Music By Iain

For those of you not following my astoundingly amazing Twitter feed, let me present

It follows the Ronseal method of naming things. It doesn’t have much really, one 32second piece for guitar and piano, that one Scottish person described as “Bachy” but another person said “No, I think thats a Scottish slang word because it sounds nothing like Bach.” Who am I to argue, but it did lead into the best pun ever…

“Well, Bach was baroque, and baroque has lots of rules”

“Ah, but rules are meant to be baroquen”

Coming soon:

Fire Down Multnomah EP

Another Nuclear Heart release. I’m getting proficient at these things, I’m even beating Severed Fifth in quantity. The naysayers will cry out “Sell Out!” and point to the gratuitous use of instruments, the iPod/radio friendly track length and the over-abundance of actual musical chords as clear indication of the inevitable and imminent slide into that genre of genres: Contemporay Christian Music. But pah to the naysayers.

Fire Down Multnomah EP
Fire Down Multnomah EP cover

Free download:

2 completely unrelated thoughts on branding

Completely Unrelated Thought #1

Hacker is such an unfriendly word, tinkerer would be better. Futterer is perfect but only works in N.Ireland, so the closest I can think of that would work is “Fiddler”. People who fiddle with things, it sounds so much better than people who hack on things. A hack has too many bad connotations.

Completely Unrelated Thought #2

Everyones other favourite Desktop Environment is having a rebrand, and as Jos Poortvliet says “The K Desktop Environment is dead,” we now need a way to pronounce KDE. Like QT is pronounced “cute” (although I’ve never understood that, surely “cutie” makes more sense?). KDE seems like it should be pronounced “kiddie”, it just makes sense, and its friendly and suggests fun.

2 of the horsemen really

One of the horsemen of the apocalypse is Ross writing some code for Soundjuicer

Another is me releasing Marlin. I was using it to edit some sounds and it didn’t crash or have any obviously obnoxious bugs, so I figured it must be a time for a release. Part of me wants to call it a 1.0, but sod it, numbers are meaningless. Lets just call it the 13th(ish) release.

Is probably a just bug fixing release that seems to make everything work nicely, but its been so long since a release I can’t remember what features I may or may not have added.

All the crashes appear to be gone

Editing works, undo/redo works, playback and recording works

Loading, saving…works good

And starting and quitting is perfect.

Download it now:

Or later:

It might scare away the other two horsemen

Less Cowbell

There is a sound specification.

It is here:

There is also a sound naming specification.

It is here:

To be honest, I don’t have any problems with the former document and really couldn’t care less about how sounds are stored, retrieved, played, or compressed (*). The latter however is complete and utter unmitigated bullshit.

I shall explain why.

The problem with the naming spec is two fold:

a) They define too many arbitrary sounds.

b) They define so many sounds that it is impossible for a sound designer to make sounds that differentiate between the actions

99% of computers have had the sounds turned off. Why is that? It is because users do not want a computer telling them every single time they do something. This is similar to the butler principle, but I call it the child principle. A computer should be seen, and not heard, unless absolutely necessary.

There are 125 sounds defined by the sound naming spec. One Hundred and Twenty Five different sounds for the user to learn and recognise. Have you ever played BopIt! where you try to react to 4 different sounds? Imagine it with 125 sounds. Wait, was that swishy sound New Email or was it Network lost, or was it computer made a move?

Here is the solution.

Firstly sounds need to be subtle.Think of it in terms of the butler principle. When a butler wants the master’s attention he doesn’t scream “OI LOOK AT ME! OVER HERE!!!!!”. He politely and subtley gives an *ahem* and then waits for the master to finish what he is doing before giving the information.

If a sound has to get in your face and wrench your attention away from what you are doing, it has failed. Think the Windows’ error dialog sound. DUN! One of the most annoying sounds ever. A subtle sound will happen but it will just register in the back of your mind. You cannot make 125 subtle yet different sounds that the user will be able to associate with specific things.

The Sound Spec (the good, mostly sane one) defines 5 categories, Alerts, Notifications, Actions, Input Feedback and Games.

We replace it with 3 sounds: Alert, Notification and Input Feedback. Yes, 3 sounds. One sound for all alerts, one sound for all notifications and one sound for all input feedback. Radical, I know.

“But what about Actions and Games?” I hear you cry. Well, in the sound naming spec both Actions and Games have a very arbitrary range of available sounds. Games is really only useful for card games, and actions is so arbitrary that it only covers 4 possible applications. Applications which need these sounds can provide their own, just like was the case when the icon naming specification was trimmed of all the application specific crap. (Ironically, one of the main proponents of the icon naming spec being trimmed is also an author of the sound naming spec)

You will note above that I said 99% of computers have sound effects turned off. What is that 1% that doesn’t? I think its the ipod. How many sounds does it have? 1

A soft subtle click. You pushed a button, click. You unlocked something, click. You scrolled the popup menu, click, click, click. It doesn’t try to convey information in the click, it is just a response to the action.

