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ArcTanGent 2014 festival

I'll admit it: I wasn't sure I could tolerate 48 hours of nothing but post-rock. Lots of great stuff in that scene - but all at once? Wouldn't it wear a bit thin? Well no, ArcTanGent festival was chuffing fab. My top three awesome stickers are awarded to:

  • Bear Makes Ninja - wow like math-rock with great indie-rock vocals and harmonies, and some blinding drumming which isn't obvious in that video I linked but you should really see.

  • AK/DK - a twopiece, and both of them play synths and effects and vocals and drums, shifting roles as they go to make great electro stuff totally live. Fun and danceable as hell.

  • Cleft - another twopiece, drums and guitar, using a loopstation to fill it out and make mathy tuneful stuff. Oh and great crowd interaction - this might violate postrock ethics but I do like a band that talks to the crowd. This crowd was pretty dedicated, they were actually singing along with the zany time-signature riffs.

Unfortunately we missed Rumour Cubes while putting our tent up in the rain, so I'll never know if they would have earnt a top awesome sticker. But loads of other stuff was also great: Jamie Lenman (from heavy to tuneful, like early Nirvana), Sleep Beggar (heavy angry hip-hop and chuffing rocking), Luo (ensemble postrock with some delicious intricate drum breaks), Year Of No Light (dark slow heavy doomy, like a black hole), Alarmist (another dose of good ensemble postrock), and Human Pyramids (sort of like a school orchestra playing postrock compositions... in a good way).

Almost all of these things I've mentioned were non-headline acts, and most of them were amazed to be in a tent with so many people digging their shit, since they were used to being the niche odd-time-signature weirdos at normal festivals :)

By way of contrast, a couple of the big names I found a bit boring to be honest, but I'll spare you that since overall the weekend was great with so much great stuff. Mono was a nice headliner to end with, enveloping, orchestral and often low-key - we were actually not "at" the main stage but sitting on a bench 50m or so up the slope. Lots of people were doing as we did, letting the sound wash its way up the hill as we took in the night.

I didn't join in the silent disco in the middle of the night but it had a lovely effect, as hundreds of people with headphones sang along to some indie rock classics, and from afar you could hear nothing except their perfectly-timed amateur indie choir, it sounded great.

Sunday 31st August 2014 | music | Permalink / Comment

Jabberwocky, ATP, and London

Wow. The Jabberwocky festival, organised by the people who did many amazing All Tomorrow's Parties festivals, collapsed three days before it was due to happen, this weekend. The 405 has a great article about the whole sorry mess.

We've been to loads of ATPs and I was thinking about going to Jabberwocky. Really tempted by the great lineup and handily in London (where I live). But the venue? The Excel Centre? A convention-centre box? I couldn't picture it being fun. The promoters tried to insist that it was a great idea for a venue, but it seems I was probably like a lot of people thinking "nah". (Look at the reasons they give, crap reasons. No-one ever complained at ATP about the bar queues or the wifi coverage. The only thing I complained about was that the go-karting track was shut!) I've seen a lot of those bands before, too, it's classic ATP roster, so if the place isn't a place I want to go to then there's just not enough draw.

That 405 article mentions an early "leak" of plans that they were aiming to hold it in the Olympic Park. Now that would have been a place to hold it. Apparently the Olympic Park claimed ignorance, saying they never received a booking, but that sounds like PR-speak pinpointing that they were in initial discussions but didn't take it further. I would imagine that the Olympic Park demanded a much higher price than Excel since they have quite a lot of prestige and political muscle - or maybe it was just an issue of technical requirements or the like. But the Jabberwocky organisers clearly decided that they'd got the other things in place (lineup etc) so they'd press ahead with London in some other mega-venue, and hoped that the magic they once weaved on Pontins or Butlins would happen in the Excel.

This weekend there will be lots of great Jabberwocky fall-out gigs across London. That's totally weird. And I'm sorry I won't be in London to catch any of them! But it's very very weird because it's going to be about 75% of the festival, but converted from a monolithic one into one of those urban multi-venue festivals. The sickening thing about that is that even though the organisers clearly cocked some stuff up royally, I still feel terrible for them having to go bust and get no benefit from the neat little urban fallout festival they've accidentally organised. Now if ATP had decided to run it that way, I would very likely have signed up for it, and dragged my mates down to London!

Thursday 14th August 2014 | music | Permalink / Comment

Background reading on Israel and Palestine

I'm going to try and avoid ranting about Israel and Palestine because there's much more heat than light right now. But I want to recommend some background reading that seems useful, and it's historical/background stuff rather than partisan:

I also want to point to a more "one-sided" piece (in the sense that it criticises one "side" specifically - I've no idea about the author's actual motivations): Five Israeli Talking Points on Gaza - Debunked. I recommend it because it raises some interesting points about international law and the like, and we in the UK don't seem to hear these issues filled out on the radio.

Also this interview with Ex-Israeli Security Chief Diskin. Again I don't know Diskin's backstory - clearly he's opposed to the current Israeli Prime Minister (Netanyahu), but the interview has some detail.

