April, 2010

The Art of Re-Mastering

I listened to this on the way into work this morning, and it’s a great little documentary about the art of re-mastering.
Mohr-Pietsch talks to a number of different people who’ve been through the re-mastering process, and talks about the pros, and perhaps not so much, the cons. This is one of those instances where listening to a compressed mp3 of the programme perhaps hides the subtlties of the audio examples that are given.
It was wonderful to hear the piece where a telephone rang somewhere between the control room and a recording orchestra. In the original vinyl recording it would never have been picked up, but once the audio is cleaned up – there it is.
The editor of Music Week accepts that sometimes there are a few too many “remasters” appearing. Those bands that re-release their back catalogue every year or two are the guilt culprits here. It’s one thing to repackage the audio with additional tracks, alternate versions and B-sides, but it was refreshing to hear the person who re-mastered The Who more than once admit that his later tinkering probably wasn’t necessary.
There’s a separate argument to be had about loudness in some of these masters. Simply making certain elements louder “because you can” possibly doesn’t give the best listening experience.
I’d have also liked to hear more about the differences in types of re-masters – albeit that the programme opened with the clear statement that re-mastering means different things to different producers. The Beatles re-masters, for example, have been rebuilt from the ground up to a much larger degree than tracks where a bit of decrackling and pop-removal has taken place.
But overall, it’s well worth a listen! (And at time of writing, you still have the better part of six days to hear it).

River Sounding

Somerset House-10
I visited River Sounding over the weekend – the audio/video exhibition by Bill Fontana at Somerset House.
He’s recorded audio and shot video along the full length of the Thames and then used it in an installation placed in the Lightwells and Dead House beneath Somerset House’s courtyard.
There are lots of little rooms and enclosures with projections against the mostly bare walls accompanied with audio.
Somerset House-11
I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to record any audio within the exhibition, and in any case, it wouldn’t easily reproduce well – particularly not the bass rumblings that sometimes come from massive speakers more usually found at rock concerts.
Somerset House-8
Nonetheless, I did record some of the noise of the fountains. What you can hear is me walking through the fountains and getting wet in the process. There’s a bit of wind on the microphone as I move.
Somerset House-7
Somerset House-2
There are a couple more pictures here.

BBC Destroying Its Own Drama Series

I’m absolutely appalled.
Really, really, appalled.
If I was Steven Moffat, I would be wanting words with Jay Hunt, the Controller of BBC One.
I’ve just watched this week’s episode of Doctor Who – Time of Angels. It’s a follow-up to an episode written by Moffat in the last full series, Blink, featuring once again, the Weeping Angels.
But if you saw the episode last night (and not in HD or in Scotland), you’ll have seen the most crass, the most misplaced, and most ludicrous on-screen graphic, utterly ruining the climactic scene of that epsiode.
It utterly ruined the episode, because you were immediately removed from the peril that Moffat and his team had placed the Doctor and his companions. The tension had been carefully built up all episode and in a traditional Who moment, the final scene of the episode saw everyone literally with their backs against the wall.
At this moment, we got the following appear on screen.
On Screen Vandalism
A still really doesn’t do it justice as it was an animated Graham Norton that appeared.
These things are called In-Programme Pointers are simply the latest, and by far the worst imports from America.
We’ve had DOGs (Digital On Screen Graphics) which sadly mean that I’m in no rush to switch to HD, as they mess up the nice clean image on those channels. Then there is the credit shrinking. No longer do we get even a couple of seconds at the end of programme before the credits shrink to an illegible size and we get video and a voiceover telling us what’s coming up lest we rush to remote control.
But backing up into the programme itself – especially, but not solely – a drama series, is just about the worst crime you can commit. Perhaps we’ll next see two programmes running at the same time – that should remove any chance to channel hop.
The garish yellow nature of the In-Programme Pointer means that we have to notice it. It’s animated so that even if we’d somehow missed the yellow sign, which in this instance was impossible since the drama was set in dark caves, the movement of the cartoon representation grabs our attention.
The very purpose of the device is to yank us out of the carefully created world we’ve been in with the programme, and beaten around the head to implore us to stay with the channel.
Here’s my promise. I will not watch ANY PROGRAMME that’s promoted this way. At all. Even if it’s really good.
Even if the BBC bought Tremé, the new David Simon programme, and then promoted it using In-Programme Pointers, then I wouldn’t watch it.
Interestingly, HBO doesn’t use these devices. HBO produces shows with long credit sequences and then leaves the credits unmollested at the end.
Television isn’t just a commodity, it’s an art-form.
And in case you think – well Doctor Who – that’s just for kids. Just wait to see this kind of vandalism taking place during big 9pm Sunday night flagship dramas.
Stop this now.
You can see the clip on YouTube here, and there are vociferous discussions going on here and here (to name but two). Charlie Brooker pretty much sums it up here.
[UPDATE] The BBC has “apologised” for last night’s incursion. But before the nation lets out a sigh of relief, read a little closer what the nameless BBC spokesperson said:
“We apologise for the timing of Saturday night’s trail.”
So they admit that it was at possibly the worst moment in the entire episode that they could have place the trail, but significantly don’t apologise for actually running the trail during the programme itself.
In other words, I fear that we’re only going to see more of these intrusions.
My challenge to the BBC is to present some research that shows that more viewers like than dislike these intrusions.
[UPDATE 2] This is the response sent to me, and no doubt hundreds, if not thousands, of others:
Thank you for your e-mail.
The ‘Over the Rainbow’ trail in ‘Doctor Who’ should not have played out on Saturday and we apologise to all ‘Doctor Who’ fans whose enjoyment of the show was disrupted. We recognise the strength of feeling that has been expressed and are taking steps to ensure that this mistake will not happen again.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact us with your concerns.
BBC Complaints

I’ll take that to mean that we shan’t be seeing any more of these graphics in Doctor Who or any other drama series in the near future on the BBC.
My promise still holds: If I see an In-Programme Pointer in any programme, I will not watch the promoted programme at all.

Out To Get Clegg

Papers Lay Into Clegg
I saw the Telegraph’s headline on Newsnight last night, and it was pretty clear that the right-wing press are out to prop up Cameron in any way they possibly can. But I didn’t see the Mail, Express or Sun front pages!
“Clegg in Nazi Slur on Britain” in the Mail must surely take the biscuit. I’m not even going to visit their awful website to read the basis of this garbage. But as the commentors on Mailwatch are saying, the papers must truly be running scared. The Sun in particular will not be happy if they turn out not to have backed the winning horse.

On Volcanoes

Danger - Keep Out
If things had gone to plan this week, then I could currently be driving a rental car from Los Angeles to San Francisco by way of various national parks. This was after I’d taken photos of a friend’s wedding.
Sadly, things didn’t happen that way, and instead I’ll be back into work this week.
What I have done is watch and read a lot of coverage of Eyjafjallajökull and the fallout it’s had on European aviation. And it’s an odd story that really has been covered in a largely superficial manner.
I don’t doubt that a large number of people are struggling to get home from remote locations, and similar number of people (like me) are being put out by volcanic ash disrupting our plans.
But surely it is a lot bigger than a few people who aren’t able to cope too well by themselves abroad. There are industries and businesses that are suffering. We’ve heard that some fruit and vegetables are going to disappear from supermarket shelves pretty soon. We’re so used to eating out of season food, we barely notice the country of origin. And your local florist’s selection is likely to be cut back as all those Kenyan grown flowers stop arriving.
News has to personalise everything, sometimes missing out on the bigger picture. We have little enough knowledge of what kinds of products are regularly air-freighted around the globe. And they’re also having difficulty juggling this story with the election coverage.
Instead we see families in Belgian hotel rooms moaning that their “holiday of a lifetime” (which they’d had – they got diverted on the way home), which they’d saved for a year for (so that’ll be their annual holiday then), was spoilt because they have no nouse and can’t even work out how to get themselves to a ferry port. Instead they were being fleeced by some opportunitist hiring a coach. It might also be worth mentioning that there are other rail services that serve ports apart from Eurostar. Calais is busy, but why not try somewhere like the Hook of Holland, Dieppe, Le Havre or Cherbourg?
It’ll be interesting to learn how long these flight bans stay in place. We’re hearing that various test aircraft have travelled safely, but this volcano is not going to stop spewing out lava anytime soon and could remain active for another two years. In the meantime there’s the small matter of Katla, a much bigger nearby volcano that has also erupted the last three times that Eyjafjallajökull erupted.
Do you want to be the test passenger that heads into the skies and hopes that the ash doesn’t interfere with modern jet engines?
(No – this isn’t even remotely relevant to the above piece).

