Archive for March, 2005

Interview – Pete Miser

March 28, 2005

Pete Miser - Camouflage is Relative
Pete Miser’s new album, ‘Camouflage is Relative’ is out now.

How’s your day going?

My day is going pretty cool. I broke out the skill saw, drill and orbital sander and made a new desk for my home office. I’ve been meaning to do that for about a year now. Finally got around to it today so I’m feeling accomplished!

How do you feel about the music industry at the moment, is it evil?

Funny you should ask, I’m especially disgusted with the music industry right now. This industry is full of flakes and incompetent idiots who are in it for all of the wrong reasons. I mean, not everyone is a flake or incompetent but the music industry has a disproportionately high number of scrubs. I think it’s because of the perception that there’s a lot of money to be made in this industry. That can be true sometimes but I’m positive that the average plumber makes more than the music industry schmuck. People need to be involved in the music industry because they are passionate about the music not ’cause they see it as a quick path to pussy and fame.

You have a big web presence, with audio and video, do you see this as an important way to publicise music now?

Definitely. A web site is probably the most fundamental business tool these days. If you took the time to get a site together it probably means that you are serious about what you do and plan to be around for a minute. Plus it’s the most accessible way to way to let people check out what you do.

Do you think that file sharing is harming sales, or is it helping artists reach a wider audience?

I used to blow off the file sharing issue with the argument that “file sharing might hurt bigger artists but it doesn’t affect me much. I would be lucky if a million people downloaded my music.”

In real life, it is harming me in many ways. The most important is people’s attitude toward music (and intellectual property in general.) A lot of kids under the age of fifteen don’t give much thought to the concept of paying for music. Music and entertainment is perceived as being free to a lot of people these days. That wouldn’t be a big issue if it didn’t cost anything to make music but it does. Studio equipment, instruments, engineers, mastering costs, time the list goes on an on. File sharing basically cheapens the music. Not only in terms of money but in terms of value. People often take things for granted when they get them for free. So music is looked at like some disposable commodity. That’s a little depressing for someone who puts everything they have into the music that he or she makes.

On an economic level, file sharing is hurting everyone. I mean, it hurts big labels most directly but it trickles down to everyone else. Here’s an example: I produce tracks for a lot of artists who are trying to get a record deal. Less income for the big labels means less chances they’ll take on new artists (new artists represent bigger financial risks.) That means the artist I’m producing today is a lot less likely to get a record deal than he or she would have in the nineties. Fewer record deals = less bread for producers = less bread for Pete. Less bread for Pete = more non-music work to pay the bills = less time to devote to music = less music.

I’m not expecting file sharing to go away and I’m not being critical of people who download music illegally. I mean, what do you expect people to do? But people should be aware that downloading is definitely going to be the reason that some of our favorite new artists don’t release a second record.

One of your songs, Scent of a Robot, includes a quote from Blade Runner, are you into sci-fi?

I’m not a big Sci-Fi guy but when I realized that Scent Of A Robot was essentially a song written from the point of view of Rachel (one of the characters from Blade Runner) I had to tip my hat to the movie and not front like I invented the whole concept.

Do you like where hip-hop is going today?

Over all? Generally no. Now that hip-hop is mainstream it is afraid to take risks and innovate. That’s not to say that there isn’t dope shit still coming out but many young artists I see these days make efforts to sound exactly like some established artist. What originally attracted me to hip hop was it’s innovative spirit. Very few artists are really rocking new styles now days. I used to be inspired by nine out of ten new records I heard. Now I’m lucky if I’m inspired by one in thirty. Seriously! Funny thing is, there is still the same amount of dope music coming out, it’s just that, in proportion to all the bullshit, it’s a tiny minority of new releases and it’s hard to dig through the haystack to find it.

What sort of effect is copyright having on hip-hop, especially in respect to sampling?

Copyright laws are high-jacking one of my favorite aspects of hip hop music; sampling. It’s kind of like graffiti: it can be the most brilliant art form but, in the hands of someone wack, not only does the product suck but it pisses people off to the point of making it illegal!

