It’s been quiet…

… although surely you know by now, it’s quiet because it’s been so DAMN BUSY ROUND HERE.

There is a Canadian mini-tour coming up, a remnant of a much larger plan chopped up into digestible pieces. Tours such as this are under discussion for months and not a word can be said until the plane tickets are paid for. So we’ve know about it for a long time, kept quiet – and there are more things on their way.

In June we will visit Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton. Please come.

vancouver:
https://www.facebook.com/events/455113241487800/   

montreal:
https://www.facebook.com/events/714583268723516/

toronto:
https://www.facebook.com/events/1072122906225417/         

edmonton:
https://www.facebook.com/events/1316977605047734/

calgary:
https://www.facebook.com/events/1153706898088073/

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Another live date came very unexpectedly – Severed Heads have been added to a package of younger bands playing at the Sydney Opera House. It’s unexpected but a welcome boost, we just hope that we don’t have to have too much contact with Vivid, who have never been a good friend to us. Please come.

http://vividlive.sydneyoperahouse.com/home/repressed-records-15th/

You’ll notice that often the links lead back to Facebook and I apologise for this. I’ve made a firm decision to avoid Facebook as much as possible, but I can’t break the rules for everyone. As much as time permits I’ll be posting here and not on The Great Abyss.

Meanwhile there’s work on new videos for the shows, and on 360º sound and video pieces, both for the band and long term business aspirations. The 360º has to be hosted by Facebook I’m afraid, as they are a major player in the whole VR business. Changed my mind. Facebook is wasting my time with free but messed up technology.

Personally I’m back teaching at university a bit but not getting involved in the management side of things which is just too painful if you have strong hopes and ideas about education. And the house now has two occupants – the Man Cave has become a bit more lady like. So I hope you can forgive the pauses in communication!

Yes I know, the Euro Tour story is late. I know.

Europe Endless Part 4.

Sunday.

Rescue came in the form of Peter, our Belgian host in both 2005 and 2011. He was ferrying Crash Course In Science about in a van with room for two more, and first stop was our pop art hotel room, oblivion and eventually eggs. This was Stewart’s first sleep since New York and I imagine you could have held a sousaphone party next to his head with no response.

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A mere drive around the block to play Antwerp. On the trip we chatted with CCIS about the dying fun fairs in Sydney, Santa Cruz and New York. Our destination and default home from home – the Hotel Ibis at the train station, also used as a training ground for aspiring astronauts.

Space Station Ibis

Space Station Ibis

Antwerp has been kind to us over the years. Where Amsterdam has shown no interest, Antwerp has always been willing to fly us up the gravity well for a show or two. I’m not able to explain how two cities so near-by can have such different cultures, perhaps its simply the New York effect, where you have to constantly remind them that you exist. The venue was a new one and the Sunday audience was ‘discerning’ in the Spinal Tap sense – the only audience of the sort I expected to meet – male listeners from the old days – whereas most other audiences were unexpectedly diverse. Probably the only troops willing to deploy on a cold Sunday.

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Monday.

From Antwerp we drove on to Brussels. For Australians and Americans the distance is disturbingly small, as if a trip cross town. Brussels airport has recently been attacked with a car bomb and is currently encased in concrete and men fondling their machine guns. Belgium was the only place we passed through where the population seemed divided into cultural enclaves – probably true of France as well, but our visit there was too limited to see the evidence. It didn’t seem as if recent arrivals had integrated and one wonders what the future is for Belgium’s multi-culture.

When I book flights I book afternoons, none of this 4AM rubbish. The advantage is to sleep, the disadvantage is in airport lounges. We got to know Brussels Airport pretty well. In keeping with the whole region being HO scale the international plane to Bristol was about the size that does hops in regional NSW.

All of Europe in one photo

All of Europe in one photo

But it was at Bristol I first realised my error in scheduling entry to the UK three times. Europe is essentially laid back about people coming and going. The UK, like the USA and Australia, is paranoid as all hell. Each time we’d arrive in the UK they’d start up a fuss and bother like a child with toothache and we’d have to pull out names, dates and bits of paper to calm them down. (For the record the chances of me staying and working in the UK is the square root of fuck all, thank you.)

Outside the airport the cold English rain piddled on our heads as we found that no taxis would be available for 45 minutes, if that. The bus struggled through a traffic jam more suited for Los Angeles, at times by rolling over the top of cars (as much as you could work out from staring out the windows) and we got out at the wrong spot as everything was called something like Angel And Parsnips or Lady Fogbottom’s Hallway or Winking Nun Way. A second attempt by taxi inched (not centimetered) through the morass to our anxious host.

