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Hangin' with the Cosmic Surfer

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In Search of the Lost Chord

16 August, 2017 (21:09) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

I can barely remember a time when I didn’t have a way to listen to music. I think my first machine was a tape recorder, then there was a record player and a cassette player. Over the years the equipment has changed, but the music is the continuity.

In our front room now is equipment that mostly dates from when I bought it in 2001–Cambridge Audio CD player and Amp., Eltax speakers–and some that I’ve acquired in the meantime: a Denon cassette deck, a Rega turntable, and a Cambridge Audio phono-stage. In the shed I have a cheap Sony cdplayer/DAB radio combo.

Stan Tracey Quartet

It’s been on my mind lately to upgrade what I have, in part because I have some hearing loss in high frequencies, the kind that makes it hard to pick out what people say when there is background noise. I’m also listening more to vinyl and especially post-1950s jazz so I’m looking for a particular ‘sound’ in which the instruments are distinct and separate and I can hear the overtones

The Shed

My initial thought was to buy a used Denon minisystem as a straight upgrade. The I began to wonder about getting hold of some vintage hifi gear from eBay, and had a long look at what was around. Of course, there is plenty available, and working out which is nominally ‘best’ and then sniping for bargains is a tempting rabbit hole I’ve been trying very hard not to tumble into.

I then thought about transferring my cd and amp from the living room to the shed and buying upgrades for the living room, but see below for more on that.

So I haven’t made up my mind, but in the interim I spotted a comment, by someone with the same cheap Sony cd/DAB combo I have, that it sounded a lot better with a change of speakers. The device claims to accept speakers of a nominal 4Ω impedance, so, courtesy of eBay, some battered old Sony SS-85e speakers are on the way. With some fresh wire etc. from Amazon, and some improvised isolation provided by mousemats and metal feet, I should get a substantial upgrade in shed sound for well under £50 (including P+P).

I’m toying with having a turntable up there too, though that would mean major reorganisation and definitely another amp., so that can wait.

Living Room

Heavy Weather

I had a good exchange with Richer Sounds who said I should stick with what I have because it is as good as what is currently available around my price point. Assuming that to be true, (props to them for not simply seizing the opportunity to sell me something shiny and new), and given that I don’t really want to splash the cash on a serious upgrade,  I started to think more about how I have things set up in the living room.

At present everything sits on a solid IKEA unit which is on castors on the carpet. The speakers are an exception: they are on spikes on fairly solid bamboo boards. It was obvious the moment I started to think about it that there is no effective isolation for any of the main components, aside from the speakers, from either system noise transmitted through the unit or general vibrations in the room. The effect of this has to be to degrade the performance of the units in precisely the way that will cause problems with my hearing. In fact it may well be the combination of this and my hearing that is making the music sound undefined.

So I’m going to focus on various improvised devices, drawn from internet forums, to isolate the turntable, cd player and amplifier. This includes both vertical and horizontal isolation of the turntable. The improvised devices include IKEA chopping boards, squash balls, steel bearings, furniture cups, oak cones, and sorbothane pads. Again all at rock-bottom prices.

I’ll report back.

Faults in the Clouds of Delusion

11 August, 2017 (17:30) | Steal Your Face | By: Ian Burdon

Over on the Internet Archive, someone posted an edited version of the Grateful Dead’s Dark Star made up from 30 performances in 1972, including most of the European tour (looks like one of the Paris shows has been left off). It runs to 11 3/4 hours long and is mesmerising. It may be the perfect background music for a day in the office.

Juvenilia 2

8 August, 2017 (22:41) | Writing | By: Ian Burdon

The Burdonator

Further to my last, I now have the files of my old blog duly converted into up to date code and even put into a better chronological order. I haven’t quite worked out what I’m going to do with them here but you’ll be the first to know. A big thanks to Malcy for both volunteering to do the conversion and for doing it promptly with his custom Burdonator VB code.

 

Juvenilia

4 August, 2017 (21:10) | Writing | By: Ian Burdon

I’ve mentioned previously that I still have all the old files from my original blog, but didn’t really have time to convert them to be readable by recent browsers. This was read by an old chum who has offered to weave his magic with the files for me, so that I can, in time, load them up here and make them available again.

This is great, and I’m taking him up on it. There is a little trepidation that goes with it, though. I started the old blog in Autumn 2002, and as I look back through the text there is a lot that makes me wince, either because of the poor quality writing or because of things I wrote that seem gauche to me now.

