Posts Tagged ‘Muse’

Dear Robyn,

I was chatting with someone on formspring yesterday and I came across two questions you asked me on there some time ago:

1) If you could invent something, what would it be? and
2) If you could have anything technology wise – what would you choose?

They’re cool questions. But I never asked you so I am wondering what your answers to them are!

This is what I wrote (man, you wouldn’t think I was a geek or anything…)

I’d like to invent:

  1. A Munchkin style card game where Aliens attempt to take over the world and Men In Black try to stop them. The Aliens are only allowed to communicate in crop circles and the MIB are only allowed to speak in secret code. Alien and MIB characters can be spawned or killed using Conway’s “Game of Life” mathematics, control their spaceship and weapons using Turing Machine style state registers, move strategically like chess men, fool each other with Poker style bluffing and if there is an uneven number of people playing one person becomes a spy for any side they choose and no one knows who they are playing for or when they are going to switch alliances! OK, no one will play this unless they are Sheldon from Big Bang Theory but it will be funny to make it anyway!
  2. A guitar overdrive effect that spits randomly like a Rally car. At them moment all overdrive FX seem to just go RRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH! as one ear splitting, continuously homogenous cacophony.
  3. Consciousness, Artificial Intelligence and self determination for a robot. (Followed very closely by “Empathy For Living Things”, “Don’t Do That” and “Go To Your Room” modules….)
  4. A self interpreting programming language for the internet that anyone can use without being a programmer to make sites (or anything else) they like intuitively, and that can interpret itself perfectly without needing any other 3rd party browser.
  5. The computer program that passes the Turing Test

If you could have anything technology wise – what would you choose?

  1. A robot with a personality you can change with a screwdriver to suit your mood
  2. An alien spaceship
  3. A Mercedes MacLaren SLR supercar or Ford Mustang for when #2 is not available
  4. A professional Canon digital SLR camera like yours with a Macro lense to do high speed close up photography of miniature, split second things that happen in nature we can never see with our own eyes
  5. A private space jet that goes from Auckland to space and lands in Blenheim in 2 minutes so I can visit you whenever I like (hmmm, I predict that by the end of our lifetimes we’ll think this is ordinary!)
  6. An intergalactic wormhole that connects Auckland to any other city or planet I feel like visiting instantaneously (I hear the latest version comes bundled with #2)
  7. A newer bass guitar than the 25 year old one I have now and bass FX that can make a growling sound like Marilyn Manson’s voice
  8. A guitar rig that’s as awesome as my Tremonti Signature axe.
  9. A keyboard that is easier to program than my existing demon KORG and sounds less like it was designed exclusively to produce dance music for nightclubs – a bit disconcerting considering I hate nightclubs!
  10. The latest version of Cubase or Protools recording software
  11. Adobe CS5 Web Premium software (because, I am not quite smart enough to invent the self interpreting language in one lifetime)
  12. An alarm clock that plays a nice tune instead of BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! (which at 6am in the morning sounds more like Marilyn Manson going RRRAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!)
  13. An iPhone or similar with all of Muse’s songs and Govenor of Poker on it (hmmm, maybe this has a friendly alarm clock that will play Muse perhaps?)
  14. A recording studio with a monster desk that’s so long you need to roll your chair from one end to the other to reach all the buttons
  15. Chairs with NASA grade castors for withstanding the abuse at #14
  16. A more grunty computer that can tolerate all the work and Muse crap I put in it and allows attempts to create robot brains
  17. A memory chip and GPS for my own brain so I can remember stuff longer than 2 seconds ago and will no longer get lost walking around my own flat
  18. A microscope that can see things as small as those proposed in Superstring Theory (oh look! That’s where I left my keys…)
  19. A time machine that pauses time indefinitely so everyone can eventually make all the weird inventions dreamed up they can never finish in one lifetime.

What are yours?

Morgan 🙂

Image courtesy of Iva Villi

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Dear Robyn,

I did a naughty thing this week. I splurged some cash on a CD. Not sure if you have ever heard Crowded House or Muse before but being two of my favourite acts (and Neil Finn and Matt Bellamy my favourite songwriters), I thought it about time I bothered to review their latest albums. This year has seen new releases from both of them – “Intriguer” from the House and “The Resistance” from Muse.

