Brainwashed Interview

In 2010 I was contacted by a writer at and answered a bunch of questions. This seems to have been abandoned, so before I trash the emails I’ll put the unedited exchange here so it wasn’t a complete waste. As a lot of the information is out of date I’ve made a few notes.

Are you a remarkably organized person?  You clearly spent quite a bit of time amassing a vast library of found sounds and samples – did you have a systematic means of archiving and locating them?  Do randomness and chance play a large role in which snippets make it into your work?

 Fundamental to answering this question is the difference between a library and an environment. The majority of the sounds are those that we lived in – radio and television, odd music cassettes that we already enjoyed, the noises of our life. There’s a different intent between what has become known as plunderphonics – taking up a significant shared sound and incorporating it in a new work, and sample based folk music. Our music was based on the minutiae of our soundscape, whether or not it made sense to outsiders. So I tend to describe what I have done as ‘gardening’, which organises the natural features of a living space.

In many cases I have no idea where a sound is from. It was on the TV or it was from a pile of toys. Once it fell into a bit of music it took on significance in retrospect. We have a policy of saying that all samples come from the film Lassie Come Home which is as likely as any other source.

What you might be noticing is our archiving has been surprisingly good. That comes from using tape recorders – obviously things get documented automatically, and from a happy accident where I could afford one of the first digital recorders in 1985. In that year I threw all our cassettes onto a few digital tapes, which still played when CD-R came along.

Which seems more improbable to you: Severed Heads’ relative success or Severed Heads’ relative obscurity? 

I’ll borrow from Kurt Vonnegut. “SH was the victim of series of accidents, as are we all.” There have been a few moments where somebody happened to be somewhere and the wheel turned. It turns one way and then it turns the other. Of course I respect the plotting and planning that goes on with some artists and their management, but never really had the nous for it. Look at Graeme Revell, who has organised himself excellently over the years. I can’t help but be impressed, but it’s not for me. When we have climbed I have been pleasantly surprised and each time we have fallen I can shrug and remember that it was all a bunch of kids making noise in any case.

One advantage of this is ego protection. Any artist knows how you get surrounded by praise for a while, and then get told that you are embarrassing dated shit. Wait a little while and everything that was dated becomes cool again. Then not cool. If you care too much you get hurt.

Some of your work (Skippy Roo Kangaroo for example) seems wilfully annoying.  Is that ever your end goal?  Do you deliberately use “obnoxious” source material sometimes to make the act of transcending it into an entertaining challenge for yourself?

 Skippy Roo is much more than that. It’s Australian Radio for Schools, broadcast across the entire continent, children clapping and singing in hundreds of tiny isolated towns, the teacher’s broad accent, the way she loses the note at the end of the phrase. This is not just random shit. If you can understand how this represents our take on ‘folk music’ then we’ve made mind contact. I love that teacher, and I’m framing that moment in diamond and gold. When that blast of easy listening hits at the end I think everyone should line up and salute.

I don’t find this sound annoying. It’s like using white noise to try sleep (which I do). The context of the noise matters very much, it becomes music if the mind of maker and listener are able to synchronise. What might seem chaotic and tedious is often infinite possibility.

ABC Radio Kindergarten Of The Air

Were you surprised or embarrassed when Vinyl-On-Demand contacted you about releasing a lavish retrospective of your earliest work? 

I was curious. It seemed to be an honourable thing, and Frank was very informed and helpful. Actually I was mostly interested in working with two sided media again. I was back at university after decades and working up to a thesis about the influence of recording media on music. How to fit everything into 20 minute long segments?

At the same time, Severed Heads had just been shut down as no longer fun.  That called for an exorcism and that’s what the document became, a coffin for the old order. I wrote a bit of a eulogy, comparing the box set to a grave stone. It was a mix of self mocking and serious.

Your earliest work is more conspicuously perverse and uncommercial than what Severed Heads eventually evolved into.  Was there an epiphany that steered you in that direction?  Like “Hey…dancing is fun.  Making uncompromising collages for a small number of serious music snobs is markedly less so…I’m definitely going about this all wrong.”

 Oh no, not at all. The very earliest music we made was pop music. In 1979 we declared that we made ‘Chinese Fungal Disco’. Severed Heads always made what we enjoyed, and in your life sometimes you want sugar and other times salt. And of course we had very limited equipment and ability which both grew over time; it would have been dishonest to contrive our earlier sounds year after year. No, I am much happier to have so much different music to look back to, even some country and western!

