Fool for carrying on

The Metro alerted me to a music genre improbably called “Donk.” This seems to be a house-based descendant of the Wigan Casino Northern Soul line (related to Northend Scouse House and with a similar dress code.)

(Bow before my effortless cultural referencing. One of us was trained to do this….)

The Guardian was way ahead of the Metro on the donk-knowledge curve, describing it as

“Bouncy techno meets terrible rapping? Welcome to Donk”

OK, it sounds pretty tasteless to me. But not quite as tasteless as reading a Guardian writer and several commenters expressing a kneejerk sneering and bigoted response to any northern working class artform.

The same Guardian writer has introduced some truly improbable musical styles. Japanese dancehall is my current favourite.

So – in your face, music snobs. Here’s my April free gift to the world.

The bluffers’ tool that you can use to look effortlessly hip.

Invent a genre that you alone know about. Or, if you are musician, looking to corner the market in a new genre, this is the app for you.

Support DRM Free Music

In a departure from my normal stance on the subject, I think it is time people put a little money where their beliefs were and supported Amazon in its foray to DRM-free music downloads.

Amazon is selling MP3 music, free of any digital rights management crap, for as little as 59p a track. Now, for those of you who are used to music being free per track this might seem expensive, but it is cheaper than most of the services like iTunes – and more importantly this sells you the music in the right way… you are allowed to play it on your iPod, your Laptop, your old mp3 player etc. One of the things that used to constantly infuriate me (and ensure I would never actually pay for music there) on iTunes was the problem with how portable the music was.

I have an iPod, I have a phone that plays MP3s, I have a laptop, I have a car MP3 player, a windows PC, a linux PC and an MP3-enabled music station. If I buy a peice of music I am the person who chooses which device can play it, not Apple. When I had various CD or tape players, it was down to me as to which device was going to play the music. I didnt have to contact EMI for a new licence every time I bought a new cassette player so why should I start now?

None of this is meant to suggest the only reason people pirate MP3 tracks is to have more portability, but it is an element. It is important that companies like Amazon show iTunes et al., that giving the users choice can be a profitable business model. Is the brand name of iTunes really worth an extra 20p a track when you can only play the track on your iPod?

If you like the idea of DRM free music and if you think that 59p is close to a reasonable sum of money to pay for music you like, then please go to Amazon and download a track or two. It doesn’t have to be many! Unless people make the effort to purchase DRM-free music over DRM’d music, the industry will never change.

By the way – I am sure Amazon is not the only source of DRM free music at a reasonable price. Please feel free to advertise any other sources here. springs to mind, where are the others? Find one you like, and buy some music. Then tell your friends to buy some.

Footnote: I gain nothing by you buying things from Amazon. There is no affiliate-ID in the link. This is actually something I think is a good idea to support.

Good science and magpies

Appealing science stuff in the news this week.

  • The Guardian’s science podcast is about music. Some of the speakers have voices that could be marketed as aural Mogadon. However, if you can stay awake, the debate is interesting.
  • Magpies can see themselves in the mirror.

    Apart from the interesting implications that magpies have some sense of self that’s not completely unlike ours, this is just a beautiful experiment. So elegant in terms of lateral thinking about testing a hypothesis.

    Imagine that you were wondering if magpies could see themselves in a mirror. How would you find out?
    The answer is to put coloured sticky tabs on parts of magpies that they can’t normally see. Then, place the magpies in front of mirrors. The magpies then start noticing the sticky tabs that they previously ignored and make the effort to remove them.

The elegant experiment prompts me to tell my own ludicrous magpie story. There’s no elegance in it. There’s no testable hypothesis. I haven’t even got any evidence that it happened. (I tried to aim my webcam out of the window but it’s useless enough even for its normal webcamming purpose. It just got glare off the glass and I couldn’t focus it properly.)

On a chimney behind my yard, there was a nest, with magpie chicks in it. This was really interesting. (It made a welcome change from watching rats sneak under the yard door, for a start.) I could watch the magpie-lings getting fed, growing bigger and noisier every time I saw them.

