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The Death of The Album

Circa 2014, rock band Muse declared the album dead. One of music’s most lasting legacies since the emergence of recorded music, the longest format, with its relative simplicity, the band claimed, in the face of the digitalisation and ubiquity of music on the internet, had perished. 

They weren’t entirely wrong. A statistical study published on the website Statistica recorded the annual music album sales from the year 2007 to 2017 (with ‘album’ including “CD, CS, LP and digital albums”). Most years, total album sales fell lower than their preceding years. Between the years 2016 – 2017, album sales dropped by 9.4 million units from 205.5 million albums being sold in 2016 to 169.1 million in 2017. In fact, only in the year 2011 did album sales see a marginal bump up from its predecessor (from 326.2 million to 331 million, a rise of only 1.5%). Overall album sales had fallen from just above 500 million units in 2007, to under 200 million in 2017. With streaming today giving many people the choice between paying $20 for 12 tracks or $10 a month for access to a seemingly infinite music database, the shift is hardly shocking. 

In today’s age of digital music, where the number of streams and views on a song online is bigger news than an album’s garnering platinum success, the standalone single has emerged as the most popular format. It’s almost logical: give a time-pressed world a short three-minute catchy song with a video that looks good on YouTube (but perhaps not in your mother’s hands) and sticks in their head, and the world will reciprocate with its attention. It’s as simple a thing as giving people what they need. The radio will take care of the rest. 

Will it run for forty minutes?
Credits: thrillist.com

In today’s age, people want variety, entertainment and familiarity rolled into one, and they want it quick. 
The fifty-minute Length Play can hardly keep up with anything less than a traffic jam. The concentration asked of most experimental records won’t keep your eye on the road during your morning jog. And it’s no fun trying to keep up with something completely unfamiliar in rhyme or rhythm in the shower or on the dance floor. This is where the album, with its structure, discipline, and some may say, conformity, loses out in 2018. It’s also where your curated Spotify playlist wins. 

Listening to the modern chart radio reveals a few patterns.
 Either in the contents of the lyrics, vocal and tonic technique, baselines or drum machine patterns; something seems homogenous. Something sounds familiarly like the last fifty songs you’ve heard. Something in the song knows what makes your foot tap from past trials and is here to serenade you again. 
Out-of-breath crooners are back in fashion. Trance baselines have been in for a few years and stubbornly refuse to leave the charts alone. Acid bass drops get you moving. Minimalistic drum taps interfere the least with your dance floor groove. (As a disclaimer, this is all terminology coming from a rock music listener who’s spent way too many holiday car trips with the Tops 40’s radio.)
There’s always a story, either vocal or instrumental, that you’ve heard before  and it becomes easier to fill in the rest. 
But there’s always something almost obligatorily new: a synth melody in a new key, a different chord progression (Hmm, perhaps playing ‘A#-D#’ this time instead of playing ‘D-A’ will sound extremely novel), a new instrument thrown into the mix; something to make a case for your argument in favour of variety. 

What this sums up, to me, is a tired, wary society. We like our variety, in fact we’re wired for it, but only in micro dosages. We cling to familiarity and will take our blankets and pillow along with it. This is a generation that has seen more than its fair share  of experimentation and variety in life and wants no more hard surprises. Yes, you can dye the cat purple for all I care, maybe the colour will even look good on her. Just don’t let me know that I can’t afford my rent this month. Don’t tell me my student debt has doubled and that I’ll probably never be able to retire. Keep the papers away. Oh, and while you’re at it, don’t mess with my music. 

Pop music—historically short for popular music—is in this sense still quite a good reflection of society and its current mental state.
 Most of today’s adults the teens and preteens of the mid-00’s, a generation that grew up under the dominant reign of Disney Channel. This decade’s rise in (or perhaps, resurgence of) Disney artists in the popular music charts could well mean a generation of now-grown kids holding onto the last of their childhoods—a time when things seemed simpler, or were at least taken care of, and there seemed a lot more to look forward to in the future than they grew up to realise—through their childhood stars. 

So are we holding on to something that’s over and smearing its remains onto our music– a large aspect of our cultural lives and legacy? Does the ‘death’ of the longest format of music represent a breaking down of barriers, the handing of the reigns to the listener to modify their listening experience to their own comfort, the result of our collective wishes as a generation to find familiarity; or is it the death of music as we once knew it?

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Loosest Stuff I Could Piece Together: Anyone Can Write Deep Poetry Series

Come on over and write yourself the next chart-buster. Anyone can do it, no lie!

First up, welcome to the Anyone Can Write Deep Poetry series. 

Have you spent all day and all night, listening to Pink Floyd, obscure French music and frantically pulling up your old English notes from school searching for all the phrases and idioms that may have passed you by in twelve years of worthless education, and sit there scratching your head wondering where deep, meaningful poetry comes from?

Are you walking around town in low-waisted, ripped jeans with shades and a bedhead with a purpose, looking around for someone to pass you a few tabs of acid to unlock the sheer poetic creativity that sleeps passively in your soul?

Are you following all the latest yoga fads and rewatching every John Lennon interview in existence to find the meaning of life and finally turn it into that soulfully-worded song you know you should have written by now? (Come on, you’ve been searching for a year already!)

Well, fear not, for I have ended your woes!
Here is a step by step guide to getting in the frame of mind most fertile for sprouting pearls people will quote for years, read and reread to really grasp the inner meaning of, that people will cry upon deciphering. 

Basically, I’m gonna turn you into Radiohead. 

So let’s begin. Echoes 2.0 ain’t gonna write itself. 

What time is it? 
Did you just get back from work? Are you tired of the structured life, does the hypocrisy of society frustrate you?
Yeah well, you’ve already tried writing about it. 
And yelling, “down, down, down with the governmeeent!” clearly hasn’t helped your SoundCloud grow. 

Try the indirect approach. Orwell neatly shrunk society into a farm. Look at how many musicians quote his books. You want that, don’t you? 
What can you come up with?

Ditch the obvious! The LSD ain’t gonna help your head if it isn’t thinking!

Here’s a start: you think people shy away from self-contentment, don’t you?
Let’s find you something a level beyond “We’re all sad fucks.” 

What’s the least obvious thing that could represent fulfilment?

Yes, now you’re using your 3 AM brain, good work!
Cream cheese.

Why not? 

Satisfaction is cream cheese. You know it’s what Jagger wanted. But none of you can get it, you sad fucks, you’re afraid of getting it! 

What would shake up society more than anything else?
That’s right, someone getting it! And not just getting it, but enjoying it!

Attaboy, my Dylan! You’ve got yourself a full verse already! Should’ve come to me last year, don’t you think?

So here’s your first verse. 

Cream cheese is good
Real good food
I put it in my mouth
Until it’s all gone

What’s more torturous than just getting, and enjoying good cream cheese?
Getting it again! And again! And again! You rebellious soul, what will you do to the planet!?

You loop it. You say the same thing, again, and again, and again. You drive your bloody point home. You’ve got some fucking cream cheese out there. And you’re gonna eat it, period. 

What a symbolic middle finger in the face of the establishment. 

Yeah, how’s your acid working out for you?

Freedom can be trippy. Make sure your listeners—and the damned Establishment—know it! 
Put the trip and the trap into your music: echoes, delays, fades, until you’re so high on your own freedom that no one can hear you anymore. 

You’re a quick learner.
 Let’s put that onto your draft now. 


Cream cheese is good
Real good food
I put it in my mouth
Until it’s all gone

Yeah, cream cheese tastes good!
Is real good food
I put it in my mouth
Until it’s all gone!

CREAM CHEESE IS GOOD, YEAH?
Good food, yeah?
See me put it in my mouth
And watch it be all gone!

YEAH CREEM CHEEZE IYYY OOODD
EEEZZZZOOOODDD FOOOODDD
PUUUIIINN MAAA MAAAAAUUTHH
TILL ITS ALL GOONNEEE

Now, you and your group break away: there’s strength in numbers! Free your mate, and free your girlfriend, free your neighbour’s dog! Give ‘em some cream cheese. 

(song continued)

And my mate likes good cheese
My girl says it’s good food
We put it in the dog’s mouth
Until my neighbour’s gone

How’s that for emancipation of the people, sir? Could the establishment have an answer to that? Now all you need is to seal this with a kiss. 

