Game of Thrones Season Three.

So I watched the first proper trailer for the new season of Game of Thrones a few days ago and it would seem dwarves, dragons, and incest will be returning to our television/laptop screens soon. March 31st to be precise. I’m not going to lie, like most people who grew up playing Gauntlet, reading Lord of the Rings, and listening to too much Led Zeppelin I have a soft spot for absurd fantasy so I’m rather excited by the prospect of ten new episodes.

Despite its hype, the trailer itself doesn’t really show anything that we weren’t already promised at the end of Season Two; people will die, family members will have sex with each other, and a homicidal teenager will torture others for fun. In terms of the larger narrative, clearly there is some sort of zombified horde trudging down from the North who are about to eat the brains of Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch before moving on into the rest of Westeros. On the other side, Daenerys “Khaleesi” Targaryen’s dragons look rather large and capable of incinerating more than just that creepy bald warlock. Hopefully now she will stop having those “I want my dragons!” tantrums that she regularly indulged in throughout the last season.

I haven’t read a single line of any of the novels, but now that she has her Qarthian army I assume Khaleesi is going to going to invade Westeros and tussle with the armies of teenage maniac Joffrey Baratheon. Unfortunately for him, as far as I know he doesn’t have any dragons, and will rely on his grandfather, an unwashed man called The Hound, and his dwarf-uncle who he treats rather badly. I predict an easy win for the ones who breathe fire. Speaking of fire, since the books are called A Song of Fire and Ice I’ll also assume that it’s all going to come down to an ice-zombies versus fire-dragons battle for supremacy. Sign me up.

Songs of 2012.

Stig!

It’s basically impossible to keep up on all the new music being released these days so I mostly don’t bother. Instead I usually go backwards hoping to discover past gems both loved and unloved. However, as 2012 stumbles to a close it’s as good a time as any to go through a few of the tracks that have caught my attention this year. This is hardly a definitive list so any additional recommendations are definitely welcome.

Storm Queen – Let’s Make Mistakes

As electronic dance music continues its general rise in popularity as American-abbreviated EDM and gradually transforms into merely a succession of ever-bigger drops and instagramable moments, it’s nice that some long-time dance music practitioners continue to produce music that offers something slightly more cerebral yet still shakes hips and nods heads. Continuing his fruitful Storm Queen collaboration with subway singer Damon Scott, Morgan Geist exhibits his usual synth mastery and crafts an understated piece of house music that displays a maturity and intimacy which will keep it well away from the day-glo arenas that will soon come to define dance music at least in the popular mainstream imagination.

Ariel Pink – Only In My Dreams

Ariel Pink is a bit strange, wilfully so it seems at times. Thankfully, for every ode to schnitzel, there’s a more refined, pop-orientated track to offer some relief from the weirdness. Only In My Dreams directly channels his west-coast origins as its 12-string guitar and wistful lyrics immediately bring to mind The Byrds. Though hardly ground-breaking in its sound and construction, the track is a nice tight 3 minute pop song that does everything right and nothing wrong and sits in pleasant contrast to some of Mature Themes‘ more difficult tracks.

Todd Terje – Inspector Norse

If I’ve talked with you about music or if you’ve happened upon one of my awkward solo living-room dance parties, my affection for this track has probably been made clear already. Officially released right at the beginning of the year, the lead single off Todd Terje’s It’s the Arp’s EP was just the right medicine to get through a rather depressing winter. Being Norwegian, Terje clearly understands the need for external aid in overcoming the frosty monotony of the northern European chill. The EP, named after the ARP vintage synthesizer it was recorded with (the same used on The Who’s Who’s Next) , was a decent selection but Inspector Norse was by far the stand-out track which despite its out-of-season release found its way onto dance-floors throughout the summer. Equally at home inside the clurrrb or outdoors, the track’s bounce had a tendency to lighten the mood of any gathering and make even the most resistant head nod at least a little – probably because it’s just a cheerful piece of music.

Ty Segall – Thank God For Sinners

Screaming guitars, surprisingly pleasant melodies, and volume – your typical Ty Segall song basically. Saying much more than that wouldn’t seem to be in the spirit of a song which arrives and departs in under 3mins, having done what it came to do.

