rfbooth.com :: blog archives

Moments in time, preserved to embarrass me later.

27-10-2003 (archived)

OK, I know some people like to have eating contests. We probably all did it in school, and of course in America and Japan they take it rather further. Still, a woman who can eat five percent of her own bodyweight in hamburgers (and, as far as I can tell, that's not counting the weight of the buns) in ten minutes is, well, surprising.

I like to think of this kind of link as my IRC dividend.

29-10-2003 (archived)

This week's film review is “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, which is Yet Another Comic Book Adaptation- but on this occasion, being adapted from an Alan Moore comic, it has a much better than usual chance of being interesting.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, the League is formed of many now-out-of-copyright Victorian heroes (or indeed villains), brought together to Do Battle with an Enemy; a satire of the whole superhero genre, and an idea that I for one find myself drawn to. The film is very, very silly, but has quite a good (while silly) script. It would have been something of a loss apart from Stuart Townsend's turn as a louche, sarcastic, stylish Dorian Gray; he was one of the few watchable things about Queen of the Damned (which must have come out before I started reviewing everything I saw, just), and here makes the movie. I think he's angling for a position as the poor man's Johnny Depp. I'd said that it would be worth sitting through even a poor film for the “What Are you?”, “I'm Complicated” line from the trailer; better yet, and line of the film, is when he says simply “Growl”. Context is all.

This is fun, funny, a treat for the eyes, and eminently missable. I'm glad I saw it all the same.

31-10-2003 (archived)

So last week some of my colleagues and I found ourselves (not in any karmic sense, you understand) in a variety of Village bars, having a little drinkie (in my case; I had only two all night), and in some cases several. There were events, which may amuse you.

The evening started well; in the first bar we were in, I was sitting with many others on a rather crowded, raised, dais. Scooting my chair back to let one of the others by proved to be an error; one of its legs left the plateau, and moments later the rest of the chair followed it, sending me across the room like a wounded bird from a catapult. I arose and bowed, gymnast-like, to my appreciative audience.

Later, in the same bar, we ate, and one of the others and I moved down to the floor area to get some elbow room. To a candle-lit table for two. As it happens, he's the spitting image of Ruud Van Nistelrooy. That oldest of tableaus, the professional footballer dining with the chesty blond...

Later an Irishman vomited on my boots.

1-11-2003 (archived)

It has been borne in on me that I forgot arguably the most entertaining part of the evening blogged about yesterday. There were a number of remarkably attractive young women among those assembled, and (shortly after I fell off my chair) I was cornered by three particularly stunning examples, who demanded that I rank them in order of physical preference.

No, really. Pity me.

Now, as you all know, I am a true parfait gentle knight, so, after much improvisational fumbling (verbal only. Stop that at once) I managed to avoid the question, circling it by means of much in the way of utterly honest complimenting while I planned an escape route. As I eventually said, it pretty much comes down to whose shirt is cut lowest on any given day anyway. We ain't nothing but mammals.

Today I bit my tongue so hard it bled for half an hour; apparently I can't even chew gum and think at the same time. This has been a public service announcement for those who may have thought that, eg, falling off my chair in a bar while still sober was in some way out of character.

3-11-2003 (archived)

On Friday James, Ian, their lovely wives and I went to see Jeff Scott Soto in Wigan again. Being Halloween, they decided to do something a little different, and came out in full Kiss makeup and suits. By the time I stopped laughing, they'd already finished a Kiss cover and were well into more music.

There's little to say that hasn't already been said by Ian; this was one of the best gigs I have ever seen in my life. Rather to my surprise, there was almost as much space for the crowd as last time, and even space to dance - I've not been danced this much at a gig (attending or playing) since I was a teenager. Hopefully some of that Soto frontman style will rub off on me.

As Ian mentioned, Gary Schutt was particularly hilarious (I especially liked him, stony-faced, doing the old “pulling off his thumb” trick while Jeff was trying to sing the introduction of a big, emotional ballad). Judging from some of the spoof tunes on his site, he often is pretty funny (I especially like the Yngwie one). The musicianship was utterly ridiculous, and this time Jeff played some bass, confirming my opinion that even the best frontman can only do so much, physically, while he's trying to play an instrument and sing.

When we saw them last time, I noticed that they were passing around a jug of a very milky-looking cocktail, which surprised me as neither milk (causing mucus) nor alcohol (dryness, tightness) are very good for the vocal cords. So, when I saw the road manager heading backstage with a bottle of milk, I asked him about it. Apparently it's a mixture of, if I understood correctly, ice, vodka, Dooley's toffee liqueur, and (mostly) skim milk. It seems the two effects sort of cancel each other out; coats the cords, but keeps them properly tight. I may have to try it, though probably not if I'm driving...