I rise up, raid the pantry!
We rise up, raid the factory!
Wake up, eat up, 
Wake up
Wake up!

Who’d have expected that? You’ve got the critics in tears, reviewers raving; you’ve put together something nonsensical enough for the radio, deep enough for the underground, heady enough to score you that dream collaboration with Post Malone, you star!

Take a look at your final product and be proud. 

Cream cheese is good
Real good food
I put it in my mouth
Until it’s all gone

Yeah, cream cheese tastes good!
Is real good food
I put it in my mouth
Until it’s all gone!

CREAM CHEESE IS GOOD, YEAH?
Good food, yeah?
See me put it in my mouth
And watch it be all gone!

YEAH CREEM CHEEZE IYYY OOODD
EEEZZZZOOOODDD FOOOODDD
PUUUIIINN MAAA MAAAAAUUTHH
TILL ITS ALL GOONNEEE

And my mate likes good cheese!
My girl says it’s good food
We put it in the dog’s mouth
Until my neighbour’s gone

I rise up, raid the pantry!
We rise up, raid the factory!
Wake up, eat up, 
Wake up
Wake up!

Now, about the music, jeez, aren’t you exhausted? This song’s already a chart buster, why don’t you send your A&R guy to sample the neighbour’s dog pissing? It’s so meta, I can’t even. It probably even sounds good on record. About the actual rhythm section? Scratch some pads, man, anyone can make music. 


(In case the point was lost, this was pure satire. If you actually do write a song about cream cheese, and if it actually does hit the charts, I want in.

This is not a generic attack on lazy songwriting, and is neither a diss on any of the songwriters mentioned above. 

Except maybe Post Malone. But whatever.)

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A Midnight’s Dilemma

To write or not to write- that is half a question
To go over in the mind asleep;
Slings and arrows of wakefulness
To surface from its sea to consciousness
Or suppress them, end them. To sleep, to sleep–
No more– and by a sleep to say release
Let go of a thousand and more thoughts
That the mind is heir to- ‘tis euphoria
Devoutly to be wished. To sleep, to sleep–
To sleep, perchance till twelve. Ay, there’s the rub,
Of an eye, for ‘til the fresh rays come,
The thought has left this mortal coil.
This gives us pause. There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long and dark a night.
For who would bear the glares and ticks of time,
The spacing out, the offended glares,
The pangs of a body hungering for sleep, and its arrival’s delay
The sleep deprivations and the spins
This patient merit of th’ body takes
When he himself his bed made,
With bare hands? Who would fardels bear,
To fumble in the dark, for the light switch
But the dread of losing that thought,
It’s departure to new-found lands
From where it never returns, puzzles the will
And makes us pick those quills we have
And have them fly over flapping sheets
Thus does the clock above make fools of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
To shut the eyes tight, and ward off all thought
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of another thought
But enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard, their currents hasten
But sleep must lose the name of action– Sleep-deprived you now!
The fair inkiness! Black, In thy testament
Be all my sins remember’d.

 

P.S. as you can probably guess, it’s that time of the year again.

Test time.

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Bohemian Lament

Exams draw near, and it brings out the worst in me.

In my defence, I get bored.

 

Is this a real pile? Is it just fall-acy?
Caught in a landslide
Of books sliding down on me
Open your eyes
Look up to the ceilings and see
I’m just a poor student
Pile of books taller than me,
Knowledge easy come, easy go
Little high, little low
Any way the wind blows,
The answers seem to blow with them
Away from me

Mama just killed a man
Just the turn of a page,
Now he’s confused and filled with rage

Mama, the lesson’d just begun
But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away

Mamaaa ooooooooooo
Didn’t mean to make you cry
But I won’t be done with this by tomorrow
Grind on, grind on
As if nothing really matters.

Too quick
Its time has come
Sends shivers down my spine
Eyes shutting all the time

Goodbye everybody
I’ve got to go
Gotta leave the world behind and face the books

Mama, oooooo
I don’t wanna die
And sometimes wish I’d studied a bit before

I see a little silhouette of a book
Scandium, scandium, can you be less scandalous
Thunderbolts and lightning are just electrons flying at you
Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, Galileo Galileo didn’t see this coming,
No-o-o-o-o.

I’m an unpaired electron, nobody loves me
Unpaired and Lost from his metal was he
Spare him his life of unfulfilled valency
Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?
Bismillah! No, we will not let you go
Let him go!
Bismillah! We will not let you go
(Let him go!) Bismillah! We will not let you go
(Let me go.) Will not let you go
(Let me go.) Will not let you go. (Let me go.) Ah
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
(Oh mamma mia, mamma mia) Mamma mia, let me go
Bismuth has an orbital put aside for me
For me
For mee!

So you think the plain ground state was made for I?
So you think I’ll just keep spinning here till I die?
Oh, gaining, velocity baby,
Just gotta get out, just gotta get right out of here

(Put down the book, and)
Nothing really matters
All the prep there can be
Nothing makes the difference
For me.

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Cycle of Life

I was reading an article on how the population equilibrium on the planet will be maintained- a cycle of events that supposedly take place, that ensure a balance in human numbers on the planet.

Very roughly, they cycled as follows:
At first, there was a medium-ish population, and a small, hand sowed-and-reaped produce just enough to feed it.
If the population increased, the food supply was the limiting or checking factor, maintaining our population size.

Then came the mechanisation.
All of a sudden, with industrialisation, machines were reaping more crops than ever.

For once, an increasing population had enough, and even surplus food in store. (Cue: the Great Depression of the late ’20s, where the grain produce was so much, it had no more value in the markets.)

With this, and advances in technology and medicine, the so-far tight check on population growth loosened, and what began was the third phase of the cycle: something we call the population explosion.

In this stage, life conditions look relatively hunky dory, people live, live, and keep on living.

We’re accelerating too much, the problem of today.

Well, here’s what the cycle says.
This is where a fourth phase in the cycle kicks in.

There will then follow a stabilisation, wherein, with lower mortality rates and more longevity, humans will start reproducing less.
There simply won’t be a need for people to have as many kids anymore.
[Also, I may add, the lack of a libido, as seen in the Japanese, and the introduction of AI into the sex sphere, may play big roles in bringing down the very need/urge for human sex, and indirectly, reproduction.]

Now, I’m not economist or researcher. But I have another theory.

The human race will advance further in the intelligence sphere, and we’ll soon be delegating our intelligence to algorithms.

We’ll progress to the point where we’ve become far too comfortable.
(And trust me, we’re on our way there.)

The human body was designed for action. We were predators and prey once. Now we prey on the supermarket.
We use to be on the move.

Heaven knows we may adapt to inactivity. But mostly, I think that would fall apart.

Soon, non-movement-related illnesses would begin to take control of the human race, and human numbers will fall, because most likely, we won’t be able to reverse the damage.
Lifestyles mostly only progressively change, not regressively.

Now birth and death rates will balance out, and for all you know, despite improving technology, we may not have the problem of food surplus, because of the growing importance of (and money diverted to the production of) medicinal precautionary drugs, etc. in the human diet.
We come back to Step 1 of the cycle, i.e., balance. (Birth = death ≤ food supply).

There is another way, though.

Human beings’ strongest claim to the top of the hierarchy has always been their superior thinking ability. We’ve outsmarted and ousted almost every other dominant species on the planet. We call it civilisation.

But, of late, we’ve been handing over the reigns to the Golden Age bearers; with a machine to do everything a human can, the human needn’t work anymore. We have submitted to the idea of the Reigner Supreme: the now preferred machine.
Soon enough, the machine takes over the thinking aspect as well. Like a rusting machine, the now-useless human brain rots away in wastefulness.
No longer the well-oiled machine it once was, the evolution of the human brain stops.
With our front running claim to the top, our biggest weapon blunted, we will slide lower. Rationality and logical thinking will be lost, one bad decision will lead to another, till we’ve effectively dwindled down to the last human.
Ain’t that hard to kill the last dodo, is it now?

At last the cycle will end, and the winners, created by the ones they destroyed, the Reigning Machines, the victors, would stand tall, perfect and purposeless.

