Wednesday, 16 December 2009

X Factory

I happened to catch the last 5 minutes of the X Factor final on Sunday. It was a complete accident, and I felt a bit dirty afterwards.

It struck me that the bloke who won (Tom someone?) is just a clone of previous winners. He reminded me of Gareth Gates, in both his appearance and singing voice - which was not particularly good, from what I saw, and was just the usual insipid white-boy "soul" voice which is the default for singers of this type. Along with Houston/Carey-esque wailing for the female contestants.

If Simon Cowell had his way, "pop stars" would be churned out on a conveyer belt.

Which got me thinking about genuinely talented musicians who would never have made it through the audition round of X Factor, let alone to the final, despite being self-evidently vastly more talented than the deluded waifs who do make it that far, all to the benefit of Cowell's obscene bank balance.

Here's the list:

Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson, Thom Yorke, David Bowie, Robert Smith, Beck, Roger Waters, Donald Fagen, Joni Mitchell, Ricky Lee Jones.

Who else is there who has more talent in their little finger than the typical X Factor contestant, but wouldn't make it on the show?

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Penguin Café Orchestra

I've loved the Penguin Café Orchestra since I 'discovered' their 2nd album on CD in about 1987 or '88. Poor Simon Jeffes, founder and leader of the PCO, died 12 years ago this month, at the ridiculously young age of 48.

I just missed a 'reunion' concert at the South Bank a couple of days ago. Damn!

So, in lieu of that, I've dug up some of their bits on YouTube. Mostly from a BBC show they recorded in 1989.

If you've never heard of them, I would describe them as an avant-garde, classical, minimalist, pop, folk ensemble, with a sense of humour. Some of their music is reminiscent of Steve Reich, or Michael Nyman, but with added warmth and humanity. Some of it is like a hoedown in a barn full of drunk trombonists.

That should make you listen.

You'll have heard Perpetuum Mobile and Telephone and Rubber Band and other tunes as they've been on countless adverts, or backing tracks for nature documentaries.

PCO are by turns melancholy and joyous and I will love their music forever. Please treasure them.

Perpetuum Mobile -
Music For A Found Harmonium -
Air A Danser -
Salty Bean Fumble - (sheer genius from 1:25)
Paul's Dance -

Tom's Midnight Garden

I've been spending the last couple of weeks putting together the sound design for Ottershaw Players' latest show, Tom's Midnight Garden.

I've done Sound for a show a couple of times, but usually either in our village hall, or a sound plot that's not too complicated.

So I volunteered to do the sound design for this show, thinking "how hard could it be". And then I read the script. And saw the list of over 60 cues in the back of the book. And then realised that there were a load of music cues and pre-recorded voices which weren't listed. Ouch!

Well, I chose some music (Penguin Café Orchestra, if you insist on asking) and gathered all the sound effects. Then I recorded myself doing the pre-recorded voices and treated them with various bits of magical trickery to make it seem like there were 5 versions of me with different voices.

Popped along to Sunday's double run-through with a laptop full of cues and hoped for the best. And, miraculously, though I say it myself, it didn't sound too bad at all! I'm going to have to spend a looong time at the theatre balancing all the volume levels of each individual effect - and I'm still struggling to figure out how I make the sounds of the grandfather clock come from the clock itself - but I think the sound plot I've come up with does complement the play and (I hope) will help it to flow along nicely.

And there are some lovely performances from our young (and much older) cast which will undoubtedly spring to life in the theatre.

And as I'm not actually on stage, it'll be even better!

All of which is just one long advert for our play, which I hope people will come along to see. It's on next week, 9th - 12th December at the Rhoda McGaw Theatre, Woking. For full details, see our website (or click the link at the top of this article) or call our Box Office at 07714 264010.