Tame Impala – Apocalypse Dreams

Clearly, Australia’s Tame Impala have listened to a lot of the Beatles along with an assortment of other psychedelically inclined bands. Sure, Kevin Parker sounds a lot like John Lennon, but isn’t that a pretty good reason to be in a band? However, in between worshipping at the altar of the 60s they’ve managed to put together a couple of albums that have allowed them to claim their own sound and partially shed the ‘revivalist’ tag. Apocalypse Dreams was an early release off the latest LP, Lonerism. Though it doesn’t quite hit the fuzzy heights of my personal favourite, Lucidity, after a few listens you appreciate how much work must go into putting such songs together. Some of the credit is probably due to producer Dave Fridmann whose earlier work includes being in Mercury Rev, and producing for bands such as The Flaming Lips, Mogwai, and MGMT. Obviously, he and the band know what they’re doing and the results are rather pleasing. Shout out to choppychopsticks.

Honourable mentions to Julio Bashmore – Au SeveFrank Ocean – Lost, Mac Demarco – Baby’s Wearing Blue Jeans, 80s Stallone – Quantum Leap, Bicep – Keep Keep

Darcy Clay – Jesus I Was Evil EP

The Jesus I Was Evil EP is some excellent raw garage weirdness from New Zealand singer/songwriter Darcy Clay who as Daniel Bolton killed himself in March 1998 only months after the EP’s hit bedroom 4-track single allowed a generation of teenage kids to think New Zealand was kind of alright. With an impish indifference, Bolton’s stage-ego Clay helped cast off lingering cultural cringe and set the scene for the more commercially-minded to take advantage of the change in local attitudes towards popular culture produced in New Zealand. The sad coincidence of his suicide coming before his next scheduled performance – at a suicide prevention event – assured Clay’s tragic legend and robbed a generation of a possible star. Leaving behind a lone EP and unrealised potential, Bolton was 26.

Ty Segall – Twins

Ty Segall has a new album. Yes, another one. Twins is the latest explosion in a 2012 triple-burst of artistic creativity which itself forms merely the most recent addition to what is now an impressive stretch of original releases from the San Francisco garage-rocker. As with his previous albums, the instruments on Twins sound like they’re either on fire or at least electrocuting whoever’s playing them. Thankfully, Segall is talented and determined enough not to let such potentially painful obstacles get in the way of crafting a collection of great melodies to sit in amongst the riffs and volume.

Segall seems to just be doing whatever he wants at this stage, but releasing so much material and backing it up with regular tours is bound to gradually take its toll. His tireless work-ethic looks to be paying off though as larger media gatekeepers are beginning to take notice. Some, like The Observer, are even speculating that Twins might indeed be a tipping point for the musician and finally expose him to a larger audience.

Touring across Europe and North America yet again in the coming months, it seems there’s no stopping Ty Segall in 2012.

Here’s the suitably bonkers music video for the first single off Twins, ‘The Hill’.

Bornholm. A Danish island.

Bornholm is an island in the Baltic Sea and as you’d expect it’s isolated, windswept, and provincial. Three hours by ferry from Germany, it officially belongs to the Danes, but the island’s strategic position and close proximity to Denmark’s larger neighbours leads one to speculate that it could have quite easily been part of Germany, Sweden, or Poland. Indeed, Bornholm has changed hands at various times with neighbours becoming occupiers albeit on a temporary basis. Despite answering to a changing cast of rulers throughout their history, Bornholmers have consistently maintained their cultural and political links to the Danish mainland. However, the continual threat of invasion did lead local leaders to regularly adopt a more defensive posture, even going so far as to build the now famous ’round churches'; places of worship that could also act as small fortresses.

Østerlars Church

Also important for the security of the locals was the massive castle, Hammershus, which sits near the northern most point of the island. Constructed in the 13th century, it was built either as the private residence for the Archbishop of Lund (a town in southern Sweden), or as the royal residence for Valdemar II of Denmark depending on who you believe. Despite visiting on a rather dreary day, it was clear that due to the castle’s location and size it was a force to be reckoned with and as such was a prized possession for nearby rivals. Used at various times by various factions as a residence, refuge, and prison, Hammershus’ changing ownership gives an indication of the tangled politics and violent conflicts that marked the regional relationship between church and state during the castle’s early history.

Since the mid-18th century the castle has fallen on hard times and now stands abandoned as the largest medieval ruin in Northern Europe. The ruins themselves sit high on an exposed hill which must’ve deterred all but the most determined invaders. Sadly, in its current state the castle struggles to even repel the winds which whip through its remains and bite into anyone stubborn enough to remain up there.

