Sunday, November 30, 2008

Video for 'Change' now online

This weekend, I have completed and posted the first video made for a Control K track - 'Change'. The video can be seen above or at my YouTube channel.

'Change' is an overview of the key moments of the 2008 US election, culminating in Obama's victory address at Grant Park in Chicago. With bouncing bass, some spectral notes and a laid-back groove, it is an audio-visual postcard from a historic moment on the world stage.

The video revisits some of the characters and key headlines from the tale, then takes a trip through the speech, all in full campaign colours.

When promoting Shelf Life (as with any band), the focus has to be more on the personalities of the members and how they work together as a unit. The video for 'Endgame' would be an example of this.

With Control K, the visual side can be much looser and focus more on images conjured up by the music itself, even explore the use of video as a tool in its own right.

This means that videos for Control K material should be easier to make and have potential for more experimentation than for Shelf Life, which I'm quite excited by. There's already a stack of ideas in the pipeline, just not an awful lot of time available in which to explore.

Guess it'll be a case of 'watch this space, but don't hold your breath'!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Actor robots take Japanese stage (WN0014)

If the world is to be run by robots in the future, we can only hope that they are Japanese-made rather than as products of the US military.

Having seen what Japan can do with robotics after witnessing a robot brass band (note perfect) at Aichi EXPO 2005, I was intrigued to discover today that they are now moving into the world of acting.

A 20-minute play has premiered at Osaka University, featuring both humans and robots. The BBC reports 'in the play, the robot complains that it has been forced into boring and demeaning jobs and enters into a discussion with the humans about its role in their lives.'

What areas of the human experience remain to be replicated by machines? Answers on a comment thread, please...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Shelf Life UK tour report

It might be three months overdue, but better late than never, I suppose.

At the end of August this year, Shelf Life undertook their first ever live dates outside of Japan, with a mini UK tour. The band played The Prince Albert in Brighton and The Good Ship in Kilburn, London.

Above is a short film made by members of the Peace Not War collective, featuring interviews with the band plus footage from the London show. The film is in Japanese and English, and appears without subtitles.

With me already in the UK, the boys arrived from Tokyo on the Monday with a small entourage in tow. Staying in London while I was working up in Scarborough, they managed to squeeze in some UK rock sightseeing and played impromptu shows in Hyde Park and on the banks of the Thames while they were there.

On the Thursday morning, we all met up at Brighton station, for the first time since January. It was a happy reunion and the visitors were notably impressed with Brighton's laid-back hippy vibe.

While wives, kids and other guests took in Brighton's sights, the band headed off to a rehearsal studio to get in shape for the evening show. They had been practising hard back in Tokyo and the set had evolved a little to include more of a Japanese twist on some of the material, with a little taiko drumming here and elements of traditional Okinawan folk there, all mixed in with our rock 'n' roll.

The Prince Albert's live space is a cosy, sweaty room above the main pub and right near the station. It is also the same place that I played my first show with Headland, ten years earlier, so was a bit of a homecoming show for me in more ways than one.

Once enough audience members had filtered in, proceedings could kick off. Viper Suzas hit the stage first, a loose, hard rocking two-piece used to turning up the noise and bantering with their home crowd. Featuring just guitar and drums, their slack but pounding riffs got the night off to a lively start.

Shelf Life followed. I'd managed to get a few familiar faces to come down and show themselves so it wasn't a completely cold crowd, but nobody had seen us before. Brighton audiences, overfed on a dearth of live music in the city, can be notoriously tough to please at the best of times, meaning we had to work extra hard.

This doesn't tend to present a problem at our shows though as we're a very lively band ourselves, plus were wearing matching Japanese costumes and bandanas to add an extra gimmick. To engage with an audience, I think it's very important to stand out from other bands. We threw all we could at Brighton and won the crowd over pretty swiftly.

I'd expected that it might feel a little strange to be performing back in the same place I'd played so long ago, but it wasn't. The band has played together a lot and have developed a good onstage rapport by now. Brighton, then, was just another Shelf Life show.

