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.
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.
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.
Moved to Man Cave site.
… 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/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
ACN is a cleaner format that numbers them by a sorting formula, therefore is extensible:
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.
- AMB is 1st order, Furse-Malham, maxN (according to Wiki) but also higher order (according to http://www.ambisonic.net/fileformats.html)
- AmbiX is n-order, ACN, SN3D http://www.matthiaskronlachner.com/?p=2015
- Blue Ripple “Higher Order Ambisonics” is 3rd Order, Furse-Malham, SN3D
- Harpex uses B Format, and skeptical of HOA channels. It uses phase to tease out direction from the standard 4 channels. Unfortunately quite expensive. http://harpex.net/about.html
- Ambisonic Toolkit B-Format http://www.ambisonictoolkit.net/
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
Microphones: the Zoom H2 is the easiest solution but has no height information. This is the model I am using alongside my spherical camera.
Binaural Microphones: https://www.roland.com/us/products/cs-10em/
Some sources of expertise: http://www.brucewiggins.co.uk
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Eggs. This day was for the Artist talk, but time first to visit the Old Town.
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.
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.
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…
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.