Hey, I’m only a science fiction writer, but who’s to say that dolphins won’t rule our planet one day?

 

A Comparison of Two Dystopian Novels

Today I was reading someone’s criticism of the modern-day dystopian novel genre, about how many dystopian novels (especially in the Young Adult (YA) subgenre, represented by books like the Hunger Games and Divergent (the first praised by the author for its real criticism and understanding of the subject matter it was critiquing, while the second was the focus of their criticism)) seemed to almost follow a formula and how many seemed strangely made for the screen, having somewhat confused themselves with enticing storylines of adventure and drama that are so easily transferred to the silver screen, happily marketable, able to “criticise” the ills of the world—and particularly, capitalism—while being a bit too comfortably promoted by capitalistic ventures.
And it got me thinking. The very first thing it had me thinking was this exact phrase: “Is the future of dystopian novels dystopian?”

Second, it got me thinking about books that I had read in the genre (being a Muse fan, dystopia is mildly on my radar I would say), and I realised that I’ve never, ever thought of a book like 1984 and a book like Ready Player One to be of the same genre, even though they both technically would present themselves as dystopian novels. One is meant to give you a rush of thrill and make you go, “whoa, cool!” and basically make you want to live in what the author will otherwise take the pains to say is a world you don’t want to be living in. (Please bear with me while I stack the two books side by side… as ridiculous as that may sound to some of you!)

Both are books set in the near future. 1984, written in 1949 and set in the titular 1984; Ready Player One, written in 2011 (I had to google that and it surprised me… I thought it’d be written around 2015. Ernest Cline was early to the 80s nostalgia trend!), set in 2045. Both imagine some forms of technology that didn’t exist at the time (or wasn’t overtly used in the manner that the book shows)—in Ready Player One, it’s VR technology, in 1984 it’s mostly surveillance technology. 

But the difference is in how these new technologies are used—Orwell makes the most mundane use of ordinary technology: two-way screens, mics, tubes, whatnot. As small as these might be, they were in a way physical manifestations of what was wrong. (Why? Because they existed in some form already, and that’s not how we saw them being used.) We had TV screens, mics had been invented, pneumatic tubes? Heard of them. But we weren’t used to seeing them used like this: these (relatively) ubiquitous things we considered harmless, screens watching us instead of us watching them, mics listening to us, pneumatic tubes destroying the undeniable truth as we knew it—as much as it was just a build up for the idea of people controlling us, of people listening, watching, denying, the technology was an important symbol representing and amplifying the book’s ideas. It was chilling. It’s what made the contrasting notebook of paper and ink seem so… free. Rebellious. Because in a world where the ordinary seems to have turned against you, it was the ordinary that also came to the rescue. Now what does Ready Player One do with its props?

The setting is futuristic as you’d see futuristic from a 2010s view. It’s VR, internet, fantasy, it sounds like a good world. (One thing though, yes we’ve seen VR headsets, but they’re not as ubiquitous, are they? It doesn’t chill you the way the items used in 1984 do, because we don’t yet see them as harmless everyday objects. It’s a bit unrelatable, so it’s not as effective. It comes off as more fantastical.) Yes, Cline is using the too-good-to-be-true contrast here: inside the Oasis, it’s wonderful! It’s fulfilling! You have friends, money, hope, luxury, life! Step outside though, and for most people it’s trailers stacked on top of each other, it’s poverty, theft, arson even. But you don’t live in that world very often do you? Read the book, and you’re always in the Oasis. Cline (in my opinion) got a bit carried away with the 80s nostalgia. Corporate henchmen blinded by greed and advertising options, which is probably the realest part of the whole book (and might I add, corporate henchmen who remind me of Pokémon’s Team Plasma) in the most glamorous version of the world? Can’t shake me that much, I’m too busy wondering how the heck that boy can game for 23 hours without his head swimming. Just writing this post is making me think I should get up and stretch now or something. 

Ready Player One focuses less on the chilling, more on the thrilling. I mean, it could’ve done a lot better given the time it was written was around when we were beginning to have our net neutrality battles, but it never got around to showing us any consequences. Too much threat of “don’t you dare” and no realisation in anyway of what could go wrong and why we should hate it. The worst the book did was have a gun-slinging action chase scene. He could have shown a world without net neutrality beyond just the money-muscle-flexing of “we bought better VR headsets”, it was a real threat to many people and could have struck a stronger chord. To me, Cline got carried away and mixed up his messages. It ended up becoming more about self-acceptance towards the end, and focussed a lot on the “weren’t the 80s a party, I wish I were around in the 1980s”. 

Bottom line, the big difference between 1984 and Ready Player One, two novels that bill themselves as dystopian future novels? One chills, the other thrills.

What do you think? On the one hand, perhaps it’s only a product of changing times. Maybe people reading 1984 in the ’50s could have thought it quite odd that everyone might have a TV screen, and that it could watch you—novel! Perhaps VR today stands at the same place, chronistically (is that a word? The opposite of anachronistically?), as a television screen would have stood in the 1950s—about three decades after its invention. To me however, Ready Player One missing its mark has less to do with the technological premises it employs, but the fact that it employs them too much. Cline spends so much time in the VR world, he doesn’t actually address the “real” world’s circumstances beyond “this boy lives in a stacked up trailer and comes from a dysfunctional family”. He gets too caught up in 80s nostalgia, and makes more threats than actually show why the evil-guy corporation’s implementation of this freemium model is a bad idea. This book was written around the time our conversations about net neutrality were popping up, so the book could have done much more. Ultimately, it’s more about nostalgic comfort (reinforced by the fact that the future is “bad”), more about thrill than chill, as a dystopian novel should leave you feeling.

But let me know what you think in the comments! (Or don’t, you’ve probably spent a while reading this. Treat yourself to a glass of water. Or an ice-cream bar. It’s summer, folks!)

So, Did E-Books Grow Up To Be Real Boys?

Amazon to cut price of its ebooks to reflect removal of VAT | Ebooks | The  Guardian

As a kid who learned the word “voracious” in one and only one context, I’ve read a lot. Most of my life, it was physical, paper books, and I could swear by those. The feel of the pages, the flipping sound, the smell of a new book, or the smell of an old one! Reading and feeling embossed book covers, the inside sleeve with a note about the author, their other books and maybe a sneak preview of their next one?! Physical books could do no wrong in my eyes (and still can’t). Reading almost never only happened in one single context though, so newspapers, textbooks, magazines, comic books, all added their unique experiences to the I-Love-Paper-Books reasons collective.

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Many people’s idea of a good day

Newspapers, with articles that could be cut out if or when everyone else had finished reading them (and the ensuing involved race to get the paper in that slim period between when everyone who wanted to read it was done, and the paper being gone…), magazines with news about your favourite bands and enough well-written allure in them to help you find the next set of favourites; comic books, first friends in mirth, later instructors in how to draw yourself, the most patient of all teachers, oh and textbooks with weird notes and doodles, also being physical entities you could slam down without having a heart attack at the end of the day.

12 Book Quotes For Book-Lovers That Describe Exactly Why You Love Books So  Much
Yes but I’d probably hate you if you did this because I’d spend all day ironing out the creases

Clearly, I can slip into the book-romanticising crowd, and blend in well with their moans of the perils of modern day technology. But as a student, having the space restrictions and the frequent travelling that comes with it, e-books have become quite hard to avoid. I’ve had a Kindle for a while now, and I think I’ve used it for long enough to be able to reflect on whether I like it much as a concept or not.

(Concept and implementation are far from the same. So many things that start out well-done often get degraded during a second release or an update I’m finding, and my guess is that’s to give companies something to call an improvement on the next iteration. For example, I have one of the Kindles that came out a couple of years ago, and before that, had a slightly older model, both belonging to the same e-ink line of hardware models (Paperwhites, I’m sure). I While my newer one had a slightly newer style of screen, I noticed that in addition to the screen not being a separate part of the device (with a ridge between the part that’s the screen and the rest of the body), but with a single plastic glass just covering the entire face of the device. I did notice that owing to this, the screen of the Kindle did seem whiter than the previous, which seemed a much more book-natural cream colour. It wasn’t too much of an issue, and being a younger person quite raised on the Internet and used to reading on a screen for other purposes, it didn’t make much of a difference to me until I compared it, and ultimately, I just enjoyed not having to read on my phone. But I can imagine if you were less used to it, the switch from the old Kindle to the newer one may have clashed somewhat with your taste. I put it down to either bad/overlooked design, or some unfortunate practicality in hardware development that I wouldn’t have thought about, and didn’t imagine anyone else had thought too deeply about it.

