Another day, another voice over music

I think I’m becoming sensitised to background music. One of my favourite YouTubers, the Gosforth Handyman, has suddenly started using music in the background while he’s talking! Since he’s from Gosforth I usually need to be listening carefully to make sure I understand what he’s saying (yes, I’m a sissy Southerner), and the music just adds another challenge. Grrrr.

And oh, I discover that there are companies who deliberately SELL background music for voice overs. Needless to say I won’t give links to them here, but a simple Google search (I used “voice over background music”) will find them. Double GRRRR!

Cider Time

It’s a time of year when some-time beer brewers think about turning other things into alcohol. Personally I’m not a great fan of putting fruits into beer, for me it’s all about the malt and hops. I am, however, partial to the occasional cider, and I particularly like my cider to taste of apples (I know, how strange, Kopparberg are definitely not aiming at me). Mass-produced cider tends to be homogenised beyond taste to produce the cheapest possible alcohol content, although the recent “cloudy” versions have added some more interesting flavours.

So, producing home-made cider is definitely on the agenda, and this year we’ve been lucky enough to procure enough apples* and have invested in a scratter and a press, and roughly 30 litres of cider has been the result. The first effort was a mix of some Ben’s Reds and other local (unknown) apples, which seems to have produced a pleasant apply dry cider which we’re trying to leave for a few months to mature. Since we know the taste you can guess that we’ve tried a bottle of the dozen or so we made – and of course shared a few with the apple donators! Our second, larger effort was again from Ben’s Reds, all the way from Cornwall, plus a decent quantity of Bramleys from a tree across the road. It’s in the second racking stage waiting for me to get around to bottling it, so I can’t report a taste test yet.

Yes, you’re supposed to use mixtures of sweet and sharp apples and specific varieties are grown for cider, but when the raw material is effectively free apart from the time to pick it, it’s hard not to. It’s certainly simpler than beer brewing, at least at the basic level, although a little more physical effort if you’re scratting and pressing by hand!

* Thanks to the tree owners who generously offered their trees for picking

Not So Background Music

It may be something to do with my age, but one thing guaranteed to have me wound up is spoken content with background music.

Just WHY?

If you really want someone to listen to what you’re saying, why distract them with music? As a part-time musician it’s particularly annoying because I can’t concentrate on the music either, because some is speaking over it. (And do you remember those radio DJ’s who used to talk over the interesting instrumental introductions…?)

If you are trying to get your message across in a podcast, for example, PLEASE don’t put background music through the whole piece – I’m talking to you Freakonomics.com, I had to unsubscribe since I couldn’t get the message with the incessant BACKGROUND MUSIC.

I know we have to give musicians and composers living, but put the music in the section breaks or the introduction and play-out NOT during the actual talking. Sheesh

Maybe I have some time now – hah!

After a break of a smidgen over two years, I’ve reached a point where I may have some more time, and could possibly start putting some thoughts down again. I’ve retired from the “day job” at IBM, and am starting to fill the yawning chasm(!) of time with other things – mostly at this stage spending some more time on what I used to do outside of work anyway. Bassoon playing is top of that list, and I’ve already relaxed into playing during the day more regularly – I’d hesitate to call it practise – and responding to the periodic notes from Tom Hardy’s London bassoon list requesting fillers-in and deps. The last couple of weeks has seen rehearsals for Beethoven 9th Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Dvorak’s “The Golden Spinning Wheel” and the 7th Symphony of Prokofiev in addition to my regular playing at the Bushey Symphony Orchestra.

I’m also planning the next two or three brews in my re-found brewing hobby, I expect there’ll be more of that to come. I’m using an automated machine to produce the fermentable wort from the base grains and hops – frowned on by some, again I’ll talk about that later too. So far I’m happy to say I haven’t brewed anything I couldn’t drink (that’s 10 batches of “all-grain” beer as well as some kits to get me started), and some have actually been rather good (IMHO, of course).

On the photography side, it looks like I’ll be starting a little project close to home, as part of the Gravestone Photographic Resource, which looks like a worthwhile endeavour. We’re just checking whether our local churchyard has already been documented elsewhere before spending hours poring over the stones and getting images of them for posterity.