Hammershus Castle

These days rather than deterring or repelling invasion Hammerhus and the round churches are now some of the main attractions for the tourists who arrive annually looking to experience Denmark’s “Pearl of the Baltic.” Such an influx is surely welcomed on Bornholm as it brings revenue to the island and also a bit of life. It’s obvious that Bornholm’s isolation has been a blessing and a curse. Its natural beauty notwithstanding, it’s certainly safe to assume that when the plague arrived on the island in the 14th century and halved the population, the inhabitants would’ve been happy to have somewhere else to go.

With miles of coastline and acres of forest and fields, the island has a scenic character reminiscent of the New Zealand hinterland. The sparse population and rural placidity gives Bornholm a provincial feel that is at once calming and unnerving, as if it’s a perfect location for one of those Scandinavian black comedies where everyone dies amusingly melancholic deaths. Cabin fever would be a definite danger if you’re alone for too long. On Bornholm no one can hear you scream.

Photo credit: Rebekka Roller.

To keep themselves busy during the quieter months, many residents have turned to that venerable consumer of time and money, gambling. Bornholm’s love for horse racing and gambling is so strong they have declared trotting as the island’s national sport. According to local marketing, Bornholm’s main track, Brand Park, is Northern Europe’s smallest and most scenic horse racing track and it is undoubtedly one of the nicer places I have lost money.

Coming from a country where horse racing officially forms one third of the national heritage trinity, I felt right at home shouting advice at the ponies as they trotted round the track. While the relevant odds provided some hint as to the horses’ respective chances, the group I was with chose to go with the horse’s name as a guide to winning. And why wouldn’t you? With majestic monikers like Hero’s Viking and Power Queen, you couldn’t lose. Fool’s Gold, though, didn’t inspire much support. My first tip, Pirate Kragelund, chose not to heed my shouted recommendations for an increase in speed and did not to win. Thankfully, Golden Stardust was more receptive and did enough to place, allowing me to reclaim some of my lost funds.

Unfortunately, away from the track the action on Bornholm didn’t exactly get the adrenaline pumping. The impressive number of mobility scooters on the island perhaps indicates that a substantial percentage of its residents, when not gambling their pensions, spend large amounts of time in slippers peering through curtains, suspicious of anyone under 40. The flip side is that the disproportionate number of elderly folk means the island has a disproportionate number of second-hand shops, all of them stuffed with a vast array of generally worthless and amusing crap. However, since these shops have yet to be trawled by the hipster hordes there remain plenty of bargains to be found. From plates commemorating the foundation of the local UFO club to clothes that people died in, there is something for everyone.

To celebrate our series of frivolous purchases there was only one thing to do, shoot guns into the air. The Danes, being a relatively progressive folk, don’t much like weapons but thankfully the local military museum has a replica blackpowder rifle which the otherwise bored attendant is happy to let you fire. This particular replica is of the rifle which helped Denmark lose the Second Schleswig War, so it has a proud history. As I understand it, in 1864 the Danish turned up with these muzzle-loaded rifles which quickly turned out to be rather antiquated when the Germans arrived with bolt-action breech-loading ‘Needle Guns’. These new generation rifles allowed the Germans to fire at fives times the rate of Danes who, on top of that, had to stand up to reload. Needless to say, it did not go well for Denmark who subsequently lost of big chunk of territory to a newly united Germany.

Here’s a German mocking/re-enacting the Danes’ 1864 display.

So Bornholm summarized.

Positives:

  • Looks nice
  • Interesting history
  • They love gambling
  • Lots of old people means lots of cheap old stuff
  • Guns

Negatives:

  • Chilling wind imported directly from the Arctic
  • Provincial populace live at provincial pace
  • Eerily calm
  • Serious possibility of cabin fever leading to homicidal rampage
  • Lots of motorised old people presents definite threat of Achilles injury

Skatt Bros – Walk the Night

The dubiously named Skatt Bros were a short-lived group signed to seminal label Casablanca Records. Originally from Canada, they shared management and one of their founding members, Sean Delaney, with label-mates KISS. Their leather and moustache image meant they were often compared to the Village People by American marketers and audiences alike, however, unlike the Village People’s cheerful sing-alongs advocating brotherly love, the Skatt Bros’ major hit Walk the Night took an alternate route and was one of the darker tracks of the disco era. Punctuating lyrics that describe a rather different sort of brotherly love, the song’s hook advocates a certain type of nocturnal encounter that places it as an R-rated precursor to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Full of screams and evil laughter to complement its explicit narrative it’s a wonder that the track even managed to chart let alone make the modest impact it did.

