Update for April 2013, New Toys

Hello everyone, this update has been a long time coming, and due to the pressures of work, has had a tortured entry into existence. Woo, my head is spinning…

So, I have just wrapped on the feature Play it Safe, directed by Chris Pahlow, and featuring the most elongated production schedule you will have ever seen, although it wasn’t all bad. That came back to back with my first overseas job in New Zealand, recording sound for the Toi Whakaari New Zealand School of Drama, where it was a pleasure to work with and for Ryan Alexander Lloyd the DP, Nathaniel Lees (one of the Directors), and Catherine Fitzgerald, our producer. What was not so much of a pleasure was the process of getting and using an ATA Carnet to get my equipment across. Boy, I tell you, if you thought Airports were bad, you haven’t seen anything yet. The customs officials (who, mostly knew what it was) were pretty good natured about processing Carnets, but the attendants at the check in counters usually reacted with either suspicion, bewilderment, and, oddly enough, a sense of being offended, when I pulled one of these out and asked about processing procedure (in fact, one lady was so taken aback she told me to visit the Customs office, which was actually after the check-in gate and refused to contact them ahead to see if she had any idea that what she was doing was completely nonsensical). And if you thought excess baggage was expensive, you haven’t seen anything yet. ATA Carnets, while a deposit, typically go for half of what you equipment value is worth. So… for me, after undervaluing it (just slightly) it still came out at about $4000 for 3 months of use.

On the upside, as this busy schedule comes to a close and I begin to focus more on my PhD, which, even at over 2 years away, is forever at “crunch time”, I did manage to snag myself a new field recorder (although Sound Devices staunchly maintains that this is more of a mixer than a field recorder), a Sound Devices 664, the new flagship of their location mixer range, and displacing the 552.

This replaces my aging, but faithful, and mostly kooky Fostex PD-606 as my primary device (although I will still need to pop it out for recordings requiring greater bit depth, and possibly cart work), and boy is it a stunner. Getting past the shock of a new interface, I have to commend Sound Devices for creating a recorder that is A.) Suitable for my meat cleaver hands B.) So intuitive that I was basically in full control after the first 3 takes of the day (although I did do my homework, and tested out workflow beforehand). One thing I did have to get use to though was the hardwired pre-fader sends to ISO tracks, taking out one of the gain steps (not really a true gain step as it’s still using the same process as the trim, it’s just significantly more refined) I usually use in mixing Post Fader, although that isn’t such a big issue I suppose. Fantastically, it perfectly fit into my Petrol Deca bag, which was typically too large for most of todays tiny dedicated field recorders (but I seriously dislike Porta Brace bags). One question I do have for anyone that might know, however, is, with Sound Devices recorders, is unity level typically 30% louder than typical talking RMS? I found myself pushing the trim a little more than I felt comfortable with in terms of remaining headroom.

Now onto updating my wireless! Although, I am still a tad concerned about the direction bandwidth allocation is going.

That’s it for now, Chum signing out!


Life of Pi… In response to Nick Schager of The Village Voice

This is a brief response to the review of the 2012 film Life of Pi written by Nick Schager of The Village Voice, which can be found here.

“Wow… and this is why the last person who should ever review a film is a film critic…

Cynical to the core. You have seen the embodiment of so many images that they have become simulacrum in themselves, and everything is nothing more than a cheap photocopy of some murky cliche in the bowels of your mind.

You seem to shun the bare beauty of the film and reduce them down to the either the derisive and/or most simple textual descriptions leaving out the sensory palate that is presented to the viewer.

The source material demands it, but I do agree to some degree that the narration can, at times, spoon-feed sentiment, but it is not without some restraint, and the visual narrative beautifully reinforces the brutality versus beauty counterpoint of solitary survival within the film.

What I gleaned from the film was not that it beat the importance of the films story into my skull, like a ham handed message film, possibly about war, possibly about Nazi’s, or possibly about human rights movements, might have. Instead it reflected upon the viewer the constraints they place upon their own imagination, invited them to wear their rose colored spectacles and escape into a world that impressed upon the viewer the continued value of storytelling as a mode of communication.

I do not write this to specifically criticize your review, only to offer an alternative for you and others the contemplate. Much like the situation with the Japanese bureaucrats within the film, it is a choice between the stark and brutal, or the beautifully improbable. In either case, the truth is unique to each individual.”

Redesign and relaunch

Well, it has been some time since I last posted on here. For quite a while I toyed with the idea of dropping my website, seeing as I was no longer actively engaged in film production, for which this website was predominantly for. But, alas, I have a hoarding problem… So, instead, I have redesigned the website to represent a more personal focus.

I hope you continue to enjoy viewing it, and I hope to have some more general posts coming in the near future!

