Strange Cameras for Strange Times

Too soon we have become blasé to the distortions of the current flock of optics. We pretend these are just sidesteps to the usual reality. Their peculiar qualities should be celebrated and their perversions articulated, and I am here to do just that.

The Lytro lllum. https://www.lytro.com/

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Normally you point a camera, and light arrives at the lens in a wild range of angles. That forms a bright but blurry image. As you close the aperture the light is constrained to a smaller range of angles, and the image becomes coherent, while the exposure drops. The smaller the aperture the sharper the focus, and the more the camera has to work to expose the film. Hence the deep focus of Citizen Kane was a technical marvel. Now everyone is obsessed with shallow focus, because big lenses are expensive, and what better way to show you have money.

The Illum is a light field camera. Light arrives from all angles and hits one or more of hundreds of little ‘buckets’ inside. The computer notes the direction at which the buckets are filled and calculates the angle at which the light arrived. The camera sees both the light and its direction and from this records a perfectly focused image with depth information.

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You can use that depth to set focus after taking the shot, to calculate a 3D image or slice the image over the Z plane. Probably more – there’s a SDK available for trying out ideas. But most of us will just animate the focus after the fact and think that very clever. For a while…

Sensible review.

Lytro has set small, reasonable aims for the camera and provided them. The Illum is a well built, well thought out device with a defined purpose. But that purpose is not in itself very inspiring for very long.

Pulling the focus back and forward is exciting for about an hour after which you’re putting the camera in the cupboard next to the C64. Mine came out of a discount bin, still wildly expensive compared to an equivalent DSLR (because of Australian distribution). The Illum is not a game changer, because the technology is more interesting than what you’re encouraged to do with it. So you should think about misuse.

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Lytro is now onto surround video capture with an impossibly large and sexy UFO thing that photographs with 6 degrees of freedom inside a virtual space (but can it photograph itself?) I’m disappointed that they have leaped so far, when just a single lens 3D video capture would be really tops. The Illum is not able to shoot video, it maxes out at about 3fps. It might be insanely great as a stop motion camera, but no moving pictures.

The software can output its unique RAW format as set of TIFFs with the depth as an 8 bit gray scale image. The TIFFs show the scene from a range of angles, so you’re already alert that the depth must be some compromise of all these. It has a ‘cauliflower’ texture, by which I mean it shows a lack of detail evidencing some kind of fractal or wavelet tactic.

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Being lossy and 8 bit you are not going to get a clean slice where an object is magically cut out from the background. Fair enough. Probably the SDK can get a cleaner image from the RAW – but I tend to think that the Illum operates at the extreme edge of the hardware. It has the brain of an advanced mobile phone – impressive – but having to compromise greatly to get acceptable results.

My intention is to grab a whole variety of still images which I’m going to then mash together on the Z plane with some dirty and distorted depth data. It won’t be clean or realistic. It will hopefully be disturbing. You might have a pig and car sharing the same 3D space. You might like it.

The Ricoh Theta S – https://theta360.com/en/about/theta/s.html

2016 is the year where 360 cameras infest every gadget retailer the way that sports cameras did a few years ago, and 3D TVs before that. They will eventually die in large numbers. Right now they’re just touching on reasonable performance at a reasonable price, so the average enthusiast may as well have a look. That’s me.

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If you’re the sort of person that takes selfies, you’ll love the Theta. Here’s the pyramids… and me! The beach front… and me! My friends and me me me me again. There being no back and front to a spherical photo, you’re always there unless you hide in a garbage bin or wear it as a hat.

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Suspicious white object at 6 o’clock

Because it has no viewfinder (what use is a viewfinder in 360º?) you are encouraged to setup a wifi link between it and a mobile phone where you can preview the effect. It works, but mobiles aren’t really set up to be field monitors, as the glare is such that you can’t see what you’re doing. So you set up the camera on a tripod, run away some distance to hide, find some shade, look at the phone and only then find that the tripod has been knocked over by some passing brat.