So, yeah, the new rulings on copyright laws are making it hard for minor league artists to use samples (major leaguers can afford to clear the samples, no-names don’t have to worry about getting sued since they aren’t selling many, if any records anyway.)

On the other hand, parameters and restrictions don’t hold art back, they stimulate interesting responses. If anyone thinks that they can dead hip hop by prosecuting sampling producers, they’re completely wrong. Hip hop is a culture of survival and innovation. The game will adjust and keep on moving.

What sort of set-up do you use for producing?

I have a few vintage pieces of gear, Roland 808, Fender Rhodes and an MPC 60 but I use Logic Audio software more than anything else these days. I’m doing the exact same thing I used to do on my MPC, I’m just doing it faster now.

What’s your favourite gadget, the one you couldn’t live without?

Uh, my toothbrush.

If you asked my DJ, Blowout, he’d probably say my melodica. For those who don’t know, a melodica is a little keyboard that you blow through to play. It sounds like a harmonica or an accordion. (It’s the most prominent instrument on “Scent Of A Robot.”) Every time Blowout and I are working on a track, I pull out the melodica to help me find the key and figure out some chords for the track. He rolls his eyes when he sees me pull that thing out! I don’t really play it on many songs but it’s a handy little instrument for working things out. It’s a little goofy for a hip-hop producer to be rocking the melodica so much but it’s useful.

What’s your all time favourite album?

Hip-hop album or album?

Hip-hop album:
Public Enemy, “It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back” Pure genius!

Albums in General:
Maybe Miles Davis “In A Silent Way” Try as I might, I can’t get sick of it.

Who have you most enjoyed working/playing with?

My current band and Dido.

My current band is helping me realize my music in ways that I never would have thought of. They’re amazing musicians who challenge me to get better every time we make music together.

My experience with Dido taught me a lot and I’m a better musician for it, plus I got to see the world and play in front of hundreds of thousands of people at a time. (Millions if you count TV.)

If you could collaborate with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?

I had to walk away and think about this. There aren’t many artists I wouldn’t want to collaborate given the right circumstances. I’d love to have the Neptunes, Questlove and DJ Premiere produce some Pete Miser songs. I’d love to work with Outkast on some of their songs. I’d kill to work with Emiliana Torrini. I’d love to have Fred Wesley arrange horn parts for a live album. I’d like to hear Redman rhyme over some of my beats. I’d be scared but excited to work with Miles Davis. I’d like to talk lyrics with Bob Dylan. I learn from everything I do and learning is what attracts me to music. It would be easier to come up with a list of people I wouldn’t like to collaborate with!

You’re also into graffiti aren’t you?

I’m not at liberty to say.

How do you think that ties into Hip-Hop and why have they always been linked?

If you subscribe to the philosophy-in-a-box of many keep-it-realer type hip hop heads, you would say that hip hop is a culture that is manifested in four artistic elements; graffiti, mcing, b-boying and djing. To keep things simple, maybe that should provide you with your answer but that’s not quite historically correct. Early graffiti wasn’t inextricably linked to hip-hop. In fact, a lot of graff pioneers have talked about how they were never into hip hop music and still don’t dig it that much! On the other hand, I think that both the worlds of Graffiti and hip-hop enjoyed a kinship in their countercultural agenda such that they became associated with each other and, eventually linked in the eighties.

Do you like what UK graffiti artists are doing with stencils, like Banksy?

I do. I like stencil work a lot but I like it for different reasons than why I like tags, throw ups and pieces. Traditional graff is about hand styles, ups and fame within the culture and it’s so exclusive in nature that you don’t even get to know the rules of the game unless you’re official (which I’m not.) Stencils are dope but they’re more of an art student medium. In terms of revolutionary politics, I tend to think that the art form that doesn’t even speak the language of the establishment (and seeks to literally destroy it) is a lot more powerful than that of art students who are, VERY generally speaking, students of the establishment.

