When I was in Auckland last weekend I went for a walk around the waterfront & there was a massive cruise ship parked at the wharf, and by massive I mean the size of an entire inner city apartment block. The area was swarming with tourists and the people who facilitate their visit and I didn’t think too much about it… But the following day I read about a similar cruise ship, which irrespective of the recent & ongoing disaster is scheduled to park at a private beach, reasonably close to the centre of the Haiti epicentre. And there its passengers can have a BBQ, drink cocktails and frolic, protected from the inconvenient disaster victims by a large wire fence with armed guards… The mental image this scenario forms in my head is enough to make me feel sick, but it is too easy to sit back & judge. Am I actually doing any more to help than those tourists?

monome haiti

In response to the Haiti disaster the monome community banded together & created a compilation album featuring 27 artists – go have a listen here and buy a copy (for as much as you can afford to donate, minimum $1) – 100% of the proceeds go to the Médecins Sans Frontières. Quoting from MSF: “It is like working in a war situation,” said Rosa Crestani, MSF medical coordinator for Choscal Hospital. “We don’t have any more morphine to manage pain for our patients. We cannot accept that planes carrying lifesaving medical supplies and equipment continue to be turned away while our patients die. Priority must be given to medical supplies entering the country.”

…and not tourists…

haiti waveform


haiti aftershocks


New Tascam Multitrack Recorder

I’ve been chomping at the bit for a portable multitrack recorder, but the main issue has been one of cost. I am totally happy with my Sound Devices 722 2 track recorder – it has great mic preamps, is small & yet very well built…. If I had unlimited funds I would probably go buy the Sound Devices 788 but the cost is prohibitive – to spend us$6000 on anything really means that the device would need to be generating funds to justify its existence… And especially when you consider that this specific area of technology is still on a rapidly evolving trajectory, almost similarly to the digital SLR cameras that can shoot HD video – skip forward 2-5 years and practically all SLR cameras will be able to do it!

But amongst all the hype associated with the recent NAMM 2010 tradeshow was an announcement that intrigued me. While NAMM seems to be primarily about music gear, Tascam released three new portable recorders the top one of which, the DR680 is an 8 track recorder with six mic preamps built in, plus a SPDIF digital i/o. It records to SD cards 24 bit audio at up to 96kHz when in multitrack mode or 192kHz when in stereo mode. So far so good, and the price? US$995. Now that makes it affordable but it also then creates another issue – what compromises have been made to reach that price point? There are four XLR mic inputs while two are TRS 1/4″ but that feels more of a space/convenience decision… But the primary issue is going to be the quality of the mic preamps – my first portable recorder was a Tascam DAP-1 dat machine (remember tape?) and while it was functionally good, its mic preamps left a lot to be desired, especially when cranking gain to record quiet sound sources. And that is the most important feature of this new device to verify! So I’ll contact the local Tascam distributor and see if I can get my hands on a test model. They apparently aren’t available until March but I’ll pursue it as I am in the market for such a device, sooner or later…



Heres a SonicState video from NAMM showing the three recorders (& you might want to mute your audio until it actually starts to avoid the ads & those godawful power chords in the intro!)

Out of interest, Tascam do also make a “professional” 8 track portable recorder, the HS-P82 and interestingly BHPhoto list it as very close in price to the Sound Devices 788, so it would seem this is currently the price point for professional portable 8 track recorders… ie Tascam PH82 US$5,500 and Sound Devices 788 US$5,995

Visiting Lens Spirit

Len Lye Exhibition

One of my aims of 2010 is to have other people pay for my travel, and so last Friday I found myself in Auckland for 24 hours for an intensive mix of 60 seconds of audio (aka a commercial) and then some free time in a city I love.

And my ulterior motive for being in Auckland, apart from catching up with dear friends for a BBQ and a few drinks, was the knowledge of an exhibition of a few of Len Lyes works at the Gus Fisher Gallery which is now a part of Auckland University & is housed in a building which anyone with some local knowledge will instantly recognise as the old Shortland Street TVNZ studios, an iconic building I’ve visited many times before…

So we wandered in there after lunch on Saturday & after a look around discovered we had timed our visit to coincide with a lecture by experimental filmmaker & lecturer Miriam Harris, who was obviously very interested in relating Len Lyes work to the crossroads of poetry & motion graphics… And fascinating as it was (and I must seek out some of the brilliant examples/references she played) I kept thinking about the sculpture in the lobby… And how while this lecture was going on it would be deserted…. So I quietly got up & wandered off, to ask permission to shoot some photos of it… Usually if there is a no-photo policy it is writ large & I hadn’t seen any signs, so I meekly asked & was given permission…. And set about shooting the following….

While I didn’t have a sound recording kit on me, this particular sculpture was actually very quiet, but the light from the dome window overhead was totally exquisite…. And Auckland being Auckland, the light varied intensely over the five minutes it took me to rotate slowly around the sculpture, shooting as I moved…. So after stabilising the shots as much as I could be bothered in Photoshop, what you see is what I saw… And I sincerely hope the soundtrack I made is not offensive to Lens spirit….

If you live in Auckland, you have until Feb 13th to go and experience the exhibition for yourself and while it is a relatively small scale exhibition compared with what I have seen & heard at the Govett Brewster Gallery in New Plymouth, it is still a very beautiful experience that should not be missed.

Len Lye Exhibition

ps don’t you love that vimeo happily allows me to make & publish a video in such completely a non-standard aspect ratio! I don’t care how wide-screen your big TV is, its not going to do justice to that little film! Methink youtube is a variation on crappy mass media television, whereas vimeo is far more open minded & creative…