The albums have a few similarities. Both Matt and Neil own recording studios and the albums were recorded therein, releases came with great DVDs, both have stunning artwork and both are written by excellent songwriters who are articulate, intelligent and have a knack for extracting emotions from the dark fringes of your imagination that you didn’t know resided in you (the whole point of writing songs in my opinion). Being a recording nut of course I have to have a serious drool over any studios… I like Matt’s the most being all neat and tidy and seriously “pwoper” and all but Neil’s looks very “intriguing” with an oddball artsy touch you don’t expect in a studio. I hear it’s world class and the website is super cool.

Years ago when Crowded House didn’t even exist, I was a teenager in highschool and Neil Finn had only just taken over at the helm of Split Enz, I somehow accurately predicted that he was going to leave and do something big with his next band – whoever the hell they were. And I turned out to be right – which is just as well because I went on and on and on and on about it in our music dept ad nauseam and drove all the teachers bonkers. I have to say when I saw Neil Finn recently and that he had apparently grown a small rodent on his top lip (is he competing with son Liam for a prize in facial hair pet growing?) I started wondering about my judgement. And then he started on about the Intriguer;

“a mythical character that we have felt his presence for quite a number of years now whenever life has become difficult and problematical but strangely fascinating, you sense the Intriguer’s presence and you only catch little glimpses of  him, in fact it’s very hard to say who or where or what he is but when he’s not there life becomes boring, predictable and plain.”

I did start to think that perhaps Crowded House had lost the plot. My intuition about musicians is usually spot on but thankfully for once I am completely wrong. Crowded House have not lost it even if the musings of their frontman are a little out there. The album is brilliant.

Neil Finn’s lyrics are always a mesmerizing encounter – like sitting out in the sun beside a river and watching the water gently flow past in an endless stream of fascinating reflections and shapes. They are gorgeously crafted and lack the jerkiness of poetry with lines that jarringly rhyme at the end of every cadence and break your reverie. I’ve always been fascinated how he can make words appear to flow together with a circularity that simultaneously remains coherent and structured whilst painting the vision of something distinctly ethereal and formless. But the most fun about them is they lead you off on a journey of blissful random imagery and just when you get comfortable jolt you back to reality with some poignantly personal line that Paul Hester remarked once would always make the band say to him “Neil, do you really want to say that?!” upon first hearing it at rehearsal. I love those moments.

You arrive like a dragonfly
Float above the grass
Trembling still
Think you might
Open up your heart
One day you will
There’s always a way
To end this isolation

The music is great too. It doesn’t exactly smack you in the face with some wild revelation that leaves you dazed for six months, but it is charmingly magical and addictive to listen to. If you don’t care about having your mind wander absentmindedly off into la la land (not looking at anyone in particular) then this is the album for you. The most intriguing thing comes in the song Isolation, most pointedly in the video of the live version at the Auckland Town Hall (my favourite local haunt for gigs). All is going swimmingly fine in the usual Crowded House way until the second verse when suddenly the voice of a Goddess appears out of nowhere and immerses the hall in wonder. This is Sharon, Neil’s wife who is shyly hiding behind a speaker cabinet on the side of the stage like a session musician who has been hired by a small band to fill out their sound live while remaining firmly sequestered in an unlit portion of the stage! What a pleasant surprise. She has a youthful and unique voice which seemlessly melts together with Neil’s. In my opinion this is the prize moment on the album. Perhaps if we are lucky there will be a Mr and Mrs Finn album sometime.

While Neil Finn will take you on a journey akin to floating down a river made of elegantly constructed poetry and tangental hook lines, Matt Bellamy will remind you there is every reason to believe you should be feeling paranoid and looking sideways at everyone above you. Muse’s new album “The Resistance” comes from a guy who has two years supply of freeze dried lasagne, 50 cans of beans and an axe stored in his basement for that “just in case” moment when “THEY” – the upper echelon, or chosen few who are plotting to suppress the masses, take over. And his preparedness even extends to killing his own chickens. (But at least they can be comforted by the thought that when he executes them it will be with the same talented hands that created masterpieces on the guitar like the riff from Plug in Baby he is so famous for. So they will be honoured chooks). It’s easy to scoff but when the universe collapses down a super massive black hole, or there is a carefully constructed zapping of half the world’s population from the HAARP site we will all descend upon him in a starving heap – the guy who planned so efficiently for every imagined eventuality (See – must be another paranoid INTJ with a wild imagination…).

