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The life and times of james Hart: his family, his music, life in Luton and his occasional escapes onto the internet.

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Thursday, 12 February 2004

Sounds Expo 2004..

On Tuesday (the 10th) Suzi (my friend & bandmate) and I attended the Sounds Expo 2004 at Wembley Exhibition Centre. It's a three day show, with displays, demonstrations and seminars about all sorts of music production-related things; I would have loved to have attended all three days, but with a lovely family at home and only a week before my trip to Germany, it was out of the question.

When we finally arrived (it's a bit of a walk from Wembley Park tube station, which is a shortish trip on the Metropolitan Line from Finchley Road, through some rather rubbish bits of outer London) we were greeted by a fairly impressive sight. Or site...

big ol' cranes 
A generous spattering of fairly enormous building supplies.

What remained of the famous Wembley Stadium was covered with concrete and cranes, and it was a fairly inspiring vision, before the sombre North London sky. I've never really been able to deal with macroscopics, I guess - the civil engineering involved in just the giant arch is well beyond my understanding.

The exhibition centre (and the nearby arena, for that matter), had none of the sense of impending greatness; here's a photo of the roadway to the side - clean (deserted!) but unexceptional.

A dull roadway. Ooh.
A dull roadway. Ooh.

Not necessarily interesting, this roadway passes the 'end' of a flyover. I thought it made a fairly attractive photo, though. Sort of...

The flyover to nowhere
The flyover to nowhere

When we finally entered the exhibition, the most noticable (but not surprising, really) aspect was the sheer volume of noise coming from the place. There were an inordinate number of loudspeakers dotted around the place, being used for exhibitor demonstrations, visitor experimentations and (in a small partitioned lecture room in the midst of the cacophony) seminars. I recorded this brief mp3 (318kB) to give an idea of the noise, but it doesn't really do it justice.

Representatives from many of the big names in sound and music production equipement were showing off their wares in dozens of cubicles - if you've never been to a show like this, it's like a cross between an indoor market and a whole bunch of showrooms. Here's a photo, taken from the stairs by the entrance, to give an idea of the way it was laid out.

the exhibition hall
The exhibition hall and cuboids.

Suzi and I attended some seminars, dribbled over some far too expensive equipment (if I participated in the National Lottery [funny how nobody seems to call it 'Lotto', in spite of the name change] it would have inspired me to buy a ticket for the double-rollover thing this weekend) and listened to some demonstrations of far too expensive equipment. One of the most remarkable was a guitarist, playing into a tiny box, from which emanated some amazing sounds. I cheekily made a short recording (555kB) of some of the demonstration; while we watched, I noticed that the performer was none other than Roger Linn - the company owner. Although not quite in the same league as Bob Moog, he's fairly well-known in electronic music circles as the inventor of some much-loved drum machines - such as those heavily used by Stock Aitken and Waterman during the 1980s. I didn't talk to him - he was concentrating on his 'busking' - but he seemed pleased to have our attention.

All in all, then, an entertaining, quite inspiring (we finally finished our work in progress, 'The Two of Me' last night!) and tiring day.

Posted by james at 11:26 AM

Monday, 9 February 2004


I've got a new passport... my previous one expired before the turn of the millennium (it was an 18th birthday present from my mother, who has always loved travelling), and I've finally needed to get a replacement for a trip abroad next week. My company has organised a course to help me to do my job properly (I'm supposed to be a systems specialist, but I've only been there just over a month, so there's plenty left to learn!) and the company who makes the system is based in a small town near D?sseldorf in Germany. This isn't actually far from where I lived when I was a small child, but my memory of that time varies between vague and non-existent, for it was a long, long time ago.

Because of the urgency, I needed to go to the London Passport Office and collect one on their "really quick passport" scheme. My boss's boss was supposed to countersign my new photo, but nowadays the countersignatory (ooh... long word) must put his or her passport number on the back as well. Unfortunately, he forgot to collect it, so I had to attend the appointment with nothing but my old passport, a form I hoped I'd filled in correctly and the new photo.