Fast-forward to me finding out about the new Kindle Oasis last year; it’s got a new, innovative and exciting feature: Yellow Mode™! Introducing the all-new Kindle Oasis, with Yellow Mode ™ technology– it feels just like a real book! It’s yellower, cream hues are more natural and welcoming to readers who prefer physical books, allowing you to stop thinking too much about the specifics of the device, and to just get lost in the absorbing world of a book, just the way you used to when you were a kid with a physical book, before we decided to get rid of those 🙂
Amazon Kindle’s Oasis: It Grew Up To Be A Real Book!

Except, shock and horror—this feature already existed! I can’t believe they simply tried to turn it off for one generation and bring it back pretending they’d invented the wheel… someone’s having trouble keeping with Moore’s law! Anyway, I massively digress.)

Good things about e-readers:

  • Unlike what I had originally thought them to be, e-readers are not really iPads. I mean, they can be if you want them to be, but the whole point of most e-readers is that they’re book devices, and many favour non-LCD/backlit displays which means I’m not guilty of doing my eyes 10x damage reading them. If only I’d have known that, I’d have run through more Kindles and not had a telephone till I left for university. I spent all my phone time reading articles from the NME anyway.
  • That’s another good thing about e-readers, you can use the internet with many of them as well. You do have to have infinite patience with them though, and another dose of infinite patience when trying to explain to someone why on Earth you’d ever want to use those when the slowest of phones could pull an impressive performance over these things.
  • I travel. I have luggage restraints. In first year, I had about half a bag in books I thought I might want to read on the FLIGHT. It’s insane. Now I just prefer popping them all on one device and then making up my mind later (not very different from what I used to do earlier but at least I don’t look like an idiot trying!)
  • Textbooks: 1. They very big. 2. Show two fingers to (*sniffs up*) Big Publishing by not buying your $200 + tax textbooks a course; get them online and then send their authors an email with the subject “:)” because they don’t really get paid much for their textbooks and research articles to get published. Many say they prefer you just email them asking them for access and they’ll email their papers to you directly, but I don’t read as many research papers so I digress here. You’re already paying a lot for your education, I guess, so why not.
  • Eye-strain-wise, it’s also super useful for when you’re putting in long hours studying or whatever. You’d NEED to take a break, far sooner, with a laptop. But yeah, breaks are for everyone eventually!
  • I send far too many websites to myself to read on my Kindle and then forget to delete them, but that’s okay.
  • You can send your own documents as well. These days, I tend to write up the songs for and general flow of my radio show on a document and then just read it from my Kindle. It’s far more convenient than switching from the audio recording tab to the music playlists to the article I read on them and then to Bandcamp… I just write it out like I were new to radio. We’ll go “spontaneous” once I’m live again. (I can still have my show flow out on the Kindle though!)
  • I have hopped from textbook to an article on Mogwai to Peter Hook’s book in a single sitting. Can’t do that with regular books!
  • You can read in the dark! The Kindle now, stupendously enough, has dark mode?! I guess it’s for the night hours more than for anything traditional laptops and phones have them for, but also, don’t do that if you can help it. Don’t lie down and read. Don’t read in poor ambient light. Darkness is terrible ambient light and you’d have made the using an e-reader to lessen eyestrain point moot.
Amazon to cut price of its ebooks to reflect removal of VAT | Ebooks | The  Guardian
Nothing, I just found this picture really funny.

There are still some unique issues that come with books being… not books though.

  • There isn’t the excitement of opening a new book and seeing new formatting anymore. It did help me jump from one book to another seeing a different margin width, differing book sizes and degrees of white or yellowing paper, different fonts and sizes, weights of books. On the other hand, most of our textbooks all had the same font, so they had a single vibe, and that meant if I wanted to throw my chemistry book on the floor, that vibe might carry over to physics, but then some things like the colours and thicknesses may differ. Or I could, you know, chuck it. Very literally.
  • Easily the most annoying thing to me about e-books, and this applies only to the sort of books that are properly formatted for these devices (so not PDFs), is that you don’t know how long a book is. There are no page numbers. Only some weird metrics like “time left in the book/chapter” or word or location number, which means absolutely nothing to me. I want the page number.
  • You can also resize these books, and with or without that, the text on the pages can move about a bit. Which means, if you know the line you’re looking for was somewhere in the right hand corner of page 52, there’s a big chance it’s moved just by you flipping a page. Even if you haven’t touched the font size.
  • That might make you think that perhaps PDFs really are the way to go with these books, at least they know how to behave! But a PDF really is the same PDF from your laptop shrunk down to fit on a smaller screen, so the text can be small, unchangeable and leave you scrolling. You deal with it in hours of need but it can be really annoying.
  • Running low on battery at important moments… I did a test with my test paper on my Kindle, with the thing flashing every 2 minutes begging me to plug it in… and I simply didn’t want to. No reason. I just sat there tutting at it going, “you’ll survive 8%, my god, stop being dramatic”. I’ll be honest, that was less of it inconveniencing me and more of the other way round.

And that’s about it! What do you think? Maybe libraries are a bigger factor in your sticking with the paper? Or maybe you’re the sort of tech-y free spirit who stick the paper to the man? I’ve had a university library send me a digital book, and it wasn’t even my university’s library. It was just one of those common publishing ones, Cambridge’s publishing press’s library system or something. But let me know! (I mean, if you’ve gotten this far, you clearly love reading and will read anything. This must be like 2000 words. I’ve been here an hour. It’s ridiculous.)

Showers

Showers, showers, showers
Are the need of the hour
Whether you’re cold and bereft
And a cold wave has swept
On over city or town
Or further deep down
A warm shower
Is the need of the hour.

If you’re burning with the heat
And it’s getting hard to keep
That blazing flame in control
And it’s eating you up whole;
You try with your might
To capture the dying light
You’re wanting a shower!
It’s the need of the hour.

If you look up to the skies
Not a cloud passes by
And the sultry haze
Matches your personal daze
Step behind the veil
And all it entails, for
A shower, shower, shower!
It’s the need of the hour

Just a silly little ditty about the versatility of showers… be it a showering of love or praise, a cold shower to clear your head out, a good old fashioned monsoon or a hot shower to make your winter mornings bearable, it’s got it all.

Now of course, I can’t possibly relate to the last one, because it’s getting far too hot here… summer’s a-comin’!

Tonight’s Grammys, from the POV of an Indiehead

To be honest, the best thing about the Grammys was the Internet issues. It definitely created some levity and made the Grammys seem like some kind of DIY punk awards, which would be a very interesting path for the most polished night in music to take. Given the natural expressive tendencies of musicians, I suppose it could also have provided opportunities for artists to make a statement with their backdrops, physical or virtual.

With COVID restrictions everywhere though, most artists chose to attend from their living rooms, though it was a lovely look to see family members piling on a delighted artist just trying to get through their 30 seconds and dish out love and thanks to the people that made their work possible.
Some, like the Strokes, still did manage to get creative, taking the call from an empty garage. I genuinely cackled at the Strokes finding out in real time that they’d won because they couldn’t hear anything on the other end, and having terrible network issues in their speech, which did the job of swear censoring, conveniently enough.

(I watched the YouTube livestream, not the televised event, which would certainly be more polished. I also imagine the response to the event later that night would be a little more varied than 30,000 fans simultaneously typing “BTS ❤ ❤ <3” or “HARRY ❤ FOREVER” into the live chat that was madly rolling on the side, somehow accommodating so many impassioned fans (many of whom would be feeling wronged before the end of two hours…) It would be too late in the night for me. I also tuned out for an hour midway to study for a test I have tomorrow, per usual, only to learn later that I missed the Replacements winning for best album notes, which sounds almost like a made-up category. I also missed Haim and Black Pumas’ performance, so I really hope greedy algorithms are good on their premise…)
I think the connection issues were on the Grammys’ end and not the artists, there were too many artists cutting out for it to be all of their faults!