Sounds need to be < .5s long, otherwise they are too long for being repetitive (think the windows’ sample again being repeated DUN! DUN! DUN! DUN! How many times can that be repeated before you want to smash something?) or subtle. The sounds I create for sound effects are usually < .2s long. It is impossible to convey specific information in that length of time.

There we go. The “sound problem” solved in one easy step. I bet if we only had 3 sounds people would stop turning off sound effects within minutes of installing, and sound designers would be able to stop tearing their hair out trying to make sounds that differentiate between menu-popup, menu-replace and tooltip-popup. Maybe if some sound designers were involved in the making of the sound-naming-spec this wouldn’t have happened?

Of course, the beauty of this blog is, no-one who cares reads it 🙂

(*) Beyond my slowly dawning realisation that the concept of themes is really just a band aid over the fact that we can’t decide on one good style, and I think themes will hurt more in the long run. Ohhh controversial.

Denied By Cliche

So Jono released his album. I thought I’d give it a little listen.

Its a metal album. I’m not the biggest fan of metal to be honest. To me it is a genre that seems quite content to live in the past and rehash the same old cliches. Occasionally (ISIS, Pelican, Sunn o))), Earth, Boris to name a few) they do something different and I stand up and pay attention. Is Severed Fifth one of these metal bands that makes me sit up and listen?

In short, no, not really

Denied by Reign seems to relish the old metal cliches. Jono is clearly very well rehersed on the double kick pedal, but it seems to be at the detriment of the other parts of the drum kit. Take away the double kick and what is left is a beat that could have come from a cheap keyboard’s rythmn section. While I’m thinking about the drums, if you’re going to use a electric kit, at least get some decent samples. I don’t know how they were recorded, whether it was from the drum module through an amp, or via midi (I suspect the former), but replacing them with better samples with more bass would help a great deal. For the way it sounds at least. Actually, more bass all round would have helped. Everything sounds very brittle and too bright, which is generally bad for metal sounds.

The songs vary in length, and the better ones are the shorter ones, the longer ones feel boring and drag on, another common complaint I have with metal songs. There’s rarely enough to fill out the 6, 7 minutes here, and the songs (except for War) have no dynamics. They begin as they mean to go on, and become predictable. Another reason that the songs all blend together and sound the same is that they are most in the same tempo range between 90 and 100 bpm.

War has an attempt at song dynamics, where it builds from acoustic, to rocky, to growly, but again, this progression isn’t anything we haven’t heard before. The Metallica influence is prevalent in War, given that Jono pronounces the last word of every phrase as if James Hetfield had been giving him elocution lessons. Maybe there’s a belief that it adds sincerity and gravitas, but it sounds forced.

The lyrics that can be made out seem just as unoriginal: “Step inside my mind, see whats inside of me” or “take away my hatred because it eats away at me”. Nothing earth shattering here or with the concepts that flow through the album as a whole. Its a political album and digs into the old cliches: war is bad, money is a problem… You can also tell that its a political album because it has samples from politicans. George Bush tells us that is a beacon of freedom blahblahblah, Chamberlain tells us about Hitler…easy soundbites that offer nothing new to the mix.

Of course, Severed Fifth isn’t just about the music, its an attempt to use the new musical economy to … do something. I don’t know what Jono is hoping to achieve, but beyond putting out an album for free I’m not sure how he’s planning on using the NME (Economy, not Express). It feels like he hasn’t gone far enough yet. The music is out there, released under a creative commons license and remixing is encouraged, but it is only available in lossy formats (with the more Free ogg format actually being a transcode from the mp3 so adding a nice fuck you to anyone who actually cares about Freedom, which seems strange) and the individual tracks of the songs are not available either, both of which scupper any chance of a good remix appearing. Lyricsheets are also slow to come, it helps with a “political” album to give the listeners a chance to understand the points you are trying to make. None of these extra things are very hard to supply and it seems a shame that the opportunity has been wasted when the hard part of actually recording the thing has been done to squander the initial buzz by limiting the potential.

To be honest, I’m not sure if there even is an NME, calling it that would be to imply that there is money to be made. The big bands who have flirted with it are either doing it as a gimic, a fuck you to the record companies who have treated them badly, and as a bargaining chip to improve their contracts, or in the case of Trent Reznor seem to have stopped caring about making money and just seem to want to give stuff away (officially and unofficially). And the bands that became big via myspace, the internet, word of mouth etc have either burnt out as suddenly as they appeared, or have signed to the big labels.

One of the things about the barrier for entry being lowered that excites me is the ease at which artists who would not be commercially viable can record and release music and I think the music will fall into two categories: Music that is more creative and original than the commericial releases so no publisher wants to touch it, and music that would like to be a commercial release but just isn’t good enough yet to play with the big boys. Sadly for Jono’s first foray into the NME, its in the latter category.

6/10 – Not a terrible album, but too samey and too stuck in the old cliches to make anyone really pay attention.