Friday, 22 February 2008

How To Be Free

Reading a wonderful book at the moment, "How to be Free" by Tom Hodgkinson, about casting of the shackles we didn't even know were there. It is not a self-help book...of sorts...though the concept is that way inclined. It follows the notions of sustainability and finding happiness in life through similar principles. Anyway, here's an excerpt i've just read on the bus, regarding the bondage of time-keeping:

"The automobile, for example, saves no time in the long run. Ivan Illinch once calculated that if you add up all the time you spend on a car, including the trips to the garage and the time spent earning the money to buy the fuel and maintain the vehicle, and divide by the number of miles you travel, then your average speed is 5mph. You would be faster on a bicycle. Speed, paradoxically, eats up our free time."


Monday, 11 February 2008

Not So Smug Anymore

Christmas past, i returned to my mother's house in Portsmouth. A refreshing experience as usual, for it brings one closer to the reality of the nation and its citizens. Its all too easy to live in London and feel that this is how the people of England live. It certainly isn't, as i'm well theory, though not in practice.

After Christmas dinner, i went out with my mother and step-father for a walk to the seafront and back. On this walk, the usual disgust for road vehicles surged in me, enough to bring it up in conversation. As oil had just reached a record high, about $100 per barrel at the time, i asked them how much the price of fuel would have to rise by before they'd start changing the way they use their car. At the time it was about £1.10 a litre for petrol. Would £2 make a difference? How about £3?

I was asking them this, trying to keep the inner smug grin well off their radar, and they answer with the utmost courteousness. "Maybe, over £2 we would start to change our behaviour...but to be honest, we only use the car to go the gym and to get to work, and to see your nan...everything else is within walking distance. I suppose we could use a bicycle to make most of those journeys...". And of course, one wouldn't need to go to the gym if one was cycling, haw haw haw.

Then my step father asked me, innocently enough, "How much would it take for the price of beer to rise before you started to change your drinking habits?". Damn! I hadn't thought of that! Humble pie thrown in my face. See how easy it is for a Londoner to think their way of life is progressive and normal? Well, i don't drive...because i live in London...its not necessary under any individual circumstances. The rest of the country short...isn't like London.

I drink a lot...because i socialise a lot, and beer is an integral part of it. Can i go out and not drink? Well, if needs must, then yes of course...just like my parents, they could stop driving and take the bicycle...but they're unlikely to do so until petrol rises to £3 a litre. I won't curtail my drinking until it reaches £5 a pint. In fact...i'll probably act in more devious ways...buying cans from off-licenses and topping it up in the toilets! Argh. Lets hope i have some sense and instead, direct all my social meetings to Sam Smith's beers and spirits, made in Tadcaster. Possibly the most socially responsible night of debauchery one could have in London. Not including Power Down of course! Or even better, give up drink altogether! Countless bad purchases have been made in the heady thrill of the night...or in the dull ache of the morning after. "Fuck it" is the usual sentiment. Embarrassing, to say the least.

The point of all this? Easy to be a smug bastard living an ecotarian life in the capital. Still, see blog entitled "Knee Jerk Reaction" for justification. It ain't easy.

Knee Jerk Reactions

Being ecotarian isn't easy. I'm sure vegetarians, pescatarians and vegans think they have it hard. But let me tell you, the turmoil they go through whilst making purchases is nothing compared with that of a poor ecotarian such as myself. The term "ecotarian" seems to fit with the other groups of self denialists. I define "ecotarianism" as abstaining (or trying to) from products that harm the environment by means of unsustainable manufacturing. And it doesn't have to be solely about food, in fact...every single thing one consumes, including services.

With a vegetarian, all they have to do is cut out meat from their diet. Decision: meat, or not meat. Technically, they could eat GM vegetables...they could eat vegetables that were grown using intensive farming practices and covered in a myriad of petrochemicals...and they would still be able to claim they were a vegetarian.