Chum, signing out.

Hiatus from Film Production

Due to university commitments, I have decided to take an indefinite hiatus from film production, until such time I can commit the necessary time to make it worthwhile again. I will still be available for consultation and equipment hire.

Thanks to everyone who has helped me along the way, I hope all of the projects I have been involved with reach audiences far and wide.



Codecs, Compression and Loudness

Just quickly thought I would post this presentation by Thomas Lund of TC electronics who neatly describes the current situation of mis-managed loudness/peaking and the detrimental effects of codec data reduction (which begs the question, with the amount of bandwidth we now have available at our disposal, is it really necessary?). Well worth a watch, and it sheds a new light on the state of the music production industry. Thankfully, broadcast audio, which has typically been more rigorously handled in production has not suffered as much (although it is creeping in).

PressPausePlay and the changing landscape of art & media industries

Just tonight I read these two blog posts, which passionately put forward two opposing points of view about the current problematic situation of monetizing intellectual property (IP) and piracy of it, caused by rapid development of technological circumvention, and, in Demonbaby’s view, the stratifying business practices of major recording labels.

When Pigs Fly: The Death of Oink, the Birth of Dissent, and a Brief History of Record Industry Suicide.
Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered.

Both have valid points, and both go to great lengths to rationalize their position. These brought up the memory of a recent documentary I had the pleasure of viewing (now on Vimeo) called PressPausePlay, made by the same people who were behind the Academy nominated documentary Om Natten.

Tonight, I suppose, after going through all five stages of grieving my position within the changing landscape of the media industry, I came to the realization that all of the quibbles, the fights over the IP rights, exploitation of them that has been complicated by the ontological difficulties presented by the Internet, and the massive changes in the production and distribution of media, point toward one important trend.

In the last two decades, we, as a society of consumers turned creators, turned co-creators and re-creators (with the rise of social media and the easy proliferation of remix culture) of media products, have had and are continuing to experience a fundamental shift in the way we interact with culture.

Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter defined this process in 1942 as creative destruction. Most vividly experienced during the industrial revolution, it refers to the obsolescence of either means of production or whole industries due to technological advances.

Creative destruction has traditionally related to analogous advancement and subsequent obsolescence. The invention of one machine that was directly more efficient than its predecessor. Its function and parameters were limited (as well as its physical footprint). Generally, its operators would either reskill, drift into niche industry sectors emphasising nostalgia, or fall out of the industry altogether, however, there was generally a continuity as to the kind of skills involved, physical labour made more efficient by machinery was generally less physical labour etc.

However, the explosion in mediums has created an environment of information saturation and virtualization, and for the first time in history, has created a situation where the mysticism of monopolies in knowledge requiring specializations (i.e. think about real estate agents versus the now common, accessible and relatively easy to understand real estate and valuation web sites), no longer matters – whatever you need to know can be found in some form or another in books, television or interactive media. Combine that with virtualization (think DAW’s. These did not exist less than a decade ago) and the “end of history” efficiency in mechanized manufacturing, which has democratized knowledge and means of production, and we find ourselves in our contemporary position. A position of saturated creative markets that creates a noise that is impossible to rise out of, the acceptance of mediocrity with historical forgetfulness (which is no longer vetted by closely guarded covens/industries), and, a higher barrier to economic success, which leads to the devaluing and, hence, disincentivising the participation within these industries (typically associated with the manufacture of cultural capital).

How you view this is up to personal opinion. It is a time when you have open to you the possibilities to create whatever artistic artefact you wish, easily. It is a time when you have nigh unlimited methods to express your own individuality. But it is also a time where everyone is also doing the same, and success, which requires scarcity, is, itself, scarce.

So, the question is: while you can show the world who you are intimately, and like never before… Does anyone really care anymore? Or is everyone as self-obsessed as you are?

Sigh, Fairfax…

This will be a very quick post as I have so much on my mind, but I am pretty sure there is very little that needs to be said, apart from a few key points, that would illustrate what is wrong with news vendors in our contemporary late capitalist society.

On the 18th of June, Fairfax Media, publishers of one of the last broadsheet format newspapers in Australia (The Age – even with declining quality of journalism, it is still the most accurate and unbiased paper you can get in Melbourne), announced 1900 impending redundancies, the tabloidisation of The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, the closing of the Tullamarine printing press, and the monetisation of online content.

