In September 2001 when Australian band Gerling released their second album, When Young Terrorists Chase the Sun, they would have had no way of knowing that their album’s title would join that unhappy bunch of songs, albums and more that had to be tweaked somewhat by the censors as a result of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
In Britain and Japan, amongst others, Gerling’s album became, simply, Headzcleaner, joining the ranks of The Strokes, Jimmy Eat World, Wilco, and loads more in the long list of altered titles as a result of the attacks.
I’m not going to dwell too much on the whys and wherefores of this name-change; it is what it is. But it’s a fantastic album and even after all these years I still find tiny details in this record that I hadn’t spotted before. I personally discovered Gerling in the mid-2000s, giving me a number of albums and EPs to delve into, each with its own vibe.
Here’s a track you can stick on while you read the rest of this post:
But it’s not just the layers and samples and snippets the band put to use all over this ambitious album, but the artwork, too. When I was first mining their back catalogue I stumbled across the fact that Headzcleaner and Terrorists were not different albums, despite having different titles and different front covers.
A quick glance at the almost-identical tracklisting confirmed they were basically the same album, but I still grabbed secondhand copies of both because by that point I’d become something of a Gerling collector. I seem to specialise in obsessing over niche bands with deep back catalogues. Gives me something to fill the shelves with.
I recently came back to these albums / this album, and wanted to try and unpick any other differences beyond the cover and the title. The tracklisting, as I say, is slightly different between the two: track 3, which on Terrorists is named High Jackers Manual becomes, on Headzcleaner, simply The Manual. Doubly unlucky for Gerling to put out an album in September 2001 with references not just to terrorists, but also to high jacking. Well played, lads.
I knew from listening to that song that the lyrics themselves contain a brief shout of ‘high jackers!’ and I wondered if the actual audio of the album had also been edited – but no.
(I gave the songs a brief listen before realising computers are much better at this than me. I used a program called DeltaWave to systematically compare the audio waveforms of the two songs and highlight any differences, but there were none.)
I suspect that where the budget for releasing this album extended to a hasty change of title and cover art, editing the audio would have been a step too far, and beyond what the powers-that-be would have required anyway. This was never going to be a chart-bothering record in the UK and elsewhere, so there wouldn’t have been much point in such an amount of work.
Anyway, I recently pored over the CDs’ inlay booklets for the first time in ages and noted more differences than I had remembered there being, and it is just interesting enough to me that I figure it might be worth posting on my blog about it, too. Plus, the artwork is just cool enough to take a quick look at anyway.
Herewith each element of the album’s artwork, compared side-by-side. I was surprised that the internal pages of the inlay booklets were different in both releases aside from one spread, and that the very verbose credits had, if not been re-typed, had certainly been re-set when being pasted in.
The credits for the artwork go to The Deli Brothers, and layout to Kelsey Simon of Festival Mushroom Records.
(In the following, Headzcleaner is at the top, and Terrorists at the bottom.)
So there you have it: the tale of the two versions of Gerling’s When Young Terrorists Chase The Sun, which became Headzcleaner in some territories. That’s what you come to this blog for, right? We don’t really think about album artwork any more, do we? Not beyond a tiny 600×600 JPEG anyway. So it’s nice to flip through a booklet as colourful and creative as the music on the album itself.
Choose your fighter: young terrorists attack, or get up and get activated.
Perhaps it was the hashtags or maybe it was just Sam’s infectious enthusiasm, but primarily I think it’s an acknowledgement that my running form of late has been below the level I would hope to be at during the summer months.
So a kick up the bum it is: #31DaysOfRunning / #31DOR and I am not planning to spam all my socials with daily updates, but I will be interested to see how this consistent effort will affect me. And you can follow along on Strava if you’re interested. I’m also on Garmin Connect* but I’ve seemingly only ever found one friend who uses that?
