An Aversion To Versions

When there are different versions of a song or piece of music, I’ve noticed I get quite picky about which one I listen to, even if the differences are only minor (like two different mixes by the same artist). I was thinking about it this morning as I picked out Pet Shop Boys – A Red Letter Day to perk me up on my way into work, and noticed myself avoiding the album version in favour of the single release.

Almost all the time, it seems to be that the first version I hear burrows its way deep into my subconscious and settles in as my favourite, then any other ones I hear subsequently fail to unseat it. I remember how disappointed I was when I bought the CD of Hergest Ridge, one of my favourite albums by one of my favourite artists (Mike Oldfield) and found it sounded nothing like my Dad’s old LP that I knew and loved. In fact it sounded so weird and stripped down in comparison that I took my first CD back to the shop thinking it was faulty. It wasn’t… I later found out that the original mix actually wasn’t available on CD at all as Mike Oldfield had decided he liked a later remix better and wanted that one used for all future releases. (On the plus side, though, I was ridiculously over-excited when he eventually changed his mind and I finally got my hands on a shiny CD copy of the “real” Hergest Ridge – only fifteen years later!).

Often I end up raiding my Dad’s music collection or scouring the internet for that elusive version of Pachelbel’s Canon or Space Cowboy that I heard years ago and still can’t get out of my head. (Amazon MP3 is a godsend… they seem to have almost everything and you can preview it before buying to make sure it’s the “right” version!). It even happens with our own music sometimes… I still have a copy of the old vocal-less, keyboard-less MIDI demo mix of It Could Be Different because I listened to it so often back when we were making that song that sometimes I just crave hearing it again rather than the much more polished final version.

Actually I can only think of one song right now where the version I ended up liking wasn’t the first one I heard. Even though I’d got used to the album version of Running Man by Jimmy Nail first, it’s always sounded bland to me since hearing the single release.

Other music news: still haven’t managed to book any more gigs or festivals yet, though I’m looking out for them. Still also practising away at the piano and been meaning to post about that again. Still slowly getting nowhere with new Sonic Triangle EP, I’m sad to say :(.

Gladiolus Rag

I love Scott Joplin… always have, ever since I was about 5 years old, oddly enough. I’ve heard his music described as “intoxicating” and I totally agree… I find it so easy to lost myself in it, either just listening to it or playing it myself.

This is one of the best piano books I ever bought:

(Despite the editor name, it’s not a dodgy knock-off I got from Del Boy 😉 )

All of Scott Joplin’s ragtime pieces in their full original versions, including the original cover pictures as well.

Hard to imagine now, but back in the days when pianos were more widespread than any sort of sound recording device, those sheet music booklets would have been a pretty common sort of musical entertainment. Much more interactive than a CD… ultimately more rewarding as well, maybe.

Anyway… have finally got back into playing the keyboard a decent amount lately, so thought I’d give one of my favourite rags another bash. Not one of his most well-known ones (though there are still zillions of videos of it on Youtube, most probably better than mine). My keyboard isn’t too bad for playing piano pieces if you plug a decent sustain pedal in; the sound quality and touch sensitivity are pretty good, it’s mainly the weight of the keys that I miss. This is the first time I’ve tried filming myself playing and it was quite illuminating… I’ve always known I have flexible hands, but I’d never noticed the weird way some of my fingers bend backwards before! (On the other hand I have always known that I involuntarily make weird faces while I play… hence the close-up angle).

Enjoy :).

PS new Sonic Triangle material coming along nicely now… new EP is in the works, the first track of which is coming together pretty well :).


My strange music taste again

Been listening to this a lot…

Just bought it from Amazon MP3 today. Want to get myself in the mood for when I go and see them live next month :D. They’re one of those bands I feel like I shouldn’t like, but I love them anyway. Looking forward to the new album as well, but I haven’t bought it yet because I’m hoping someone will get me it for my birthday (yes, that is a hint 😉 ).

I must be feeling musical as I had a go at playing the piano for the first time in a while (well, to be more accurate, playing proper piano music on my keyboard). I’m having another crack at learning Beethoven’s Appassionata (which I used to be able to mostly play the last 2 movements of but have got rusty) and the Fugue in A minor from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier book 1 (which I just find amazing to listen to but never had much luck with learning before).

Both kind of challenging… wish me luck, I’m gonna need it.

(Hmm. Wonder if I’m the only person ever to write a blog post about Evanescence, Beethoven and Bach…).

There’s a glockenspiel on my coffee table…

… a freakin’ glockenspiel!

(It’s actually Alex’s).

There is also the score for the glockenspiel part of the next Sonic Triangle song, sitting there inviting me to practise it. Just when I’d finally got used to having the keyboard, viola, tin whistle, bamboo flute and stylophone here. (This is actually the first time we’re using a real acoustic instrument in one of our songs. Previously everything was either keyboard, drum synth on the computer, or vocals. Plus a few weird sound effects such as me impersonating a station announcer, and Heather and me screaming on Oblivion at Alton Towers).

I can probably say goodbye to getting anything useful done at the flat as long as this situation persists. I’m supposed to be working from home today but c’mon… this is like shutting an eight year old in a room with a bouncy castle in one corner and a fully functioning chocolate making machine in the other and expecting them to get on with their homework unsupervised. By the time I’ve finished hammering out the tuned percussion parts from every song I can think of, there won’t be much time left for programming.

It’s also reminded me that I always wanted a set of tubular bells to play with, not just because I love the album of that name but also for the sheer coolness. I’m guessing they’d be expensive though. Especially if you take into account having to find somewhere else to live after I get evicted for disturbing the neighbours.

Sonic Triangle: how it’s done

What better way to inaugurate this new blog than with a post about how our band records our music? (Well actually, there are probably lots of better ways… but this is my blog so I’m just going to do whatever the hell I like 😉 )

We’ve done 8 songs and a video so far. In the video you get to see my flat, my office and most of my drive to work as well as some random locations around Edinburgh. We’re a bit of an unusual band. It’s difficult to say what our style is or who we’re similar to, so draw your own conclusions. For those who are interested, the music (apart from the drums and vocals) is all played on one of these:

…my faithful Casio WK-3000. Considering Casio isn’t exactly a renowned synth company I’ve been continually amazed at how nice it is. The sound quality and number of features are excellent, far better than I expected when I bought it. With touch-sensitive keys and a proper sustain pedal plugged in it even works as a decent portable piano. The one drawback of that is that the keys aren’t very weighty compared to a proper piano’s, but you can’t have everything.

There are typically up to around 10 keyboard tracks per song. We record them one at a time in high resolution using an external SoundBlaster box connected to my laptop and a free program called Audacity (though currently switching to Goldwave instead due to Audacity’s infuriating tendency to crash suddenly right at the end of a good take of something long and difficult). Then Alex fiddles with them and mixes them using Magix studio (I think… or maybe he’s switched to a Sony studio now), imports the drum track which is done in a program called iDrum, and mixes in the vocals. None of the software or hardware we use is particularly expensive but we’re pretty happy with the results. (Mostly… the bass lines could be better. The keyboard bass voices aren’t its strongest point. Maybe we’ll find a way to improve on them).

We’ve never played live yet. It would be a bit of a challenge but I’d really like to. Alex has recently bought himself one of these:

which I’ve had a play with and I reckon we could do passable live versions of some tracks with the 2 keyboards. He has a glockenspiel now as well, but that isn’t used in any of the tracks so far… those are all-electronic apart from the vocals.

(My own taste in music is pretty much as weird as the band’s style. I expect I’ll say more about that in future posts).