There’s another factor – the recordings did not disappear. Once you make an album it remains made. Why make it again? Why not make something else? It’s still there. People who ask why we don’t make something like (their favourite album) again don’t understand that you are just as likely to subtract as add to a work by doing it over. Really the best thing for any musician to do is to make what they themselves want to hear and if others like it as well it’s an extra.

And another – the earlier music was, to me, too much about calling attention to a single idea or effect. I call it ‘Sci Fi music’. There might be one sample that dominates the whole thing for example. Since then SH made pop music that had just as many ideas, but presented without calling attention to one aspect. Like having bird sounds on every track of the Rotund For Success LP. That’s more fun than stodgily making an album only out of bird sounds.

Do you listen to much “pop” music for enjoyment or do you relate to it in kind of a mad scientist kind of way; like as a body you can harvest organs from for your own creation?

 Pop music defies analysis; it’s about your body and the chemicals that flow through your head and muscles. It’s like fucking, basically. Making pop music is learning how to fuck, and if you are taking notes you are not doing it right. There was a time when Autechre made some great pop music, sexy stuff. I was really into it, and then they went off in some uptight puritan tangent which might have satisfied some music priesthood, but for me the mind had overcome the ass. Point being too much analysis spoils music.

Have you ever had a collaborator that had as strong an appreciation for the absurd as you?

 They all did! Everyone who has passed through SH was in some way their own pervert. They all did great music before and after the band and one thing that makes me sad is when somebody like Garry Bradbury gets lumped with his time in SH – about two years – when he’s spent a lifetime making really excellent noise. The band had a revolving door, they came, they went and everyone that came through contributed some of the personality: Richard Fielding’s radiophonics, Stephen Jones and his home brew video gear (now somebody has built a replica!). Bradbury’s intensive tonality, Simon Knuckey’s lead guitar (R.I.P.), Paul Deering and his communist noise bursts (R.I.P.), Robert Racic’s late night House (R.I.P.), Boxcar’s precision, Kriv Stender’s cinematography. It was a really messy shared house; all I did was make sure the rent got paid.

What convinced Richard, Andrew, and yourself that you could release albums and that people would probably want to hear them? In the late 70’s making an album was like making a blog now, although it cost. Not expecting a large audience, but still a making public act – adding our small voice to many. I guess the current jargon is ‘the cloud’. We didn’t think that Ear Bitten would be heard widely (only made 400 copies), but it would add to the general noise and that made life more enjoyable.

Were there any important non-musical influences that shaped your direction?  Do It Yourself culture included fanzines, comics, super 8 films and a lot more. A generally creative environment helped us take a chance. There was space to grow as well – less rules and expectations. I already had a computer (a Radio Shack TRS-80) making up word salad ‘poems’ and made super 8 film loops and anything else that seemed like fun. Multimedia had been around since the 60’s and oddly seemed more commonplace than it does now.

What sorts of things are currently inspiring you? I hope I’m not the only person who feels overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ideas, artworks and tools that are pounding at the door. I can’t be, given the nostalgia about. Either you cultivate ignorance or you hopelessly flap between new music, new software, social networks… I mean just on YouTube there’s another 24 hours of video uploaded every minute. There are probably 1000 bands I should love and an equal number of gadgets I could use to make a racket.

I tend to love too many things and collapse from optional paralysis. At my age I probably should just settle down into senile collecting of 80’s underground cassettes… but nostalgia pisses me off.

Anyway I think computer game engines are a way forward. Look at free tools like Unreal Development Kit or FMOD designer. So many untried ideas come from that world that it makes me dizzy (and paralysed). Even a Blu Ray disc has such amazing potential for reforming narrative into branching and looping parts.

Right now I am burned out with music. My favourite music right now is a recording of a thunderstorm. That sucks but it won’t last.

What do you think/hope will follow CDs?  It seems like you still have some hope for physical media.  Is something important being lost in our shift to “virtual” media?  Does the convenience outweigh it?  How do you view the current resurgence of vinyl & cassettes in the underground music scene?  I think the fetishization/scarcity part is pretty exasperating, but a lot of music definitely sounds better with some crackle, hiss, and grit.  Also, I tend to better remember things I listen to on vinyl- putting a record on is an “event” of sorts. The main worry is the change from 20th century mass production to 21st century virtual distribution. Where in the past you would buy a cheap replica of a high end object, now there is the download, a souvenir of the thing itself. The wealthy own the book, the poor own the PDF. The mp3 is the musical object stripped down to its least potential. It leads to music sold by volume: how many songs on your player. It seems to me a bit of a trick and that’s why I still sell my stuff on CDs. (n.b. gave up in 2011)

Piracy is congratulated by many as anti-authoritarian. It’s actually a kind of self harm where the powerless attack those that have some small power, not touching the status quo at all. Lady Ga Ga will survive piracy, but the independent bands will go under.