Last summer I got into the habit of running nearly every day, and actually managed to fit in two runs for a number of days. As usual I jump into this stuff with no agenda, goal, or medical advice. I expect to feel pretty tired by the end of it, but I also hope to see an uplift in my general fitness, and perhaps more strength in my leg muscles.
The main idea, really, is to get into the habit of running every day. Simple enough, but means that your mindset is not ‘shall I go for a run later?’ but ‘when shall I run today?’
* More as a reminder to myself, but potentially helpful to others: For the second time in about 12 months, my Garmin Forerunner 35 managed to corrupt a .FIT file so I could see some of the basic stats of a run but could not sync it. You can plug the device into a computer and get the .FIT file off the watch, but I’ve struggled both times to find a simple fix for the file – until this time, when I found http://garmin.stevegordon.co.uk/ which fixed it perfectly.
It seems like the device records a few timestamps which are before or after the previous/next ones, and so the file gets corrupted despite still having rich data for all other timestamps. It would be good if Garmin could ingest that data, ignore say +- 5% ‘bad’ data, and calculate the route on the good data.
I led a walking tour this week for work.
I chose the subject of life on Hampstead Garden Suburb the first and second world wars, and drew upon eyewitness accounts in the form of letters, diaries and memoirs to try and paint a realistic picture.
As usual with these events I let the deadline guide me, meaning that the weeks leading up to the walk were a steady increase in anxiety and mental anguish which was either a background annoyance or genuine terror during which my brain tries to invent ways to get out of having to do it.
The walk went fine, of course. It was a well-organised event (no thanks to me!) and the audience were polite and interested, and they responded well to my plea for them to chip in with their own contributions.
What really led to my anxiety wasn’t the research or the speaking as such but the physicality of leading a walking tour. It’s hard to come up with a route that allows a talk to be threaded around it. And as someone who finds this stuff quite difficult, standing up in front of a group of people and basically talking and leading them around for more than an hour is… pretty far outside my comfort zone.
Anyway – it went fine, and I’m pretty proud of myself.
As a continuation, I’m trying to right the wrongs of me never having learned about the wars in school and have been reading some elementary level stuff on WW2, with WW1 to follow. (I’ve also read with interest the monthly issues of some British amateur radio magazines in the run-up to September 1939 as the clouds of war close in and make their presence felt throughout the editorial. Collecting the ‘final’ issues of magazines and other periodicals that suspended their activities during the war would be a pretty fascinating subject.
I still use my Chromebook regularly – an Asus C223 (codename BABYMEGA*) – which is cheap and nasty but works well enough. I’d already tried running the built-in Linux environment on the device, which was occasionally helpful for tinkering with Linux apps (Audacity and VLC, for example), or for trying out command line…commands… for stuff like a full website site-rip and diagnosing high-CPU processes. Plus it’s just always been kinda cool to play with the terminal.
* that’s honestly the official codename for this device
I read with interest that beyond this, you can actually run full Linux distros on Chromebooks, and although I do actually kind of enjoy the ‘limitations’ of the Chrome OS, I still wanted to give Linux proper a go, to see how it would fare on this very budget, low-spec machine.
I got Gallium OS installed without too much issue – the process involves a bit of wiping the device’s firmware, and sticking it into developer mode, but as with all these things there are plenty of tutorials that tell you exactly what to do, and forum threads where people who are facing the same issues as you do get answers.
Gallium ran nicely, and it was briefly novel to see a new, and full-featured, OS running on the Chromebook. However, going into the process I had seen that two things were listed as ‘issues’ with my hardware: internal sound, and suspend. The first means that built-in sound simply doesn’t work – though it does via Bluetooth or USB devices. And suspend means the ‘sleep’ function when you shut the Chromebook lid.
Both of these are basically deal breakers for me. This cheap laptop has surprisingly decent speakers built in, and I’ve occasionally used it to watch stuff in bed or even listen to music as I work.
And suspend is just too important a feature for a device like this. I basically never reboot this device and it lives in ‘sleep’ or suspend mode, and is always instantly ready whenever I need to use it. (The battery life is fantastic both in use and when suspended.)