Finally, for now, a slightly longer term project as part of my UK Amateur Orchestras website. One of the features of the site is a mapping of the amateur ensembles listed on the site, which is currently built using Google Fusion Tables. Google have announced the “turn down” (i.e. termination) of this feature for later in the year, so I have to work on an alternative. I’ve mostly avoided the more complex mapping API in Google up to now, so I’m looking for alternatives. Since all of the entries have data for location (both UK postcode and lat/long) I’m hoping this won’t be too onerous, but I’m contemplating that a bit of coding might be necessary. Which brings us back to the SOFTWARE! I have no excuses left now to learn a rather more web-facing language than my trusty REXX, which carried me through 35 years of work. Python seems to be the least onerous alternative, so time to get learning…

First signs of salvation

So my search for offline web design tools mentioned before went down a number of blind alleyways. I re-acquainted myself with a number of tools that I’d used in the past, which don’t seem to have moved on from the past. They mostly failed in a number of ways – unable to import existing pages seems to be one of the real Achilles’ heal for many of them.

Then I discovered a class of tools called “prototyping tools”. These were much more like it. Again none of them do all that I’d like in a way that I’d like, in fact a lot of them are in alpha or beta state with some functions missing. However, they do enable very rapid building of pages while leaving them free to tweak. Also, there are a lot of them based on the Bootstrap framework which ticked a very big box for me.

So where I am at the moment is trying out Pingendo for an extended period, and so far it does most of what I need. Imports existing pages – check. Quick to add sections and see what the result is – check. Easy to copy and paste from one page to another – check. A little flakiness on occasions – check 🙂 (mostly exhibited as not being able to save a page, it tries to save it as a css file rather than html). Definitely a good start, and I have a feeling that if the Bootstrap 4 supporting version works well I’ll be using it to update the various pages I manage. Yes there are lots of other prototyping tools, and I’m sure I’ll try them too at some point…

B***** to WordPress

Well, that was a relatively short-lived project (see “Drinking the Kool Aid” below). I converted my personal website to WordPress run on my own hosting provider. I even started hosting a friend’s site (for the estimable Swakeleys Home Guard Club ) using the same mechanism. It wasn’t long before I discovered one of the challenges of self-hosting WordPress. All of those scripts are quite vulnerable unless you really keep your eye on the ball with updates and only using really trusted plugins.

I didn’t and I couldn’t. And within weeks both sites were tampered with, and effectively brought down. Backing up and restoring proved to be ineffective too, and in the end I ran out of time to fix it and reverted to (mainly) static sites. I feel bad since I did in fact lose data in my zeal to try and fix it, and in the end it was mostly my fault. But I would consider myself reasonably savvie, (30+ years in enterprise IT), and the number of moving parts meant keeping it under control proved daunting. I’m sure it can be done, and should I try again then I’ll take a bit more time to understand the potential risks. I can also appreciate the business model of Weebly, Wiz, GoDaddy and all of the others, to make this truly “simple”.

In the meantime, back to hand-coding the pages, albeit with some help from Bootstrap, with my fingers burned, but fortunately no serious economic consequences.

Anyone know of a good – STANDALONE – web page editing tool, without too high a learning curve?

Always new music to discover. 

At this time of year I’ve often been attending the fabulous Harrogate Wind Chamber music course (now held in York). The vagaries of scheduling mean that some years the course coincides with one of my other favourite events, the Great British Beer Festival, as it does this year. 

So I’m thinking about what I might have been playing if I were in York, and as luck would have it our regular wind quintet has a meet up scheduled for next week. I’m hoping to re-acquaint myself with the Partita by Irving Fine as well as introduce it to my fellow quintet members.

Harrogate has always been somewhere to discover unfamiliar music, and so without a recent visit I’ve had to find other sources. The clarinet player in our quintet is always unearthing some of the more obscure compositions for the ensemble, so much so that I don’t think we’ve crashed through the same piece twice in the 18 months or so that we’ve been meeting. I’ve also returned to a rejuvenated resource, Brandt’s Woodwind Quintet Site. Rejuvenated mainly because Andy Brandt has retired from full-time professional playing and continues to augment this wonderful site way beyond his original “list” from over 40 years ago. While the listing of quintet compositions and arrangements is unparallelled, he’s now adding historical essays about the development of the ensemble. Highly recommended. 