Vinyl fetish acknowledges the missing magic and is a self empowerment – but also points the wrong direction. Yes, we should resist the virtual ghetto, but not by falling back on safe and ironic. Surely there’s a way forward, and my little survey of formats suggested some of the things we should keep. I think something like Blu Ray or even DVD could be the forward fetish, if it survives.

I’ve always thought that Severed Heads could’ve only emerged from Australia.  Do you feel similarly?  Are you able to articulate why? Yes, although it’s very hard to explain that from the inside. Think of a small town, it can be dead boring but you can also have good friends, places to drop in – a bit of a scene. A lot of good art moves out of small towns – Sheffield and Seattle are well known examples. Sydney was like that, a small group of people, an internal logic, and lots of in jokes. It was refreshing for outsiders when it finally emerged.

That Australia has since died. Earlier this year we held a festival and seminars about the old ‘inner city’ scene, organised by kids who wondered why it had disappeared (the Circa 79 Festival). It’s just that media became centrally planned for efficiency, and Internet has made it overpowering. Facebook is like the Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Did the dissolution of Severed Heads coincide with a significant decrease in the amount of time you spend working on music? Kind of. I wanted to take personal responsibility, drop the band bullshit, and make less music better. Just compose and not go through the whole rock distribution fantasy.

Also as an academic I’m supposed to be working on ‘serious music’. I have a commission for a major work next year which is a new, frightening step for me! It means working on the one piece for months on end, and nothing is heard in the meantime. When you are called ‘Severed Heads’ you don’t get offered that kind of work. (The Shape of a Note)

Have many of your current projects been percolating for a long time?  Is Aerodrom the most ambitious thing you currently have in the works? Aerodrom is something that … never gets off the ground. It’s like the short story you keep writing and then throwing in the trash and starting anew. And that’s because the interesting part will only come as a side effect of the work, like a soundtrack that’s more important than the film. But I have to ‘shoot the film’ first and that needs some time and skills that I have trouble collecting.

The most ambitious thing is probably my doctorate. The idea is to retrieve video by a psychometric profile, which seems bogus on the face of it and I get some hostile responses. But in the project is a call for data retrieval not based around the ‘who, what, when, where’ kind of thinking which tends to favour narrative over abstract work. If we tend to retrieve video in a certain way then we will end up only with a certain kind of video: a person in a place at a time.

I was recently dumbfounded at a speech by a well known guru of ‘sound art’. In just one part of an annoying tirade he suggested the need to develop ‘expanded cinema’ as part of training for acousmatic listening. It became obvious that he really meant ‘cinema’ – as in narrative movies – and was setting up a whole new academy like the one that used to divide music into ‘serious music’ and ‘jazz’. When I asked about VJ work he basically dismissed it as colour organs. With people like that in positions of power there’s a real potential for non narrative video art to be left out of the search – and these days that means death.

ABC Radio Kindergarten Of The Air

So back to Skippy Roo … I have a ton of questions now: 1.) when is that recording from?  did a young Tom Ellard ever get to clap and sing along with Australian School Radio?, 2.) Is that “bury someone close to you” line normally in the song?, and 3.) Were a lot of your loops meaningful/important to you before being re-contextualized in your music/video work?  I understand that everything was meaningful in a sense, being taken from your immediate environment, but I am curious about how intimate/personal you were.  I am guessing you’d want to slug someone if they described you as a surrealist. Well I did clap along, but not in the late 80’s when that recording was made! I don’t think there’s the line “I buried Paul” in there, but I wouldn’t argue if you say it is. No, I don’t think they are meaningful… it’s very difficult to pick the right words. They are not significant in themselves, but have an important place in a wider ‘sympathy’. Like the smell of toast is not meaningful but could be crucial within a person’s impression of existence. I am really struggling with this point right now and don’t have the training to do it justice.

It’s far too late to be a surrealist, but I believe that we are guided by the unconscious, which is a continuous activity of the brain. I am certain that music is formed in collaboration with instinctual mechanisms that are not explicit to the person. I’ve been through analysis and (to my own satisfaction) have seen how sublimated urges have been honed over the years to allow me to create. It’s a wonderfully rich world and I feel sorry for people who claim there’s no ‘I’. They should stop signing their research papers if that’s the case.

Were you working with tape loops and mucking about with gadgets for long before Severed Heads cohered?  I have a romantic image of you obsessively taping everything around you as a child, amassing teetering stacks of unlabelled cassettes that later wound up in your music. Well, yeah. All of us started creating long before the band thing. I have a cassette of me as a kid screwing around with spinning records in the late 60’s. (Actually the most important thing is the cassette itself is an original 1st generation Philips dictation cassette.) By the early 70’s I had a portable recorder and in 1975 some open reel machines which I connected up like the illustration on the back of Eno’s Discreet Music. But tape loops were more fun!