I was certainly a bit disappointed that Fontaines D.C. didn’t win Best Rock album for their second LP A Hero’s Death, which released last June to critical acclaim, but it’s not all that surprising. It almost feels like gone are the days an up-and-coming guitar band could genuinely take the world by storm. While Fontaines D.C. certainly are shaking up what it means to be a rock band, it can sometimes feel like our voices and hopes echo louder within the indie-alternative walls than they do without. Even Phoebe Bridgers, who’s generated a right indie buzz as only one woman and an acoustic guitar (including a smashed one, that generated its fair share of “controversy” that I could write a whole other article on) walked away empty handed! Still, good on the rock category winners (and all others) tonight!

What’s more, Fontaines have finished mixing their third album, which they say sounds great, so there’s that to look forward to!

Credit-Valerian7000fontaines-1392x884.jpg (1392×884)
Irish post-punk, loud, poetic and proud. Fontaines D.C. (Picture: Valerian7000 / Press)

The Strokes, winning Best Rock album for The New Abnormal said, “I think we kinda won this on the album name alone” which was quite funny. I remember how my understanding of the album title did a full 360 within three months of the album coming out! I recall sitting in our recording studio early one Tuesday morning (8 AM is far too early for a night owl), hearing our co-host play Bad Decisions on the city’s airwaves for the first time, a song that teetered dangerously close in guitar lines to its obvious influence, Billy Joel’s Dancing With Myself. I imagined then, as our co-host announced the album the song was going to be on, that the title referenced social media, the loss of technological innocence, political new ground, etc. that our age found itself in: truly a new abnormal. How that meaning would change within a month to become one of the most helplessly overused phrases of our remote lives.

Hear it for yourselves! That chorus is such a shameless rip-off, you’d think Dancing With Myself was 60+ years old. Not yet Julian, dammit! The song’s still young!

Beck won for his latest album Hyperspace! The category was best non-classical engineering, I think. I was too distracted by the secondhand awkwardness of him just hello-ing the camera in confusion, though I wouldn’t blame him or anyone else. Trying to Zoom anything just sounds confusing. One of the winners was on mute throughout his speech and so the editors decided to cut their losses and move on to the next category…

I was really chuffed to see Rufus Wainwright performing, it’s astonishing how his voice sounds just as good and smooth as on his debut some 20 years ago! (Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk anyone? I’m afraid it’s become the Creep to his Radiohead unfortunately… yet the song is on Poses, his second album from 2001, so perhaps the 20-year anniversary luck is with us?)

I was also pleased to see Lido Pimienta performing, her album Miss Columbia is such a treat to listen to. It’s a delightful mix of light electronic pop with Latin elements, sung mostly in Spanish. She’s also a part of Toronto’s thriving and diverse music scene, so it does have multiple layers to it! I’m also a new fan of Poppy (am I spelling her name right? She’s the first female solo vocalist to earn a nomination in metal tonight!) and Burna Boy after today.
I‘d heard of Burna Boy before, but was a bit hesitant to throw myself headfirst into the discography of a bona fide pop star (rather, superstar, at least in his native Nigeria!) I’m happy to be wrong this time (the last time I was “wrong” about not wanting to delve into more mainstream or pop-oriented music, I discovered CHVRCHES, who are great). Burna Boy’s performance had an air of gravitas to it that was lifted by the playful touches of multiple genres, instruments and vocalists as the camera panned across his recording studio and sax players, soul singers, guitar soloists, backup dancers in traditional African clothing and a confident singer came in and out of view.

With that, the livestream came to an end, along with my roundup of the Grammys as per their relevance to an indie/alt/rock-head!

Sensations In The Dark (at the Guardian)

Here’s a clip for you today if you miss there being people visible behind the music you listen to. It’s a performance of the song Sensations In The Dark by Gruff Rhys, formerly (?) frontman, singer and guitarist in Welsh psychedelic pop five-piece Super Furry Animals. (The band’s currently on hiatus as members pursue their own various and delightfully good side projects, but never say never!)

I cannot explain how fond I am of this video, although I will try! The entire concept of the album this track is on, Gruff’s 2011 third solo album Hotel Shampoo, is a wonderful mishmash of past, present and various mediums of storytelling. It began as a problem some of us may have had as well, in one form or the other: too many half-used, old bottles of complementary shower products, little souvenirs of our holidaying lives spilling over onto the racks of our bathrooms.

We still have, I’m embarrassed to say, shower gel and shampoo bottles from trips taken in 2015, the dates on the back of the containers consolidate our shame, but Gruff’s a touring musician! Starting in 1995 with Super Furries, touring around UK and the world, staying at a new hotel every day of the week, it was certainly an exciting experience for Gruff, and like many of us, he kept souvenirs, not imagining this wonderful experience could last. Trouble is, success and musicianship dogged poor Gruff and so, fifteen years later, he found himself facing boxes of old disposable shampoo bottles filling up the house, five hundred and sixty seven (567) of them to be exact.

There’s no real reason why we keep ours, and it’s probably a good idea to chuck them out soon, but it wouldn’t be Gruff Rhys if he’d dealt with the problem in such an anodyne way!

Going through the bottles and shower caps in his fifteen-year old collection, Gruff found that the containers brought back memories, hotel names, venues, gigs they’d played and states of mind: the excitement of being a new band on the scene, the highs, the lows, America, etc. (He didn’t state these examples, but that’s what I imagine anyway…)

Gruff began writing songs about the journeys and moments that those shampoo bottles had been present in, and about the various memories and what they’d brought back to him. All of that became the album Hotel Shampoo. And what of the shampoo bottles themselves? Gruff took a night to put them all together to make an actual hotel by gluing together the containers in an art installation at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. He then spent the night in that hotel of memories of his making.

Here’s him making Hotel Shampoo.

The song Sensations In The Dark itself, as Gruff says in his performance for the Guardian, is about the time when he was younger and growing up in his hometown of Bethesda in western North Wales, and used to tune into Dublin’s late night music radio stations across the sea, which were closer to his than the London stations, literally the sensation of discovering music after dark.

What I love about this performance? Where do I begin.

First, I love just how simplistic the arrangement of this performance is and yet it sounds so good! I have no idea how a simple acoustic guitar can sound so full, but it’s worked for Gruff for nigh 30 years now so there’s gotta be something to it.

Then there’s that lovely, understated falsetto with the slightest vibrato. It’s also worth mentioning how well Gruff understands the quality of his own voice (texture? Timbre? A magazine that interviewed SFA in the 90s once described him as “cello-voiced”, whatever that means), and uses that to his advantage. His music is written to be complemented by a sweet, soft voice, which is exactly what he possesses.

Gruff Rhys is one of the finer examples of greatness in simplicity. A lot of his ideas are really simple, as he lays bare here, Sensations In The Dark is just three major chords, but it’s the way Gruff puts together the whole song over it that reveals his incredible knack for writing a great pop tune. Time after time, his great pop sensibilities, indeed musical sensibilities, deliver another smooth-wine easily listenable tune with clever vocal melodies that sound unmistakably Gruff Rhys. I’m always amazed by it.

Then there’s just the general showmanship on display here. Gruff has a pretty sharp wit (that people don’t really give him credit for, as opposed to say, a Gallagher) and with the story behind the song, it really makes for a memorable performance.

On the whole, it’s up there with some of my favourite videos. Gruff’s supposedly in the last stages of mixing together a new solo album, and it’s meant to finally bring back the electric guitars, notably missing from this (and subsequent) record, and which I’m definitely looking forward to hearing. It might just be one of the highlights of my 2021.

Some New Punk For You

As you may know, my constant blathering on about music at impossible hours of the day and for impossible lengths of time has landed me in the only logical place I could end up in: the local radio station doing a music show. Then there was a second music show because I listened to too much music. Then the fact that an hour of playing music didn’t always do music appreciation the full justice it deserved, which culminated in me being responsible for updating and elaborating on our weekly music show’s playlists afterwords in longform on the show’s blog, over at whatthepunkcfrc.wordpress.com. Sometimes I get excited about a week’s playlist and want to share it with you too (new music ahoy!)

