Category: music & film


This was shot a while back, thought I’d share it with you. A performance at the office. Cathaly is singing, I do a bit of backing vocals & play the guitar (um… obviously).

The Death of VHS

VHS cassette by A. Carlos Herrera

Nobody is going to buy a video recorder based on the VHS format this Christmas. Everything will be MiniDV (camcorders), DVD and hard drive based.

In the US, the VHS format was recently declared dead. That’s perhaps a bit premature, it’s rather more of a retirement. VHS tapes will still be active for some years to come as old tapes with treasured memories or cult films will still be rewound and played through every now and then.

From the article linked above:

After its youthful Betamax battles, the longer-playing VHS tapes eventually became the format of choice for millions of consumers. VHS enjoyed a lucrative career, transforming the way people watched movies and changing the economics of the film biz.

VHS is a media which has survived 30 years, and over the years I have owned (and lost) hundreds of tapes. In the early days, the quality wasn’t very good, but improvements in image processing circuitry (VHS HQ) drove a nail into the Betamax coffin and made VHS ubiquitous.

The same kind of tension is apparent in the market now – regarding downloading films – as there was when VHS became popular. The cinema industry was frightened that tapes you could view at home would have a negative impact on their revenues. In fact, VHS became a money-spinner in it’s own right. Film downloads could be just the same, if legal download sites get their acts together. People want to get hold of DVD quality content from the comfort of their home office chairs and living rooms. They also want all the accompanying bonuses and language options. You can download almost anything illegally, but this is less of a problem than the studios make out. Just like the risk of VHS copyright infringement didn’t stop massive studio sales of popular films, or people going to the cinema. The only difference is that it’s quicker to copy a DVD than a VHS tape. But it will always take 2 hours to watch the film, which rather limits the interest of mass copying to rogue market traders and their ilk :-D.

Anyway… with no good download solution most new recordings I buy are on DVD. Those I make myself are recorded directly on a 1Gb memory card. You can get more storage on that square centimetre of media card than you used to be able to get in a very expensive hard drive. In fact that square centimetre at 1Gb can hold more information than a 3 hour VHS tape, and at superior quality, using XviD and MP3 compression.

Back when VHS was big, editing home movies together meant two VHS decks, and if you had the money, an editing console to automate the start/end points for you. With a digital source you can use VirtualDub or Windows Movie Maker and get it done for free, in much less time.

I invite you to embrace the digital age for it allows us all to do things more quickly and cheaply. It means we can be creative and share our creations with people who share our interests all around the world. It doesn’t mean everyone is suddenly a major copyright infringement case. Goodbye VHS, I have fond memories of bookcases full of tapes but I’ll stick to a 250Gb hard drive and my DVD shelves, where I have far more films at higher quality and in far less space.

Image credit: A. Carlos Herrera.

One Second Film

I stumbled upon this site and found the concept to be particularly innovative. Imagine pitching a film that is just 24 frames long, composed of 12 frames that repeat themselves twice each. The one second film did just that. You can even be a co-producer…

THE 1 SECOND FILM is a 70mm non-profit collaborative film bringing thousands of diverse people around the world together to create film history: ‘The biggest shortest film ever made.’ Virtually anyone can help produce this film by donating $1 or more. Our end-credits are estimated to last 90-minutes and will include a feature-length ‘making of’ documentary. All profits raised by our finished film will benefit the Global Fund for Women.

The fact that proceeds will go to charity makes it all the more worthy.

Street Busking

Three Musicians Busking in Chalon sur Saône, 1995

In Letchworth, the town where I grew up, there was sometimes a busker in the town centre. Maybe an organ grinder, maybe a one man band with a guitar, a kazoo, cymbals on his head and a drum on his back. In the Paris metro on visits to the French capital, sometimes a couple of musicians would jump on and stay in the train for a few stations. They would sing and strum, sometimes well, oftentimes badly.

When I started work in Covent Garden, London, I’d often see the street entertainers there. There are strict rules for street entertainment there, so the guys and girls were actually quite good. Statues that animated themselves to the chink of a coin dropping in their hat, or more adventurous acts that would occupy the sqaure in front of the old market and drum up a crowd with loud haranguing and juggling on a high unicycle or something akin to it. They’d pass around a hat afterwards and reap small reward for their efforts to brighten a spring lunchtime for passing tourists and businessmen working nearby who were grabbing a sandwich.

My abiding memory of busking was when I took to the streets with a couple of friends, two guitars and a French accordian player. Imagine the scene: the busy Sunday market in Chalon-sur-Saône on a cold wintry day. Two British guitarists, one singing mostly in English but sometimes a bit in French, and a French accordianist that we did our best to follow in renditions of classic French musette style ditties. Incredibly, the mix went down quite well. You can see that we were cold in the picture (I’m in the middle), but giving it our all to entertain the passing public. At the time – it was late ’95 or early ’96 – the Euro was still being debated, and the French Franc was the currency of the day. 10 francs was worth about a British Pound, or $1.40. We finished that day with a good number of 10F pieces, as the Sunday crowd was a generous lot.

As an occasional supplement to our income, we were happy to have made a bit of money. We were there to enjoy ourselves, and perhaps entertain, whilst making a bit of money for the next Friday night. Some other people busk regularly because they need the money – I’m thinking especially of those Paris metro buskers who are often much closer to beggars than street entertainers. Have you had any interesting busking experiences? Do you give money to buskers because they look like they need it, or because they have entertained you?

A Short Musical History

I thought I’d share a brief history of my musical background. So why not get comfortable and listen to my instrumental keyboard piece, “A Trip to Nowhere” while reading?