When I met Bradbury he was making some infernal noise by firing off a ghetto blaster in a public space and recording that onto another ghetto blaster. Then repeating that process. Insane volume in libraries and buses! I Am Shitting Up A Room.

Your short wave radio project is one of my favorite things that you’ve done.  Do you think hearing all those strange transmissions as a child did a lot to shape your taste and aesthetic?  What is the most unusual/memorable thing you remember hearing? Shortwave radio was just the most amazing thing for a child – you could turn a few knobs and make the most wonderful soundscapes. My old man liked to hear people and music but I liked the noises. The thing we could both like were the ‘numbers stations’ which were numerous and powerful back then. I soon got the sound out of the shortwave radio and put it on a tape loop. It’s funny that a guy I met years later called Ian Andrews was doing exactly the same thing a few suburbs away! But we were two of the very few who did that kind of stuff as teens.

When I heard Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity it was like – my god, there are other people out there! I was so happy. Then I heard Stockhausen’s Gesang der Jünglinge and realised that it’s a long flow of ideas, and innovation is perhaps a myth.

Do you think distributing your music through Sevcom has worked fairly well?  I imagine setting up and maintaining it consumed a lot of time. Sevcom only ever met demand, never encouraged it. Occasionally I’d talk with a company that offered to promote the music & deduct a fee. Talk was about buying shelf space, buying live gigs, paying off radio stations … what use? Back in Severed Heads’ most commercial moment with top 20 airplay and all that, we were talking to our label about what to do next. Can’t be ‘Severed Heads’ – change the name, change the music – roll over, play dead … what was the point of it? Become Elton John? There’s a point where ambition folds over.

Do you think working with record labels in the past was a good idea?  I’ve noticed that a lot of bands I like release their music on their own, but it seems like that is only a feasible option if you’ve already established yourself with by making a big splash through shock/extremity or name recognition from a stint at a “big” label. Absolutely! We drew great benefit from our time with majors. The champions of self marketing and market dumping all had major labels first build their goodwill. By market dumping I mean giving away your material, funded by cash reserves that younger bands can’t match. Many multinationals: Roche, Microsoft etc. have done this to destroy their competition. The sad thing is that the young bands are convinced that they too will eventually win the race to the bottom. They denounce labels and publishers without having experienced either.

Has the direction of your commissioned composition been solidified?  I’m pretty curious about where you’ll go with with it- will it be a totally new direction or an elaboration upon one of your past phases?  I’ve always thought that a piece like Wonder of All the World could work quite well as a long-form work.  Are you planning a visual accompaniment? It’s not solid yet, I’m very anxious. It has to be suitable for high school music studies, explain what I think is important about music and yet still be an interesting work. One concept for example is that tempo and pitch are two ends of a spectrum. OK, so that’s easily demonstrated with an oscillator. But how do you make that beautiful? It has to demonstrate that moving image is music – not just ‘visual music’ but all moving image. The conservatorium are taking a huge risk on me and I’m puzzling through the elements and hoping it starts to come together pretty damn soon.
There are a few old things I could rework. I remade Gashing the Old Mae West today as an Ableton project, not too hard as it’s simply an 8 channel loop.

How did your collection of weird cassettes begin?  Is there any one that you keep going back to again and again?  I’m kind of fascinated by the amount of old “exotica” LPs I find at thrift stores- it seems like the average person used to be a lot more open to music from other cultures than they are now. I am sad that no bland suburban families are buying Hawaiian music or mambo albums any more. The cassettes are mostly family heirlooms, brought back from various trips around Asia in the 60’s and 70’s. They’ve been picked up in markets as souvenirs, bootlegged from records with lots of surface noise and added distortion. I’ve added a whole layer of crank, religious and business tapes from hock shops throughout the 80’s. A curious thing is how mysterious old Asian tapes are now identifiable online. I had reused sounds from some indecipherable Hindi tape on a track 25 years ago. Trying to find a better copy I ended up on YouTube watching the film from which my old cassette was dubbed. That’s kind of disturbing – the obscurity is peeled away and the reuse seems referential now that I know the original author!