Jolly Olde Englande

Jolly Olde Englande

Ambisonics: the whys and wherefores

The why: along with 360 video comes 360 sound. Ambisonic, rather than surround, as it has height as well as direction – it is a sphere. Not much point unless you have speakers above and below your head – unlikely to become popular in the home on that account. More likely it will be consumed on headphones as a binaural image – there are many technical problems with that, to which I’ll return.

In VR the sound image should track/rotate with the visual image. Hasn’t been a concern until VR goggles came back into style – speakers remain fixed as your head turns, but now the image has to compensate for head movements. Some artistic issues here about composing for speakers versus phones – obviously it’s easier to just compose the one image (e.g. strings always to your front right) than to have it rotate around your head.

As with all media there’s a confused plethora of formats.

Spherical Harmonics deg3.png
By Dr Franz Zotter <zotter@iem.at> – Dr Franz Zotter <zotter@iem.at>, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Orders: the number of divisions into which the sphere is cut. More divisions means more precision – you get better imaging if you add ‘higher’ order subdivisions. Each division needs its own sound channel.

  • 0 order – mono – requires one channel
  • 1st order – front-back, left-right, up-down – requires a total of four channels
  • 2nd order – in between the 1st order – requires nine
  • 3rd order – in between the 2nd order – requires a total 16 channels

… and so on

Most DAWs cannot handle more than 5.1. on a track: Cubase, Logic no good. Reaper, Premiere are good. Vegas?

The next problem is how these channels are arranged and of course different people have mucked this up. It means that you have to choose one version and stick with it, or spend your life translating.

Traditional B Format: a 1st order, four channel version that’s a standard. W+XYZ, where W is the signal strength and XYZ are a right handed coordinate system. This becomes complex as you start adding orders.

Furse-Malham continues to add right handed coordinates:

W
YZX
VTRSU

ACN is a cleaner format that numbers them by a sorting formula, therefore is extensible:

0
123
45678

The next problem is normalisation – choose from maxN, where each signal is 0-1 or SN3D, where is below the volume of the mono signal, or N3D, which is universally louder.

Common Versions and implementations.

UHJ is a horizontal only muxed version of B Format. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambisonic_UHJ_format

YouTube uses 1st order, ACN, SN3D and is based on AmbiX. This tends to indicate it will become the standard. https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/6395969

The Google tool is Jump. https://vr.google.com/jump/

Oculus uses 1st order, ACN, SN3D based on AmbiX. Again, a good sign that this will be a standard. https://developer3.oculus.com/documentation/audiosdk/latest/concepts/audiosdk-features/#audiosdk-features-supported

Headphones: the ambisonic image is created by binaural encoding, where sounds arrive out of phase at each ear. But different shaped heads get different results, therefore it’s unreliable. There is a database of heads available in AES69 format which are usually averaged to approximation. Google assumes that the head is symmetrical (probably true of Oculus as well). BR Rapture can load these files.

The home of the AES69 format is here: https://www.sofaconventions.org/mediawiki/index.php/Main_Page

leadimage_h2n

Microphones: the Zoom H2 is the easiest solution but has no height information. This is the model I am using alongside my spherical camera.
https://www.zoom.co.jp/products/handy-recorder/h2n-handy-recorder

Binaural Microphones: https://www.roland.com/us/products/cs-10em/

Some sources of expertise: http://www.brucewiggins.co.uk

Europe Endless Part 3

The schedule said Amsterdam. The boarding pass said Amsterdam. At 4AM we set sail across Europe, with a limited but complete confidence that Amsterdam was at the other end, only questioning the details on arrival. ‘So now what happens?’ asked Stewart. ‘There will be a man with a sign’, I lied with utter confidence.

There was a man with a sign. SEVERED HEADS. Once cruising along the highway in the Mercedes, Stewart asked if he felt odd holding up a sign in an airport with SEVERED HEADS on it. He said there were worse things.

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Now if you know anything about travel you know that hotels won’t have a room ready until about 2PM, and here we had been dropped there at about 9AM. I’m not a tour manager, but I’m smart enough to know that booking early morning flights is A Really Dumb Thing To Do To A Really Tired Band. There was nothing for it but to hang in the city, and look, it’s Amsterdam, surely that’s a nice bit of touristing, but perhaps not quite the right timing.

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The hotel was pleased to have our Deluxe Room ready. God knows what their Crap Room was like, as the Deluxe Room was next to the car park and a bit Pop Art.

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Stewart took one look at it, declared he would have none of it, nor my snoring, and went in search of a Room With Bath (Uber-Deluxe?) which he found, only to be told that the hotel had run out of bath plugs or some bollocks that really didn’t wash. At this point the members of Crash Course In Science arrived, and some trade in bath plugs was worked out, hell I didn’t care I was still in the car park room.

Two interesting facts about Crash Course In Science should be mentioned here. The first is that they come from the East Coast of America and therefore have a much smaller hop than we did, dragging what seemed an enormous pile of equipment with them, not Skinny Puppy enormous, but still looked a bit pain in the ass. They’d just come from Madrid, with the gastronomical consequences that go with that (note to self: do not eat in Madrid). Now we hadn’t actually anticipated sharing a tour, and so were pleased to find that they got put on late each shared night, meaning we got to perform and be tucked in well before dawn each time – win.

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The Oedipus Brewery was not the gruesome beer barn I’d feared – in fact a very sunny and pleasant backyard with giant beer vats and an easy atmosphere. The Dutch can be easy going in such a manner that causes other nationals to lose their marbles, and it was never very clear what was going to happen when.

The night was on. 11PM loomed. I had stayed at the venue for dinner, but Stewart had tried to get a bit of rest back at the hotel. 5 minutes to start. No Stewart.

Time. No Stewart. I started to negotiate how we could shorten the set.

15 minutes late – the promoter, the tour manager, myself peering out into the night having stomach kittens – Stewart! At the end of the gig, expecting to be arsed off, they wanted an encore. The poor bastard had closed his eyes for the merest moment and passed into unconsciousness, and he quite rightly pointed out afterwards that 4AM flights were the cause, so there.

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The night went on. CCIS played. The night went on. I started to think of how to escape. The night went on. I wondered who I was supposed to meet for the money. The night went on.

Europe Endless Part 2

Wednesday 19th.

The instructions were to meet somebody holding an Unsound sign on the platform of Krakow train station. No such sign appeared as I gently floated downstairs in the sea of commuters, exchanging my Euro for Zloty with half an idea of getting a cab to any place which had a horizontal surface of any description. At which point Alice, volunteer wrangler of wandering Australians, caught me, and guided me to my apartment over in the Old Jewish quarter. She told me many things and I nodded at the right places to appear awake.

This fine apartment had several horizontal surfaces which I began to inspect in great detail for an extended period of time. Now, next door to the hotel there began a night of celebration which I can best describe as if Laibach were performing an extended set of Vengaboy covers, mixed with a shock documentary about domestic violence and the truck that picks up all the empty bottles at the pub, except louder. Which I figure is your standard Polish night on the town. This managed to pierce my oblivion about every 4 hours, but defeated each time by sheer exhaustion.

Thursday 20th.

Eggs. This day was for the Artist talk, but time first to visit the Old Town.

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I was most impressed that Krakow has a Starbucks dating back to 14th century.

The Artist Talk was led by a fellow from The Quietus who seemed to treat the experience like an exam nightmare without pants. Then the fine moment where I was introduced and the audience had no idea who the fuck I was or why they should listen. Like most Australian artists I’m pretty expert in being obscure and winning people over with colonial charm, and by the end they had all laughed and seen the game in action so win.

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Alice wanted me to see some of the other acts. I wanted to make a closer examination of the horizontal surface. We compromised on a visit to the nearby Bunkier Cafe, which celebrates the Central European art of chain smoking cigarettes to the point where every surface is covered in soot. We had a long talk about female mystics and Australia and relationships and aging that went on as we walked back through the rain to the apartment, because what better way to follow smoke than with rain if you want to keep your singing voice?

No party that night. Oblivion enveloped.

Friday 21st.

Eggs. Time speeds up. A jackhammer started somewhere above the apartment. Stewart was in the air to Warsaw from New York via Dublin. He was on the train. Alice was somehow to get him from the train station to the hotel and to sound check in half an hour. The Friday traffic was foul and seemed to be as much on the pavements as the street. Somehow we arrived on time at Hotel Forum, built by the communist government just before the collapse of the USSR.

Down in the hall the PA was of a such size that every time Stewart played a bass note he got a foot massage. Apparently it sounded fine out front. To my ears it sounded like a jet aircraft taking off complete with smoke effects. Who were the people there? We will never know as time was already running out…

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Saturday 22nd.

Halfway through the set it became Saturday, and a mad rush to get back to the apartment, wash, pack and leave for Amsterdam at 4am. As we were in the air, bands were still performing at the Forum. But this is a tale for the next installment.

Australian and Alice

Lost Australian, and the ever patient Alice about 1AM at Forum.

Europe Endless Part 1.

Prologue.

Each time I confessed to a promoter that we’d last played their city a neat 30 years ago, you could see their eyes do a little dance, like – had I been sent away for murder? Did I go on a secret mars mission? What in god’s name puts a band back on stage 30 years later? Not a bug, but a feature of contemporary music – the complete collapse of new talent – perhaps faith in new talent, I am no judge. We were not nearly the only bunch of elderly crisscrossing Europe.

It must be said that our last extensive tour of Europe was a debacle. No fault of our own – the fates attacked on every level – sickness, equipment failure, thievery – the toll was awful and I recall trying to entertain 800 people in Zurich alone with TV set for visuals – would you book that twice? No, you would bury that as long as it took to forget.

Only BodyBeats in Antwerp risked the airfares on exclusive appearances, much to our mutual benefit in 2005 and 2011. This time it was Unsound in Krakow that wanted the exclusive, but a change of government funding in Poland meant that we had to find other income. Our recent collaboration with Dark Entries records provided a network of DJ entrepreneurs that were able to take the risk.

The shows grew organically, a bit haphazardly, with no one person in charge of it. From Krakow, we added Amsterdam. Glasgow was keen. Berlin also. Slowly a network of dates came together covering two weekends, with London suddenly wanting a third and Paris very late to the party. At no stage did we have a master plan or even a sense of profit versus loss. It was enough that a second chance had come and surely – surely it couldn’t be anywhere as awful as the first.

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En Route.

The first time a record label brought us to London they used the cheapest fare possible – a Garuda bus that bumped up and down for 36 hours at every plausible refueling point. These days you have a lot more choice and the metric is one of:

Potential of catastrophic death vs. Price vs. Misery.

  • Potential of catastrophic death: Garuda not an option, Aeroflot not really big on my wish list either. You want QANTAS, it doesn’t fall out of the air much. Nor does it fly into war zones like Malaysian.
  • Price: under a grand. Can be done but requires attention to the other metrics.
  • Misery: To get to Europe from Australia you need to hop somewhere near the equator. More hops, more pain. Too fast, miss the plane. Too slow… read below.

I can remember as a small child arriving at Dubai and not being hit by a missile, and found an Emirates/QANTAS flight through Dubai to Warsaw under a grand. That seemed a great idea with only one teeny weeny problem – the connecting flight left 7 hours later.

Seven Hours at Dubai Airport.

The flight from Sydney was in fact the venerable QANTAS QF1 flight to London that has operated as long as I’ve been alive. Probably since Captain Cook. Stuff of legends – so many Australians have hopped on QF1 hoping to make their fortune in the mother country. Not so many in 2016 as I had three seats to myself. Felt smug until I saw the lady next to me had five of them.

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Dubai is alleged to be the busiest international airport in the world, spanning three main centers linked by train, each with four terminals. After 14 hours I arrived at A, not knowing where I would depart. I walked in circles endlessly, a kind of Arabic Ballardian miasma. No place was better than any other – it could be here – it could a kilometer away.

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It turned out to be the gate next to the one by which I arrived. Or an identical gate reached by traversing the infinite bounded space of Dubai airport.

Warsaw.

The 7 hour flight to Warsaw was by Emirates proper, and the announcements made in Arabic. The staff were dressed in the mock Arabic costume you would expect, but spoke excellent Polish – as after all they were all Poles. (This weird costuming reached a pinnacle in Glasgow where a large Scottish lady of advanced years sat behind the counter dressed as if an extra in Aladdin, but I’m ahead of myself here).

At Warsaw a firm lady in military uniform asked me where I was going and seemed to find that amusing, stamp stamp.

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Built wide for ease of access by Soviet tanks.

The young man that guided me to the train station spoke impeccable English with an accent that would have suited a Gentleman’s Outfitter of 1800 and something. That is, it was all rather smashing and I do say old chap. Seems that if you learn English at a university level in Poland you end up with sounding like Lord Haw Haw. He wanted to show me Warsaw. I was extremely grateful but the further we got away from the train station the more visions I had of running frantically down the platform after the departing carriages.

A gift from Stalin. Better like it.

A gift from Stalin. Better like it.

But once prompted he delivered me back to the station on time and pointed at the right platform. ‘Make sure you don’t get on the train to Unpronounceable Destination’ he warned me. The train pulled in. It went to Unpronounceable Destination. But the station sign said Krakow. I asked the guard. He pointed to a carriage. I climbed in. The train departed. I was either going to wake up in Dubai airport or the train was going to end up in Krakow and by this stage, either seemed just as good as the other.