At junior school, we pretty much all learned to play the recorder. I was always much more interested in figuring out the tunes on the piano that accompanied our tooting and blowing, but I picked up quite a few tunes and learned to read music via the Dolmetsch recorder book. By the time I was ten, I was keen to move on to the piano or organ, and I began popular music lessons on my father’s Hammond C3 (pictured top right) followed by classical piano lessons up until age 16.

By that time at school – around about when Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album was released – everyone wanted to play guitar, including me. So I got an electric guitar for my birthday and a bit later my Mum managed to get hold of a Spanish style classical guitar for me. The chord theory I had learned in organ lessons held me in good stead to pick up the guitar quickly, and by the time I left for university I was playing Hendrix, Nirvana and Clapton on the guitar, as well as Billy Joel and Elton John on the piano.

Pianos and organs are not the most portable of instruments, and I didn’t own a keyboard anyway. So I went to university with my electric guitar and met Paul, who I’m still in touch with and is a member of the band The Rosco. Back then as a student holidays were plentiful and we spent quite a bit of time messing around in my parent’s garage, where my Dad had an 8 track home studio setup : a 1/4″ reel-to-reel 8-track tape recorder and a big 12-8-2 mixing desk. I have a lot of recordings preserved from around that time, but the quality of some isn’t too hot. For example the track “A Trip to Nowhere” that I’m featuring here only exists on regular cassette tape (the original 1/4″ tape being lost or recorded over) and has been captured back onto my PC via Goldwave, a highly recommended and inexpensive audio editing program.

I’m still playing guitar and keyboard, and when Nathan gets a bit older I hope to get back into recording. In the meantime I’ve got a lot of stuff available, so I can come back and write some more soon. I hope you enjoy listening to the track. All feedback is most welcome and much appreciated.

A Trip to Nowhere

I don’t remember exactly when this was written and recorded, but it was around 1995. The entire track is just me (bar the sample of Richard Burton from Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds at the start), a keyboard, a guitar, and some drum programming. Even at the time, a couple of the synths used were pretty vintage (a Krumar Performer and a Yamaha DX7S) but I love their nostalgic sound. I really wanted to play with the idea of creating a simple musical structure on which to overlay different sounds and effects, and I was actually very pleased with the results. Click to hear

  • /
Update Required
To play the media you will need to either update your browser to a recent version or update your Flash plugin.
(click to play)

“A Trip to Nowhere” © Simon White. Feel free to share the original file only.

Jamming With The Rosco

Yours Truly, Playing the Bass Guitar

Last night I got together with a couple of friends who formed our band, “The Rosco”. We haven’t played together since the summer, when we played a live concert in the Bois de Boulogne near Paris. We were getting somewhere with some original compositions by the guitarist, and had a good musical feeling. I’m on vocals and bass, Paul plays guitar and sings some backing, and there’s Axel on the drums. For a three piece I think we had quite a good sound, considering the sparsity of instruments. We were strongly influenced by blues rock and punk, and you could say we fit in with the British rock tradition. The drummer has since changed job so it’s difficult for us to get together, so it was a real pleasure to be back in the rehearsal studio to run through the old tunes. If you’re interested in other musical adventures I’ve had as a keyboard player and roadie, read the post I wrote for Urban Semiotic in October last year.

It’s amazing how after such a long break things fell back into place and in spite of a few mistakes due to being rusty, we managed to run through our old repertoire and there was a real buzz about the evening. Today in the name of nostalgia I’m linking to an MP3 file (below) of our throwaway warmup jam from a few months ago. It’s recorded direct off the mixing desk in the rehearsal studio, so the quality is not up to scratch. But perhaps you’ll be interested enough to hit “play” and listen to the sound. Maybe later I’ll get permission to put some of the finished stuff up, but none of it is mixed and mastered, so there are just rough mixes and takes like the one below: straight out of the desk.

This song is provisionally called “Got to Get Away”. All the lyrics are improvised, as are all the solos. There’s also a few mistakes in there. But go ahead, be curious and click “play” below.

  • /
Update Required
To play the media you will need to either update your browser to a recent version or update your Flash plugin.
(click to play)

© The Rosco, in spite of the “throwaway” reference. The song is a composition by the band. Do not copy without permission.

Manhattan 25 Years Ago

John Lennon

December 8th, 1980. John Lennon leaves his flat near central park and meets a fan on his way out, signing a copy of his recent album release “Double Fantasy”. The fan was Mark David Chapman, and he had other intentions than getting an autograph. On Lennon’s return Chapman shot him 5 times.

Fans all around the world will be celebrating his life today. In London and New York there will be an official musical tribute concert. Balloons will be released from the Albert Dock in Liverpool where John grew up and played his first gigs in his band the Quarrymen with Paul McCartney and later George Harrison.

John Lennon and the Beatles had a big influence on my life. I have all the Beatles’ albums – mostly on vinyl, and a few collected Lennon and McCartney solo works too. I’ve played their music on piano, organ and guitar, and sung their songs in front of classes of French schoolkids learning English. I went on a pilgrimage to Liverpool and drove around with my parents (I was still at junior school at the time) to Menlove Avenue, Strawberry Fields, and Penny Lane. We saw the Magical Mystery Tour bus and the “Beatle City” exhibition. I’ve read books on Lennon’s life and in spite of his drug problems and dabbling with heroin (allegedly) he was a great musician and a major songwriter.

Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.
It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out, it doesn’t matter much to me

The irony of the murder is that Mark David Chapman just wanted to be someone, and there it is. He is the man who killed John Lennon, and his name is making headlines 25 years later.

Image credit: Spud Murphy © Yoko Ono Lennon
Lyrics: Strawberry Fields Forever – John Lennon and Paul McCartney