So here’s the latest article I’ve written for the radio music blog, and it’s all about experimental, psychedelic, indie, synth-y and hardcore punk.


We here at What The Punk?! try and dig up the best, weirdest, snottiest, sneakiest and most spaced out punk you will find, and this chilly month, we bring you this collection of punktastic snuggles to fill your thoughts and keep you warm.We here at What The Punk?! try and dig up the best, weirdest, snottiest, sneakiest and most spaced out punk you will find, and this chilly month, we bring you this collection of punktastic snuggles to fill your thoughts and keep you warm.

(I’m sorry, sometimes the music we have is pretty diverse and impossible to capture in a single opening sentence. I try, but sometimes even I don’t know what I’ve just written. Read on. There’s great music to follow.)

Also, as a note, the WordPress is crashing because of the inhuman amount of embeds I attempt to squeeze into a single document. WordPress itself is ridiculously loaded as it is. I’ll be including links to the musicians we played on their Bandcamp pages where you can listen to their music, browse through their discographies and merchandise and purchase music or merch from them directly. I’ll only be embedding artists whose music is not on the Spotify playlist we’ve included, but do give them a full listen on their sites if you like them!

21 December, 2020:

We played Mitcham, UK-based queer shoegazy grunge quartet Screaming Toenail, who describe themselves as “sassy, decolonial, queer, punk”. Their album Growth is a must-listen! (“Dedicated to anyone resisting colonial heterosexual bullshit.”, as their Bandcamp page says.)
Screaming Toenail – Divide and Conquer

Also on this set was Die! Die! Die!, the post-punk, post-hardcore trio hailing from Auckland, New Zealand, whose release from October this year we listened to, called I Seek Misery. Back in 2008, Die! Die! Die! had released a two-track album called Sideways, Here We Come (a play on The Smiths’ final studio release, Strangeways Here We Come, as directly referenced in the band’s promotional images), whose music video was very stylistically remnant of Welsh artist Peter Fowler’s distinct lo-fi scrapbook style art, and particularly reminds me of the music video he made for the Super Furry Animals’ song Presidential Suite off their 2001 DVD-album release, Rings Around The World.
(As the Super Furry Animals, having moved from Alan McGee’s indie label Creation Records (known for championing bands like My Bloody Valentine, Oasis, SFA themselves, Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub, the Jesus and Mary Chain and Bob Mould) to the major label Epic Records, had access to a greater budget for the first time, they opted to make the entire album a DVD-first release, which meant music videos for each of the 13 songs: a tall order on any budget, just ask Gorillaz this year!)

See for yourself, here’s Die! Die! Die!

Sideways, Here We Come

And here’s the music video for Presidential Suite.

The acclaimed song that also features the Velvet Underground’s John Cale.

Die! Die? Die! – I Seek Misery

We dipped into the Atlanta, GA punk scene from the mid 2000s, listening to one of Peach State’s leading punk groups, Carbonas. Their brand of snotty, snarky punk throws back to the 1970s, but also features delightfully catchy vocals and a knack for writing good melody. We listened to their 2007 song Phone Booth, from their self-titled album Carbonas.
We also had music from Montpellier, France’s high-energy garage punk quartet Les Lullies, and a Calgary, Alberta based fuzzy punk band who are fast becoming a favourite of this show, Self-Cut Bangs. We heard their rather more alternative song Perfect Posture, off their self-titled debut album.
Carbonas – Phone Booth
Les Lullies – Mourir d’Ennui
Self-Cut Bangs – Perfect Posture

Continuing in the alternative vein, we had some indie music from South Korean band Billy Carter. Taken from their second album (I was about to say “sophomore release” but I’ve learned of late that thanks in no small part to radio presenters overusing the phrase, it’s actually becoming quite annoying to hear in the music world. Thanks Shaun Keaveny… (great guy, just you know. One of the first 6Music presenters to spring to mind!) How do we stop repeating ourselves when we talk of nothing but music day in and day out!?)

Taken from their second album Don’t Push Me, the band straight away tackles heavier themes than their bright debut double EPs The Red and The Yellow which were critically acclaimed and nominated for multiple music awards in South Korea. “The album begins with ‘Invisible Monster’, which contains a strong will to overcome the traumas caused by abuses”, they say, and that’s the song we listened to.
Billy Carter – Invisible Monster

We dug into some more psychedelic punk as well, listening to psychedelic synth punk band NOTS from Memphis, Tennessee. If echoed spoken word vocals over assured basslines are your thing (basically, new wave), you’ll love this band. We also had an anthology release pop up on our radar, as industrial art-punks Dow Jones and the Industrials put together their releases from 1979 to 1981, and in similar vein, we played industrial synth punk pioneers Chrome.
Dow Jones and the Industrials – Can’t Stand the Midwest
NOTS – Half-Painted House
Chrome – Heartbeat

We had new psychedelic punk from Australian band Eggy and some very specifically accusatory indie punk from Melbourne female quartet Parsnip (the song’s called Crossword Cheater), and shooter further across the Tasman, In My Mouth by Auckland, New Zealand post punks Wax Chattels.
Eggy – Johnny Whoop
Parsnip – Crossword Cheater
Wax Chattels – In my Mouth

We at this radio station are big fans of Bandcamp (if you couldn’t guess from the ten or so Bandcamp links throughout this article), not only for championing music in an ethical way that doesn’t shortchange artists (once again, I’ll point you to this article), but as a platform that is also constantly striving to discover and promote the best music that musicians on the platform are making. From their Best Punk of 2020 feature article, we picked some of our favourites, albeit in step with all the limitations that come with having only an hour on radio…

New York band Straw Man Army won us with their noisy lo-fi punk and the lyric “That aching in your mouth is just the presence of a hook” on their song about genocide, Option Despair. We also heard Arrival.

We also had British punks Shopping with their indie brand of catchy, synthy punk and the delightfully sneery and irreverent Sniffany and the Nits, with their blinder of a song Horse Girl.
Shopping – Trust In Us

Dressed fully in nurse garb, Sniffany and the Nits bring absolute manic energy to their music—both on record and live.

We also heard from Aussie punks Cold Meat, Missouri’s Fried E/M and Columbian punk from Muro.
Cold Meat – Industry Sleaze
Fried E/M – Peace and Love
Muro – Fantasia del Progreso

Find the playlist for the show below.

Quarterlife Rants

Don’t read it, it’s a rant. If you want to read a rant, it has some cool stuff about paper phones as a perk.

Incoming rants… duck!

A lot of you may know, or have an inkling based on everything that goes on on this blog, that design is not insignificant in my life, whether it’s good design or bad being a separate matter. I like design but fear I’d get genuinely bored if that was all I had to do in life, but wasn’t sure I wanted to spend my whole life behind a desk coding…

We found a compromise, and such a good one that I hate to use the word ‘compromise’ on it: I found an entire interdisciplinary field out there that combined the two aspects, and many more disciplines, but was way more than the sum of the parts: human-computer interaction. The area that concerns how people use, work with, and understand technology of any sort. From interfaces to entire new technologies, webpage layouts to answering “how many new features can a phone introduce before users start throwing their phones against the wall screaming and check into the nearest isolation ward?” (although admittedly, today with COVID and everything, that question could just mean a tracing app alert…), everything to do with people using technology is the realm of human computer interaction.

Naturally then, it checks into all the different components that rule people, and technology: it’s a bit of computer science, naturally!; good design, psychology to know people better, linguistics, for phones to be able to talk to people better, you can see how many different angles this can bring in!

A professor I knew of spent years building technology that worked with hand gestures, but was on paper. No screens, and it wasn’t a phone. It was very cool. He brought the concept of a computer out into the real world, and built something he called the paper Windows. The year was 2004. It was more of a proof of concept admittedly, it made use of projectors, but that’s the spirit of HCI, anyway. How do humans interact with technology, and how can they?
(Spoiler, e-ink technology was definitely a hit with him. His next invention? The paper phone! He also made the first foldable, organic phone that he wrapped around his wrist, a concept I see Samsung eventually learned of.)

This video is from 2004. If you couldn’t believe it before, surely the 140 px gives it away?