Fortunately, the lady behind the counter seemed to think I hadn't changed much from my old passport - which eliminated the need for the signature. Hooray. Here, then, are the pictures - what d'you think? I don't do smiling in pictures, I'm afraid, so I might appear a little stern.

a passport photo of me
18 year-old me
a passport photo of me
32 year-old me

Passport photos have a unique 'quality', don't they? When the machine only gives you three attempts to get it right (I always use all three) it unerringly captures an awkward, frozen microcosm of person and personality, in soft-focus, miniature form. In some ways I wish they still took four different photos, so that the last one can be witness to an act of idiocy.

Still, I'm glad I don't do it very often. I don't photograph well.

Posted by james at 11:48 PM

Saturday, 7 February 2004

Christopher's debut CD

Christopher has really taken an interest in the studio of late - he loves to play with the gadgets and instruments I keep in there. His favourites have included an old tape recorder that's seen better days, and the various guitars that are arranged on their stands around the room, which he enjoys 'retuning' for me.

I've recently bought a microphone pre-amp with some money I had left over from Christmas (a bit of a bargain - it's a Behringer Tube Ultragain Mic100 which does the same kind of things as much more expensive equipment for about a tenth of the price) but I hadn't had much of an opportunity to get it out of the box.

As a bit of an aside, on-line musical equipment stores, such as Digital Village and the Guitar, Amp and Keyboard Centre offer fairly competitive prices, until you look at the shipping which is often close to ?10 - a third of the cost of the product if you're buying a single, fairly inexpensive item. It was great, therefore, to be able to wander along Oxford Street to the Virgin Megastore towards Tottenham Court Road, and visit Sound Control which lurks noisily in the basement. It saved me a few pounds delivery, anyway!

Christopher noticed the 'new' box and, with his characteristic curiosity and tenacity, persuaded me to unpack it and demonstrate what it did. He couldn't wait to make use of it, so I took out my 'proper' vocal microphone (a Beyer MCE 90) and set it up on its stand so he could sing into it, and hear his voice through the speakers with a little reverb. He then asked if we could make a pop band - unfortunately, with only two of us, it would have been difficult, so I suggested that he might prefer to make a CD for Mummy instead.

He didn't take much persuading (in fact, it's taking more to keep him from returning to the studio!) so in two brief recording sessions, Christopher has cut his first CD. It's only six minutes long, but wonderfully uninhibited. I have to admit to having recorded, produced and occasionaly co-performed on it, but the rest of the music is all his own work. If anything, I feel a little awkward listening to the parts I sang on, as it drowned him out - for this, I apologise.

I'm sure Christopher wouldn't mind the fruits of his labour being made public, so I've put links to MP3 versions of the songs next to the picture of the CD. The disc artwork was drawn by him during the hellish drive home in the snow last week.

land of songs CD labelTrack list (click to hear)
1.  Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (480kB)
2.  Moony Moony (600kB)
3.  Gonna Build a House (460kB)
4.  Oo Dee Doo Dee (90kB)
5.  Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (430kB)
6.  Moony Moony (620kB)
7.  I Love My Boots (400kB)
8.  I Love My Boots (290kB)
9.  Bananas (810kB)
10. I Love You (1MB)
11. Doo Dee Doo Doo Doo (570kB)

The songs range from traditional nursery rhymes, through songs from television programmes (principally Dora the Explorer), to improvisation - a bit of everything, really! For completeness, the artwork for the front and back of the cover is below. Christopher chose the photos (he really knows how to pose for pictures!), the colours and - most importantly - he came up with the title, with which I was most impressed. I, of course, was solely responsible for the typo! (Have you spotted it?)

land of songs CD cover

All in all, a fine achievement - Mozart composed his first concerto at three, but Christopher recorded his debut CD at 4! I'm sure, given time, there'll be more - perhaps Ella will have a similar interest in music, and they'll be happy to work together. I do hope so. If you want a copy of the CD, I'm sure (as his agent!) we could come to some arrangement - just leave me a note.

Posted by james at 10:23 PM

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