As usual, please don't assume anyone is purely pro-Palestine or pro-Israel, and don't confuse criticism of Israel/Hamas with criticism of Judaism/Islam. The topic is hard to talk about (especially on the internet) without the conversation spiralling into extremes.

Thursday 31st July 2014 | politics | Permalink / Comment

Rapists know your limits

There's a poster produced by the UK government recently that says:

1 in 3 rape victims have been drinking. Know your limits.

I can imagine there are people in a design agency somewhere trying to think up stark messages to make the nation collectively put down its can of Tennents for at least a moment, and it's good to dissuade people from problem drinking. But this is probably the most blatant example I've ever seen of what people have been calling "victim blaming".

If your friend came to you and said they'd been raped, would you say "You shouldn't have been drinking"? I hope not. And not just because it'd be rude! But because even when someone is a bit tipsy, it's not their fault they were raped, it's the rapist's fault.

It sounds so pathetically obvious when you write it down like that. But clearly it still needs to be said, because there are people putting together posters that totally miss the point. They should also bear in mind that a lot of people like to have a drink on a night out, or on a night in. (More than half of women in the UK drink one or two times a week, according to the 2010 General Lifestyle Survey table 2.5c) So it's actually no surprise AT ALL that 1/3 of rape victims have been drinking. What proportion of rape victims have been smoking? Dancing? Texting?

(By the way there's currently a petition against the advert.)

On the other hand, maybe it's worth thinking about the other side of the coin. People who end up as convicted rapists - some of them after a fuzzy night out or whatever - how many of them have been drinking? Does that matter? Yes, it matters more, because rape is an act of commission, and it seems likely that in some proportion of rapes a person went beyond reasonable bounds as a result of their drinking.

So how about this for a poster slogan:

1 in 3 rapists have been drinking. Know your limits.

(I can't find an exact statistic to pin down the number precisely - here I found an ONS graph which tells us in around 40% of violent crimes, the offender appears to have been drinking. So for rape specifically I don't know, but 1 in 3 is probably not wide of the mark.)

So now here's a question: why didn't they end up with that as a slogan? Is it because they were specifically tasked with cutting down women's drinking for some reason, and just came up with a bad idea? Or is it because victim-blaming for rape just sits there at a low level in our culture, in the backs of our minds, in the way we frame these issues?

Wednesday 23rd July 2014 | feminism | Permalink / Comment

In mainland Britain, you are never more than 34 miles from a pub.

In mainland Britain, you are never more than 34 miles from a pub.

This and other geo-factoids available from my new web service. (I've named it "Feet From A Rat" in tribute to this hoary old urban legend.)

Sunday 8th June 2014 | openstreetmap | Permalink / Comment

I have been awarded a 5-year fellowship to research bird sounds

I've been awarded a 5-year research fellowship! It's funded by the EPSRC and gives me five years to research "structured machine listening for soundscapes with multiple birds". What does that mean? It means I'm going to be developing computerised processes to analyse large amounts of sound recordings - automatically detecting the bird sounds in there and how they vary, how they relate to each other, how the birds' behaviour relates to the sounds they make.

zebra finches

Why it matters:

What's the point of analysing bird sounds? Well...

One surprising fact about birdsong is that it has a lot in common with human language, even though it evolved separately. Many songbirds go through similar stages of vocal learning as we do, as they grow up. And each species is slightly different, which is useful for comparing and contrasting. So, biologists are keen to study songbird learning processes - not only to understand more about how human language evolved, but also to help understand more about social organisation in animal groups, and so on. I'm not a biologist but I'm going to be collaborating with some great people to help improve the automatic sound analysis in their toolkit - for example, by analysing much larger audio collections than they can possibly analyse by hand.

Bird population/migration monitoring is also important. UK farmland bird populations have declined by 50% since the 1970s, and woodland birds by 20% (source). We have great organisations such as the BTO and the RSPB, who organise professionals and amateurs to help monitor bird populations each year. If we can add improved automatic sound recognition to that, we can help add some more detail to this monitoring. For example, many birds are changing location year-on-year in response to climate change (source) - that's the kind of pattern you can detect better when you have more data and better analysis.

Sound is fascinating, and still surprisingly difficult to analyse. What is it that makes one sound similar to another sound? Why can't we search for sounds as easily as we can for words? There's still a lot that we haven't sorted out in our scientific and engineering understanding of audio. Shazam works well for music recordings, but don't be lulled into a false sense of security by that! There's still a long way to go in this research topic before computers can answer all of our questions about sounds.

What I am going to do:

I'll be developing automatic analysis techniques (signal processing and machine learning techniques), building on starting points such as my recent work on tracking multiple birds in an audio recording and on analysing frequency-modulation in bird sounds. I'll be based at Queen Mary University of London.

I'll also be collaborating with some experts in machine learning, in animal behaviour, in bioacoustics. One of the things on the schedule for this year is to record some zebra finches with the Clayton Lab. I've met the zebra finches already - they're jolly little things, and talkative too! :)


Tuesday 18th March 2014 | science | Permalink / Comment
Python scipy gotcha: scoreatpercentile (Friday 14th February 2014)
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