So it’s an extremely interesting field, and contrary to what the above may make you think, it’s not just restricted to novelty labs tucked into universities on exclusive papers marked ‘Academic research only’, but one major component of it, user interface and experience design, is a pretty well known concept.

The only trouble in my eyes is that knowledge about it both is and isn’t. User experience (UX) involves researching about the people who will use your product, designing your product with those people, good design principles, and accessibility (ideally, but practically as I’m seeing it, only where budget permits and a larger proportion of users exist) in mind.

Lots of workshops litter the internet that will teach you how to make your first wireframe (a mock snapshot of your website/app’s final look, particularly if it’s a digital product you’re building), what goes into user research, and an emphasis on how badly good design is needed (My mother spent a month trying to click a button on Amazon’s website for a return to no avail. It’s genuinely one of the worst websites in the world. I’ve seen the button).

Perhaps for exactly that reason, there’s a lot of basic knowledge about it out there, but not the decisive expert’s eye. I’ve been trying to make something decent out of what I know for a couple of years now. It’s pretty basic. More importantly, it’s nowhere near enough. (I did warn you in line 1 this was a rant. Sure I deviated to give you a lecture on one of my interests on the way, but this remains at heart, a rant. I don’t have to be right about what I’m saying to rant.) University courses are all about the software development, maybe some about the theory, but in the rigour of more “mainstream” computer science courses, I’d honestly just forgotten for almost a year that I was really interested in HCI, that that was what I wanted to do. Getting caught up in the thick of it, I spent a lot of last year fretting about my strengths and weaknesses, and that I couldn’t find an interest within my own field. It wasn’t until I came across our course calendar this year that I remembered HCI was a thing. My thing.

I’m taking the HCI course next semester, and I have a course on UX next year. I’m super excited about them. But the fact that in all four years, I could only find those two courses was a bit of a downer. I know I’m an undergrad. We don’t specialise. But I get to see my friends in specific game design courses in second year itself, I get to see them in specialised software development streams that focus on the ins and outs of the software process. I get to wait till third year to take one course a year hereon that’s relevant to me.

It would be helpful to actually get to go into the thing I think I like and figure out if I really like it practically, or not. (Computer science is a great field to go into theoretically. The courses are fun, the things you can do with it are mindblowingly incredible. You kinda forget that once you leave that institution of possibilities for a real-world job in computing with real-world expectations and responsibilities. It can also be a drag.) I’d like to learn as early on as possible whether I’ve wasted the last two years gearing towards something I found out was actually only just okay. After all, as no matter how confident you sound in an application, you can’t possibly know whether you like what you think you like, from having done a 7-day free trial (okay, not free) on training wheels.

Still, all of that would be okay if the expectations matched the reality. Most computing students at the same level won’t have too much experience with fields like these that are still only in the process of being formalised, except for a few notable institutions (data science I think is another similar field, where most colleges won’t have specialised studies, but will sort of try and beef you up with your math and stats instead). The trouble is, the outside world still has such high expectations of anyone trying for human computer interaction and I just find myself thinking… how on earth do you ever fill your vacancies? You haven’t described a college grad, no sir. The entire planet is collectively still trying to figure out what interaction really entails and you’ve decided who the ideal candidate is? It’s also always candidate this, candidate that; anything you’ve ever done just has to be resume-ready, or it’s a waste.

I’m honestly quite proud of the trifle projects I’ve done. I think they look good. I think they were thought through. I also know that they’ll never be enough. (I just applied to internships to a place that had both HCI and software development postings, and I got passed through to a stage 2 for the development one, and flat out rejected for the HCI one, which for no real reason makes me so mad because I know if they asked me about the development position, I’d hecking say yes because why wouldn’t I, and then I get more dev experience and no HCI experience, and that puts me in a stronger position to apply as a developer in the future, and that means I get more dev projects and the HCI thing looks weak in comparison and gets pushed to the bottom again, until we’re at that embarrassing position in life where about five years later, I’ll rediscover this blog and go, “oh my goodness! I’d completely forgotten I wanted to do something in HCI!” and well, quarterlife crisis will hit early my friends.)

And I guess that was the central fire of this rant. I hate that I, inadvertently and circumstantially, will likely be heading towards something I’m only meh about, because I have too many years of lifeblood left in me to do something I’m meh about. And it looks like quarterlife crisis will come down to staging an intervention and answering some pretty touchy questions, and what makes me mad is I thought I’d already asked me those questions and got the answers. I could ask them today and still get the same answers. But it seems that what you say, even to yourself, can differ from what you do.

Is 20 too early for a quarterlife crisis?

(Yes, I could’ve ranted to my mum, but it’s 4 AM and she’s sleeping, besides, she’s heard this all before and is sick of it and I did promise you more writing. Relish in the dramatic anguish.

[Exit stage left]

[Lights fade]

(Trust me, I know what I’m doing, I’m in the playwriting course this year.)

How Music Streaming (Doesn’t) Work

A little something I wrote this week for the radio show I do’s blog

Earlier today, I was talking to someone about music (as I am wont to do, seeing as how my inability to shut up about it has landed me a not-temporary spot on a music radio show), and the conversation invariably turned to Spotify. How convenient streaming services have made listening to music for us, no need to queue up in long lines outside record stores, no reason to go out and buy singles, or indeed listen to an entire album… or even music by a single artist! Spotify, a music streaming service perhaps best known for its sleep playlist, has been garnering a somewhat more sinister reputation over the last decade… and yes, it’s not all rosy with those million-subscriber playlists either. Let’s dive in.

Not here, not yet! Hear this first.
Photo by Matthias Groeneveld on Pexels.com

It’s been whispered in questioning tones in hushed corners for a long time, but many people, particularly casual listeners are only beginning to become aware that Spotify has some pretty unethical practices, especially when it comes to their music services. While more vocal voices have been criticising Spotify in the last five years, some perhaps forever, by pulling their music from their platforms; the unfair ways in which Spotify and other music streaming services really shortchange artists has become a much better covered phenomenon this year, when the arrival of a global, contagious virus meant that live events, with their crowds, their shouts, and almost all of a professional musician’s income, disappeared.

Miss this yet?
Photo by Harrison Haines on Pexels.com

Maybe you’ve been hearing about the campaigns in the UK (Broken Record) and elsewhere (Justice At Spotify by the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers) regarding how little Spotify pays artists per stream– well under 0.1 cents (0.004 cents = 0.00004 dollars). If you’re a premium subscriber, also know that your subscription fee does not go to the artists you’re listening to. It goes into a big pot that then distributes it to whoever has the most streams overall for that month (called the pro-rata model) which means you’re not paying for the music that you’re listening to. You’re paying for multi-millionaire chart toppers only, regardless of whether or not you listen to them.

Spotify has repeatedly ignored musician campaigns for fair pay through a system that has almost entirely replaced physical music copies’ sales (CDs, vinyls, digital albums)—previously their largest source of income.  To show you what a large proportion of their earnings used to come from album sales, here’s some maths that people have done: on the strength of album sales alone, the Beatles were able to retire completely from touring. With today’s streaming models, they’d be touring till the end of their lives. Ever wonder why your parents/grandparents could go see great bands for $8? Even with inflation, that’s because album sales were covering artists! Note that this applies to all streaming platforms, your Apple, Deezer, Tidal, YouTube etc. but here’s why I’m calling Spotify out specifically.

Spotify were asked if they had a response to the various campaigns earlier this year in an interview their CEO Daniel Ek did with MusicAlly, and he basically put the responsibility on musicians, telling them to “engage more regularly” and release music monthly like machines and called their art “content” in the process, which pissed off a LOT of people, but Spotify didn’t care too much. (Ek’s own net worth is about $4 billion).