Do you have any plans/projects in the pipeline for the future?

I have tons of projects floating around in my head, it’s just a matter of finding the way to get them out there. I’m working on a record with my live band. I’ve started writing songs for another Pete Miser album. I’m collaborating with several different artists for their future releases and I’d like to do an instrumental album sometime in the near future. I’ve also been doing some writing for a magazine called THEME and I did an illustration for the February issue of Mass Appeal Magazine. I’d like to do a gallery show of my paintings some time as well.


Visit to Microsoft

March 27, 2005

I went up to visit a friend of mine who works at Microsoft in Reading this weekend, and got a tour of the campus. I must admit that it’s probably the nicest working environment that i’ve ever seen, there are rest/play areas with pool tables and (obviously) lots of X-boxes. All the offices are so light and airy, and all members of staff are given the same work environment despite the hierarchy. There’s free drinks and snacks in fridges dotted about, and a restaraunt which i’m told is excellent. Outside there’s a gorgeous lake with a putting green, and the whole place is wifi connected, meaning that people can wander around with their tablet PC’s working.
Thanks for the tour mate.

Interview – Jyoti Mishra

March 24, 2005

Jyoti Mishra is a musician, re-mixer, photographer, DJ, political activist and gadget geek. You may well know him for his track ‘Your Woman’ under the name White Town.

How’s your day going?

Pretty badly! Since coming back from the demo on Saturday, I’ve come down with flu and my bones ache. I’m taking it like a man: whingeing terribly and making pathetic puppy eyes at my mrs.

You learned to program at an early age didn’t you, what was your most impressive code?

I wrote a game for the BBC that was a kind of Missile Command program but more tactical. You had to figure out where the warheads would be much further ahead and there were no drawn trajectories. I have to say, it was impressive code (in that it actually worked) but it was a profoundly *rubbish* game.

What made you give it up?

My rotten maths, which borders upon dyscalculia. People think I exaggerate this but it’s true: I can grasp theories like non-Euclidean geometries but show me a simple maths problem and I’m likely to go wrong in an amazingly simple way. I just don’t “get” numbers.

I promised myself I wouldn’t ask about White Town and ‘Your Woman’, but I heard that you made the whole track on some archaic hardware. What set-up did you use there?

The gear I used was all pretty old and most of it was second-hand. The total value would probably be just over 2000 UK pounds. This was it:

· Tascam 688 Midistudio (8-tracks on cassette)
· Atari 520STFM running Sequencer One (free prog off the front of ST Format magazine)
· Emax II (Akais – yeuchh)
· Casio CZ101 (cost 50 pounds)
· Roland JX3P
· Casio VL-1
· Crappy old electric guitar.

That was also pretty much all I used for the whole of the ‘Women In Technology’ album, although I did get enough money to move to a digital 8-track (DA38) and get a beautiful Yamaha O2R mixer (swoon). My “studio” was my spare bedroom which was approximately 9 feet square. With squeaky floorboards which you can hear on some of the vocal tracks.

Do you still have that stuff?

Everything apart from the Emax II! That went to a friend who could make much better use of it once I’d upgraded my sampler.

What’s your current music-making kit?

I’m based around a dual-processor PowerMac G5, running Logic Pro. My ins and outs are provided by 3 x MOTU 24 I/O audio interfaces so I can plumb in all my elderly synths and outboard stuff. Most of what I do now is soft-synthesis, the ones that come with Logic are amazing but I’ve added other treats like Albino, FM7 and Absynth. But I still use my old Moogs and Rolands a lot. They have specific characters that are very hard to reproduce in software, unless you model every single component.

Do you think that there is still the opportunity for people to get music released that has been made on such a small budget?

I would say that it’s never been so easy! I’m astounded at the huge levels of apathy amongst contemporary musicians. When I released the first White Town single (in 1990), I had to save up to do a 7″ vinyl pressing, worry about artwork, test pressings etc. And that was after the expense of recording at a proper studio! But I still went ahead and did it as I knew no-one else was interested in releasing my work.


Now most musicians in the Western world probably have access to tech that will let them record at home and even make a finished CDR, playable by most people around the world. But where is the sprouting of CDR labels? Where’s the DIY ethic? Musicians seem to be back to pre-punk values, waiting around for some cokehead A&R to validate them as artists.

Where do you stand on the current state of the music industry? Do you think that file sharing is harming sales, or is it helping artists reach a wider audience?

I view most file-sharing as time-skip radio: people just listen to things for a while but they’re not that bothered. It’s the same as when I used to tape the top forty as a kid and about as damaging to sales. If you look at my top albums for 2004, most of those I found via illegally downloading their albums. Then I went and bought all those albums, as well as DJing them and publicising them on my website. Without the internet, I would never have heard of those acts as the current mainstream music media is so absolutely shite.

Your a big advocate of laptop DJ-ing aren’t you? What sort of set-up do you use for this?

Although I’m a Mac fiend, I use a Panasonic Toughbook (CF-T1) cos it’s so diddy and light. This means that I can pop it in my rucksack, complete with a few leads and its PSU and the whole lot weighs next to nowt. I guess a 12? Powerbook would do the job just as well, running Megaseg, which is a lovely little app. On my laptop, I run Winamp (2.78) with the WinCue plugin. This makes for an amazingly fast and responsive DJing system. If someone asks for a band, I just tap their name in the search screen of WinCue and up they come, instantly.

What’s your favourite gadget, what won’t you leave the house without?

I can’t narrow it done to ONE! 🙂

How about:

Home: my PowerBook. It’s the hub of my non-recording work world, plus I do all my photography on it.

Musical: my Roland JX-3P. A terrifically under-rated synth. Goes for a song nowadays, even with the add-on programmer. This was my first polysynth, I bought it when I was 16 by taking a loan out with my Dad and repaying him (with interest!). People have got too obsessed with retro-synth fashionability which is why they pay stupid prices for crappy Junos (single oscillator synths, for god’s sake!) while perfectly good JX-3Ps languish unloved.

General: It’s got to be the internet. Top gadget EVER. Hail TCP/IP!

Are there any that you have your eye on at the moment?

Hmmm… I’m okay for existing gadgets at the mo. What I’d really like is some gadgets that don’t exist yet. For example:

PDA / Phone using a scroll of electronic ink/paper. Failing that, something that could project info on the inside surface of my glasses like a mini-HUD.

1 terabyte iPod. I’ve resisted buying an iPod because my music collection is around 300 gigabytes (all of it legal!). But I figure in a couple of years, there’ll be terabyte iPods so I can finally carry all my music around plus some DVDs?

Apple to manufacture a digital watch that’s basically a teeny Mac, but with the whole OS in ROM rather than loaded off HD. I wouldn’t need a huge capacity for this, just a gig of storage would do.

Who’s your greatest hero?

My Dad. He went through tremendous difficulties coming to Britain in the late 60s. He arrived here virtually penniless before sending for my Mum and my sister and I. During his professional life as a doctor, he faced racism pretty much every day and yet he kept fighting, even when he was denied opportunities because of his skin colour. I’m not even half the man he is.

What’s your favourite album?

Kraftwerk’s ‘Computer World.’ 24 years old now and it still sounds fresh. It kick-started synthpop, hip hop, electro, techno… You name it. Kraftwerk are the most important band of the 20th century. The Beatles and the Beach Boys don’t even come close.

You’re very political, do you see a specific point or event in your life that sparked that, or have you always felt a need to change things?