When I got back to the camera, the lens cover was scratched, but there seems to be no effect on the photos, I guess the cover is out of the focus area. It is not a sports camera, but akin to a toddler – it can take a fall.

Sensible.

The quality of the earlier Thetas was horrible, and at 1080p the video on the improved S is still only a quarter of the needed resolution because it captures two circular areas inside that area. But the photo images are big enough for my purposes, which is to decorate some VR spaces I’m building in Unity with natural light and textures.

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Software wise Ricoh give you a desktop viewer (made in Adobe Air so banned from my work computer) which connects to their gallery (which only allows very short segments of video). The video can also go up on YouTube but ignore the instructions given on Ricoh’s site – it needs to be first run through a “Video Metadata Tool” before YouTube will see it. YouTube has a fixed viewpoint which only covers a small part of the video – so very nasty quality. I’m going to to try pre-processing the video in After Effects to make it big before encoding it.

What use is surround? Only as a means to capture an environment for more detailed images – that is, the same way you would use a stereo microphone pair to capture the sonic environment, followed by a shotgun mic for the detail. We have not previously had a crossed pair for video. The problem then is one of ‘handling noise’ – big distorted hands at the bottom of every shot. It’s as annoying as microphone handling noise.

The Theta is basically a Zoom recorder for light. For most people the Zoom recording is not the end of the creative act – only the beginning, and using the Theta as some kind of documentary device is not anywhere near to the real reason to own one.

Is cinematography a biological technology? Probably not.

Here’s a thing – if you run Deleuze through a piece of cloth and strain out all the poo, you end up with some reasonable, if fairly simple ideas. (Of course that ‘does violence to his concepts’ but I can live with that).

So here’s one. Technology is a mechanism by which we make our actions easier and more potent. A telescope enables us to see further, a microscope allows us to see smaller and if you’re Dziga Vertov, a camera enables us to see things more clearly. Deleuze is even more enthusiastic – cinema is a technology which entwines with our own innate technology of seeing. Unlike a microscope or a telescope, cinema is a means by which our perceptive apparatus and therefore mind processes can be analyzed and re-synthesized. Cinematic language is an exercise of attention that leads to new modes of thought.

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His argument is more visible now than when he was writing. When you see a child fascinated by an iPad, to the extent of being oblivious to nature around them, you may feel the sense of unease that he mentions – it’s hard to say whether the child is accelerated, sensing the game world at immense speed, or senile in being unable to sense anything else. It can be both.

Where I disagree is that I do NOT see cinema as privileged in this way. When I recently bought some prescription glasses and walked home I was appalled to find that everything was now taller (and so my feet found it difficult to hit the ground) and that people far away had faces, which was extremely disturbing. That’s not equivalent to the entirety of cinema – it doesn’t have to be. I think that any technology does what he describes to some extent.

Now, a related factoid is about episodic memory, which is stored as sensory impressions with duration, or at least sequence. If you blast the right part of the temporal lobe with electricity you can bring up auras which include sensory impressions before they have been organised into a narrative (e.g. one stimulation brought ‘being at a wedding, throwing a bouquet’, another ‘the theme from Star Wars’ source). For a short while it was thought that we record everything like a video camera. But then it was noticed that memories are cinematically assembled, to the extent that you may see yourself ‘filmed’ in the third person. There’s further evidence that recall is drawn from a storyline – {me}{the beach}{ball}{hit} = embarrassing – and turned into visuals. You will note the comparison between episodic memory and film, which at first blush leads one to think that narrative film is a technical realisation of episodic memory.