The Resistance is an album about Romeo and Juliet quality love, liberation and sticking up for the right thing with a vengence. I give this guy full credit for alleviating the nagging, apathetic feeling induced by reading 1984 (which he read as part of the inspiration for The Resistance). I am sure there are many other people like me who have read 1984 and gotten excited at the moment Julia and Winston discover each other and make passionate plans to overthrow Big Brother’s hold on them. I remember reading that as a teenager and being excited by the idea that they were going to win big time and the book would have a liberating, driven ending. Instead it ended depressingly with Winston spinelessly screaming “Do it to Julia, Not me! I don’t care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me!”. A reminder that when the moments like this come many of us are spineless wimps and will abandon each other – at least according to George Orwell. Apparently this is not good enough for Matt Bellamy and the album boasts of a neverending commitment and loyaty – and with the idea that love is the most powerful force in the universe, ascends in a neverending conquer the world vibe instead….

They will not force us
They will stop degrading us
They will not control us
We will be victorious!

Well, it does end with sending a lone guy off into space who will never be able to return and who must rescue humanity from a dying planet … but that guy is victorious also. Unlike Crowded House this album has more of an epic quality complete with Floydish sci-fi cover art, a conquer anything plot and Dr Who synth sounds. The nice thing is that for all the seriousness on there, Muse are also adept at taking the piss and there are lots of hilarious moments embedded in the song too – like their screaming Queen harmonies for one.

Adam Clayton from U2 recently remarked that Muse are a tight operation and would give them a run for their money at Glastonbury. That’s true. I thought many bands were superb until I heard Muse. And then I realised those bands actually are superb – but Muse really needs a word invented of it’s own for “way the hell above everyone else”. You don’t really notice this until you listen to them for a while and then go back to something you thought was excellent previously and discover the gaping chasm. This is their best recorded album and remarkably they did this one completely themselves, learning about much of the technical process on the way. Add to this feat a symphony recorded with a real orchestra and the last 3 tracks of Resistance (Overture, Cross-Pollination and Redemption) become a vast expanse of inspiration that soars off into the future, sending Mr Man off on his mission to save us all…. may he win.

In short, both these albums are fantastic and deserve an 11 out of 10.

Morgan 🙂
To listen to or watch either band;

Muse: www.muse.mu
Crowded House: www.crowdedhouse.com

Howdy Robyn,

Hope everything is going well with your foot and you are managing OK as hoppy, haven’t become dizzy, tripped over the cat, choked on the cat or worse, died of boredom!

Just in case you are going spare while you are unable to galavant all over the countryside like you normally do (you’re not I hope!) I thought I’d tell you about the fun site I found today via a fellow Muser*. It’s called Wordle and it takes a bunch of words and makes them in to an artwork or “word cloud”. Looks awesome. You’re a writer so I figured you’d love it. The crazy Muser posted up some of Matt Bellamy’s lyrics and they looked quite profound like that so I thought I’d have a go at posting two of my songs (No One Will Know and Centre of Gravity) through the Wordle machine and see what it made of them. Here’s the result:




Looking at them like that is weird. Now I can’t imagine how I crammed all those words into one place. If you would like to have a play here is the link to Wordle

Morgan 🙂

*Muser = obsessed demented Muse fan who lives online on the Muse Boards. Not to be confused with regular “Muse fans” who resemble normal sane people. According to singer Matt Bellamy, Musers are completely crazy and he would definitely want to be one if he weren’t actually in Muse himself. I am a Muser, therefore this must mean I am crazy and also not a member of Muse …. Good to know…

The #1 Purpose of a Website

Posted: June 15, 2010 in Opinion
Tags: , ,

Dear Robyn,

I read an interesting statement the other day by a guy called Tom Poland that got me thinking about what is really important on the internet. His statement was this:

The #1 purpose of a website is to gather email addresses.”

I’m keen to challenge that statement because I don’t believe it is entirely true (and anyone is welcome to disagree with me and tell me why in the comments).

Ever since I started web developing I’ve followed lots of blogs like his from various “experts” putting forward their take on what the #1 purpose of a website is or what the most important thing to do on the internet is to be successful. Generally these all go along the lines of “the most important thing is”:

  • gathering email addresses
  • getting ranked #1 on search engines
  • building 50’000 satellite sites
  • getting large numbers of visitors past the site
  • setting links up correctly
  • having big red flashy buttons and shiny whirly things
  • having the perfect combination of Social Media tools set up
  • magic formulas for converting people to buyers
  • buying this or that super duper SEO tool that morphs your keywords and urls effortlessly with the flick of a switch with Einstein’s e=mc2 equation so you can maximise your ability to know what domain names you should give your satellite sites and what colour your whirly flashy things should be so you can get ranked #1 in search engines to get email addresses to convert people…

Often they are valid and useful points but there is one essential ingredient missing (to me at least) from all of those statements that NO ONE ever seems to talk about and it’s something I learned about when I was much younger from a couple of people – one of them being our senior engineer at the recording studio I used to work at and the other, strangely, being C S Lewis.

When I first got interested in sound engineering I used to worry incessantly about whether or not I was doing exactly the perfect technical thing and whether I was up with the play with all the big super duper experienced engineers out there or if I was just a junior twit with no clue and bad ears. So I used to obsess 24/7 about stuff like:

“If I push that red button and route the signal to channel 23 on post-FX via this flange effect with the compressor set to x threshold and y release and the EQ set to z frequency – will I have the perfect setting?…. Make a god awful mess?… Get laughed at….. Blow up the mixing desk?….. Blow up the universe?….. Cause the drummer to spontaneously combust like they do in Spinal Tap? …”

I used to spend many hours chewing off my fingernails and wondering whether I should do A or B or C or A+B-C and what other engineers thought was the right thing to make the perfect recording people would rush out and buy. I figured more experienced engineers knew there was a correct “formula” for achieving this. Then one afternoon the dilemma of how to know when you’ve got the magic formula got solved for me when an almighty argument erupted in Studio A between two of our younger engineers over which exact mathematical formula should be used to calculate the amount of reverb to be added into the mix of some song. After half an hour of yelling complicated mathematical equations at each other and threatening murder, our senior engineer got fed up, marched into the studio, smacked their heads together and killed their argument with this:

“When this song gets released not a single person is going to care one iota how many milliseconds of this that or the other thing you’ve used in there. The only thing they will ever care about is:

“Does this make me feel good?”

As soon as he said that I realised that I (and they) had been focussing on completely the wrong thing – formulas, technology, other people’s expert opinions, advice in Engineering publications, what other engineers thought, maths, graphs, where to hide the bodies of all the drummers who combusted… But the only thing we really should have been worrying about was:

“What’s the listener going to experience when they hear this?”

That is the only thing that really matters. His comment has proven to be the most important thing I ever learned about how to make sound engineering decisions – or anything else for that matter (and that drummers are always expendible!) Ever since then, if I record something and get stuck for what the most important thing to do is I just ask myself that question and the answer becomes much easier to figure out.

Another thing I think about often comes weirdly from The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe. When I was at primary school one of our teachers read us that story and I loved the magical part where Lucy ventures into the wardrobe for the first time, finds frozen trees between the coats and Narnia out the other side. But of course, when she runs back excited to try to convince her other siblings, not only to visit this amazing place with her, but to help save Narnia, they don’t believe it really exists at first since all they see when they go into the wardrobe themselves is a bunch of musty coats, some stinky moth balls and the solid wooden back of the wardrobe. (Sometimes I think life is like this – there is the mundane side and the side that promises something better if you go looking for it and believe it’s possible).

About the same time I heard that story the ballet school I went to put on an end of year production in a larger venue than we ever had before. I had never gone out on stage in front of a proper ‘big’ audience before so I was nervous and not very impressed with the idea. I spied on the evil horde from the wings and decided anyone would have to have a death wish to go out there and get roasted with their laser sharp glares and be judged for every technical mishap. I was sure they even had clip boards and pens provided to them at the door so they could keep score of every bungle and botch up and that they would get a $5 refund every time I forgot to point my toes. But I went out there anyway. And when I did I discovered something truely remarkable that has made me love going on stage ever since.

