are searched and fingers are pointed in all directions. As always with these things, and with depressing inevitability, a bunch of really stupid suggestions and conclusions started getting thrown around pretty shortly after. Mostly by vultures seeking to use someone's death as a justification for pushing their own pre-existing agenda as a response.

The response that pissed me off this time wasn't the usual call for public hangings, floggings etc, that always arise from these incidents as society tries to convince itself that destroying some public examples will solve some broader problem of which they are symptoms.(no I'm not going to even speculate as to what the broader problem is, nor am I going to suggest that the people who did this ever deserve anything that anyone could conceivably want)

The public outburst that irritated me following all of this was a senior policeman, some big cheese, who called for the government to legislate to raise the drinking age to 21, to prevent attacks like this from being repeated – to stop the nation's curse of underage drinking.

This proposal seems to stem from either some sort of fundamental misunderstanding of the situation or some kind of staggering naivety about the circumstances by which underage drinkers come by booze. I should know about this, I've done my fair share of underage drinking myself, the vast majority of the time i didn't manage to get served by hoodwinking the staff; I got booze either by appearing to be mature enough that the seller figured I wouldn't cause trouble or by going to places where the retailer really didn't care one way or the other as long as I paid in cash. If the drinking age were raised it would make no difference to either of these situations – if they don't care then they don't care, and if suitability is based on the barman's discretion then that is a set of personal criteria based on experience, which exists independent to whatever the legal age might be.

What raising the drinking age to 21 will do will be to create a culture of underage, illegal drinking that is far more widespread and culturally accepted than what we have now. Students will spend their entire time at university drinking cheap cider in parks and houses – which will, in Canterbury at least, probably put half the pubs in town out of business and create much more friction between the student community and the local populace. And in amongst this mass of people secretively bingeing their faces off it'll be much harder for the police to locate the psychotic 14 year old pissed off his tits and spoiling for a fight with whatever moves first.

-Ben

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Fritz Joubert Duquesne

Wiki Page

The man lived an interesting life - even if half of this stuff is wild self promoting fabrication, the other half is definitely enough to qualify him for the status of 'international man of mystery'