An ecotarian on the other hand, must weigh up an infinite amount of variables. Lets take the purchasing of a carrot as an example. Is the carrot organic? Locally sourced? Are you buying it from a huge multinational corporation (Tescos)? How far have you travelled especially to buy this carrot? These may seem like easy decisions to make, but its hard to get them all aligned. Should i be giving Tesco's any money at all? Corner shops arn't in the habit of selling anything remotely organic. Often, i throw my hands up in despair, choose the path of least resistance, and justify it later.

Terrible isn't it? And yet the most important aspect of ecotarianism is the will to change. Regardless of the decision one has just made, it is the fact that one had those decisions to make. The ecotarian has entered a new set of ethics into their decision making. With time and experience, it will get easier.

And what thanks do we get for all this inner turmoil? Certainly no respect whatsoever...not that that's the reason we take on this new lifestyle...or is it?! (That deserves its own discussion!) Still, the knee jerk reaction ecotarians face daily when in conversation with a "normal" citizen, is of scorn for apparent blatant hypocrisy. For example, maybe i might mention in the pub something about my compost heap...and some smart alec will cheekily denounce me as a hypocrite because i'm sat there with a pint of non-organic, mass produced lager that came from Ireland...along with my critic of course. As if there was no difference between me, Eva Peron, Idi Amin, Hitler, or Chris Martin.

If you have just become an ecotarian, stay calm, shrug it off. Do not under any circumstances retaliate in a torrent of self righteous abuse. Lead by example, and improve your daily processes by using the torment as a positive catalyst. None of us are doing enough, thats certain. Still, some of us are doing something. So be glad that you're on the path to atonement, if nothing else.

Howling Feedback: A Thing of The Past

I'm sure there is not one soul on this planet that finds deafening and screeching feedback pleasing to the ear. And yet, most of us involved in the bowels of the music industry, playing small, pokey or intimate venues, have to with-stand this blood curdling noise most times we venture to play live.

I am here to tell you, promoter, sound engineer, musician, doesn't have to be this way! Yes, i am a musician, though do not jump to conclusions. A musician telling an engineer how to do his job...blasphemy! And i would agree with you in most cases. However, we're all on the same side here: anti feedback. So, please indulge me for a moment, and take note of the following information that will save all of us, a hell of a lot of pain.

Feedback is an expression of a room's dimensions. One may note that not all feedback has the same frequency...this is because the dimensions of the room, determine which frequencies are amplified over the others. The way to combat feedback is to "tune" the room before any sound check commences...before any musician, bar steward, cleaner...anyone, enters the venue.

To tune the room, you will need a graphic equaliser inserted somewhere in the signal flow of the PA. Third Octave graphic equalisers are the best, because they have many frequencies with which you can boost or cut (they increment in third octaves from 20hz to 20khz). Even the most basic of PA's have some sort of graphic equaliser on them. Here is what you do with it:

1. Turn all the gain pots, eq, and master fader right down. Make sure the graphic eq is at zero on every frequency.

2. Plug a mic into a channel, put on a mic stand, place directly infront of a speaker, 1 metre back from it.

3. Now for the dangerous part! Set the gain on the channel the mic is plugged into, to about 3/4s. Now turn up the master fader very slowly. When you start to hear a bit of feedback, identify using your ears and brain what frequency the feedback is...this comes from experience. Pull down the frequency on the graphic eq until the feedback disappears. If you can't work out what the frequency is, try every one until the feedback abates.

4. Start to bring the master fader up until you hear feedback again. Identify the frequency and cut on the graphic eq.

5. Do this until the fader has reached maximum. The room will now be "tuned". The mic was pointed directly at the speaker because it was an extreme scenario. When you place the mic where you intend it to be onstage, it will be even less likely to feedback now. You will now be able to turn the PA up to its maximum volume without it feeding back. Efficiency!

Some individual EQing on each channel will affect your adjustments to the graphic eq, so this should be done reservedly. For example, if an instrument needs a little boost in the top end...think in the negative...roll off some bottom end, and turn the channel up...much safer!

If you have monitors, you will need to do something similar with them, preferably with a separate graphic equaliser.

Please spread the word that feedback does not have to be an essential part of live music. And please, do not take this as some self righteous rant against engineers...we're all pseudo sound engineers at some point of our only intention is to pass on some information that will save a few hairs on our cochleas.