Here were the immediate consequences and results of this:

  • Fairfax shares rose from 60c before the announcement to just under 65c after it.
  • Fairfax will save over $200 million per year by 2015
  • Greg Hywood’s address contained this phrase verbatim, “…we believe that they are in the best interest of Fairfax, our shareholders, and ultimately the majority of our people. They are necessary to ensure Fairfax retains its position as a leading independent media company and a key voice in our markets”

All sounds hunky dory, right? Correct me if I am wrong, and it is probably a little late in the game to bring this up, but I thought that the primary goal of a healthy serious news broadcaster was to act, in some way, as society’s watchdog/man. In no published article was I able to find any discussion about the runaway dilution in the journalistic integrity of media vendors.

I would go into a long diatribe about the corruption of information etc. But, as I said earlier, this will be a short post and I am sure reading the above will already clue you in to what my thoughts are on the matter, as well as yours. Just one thing. How are you going to act in the best interests of your shareholders and your people, while still remaining independent, Fairfax media? 19.99% of your shares are owned by Gina Rinehardt. That is 0.01% of controlling share before she is required to make a takeover bid. No, not an editorial influence at all…

ADDITIONAL: News Limited also announced impending redundancies and the closure of nearly 75% of its regional operations today.

Mass Effect 3 and its Ending

So, tonight, after almost a month of play, and after completing all missions on Hardcore difficulty, I am now onto the final mission of Insanity difficulty. That, in itself, is probably not the biggest statement, however, this is coming from a guy who traded a burger for the first title in the series, and then subsequently broke his computer multiple times to try and complete it, he fell in love with it that much (I finally completed it when I simply didn’t turn my computer off or exit the game at any point during my play through), who pre-ordered the second title in the series as a Collector’s Edition months in advanced, and ended up buying a second copy anyway because I couldn’t get it fast enough. So, I suppose, tonight was the completion of a long and galactically fraught journey that started almost five years and hundreds of hours of play, ago. As the credits rolled, I felt a heavy weight in my heart, it’s kind of the weight you feel when you’ve heard about the loss of a friend. (Keep in mind, as you read this, if you haven’t finished the game I may accidentally roll in a spoiler or two).

And this is probably an appropriate time to talk about Mass Effect 3’s ending(s), and the furore that currently surrounds it (well… singular because they’re all basically the same). Hehe, smooth segue…

You would probably expect a gamer, like me, no less an amateur scholar of the medium, to immediately pan the lack of diversity in outcome, but, as a film-maker, I can also see the narrative and ethical depth of that single (modified for each of the three outcomes) ending, and I can respect the intention of the developer.

I think one of the most glaring issues that arises from this debacle, and, no, when I refer to the debacle I am not referring to the ending itself, rather the rancorous reception by the game’s playing community, and media coverage, alike, is how it detracts from the image of the “stereotypical gamer” (I know, problematic), how it further ingrains into society that, while we are, on average, chronologically at age 28, we are, mentally, all aged below 13.

Here is the thing. While cinema is not an interactive medium per se (although, some would disagree with you, what I am trying to get at, is that it does not use interactivity as a primary means of conveying a message, although how that message is received is a story for another time), it is an expression of art. And, in the expression of art, whether it be literary, filmic or fine, the audience is often made to confront the ideas they find most uneasy within them, with this tension creating that inexorable engagement (like watching car crashes). We view art in this way to further explore these dark corners of our mind, in the safe knowledge of being within an escapist parameter, and through this uncovering of deep seated inhibitions, new and radical ideas are allowed to flourish, our minds are able to expand, be reinvigorated and grow. Art is a safe path to enlightenment.

In that vein, I see Mass Effect 3 as Bioware’s attempt at enlightening the average gamer. But many gamers will cry, “But, ahhhh! What about my choice?! What about my wants?! What about the money I paid for this?! What about my notions of idyllic grandeur?! I want to have my cake and eat it too!!!” And here lies the other side of the coin (or our minds, should I say).

Subscribing to any kind of dogma, whether it be fundamentalist religion, radical secularism, extreme capitalism, naive socialism, or, in this case, selfish and elitist gaming conventions (and, yes, there are conventions, automatically dictated by the extreme reliance on quantitative scoring outcomes, the dichotomy of the gaming public, “play” and what is “fun”, and the incessant juvenility of the industry and the media that surrounds it)  automatically narrows the mind. The rules and messages portrayed as lifestyle conformation only serve to deprive the mind of independent thought, for a given situation, the dogma dictates a given response, there is no thought for consequence, there is no thought for improvement, and, most importantly, there is no thought for the situations and thoughts of others, nor yourself. The only way for a mind to be invigorated and active is to open it to abstract thought, and unstructured medias, the most accessible of which, is art.