But it’s always good to be sceptical. By which I mean we’ve only buzzed people since there was film. If you buzzed someone from several hundred years ago would they see through the media of a painted triptych? If you went back far enough, would Julian Jaynes be right and you get the Voice of Gods explaining what happened in your past? Did perspective arrive in the mind when it arrived in art? Because as much as we may be inspired by our bodies and minds to extend them, we may also train our minds and bodies to emulate mechanical systems. It could be a cycle, and Deleuze was right to be worried that we have cut off the variety of existence that we could otherwise have.

The sensory impressions found in the temporal lobes are not organised in the way we store files on a hard drive. There are related items spread all over the place to the extent that if you snip out a relevant bit of flesh, the memory is still retrievable, but more blurry. So how this material is ‘scored’, or even manifested is (I guess) a matter of the installed biological software. That software could have evolved over time – in fact I would be amazed if it hadn’t. The manner in which the episodic impressions are realised, and how their causal chains are linked cannot have been the same for all human history.

A quick reality check is dreams, which at best guess involves random excitation of these impressions and attempts by the hippocampus to stitch them into a causal chain. Blind dreamers do not dream visually. But their dreams still involve narrative structure. The camerawork of the sighted dreamer doesn’t occur naturally – it’s more likely that camera work in film has responded to the mental mechanism, which in turn has noticed patterns in camera work and responded in kind. I am pretty sure that yes, Deleuze is right about film now, but I also think that the use of fire was once just as important, perhaps the start of animistic religion. And god knows how these images once served human thought:

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Back on the VR rollercoaster

Here you see a CINERAMA screen, from 1952.This.Is.Cinerama.1952a

CINERAMA was a big hit in that year. A standard film of the time would fit in the middle screen only. So you can see what an impression it must have made. I’m interested by the kind of films that bloom with any new technology. There must be a roller coaster film. It’s likely to be the very first thing that gets shot in the new (cumbersome) format.

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Standard VR Roller Coaster film

And close behind are what we now know as a “Go Pro movies”. Sporting feats.

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And aerobatics.

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Once these technical demonstrations are done it’s time for a few experimental works by corporate funded artists, some stadium sports and a slowly wilting realisation that a good story works just as well on an old analogue TV, so what are you going to do? George Pal did good business with The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm in 1962.

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Eventually the name CINERAMA became more important than the process. By the late 60’s it was a 70mm print stretched out. But the stories were better for it.

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I would have liked to have seen a CINERAMA print, but standard Super Panavision was pretty cool. (My folks took me to see it soon after it came out.) This film isn’t right on analogue TV. Here’s a site devoted to wide screen film.

So instead of just going through this cycle, maybe we can think about it. What benefits can be found in the VR format? Obviously there’s interaction, but I’ll just leave that to one side for now please.

Consider this – no one can stand behind a spherical camera. There is no behind.

People working in VR are keen to point out that the frame is no longer there, and so the idea of composing an image in a frame is lost. So you cannot center the image, show something to one side – any of that. Edits are OK but you cannot know which direction the audience is facing. “Cut to:” is rendered useless when they could be looking at the sky for all you know.

The standard of ‘reversals’ – over the shoulder conversations – is dead. Next time you watch a film count how much of it is reversals. Then realise – that’s gone, all gone.

Nausea – it’s about the hairs in your ears that detect acceleration. Not movement – a scene in a moving train is fine – but the ease-in and ease-out motion of a standard motivated camera move. When the ears detect that you’re doing something impossible it’s time to prepare for emergencies and up comes lunch.

VR is about sound.

If this sounds as if VR is more problem that potential, and if you are a standard film maker please go elsewhere and let the experts take over. By experts I’m speaking about sound designers who have dealt with 360º for a very long time. We build realistic spatially coherent environments out of the materials of sound. We turn your head to the events you then watch. We signal that something is occupying a point, an arc, all of space. We signal that something went by, causing a Doppler. Our Foley gives substance to things in all directions.

VR demands that the old equation of vision first / sound second be turned on its head. Because you are not going to be able to navigate the worlds that you’re filming without first realising the air, the tone of the room, the placement of all the sound sources. If your set has three walls and relies on a particular orientation to work – you’re in deep shit.