Nobody wants to be political. I think they’re forced into it. Perhaps if I was from a *white* middle-class family of doctors, I’d be a Tory now and be wanking on about immigrants or foxhunting or something. But I’m not. My earliest memories are of racist abuse, from teachers, from strangers and from other schoolkids. That tends to politicise one. You learn that the Tory myth of meritocracy is a crock of shit: what it comes down to is who you are, not what talents you have. So, from the age of six or so, I understood racial inequality. It was easy for me to recognise, sexism and, finally, the most important delineation: class.
Once you acknowledge the economic basis of social relations, it’s a pretty straight road to Marx. Whether you carry on from there to Luxemburg vs. Lenin, Stalin vs. Trotsky is more chancy. There’s a line in a Woody Allen film, I think it’s ‘Annie Hall.’ The Keaton character is complaining about Allen’s character’s dour outlook. His reply is something like, ‘I can’t be happy when I know there are people dying and starving elsewhere in the world, it puts a crimp in my whole evening.’ That’s pretty much why I do political activity / writing. If I didn’t, I really couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. And even when I do now, I don’t feel great. I know there’s so much more I could be doing to make the world a better place. But I’m lazy and shit.

What plans or projects do you have in the pipeline for the future?

Finish off the new album! It’s been five years since the last White Town album, most of which I’ve spent moving houses and having no studio. Now that I’ve got a proper studio again, I’m getting everything together. I’ve also got a couple of collaborative projects coming together but they’re a bit hush-hush at the mo. What I can say about them is that they’re going to be quite silly.

Thanks for interviewing me!

No problem!

Interview – Adrian Bowyer

March 20, 2005

Adrian Bowyer is a senior lecturer in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Bath University, and is involvoled in designing a self replicating rapid prototyping machine.

What was it that got you into researching self-replicating machines?

Like any engineer I look at biology with a mixture of awe (mainly) and contempt (a little). The engineering solutions exhibited by life are profoundly elegant and transcendently beautiful; this is interrupted by the occasional piece of crassness (like our optic nerves running over the _front_ of our retina) that shows that life must have evolved and not been designed. The two most important phenomena in biology are self-assembly and self-copying. For many years I have been interested in self-assembly. Indeed, the first student project I ever set when I was a young university lecturer was to get the students to write a simulation program for self-assembling systems. Recently I started some work on adapting some of George Whitesides’ ideas (he’s at Harvard, incidentally) on self-assembly to make self-assembling self-replicators. I also happen to be the person at Bath University responsible for rapid prototyping. Then, last year, I stripped the threads on a screw in my lathe in my home workshop. I drilled it out, tapped the hole, and replaced it with a piece of studding, using the lathe itself to do all this. This got me thinking about machines that make themselves, and I realised that a rapid prototyping machine is the ideal such machine to start from.

What percentage of household products do you see being made with these machines?

A guess: 25% in the medium (30 year?) term.

As they won’t be capable of producing glass and other parts, there will have to be parts kits for some products. How do you see these being retailed?

There is already a healthy web market for all sorts of engineering components; I see that growing considerably.

There is clearly a trade off in that the more complex the machine, the harder it is to replicate. And the harder it is to replicate the more complex the machine needs to be. Do you see a problem in deciding at what level of capability to release the plans?

We’re going to try to make the simplest machine we can that works. As with all design, we’ll first make parts of it, and only then see simpler ways to achieve the same function. We’ll have to restrain the temptation to perfect everything: good enough is best…

Once they can replicate, do you see a form of evolution occurring? If so, will that be led by AI, or human engineering, or a combination of both?

Yes, and definitely by human engineering to start with. There are some impressive results in AI, and I know some of the researchers. But we’re nowhere near having an AI system into which we can type, “Design me a new pair of pliers,” let alone more complicated things.

Despite the fact that the first unit would be expensive, the nature of these replicators means that additional copies will be relatively cheap. Do you see this property as something that will help poorer countries and economies?

Yes. I’m probably being over-idealistic (I once said that no level of cynicism is too high when it comes to politics…), but I see this as a liberating technology, putting the ability to create wealth into the poorest hands just as much as into those of the rich.

What level of assembly do you think the general public is capable of? Do you think the machines can be assembled by the public?

The first people to take up the technology will undoubtedly be geeks and hackers – no change there from every other piece of new technology. But they will have a strong incentive to improve the design in the direction of ease of assembly, so ultimately I can see any reasonably competent person being able to put one together. How strange would it have seemed twenty-five years ago if one had said that ordinary people would be drilling holes in their bedroom walls to thread ethernet cables through?