Orange World

Sometimes I think that Orange really is very classy. Orange is currently trying to merge with T-Mobile in the UK. If they get regulatory approval, the combined company will be the biggest mobile operator in the UK.
So isn’t it charming when you open Orange World, their website which is set to be the default homepage on all Orange phones, and see the following?
Orange World
“Full On Adult Films”?
I’m no prude, but is this deemed appropriate advertising for a company to offer to its customers who include all manner of people? Orange knows that I’m over 18, and it probably also knows that I’m male. But why serve this kind of advertising front and centre?
Most major media operators offer adult material. Many hotel chains offer adult films, and all the TV suppliers have their adult sections for pay per view films. But you wouldn’t expect to turn to the inside front cover of Sky’s magazine and see an ad for their porn offerings would you? Nor would you expect to see BT Vision owning up in those cuddly ads with its couple that they can seek additional material beyond the usual Hollywood blockbusters or old TV series. Those companies tend to promote their more “mainstream” products and programming.
This page was opened while I was taking the train home last night. As far as I can tell, they only deliver these ads after hours – probably aiming it at the post-pub market.
I just find it all very curious, and mostly a bit sleazy on Orange’s part.

3D Football

Sky is trumpeting the fact that last weekend’s fixture between Man Utd and Blackburn Rovers (a 0-0 “thriller”) was watched by 200,000 viewers. A remarkable achievement based on average of 133 people per pub in the 1500 or so pubs that have the 3D TVs so far. These are obviously all pretty large pubs!
But is 3D really the future for TV?
Well it won’t surprise regular readers when I say, no, it’s not.
At last week’s Sony Radio Academy Award nominations, Sony was trumpeting its forthcoming 3D TVs, and in one corner of the room they had a prototype on display playing a BluRay montage of football and nature films.
First things first. The technical quality is excellent, and the technology works as well as any I’ve seen. Unlike my cinema experiences until now, the TV (LCD backlit I assume) is perfectly bright enough, although I should point out that I was watching in a darkened club environment. You have to put glasses on of course, but as I say, it was a perfectly enjoyable experience.
So why my negativity?
Well it was the football that did it for me. In the average televised football match as we’re used to seeing them, the vast majority of shots are from one or two cameras placed in a gantry high(ish) above the halfway line. The majority of the action is observed from these views. While other cameras are employed to focus on individual players, and often a Steadicam on the touchline, most of the additional cameras are only really employed for showing replays.
And therein lies the problem. The viewer doesn’t get much of a sense of depth perspective in 3D from that high gantry camera. Therefore, to make you feel more immersed in the game, matches in 3D have to be much more reliant on touchline cameras from the lower angles that allow you to fully perceive the 3D effect. While that might work from a technical and experiential perspective, it doesn’t make for great football coverage. The high camera position allows you to get a good impression of where on the pitch players are, pick up on moves and off the ball runs, and generally be tactically much more astute. Coincidentally, seats near these camera positions tend to be the most expensive in the ground.
So while we all might enjoy seeing the odd game in 3D, it’s offering broadly inferior camera angles for actual enjoyment of the game and the ability to see what’s happening.
That’s my view anyway.
The lady from Sky was a little coy about how much these TVs are going to cost when they’re on sale in the summer. What I do know is that you won’t be watching the World Cup on one – in the UK anyway. The BBC and ITV hold the rights to the competition, and only Sky has, or is likely to have, a 3D channel. It’s possible that some cinemas will be holding screenings in the same way that certain Six Nations Rugby Union games were screened in 3D.
Instead, viewers would do better to connect their 23m HD TVs to an actual HD source – something that’s a little easier now that consumers can start to buy Freeview HD boxes (as well as Sky, Virgin Media and Freesat).
Disclaimer: As mentioned above, I saw the Sony 3D TV at the nominations announcement for the Sony Radio Academy Awards last week where I was an invited guest on behalf of my employer. These views are mine and don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer.