Tour complete – now for the critique.

We’re just back from shows in the USA, and we thank you for coming to see us. With Canada earlier in the year, we feel we’ve made a solid attempt at greeting North America in person. The shows were well received (the usual audience photos will follow soon) and in the larger cities the combo of Front 242 and ourselves sold out venues.

2017-09-19 20.43.15

Vincent the rat holds court in NYC

A debrief comes at the end of every tour. The previous visit was exceptional just because it happened at all: we were in the garbage bin for decades, then unexpectedly rescued. This time it had to be special for other reasons, and it was partly so.

GOOD: We were able to perform a wider range of songs from videos completed between 2015 and 2017. Generally the videos are of higher quality – each represents weeks, sometimes months of work. We were constrained by my catching a throat cold in NYC, but were able to patch around this with the greater repertoire.

BAD: But they are the same material drawn from the earlier albums, presented in much the same way as before. Despite our adding all these songs you might have thought the show was the same as the last time. We need to think about the staging of any future appearances. Most of the ‘industrial dance’ bands we align with have stage shows involving costumes, radio microphones, masks and fog. We’re never going to take that up (not being an ‘industrial dance’ band) but the dynamism of the stage needs addressing.

To perform in the USA costs international airfares and the wildly expensive P1 visa process. Carting our bodies across the planet uses up money that could fund a stage show. And that’s maintaining the bare minimum – two people with suitcases, borrowed equipment. Unless our income jumps dramatically, we’re in a bind where the show has reached a production cost limit.

Puppets

Right now we prefer that people look at the video and not at us. We are the puppeteers, and the puppets are the show. But it may be time that the musicians enter the screen, and are visible as part of that virtual space. That way we can be seen to perform on all the weird and wonderful instruments we simulate on computers now, as part of a coherent presentation filling the audience viewpoint.

This has some difficult implications: the video has to be live, in real time on stage. We have to be able to position ourselves in a virtual set, but won’t know the stage beforehand. The process has to be fast, minimal latency. The system has to tolerate human errors.

The advantages are many. Two of the players can be present, others could be remote, recorded or simulated, so that you can have a full band. In some case all the players could be remote – although that leads to “where’s the beef?” problems where the audience needs meat on stage to feel fully satisfied. But that meat could be made in the USA – a local operator not needing airfares or a P1. After all if it works for Gorillaz & Daft Punk why not us?

Remote performance means latency and the risk of drop outs. I feel it can be done through something like Vimeo Live, Stewart is more knowledgeable and has doubts, and we will have to do some experimentation.

Then there’s the aesthetics. What would you see? Would it be based on the static clips? Would the show be one space or a space for each song? How much room is given to the performers? Does that change based on the size of the venue? It really is a rocky business, but I feel we’re at the point where it’s got too comfortable. That’s not our purpose.

Future Proof

Right now there’s a resurgence of interest in all things late 20th century, from film sequels to goth bands. That’s understandable given the uncertainty of a new century, but of course the people of 1917 only pined for La Belle Époque for a while before new culture took hold. I would not bank on aging electronic bands too much longer. Two years from now we cannot just pop back up again with the same old. Even if this project fails, it seems a better bet than expecting everything to stay the same.

It also aligns with Sevcom’s other aspirations in immersive media and therapeutic environment design. Not just a matter of neatness – also a matter of the amount of time we have left.

As always your comments appreciated.

Put up or shut up.

It was nice to have a talk about subscriptions. Seems that people like to pre-pay for a particular project. We’ll think about that when we have an expensive thing in mind for which we need help. Until then we have enough resources to make first, and only then bug you for funds. We put up or shut up.

We are going to be performing in the USA in about three weeks, so any product is going to be after we get back and sleep off the lag.

Here’s one of the things that are happening. I intended to get an album called Aversion out last year, to be cover versions of classic rock songs and psychedelia. It followed the old truth that a new band, especially electronic or weird, have to make cover versions before they get any attention (we did Strange Brew). It’s about demonstrating exactly how you differ to the mainstream. Aversion was mostly finished by late 2016 but I had a really good listen, and admitted that it just had nothing to offer that hadn’t been done better before. The classics include the Residents Third Reich and Roll, and Laibach’s Let It Be – you probably have some others you could add to that list.

Aversion is not bad, it’s on the level of Strange Brew which people seemed to like. Maybe it will arrive later. Meanwhile I decided to start on Aversion 2, which is subtitled Classic Rock Simulation. In this case it’s existing rock music that’s been edited and processed to make new songs. For example I took the first bar of a very famous 60’s song and processed the individual notes to play a variety of riffs at both normal and half speed. I added bass and drums and some vocal samples that have been tuned a word at a time to sing a melody. The result is a kind of Soul R&B number akin to these weird images that Google AI spits out.

google-ai-dreams

It sounds like rock but only a memory of it, or an approximation made by an algorithm. I like some rock music, and there’s no criticism implied, just some curious misrepresentation which allows me to practice some heavy psychedelic production.

Because we’ve found that people like to buy a physical object, like Blubberknife*, or Showbag, we’ve been working on a neat little package for you that also might be expanded to other titles. The theme is lab rats, experimentation, the work of Harlow on infant monkeys. My partner creates wire forms of the sort that have already appeared on Donut. She has worked hard to not only create a complex wire rat for the cover, but has so far made over 100 wire rats to go one inside each of the packages.

mockup

This mockup has the wrong art showing inside, but gives the feel of it.

The music is on a credit card USB and there’s also a stack of credit card sized artwork. We think it’s going to be light enough that postage won’t be too harsh, but as always you have to expect it’ll cost at least the materials, the postage and something to repay the eventual 200 rats that will be needed.

I’ll be posting some examples of Aversion 2 soon, but meanwhile here’s a bit of a making of.

wire1

rat

* Does anyone have a 1982 Blubberknife in the TV set innards? We have no pictures 🙁

From farewell to welfare

Having just returned from the Canadian ‘mini tour’, we (being the various people that depend on Severed Heads for pin money) have fallen into discussion about our future. Usually our decisions are made without much care for business, but we have reached a point where some business must take hold.

Like it or not we are reborn. Having accepted death in 2008 we have been dragged back into life – although it’s a weird recapitulation of the previous one. On tour, we meet people that act like we’ve been stored in a cryogenic chamber since 1986, returning simply to remind them of their more handsome years. That was never the point.

Cyro

Best before 1986

But we admit that perception has been reinforced by our antique set list, which was designed for world-wide farewells. The farewells are now over. We plan new material but have been reluctant to risk upsetting our audience, losing their support. This problem impacts on all the rest of the thinking, as you will see.

We need to present new material. But I’ve always opposed an excess of albums which frightens off new people, so you end up living off dwindling completists. We must find a way to distribute new material without multiplying albums.

We have given away free material for a long time. This is partly generous, partly calculated – art is only worth what people will pay, and if people will pay nothing then it must be revalued some other way. But it takes time to produce music, and we have no time to waste, we must find a way to pay for this time. Of course, it will be stolen* by people who have no care – we know that. There are always snakes.

il_340x270.1233662441_b6kh

We need to think about subscriptions. Musicians are being encouraged to try subscriptions just as newspapers are unable to sustain them. It works for software, which has an upgrade schedule. The problem of albums and new music might be solved this way – a constant flow of new material, paid by a constant flow of support. But I am concerned that unless we have an audience that is forward looking we’re not going to make that work.

We need to restore a coherent presence. This was a SEVCOM web page long before Google, but we have now become fragments on commercial services: Facebook for events, Bandcamp for downloads etc. The brand recognition must be pulled into shape. In any case, online presence seems worthless in real life. We keep meeting people who have heard nothing of us since the Internet was born. A Facebook event is not a real campaign.

So then, TL/DR, farewells are over, new things must come, a new model for distribution, a better effort at putting it in front of new people.

You are welcome to comment.

* people that say music isn’t stolen when it’s duplicated have no understanding of time, which is a non-replaceable resource.

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/

SEV_CAN_POSTER

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.

4c733114a98ed0b167666afdf202759b

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.

2016-10-23-21-41-12

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