So Gallium OS is a no-go on the Asus C223. But it scratched an itch; I used to try installing and dual-booting Linux distros on old computers going back to the early 2000s. It amuses me that even in 2021, the issues I faced were: uncertain compatibility with specific hardware, and still not being able to type, by eye, CLI commands from website tutorials, and then finding it works perfectly when copied and pasted. Plus ça change, etc.
SPORTS: been watching a lot of it.
Inevitably got into the football just like I tend to with international competitions. The cycling has been great so far: it took me a few days into the Tour de France to really grok that this was really the Tour de France, but it already feels like a classic. I’m delighted to see Mark Cavendish’s renaissance. Less delighted by the number of crashes early on, but it has made for an interesting shake-up of the general classification.
Growing a bunch of things in the ‘garden’. Tomatoes, chillis, dahlias, and some cute little flowers that I recently made a cutting of and brought into the house to live in a glass of water for more than a week. Cut flowers: the next big thing?
Vaguely related: the swifts on our street are just fantastic, especially in the decent weather. Hearing their shrieking cries around the clock is just endlessly lovely, knowing that they’re above the roofs just swooping around having a merry old time (I assume).
I had the bright idea recently that WordPress (et al) could come up with a tool that hashes the contents of your unposted drafts and checks SEO hits for those keywords, and it could inform a user that, hey, that post in your drafts folder could actually be popular or interesting to people – how about finishing it and publishing it?
This thought came about pretty much because on the occasion of the Biffy Clyro album The Vertigo of Bliss turning eighteen years old recently (and me having just turned thirty-six), I proceeded to drink lots of coffee, listen to the album, and punch out about three thousand words and memories.
As the coffee wore off, I became entirely convinced that no-one would care about the post, and I just… stopped. And now it’s just in the pile of drafts that live forever in my WordPress install.
I finished off a roll of black and white Ilford XP2 in my Minolta Hi-Matic 7s recently, and sent it off to Take It Easy Lab in Leeds to be developed and scanned. And I’m thrilled with the results.
First of all, Take It Easy turned it around in about two days – I posted it earlier this week and had the scans midway through Thursday. Secondly the scans look great. I opted for the mid-range quality level – the lowest is decent enough for social media, and the best is more for large prints. I had a discount code to use, so I gave the middle option a go and they are a great size.
It all means I am now keener than ever to stick the next roll in – and this time it’s colour. I haven’t shot colour film in years. And already I can’t wait to get the scans back from Take It Easy!
On a related photographic note, I may write more about this in a dedicated post but: I didn’t realise how versatile Canon’s Picture Styles could be. They’re the ‘filters’ built in to the camera, and you can set some user-defined ones too. But in the camera menu, the modifications you can make are quite basic, and you can’t do a whole lot.
I only just realised that there’s some free Canon software called Picture Style Editor which lets you do just that, and tweak to a pretty fine degree things like tone curves, and individual colours etc.
Until now I had no idea you could do this, and I wasn’t able to find a plethora of information about this online – expected thousands of YouTube tutorials like you get for Lightroom – so maybe it isn’t well used? Or perhaps it has limitations I haven’t yet uncovered and so not many people bother with it.
The interface is pretty intuitive and I actually loaded up Lightroom in the background and found an image I’d already edited, and was able to copy by eye the settings I’d used into the Picture Style Editor interface. This has given me a nice, heavy, over saturated and contrasty style which I quite enjoy.
The net result is being able to save to the camera some styles that mimic the kind of edits I like to make afterwards – and that means I can now shoot with them as previews in-camera. This has a huge impact on how I ‘see’ the photo I’m about to take, and it’s exciting to have a new way of shooting which helps me better visualise the end result. The other bonus is if shooting in RAW+JPEG then I already have a JPEG ready to share while out and about, but still have a RAW file to tweak later if preferred.
