Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I'm looking through you / you're not the same

This blog has now moved to my own dedicated server. The address is the default address for the blog.

These pages, which are also hosted on the new site, will remain as archives.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

So they flew the Super-Constellation all the way from Rimini / And feasted them on fish and chips from a newspaper facsimile

What a very odd few months it has been.

What a surreal few weeks.

Both gross understatement I think, but better that than gross overstatement. I think odd and surreal describe the extended period better than any adjectives that imply bloodshed, disaster, civil mayhem or urban warfare.

There have been those much reported moments of awfulness too but mostly those were limited to four bloody bursts with extended periods of stalemate, which when they came were truly horrific, even sitting on the outside looking in as a (close) observer who could, this last week, see the smoke rising a few kilometres away, whilst, however, pretty much everything in our almost completely Thai suburb, seemed day to day to be as it always was, which of course gave it another level of surealness.

And indeed that was the way for 90% of this city, where life was largely unaffected until the very last few days when a curfew and the curtailing of train services finally intruded into the rest of the town.

However if you read the voluminous posts from much of the international media you could be forgiven for thinking that Bangkok, and indeed Thailand, had turned into some huge war-zone, with The Times in one report calling Bangkok a 21st Century Sarajevo for god's sake, which was not only inane but plain irresponsible. CNN said Bangkok was almost unrecognisable after four days of clashes. Really? I guess the ten million or so here missed that bit as they mostly went about their daily lives, although for others, inside the more troubled zones, life changed a lot, and, even more so for the thousands who were trapped without power and water for 48 hours or more as chaos ranged outside their doors.

For a better commentary on this, I point you towards this pretty convincing and well argued blog post from Somtow's World:

There is one final element that must be mentioned. Most are not even aware of it. But there is, in the western mindset, a deeply ingrained sense of the moral superiority of western culture which carries with it the idea that a third world country must by its very nature be ruled by despots, oppress peasants, and kill and torture people. Most westerners become very insulted when this is pointed out to them because our deepest prejudices are always those of which we are least aware. I believe that there is a streak of this crypto-racism in some of the reportage we are seeing in the west. It is because of this that Baghdad, Yangon, and Bangkok are being treated as the same thing.

I found the repeated claims of a descent into civil war made by offshore media and, much worse, the more idiotic non-professional commentators had the same taint, especially when you, with even a little bit of research would likely come to the same conclusion that this poll (conducted by a reputable University, not any governmental organisation) arrived at: 74.5% of Thais support the current government's road map. This may well develop into an uglier situation and standoff, but it is not there yet.

I was amused by this, from a Thai English language news parody site:

Finally reaching the nearest fire, a smoldering noodle shop on Rama IV, they piggy-backed on the hard work of locally based correspondents who had been covering the story for months and years, been shot at and risked their lives.

Funny but oh so true, more than a few journalists arrived at the airport, donned a flak jacket and were instant experts.

As this story approached the end of this particular stage (you would be nuts to think that this anything close to over) there seems to be some sort of consensus that only one network or major news-outlet that came out of this with reputation more or less intact, Al-Jazeerra, who not only seemed to actually capture the story correctly as it happened but didn't fall into the cliches about despotic third world governments and selfless unarmed freedom fighters for democracy. CNN, BBC, The Guardian, The Times, Reuters, AP and others all got a huge fail in their attempts to add perspective. The NYT seems to have been unable to work out exactly what was going on so gave up. Foxnews were unable to work out if Thai people came from Taiwan and couldn't find that on the map either so decided to concentrate on the bigger story: an Arab-American Miss USA. CBS went even further with that and decided to work out if this had an impact on national security, good grief......