First off the evil, glaring audience vanished behind the gigantic wall of black created by the lighting and when I turned around I saw something I wasn’t expecting to be there – a magical, awe-inspiring world just like Narnia (we had been practising without costumes up until that point). Then it occurred to me that going out on stage is exactly like things are in the book. The stage is Narnia, the wall of “black light” is the back of the wardrobe, on the other side of the wall the audience is Lucy’s siblings and you are Lucy. The whole point of going out there isn’t to execute some technically perfect performance you learned off some expert (in this case my ballet teacher). It’s to be Lucy, to truely believe the Narnia you are creating on the stage is real and to draw everyone in the audience into your world by showing them that there really is a magical world beyond the “back of the wardrobe”. Since then I’ve never been nervous because I know being on stage isn’t about people watching you – it’s about inviting them onto the stage with you to share your experience because you want them to feel what you are. (I believe that ultimately this is why music, art and films are so popular. People are happy to escape the mundane moth balls and oppressive fur coats of life from time to time and see that there is something more inspiring and meaningful out there.)

So why does that have anything to do with websites? Well if you look at that list at the beginning of my post again you’ll notice it is completely devoid of any reference whatsoever to the effect you have on your visitors. There is no human factor there at all. It’s as if websites are made for unfeeling robots. But I believe what the visitors experience is the most important consideration. So I would say:

“The #1 purpose of a website is to inspire your audience and create something they truely believe in and want to be involved with.”

Everything else is of secondary importance – even if it’s that stuff all those experts are saying should be tops. My main point here is not that any of those things listed are unimportant, but that, in my mind, there is little point in attracting people to a site in the first place, or gathering their details if you don’t draw them into your world when they get there. If you don’t show them that there is something magical worth believing in behind the back of the wardrobe what’s the point? If websites are primarily about nuts and bolts and formulas or executing some parasitic marketing advice of experts that misses the most exciting reason to be there in the first place – the audience and their experience. The most powerful thing to put into a website has nothing to do with formulas, tools or SEO advice. The most powerful thing is the ability to inspire other people and share something with them that is bigger than “mothballs”. And that bigger than mothballs thing comes from truly believing in what you do and caring about what difference it makes to other people (but that’s a whole other topic). I think this is one way to set yourself apart from all other competitors out there. After all, your competitors can all make use of those same tools too but how many of them set their main priority as creating of the kind of “Narnia” people want to believe in and visit more than anywhere else?

Think about this for a second. When you visit some site that impresses the hell out of you do you go away excited because;

  • You got to leave your email address behind? or
  • The key words were really effective in getting you to the site? or
  • The links were set up to maximize Google rankings? or
  • The developer wrote really clever code?

No of course not. Hopefully you go away excited because you made a real connection with the people who created the site and their message and you want to be involved with them in future – because you saw their version of “Narnia” and believed in it too.

I guess as a practical example of this a couple of Decembers ago I randomly came across Time is Running Out by Muse online. (And I apologize for using a music example but songwriting would have to be my biggest passion in life and I can’t resist a great song). I didn’t know who they were when I started playing the song but half way through the second verse I became a Muse fan – and before the end of the song I logged in to www.muse.mu became a Muser (that’s a completely crazy Muse fan who lives on their website). I had a strong conviction about them as a band from the first finger click in that song. They also have a fantastic website (and I think a very talented group of people who run it) but lets be realistic – if I hadn’t have been inspired by the band it would have been a complete waste of time collecting my email address. What inspired me?

In the words of Matt Bellamy:

“To feel liberated is something that I feel when I am playing music and I think if you can help other people feel liberated in that way, psychologically and spiritually liberated, then that is the best thing that music can do”.

This is the main reason to me why songwriting is important and has always been. So we share that vision of “Narnia” and that is what inspired me. Their music represents something a bit bigger than just chords, staves and mothballs and that is what really matters. And this is reflected in their website also which makes all the difference (I am sure their 77,000+  members on the website agree).

So when people visit a site should the #1 purpose be;

“…to gather email addresses.”

or

“…to inspire your audience and create something they truely believe in and want to be involved with.”

People can go leave Tom Poland their email address in droves if they want to but I know which purpose I would pick first.

Leaving your email address is something you can do AFTER you visit Narnia….

Morgan 🙂