We started walking the Thames Path, a 180-odd mile walk, back in October last year. Travel was just about okay – an island between lockdowns – even if it still felt a bit edgy at times. We did the first four days’ worth of the walk in one chunk as it is the more remote part of the walk and travel to and from the Path itself is not easy. This meant we were lucky enough to stay at a number of nice places – both the towns/villages and the accommodations themselves.
With this chunk out of the way, and having made it as far as Oxford, we knew that later sections would be much more accessible, enabling us to tackle it in day-long stages.
Returning to Oxford nearly eight months after ending our last section of the Thames Path had that uncanny feeling of it being a totally alien place and yet feeling like it was just yesterday that we left.
We’ve done a few long distance walks before, where we travel to Point A, walk to Point B, then travel home, and then some time later return to Point B to walk on to Point C. This process creates a slightly strange disjointedness – because each journey to and from is different, and yet it is to the same places visited previously. So it was with our return to Oxford and the usual short walk from the station to the last point where we left the main Thames Path last time, so as to create a continuous unbroken walk. Fortunately – and particularly with this walk following a river – this meant the nearest bridge, and a ‘proper’ start and finish line.
The other uncanny thing about starting a walk like this at Oxford is knowing that the ensuing walk would shortly become very remote and rural despite starting at a busy railway station. But first we had some interesting buildings – wharves and warehouses – to pass, which highlighted previous(?) industries along the riverside.
The next lot of buildings which we found alongside the river were of a very different nature – boathouses and rowing clubhouses as far as the eye could see. We also inevitably saw a number of rowers, scullers and canoeists on this stretch, bringing a brief flurry of energy and speed to an otherwise sleepy section of the river. This also served to highlight my deep lack of knowledge when it comes to the different names for people on boats as I grasped for the right names and M just looked on, exasperated, she having done rowing on the Thames in uni.
Case in point, the first draft of this post used the spelling ‘skullers’ rather than scullers.
From this point on, the riverside was very quiet, and we were very much in bucolic countryside on a stunning day. At many points the air was thick with blossom, and the recent wet weather throughout May followed by the warm sunshine had led to a real flourish of new growth across the board.
We paused for a breather at a point just after the impressive Radley College boathouse and noticed damsel flies alighting on the surrounding vegetation, and a number of black-headed gulls swooping fast and low just above the surface of the water, no doubt scooping up whatever tiny flying creatures were enjoying the humid weather. Possibly the aforementioned damsel flies.
I like birds like black-headed gulls: you look at this random bird and think to yourself “I don’t know what that bird is called, but if I had to rename it, I’d say it sure looks like a black headed gull. I’ll google it. Oh. It is a ‘black-headed gull’. Turns out.”
Later, we passed under the Culham railway Bridge, noting that this was not particularly far north of our day’s destination of Culham railway station, but the map showed us we had a large curve of river to follow before we would end up there. This was fine by us on two fronts: first, it was a truly glorious day and to be out and about and we were happy for the walk to continue as long as it desired to. And secondly, this loop of river took us through beautiful Abingdon – or Abingdon-on-Thames, to give it the proper name we saw adorning a number of signs. Apparently it was known simply as Abingdon between 1974 and 2012, and my only prior knowledge of the town was by its proximity to Truck Festival which I attended a few times in the mid-2000s, and which took place in a field near Steventon, off the Abingdon road.
Abingdon-on-Thames could not possibly have looked more glorious than it did this sunny afternoon. Having crossed the roaring Abingdon weir, and passed adjacent Abingdon Lock, we could see and hear the Saturday afternoon crowds filling Abbey Meadows. From here the river curves slightly towards an attractive stone bridge which spans two channels, and gives access to what is essentially an island in the Thames, home to some pretty parkland, the Nag’s Head pub, a boat hire company, and Annie’s at the Boathouse, a nice cafe that served us exquisite ice creams which we devoured in the sun overlooking the river.
