The Stylus Police: Joanna Newsom

December 19, 2011 Comments off

During her recent(ish!) TED talk on nurturing creativity, “Eat, Pray, Love” author, Elizabeth Gilbert, aired the notion that the Spanish exclamation of “iOle!” evolved from the recognition of the divine (AKA “Allah!”) within transcendental performances. Incredibly interesting stuff and, at no small cost to the intricate beauty of the universe, highly unlikely to be true. Dang!

Thing is, there certainly are artists whose preternatural performances make it easy to see how such an idea about language could gain credence. Because when a piece of music reaches into your heart and makes you at least feel like you have a soul then it’s only natural to want to associate that feeling with something otherworldly. And whenever I find myself on the receiving end of this phenomenon it is usually due, as if you couldn’t have guessed, to one particular source:

Joanna Newsom.

So this is my favourite artiste (yes, with an ‘e’ on the end and everything) hence you’ll forgive a certain reticence towards analysing exactly why I find her output so singularly affecting. Not wanting to break the spell I might, very tentatively, venture that it has something to do with how her lyrical worldliness is so starkly defined in its contrast to the youthfully earnest vocal style in which it is delivered. Emboldened and ever so pleased with my own insightfulness, I might press on to reference the aesthetic synergy betwixt function and form… “Is there any art that could be rendered more perfectly than via feminine beauty?” I might ravenously ask as someone who prefers to be served by attractive waitresses not from any chauvinistic will to power, but simply because it makes the food taste better. At which point I would have careered too far into matters both philosophical and culinary when all I really meant to say is that Newsom’s body moves as enchantingly as her mind, resulting in performances that are as spellbinding to see as to hear.

So, what to listen to? What to view? Well the received wisdom is that her vocal delivery has mellowed over time, making her later output the more accessible. Personally I don’t think the travel is all that significant and with the average song-length remaining steadfastly above the three minute mark (the absolutely wonderful “Only Skin”, from Newson’s second album, weighs in just shy of seventeen minutes!) we’re clearly not looking at a Regina Spektor-style shift from the avant garde to the mainstream. Have One On Me is unlikely to seduce you if neither Ys or The Milk-Eyed Mender manage it, but by the same token each album represents an equally worthwhile excursion into the woman’s oeuvre.

And yet your wholesale adoption or wholesale dismissal of Joanna Newsom’s music isn’t really the point here. Nobody can tell you what you should love. What it’s shown me, though, is that it’s possible for an artist to take you some-place else with astounding regularity, to the point where it seems inconceivable that you ever made do without their music. Everyone has their Joanna Newsom, I suspect. Make sure you find yours.

Categories: The Stylus Police Tags:

It’s Oh So Quiet…

November 3, 2011 Comments off

Shhhh, shhh…it, shouldn’t have begun this way. Now you’ll be expecting back-flips and press rasslin’ by the end of the post. Hopefully a link will do instead because I’ve spent the last few months wearing my web-dev hat, getting my entrepreneurial sibling-in-law’s on-line shoppe oned ‘n’ zeroed into existence. If you live in the UK and need a party in a box then she’s your gal, so do check out…

Life’s A Celebration


Some sort of self-service should now be resumed. Righto, back-flips, then. I can totally do this…


Categories: Tangental

Virtual Pedal To The Metal!

August 14, 2011 Comments off

Flower (Tone Test) added to My Music!

Tone. The obsessive pursuit thereof. If there’s a more sure-fire way of transforming the simple, life-affirming act of hitting a guitar into a source of eternal dissatisfaction then I can’t think of it, and it’s for this reason that I generally leave such matters to qualified tone warriors. However I did find myself wanting to colour my favoured Pod setting (Line 6 Insane, natch) with a smidgen of wah-expression recently and, as I wound up doing it entirely in the DAW, I thought I’d tap out a brief overview of the process for the interested.

We are, of course, talking FL Studio here but your DAW of choice will naturally support equivalent functionality. Let’s kick off by taking a look at the FX chain:


So this is the guitar mixer channel. This isn’t where the guitar signal enters the DAW (I set up a dedicated mixer channel for that, hence IN being set to none here), rather it is where both the recording channel and recorded audio are routed.

As you can see it’s very simple with only two effects: The first, Fruity Free Filter, is what generates the wah sound and you’ll notice that it is mixed semi-dry — I was after something more subtle (and manageable for mixing) than a full-on wah effect and that Pod tone is too damn nice to totally decimate; The second, Fruity Parametric EQ 2, is there for regular EQ duties.

Let’s have a closer look at ’em in reverse order…

Fruity Parametric EQ 2
EQWe’re essentially just rolling off the lower frequencies here in order to ensure that the lead guitar doesn’t smudge up the bass. I tend to do this by ear, depending on what else is happening in the mix, rather than relying on prescribed settings.
Fruity Free Filter
FL Studio’s Free Filter has a bunch of different modes but it’s the band pass that we’re interested in. The wah effect is achieved by dialling the frequency up and down so it’s worth experimenting in order to find a pleasing range (at a pleasing Q value) to work within. Once this is done it’s time to get some automation clips cookin’…

So like I said it’s the frequency dial that gets automated, and here you can see the clips for that running underneath the audio. Notice how I’ve used straight lines (rather than sine curves) and that the ends and beginnings of the clips don’t necessarily match exactly — I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s where the peaks and troughs occur in relation to the melody that matters to the ear rather than the “travel” being perfectly organic.

And that’s pretty much that! The neat thing about working this way is that, while the wah expression can be tweaked (or totally re-written!) in post, you can still have it applied to your performance as you play and record dry; the downside would be that you don’t get to actually perform it with a pedal (so you’re not improving your technique and any apparent synergy between fingers and foot must be constructed rather than captured), although I’d be surprised if there weren’t wah-pedal shaped audio interfaces out there that would alleviate this. (To Google!) But anyway, for a lil’ spice, gratis, I’m very happy with it :D

Categories: My Music Tags: , ,

WriteRoom 3.0 Trouble-Shooting

August 8, 2011 Comments off

WriteRoom, from Hog Bay Software, is a beautifully uncluttered text editor for iOS that I bought over its free, ad-supported, sibling, PlainText, mainly due to it allowing custom background and text hues (a bright white screen being a bit hard on the ol’ eyes). I mention text editing here, of all places, because you never know when inspiration is going to hit so having a simple, elegant app in your pocket is very handy for the lyrically inclined.

As dinky as WriteRoom is, though, you’d be forgiven for thinking several of its features didn’t really work, just as I did, should a few quirky things catch you out. Benefit from my experience below:

See! It defo works!

When I first started using WriteRoom I was disappointed to find the spell-checker unable to proffer any alternative suggestions to errors. Fortunately this was easily resolved by tapping the locale globe button on the keyboard (on the left of the space bar) until it rolled around to “English (UK)” — whether the default isn’t always correct or it’s just easy to catch accidentally, this should be your first port of call if you’ve a bunch of international keyboards active.

There’ve been reports of WriteRoom’s DropBox support being utterly broken alongside feedback about how bullet-proof it is. They can’t both be accurate — right?! — so what gives?

This is the problem: WriteRoom is utterly oblivious to the special characters that DropBox disallows. This tripped me up because I had numbered my top-level documents and folders within WriteRoom to keep them in the order I wanted (Oh to be able to simply drag them into position, Hog Bay!) In such circumstances it is perfectly natural to use names like…

01: Stuff To Do
02: Notes
03: Posts

…but, of course, characters like the colon cause absolute havoc when you attempt to sync to DropBox. And I mean HAVOC! A folder with an illegal name simply won’t sync, causing WriteRoom to crash out; a document with an illegal name, though — whooee! — it will sync but appear not to(!) with the app crashing and the document being invisible on your account, viewable only via its link in the history log, and forget about it wending its way to your desktop. It is, in other words, a complete clusterfuck, which is a shame as once you excise any special characters from your folder and document names WriteRoom syncs very nicely indeed.

So I hope that helps if you’re a WriteRoom user who’s been having similar problems. And if you’re not then I hope it hasn’t put you off what remains a fab lil’ editor. Can’t get the damn thing to write cool-ass lyrics for me, mind…

Categories: Tangental Tags:

The Stylus Police: Love Your Self Abuse

July 24, 2011 Comments off

It's only fitting that one of the best albums should have one of the best covers. If this is you, call me.

Baby Chaos, the best band that ever there was.

Not that anyone noticed.

This is the album that put me off making music for years, though. I mean, why bother if everything you aspire to has already been done? Because to someone who had overdosed on the soft-loud-soft of Nirvana (and hey, Nirvana are great) and was butting heads with the sneering bombast of Oasis (and hey, Oasis are… Oasis), Baby Chaos’ primary skill — doing intricate, interesting stuff AT VOLUME — seemed like some next level shiz. Because it was.

And it still is. Go on, give Mental Bruising For Beginners a spin. That vocal layering towards the end, it shouldn’t work should it? And yet it sounds phenomenal; And Loud And Clear. That’s a ten minute punk song. If The Fall (and hey, The Fall are Mark E Smith and Mark E Smith is Great) do a ten minute song it means they repeated the exact same thing forty times instead of twenty. Loud And Clear, on the other hand, is an elongated crescendo of ever-increasing complexity that somehow, physics-defyingly, never becomes confused or muddled, each part remaining loud and cl… well, the clue’s in the name. Next. Level. Shiz.

It’s not even that there aren’t any skippers. Weighing in at thirteen tracks, there are bound to be one or two you’re not particularly partial to. It’s just that the majority of the album is so bollock-blazingly, breast-soakingly GLORIOUS that it doesn’t fucking matter. Excellent song-writing, ambitious arrangements, all brought together via superlative production, Love Your Self Abuse is a masterclass in What Guitars Are For and I weep for the uninitiated.


Categories: The Stylus Police Tags: