Category: Music

Comments on Music I’ve listened to

I went to the dentist and bought a pianola

I went to the dentist and ended up buying a pianola. A pianola (player piano) is an automatic piano that plays music from rolls of paper with holes cut in it, like a computer punch card. Most dentists do not sell pianolas and focus almost exclusively on dental health and plastic surgery but we found ourselves uncharacteristically early for our appointment so popped into a nearby charity shop and there I found it.

I wasn’t aware that I had always wanted to own a pianola until I learned they were completely air powered, kind of like a huge wooden stringed accordion. The manager of the charity shop urged me to “seize the day” and realise my one-minute-long dream because it was taking up a lot of space in her shop and nobody else wanted it. She was at least honest enough to tell me it took five men to move it in so it would be quite a job to get it home.

I called a piano moving company who sent just two men and a young lad whose job it was to open doors. The two men were admittedly very large – easily the combined volume of five smaller men, though costing me less to employ. They did an excellent job so barely two days after first seeing it, I had a pianola.

I looked around on ebay and Facebook to figure out how much money I should pay the charity shop for it but they’re basically free because they take up a lot of space and nobody else wants them. So, I just gave them £30. All in with the delivery costs it was around £150.

State of disrepair

I watched all twenty videos there are about pianola restoration on youtube to become a complete expert in pianola restoration and started taking it apart. The main problem is that most of the eighty-five+ rubber tubes have completely perished and fallen down into the keys, jamming them up too. Some of them have previously been replaced with clear vinyl tubes and those look ok. The eighty-five little key actuator bellows are seemingly in good condition. One or two of the eighty-five hammer mechanisms aren’t working quite right. And every one of the eighty-five keys are dirty. The eighty-five+ strings look ok – none of them broken or rusty. The whole thing is surprisingly tuned kind of well, just one tone down. Knowing little about pianos I’m going to assume that means it has been dropped only once since it was last tuned. The hammers have deep string grooves in them and everything is a bit dusty. No signs of it having been stored anywhere damp.

While researching other pianolas for sale, I actually found an old listing for this very one by the original owner – they’d failed to sell it and given it to the charity shop. I contacted her and learned that her grandad had bought it new over fifty years ago and they’d had some restoration work done on it about 25 years ago. It’s been kept indoors the whole time – never seen a damp cellar or garage! Amazing luck.

Looking inside I found a label showing its manufacture date as February 1938.

Anyway, I’ll post a bit more as I go along.

Northern Quarter Open Mic: Ethan

So I went to the Open Mic night at the Northern Quarter bar in Huddersfield last week for the first time and saw an act that was quite upsetting. Turned out to be just a guy doing his act but at the time I was actually kind of terrified. A unique experience. Meet Ethan.

Ethan is a gaunt, serious looking chap, wearing glasses, a long dark coat and a baseball cap. He keeps popping out for smokes all evening and generally seemed a bit jittery. Towards the end of the night he gets called up on stage.

His first song is a slow spoken word cover of “Fever” over a strange noisy electronic backing track, during which he paces nervously around the small stage. For his second song, he kneels down behind a small duffel bag, holding it open towards himself and staring into it.

Through the largish PA system blares an oppressively loud droning noisy low note. His words are distorted by the bass but from what I can make out this is a desperate man unable to care for his family, reaching the end of his tether. He’s been staring into his bag the whole time.

And suddenly I think: has this guy got a gun in his bag and is he going to shoot himself? The loud bass line is upsetting enough, booming against my chest, but now I’m actually a bit concerned. I’m near the open door and I start kind of planning an exit! My heart is racing!

The noise builds and builds and I’m wondering if I’m going to have a panic attack. Then at the peak, he quickly reaches into the bag and pulls out a white papier-mâché mask/helmet, puts it on his head and starts writhing around on the floor.

So Ethan is obviously a genius. But I think the fact I’ve never seen him before, so didn’t know what to expect, and that I was already nervous myself from having performed earlier meant his act landed just “perfectly” and I was quite terrified.

I spoke to him after and excitedly told him my experience but he barely allowed himself a smile. Was I ruining it by acknowledging it? Or was I just the weird one?

Google Poetics: once in darkness

Google Poetics is a project to record the beautiful poetry that Google’s autocomplete feature sometimes writes.

Inspired by this recent example, I recorded a song the lyrics of which are entirely Google autocomplete suggestions.

Condenser microphones don’t like humidity

I bought a Behringer B5 condenser microphone a couple of years ago to record my acoustic guitar. Add in a second  dynamic mic I already owned and a little two channel USB preamp with phantom power and it sounded really nice.

Then after a few months the condenser mic started picking up some interference.  It was a weird kind of rumble but with a kind of radio tuning sound, and the odd pop and click.

I tried changing channels, switched power supplies and cables but nothing helped.

Finally I came across a forum post describing a similar problem with the cause being humidity. Apparently condenser mics don’t do well in humid conditions and my office is a little damp. I’d left my mic out of its case a couple of times in these conditions and it got damp. The silica gel packet that came in the case should have been a clue.

Anyway, I popped my mic in my electric oven set at 30C, left it for 30mins and now it’s as good as new! Phew.