After Cricklade and Lechlade, Abingdon-on-Thames is yet another pretty little place spanning the river, with a stone bridge and church coming into view as you approach. I savour these milestones along the river towards London and look forward to them slowly evolving as we continue along the Thames Path.
The remainder of our day’s walk led us further around this curve in the river, to a point where we left the Thames briefly, instead walking along a different section of waterway named Culham Cut. Along this stretch we noticed the curious presence of what must be permanent boat moorings – at that time sans boat – where the vegetation had been strimmed back neatly, forming a small path between the edges of fields and the river itself.
At Culham Lock, we turned away from the Cut, and headed ‘in-land’ away from the river, passing the small village of Culham itself, and onwards towards the railway station. This latter part was, as is often unfortunately the case, the least elegant and least enjoyable part of the walk: it took us up to the main road out of Culham and a long, hot stretch of pavement next to a fast road. Thankfully, as this is a well-used route to the station for the nearby European School and various scientific buildings, the road has a decent shared bike/footpath running alongside. It’s just a bit close to the fast traffic and you wish there was an alternative path through the adjacent lower-lying fields. The worst part is we will have to retrace our steps along a couple of KMs of this road when we next return to Culham to continue the walk. But we will have another lovely section of riverside walking to look forward to, and we will press on.
The good news, if you find yourself waiting for a train at the pretty but isolated Culham station, is that there is a perfectly serviceable pub directly alongside, and if visiting in good weather, their beer garden is pretty and extensive. I couldn’t help but want to improve their signage/branding, but a pub’s a pub if it serves a cold pint of beer or cider at the end of a long walk.
I hope it’s not another eight months before our next section of the Thames Path.
May is New Zealand Music Month and it’s a good time to shine the spotlight on bands, stories and projects from Aotearoa New Zealand.
Admittedly, my obsessive following of NZ music has dwindled in recent years, and my interests are atrophying into pure nostalgia rather than keeping my finger on the pulse of new music. That being said, with the advent of Bandcamp Fridays last year, I did a bit more research (read: listening to the 95bFM Top Ten) which led to some purchases of some pretty bleeding edge stuff.
But it paints a certain picture where my only real acknowledgement of NZ Music Month this year has been via some excellent blog posts from the National Library of New Zealand, and which themselves dealt primarily with the preservation and digitisation of the Flying Nun Records archive. But what a fascinating series of posts they are.
The first post was Flying Nun in the spotlight, which deals with the photographing of the physical objects of the Flying Nun Records collection.
The post makes it clear why such a careful record is required for what is not just a musical archive but a physical and visual one, too. But it goes beyond the distinctive artwork and tour posters the indie label became known for: there is a ton of meta art and information embedded in the collection’s artefacts that help flesh out the story even further.
Objects such as: recording and engineering notes handwritten on master tape sleeves and letters to the pressing plants; Chris Knox doodles everywhere; and extra session information jotted down on scraps of paper that somehow survived the various moves the archive has been subjected to over the years.
It also reveals the great breadth of formats the archive encompasses, not just of recording media, but the extra documents, boxes and fluff that goes with it. It’s also led to some clever innovations in the equipment they have brought in to enable them to systematically photograph the collection as carefully as possible. (The team photo at the bottom of that post is a delight.)
The second post is Flying Nun in the studio, and it talks about Nick Guy’s clinical approach to digitising the recordings and preserving the media on which they live – and hopefully will continue to live for as long as possible.
Degradation of these media is inevitable, and the goal is to try and create the best digital copy of these recordings – whether demos, live recordings, pressing masters, or multitrack masters – so that they can be remastered or analysed and studied in future, and possibly even be improved by future processing techniques.
But this digitisation of the sound itself isn’t even as ‘simple’ as that might sound – the raw audio on those tapes is not all created equally, and the blog post goes into some really interesting detail about the different ways audio can be recorded to different tape stocks, at different speeds, and with different processing or noise reduction techniques applied.