But if you are a sound designer for film – don’t be smug because the game is going to get considerably harder. Get a VR helmet, learn how it works. Then start to build soundscapes that work in 360º. 5.1 won’t work any more there is no front/back. Listen to your mixes as somebody would in a room. What size room? Round? Carpeted? You are suddenly required to not only capture the air, but to construct it. I can’t tell you how we are going to do that. I can tell you that if we want to get past the demonstration films it’s going to be up to you.

We go to the moon.

This is going to be a bit disjointed. Good. If it amuses you, pretend it’s the drugs talking, despite there being none.

I’m in Santa Cruz, in a small cottage style hotel within earshot of the Pacific. Unfortunately, mostly within eyeshot of the parking lot, but it’s about time my ears got going. I have been so deaf. Close the eyes. I hear sea, birds, and many frogs. Have you seen Hitchcock’s The Birds? That gives you the exact place*.

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View from my window.

What am I doing here? Which is a different question to why am I here? I am here to carry the remains of Stacy Glasier in a little space capsule back up out of the gravity well**, to the real world where she started. That’s the way the narrative has to go, win or lose, the protagonist has to cycle back for the wisdom to take hold in the world. We were going to have a ceremony at this end involving many sea lions, but there was no need really. The fable is already told: they did not live happily ever after.

Which comes back to what am I doing here? Supposedly writing my idiot thesis so that other Titled Idiots can award me the honour of cloning more of them. I have spent years working at my Idiot status, but I guess The Birds*** have grown sick of this entire BS and decided to launch me on this space mission to learn something. They are screaming their heads off. It’s driving me nuts; I don’t understand what they want.

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Much of what I am writing is about The Spiritual. That was the term used 100 years ago by Kandinsky and Schoenberg and all the crew for the rules of the metaphysical space that energized their art. In my Idiot thesis I’ve managed to carry that idea through a set of transformations, through ‘the apparatus world’ of the early video synthesizer artists, through ‘the platform’ of the early computer people and connect it to ‘cyberspace’ and ‘big data’ and now ‘virtual reality’ which has slunk back out of its hole. By the time I link it to ‘creative practice’ it’s a mummified corpse. That’s what I’m supposed to be writing right now, an incantation to imprison an idea.

Instead tonight I’m writing this.

The analytical mind has wrapped reality around its own shape. The allusive and intuitive mind is dismissed. This makes perfect sense. Fuck perfect sense. In the continental philosophy of the last century, the practitioners played like kittens with sense and nonsense. The academy, unable to exorcise them, murdered their play into a hard stupid rule set. How many times at university did I get told “Deleuze says that…” “Foucault says that…”. May as well be “Mao says that…”.

That’s what the Titled Idiots do to inspiration, they assassinate it. I don’t want to be like this. But I just can’t seem to break out of it. For about six months now I’ve gone insane trying to work out what I’m doing. What I am doing here?

Down at the water there is a shop that sells little glass globes with painted splats down the bottom. Most of them are rubbish. One was important and I needed it. My grandmother owned a glass globe, actually three in a stack, like a snowman. Inside there was coloured cloth coiled up in a bouquet. As I remember it, surely it was the most beautiful thing in the world. When was it made? Where did it come from? This little globe will never match it, but holding it I can see a connection – no, seriously – see a line stretching between them. And that’s an inkling of The Spiritual, far more useful than any of the bullshit that fits into a thesis. Somehow I put that under the heading of research.

Because things properly connect in ‘strange ways’. If I think of all the odd little ideas that inspire my work they do not come from “Deleuze says that” or from collaborating with a weapons specialist on a video mural. Reality of the sort that is natural and humane seems far more reliant on intuitive mind-soup than any Idiot Metric.

But it’s also soup. By which I mean:

I read a lot of Jung because I teach storytelling, that’s my job. Jung is all about the life story, the characters and chapters by which you measure your journey. Jung is full of the most amazing bullshit, really. They all were – Freud, Adler, Reich et al., partly because they were all nature and not enough culture. For Jung movies are drawn from the narrative faculty of the brain, instead of the obvious alternative of the brain drawing narrative from the movies. (People who watched Black and White TV mainly reported dreaming in Black and White. Clue train arriving at Jung Station.)

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Like all of them Jung went through a ‘creative illness’. He kept a diary, the so-called red book. It was supposed to remain private, but because Jung thought he was Jesus Come Again of course it was eventually published. For Jung it was perfect. For everyone else it was a total crock. But at least I can look at that, and the creative illness of others and have a guide for something that is long overdue.

Here I am in Monterey. It has been a very long time since ‘gentle people with flowers in their hair’. No one is eight miles high. But if you wanted to apprentice yourself to a good dose of mind soup, then is this not the place? Of course a good whack of well made LSD might help, but it’s been a fair while since Sandoz made the real stuff. My old man used to use it in psychotherapy, wish he’d left some in a drawer, along with the glass spheres.

I go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard. Maybe the answer is here, but more likely I will make some space for the birds to nest and tell me what to do next.

* The Birds was inspired by an event on August 18, 1961 at Capitola. Another reason to visit.

** The gravity well is the effort it takes to get your spacecraft up to the orbit. From there, it’s comparatively smooth sailing. If you live in Australia, you’re well aware of the long long flight required to get anywhere else. Once you’re there – it’s no problem.

*** I have to again explain that ‘The Birds’ come to me every now and then and fill my head with ideas. They make no effort to clarify what the instructions are, they just pour some thoughts in there and shake-not-stir the cocktail. It’s always been this way and if I could catch them I would wring their little necks.

Sometimes I have a fever and get sick when the birds come. It got diagnosed once as encephalitis. Sensibly it’s a nickname for some back-end process going on that’s imperfectly connected to my so-called consciousness. It computes and delivers large-scale solutions to back of mind queries whenever it feels like it.

Vinyl is for couches.

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Vinyl is a great format. Except more than a third of people buying it don’t own a record player. And it pollutes the planet. And it’s really really expensive to make and post across the planet. When I ask, most people say they still want vinyl, but my guess it that’s all hat and no cattle. It looks good, damn what it sounds like.

A small pressing plant is open in Australia, and I can get stuff made that way, but it’ll be the most expensive 40 minutes you ever had and I am not mad keen on it. I am instead back to USB drives, but prepared to sink some serious money into it. (Just as an aside – yes a CD is still cheaper but triples the airmail postage from about $4 to $12. Plus it’s getting hard to find a computer that will load a CD. Plus a USB holds about 10x the data.)

The Rhine USB cost about $12 Australian to make and send. So at any time I had about $1200 out in the world, at a time when the USD and AUS were close. Now that the AUS has collapsed again I figure I can probably spend a bit more and go for a more professional look.

The credit card style has good and bad. Good – it can be more decorated. Bad – it is a pain to insert one into the side of a laptop, but you’re going to do that once only.

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I figure I can get 500 units up front with a universal design then overprint as needed. So every one of them will have the logo etc. but the album title goes in a white box. I could sell 1000 over time but that’ll eat more than $5000 before postage. Still cheaper than cassettes and don’t sound like arse.

But it’s the sleeves which are troublesome. For Rhine I have been using lanyard pouches at $2 each which are actually pretty good quality (good clear plastic) compared to most solutions. Today I found some clear plastic sleeves for business cards. They’re too fat, and they don’t look as nice as they should. Placing album covers inside them is not nice. Now these:

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I can get from China from about $1 a unit. I’ve seen these, there’s no way to decorate them with the album cover. Some duplicators will throw in a case with a clear window but these are 2cm tall. That makes the mailed item a package and – bang – 3x the postage.