The sad thing is that songs, musicianship and sheer entertainment of this quality end up playing tiny little nowhere clubs. Hey ho, it's good to get close to your heroes.

5-11-2003 (archived)

I haven't posted anything about guitar playing for a while, so here's a (slightly edited) thing I wrote a little while ago on uk.music.guitar in response to a man who was rubbing his picking hand raw as he played. If you don't play guitar, you really don't want to read this. Trust me.

This post seems to have ended up being rather larger than I intended; I hope some of it's useful, to you or to others. I have spent a lot of time farting about with various RH approaches, and have many thoughts on the matter...

It sounds like you're gripping very close to the tip, or at least playing very close to the flesh (stating the obvious, I know)... in order to retain all of your skin, you'd have to grip further away, and the problem with that is that not only will it mess up your timing slightly for a few days while you adjust, it will permanently change your tone. You're bringing out harmonic overtones with every, or at least many, pickstrokes, effectively playing (very) understated pinch harmonics, and so you'll sound markedly different afterwards. You can probably partially compensate with amp settings etc, and bringing it in for the odd passage here and there is a very subtle and nice dynamic effect, but somebody as serious about tone as your GAS-quest and experimentation has shown you to be may just find that you can't cope with the difference, slight though it is.

That said, if you want to change, I think you can. I changed my grip in (one of) the same way(s) as you'd need to after about seven years of serious playing, which encompassed my obsessive many-hours-a-day practice phase [0], and a week or two at most of carefull, reflective work should see you over the hump. As to what grip to choose... I found I needed to go away from my use of very small picks (the tiny teardrops and small stubbies) and to conventional sized picks held so that between 1/3 and 1/2 of the bottom of the pick shows underneath my grip. This, assuming you play with the tip of the pick, will solve the problem, and pinched harmonics are still available through changing angle of attack or “squeezing” the pick up into a position much like the one I suspect you're currently holding it in.

The other possibility other than pick positioning is that you may be attacking the strings at a steeper angle than most, and so leading with the index finger; in that case, you probably just (for largeish values of just) need to either angle your hand differently or (probably) slightly change the mechanics of your wrist motion, so that your hand is moving more in the plane of the fretboard. This is actually easier than it sounds.

This (Tuck Andress article) is a remarkable, very comprehensive, article, but the approach he recommends, while very powerful, makes pinched harmonics so hard that I found it wasn't for me; I suspect most rock players would find the same thing.

As an inveterate fiddler with my mechanics, since deliberately changing my grip to avoid essentially the same problems you have, I have mainly used two grips and corresponding approaches:

(1) the “Steve Morse” approach. Place the thumb and forefinger in a circle, like the “OK” sign, with the pick between the tips, and then flatten them so it's held between the fingerprints. You may want to (Morse does, and I did when I used this) bring the second finger round for extra support and to stop the pick rotating. The pick remains perpendicular to the thumb. This is at first glance similar to but actually very different from the Benson approach Tuck outlines in the article; unlike there, the pick is still in much the usual position relative to the hand and wrist, though it is different. Pinch harmonics are easily achievable. The major advantage is that big string skips and intricate cross-picking things are easy, as is palm-muting (just think of Morse's playing; he plays very much to the strengths of this approach). The major drawbacks, as SM himself says, are that you can't pick as fast as with conventional picking, though it's probably fast enough, and that sweep picking and rakes are difficult. I also found it difficult to adjust to strumming in this style, as the wrist is likely to move too freely for my liking, and found myself using a different grip entirely when playing percussive acoustic chordal parts. Also, I found pick and fingers work very difficult. This is a major reason I eventually abandoned the experiment despite its advantages, and returned to:

(2) a fairly conventional technique, with the pick between the flat of the last joint of the thumb and the side of the top joint of the index finger. The IF is curled but not tightly; one could hold an M&M between the flat and the base of the finger, but not a plectrum (even one of my 2mm jobbies). I have found that I no longer need to anchor my other fingers, but I often like to have my little finger and sometimes my third on the body of the guitar; it really depends on my mood, and is now subconscious. The major drawback of this approach is that string skipping and crosspicking are harder than in the Morse approach (well, they're legendarily hard anyway, right?); I find that using elements of what Tuck calls “circle picking”, where the thumb and index finger actually move the pick, helps enormously with otherwise-difficult string crosses, and again this is all completely automatic now. Sweeping, pinched harmonics, etc are all relatively easy; this is, after all, the “standard”, “correct” technique (battles over anchoring the little finger continue to rage, of course). Raw speed for tremelo picking etc also should not be a problem. Pick and fingers stuff is also fairly approachable. It also makes it trivial to tuck the pick into the index finger (provided you aren't keeping an M&M in there) and retrieve it in between notes, so you can move between flatpicking and an index-fingerless fingerstyle at will; I find this extremely useful. This technique, with the pick placement I talked about earlier, is now my fixed approach, and I can't see myself moving away from it; I've tried most of the other methods at some length, and this one seems to me to give me the fewest limitations, and my index finger remains unscarred.