A feral tabby cat usually turns up and whines at my back door on Sunday afternoons. He mainly calls round to get warm and dry and to lie on a couch.

He’s the most pampered “feral” cat imaginable. He must have at least seven houses on his round. (Lots of people feed feral cats around here, mainly on account of the rats mentioned above.) If he doesn’t like the flavour of the cat food he’s given, he licks off the gravy/jelly then goes back to rooting through garbage. If he likes it, he demands more, plus a few hours’ sleep on the couch. He’s a very vocal cat, and very affectionate. (Neither attribute would seem like much of a survival strategy for a feral cat, but they certainly work for a cat who’s learned that meowing at humans, purring and rubbing against human legs, is the fastest way to get food and warmth.)

This situation suits me. It combines the occasional pleasure of having a pet with a complete absence of the need to be responsible for it.

A few weeks ago, I noticed him standing in the yard with a furious magpie. I kid you not. The magpie was facing him off – standing about 2 feet away from him – and cawing at him, deafeningly. The cat was neither attacking the magpie nor makng for an exit. He was just cowering, in a defeated stance looking down at the floor.

I watched this for a few minutes and nothing changed. I looked back a few minutes later and the two animals were both on top of the yard wall, doing the same things – shouting in magpie language and cringing in cat body language. (Anthropomorphising, that cat looked damn guilty.)

I looked up at the nest and there were no chicks there. I formed the untestable hypothesis that the magpie was kicking off because the cat had eaten its chicks and that the cat was accepting the magpie’s complaints, on the grounds that it might indeed have done something to get it in trouble.

I lost interest that day. There’s only so long you can wonder what’s going on between a cat and a magpie.

The next weekend, the feral cat turned up as usual. But – in the company of the bloody magpie. The two came into the yard together. The magpie waited in a corner while I opened a pouch of cat food. When the cat had finished eating, they left together.

Disappointingly, this must have been just an early summer friendship. Since then, the cat’s only called round on its own, (Maybe, the cat had incurred some sort of blood debt to the bird and was paying him off in shared plunder. Maybe, the cat finally ate it….)

Has the best tunes?

A post on Rupture the Rapture talked about atheist musicians being obliged to perform religious music and bemoaned the absence of atheist equivalents.

..Tenor voiced his frustration at the “dearth of music” heard at various humanist gatherings, conventions and the like. I may be wrong here, but what I believe Tenor is looking for is accessible music with a humanist bent – music that would be appropriate for such gatherings, but that is of such a nature that the audience could relate to and/or actually participate in. (Humanist karaoke?)…

I suppress a shudder at the prospect of an atheist equivalent of Christian rock. Please, no.

Still, I like the idea of a musical expression of humanism. I did a youtube search for atheist music. Hmm, most of it falls toward the Eastern-European-Heavy-Metal end of the spectrum but there’s plenty there. (I know there’s a well known atheist rapper but I couldn’t find a link and I remember getting distracted by the wonderful existence of genres like ‘nerdcore’ last time I tried it.)

In fact, thinking about “atheist music,” most music fits into this category. It’s not so much “atheist” as “nothing to do with religion” or inherently anti-religion in celebrating the things that organised religion tends to object to.

Sad to say, a lot of religiously-inspired music is pretty damn good. (Gregorian chants, Victorian hymns, Sufi chants, roots reggae…..)

I can’t see a problem with appreciating it as music and poetry. Music exists to move us and, among other things, it can express wonder and transcendence. Just because some people filter these emotions through religion doesn’t imply that we have to buy into their beliefs to appreciate their expression.

If everyone were to start only listening to music that precisely expresses their own beliefs, the world would be pretty silent.

(I obviously don’t like the idea but I’d have no problems recommending it to the people who think everyone else on the bus wants to listen to their tinny mono phonetunes.)

In any case, no one is put off Renaissance paintings because they tend to be brimming with biblical figures. Apart from anything else, we all understand that artists have to make a living. If you live in a world where the Church gives out most commissions, you paint the Nativity or write music for monks.