Jewel cases for data cards would be ideal. But credit card sized. Maybe they exist.

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Maybe I can get slightly larger lanyard holders? If I get 500 then maybe a discount?

The idea is to provide a good feeling quality object that doesn’t cost the earth. Some people will pay a healthy amount for their collectibles but that’s not my game. I understand that people want something to hold in their hand, but unless you’re a DJ, the USB is the best deal for both of us.

Aversion

Last year we played the USA and sold an album called Better Dead Than Head. I thought that a download package would work but people found it was too alien and we will very likely have a CD instead this year.

Still not allowed to record any new music, it will be a fabulous collection of other people’s hits called AVERSION.

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I have two requests please, one simple, one intricate.

Tell me what tracks you might like to be on the disc. I have already chosen quite a few, and the majority of them are mid 60’s to early 70’s psychedelia because that’s the most fun to re-arrange. I’m reasonably open to any ideas but please not something completely ‘hilarious’. Something that can make a good track.

Make some sequenced ‘tape loops’. Back in 1982 we made a version of Tomorrow Never Knows. In the Beatles original there are many tape loops, but we made a rule that all our tape loops would be electronic sequences, and that’s what we did. I am hoping to include sequences recorded by people all over the place in a new version. Only a few seconds long. Think you can do it?

Much obliged!

“If it has a mellotron, then it can do no wrong”.

2015 A lot happened at Sevcom.

Sevcom is booming. Bloody hell it won’t sit down now will it? The funny thing is that almost everything here is an attempt to stop doing things. That ends up doing things. They say life begins at 40 but in this case life started some time after entering the aged care facility. The intensity of this regrowth is causing … growing pains. More on that later on.

A very good year for music.


NECRO: Vinyl reissues out now of both Petrol and Clifford Darling Please Don’t Live in the Past and both from the clean master recordings for the first time.

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NEW: At the beginning of the year (if you can remember back that far) the new album Rhine, which sold enough USB sticks to get Sevcom up in Bandcamp’s bulk seller category. Of all the things this year, you would understand that Rhine is my favourite. It includes a map with 5 Beacons, which you can now see as videos over here.

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Severed Heads played live in America and it was not a complete and utter debacle not at all. This included a new album of old tunes called Better Dead Than Head.

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NEW: Two free compilations on Terse Tapes, which was once my cassette label that ran from 1979-1983, and now continues as an online provider of international noise and music. In Easter you got Oompa Loopma Riot, and unexpectedly Christmas just saw Terse Greetings. It’s good to be a community again.

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Early in the year I wrote the back story for HH, which introduces a clearer game world for the sequel H3H.

A bad/hopeful year for life.


Barbara Island

On Barbara Island

A death ripples outwards. You have to guide that energy carefully as it can drown you. Instead the house here is evidence of riding a manic wave – there’s furniture and objects strewn about madly and odd things hanging on the walls as a new life forms. That same mania is causing all kinds of possible futures to erupt, and hopefully once things cool a bit there’ll be some public good out of all this.

Next year.


Next year is tricky, because that manic wave is crashing against some rocks. Do I want to go back to the starving artist lifestyle or do I want to continue to be fat and tenured?

NECRO: The Stretcher album is in manufacture, this time as a double vinyl in gatefold sleeve! Hoping also that a boxed set of Australian underground music will be completed soon.

NEW: In America I made a promise to collaborate on an album with another elder, who I had not seen for a while. I keep promises.

There will be some touring and the details are reasonably clear. But many things could go wrong and so nothing I say here is certain. There’s a very good chance of being at the next Unsound Festival in Krakow, including a new version of the Rhine Treasure Map as an installation. Once in Krakow, it would be good to do other parts of Europe. Suggestions from promoters are welcome.

There will be another run through North America, bigger and bolder. I hope this will also include the Rhine Treasure Map. There will be an album made to go with this called Aversion, and you can guess what that will be.