Do you envision these machines being able to re-use material from previously made objects that have outlived their usefulness?

Yes – see the end of the background article on the project website, where it talks of recycling.

Do you see this as strengthening our throwaway culture, by giving people the ability to create new objects as and when they’re needed? Or will it undermine it, by allowing people to recycle broken or unwanted items into new ones by using the machines?

The first, then the second. Remember – the machine should be able to make its own recycler…

Do you see your technology leading to devices that would enable space exploration/colonisation?

A bit. But, at least at the start, people will have to put each one together. I think genetic engineering as more important for space colonisation – we should be starting with extremophile organisms and pushing the compass of the extremes.

How do you see this changing the commercial economy? Will it make some businesses obsolete? And how could they evolve to embrace this new technology?

That is something I just don’t know. The most important point to make is that the idea may not take off at all – I have seen many good academic research projects, and vanishingly few of them make it to products. But if it does take off, it will certainly make some manufacturing industries redundant. But people will find ways to make money out of it, you can be sure. Remember, it’s not
employment that creates wealth, it’s wealth that creates employment. And this machine will make wealth…

Do you see yourself as having a role in its development after it’s released into the public domain, or will you move onto a new project?

Probably the latter. If it does not become self-propagating, then it will not have been a success. So, if it is a success, I will not be needed. And, once I’ve had an idea and shown that it can work, I want to go on to something new.

Do Star Trek replicator references annoy you?

No, not at all. Mark you, that insouciance may be a consequence of the fact that the last time I watched Star Trek was in 1969, so the reference is rather lost on me…

Although further away than the sort of technology you talk about, do you see nanotech as a competing technology? Or do you eventually see it becoming a part of your self-replicating machines?

I think the two will merge. We live on a planet most notable for having been covered knee-deep for 3.5 billion years in replicating nanobots. Indeed, our own knees are made from them, too. Microbes are what we will use to base our own nanobots on, and it will be a long time before we can do better than the biological ones. My sort of engineering is moving down from the top, and the biologists and biochemists are moving up from the bottom. Bits are already overlapping in the middle.

How soon do you think these machines will be available?

The BBC asked me that, and I said 4 to 20 years, or – if the idea dies, which it may well – never.

If self-replicating machines were led by AI design, do you think that they would develop into intelligent robots that would disregard Asimov and eventually take over the Earth? Or would it be ok?

The earth is already covered in replicating machines, as I pointed out above. We are not dropping anything very new into the mix, and any that we create will have to live with life or be eaten. I would back biology against engineering to come out on top every time.
The three laws are not evolutionarily-stable (in the John Maynard Smith sense) for any self-replicator. A completely selfless non-violent species could never evolve, and – if it were to be created – it would quickly mutate to have a small fraction of violent selfish individuals and a larger fraction of benign and helpful ones; just as we see in our own species and every other. That’s how the hawks-and-doves game-theoretic matrix must always level out.

Many thanks to Adrian Bowyer for agreeing to this interview.

Self Replicating Fabject

March 18, 2005

Adrian Bowyer is eccentric, and a real visionary. He has conceived, and is trying to make, a kind of household appliance that can create objects from plans. Do you need a new glass? This will make it. Need a replacement part for some machine? This will make it. He’s a long way off making one yet, but it will happen one day, as is the nature of technology. And as he progresses he says he will put those plans on the Internet for anyone to use, no copyright, no patent, anyone can make one. The very cool part of this is that the machines will be able to replicate. If your son or daughter leaves home, you can make them one with your own as a gift. You could make them for friends, it’s like an open source, freeware appliance. This is a conceptual follow-up of the Universal Constructor by John von Neumann, which was conceived decades ago. With rapid CAD prototyping, and 3D object printers (which Bruce Sterling can’t get enough of) this could become reality sooner than you think, and it will change things so much it’s hard to imagine.