Saturday, September 13, 2008

Its name is...

Planet Ubuntu just ran a meme on the subject of computer naming: i.e. how you choose names for your computers.

Mine are named after musical modes, so currently I have:

  • aeolian
  • dorian
  • mixolydian
I used to have locrian too, but that machine died and I decided to not reuse the name until I ran out of other modes. I seriously doubt that I'll ever have as many machines as there are modes anyway! There are (basically) seven of them, so I should be fine. :)

My next guitar

I've recently found myself wondering what guitar I'd like to get next. This is a little weird, because I really don't play the guitars I already have anywhere near enough, but lately I've found myself thinking about it more and more, so it might be time to get started again.

My current guitars are:

  • A blue Les Paul Studio Lite M-III, which is lovely and has an extremely flexible pickup arrangement that allows it to be played as a strat-style 5-combination single coil guitar, as well as a standard double-humbucker Les Paul.
  • A Charvel Model 3 (I think. It looks like this in red, but I see so many pictures of Charvels with the same name that look completely different, it's hard to know) , which is unfortunately in need of a bit of love. The bridge's fine-tuners aren't well at all, the locking nut doesn't lock any more and the pickups sound very lifeless (especially the bridge). On the other hand, it has a lovely neck, and also features a self-performed customisation in the form of an additional switch which reverses the connections to the middle pickup, adding an extra two pickup combinations.
  • A Washburn D10S12 12-string acoustic, which I actually bought brand new last year.
Now I'm not a guitar collector: I have little interest in spending money on and storing lots of instruments that are minor variations on the same model. So I won't be buying another Les Paul any time soon. When I look for a new guitar I want it to give me something new that the ones I already have doesn't.

Looking at that list, some sort of Fender immediately jumps out as a possibility, but the Les Paul does the three single coil job already, and while it won't really sound like a proper Strat, it's close enough for the time being.

As I was reading Paul Draper's emails about the recording of Six, I was reminded of the Gibson ES335 (as played by Mansun's Dominic Chad), which is a double-humbucker instrument like the Les Paul, but with the distinction of being semi-hollow. This gives it a quite different sound to other solid-body electrics, and so nicely fits the bill of adding something new to what I already have.

Unfortunately, the ES335 is very expensive. Yes, that's $1,999, and that is the cheapest model I could find on that site (the most expensive was $3,849). This is far more than I am willing to pay.

Fortunately, there is an alternative in the form of the Epiphone Dot, which is significantly cheaper at $459 including case ($399 without a case, but I see the case as being essential, and $60 isn't bad anyway).

I have read very positive reviews of this model, and looking around youtube there are a number of videos of people reviewing it and even comparing it to the more expensive Gibson model, with positive results. It's definitely on my list now.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of Mansun's "Six"

Today I had the very pleasant surprise of two rather long emails in my inbox, from Paul Draper (formerly of Mansun) regarding the recording of the album "Six" (two because there were supposed to have been two "sides" to be album).

I have many memories of this album from the time I first bought it, going to see one of the gigs on the Six tour (at the Leeds Town and Country Club), and enjoying it with friends.

One of the things I always appreciated it was the way in which it pushed boundaries and broke from convention in so many ways, and yet remained a really enjoyable collection of musical moments. The emails Paul wrote about its recording reveals a lot about how all of this came about, the reasons why things were done a certain way and what some things mean. It also shows a number of details that you might not notice: for example, "Special/Blown It" was written as an attempt to create a song based on one giant chord sequence: it in fact ends up being based on a 32-bar sequence repeated five times. This is similar to what Radiohead did with their song "Just", which came about following a competition between Tom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood to get as many chords into a song as possible. Little musical jokes like this that most people simply won't notice are one of the things I love about great music.

Some of Paul's commentary is simply hilarious. Take for example his story on how "Witness to a Murder (Part 2)" was devised with the goal of creating :

...something so off the wall, so fucking wacky that when people listened to it they think: "FOR FUCKS SAKE, WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?"
Following a brainstorming session they came up with this plan:
An 18th century baroque harpsichord movement featuring one male and one female opera singer singing how miserable they were in Italian with Dr Who playing a dead Brian Jones in a swimming pool in East Sussex.
And that is exactly what they recorded. Brilliant.

Then there's an extremely long section about how the "Muttley" laugh in Shotgun was recorded that is, shall we say, perhaps exaggerating a touch? Wacky.

I was really sad when Mansun broke up. This was a band that was creating genuinely good music that was clever, had depth and rewarded repeated listens. They weren't just about creating hit after hit, and there aren't many bands like them.

The whole thing reminded me of how much I enjoyed making music years ago, with my friend Mark and friends from university, and how I would like to get back into doing it again. it's just a question of time and equipment really.

Maybe someday...

(I've held this post back for a few days in the hope that I could link to Paul's writings about Six, but it appears that it is currently for mailing list subscribers only. I'll add a link once it is published somewhere public.)