Do you see 2010 as a particularly bad time to be a musician?  It certainly seems quite hard to make a living or even get noticed in the relentless torrent of releases these days, but it also seems pretty easy to record, distribute your work, and get cheap, sophisticated gear & software. A visit to ‘Mutant Sounds’ shows that back in the 70’s and 80’s there were an enormous amount of bands pumping out cassettes and 7 inchers that no one much cared about. Looks like every second street corner had a teen ‘industrial band’ flogging ten copies. Perhaps there are not more bands now, just more people on stage than in the audience, because everybody can be on stage.
We want what we can’t have: a rare edition or fame or riches. It all comes down to power, and having made distribution more equitable has left the power relationship unchanged. In fact it’s more vicious – the lower end is judged in hits and tweets and downloads.

Did you ever get involved in making videos for other artists?  it seems like it would have been quite natural, since Severed Heads was so far ahead of the curve in regards to video art, but all of your work that I’ve seen is very instantly recognizably “Tom Ellard.” 

It’s endearing to play the piano badly on your own recordings but to then go out and act like a session musician is a bit foolish. I don’t think I should make videos for other bands. I’ve actually done plenty of corporate video but it’s all very nondescript – banks, utilities – and I keep it very secret!

How are you dealing with the culture shock of being immersed in academia?  Do most of your students know that you are a titan of post-industrial music?  if so, are they appropriately awed? My students were born around 1990. When they were six the Internet became mainstream. Their whole lives have been spent in an information sewer, and the entire notion of scarcity is beyond them. They see history as a mockumentary, everything a punchline. When I have been compelled to talk about myself to them (which I avoid like anthrax) they stare at me like I was their dad on drugs.

One of my friends is very insistent that Dance be played at her funeral. Was there anything notable about the conception of that particular piece?  What would you play at your funeral? Dance is based on a TRS-80 home computer which was made before there were rules about RF interference. If you ran a series of instruction loops in BASIC you could broadcast primitive music around the whole neighbourhood and Dance is part of a recording I made with a radio placed near the machine, changing the tuning every now and then to alter the timbre. Computer pirate radio.

I’m flummoxed by the funeral question. It’s not going to matter much to me what they do. They can use a garbage bag and play a polka.

Which of your works is your current favorite?  I am especially fond of Cuisine, myself.  Is there anything you’ve recorded that still kind of astonishes you (like “Where the hell did that come from?) Every musician probably hates everything they have ever done until that drunken moment when you think – “hey that’s not so shit after all.” I like what I do now far more than any of the old albums, but seems like the opposite is true for the audience. That’s a bit unsettling because it means you’ve become a comfortable old chair. I guess I like the two parts of Over Barbara Island the best. Dead Eyes Opened makes money. Barbara I have to give away.

Do you have any closing wisdom that you’d like to impart to the masses? Well, one reason people make music is to make friends. It works when you are starting out and you do meet some really sweet people. But you also seem to meet these incredibly bitter, fucked up people that vent their jealousy and rage at you like you were a thing, not a person. I used to compensate, but since freezing the band I’ve realised they’re the ones with the problem. I guess the lesson is – they’ve already cast you an arrogant prick – so GO FOR IT. You might even get a laugh out of it.

[H.H] Recreating WWVH


The heart of the universe has two chambers – radio WWV in Colorado and radio WWVH Hawaii. They beat as one – the Great Timepiece that Orders All Things. The role once fell to Greenwich Observatory and may one day be with Beijing but for now the artificial voices that sing Coordinated Universal Time are American.

The man is called Lee. The woman is Jane.

WWV is the oldest continuously broadcasting radio station in the United States, starting with Friday night concerts in the beginning of 1920, months before the first commercial station went to air. You can read the history on NIST’s own web site, although one event that strikes me is (according to the official guide) 440Hz being provided by the station in August 1936 ‘at the request of several musical organisations’ prior to officially becoming A in 1939. Musical tuning continues to be offered by WWV.

I’ve studied the official specification put out by NIST for some time, but as you’d expect the obsessives over at WikiPedia have an even more detailed explanation that you can read. The most important elements are the tick, a data signal at 100Hz, tones that alternate between 500Hz and 600Hz every minute; a conversation between WWV and WWVH. At the start of the hour they both provide 440Hz for any orchestras that might happen to be tuning up at that moment. And the voices. Each of these things has a very definite order – a musical score. For WWVH:

  • Every second (except the first) + 25ms play the 100Hz tone.
  • Every second except the 29th and 59th play the click.
  • Every minute play the 1200Hz minute tone.
  • Every minute + 45s play the time announcement.
  • In minute 1 play add the 440Hz tone.
  • In minutes 2, 4, 6, 12, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 32, 34, 36, 38, 40, 46, 52, 54, 56, 58 add the 600Hz tone.
  • In minutes 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 21, 23, 25, 27, 31, 33, 35, 37, 39, 41, 53, 55, 57 add the 500Hz tone.
  • In minutes 29 and 59 add the station ID
  • In 43-45 add GPS reports
  • In 45 add Geo alerts
  • In 48-51 add Storm alerts