And then you get to the knotty problem of finding reliable equipment to play this stuff back on, while praying that the tape itself survives one more playback having been sat spooled up in a cupboard for decades. Tapes often need to be ‘baked’ to make them more tolerant of being woken from their slumber after all this time.
It all creates quite the headache for Nick Guy and his team, but they are doing sterling work. It’s so cool knowing that this work is taking place, and it’s great to be able to read about the world-class processes and techniques in use here – not to mention the amazing actual documents and recordings they are working with.
The final(?) post in a trio from the National Library of NZ that has been such a eye-opener this NZ Music Month is Download Now… Free!: “Introducing a new born-digital collection that includes music production files and uses digital audio workstation software, which is a first for the Library.”
Years ago I remember learning that, via the Rockband/Guitar Hero videogames, the multi-track masters of some classic rock songs are either lost or no longer usable for such multi-stemmed dissection for future use.
This blew my mind, but only because I had up till that point naively assumed that all recording sessions were carried out the same way, that the masters were preserved and indexed carefully at the time, and that to remaster those old multitracks (or indeed to use them for a videogame genre that wasn’t even dreamt of when the sessions took place) would simply be a case of calling up the label and requesting them. In my mind this also, of course, applied to all sessions, even those done by tiny indie labels on tiny budgets, for songs that later went on to become classics. What a silly notion!
When you spend more than a minute or two imagining a real-world case study of what would actually be involved in that process, and all the various people and physical items and locations and contracts and so on involved… you begin to realise how fragile that entire ecosystem is, and how it’s frankly miraculous that such retrospective projects are even possible.
And so imagine how my mind verily exploded this morning reading the above post, which discusses not the preservation of analogue multi-track master tapes, but digital-native music: stuff created using Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) using plugins, samples, MIDI and so on.
We’re not simply talking about digital multi-tracked WAV file stems, but purely electronic instructions interpreted by a vast panoply of different software and plugins, each carefully cobbled together at the time of the session, and most likely not carefully documented once the finished product is exported as, at best, a multi-stemmed audio file, but, more likely, a mixed-down stereo master for distribution.
Crumbs. What a headache.
The above third post will appeal to you if this tangle of new issues sounds interesting to you, and it also features Luke Rowell aka Disasteradio’s collaboration with the National Library of NZ on this pioneering project including making available for free remixing and research of his own music projects under a Creative Commons licence.
Check out Disasteradio’s modern classic Gravy Rainbow below, and then have a delve into this new collection if it’s your cuppa tea.
The National Library of New Zealand have been smashing stuff like this out of the park for years. Not just the processes and projects they routinely work on, but the sharing of knowledge and best practices that can be carried forward by others around the world. And making it all sound so vibrant and interesting and fun.
Runblings, 19 May 2021 [MP3]
Amersham, UK | Moto G7 Power | 30 May 2020 | 18m08s
A few days ago I went for a run in Amersham, following the route of my old school sponsored walk. It was a step back in time for me, retracing a route I haven’t walked in full for probably twenty five years, and even more familiar bits of it I haven’t done for a decade or more.
What prompted me to run it was knowing that the distance was something like 9km – a distance I can comfortably run – and that I now have decent trail running shoes, which would suit the kind of terrain of the route (particularly after rain).
I had a go at recording myself narrating my own progress around the course, and I should say that this is heavily inspired by the lovely Radio 4 show Ramblings* with Clare Balding. Clare obviously walks with another person and it’s more of an interview, where my attempt is just me talking to myself. But perhaps it is of interest?
* hence the stupid name of this post
I recorded it using a budget Android handset, rather than my Tascam DR-05, which is a much higher quality device, records in stereo, and has a decent wind shield. So, the quality of the audio of the above is relatively poor – but I think it is listenable. And much like the old adage that ‘the best camera is the one you have with you at the time’, so it goes with audio devices too.
I’d like to do more of these sorts of things in future. Possibly not while running, but a nice narrated walk would be fun I think, with more focus on incorporating field recordings and general ambience. A kind of ‘experience this place with me’ sort of recording.