They’ve been accused of actually shady practices like creating fake musician profiles and putting their AI-generated songs (copyrights owned entirely by Spotify) on their most popular playlists in a complete cash generation move. They’re now allowing a podcasting platform they own called Anchor to use any music that is on Spotify completely royalty-free in their podcasts, and I don’t know how that’s legal. For reference, no recorded medium can include recorded music/music that someone else holds the rights to, without the permission of the owners (artists and/or labels) and must pay a royalty fee to use them. Radio stations navigated lengthy laws before winning the right to be issued blanket licenses to play any music (ours are annually renewable). It’s not all that simple. But because streaming is so new, legally speaking, there aren’t enough laws regulating them, allowing streaming giants to act outside of all established norms for music publishing. (Want to read a legal headache? Read about the legal history of music sampling. Find out how much the Beastie Boys are still paying, 40 years later, for the samples used on their album Paul’s Boutique). This period is akin to the 7-day free trial stage of any product, except it’s been 12 years and big middlemen companies that have nothing to do with the production of music are reaping big rewards at the expense of artists—and the health of the future of music.

The “health” of music, you ask? Apart from ensuring that music can be a viable career and that people from all backgrounds (economic, social, etc.) are able to take a stab at a music career, and not just well-off hobbyists, one fear with the playlist-obsessed, mood-categorising Spotify, is that musical diversity could well suffer. At the moment, the most popular Spotify playlists, and consequently the artists most benefitting from Spotify are those that fit a certain downbeat, indie vibe, that fit into the sleep playlists and the mood n’ chill playlists. In a model already so heavily pitted against them, a service used by millions if not billions that prefers a certain kind of music could weed out all other genres of very good musicians (speaking as a punk show, we definitely don’t fit the conventional sleep-time vibe! Although, I have known people to sleep like babies through thrash metal… hmmmm).

I could go on, and I wouldn’t be the only one. Many artists have spoken out against them, some pretty major artists too, like Radiohead, Taylor Swift, to name a few, have pulled their music from Spotify in the past. Here’s Beck talking about how unimaginably little Spotify pays. The founder of the Broken Record campaign I mentioned earlier is guitarist from English post-Britpop band Gomez, Mr. Tom Gray.

All these movements haven’t had no effect. Awareness of these practices is spreading, and in the UK, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has launched an inquiry into the effects that streaming has had on musicians’ lives. They’re collecting evidence right now, so if you are in the UK, musician or not, you can give your evidence to them now!

Now you ask, is my very listening to music illegal now? Can I still use Spotify?

Well, you certainly can, and I wouldn’t judge you for it. My recommendation is to use Spotify the way you’d use radio: to discover music you’ll love. Then go out and support music that you like, if you can! If buying albums doesn’t work for you, the music industry has adapted well: buy their merch! Oh, and if you’d like to listen on platforms that not only let you listen but also fairly support artists? Try Bandcamp, or a few newer streaming sites (using a User-Centric model, which pays your fee only to musicians you’re listening to) like Sonstream or Resonate.

Chocolate Or Crackers?

It’s officially holiday season! And for an expat like me (is that what I can myself?), it’s officially Schrödinger time. (It’s holiday season, but it’s also not.)

It’s Diwali this week, which means for the first time since lockdown began, we’ve had to clean the house out, and by “we”, I mean “not me”, because as I’ve discovered over socially distant (over 16,000 km and very responsible), time-zone factored online school, relaxing in the morning after a night long of school by washing windows is quite the way to wind down.

How much, you ask? So much that I’ve managed to break the spray-pump bottle we used to water the plants in little over a month washing windows. Plastic is a scam.

I’ve also found it pretty amusing to sing an old song by actor, comedian and musician George Formby, a Lancastrian Englishman who rose to fame in the 1930s and ’40s for his comedic morale boosting acts and wartime films in Britain. His cheeky sense of humour is on full display in this song, called When I’m Cleaning Windows (sometimes called The Window Cleaner).

The song, as performed in one of his films.

Fun fact: his lighthearted but sometimes risqué lyrics had him well banned by the BBC, who at the time were lead by moral strongman and man-who-made-frowning-accessible-to-the-masses, John Reith.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.jpeg
Man of the people, or rather, the collective frown of the people poured into one man, Lord John Reith.

(Note that I’m not doing the man ugly here. There genuinely isn’t a picture in the public domain of him actually smiling.)

Reith, who considered his role as Director of the BBC to be that of defender of public morality, famously refused to play Formby on the radio declaring, “If the public wants to listen to Formby singing his disgusting little ditty, they’ll have to be content to hear it in the cinemas, not over the nation’s airwaves”.

But Formby soon put an end to that: the royal family counted themselves as fans of his work!

61 George Formby Videos and HD Footage - Getty Images
Who’s laughing now, Lord Reith?

Either way, like everything else this lockdown, the window washing isn’t going great. They’re stubborn windows that won’t stay clean for long, making me feel like a smoker who’s decided to give up the fag: I’ll just clean these windows one last time, and then I’m done for three years, one last cigarette, just one more clean out tomorrow… but they’re dirty again!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 79ca30da-6c2f-4f10-bed0-f3bac09e4ad8.jpeg
For anyone keeping tabs, it’s these very same windows from 3+ years ago. Mmmm, read all about them!

Rounding up other things in the house that should’ve been thrown out years ago (I found mint chocolates from 2016), we found an old box of mini-fireworks we didn’t know we had, and taking things a little further, my grandparents weren’t even sure were fireworks at all. Small, triangular, squished up, or circular and similar: crackers or chocolates?

Which brings us to the absurd spot we’re in now. Chocolates or firecrackers? I wish I could put it out to the people to decide. Unfortunately, they’re gone. Someone’s eaten them.

Just kidding.

Don't Eat That: Sheneman, Drew: 9781101997291: Books - Amazon.ca

Chocolate?

It’s officially holiday season! And for an expat like me (is that what I can myself?), it’s officially Schrödinger time. (It’s holiday season, but it’s also not.)

It’s Diwali this week, which means for the first time since lockdown began, we’ve had to clean the house out, and by “we”, I mean “not me”, because as I’ve discovered over socially distant (over 16,000 km and very responsible), time-zone factored online school, relaxing in the morning after a night long of school by washing windows is quite the way to wind down.

How much, you ask? So much that I’ve managed to break the spray-pump bottle we used to water the plants in little over a month washing windows. Plastic is a scam.

I’ve also found it pretty amusing to sing an old song by actor, comedian and musician George Formby, a Lancastrian Englishman who rose to fame in the 1930s and ’40s for his comedic morale boosting acts and wartime films in Britain. His cheeky sense of humour is on full display in this song, called When I’m Cleaning Windows (sometimes called The Window Cleaner). The song, as performed in one of his films.

The song, as performed in one of his films.

Fun fact: his lighthearted but sometimes risqué lyrics had him well banned by the BBC, who at the time were lead by moral strongman and man-who-made-frowning-accessible-to-the-masses, John Reith.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.jpeg
Man of the people, or rather, the collective frown of the people poured into one man, Lord John Reith.

(Note that I’m not doing the man ugly here. There genuinely isn’t a picture in the public domain of him actually smiling.)

Reith, who considered his role as Director of the BBC to be that of defender of public morality, famously refused to play Formby on the radio declaring, “If the public wants to listen to Formby singing his disgusting little ditty, they’ll have to be content to hear it in the cinemas, not over the nation’s airwaves”.

But Formby soon put an end to that: the royal family counted themselves as fans of his work!

61 George Formby Videos and HD Footage - Getty Images
Who’s laughing now, Lord Reith?

Either way, like everything else this lockdown, the window washing isn’t going great. They’re stubborn windows that won’t stay clean for long, making me feel like a smoker who’s decided to give up the fag: I’ll just clean these windows one last time, and then I’m done for three years, one last cigarette, just one more clean out tomorrow… but they’re dirty again!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 79ca30da-6c2f-4f10-bed0-f3bac09e4ad8.jpeg
For anyone keeping tabs, it’s these very same windows from 3+ years ago. Mmmm, read all about them!

Rounding up other things in the house that should’ve been thrown out years ago (I found mint chocolates from 2016), we found an old box of mini-fireworks we didn’t know we had, and taking things a little further, my grandparents weren’t even sure were fireworks at all. Small, triangular, squished up, or circular and similar: crackers or chocolates?

Which brings us to the absurd spot we’re in now. Chocolates or firecrackers? I wish I could put it out to the people to decide. Unfortunately, they’re gone. Someone’s eaten them.

Just kidding.

Don't Eat That: Sheneman, Drew: 9781101997291: Books - Amazon.ca