Watch this space for updates.

The Other One

3 August, 2017 (15:41) | Steal Your Face | By: Ian Burdon

I said a couple of posts ago that I thought there were interesting documentaries to be made about the other members of the Grateful Dead aside from Jerry Garcia. Little did I know at least one such exists, and its a cracker. The Other One: The Long Strange Trip of Bob Weir.

Back on the Dragon

22 July, 2017 (20:57) | Holidays, snap! | By: Ian Burdon

Drum Tower, Xi’an

We’re thinking about another visit to China, probably in February 2018. This is a little unexpected as it wasn’t something that appealed to me just a few months ago, but I got sick last time I was there and wasn’t in the best frame of mind when I thought that.

One of the things I’ve written about previously is the pace at which China is developing and the sacrifice of historic identity that seems to be accompanying it. There are signs that they are realising that destruction of heritage is damaging and I welcome that; nevertheless I’m interested in finding the aspects of China that have been disappearing while they’re still there and I’m still able to go. One big city is pretty much interchangeable with any other big city.

I’m quite keen to go back to some slightly off-the-beaten-track places and appreciate them properly. We’re currently thinking about a looping route via Beijing, through Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces, then back to Shanghai as the core of the itinerary, but, of course, that is likely to change as time passes.

The main limitations will be (a) travelling during Spring festival and (b) it will be winter, so no mountains.

After my experiment in the Hebrides when I took only film cameras with me (I’ll load some pics into the gallery here soon just as soon as I remember how), I plan to do the same again in China. We’re still a long way out from finalising plans, but my guess is I’ll take the Pentax 645N and a Contax SLR. I found with the 645N that I stuck to a 45mm lens pretty much all the time so I may just take one lens with me for it. Similarly with the Contax: just one, or at most 2 lenses (say a 45mm and a 135mm). I may take another SLR as a back up, or loaded with Black and White film, but I’m not sure. Preliminary indications are I’ll need to take film with me as I can’t guarantee time to get to the camera markets in Shanghai or Beijing to buy it there.

Not Fade Away

4 July, 2017 (14:32) | Steal Your Face | By: Ian Burdon

Steal Your Face

I should have known. The first indication was probably my post of 1 January 2016. I wrote there:

Something odd has been happening to me lately: something unexpected, troubling almost. After 34 years of indifference I have been listening to the Grateful Dead. I say specifically 34 years because it was in September 1981 that I went to see the Dead play at Edinburgh Playhouse and came away feeling distinctly meh.

I have always liked some of their songs, notably Ripple and Truckin’ as well as covers I’ve heard of Friend of the Devil. I also like American Beauty as an album. But overall I’ve always found them too ramshackle and approximate to pay them any mind.

But for some reason I’ve had the opening of Friend of the Devil running through my head as an earworm for a couple of days. To exorcise it, I opened up Wake of the Flood on Spotify, and found myself enjoying it, especially the Weather Report suite.

I still don’t care much for their extended cosmic jams, and I much prefer Jerry Garcia’s bluegrass stuff with Peter Rowan et al, but I’m obviously mellowing in my middle years.

A couple of days after that, in a further post, I wrote:

Further to my last: after some listening on Spotify, I’ve concluded that I like the Grateful Dead’s albums that are more song based (say from Workingman’s Dead through to Blues for Allah), but don’t really get the extended jams, which don’t do much for me. Mind you, extended jams by just about anyone don’t do much for me. There may be other Dead albums I’d like, but I haven’t heard them yet.

Something has changed in the 18 months since then. Aside from listening to more of their albums, I’ve recently taken a deep dive into the Dead’s live archive and have been listening to them a lot. The proximate cause of this descent into madness was the Amazon documentary, but it’s nagged at me for a while that I ought to go further into how they made their name–as a live, improvising band.

So I did the obvious thing and searched for opinions on the best shows to listen to. This, I’ve discovered, is a rabbit warren of strongly held opinions, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right? Whatever, I came up with a list of 25 shows that seemed to be the ones most commonly mentioned (although someone will always crop up to contest the choices).

It will come as no surprise at all to any Deadheads reading this that heading the list was Barton Hall, Ithaca, 8 May 1977. I’ve also been listening to:

  • Buffalo, 9 May 1977
  • Boston, 2 April 1973
  • New Year 1982 (with Etta James and Tower of Power Horns)
  • Veneta, 27 Aug 1972, and
  • Winterland 9 June 1977

And… I’m a convert on the basis of just 6 of the 25 shows.  I’m not deaf to the faults, especially the approximate qualities of the live vocals, but nonetheless I’m beguiled.

Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead: Edinburgh, September 1981

I need to add that, apart from the music, there are other aspects of the band that interest me. Some of this is their creative process itself, which I think I can use in writing (particularly first drafts), but also I find the band members themselves interesting as characters.

I commented in my previous post that I thought there were several films that could be made about the band that focused on people other than Jerry Garcia, and I’m reinforced in that view from the listening. To give only two examples: Phil Lesh is an articulate man and as interesting a musician as Garcia, and his autobiography is a fascinating insight into where he was coming from musically; and I am intrigued by Mickey Hart’s early and continuing interest in what we now call ‘World Music’ and as a musicologist.

So yeah, I guess I’m a newby Deadhead, and this is my coming out post.

 

Impossibility is a kiss away from reality

30 June, 2017 (10:07) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

I’m just going to leave these here while I wander around with a silly grin on my face

 

Sense8 is back

What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been

27 June, 2017 (21:38) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

I’ve been catching up on TV since we got back from holiday.  Of course, that doesn’t amount to a lot for me since I don’t watch that much TV, and I’m still not reconciled to the cancellation of Sense8, but still…

Dr Who: Moffat and Capaldi’s final series has knocked it out of the park so far. It reminds me a lot of what early ’70s Who could have been with better production techniques. One episode to go.

American Gods: I haven’t shared the general hyperbolic enthusiasm for this, although I do like it. I find it has tried so very, very hard to be stylish and to be Event Television; however the exaggerated style has, I feel, overwhelmed what substance there is. It’s like, as Carly Simon wrote, it has one eye in the mirror as it watches itself gavotte. But, and this is a very substantial but, it got a whole lot better when Emily Browning, as Laura Moon, got her own episode (Ep. 4, Git Gone) and then again, playing another character, Essie McGowan, in episode 7 A Prayer For Mad Sweeney. Browning steals every scene she appears in. Reflecting on the first 8 episodes I realised I had no interest in Shadow Moon or Mr. Wednesday or the rest of the pantheon, but I am fully engaged with Laura Moon and the Leprechaun who are the most, and best, realised characters in the show. I’ll keep watching when it comes back because of them.

Twin Peaks: Until this week I would have given a mixed review of Twin Peaks. I’ve enjoyed it, but also found it hard to tell whether or not it was just an elaborate piss-take on the part of Mark Frost and David Lynch, insofar as it has been so self-parodic. However then came episode 8, one of the most remarkable hours of television I have ever seen. It never felt any need to condescend to the viewer with anything so cheap as an explanation for what was happening. The episode is modernist, absurd, surreal, creepy as hell, horrific and utterly compelling. It absolutely sets the bar for TV from now on, in just a single episode, in the way American Gods’ “look at me” stylishness does not. It is a strange trip.

But not as much of a Long Strange Trip as Amazon’s 4 hour documentary about the Grateful Dead. There are many things to say about this, and one is that, like the excellent Anthem To Beauty, it is not necessary to like the Dead’s music to enjoy the documentary, even at 4 hours. The running thread through the documentary is Jerry Garcia, and I understand why he was the focus. I tend to think that that there are other, just as interesting, documentaries to be made about the Dead focusing on the other musicians, and also the general impact of their music in America in particular (I’ve lost count of the number of bluegrass versions I’ve heard of Friend of the Devil).  Notwithstanding that, I enjoyed every minute of it.

Finally, I was going to close this post with a link to the Dead on YouTube, but I’ve just found out that Rosalie Sorrels died while we were away on holiday. This is the first thing I heard her sing.

Click, Whirrr…

13 June, 2017 (20:21) | snap! | By: Ian Burdon

I’m enjoying using my film cameras on holiday, though it hasn’t gone exactly as expected. My original idea was to use mostly 35mm, with medium format being used from time to time when a landscape required it.

In fact I have so completely fallen for the Pentax 645N that it has been my main camera for the whole holiday, almost exclusively with a 45mm lens and a graduated grey filter. I’ve used Kodak Ektar ISO100 film but will have to switch to my backup supply of Kodak Portra 400ASA soon. The other Pentax, the original 645, has been loaded with Rollei RPX400 Black and White film and has had more limited use.

My Canon AT1, also loaded with Ektar, has mainly been on standby for wildlife pics with a 500mm mirror lens, but photogenic wildlife has been notable by its absence so far.