As usual, we invited the crowd and members of the other acts to join us on the stage for the chorus of 'Endgame'. This proved to be quite a hit and we filled the stage (The Albert having a fairly small one).

The Hornblower Brothers went on after us and topped the bill. A lighter, almost whimsical, folky sound, with a rich sense of humour running through their songs, they were a big hit with the crowd - many of whom had come to see them anyway.

Inspired by 'Endgame', at the end of their set they also invited the audience to join them. The rest of Shelf Life had gone to catch their last train back to London by then, but as I was staying in Brighton that night, could hang on until there was no more hanging on to be done and took to the stage one last time.

Brighton ended up as a very successful start to the tour.

The next day (the second and final date) was London. I'd never played in London before so was pleased to have the opportunity. Although it was a lot of work finding a venue and convincing them to put a band with no British fanbase on, I managed to get us a show in the capital.

Before we could make it up to Kilburn, there was only one place a band forged in a bar called Rubber Soul could go to grab that obligatory souvenir photo. We met up at a Kensington tube station and all trooped off to St. John's Wood to grab our own 'Abbey Road' moment.

I'd visited it once before, nine years previously, and had tried to get a picture of myself crossing the infamous pedestrian crossing outside The Beatles recording studio, but somehow the picture never came out. It's not quite the same with one person either.

Abbey Road being Abbey Road, and seeing as it was a warm sunny day in August, the place was absolutely packed with people from all over the world trying to do the same thing as us. A simple photo of four guys walking across a road in North London should be pretty straightforward. In the end, it must have taken us an hour and a half to finally capture the shot we wanted!

Picture taken, we made our way to the venue. It was a bigger space than the previous night, which was fun for playing but more of a challenge to fill. The Good Ship also has a projector and a blank back wall, so I brought along some DVDs as video backdrops.

Kyoko Rathmell opened the night with a solo acoustic set of Smiths-inspired numbers. Our inclusion on the bill seemed to have triggered off a Japanese flavour for much of the bill, she having Japanese roots.

With two of the original acts having pulled out, I chipped in with some help on filling the bill back up again. Vinyl Gypsy is an artist from New York that I'd gotten to know pretty well through the internet, from the work I did with Peace Not War Japan.

Funnily enough, we'd never actually met, despite her having been in Tokyo at the same time as me once before. As luck would have it, she was actually doing a few dates in Europe at the time and happened to be in London, so ended up being added to the bill.

The music on her MySpace page doesn't give much away, so as well as never having met before, I'd not really heard any representative music either, and was looking forward to hearing what she sounded like.

With a live drummer and herself on laptop and vocals, the set kicked off with ambient atmospherics and some rich, promising lines through the mic. Unfortunately, some inexplicable bug in the system caused her loops to cut out and Mac to die. I've still yet to hear what she sounds like, but if I'm ever in NY and she's got a show on, I'll definitely head down to check out the rest of the sound.

With head down in jobhunting mode for most of the summer and living in a place where singing practise is not too easy, I'd not had as much chance to get my chops in shape in time for the shows. The day before in Brighton, we'd rehearsed for four hours and then played a show (followed up just a little partying afterwards).

When I woke up the day of the London gig, I had almost no voice to speak with, let alone sing with. I sucked singers' lozenges, drank hot lemon and honey at the venue and tried not speaking, in order to keep my throat in as good a condition as I could by the time the show came around.

With little choice, I took to the stage with almost no voice - something I'd never had to do before. We kicked off with the first song, a lively rocker at the best of times, and I could barely produce a sound. On top of that, the space was bigger and audience more spread out than the previous night, so the whole thing could have died quite easily.

I threw as much energy into the performance as I could, no matter whether I could be heard or not. Despite the circumstances, we just about managed to pull it off and even got some people dancing down the front. I'm sure it helped too that we had a video montage of movie samples playing behind us too, making it feel like a bit more of a 'show'.

When it came to 'Endgame' however, it was much harder than in Brighton to get people on the stage with us. A couple of the artists on the bill did venture on and luckily so did some old friends of mine who'd come down for the night.

From the feedback I got afterwards, it seemed like I'd managed to get away with it - to my great surprise.

On next, The Electric Red Drive were a Japanese three-piece based in London and with a good rock sound. Joan & The Shindig Addicts topped the bill, and although I didn't get to see much of their set, they sounded great, seemed to bring the house to its feet and had some strong poppy material.

Tour over, we all trooped off on the Tube to our respective hotels and bid our farewells to each other. As for where and when (if, even) Shelf Life will play together again, I have absolutely no idea.

It does remain an interesting experiment in keeping a band going from opposite sides of the world, albeit sporadically. Perhaps online collaborations over some new material will be the next move.

In time, I'll also put together a short doc on the tour and pop it up on YouTube. Given that this report has taken me three months to get the time to write up, it may take some time!

Brighton 8/10
London 6/10

Saturday, November 15, 2008

New President, new song

Now that the dust has settled a little on last week's incredible news from the US of the election of Barack Obama, I'll add my contribution while it's still fresh enough in people's minds.

The cartoon above, taken I think from The Washington Post, seemed to capture the historic nature of the moment - a convergence of the paths of Presidents past with the movement towards justice and equality for African-Americans. It's a shame though that both of the hands on his shoulders belong to leaders who were assassinated.

The outpouring of joy, relief and goodwill towards America was quite a moment to be part of, almost a Berlin Wall for the 21st Century. There now appears the very distinct possibility that the US will make a more constructive contribution towards the international community rather than the destructive one it has shown for the past eight years.

This is coupled with the potential for action on some of the very real and deep problems that the world is facing, such as the ending of the ongoing war in Iraq (which is strictly speaking an occupation rather than a war, and it remains to be seen to what extent Obama will pull out all troops) and the threats posed by climate change.

Of course, as with Enoch Powell's famous edict, Obama will fail in the end, as all leaders do. He may manage to implement programmes of economic revival, take decisive action on limiting carbon emissions from the biggest polluter and thus set a good example for other nations, and at least make it look like Iraq can finally turn a page from decades of horror stories, even make some sort of meaningful contribution towards a semblance of peace between the peoples of Israel and Palestine.

My prediction here is that Afghanistan will be his undoing. He appears determined to ramp up operations there and encourage others to do the same. The British failed there three times. The Soviet Union's occupation was their undoing. History tells us that Afghanistan is a country that will not be subjugated by foreign force.

Without wishing to rain on the parade though, it will make a remarkable difference to have a new American President with his ample intelligence, his cultural background and such a mandate for progressive change.

I confess that, like many others around the globe, I've been hooked up to news from the election all year. Now that it's over and I can unhook myself, it's like opening the curtains and having the bright sunshine of a new day streaming in through the window.

The ending of the race and Obama's victory inspired me to put together a new Control K song, marking the passing of the election cycle. Titled 'Change', the track is an overview of the key moments of the election and culminating in his victory address at Chicago's Grant Park. It's the fastest time I've managed in getting a tune together and putting it up on the Net, five days compared to the nine months that the last Control K track took me.

I also have a video in mind for it and have started a rough draft of it, but that's going to take a little longer to sort out as I do have a few other more pressing things going on in my life too. Hopefully, I'll be able to knock it together fairly swiftly though.

Check the song out at the Control K page or download it from here. Any comments or feedback are welcomed, even if you think that Obama's no better than any of the rest of the crooks that purport to be 'leaders'. Feel free to pass the song around too, if you like it.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sarah Palin gets caught out by 'Nicolas Sarkozy' (WN0013)

Unbelievable but also highly amusing, Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin has just been caught out by a Canadian radio prank call. Purporting to be Nicolas Sarkozy, Palin runs along with the whole thing before her advisers finally tell her to hang up, after she's been told that she's been pranked.

A 'heartbeat away from the presidency' indeed!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

We Are All Born Free (WN0012)

This delightful animated short film is produced by Amnesty International and funded by the Cooperative Bank. There is also an accompanying children's book.

It is designed to celebrate (and obviously raise further awareness of) the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The film is being shown in UK cinemas now.