Fortunately you could, and indeed were wise to, largely ignore the traditional media as this (Bangkok, not Miss USA) was a incident, or more correctly, series of increasingly violent incidents that were utterly dominated by the newer media. The reporting from Bangkok in the past weeks was completely owned by Twitter, supported strongly by Facebook and YouTube, perhaps more so than even Iran a year earlier, given the deep penetration of smart phones in this society. The traditional news services and wires were largely irrelevant to the ceaseless and immediate flow of news, information, data and propaganda. Indeed, if you relied on those services you were way behind the day's flow. Brigid, three days back, commented to me that the story being run by the New Zealand Herald was such old news, and I had to point out that it was Reuters sourced and correct about twelve hours earlier, but the torrent of instant twitters, with images and video, made it seem like such ancient history.

The visuals on various blogs and twitter services like TweetPhoto and Yfrog were both incredible and instantly broadcast globally, and, yes, made mostly from phones, although the odd more traditional site provided some incredible imagery, with deserving some special mention.

I've had an endless stream of emails from from all over the world asking if we were ok. I think it's fair to say that not for a moment did we feel threatened and there was never an inclination to leave, with pretty much the whole expat community, outside the immediate central zone where this mostly took place, sitting tight and sharing that sentiment. The streets around our part of upper Sukhumvit were never less than bustling with people of all races throughout this.

And the questions as to whether we regretted leaving Bali seven months ago have the same answer: no, not at all, not for a second, quite the opposite. For all the awfulness of the past two months, this is still a wonderful country and city; and unlike Bali where we were very much targets, you simply don't have to live with the oft stated 'it's not a matter of if but when' that you hear everywhere there, from Indonesians and foreigners alike.

Now, I guess we wait.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

So let me sing a song for you / Just to help your day along

How many of the world's armies travel with mobile Karaoke trucks?

h/t to ThaiVisa

Friday, May 07, 2010

The bats have left the bell tower

Hugely recommended, this interview with Martin Mills, owner of the most important independent record label in the world (and the bloke who released some of my favourite records ever and still does):

The internet has revived interest in music, thinks Mills, by encouraging people to experiment.

"It's made so much more possible - a greater and deeper love of music. It's re-stimulated my own involvement in music generally, rather than just my business. The links people send you allow you to go off down a path and discover something great.

"People who in their 30s a few years ago who may have stopped listening to new music, or were listening to iterations of music they heard in their late teens or early twenties, are now able to discover entirely new things. You've got new artists being discovered by 30, 40, 50 and 60 year olds. You'll now have a group of friends talking about music and sending links. I think that comes from the integration of the laptop into both our working and our personal lives, the internet is so great at spreading the word."

[From Indie music mogul: The net's great for us • The Register]

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Two minutes fifty / it’s a 45 single / oh yeah

This post, originally from August, 2006, in reply to a question from Robbie Siataga on an earlier post, linked, still seems to work for me. I thought I'd repost it for NZ Music Month, and because of the ongoing discussion on Public Address:


This was a question I received from Dubmugga;

where do you see New Zealand music going and what measures would you implement to ensure it's continued relevance in the standardised global media market ???

This is not somewhere I really wanted, as I said, the previous two posts about this topic, to end up. I don’t want to dig myself a hole here I can’t easily get out of, but I suspect I’m about to.

So a qualifier again: this post is not trying to offer definitive answers, rather it’s a series of random thoughts, written as they occur. My opinion is just that and I don’t pretend to have any answers or pretend to be able to predict anything. I’m no seer, and I'm no self proclaimed expert.

DM…you expressed your fairly strongly held, feelings about NZ on Air and the way they administer the brief they have from the people of NZ, via the current government, to promote the nation’s music across the broadcasting spectrums. Your opinions are not uncommonly held and are regularly expressed on various forums and elsewhere.

Whilst I have my problems too with some of this they’re not nearly as pronounced as yours and others' are. It is a topic, however, that a lot of people, musicians especially, feel very strongly about.