Here are the Bros taking advantage of their brief fame for a photo with an indifferent Grace Jones and bewildered Lou Reed.

The Tunguska Event

Back in 1908 something very big and very unusual happened in Siberia. It caused enormous damage and left locals believing they’d been visited by one of their rather angry gods, Ogdy. Though eyewitnesses spoke of a “split in the sky”, a “second sun”, and being violently thrown to the ground, when the first scientists arrived on the scene 20 years later they found little concrete evidence beyond widespread devastation – there was no tell-tale impact crater or glowing moon rocks. But whatever it was caused the largest natural explosion in recorded history and created a shockwave that circled the Earth…twice. Levelling about 2,000 sq km of forest in the Krasnoyarsk Krai region of Russia, the explosion sent massive amounts of dust into the atmosphere which markedly decreased celestial visibility and reflected so much terrestrial light that Londoners 10,000kms away could read at night.

Speculation about what caused the explosion has ranged from a wayward comet or mini black-hole to a UFO collision. What is generally accepted is that the explosion itself occurred about 6-10 kms above the ground and released 15 megatons of energy – 1000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Though there has been little evidence on the ground as to the origins of such a massive airburst recently a team of scientists from Bologna University claimed to have discovered solid proof of a meteorite crater at nearby Lake Cheko.

By using, first, acoustic imaging and then magnetic and seismic reflection, the Italian team was able to map out the funnel shape of the lake and later identify a “magnetic anomaly…about 10m below the lake floor.” Case closed it would seem. However, researchers from Cornell University have also weighed in, claiming that the Tunguska event was actually a comet which after exploding in the atomosphere, basically melted into thin air. Citing, as a modern-day example, the exhaust plume of the NASA space shuttle, the Cornell scientists claim that the dust which covered the Earth after the event was actually mostly water vapour made up of the remains of the comet. They conclude that the water vapours were carried across the globe by extreme winds which constitute a “totally new and unexpected physics.” How convenient.

Despite these differing theories, the general consensus is that in the early hours of June 30 1908 something fell from the heavens and exploded with terrific force in our atmosphere. According to NASA, Tunguska sized incidents occur relatively frequently, about every 300 years. Since most of the Earth is covered by water, the majority of these strikes have likely detonated harmlessly over an ocean. Taking time and space into account it would seem we were ‘lucky’ that such an event was able to be recorded in the first place. The Russians certainly think highly of the whole episode and have named an anti aircraft/asteroid tank in its honour.

Here’s a longer documentary if you’re interested.

Michael Jackson – Sunset Driver

Alright, more Michael Jackson – a song you might not have heard. Not on any album for some bizarre reason, Sunset Driver is probably an outtake from an Off The Wall session. An Apple Scruffs edit stretches it out. Seriously, what happened to this guy?

Talking Turkey

So I was in Turkey a while back and it was excellent. I know a few people who’ve been there before and since nearly all reports I’d received had been extremely positive my expectations were high. However, over the two weeks I was there Turkey met and exceeded nearly all of them. Istanbul, in particular, seems like a place I could happily live for a longer period of time, especially if I was to return to a situation similar to the amazing accommodation that I was lucky enough to enjoy on the banks of the Bosphorus.

A typical sight on the Bosphorus


Though an enourmous city, Istanbul seems to have more than enough nooks and crannies to retreat into when the heat, traffic, or general commotion becomes too much. There are very few activities more agreeable than spending an afternoon watching vessels of all sizes sail by while having a few civilised drinks with a few civilised friends at one of the crossroads of the civilised world.

Istanbul’s position at the intersection of Europe and Asia has given the city more than a few interesting historical sites. Acknowledging our touristic duty, we reluctantly left the comfort of the balcony and ventured into town, heading across the Golden Horn towards the Sarayburnu.

Sarayburnu peninsula.

Naturally, the biggest attraction in the area is the Hagia Sophia. Occupying prime position in the old town, this massive landmark has gone through regular reincarnations, changing shape and religious denomination rather frequently throughout its long history. Destroyed twice during its lifetime, it finally became a mosque in 1453 when, at the age of just 21, Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople after a two month siege. These days the Byzantine landmark is now a museum and is understandably popular year-round. Despite its popularity, I found it perfectly manageable in terms of the unavoidable tourist hordes – nowhere near as bad as the Parthenon in Athens, for instance. Though the conduct of some sightseers always leaves something to be desired, the general brilliance of the Hagia Sophia manages to keep most in line.  Unfortunately, I never managed to snap a good picture of it, so this borrowed image will have to suffice.

The Hagia Sophia

Leaving Istanbul heading west, the party I was with felt that, despite the contrariness of a certain frau, it was worthwhile to visit the site of one of the Commonwealth’s greatest military catastrophes, the Gallipoli peninsula. Being someone who is interested in the past and how its remembered, I was all too happy to see what the fuss was about.

Not the best place to land

[Rant commence]

In all honesty, I hold what I assume to be a rather unpopular opinion regarding Gallipoli. I find the way this disastrous WWI campaign has been given pride of place in both New Zealand’s and Australia’s national identity and history highly dubious. The current state of affairs can be traced back to Australian Charles Bean who as his government’s official war historian began to construct the narrative that gave birth to the ANZAC legend which now dominates the memorialisation of Gallipoli and subsequent ANZAC expeditions. Needless to say, that while it is a suitably solemn and reverent site, I found that actually visiting the area only reinforced what is for me the episode’s central, but nevertheless neglected, theme; that through the incompetence of military officials and organisers thousands upon thousands of men were unnecessarily subjected to prolonged misery and suffering. That’s, of course, if they were lucky. The unlucky ones were killed by enemy bullets or disease.

ANZAC soldiers undoubtedly displayed significant courage even just to maintain any kind of hold on the beach and the ground they won, but instances of heroism were probably far outnumbered by moments of sheer terror and unimaginable horror. These men weren’t professional soldiers accustomed to seeing their friends and comrades die in front of them, they were lawyers, teachers, labourers, and most of them were probably terrified for the entire time they spent huddled behind whatever cover they could find.

“Expeditions which are decided upon and organised with insufficient care generally end disastrously.” Lloyd George 1915

Steeles Post

 Wandering about the landing area and across the high ridges you realise why the campaign became a textbook example of how not to conduct an amphibious landing. Lesson #1: don’t make your soldiers scale a massive hill once they make it ashore. Tactical thinking was lacking to put it lightly. But that sums up WWI I guess, a European civil war prosecuted on the British side often by officers for whom rank was not due to any merit or insight on their part, but was primarily the result of generations of aristocratic privilege and inbreeding. If anything, New Zealand was supposedly founded in complete opposition to the values which underpin such feudal absurdity. Rather sad that so many had to die because of them.

Though it certainly offers ample opportunity for national pride through brave exploits and tales of gallantry, war in all its forms is about one thing, death. Not heroism or courage, but death. And just because we automatically ascribe our war-dead with heroic attributes doesn’t make them any less dead or, indeed, actually heroic. In fact, this posthumous process whereby we thoughtlessly eulogise our war-dead can be viewed as a rather selfish measure on our part to make ourselves feel better about the fact that we sent some of our best and brightest to the other side of the world to die for a crumbling empire.

One thing is certain, the ANZAC soldiers deserved to be treated better having come from the other side of the world to fight for Queen and country. Whether it was their duty to have done so is another question – they were definitely told it was. Perhaps it’s a case of opportunity lost. Perhaps a true national ‘coming of age’ may have been found in refusing to participate in a regional war that had very little immediate bearing on New Zealand’s national security. Having made such a monumental decision then New Zealand could have proudly stood on its own, as a mature, autonomous nation rather than one humbly grateful for the mere chance to fight under its own flag.

The view from Chunuk Bair

Despite disagreeing with the place Gallipoli holds within the New Zealand national consciousness, I’m glad that I went. The Turks have treated the site well – I wonder if New Zealand would condone memorials to invading soldiers on its soil. Indeed, the story which gets lost in the ANZAC mythologising is Turkey was invaded and that it was their soldiers who responded most admirably. Thousands of their men gave their lives literally defending their homeland. Unfortunately, the ANZACs can’t claim similar stature even though they enthusiastically answered what they believed was a similar call to arms.

[Rant over]

Heading south from the Dardanelles, we continued along the mediocre (to say the least) roading system and deeper into ever more rural regions. After retracing our steps  – a measure made necessary thanks to a wrong turn brought on by the conversational enthusiasm of both the lead driver and navigator – the convoy crossed into some of the most provincial areas yet experienced on the trip or anywhere else for that matter. Think subsistence husbandry meets arid tundra. Life was thin on the ground, leaving a definite lack of authority. Into this vacuum of law and order, fauna of all sorts had moved in to stake their claim. The police were nowhere to be found as toothless goat herders looked on helplessly as lawless donkeys roamed free, terrorising both tourist and resident alike with their deceptively languid equine ways. Braving such dangers was worth it in the end as the destination that awaited us was one of charming seclusion.

Paradise

It was isolation which we immediately made full use of, celebrating the end of our road trip by treating the neighbouring villages to a 4am session of Hamilton’s finest, Mobile Stud Unit. Fists were pumped, lyrics were shouted, sanctity was defiled.

Mobile Stud Unit – MSU

While the setting was certainly beautiful, its complete seclusion meant that we needed to generate our own entertainment. For this, we turned first to imported spirits and local Efes, and then to the ever reliable 7 Second Art Game. A few people, pens, scraps of paper, and a timer are all that is needed for an extremely raucous couple of hours. The names of objects, things, or animals are put into a hat and then, one by one, must be frantically drawn in 7 seconds by the participants. I highly recommend this game.

Needing to impress the particular round’s  judge, the artists need to use all their creativity, persuasive guile, and political grease to win favour and points – kind of like they do in the real art world. Like all art, the concept of quality is entirely relative and down to the judge’s own opinions, ideas, and prejudice. Naturally, angry disagreement is commonplace and is often encouraged by fellow players hoping to rupture the relationship between artist and judge.

While resentment forged in the emotional furnace that is Art Game risked turning brother against brother and man against nature, cooler heads did manage to prevail and we headed towards Ephesus to get acquainted with the ruins of one of the most important cities of the ancient world. On the way we lost two of our number to the real world as they flew back to their lives in the wintry north. Thankfully, there was an able replacement on standby at Izmir airport, so with her in tow it was time to get into some culture.

Absorbing culture and too much sun

Ephesus has a historical pedigree few locations can match. As a major Mediterranean power centre for nearly a thousand years, the city at times rivalled Athens and Rome for regional supremacy. It also played a major role in the spread of early Christianity. It seems one of Jesus’ twelve apostles, John, wrote a large part of the Book of Revelations during his time in Ephesus. Revelations, of course, is one of the most entertaining parts of the Bible – full of action.

Temple of Artemis, Isa Bey Mosque, and St John Basilica.

John is buried in the nearby town of Selcuk, next to the rather forlorn remains of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis, who was herself one of the Greek gods John’s tireless work helped replace. Ephesus’ own demise came when its primary source of prosperity, its harbour, began to silt up and move further and further from the city. It was a situation similar to that experienced by another gigantic ruined city, Ostia Antica, Rome’s ancient port. By around 700AD Ephesus was a shadow of its former self, but in 2012 it was a hive of activity, swarming with slack-jawed tourists and their rotund offspring.

After further hours spent navigating the treacherous Turkish roading system we eventually returned to our coastal refuge 400 kilometres to the north. Having driven over 1000 kilometres in less than 48 hours, more travel was not particularly appealing and relaxation took precedence.

The long road back to paradise

To the beach! I’ve never been much of a water-person. I find the New Zealand water temperatures discourage swimming on all but the hottest summer days. This all changes when I reach the Mediterranean. Like a catfish or manatee, I thrive in warm water. Though both my diving and bombing leave room for improvement, I feel the enthusiasm with which I attempt these manoeuvres makes up for any technical deficiency. However, I wasn’t the only one to be taking advantage of the warmer waters. Other mammals were equally at home in the sunny coastal climate.

Cannonball!

After bombing the Turkish coastline back to the stone-age, we reluctantly left our little hide-away and started the long drive back to Istanbul. One final crossing of the Dardanelles got us back onto the European side of the country and we made our way up the peninsula for one last stop in the capital.

Dardanelles tanker

Meeting up with another long-lost comrade in Istanbul was a great way to finish off the holiday. More sights, more celebrating, more Turkey – my legs and kidneys cried out for mercy. Exploring more of both the city and its nightlife sapped the last of our energy and by the last night all we could do was sit, sip sweet tea, and blankly admire each others’ tans as we began to think about real life again.

Ayyıldız

Serious About Sound.

Sound comes in all forms; loud, quiet, calm, abrasive. The adjectives one might use to describe what is being heard are endless. For those whose job it is to tailor the ‘sound of sound’, these descriptions indicate the infinite number of sonic possibilities that are at once the occupation’s primary attraction and, at times, its principal nuisance.