As a result of this I may spring a new piece (to me, anyway) on the quintet next week. The Quintet Op. 52 by Theodor Blumer has somehow escaped my attention until now. Tricky, but sounds worthwhile… 

Drinking the Kool-Aid®

I suppose it had to happen. I’ve been tootling a while here with a WordPress blog for a while, so it was perhaps only a matter of time before I took a bit more notice of the software that was enabling this. I discovered that it’s an open source framework that’s expanded to form a mid-strength (my interpretation) web content management solution. Not only that but the hoster I chose a while back for my other sites provides all of the right tools to run up an instance in a trice. I even have a NAS that can install it too, so I started there with a local version, discovered it was quite easy to use, and within a week I’d converted one of my sites entirely to WordPress. It is of course very different to the old version of the site – converted is probably not the the right word. I copied some of the old data into the new framework, tried a few templates, found one I like and there we go.

So, for the record I’m using the Radix theme which allows me free rein to use the Bootstrap framework I’ve been happy with elsewhere, and the site is very much a testing ground before I attempt to take on a proper job with the amateur orchestras site. Next step for that site is to try some form of database, but I may need a day or two 🙂

Oh, and is there a blog on the personal site too? Well, sort of. It’s called “Latest Bit Of Kit” and it’s where I add small snippets about gizmos and doo-dads I’ve bought and tried. You can find it here.

Is music a competitive sport?

Following hot on the heals of the announcement by the BBC that they are going to commission a “Choir of the Year”-style competition for amateur orchestras (here), there has been a fair amount of discussion and debate about whether this is a good idea. Or is it simply another cheap-ish way to fill air time by using participants who don’t demand media-style salaries?

In real life, nearly everything is competitive in one way or another, either directly or implicitly, leading to a hierarchy of price/cost/importance/prestige*. The BBC in particular has a long track record in musical competition, including the “Young Musician of the Year” started in 1978. There are legion other musical contests – Cardiff Singer, Leeds Piano, etc etc. The very act of auditioning to play in an ensemble is competitive. It’s a way of life for Brass Bands.

Is this then the start of the same process for orchestras? Traditionally, in Great Britain at least, non-professional orchestras were often somewhat different. For one thing they are made up of a mix of complete amateurs, music teachers, semi-professionals and often a professional conductor and/or leader. Often they rehearse with available players and supplement the numbers with paid musicians come the concert. The way the competition is currently arranged will exclude many ensembles – more than 40 but less than 75 members, for example – and the amount of time required may well interfere with the normally running.

I’m still trying to make up my mind whether I think it’s a good idea. I know that my regular orchestra (< 40 regular players) will not be participating. I’ve long used the term “amateur orchestra”, but the term “community orchestra” is a far better description in most cases – a local group for local players. Should a community be competing?

Geoff

 

* take your pick

A short history of my favourite music

A friend has inveigled me into exposing my history of music-listening via a series of Facebook entries. I decided that actually it would be fun to add them here, where I can get a chance to expand them.

Here’s the first:

Day one of musical memories.

Glenn Miller

String of Pearls – Glenn Miller and his Orchestra

This was on a 78 we used play on an old portable record player in the loft at home in Sittingbourne. There’s a little piano “tinkle” at around 2:00 which used to sound like someone dropping a glass, but the up to date rendition makes it clearly sound like a piano. The great thing about the 78s were that they were so thick and heavy there was little danger of a sub 10-year-old damaging them more than they were already, other than by accidentally dropping it out of the loft hatch (never did, of course).

There were several other old vinyl records we used to play, but this was probably the best music. Others you won’t be seeing included “Six White Boomers” (1963 A side, the B side was “I’ve Lost My Mummy” – I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to work out the artist); “Milord” by Edith Piaf (never really liked that one), and an usual 10-inch long player of a Slavonic dance or something (struggling with that one even with the internet)