Although I made a simulation back in 2007, it’s time to do it properly. [H.H] has at the start a grand chamber in which many noise making machines can be enjoyed, and the grandest of these is to be the Coordinated Universal Time Machine. It will follow through the whole programme of WWVH – which is the one nearest to me and stronger in my fable. But it’s a struggle:

  • You could: record a whole day and play it through. Horribly large audio file, not likely to download.
  • You could: program it. If minute = 13 then play 500Hz for 965ms. Maybe, but I don’t trust it. You’d have to hope that the code didn’t get delayed and start drifting. Every couple of seconds you’d have to check the clock and try some maths to drift it back again. Not my cup of tea.
  • You could: read the blog over at Unity which points out that the FMOD audio library reads MODs. As in, old Amiga tracker MODs. I never bothered to make MODs because life is too short for hexidecimal, and here it is 2012 and I’m staring at something that looked cool on WorkBench 3.0.

Time to party like it’s 1990. The good thing is that I’m just firing off samples every second, so 60 BPM and a division of 24 Amiga ticks places samples one to a cell. Design the tones to meet the microseconds and trim the block of cells to 60. Each minute then gets its own pattern and 60 patterns make an hour. It’s not thrilling work but I can hear how it will go before it hits the authoring software. It also becomes the basis of a possible performance as part of REDACTED. I said possible.

The real WWVH has announcements about storms and sun spots and things that affect shipping in the Pacific. My machine makes announcements that provide clues about the game – who is where, why we are here and so on. The clues are tricky as they refer to clues given somewhere else that are similar to clues in a third story. To be honest the story in [H.H] is writing itself – an element appears, it connects with something else, forces a design decision. There is actually a character in game lore that forces itself into other games, a kind of cuckoo’s egg. I let it into this one and it immediately started to connecting things without telling me why. The player will need to find out where it’s hiding.

I can with all sincerity say that I have no idea why rabbits.

The Ghost of James Dibble

James Dibble has died.

If you are Australian and are not wearing black, you are not an Australian. If you are English then you should, because we’ll get upset when YOUR queen dies. Yanks – I guess the comparison is Edward Murrow, although it must be said Murrow was the greater man who took on demons and vanquished them.

Dibble is symbolic of … well of course whatever you want to him to be … but for me symbolic of the old colonial/socialist hybrid that was Australia, that ran on the well meaning corruption and crisp speaking we inherited from the United Kingdom. The elite were running the show, the workers had jobs, the indigenous people were tucked away out of sight, and broadcast was a signal that came from on high, holding it all together. The opposite of blogs like this.

Yet Dibble was one of the freaks, the stirrers. He was simultaneously the Voice of Control and out of control. He’d get in all kinds of escapades and could be found hanging out with the hippies and the punks in the right eras. That was part of the old system too. The ABC was an enlightened despot, as with the BBC, but with that tropical fever of the colonial administration.

In the 90’s Dibble got into computers and Internet. He probably was that 15 year old girl you thought you were chatting up on ICQ.

Richard Morecroft was like the ‘new doctor’, you know, when you grudgingly accept a younger reincarnated Time Lord and only realise how much you’d got used to him when he finally gets the shaft. Morecroft only lasted 20 years …

Must have been the flying fox he kept hidden under the news desk.

Now here’s a bit of weird shit. So I am reading about Dibble. Any cultured person would be, no doubt you already have. The odd thing is that a short while ago, out of the blue, I had a compulsion to read about Dibble. In times past we’d question what was meant by ‘a short while ago’ and did I really do so or is this just confabulation?

But browsers have memories too. On the 7th Dec at 9.23pm for some reason I did a search for ‘James Dibble’ and read his bio on Wikipedia. About a newsreader that last appeared in 1983 and I don’t think I had thought about him in quite a long time. Why?


  • I am psychic about long retired television news readers. No.
  • He made a final mental broadcast from his death bed for all true viewers. Like it, but no.
  • I had posted on YouTube a cut up of the new ABC news theme I did in 2002 and it reminded me about the old news intro and consequentially James Dibble. Then he dies days later.

Sadly it’s number three. Jung would be well pleased, as it reinforces his ideas on synchronicity. As would Fort. But no psychic prowess required. Damn.

Hi Tom,

I may have posted this to you before, or to one of the Twister forums. Before you write me off as another Twister Loon, please check this link (one of Dibble’s ramblings/narrations with Russell Guy).

I’m sure you have a copy – but just in case it is lost in the archives….


Lyle (Rhizomic)

Creepy Children’s Television.

Right now my workplace is being such a shit that come the evening I can’t think of anything much intelligent to say. But that’s why you keep coming here isn’t it? For the stupid?

Isn’t it?

I’ll cheat – Tim sent this link.

I don’t get this actually. Why is this scary? That’s not saying it’s not, but asking – why so? Maybe it’s just loud colour and sound. One commenter said about the Viacom logo that was like it was going to come flying out of the TV. But I’d really be curious if there was a more empathic reason for the distress.

One comparison is with the ‘fortification’ visual distortion in migraines. I’ve had this a few times and it certainly seems like some part of your brain is frying like a TV set on full blast. Harsh geometrical shapes that twist around your peripheral vision and you feel like you’re million kilometres long.

Reminds me of  a ‘true ghost story’ I read on Something Awful which I’m sadly unable to find at the moment – the writer recalls being a small child and turning on the TV set to unexpectedly see the introduction for a TV show called something like ‘R.A.V.E.’, weirdly animated with bright red 90’s style vector graphics and for some reason intensely frightening. There was never such a  show and he thinks it might have been a waking dream. So a hallucinated ‘scary logo’. That could mean scary logos can be designed –  RESEARCH GOLD!

(Oh, and the Muppet story although that’s in a class of it’s own.)

I’ve already said I love TV graphics and my first childhood memory is this guy: Dollar Bill

He introduced decimal currency on television in 1965. Which means I can date my first memory to age 3. Perhaps Dollar Bill wasn’t loud enough or the TV being black and white means some resonant frequencies were missing from the psycho-radiation. I can also remember an advertisement for a political party called the DLP. It had animated olive leaves that grew around the logo. Obviously when you are three years old, TV is a lot of brightly moving shapes. I think those two advertisements must have been repeated endlessly in late 1965. “Better a gramme than a damn.”


Seeing as I don’t get the vibe I have to rely on simulations made by sufferers:

That’s a famous spoof of the ‘worst children’s TV show’ that I think started on 4Chan. It sums up pretty much everything that makes a child run screaming from the TV set and off a cliff. But we’re drifting away from pure TV graphics as scary. One thing that seems to be common to scary logos is they were made on a Scanimate…

… which was a bloody big machine that used magnets to bend and stretch the image on a black and white monitor. Another camera would reshoot that and colour it, you’d have to run the tape again and again to build up the colours. The web site claims there was only 8 machines built. Hell, there were more than one in Australia. We got offered one once from a commercial station in Canberra that was throwing out their 2 inch video gear. No room for it unfortunately. Think of all the kids we could have traumatised.

Theory – the scanimate was actually an experimental mind control device. The evidence is compelling. Please tell everyone you know THE SCANIMATE WAS AN EXPERIMENTAL MIND CONTROL DEVICE.

Singing the Blu-Ray Blues

Warning. If you’re not interested in disc authoring then pass on by.

TV around the world is divided up in incompatible regions. America has 30 frames per second (mangled to 29.97 because of the NTSC colour system). Civilised parts of the world use PAL at 25 frames a second. In film they still use 24 frames a second. In these three conflicting systems is a long tale of suffering.

When high definition came about there was some talk of unity but short lived. It’s not a simple matter to replace all the existing broadcast equipment, as well as providing a signal to the majority that still use their old TVs. Also the way lights blink in time with the power supply. TV will long remain PAL or NTSC. But in Blu-Ray discs there’s hope of a world standard.

It makes economic sense to make all Blu-Rays run at 24fps. Most of the media is drawn from film, so an exact match. You can also convert 30fps to 24 easily by a 3:2 weaving. PAL can be slowed down a bit so that the programme is longer, pitch correction will solve the music tuning so long as no one listens too closely.

That also suits animators nicely because a motion needs to be divided up, perhaps several times and 24 can split into 12, 6, 4, 3 and 2. The professional animators with whom I teach are used to these simple numbers and wince when I describe working with 12.5 frames. They’d be quite happy if everything ran at 24fps, and have their students think in film terms. The problem is that 24 can’t be broadcast without speeding it up – maybe that’s why Bugs Bunny is so frantic on local TV.

If you’re shooting video and then animating over the top locally you should use 25fps. Just about every camera is 25fps, and although some high end models are capable of a 24fps ‘film mode’ you can’t rely on it being there. Then you have the problem of televisions that run at 50fps, computer screens that run at 60fps and who knows what the next projector will do.