All of this liveness has inspired an attempt at a new presentation system that allows more variation between live shows, and the ability to make tracks longer/shorter and all of that. This is very tricky, because I don’t want it to look real time generated.

H3H is under way, but I don’t think it will make 2016. Maybe mania will make it so. It’s got to be a major advance on the older game and I might need to get investment. That’s a scary idea!

Best wishes to all at the close of a formidable year.

Renovations with an axe.

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Some changes have been made in preparation for a rebuild of tomellard.com.

All talk of synthesisers has been moved out of the blog and to a new Man Cave sub site tomellard.com/cave as the WordPress menuing system was no longer able to contain all my gluttony. (I hear that some people are uncomfortable with the term Man Cave. They’re also probably uncomfortable with words like satire and laughter and they should go weep somewhere else thank you.)

The photographs on sevcom.com/scans have been renewed and now include 1979 – 2015, although there are still some bad gaps.

In the real world I’m busy chopping up my furniture with an axe and tearing my books into pieces. I’m shredding important documents with my new shredder. Pretty soon I hope to have cleaned out everything that’s crowding my mind. This is a good healthy thing, although it looks odd. I’ll be able to go places.

End of Tour – Part 7

And now, at last, to the only gig we’d actually expected to play. The Cold Waves festival runs over two nights in Chicago and we were part of the Saturday line up which was designed to be a bit more ‘family friendly’. The very family friendly Front Line Assembly was up top, with PWEI being the other ‘grown up’ band. Severed Heads was at the head of the kids table with Cocksure playing right alongside and then there were youngsters who will no doubt one day be the grown ups (unlike us).

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Back home exactly the same thing but it’s called Foota.

But first to reach the Metro. That day the CUBS WERE PLAYING. The Cubs are a popular hitball team in Chicago. Hitball is a game which involves many people dressed in blue crowding all over the place blocking all traffic. It looked to me like they were winning but apparently they lost otherwise everything would be on fire.

Once we got there, seemed like just as many people milling about backstage. Bands bands bands. Greets from the Metro owner who had last greeted us 25 years ago holy shit. As much as I like to be all friendly to everyone, for me playing live is just too anxious making to handle that crowd, and I apologise to anyone that I gave a startled ‘are you a sadistic dentist?’ look. Most of the time I tried hiding in the SEVERED COCKS room.

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Although we had played live together before, finally got into chat with Chris J Connelly, seen here channelling his ‘drunken shit in a business suit on a Saturday night’ stage look. In LA it had been gold chains. We had thought that LA costume was entirely serious, more fool me twice.

But there were old people I needed to see. The last time I met Bill Leeb was in Vancouver, way back. We were both in our mid 20’s. He has grown enormously tall since and I have shrunk. Both he and cEvin Key prove that the ratio of height to width is a prime factor in success in Industrial Stardom, something which I will never know.

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The Industrial height rule. Fulber don’t care shit.

But they will never equal our ability to attract bears. It was like Jellystone Park, I tell you. Bears.

Festivals are nerve racking because you have to get on/get off mighty fast and if something is fucked up then you die (hello Antwerp!) They were setting up sound checks pretty efficiently, but I was getting freaked out about if it was going to work. It’s partly from not having played in big line ups that often over the last decade. The only fuss was (as always) about the main video which was being projected onto drum kits and I had to choose a smaller screen. I think it’s OK. Hell, most people watch videos on a mobile.

Once the table was set up and the signal was happening, it was all just fine.

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I should say here that the festival is a supporter of the Hope For The Day charity, which helps people at risk of suicide. Part of the tour show was of course Dead Eyes Opened, with Stacy dancing on screen, and I had added a short video title acknowledging that she was not coming back. The tour came to an end in a poignant moment.

Backstage and the same number of people were milling about but it had settled into a different crowd, more about the society than the performers. I guess I’m more comfortable about getting things up and happening than partying them down again and after processing another extensive round of bears, decided I’d do one last BBC Nature Show through the streets of Chicago. Stewart was happy with a bottle of scotch and a place next to the mixing desk, so I grabbed my shit and swung outside.

The game of hitball was still winding down. A few boys were half heartedly punching each other in the streets while the girls tried to pull them apart. The bars were pumping ooga chaka. Drunks were vomiting into smart phones. It could be any western city, everything and nothing, The Saturday Night. That’s the thing about tours; all those hotels, planes, back stages, the disassociation is complete, you’re just passing through, enacting a ritual, everybody you meet n greet has a role and a script. Walking through the streets, Frisco to Chicago, it’s almost like you want something to break the glass and haul you out of there. But really not.

Instead I spent Sunday in the hotel room. There was a lot to not think about.

Tour Drily – Part Six

Hello Tampa, or as it turns out, Ybor City, which is where cigars were first carved out of phosphate or some such thing. Something something, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.

We were met by a friendly man called Curse, who oscillates like a sine wave between Tampa and Austin, apparently a thing you do in the southern synthesiser music trade. He took us to rooms at a goddamn HILTON where I glimpsed THE LARGEST BED I HAVE EVER SEEN and only then told us we had to go straight to the fucking venue. How could I perform, thinking about that bed? Sleeping somewhere in that vast confection of padding?

Not so much a bed as a way of living.

Not so much a bed as a way of living. Yeah, I took photos of the hotel rooms. I like hotel rooms, OK? This one was a Hilton, and every light in the place was turned on as if to say, climate change is caused by Florida, buddy.

In Florida, we were too small, or perhaps it was too big, for us to play alone. We supported Pop Will Eat Itself, and there were advantages to this. Firstly, one may get off stage earlier and drink all PWEI’s rider. Secondly one may blame PWEI for anything bad that happens, while claiming virtue for everything good. And no encores, none at all. The main worry is when the main band has a drum kit and a hundred microphones to set up, your chance of a sound check becomes wistful, although we did get there in time.

Here was Michael Pilmer of T Shirt fame, and his henchmen, dressed in identical knife costumes, the camera tilted to show their evil. Did I mention we wore Holy Fuck Knives T shirts every night? We did. And we sold them too. Michael and Robert made these. We also got some special stickers to cover our apples.

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A bit of a barn, quite large, too large for us alone. The first band on, (I am sorry I have been very remiss about the first bands in each case but I am in the zone at that point, anyway,) the first band on was the first actual rock band we’d encountered the whole time. I mean they did r-o-c-k, did the moves, stood on the wedges, spooned, mutually masturbated, I mean if there is a library of rock gestures, they held all the library cards. I don’t think Stewart had seen such a thing before, and was awed. Me, I’ve seen ZZ Top. Once you’ve seen the best…

We played. At least one guy was crying. At least he was the one I could hear sobbing over the PA. The audience in Ybor City was a bit ‘intimate’ for the size of the place (which we could immediately blame on PWEI, see how this game works?) but they had a fine old time.

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Pilmer over on the right giving the finger. An enduring symbol of Southern Hospitality. Actually I think the gent over at the left with the beard should get in contact so I can send something worthy. Best audience member ever.

PWEI I think were too big for the stage. They do this pacing thing, back forward. They looked like when tigers get put into too small cages. For a moment you wonder if you shouldn’t be wedged behind a table. But that leads to keytars, and the thought stops there. Shudder.

At the end of it all, I grabbed my backpack and launched out into the turmoil of Friday Night in Ybor City. They were young, sexy, swarming and mostly Cuban. I marched through it all, some kind of alien grey, block after block, seeing it all unseen. Nearly every gig I managed to walk back to the hotel at some ungodly hour and somehow that was turning into the best thing about the whole tour. Like a BBC Nature programme.

At the hotel, that bed.