Myself, I think NZ on Air is trapped a little between the need to promote something with a strong indigenous flavour (i.e. the cultural side of its brief) and the commercial radio stations who, despite lip service have no desire to play any real percentage of New Zealand music and would, if the political environment was right, drop most of it as fast as they possibly could. It’s a tough place for Brendan to be and for this reason, and a few others, I am of two minds about the concept of a quota. On a clear downside, and evidenced in NZ recently, the quota (and I’ve said this many times) strips the music of its identity, especially its cultural identity, in the mad drive to get songs on a radio system that is obliged to play a percentage but only wants to play songs that fit easily.

They don’t want songs that quirkily stand out, they want songs that blandly sell ads, songs from acts like Breaks Co-op, the new Stellar and Brooke Fraser which are facelessly unthreatening. I’m not saying they’re bad…Breaks Co-op are quite pleasant. But that, sadly, is not what the NZ music industry, if it is to thrive and survive, needs. It needs raw and rough originality, music that sounds different to that global mass released daily. I think Scribe had that, it was so wonderfully Newzild despite its pretensions to being otherwise.

However, I have to say, it’s an ominous sign that his new, massively overdue, album is being recorded (partially with DJ Premier, a bit of a hero of mine) in NYC. But that’s what the soulless bulldozer that is Australian A&R (which has had a shitty record in recent years) does I’m afraid, as I know from personal experience.

The US music industry is in massive trouble and yet these acts strive to sound like it, where the hell is the logic in that. The most influential NZ music in recent decades, the music which has had an international presence (with the exception of Haley, but that’s another whole thing) is music that sounded drastically different to everything else out there, and was, with the exception of How Bizarre, deemed to be decidedly radio unfriendly (and HB was deemed to be unsuitable for radio in NZ by every programmer but one originally). I’m talking about early Split Enz and the Flying Nun catalogue of the eighties. Nothing else out of NZ has had the musical influence of those three outside the country.

Up against that is the need for hits. Pop music is driven by hits which traditionally are driven by radio and video, hence the two main targeted focal points for NZOA. And I agree with that focus generally. Without hits, underground or overground, no sales. You can’t survive on credibility, as Flying Nun found, being forced to bring in Mushroom as a partner (which started the process where NZ’s most important catalogue disappeared into an American corporate which will inevitably eventually forget it exists).

But that formula…radio, video, hits…is changing and will change in future years (and not too future…very few predicted Youtube five years ago, although the pointers were there) in ways we can’t imagine yet. How the hits will come will change and that change has already begun. Digital access to everything, unbelievable interactivity in our entertainment and the sheer amount of material available to each and every one of us is inevitably going to force a sea-change in musical entertainment as radical as the one the planet endured when recorded music first became widely available about 90 years ago.

Already one thing is obvious. The album as such is more or less in its death throes. It’s going to take a while but it’s inevitable. The song, which is where this all started, is where it’s all going back to, and the delivery medium is a form of digital or the suchlike. It’s easy to forget that the album as a force is less than 40 years old. And there are very few successful albums that haven’t been driven by one or two key songs. Even the iPod and its equivalent is just an interim step…already music capable phones are dealing to standalone MP3 players in the more technologically advanced societies of Asia.

This inevitable step makes the major record companies largely redundant. All they really offer now is the means of distribution and the money to record and make videos. The last two requirements have more or less already slipped out of their hands as the means to do both are to a releasable level are within the means of virtually anyone.

The video delivery process too is in the process of being democratised. The means of distribution offered by the majors will still be a strength as long as people want to buy CDs from brick and mortar shops, but the end of that is in sight too, perhaps not in the next couple of years but sooner than most people realise. And any requirement for physical CDs will be fulfilled by central warehousing linked to shops that are little more than ordering and listening booths, mostly in Wal-mart / Warehouse type operations. Already the hardcore artist fanbases are almost exclusively catered for on-line.