OK. So making up video for the Brisbane gig in 2005 I thought to use 60fps, matching the speed of the projector on offer. The theory was sound, the practice less so as 60 frames of high resolution animation was taking too long to render. After a while I dropped to 30 with motion blur, better for meeting the deadline. The idea of using an Xbox to replay the video didn’t work out, and the replacement laptop I bought looked absolutely terrible until just before the gig I realised that it was refreshing the screen at 59fps – some issue between Vista and my playback software. All was solved when I switched to 75fps. I think I was in rapture for about half a day until the penny dropped … at 75fps I could have just done the whole thing at 25fps. I’d wasted months, and created media that was no actual standard.

Now I’m rendering again in PAL. This means that all the older clips have had to be time stretched and that’s a complex business of synthesising 5 frames of video out of every 6. In most cases its working OK although there’s some strange tearing that has be repaired by hand.


Blu-Ray runs at set speeds – 24, 50 or 59.94. At 24 each frame is shown in full. At 50 or 59.94 it depends on the size of the image – at 720 dots each frame is shown for 1/50th of a second (in PAL) called “720p50”. At 1080 dots the image is interlaced into 2 fields each 540 dots tall and that is shown for 1/25th of a second, called “1080i25”. The only speed I can use in PAL is 50, showing each frame twice. Not too odd I guess as the shutter on a film projector shows each of the 24 frames twice. All this fussing does make one nostalgic for DVD.

You’ve got a choice of codecs. Originally Blu-Ray used the same MPEG-2 as DVD, just at a higher rate. With competition from HD-DVD, they added MPEG-4 and with some strong arming from Microsoft they added VC-1 which is SMPTE’s official ‘video codec number one’. If you’re on a Macintosh until recently you only had MPEG-2 as an option, the latest Final Cut Studio has finally cut it so you get MPEG-4 as well. I actually prefer VC-1 but damned if any affordable authoring software will allow this. Although MPEG-4 should look identical to MPEG-2 above a certain rate it always seems to be better. Compression times are hideous; you are looking at 3:1 on a fast machine, meaning you’ll need at least 3 hours to encode an hour show, and at least another hour to burn to disc. Do not leave to last day.

Next problem: when Blu-Ray was battling with HD-DVD the latter had an advantage – machinery that made recordable DVD could be upgraded to make recordable HD-DVD. Blu-Ray needed all new machines, until somebody worked out a way to use an organic dye that makes the process cheaper. It also makes it probable that the disc you burn won’t play in a different Blu-Ray deck. From painful experience – if the surface is blue (Panasonic), you’re probably OK. If it’s brown (Ritek) then you are going to have to check it in the playback machine. A PlayStation3 WILL play a write-once brown disc, but will vomit a rewritable brown disc. Figure that one out.

AVCHD discs.

If you don’t have a Blu-Ray burner you can create a miniature version on a DVD. The DVD uses a fatter red laser so you are not getting the same data rate or duration. But I’ve managed to get around 45mins to an hour of good looking high definition on the cheaper disc. Through marketing and not logic the format is known as AVCHD Disc. That sounds like it’s related to the AVCHD format used on recent video cameras. Sort of, kind of. Yes they are both MPEG-4 streams but it’s not just a matter of copying files from your camera – the structure of the disc needs to be that of a Blu-ray.

And unless the Blu-ray player checks for this format it won’t play. A PlayStation3 will not accept an AVCHD disc as anything but raw files. If the player has the AVCHD logo on the case it may, it probably should, but don’t wager it. This is disappointing when DVD discs are a 16th of the price.

Right now Toast 10 is able to make AVCHD discs that work in many but not all players, SONY DVD Architect does not recognise the format, and Adobe Encore I am still testing. Other people have had good luck with Pinnacle software. You just have hang around the same forums you did when DVD first came out. Hell I was hanging around them when CD came out.

As they say in the magazines – this ain’t ready for prime time.

Quick, before the rolling pin…

Damnation, the wife came back from holidays a week early. Have to squeeze out this third and final bit of ‘radio’ before I get told to forever turn that noise down. Besides I was going to post the next music class but it was written so long ago that it was full of pictures of Senator Fries McCain making the frog face and now it’s like … who is that old bugger?

Ribbit Ribbit

Ribbit Ribbit

This meme is moved on. Once you go black you never go back. It’s not funny. Well it’s a bit funny. Well it’s hilarious actually. I hope the surgery to pull Mrs Palin out of his arse improves his mentality because he used to be a delightful old rightwing codger. Anyway I will have to use a picture of a real frog to explain about formants. Tune in for that.

Oh the radio programme has lots of pygmies, a couple of really bad songs, sex education and The Carousel of Progress! Use Windows Media Player or VLC or just whistle.