UPDATE: Faulty capacitors

This problem reoccurred not long after the treatment and I found the real solution was to replace the capacitors in the microphone. I replaced the original “Rubycon” caps with these equivalent Panasonics,  though you should check the ones you have in yours in case they’ve changed the design – I’ve seen a few photos of boards and they do vary.

Original Behringer B5 capacitors

Original Behringer B5 capacitors

Replaced Behringer B5 capacitors

Replaced Behringer B5 capacitors

Song In Code: Ramones, I wanna be sedated

Just the first verse:

go = { sleep 24.hours }
self.wants :sedatation
begin ; nil ; end
case go ; where "no" ; nil ; end
self.wants :sedatation
self.get '/airport'
self.put '/airport/plane'
before self.insane? do
  3.times { hurry! }
return if self.can_control? :fingers
return if self.can_control? :brain
5.times { "no" }

I recorded me singing it, which is kinda stupid tbh.

I used mencoder to convert this to something Youtube found tasty. Like this:

mencoder -ss 15 -endpos 1:18 -vf pp=al:f,scale=480:360 -oac mp3lame -ovc lavc -lavcopts vcodec=libx264:mbd=1:vbitrate=2000 MOV01362.MPG -o MOV01362.x264

Also, pimp for another Geek/Ukelele project: Ukepedia, all 3 million Wikipedia articles one song at a time

Live this Saturday at the Packhorse in Leeds, The Gillroyd Parade

My band, The Gillroyd Parade, are hosting an evening of acoustic music at the Packhorse Pub this Saturday (7pm to 11pm, 16th May). Supported by Ukelele Bitch Slap. Do come along, it’d be just dandy to see you.  Full poster here.

The Gillroyd Parade

Ukepedia: Wikipedia on the Ukelele

Ukepedia is a new project by me and Louisa. Long story short: Ukepedia is Wikipedia articles performed on the Ukelele (or Ukulele if you prefer). The long story isn’t actually much longer than that.

Here is a video of me performing the Wikipedia article “Otitis Media” (which I also performed live at The Chemic Tavern on Thursday and at Bar Camp Leeds just today).

Record your own, upload them to You Tube and submit them to us! sucks

I signed up for a few months ago to buy music online, but I’m fed up with them. This is my “why are you leaving?” feedback to them:

I’d like to get what I pay for. I pay for 65 tracks but if I don’t download them within the month, they disappear. I have trouble understanding how this is a legitimate business practice – where do my tracks go? Are they distributed to the poor?

Your business model is based on the hope that people won’t use what they pay for.

Your business model is based on taking advantage of your customers.

Desmond Dekker Dead

Desmond Dekker played at my local university (Leeds) earlier this month. We saw the posters and planned to go but messed up the dates and missed it.

15 days later the man is DEAD. Last gig he did too.

Fat Wreck Chords RIAA member

Fat Wreck Chords are listed on the RIAA members list. This is a little confusing, considering they are an independent label who vehemently oppose the practices of the record industry dinosaurs.

After lots and lots of searching, I finally found what seems to be an excerpt from some newsletter by Fat Mike which denies this insanity. Though it states that they were taken off the list after complaining a lot, they are back on it now.

I’ve e-mailed them to suggest they put it on their website news section or something. It’s difficult to find the truth otherwise (assuming it is the truth).

UPDATE: Turns out this is old news, and Fat Wreck Chords deny any involvement with RIAA. I found that a guy e-mailed them about it in 2003 and they responded. Still no answer from them myself though.

half man half biscuit gig

We saw Half Man Half Biscuit last night at the Cockpit in Leeds. Great stuff. It’s wonderful to hear NON-American cultural references that I don’t understand for a change. Incomplete unordered set list follows:

  • Corgi registered friends
  • Vatican broadside
  • Fuckin’ ell it’s Fred Titmus
  • 24 hour garage people
  • The Len Ganley stance
  • Four skinny indie kids
  • 99% of gargoyles look like Bob Todd
  • Bob Wilson, anchor man
  • Cover of Help me Rhonda

And as Louisa said, I too liked that their stage “costumes” looked like they had all been bought at Matalan.

buying music online

I got an illegal copy of some Half Man Half Biscuit from a friend a few months ago. I really enjoyed it so I decided to buy some. I don’t care for inlay sleeves, or for any physical aspect of music other than the actual audio waves so I thought I’d try pay for a legal download. This proved impossible.

I firstly realised that my own specification on getting this music in either a lossless format, or an open format (such as OGG vorbis) were hilarious in the current online music climate, so settled for, well, basically *any* format. The iTunes download software isn’t supported on my GNU/Linux OS, and Apple are far too big and evil for me to give them any more money anyway. looked promising until I realised they seem to just be a front for other online music stores, none of which had any Half Man Half Biscuit available anyway (and were just as big and evil sounding).

I gave up. I went to bloody HMV and bought an album there. And when I listened to the album when I got home, it I didn’t even like it much.

I’ve sinced downloaded more Half Man Half Biscuit and really, really enjoyed it. I think I’m just going to send a cheque direct to the band.

I once met El Hefe from the punk band NOFX. I told him I’d downloaded their latest album for free off the Internet. “Oh, then we don’t get paid” he jokily explained. I offered him a tenner directly as payment, and he turned it down. “So I can listen for free?”. “Sure” he said.

The music industry needs to change. But we already knew that.