Gamers may decry that games are not art, nor are they technical works – that they conform to no other medium. However, as said above, in subscribing to the dogma of being a “gamer” (problematic terminology, I realise), there is (probably, and this is an unfortunate blanket statement) the need to be unique after such unceasing scapegoating the video games industry and its proponents have endured within society since its inception over 50 years ago (depending on how you define video game. Modern video games are popularly viewed as having started with PONG (1972)). I see games as a medium of convergence though, as both at the cutting edge of technical brilliance, and, yes, the most fantastic expressions of art (you have to ask yourself, if they were not to be interpreted as texts conveying artistic expression, the most obvious question is, why the massive art departments on triple A games? (I agree, the answer is also as obvious)).

Returning to Mass Effect 3, viewing it as a brilliant and technical text of artistic expression, the latest zenith within the genre of recent epic narratives, I can see it as a fundamental critique of human society, of the inevitable cycles of war that occur with disparate class grading, and of the self-destructive nature of basing societal structures on the very worst aspects of the human psyche: perpetual and absolute destruction (refer the Krogan, actually, haha, just realised, the entire history of Krogans could be an analogy and future vision of our own), and the corrupting power of absolute control, neither of which are warranted, no matter the cause.

In the end, the right choice is unification, and the end of  disparities. It is only through finding common ground that we can all create an understanding of co-operation. However, as indicated by the furore surrounding this (nuanced, and provoking (only my opinion)) ending, human society is not ready, and too blind to accept this outcome as it does not present the best outcome for either party (game theory and a story for another day).

What a deliciously ironic truism.

Taegukgi – Humanism and Antihumanism

It probably doesn’t happen often in anyone’s lifetime, and, more so, perhaps, in my own cynical one, that a media text resolves in a way to reveals to you a pivotal shift in your world view.

I just finished watching Je-Kyu Kang’s Brotherhood (태극기 휘날리며, 2004), and I had one of those moments.

Firstly, it dawned on me that Korean films, and, by extension, contemporary Asian cinema, notwithstanding language barriers, and issues with Asian films made for Western audiences (叹息, misguided producers), are prolifically adding some of the most powerful and honest titles to the world’s filmic canon (another Korean film, in all of its populist chick-flick glory, that I adore is 써니 (Sunny) which came out last year (2011) to record breaking Korean audiences). And, these aren’t just niche arthouse experiments, these include box office exploding populist films. Oh why, oh why, is Australia an English speaking nation…

Secondly, as I get further sucked into the film’s narrative nexus, barring the occasional ham-handed moments and slightly overpowering John Williams-esque soundtrack, Brotherhood did something to my thought process that very few films manage to do to me these days. Film connoisseurs (or snubbery, depending on whichever point of view you decide to look at it), will often turn there noses up at films that don’t aim to force the mind into contemplation, either through complexity, pure profundity or just explorations into confronting material (a truly terrible film(s) that comes to mind that would fit the bill would be… All of the Step Up films), while a 13 year old high school kid (or just a human being with the mind of a 13 year old… yes many adults would fit into this category) would either be mindlessly bored, or repulsed by films that aren’t escapist, populist fare (films such as Schindler’s List, or a little more out there like Eraserhead / Anything Lars von Trier/Terrence Malick, or more recently, and closer to home, Snowtown). What Kang managed to do (in the case of my viewing) was not only create a populist sentimental sob-fest epic, but also a plot that would eventually lead to only one result somewhere mid-way through the film – that of provoking deep contemplation.

The Korean War is well known for being the war that many forgot, the main reason for this was the fact that, despite it being a civil war on a massive scale, it was as proxy war for the rival thought paradigms of the time of Capitalist Democratization and Communism/Socialism. Anyone who says that the Cold War was a war in which not a single shot was fired forgets the political maneuvering required to get other smaller nations to fire those weapons for the dominant nations of the time (USSR and the US). However, the brutality with which war is portrayed in Kang’s film, and the barbarism to which all involved are reduced to, made me realize that this was not a film about the clash between Western and Communist ideals (as is so often portrayed in American films (don’t forget, at this time, the US film industry was subtly creating propaganda to support the ideology of the time, with or without government intervention, think Stallone’s films). This has continued today, although the face of the enemy has changed from Russian to Middle Eastern Terrorist), this was a film about the tension between both Humanism and Anti-Humanism. Between ideological parameters that reduce people to conflict over arbitrary issues, and the universal concept of human dignity and family relationships (a prominent part of most Far Eastern societies, arising from an agrarian history).

In fact, to put it in to perspective, all of the conflict our world is experiencing today is motivated by a clash of ideologies. Kang’s film got me thinking, rather than assess an ideology as either right or wrong (in either case, there is the possible consequence of self-righteousness), shouldn’t we be assessing the concept of ideology as a whole? If paradigms inherently lead to conflict (for example, think about the track record for all Religions), then should these views be considered valid at all, especially when in comparison to the human condition.