[0] During this period I actually had no problems, as I developed a large callus on the first knuckle of my RH index finger... once it had gone again, I had exactly the same sorts of problems that you have.

7-11-2003 (archived)

This will not contain spoilers, but if you're, say, Clive, you may want to look away now, for this week's film review is The Matrix Revolutions.

I've still only seen this once, and I'll probably see it again in the cinema - but unlike its predecessors, that really does mean “probably”, and not “definitely, repeatedly, devotedly”. There are a number of very good things about this film, but there aren't enough of those good things. Moments of greatness - the Trainman's encounter with Neo, the combat scene at the restaurant, Hugo Weaving producing the best Evil Madman Laugh of all time, Monica Bellucci's cleavage - do not last long enough or arrive often enough. There are other very enjoyable parts, too - notably Neo's vision of the world in lights, and the Defence of Zion - giant killer exoskeleton infantry, and seamless CGI on a scale that would have been impossible until very recently.

There's nothing bad about this movie, though some will feel the “ending” should fall into that category, but equally there's nothing great. The first Matrix movie is a true classic, a serious but deeply enjoyable film that was technically and visually innovative, bringing comic-book gothic from obscurity to the omnipresent fashion it now is, introducing bullet time, reinventing the martial arts movie; it's one of those rare films that leaves a mark. Films in related genres made after it simply look different to those that came before.

The second was not a classic, but had genuine greatness; both the Burly Battle and the car-chase were classic sequences, astounding and gripping, and it also had tremendously cool new characters: the Merovingian and Persephone, and especially the Ghost Twins. There's nothing like that here; even the great defence sequence could be taken from a less aesthetically incompetent Star Wars film. So, in the light of its siblings, this is a little underwhelming, but it could have been so very much worse. And, still, as an action movie with some brains, style, and an adult willingness to think, it is head and shoulders above those around it.

10-11-2003 (archived)

It's Livejournal day here on the rfblog. For your attention and your friends lists, gentlefolk, I present:

One of my oldest friends [0], and my regular movie buddy, is now journalling. And so the electric interweb widens.

I seem to have failed to mention mistersleepless, in which Warren Ellis posts original fiction. I shouldn't have.

In today's reading, Jamie Zawinski tells of shoebutter.

My accounts: I have a (thus far still unposted, but read-and comment-active) account as rickbooth, and there's an update-and-title feed from this place at rfbooth.


[0] In terms of years known, not years lived; she's still fresh and tender. That sounds more disturbing than I expected, actually. Excellent.

12-11-2003 (archived)

This week's film review is “In the Cut”, in which Meg Ryan fakes another orgasm, or indeed several. This time her character isn't faking.

This is probably the most sexual film I've ever seen in a cinema, though I wouldn't let that sway you into seeing it. Yes, it features Meg Ryan, in certainly the most serious part I've ever seen her play, and with extensive nudity, sex scenes, and not a little violence. Yes, there is a sequence in which we partially glimpse an erection during oral sex (“fellated”, by the way, is currently my favourite word as well as a perennially favoured condition). If you're after erotica, though, you should probably go for something less emotionally wrenching.

It certainly isn't an “erotic thriller” in the usual late-night channel 5 soft porn sense; it is both too effective, as a thriller, and too sexy, as well as far too real. It seems to have deeply irritated many of the broadsheet critics, which definitely feels like a bonus to me. The eye-line, point-of-view camerawork that is so tricksy and annoying in the first five minutes is either toned down or easily adjusted to, we weren't sure which, and my only major criticism would be that I was pretty sure who'd actually dunnit from almost the first time he came into shot (although apparently it wasn't obvious; I may have simply been lucky).

Deliberately and successfully arty, convincingly, genuinely sexual, and shot through with a remarkable, who-knew-she-had-it-in-her performance of tremendous, naturalistic depth from Ryan, this is one of the most interesting films I have seen in some time. Admittedly it's no future classic, but if you don't mind gratuitous visual cleverness and working for your evening's viewing it's one to see.

14-11-2003 (archived)

I shall be off to the National in a few short moments, for a weekend with friends, food, booze, and music. And guitar-borne noise, in large quantities.

Tomorrow night I shall be fronting the “guitar karaoke” as guest singist on several songs. I even know how some of them go. To the star guitarists on the others, I proffer my apologies in advance.