Having worked for a variety of artists from the very local to the internationally renown, concert engineer Martina Saalfrank is well-placed to comment on the challenges of shaping sound in a range of environments. I recently asked her a few questions about the technical side of live sound.

You’ve worked at countless concerts, what do you think are the main challenges of sound at a live venue?

Basically, the major issue is designing a PA system to fit the spatial situation of the venue. Finding a way to guarantee an even spread of sound over the entire audience is the main priority. This involves, of course, choosing the type of system, in particular, the right dimensions for the system. Here, what type of event it is and the potential position of the speakers is a major influence. A giant system for a spoken word performance makes no sense. Once you have the size and event type sorted, ‘tuning’ the system on-site is the next step. This can be done with the help of the corresponding system software and other measurement software, but your own ears are sometimes the best option. After all, these sounds are going to be heard by humans and not robots.

What are some of the main differences between the live and studio setting?

Well, both studio and live sound are based on the same fundamental principles, but the approaches can vary greatly. The working context is the most obvious difference. Live sound is exposed to the ambient noise of the immediate environment, whereas the studio atmosphere is usually one that is rather peaceful and quiet.

The working process is also very different. The comparison is a lot like theatre and television. During a live performance, you only have one chance to get the best results. In a studio, there’s space for creativity. There’s time to experiment with various combinations of microphones and their location, etc. There’s also, of course, additional time for ‘fine tuning’ to achieve the optimal sound.

In terms of equipment, in a studio you’re also working with a different type of mixing desk. There’s usually two kinds of fader for different applications depending on the use of the desk, whether it’s for recording, mixing, overdubbing. In comparison, there’s a much simpler desk used for live sound with a simpler signal flow. In a good studio you can also expect the other equipment (microphones, FX, etc)  to be towards the high-end. At a concert though you often just have to live with what is available and get the best out of it despite any limitations.

One interesting difference between the two contexts is that the audience have a large effect on the sound, not just by the sound they make. The public themselves act as a massive sound absorber and that has to be factored into any system design. However, the shape and size of the venue still has a much larger impact.

Often you’re in charge of the monitor sound. Can you briefly explain what the monitor technician does and why it is important?

The monitor technician is responsible for the sound onstage, the mix that only the musicians themselves will hear. The monitor system and the main PA are more or less independent of each other. The monitor system itself consists of another mixing console, an outboard, and a selection of optional speakers such as wedges, sidefills, drumfills. Another option for the musicians is an ‘in-ear’ system or even a combination of that and some speakers. For a good show, it’s essential that the individual performers hear themselves well in the larger context of the band. To get the best results for both the band and the audience good communication between the performers and technician is crucial.

You have to take into account the changing acoustic environment on stage and mix accordingly. For example, a rock singer who stands in front of the drummer rarely needs much of the drums in his mix – except if he’s using an ‘in-ear’ system – and instead needs more of his own vocals and the primary melodic instrument.

Though you sometimes have the feeling that you’re not really needed, a singer once told me that the monitor technician does the most underrated job on stage. That was nice to hear. Honestly, you can really tell the difference in a performance when the artist is being looked after by an experienced and ambitious monitor technician and in the process is getting a good sound from the monitors.

While you spend much of your time at concerts, you’ve also been collecting sounds for a children’s book. Can you tell me a little bit about this project?

Well, for a long time now I’ve been listening to audio books, often just to shorten the frequent road trips. I’ve always been fascinated by how sound and music can help to create the various locations and emotions of the story in your imagination. I wanted to start a similar project from scratch, beginning with recording the text, then moving onto the collection of sounds, and finally the development of a sound collage and so on. I go sound-hunting with a Zoom H4N and record and mix the whole thing with Pro-Tools. It’s still a work in progress.

What advice can you give anyone thinking of getting into the technical side of the live music industry?

Besides the broad technical knowledge and staying up-to-date with the current developments in sound technology, knowing the right people is the essence of the business. A lot like the artistic side, I suppose.

You should have fun with the whole thing really. I’m still passionate about music and am always going to concerts and events in my spare time. I love to really get into good music and try to understand what the studio engineer was trying to do. Of course, being flexible and open-minded helps. It’s also beneficial if you work well in a team since you’ll be spending long days and nights together with your colleagues and only together will you keep things rolling.