The only other thing the big boys can offer traditionally is marketing muscle. Once again the digital revolution, right now the likes of MySpace and the p2p sites and MP3 blogs are removing that from the domain of the majors and placing it in the hands of the artists or their switched on management. Ever wondered why the big boys are so violently against the P2P sharers. They’ve been screwing people for decades without a conscious ethical murmur, so the righteousness of their position is questionable. No it’s because it removes another layer of control, of need for their services. The majors will soon be reduced to little more than catalogues to be licensed, and a few mega acts that can’t survive outside the machinery of those companies.

In 2006 over 20% of the music sold globally now comes from sources outside the majors. As that creeps more and more on-line it means that a larger percentage of the return from the sales of music will return to the makers. A record or CD will no longer need to have a massive comfort zone in the pricing (about $10 per CD on a full priced NZ disc) to cover the majors’ bloated costs, or the “warehousing”. The artist will, hopefully, no longer have to suffer punitive recording contracts. Even the role of the publisher is reduced to little more than a bank and a sync negotiator as the digital age and various performing rights organisations provide all the services a writer really needs. The balance shifts.

So what has this got to do with the future of NZ music. Everything, actually. It’s a reasonable assumption that in the medium term multinational labels will cease to invest in local music. Australia has already seen a huge drop in local signing in the past couple of years and the same is evident in NZ.

In my previous post I talked about the digital divide between New Zealand and the rest of the planet. On the NZ Radio list I was lambasted a while back by someone for saying that NZ has no hotspots. The argument was that NZ did not have the population of support such technology. That, of course is nonsense. Here in Bali, with a population of 3.5 million, they are everywhere, in the tourist areas, in the domestic areas, in the malls, the food halls; and it’s the same across much of the world. That’s a little thing but it’s important as it signifies the gulf that has developed between New Zealand and much of the world. I now reside in a third world country but I feel that, visiting New Zealand regularly, as I do, I’m going into a technology vacuum there. The technological gulf has tempered the music buying habit that we took so much for granted in previous years. And for kids to buy music, especially NZ music it has to be two things, exciting and accessible. The quota has largely removed the exciting bit, and the difficulty of getting local music beyond the traditional means (which means buying an album, not the songs you want) has dampened accessibility.

As the digital move is made away from majors and multinationals, so NZ on Air’s role will have to change. How exactly I’m not sure, but a return to their grassroots seems obvious, supporting the smaller, cutting edge, more innovative music being made at that level. I think the export drive, the funding of such and the relentless talking, committees, and reports are and were a waste of space and time. Unless of course you have something viable to sell. No one was doing Fat Freddies abroad but there are 200 Brooke Frasers. Which one makes more sense to push. And yet the whole NZOA system has been dedicated to the likes of that latter because it made our radio happy and worked for the quota. FFD on the other hand were made by the fans, both in NZ and abroad, and, like Split Enz, in 1979, driven to radio by the public.

So as I said earlier, the mad rush to radio removed the things that made so much music identifiably ours. The industry got caught up in the whole “kiwi music” thing and “kiwi music month” so much that it lost track of what was special in the first place. I think we do our best musicians a disservice too by putting all “kiwi music” on such a pedestal, forever saying that we have so much talent in NZ, implying that it is somewhat more advantaged than the rest of the world.

Of course we have talent, but no more so than a city of four million people anywhere else in the world. There are some, no make that, many, truly awful musicians and bands in the country too. Being “kiwi” doesn’t make the 50% of stuff on most “Kiwi Hit Discs” that is un-listenable, any better than it is in the real world.

Our edge and the ability to sell New Zealand music elsewhere doesn’t rely on where we come from, to most of the world, it matters little. They don’t care and don’t want to care when they hear Six Months in A Leaky Boat or How Bizarre, on the radio, where it was recorded. Lets not be parochial and arrogant about this. Our edge comes from the fact that these songs sounded completely, radically, different to whatever else was on the dial. A difference that the quota has dulled, with tangible results now.

Ok, that’s enough from me…I’ve said my bit, probably a bit too much. Some of the opinions expressed are probably rather crudely put and need fleshing out somewhat but I think I need a Bintang……