Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Forgotten Guitar Solos No. 98 - Carly Simon "You're So Vain" (1972)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48emaMVhnBU

2:02-2:30 - A very brittle but pleasing solo from guitarist Jimmy Ryan, momentarily lifting the song out of its pop groove and giving it a little bit of shine.

Ryan cut his teeth with '60s American pop group "The Critters" before recording and touring with Carly Simon. Finally worked as a studio session musician with such names as Cat Stevens, John Entwistle and Dean Friedman, although can still be found on Carly Simon albums in the mid-80s.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Forgotten Guitar Solos No. 231. The Isley Brothers - "Summer Breeze" (Album Version)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T88fbHOmvRk

If you thought this was just a soft-rock seventies summer anthem, then think again.

Ernie Isley's lead guitar has been simmering away from the start of the song, but at 4:04 he suddenly lets rip with a blistering solo that doesn't stop until the fade-out at 6:17.

Awesome!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 24 - Pet Shop Boys "Actually" (1987)

Pet Shop Boys' 3rd album (entitled "Pet Shop Boys, Actually" to be accurate) still sounds fresh after nearly 25 years and contains three of the 20th Century's best pop songs - "Rent", "Heart", and "What Have I Done to Deserve This" (featuring the sublime vocals of Dusty Springfield). Perfect electronic music, with Neil Tennant's voice functioning as another instrument.

Long walks home through darkened rain-washed streets, squealing car tyres in underground car parks; it's the perfect soundtrack to the lost world of mid-80's London. I mean, audacious lines like "I love you, you pay my rent." just say it all. This is penthouse apartment land, the sodium and neon-lit habitat of the metrosexual (years before the term was coined). What else can I say? I love this album.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 23 - Black Sabbath "Seventh Star" (1986)

Well after listening to Tony Iommi and Glenn Hughes on "The DEP Sessions", I thought I'd better go back and see what all the fuss was about. "Seventh Star" wasn't what I was expecting. For a start it doesn't sound much like Black Sabbath. A quick look into the album's history tells me why. It actually started life as a Tony Iommi solo project, and contains none of the original Sabbath lineup bar Iommi himself. Apparently the record label insisted it be released as "Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi" which probably lead everyone to expect something quite different. Like me.

I found it a bit of a bland album, having a lot in common with the formulaic American hard rock of the mid-80s, you know, Whitesnake, Guns n Roses, etc. You can kind of still hear Sabbath riffs buried somewhere deep down inside, but it's far too FM-friendly and faceless for me. Iommi's just going through the motions, Hughes doesn't really sound like he even wants to be there, and the rest of the band might as well be session musicians. IMO "The DEP Sessions" is much better than this.

No, not a Sabbath album at all.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 22 - Glenn Hughes & Tony Iommi "The DEP Sessions" (2004)

What a find! Back in 1996 Hughes and Iommi dropped into Birmingham's DEP studios to rekindle their working relationship from the Sabbath album "Seventh Star" (I really must listen to that). These tracks were recorded, but the sessions cut short when Iommi returned to a re-formed Black Sabbath. Fast forward to 2004 and the tracks are finally cleaned up and released on CD.

Now I've always found Tony Iommi's guitarwork to be a bit soulless. Not in a bad way, but if you're listening to Black Sabbath, you're not listening for the sweetness and the flowers. Iommi's music is cruel and cutting, riffs that slice into you like indifferent demons from the deepest bowels of hell. We're not talking warm comforting blues here.

But Glenn Hughes has exactly that kind of a blues voice, a bit like Paul Rodgers and a bit like David Coverdale. Consequently this album sounds like a weird crossover between Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, like and yet unlike Gillan's one-album stint with Sabbath. In fact it's kind of like the opposite side of the coin to that collaboration. Whereas "Born Again" submerged Gillan's vocals in the relentless Sabbath guitar machine, Hughes here holds his own and complements Iommi's guitar beautifully, adding the soul and the heart that Iommi lacks.

If "Born Again" was chalk and cheese, "The DEP Sessions" is ice cream and soda. I'll leave you to guess who's who.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 21 - F/i "Blanga" (2005)

"Blanga" is a little known term for the kind of extended slow heavy rock jamming typical of long-haired Space Rock bands. And by Space Rock I don't mean Muse or Spiritualized. I mean Space Rock in its original sense - Hawkwind circa 1972, Pink Floyd very occasionally circa 1967 (see "Intersteller Overdrive"), and more recently bands like Farflung and Litmus.

F/i are an American Space Rock band who've been around since about 1984. This album is their celebration of the genre they are most associated with. Every song on the album has the word "blanga" in the title (from "An Extremely Lovely Girl Dreams of Blanga" to "Grandfather Blanga and his Band Light it Up").

This music is crushing, doom-laden and extremely heavy. Drums pound relentlessly, guitars pick a riff and stick with it until the song fades out (most blanga fades out, giving the impression that the jam is continuing and we're the ones who have to leave). There are no verses, no chorus, no vocals, no bridge, no middle-eight. There is also no guitar solo, or if there is, it lasts the whole song. You can't dance to it, but you can head-bang...in slow motion. There may be keyboards, but there are definitely synths swirling and bleeping all the way through. All combining to give the impression that You're on a monstrous behemoth of a space ship tearing through the universe, engines at max, stars shooting by in a cascade of relativistic Doppler shifts. This is Space Rock.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 20 - Bubbledubble "Live at Glastonbury Assembly Rooms" (2004 )

Electronic, Ambient, Psychedelic, Reggae, Space-Rock, Dub. Kind of sums up Bubbledubble. There's three of them in the band, and you get lots of echo, spacey synth and guitar, heavy heavy Dub riddims, and harmonica...and somehow it all works.

Bubbledubble seem to originate from the Portsmouth area, and have a fairly limited set at present so if you've heard this album you've heard about 90% of their output. The Bubbledubble sound is somewhat overwhelming at first, as if they've turned everything up to 11, but you find yourself quickly starting to groove to it. Hippies, punks, rastas, clubbers, there's probably something for everyone in Bubbledubble. But don't take my word for it, look them up on Youtube.

If you want something slow and pulsating, try "Moonbase Dub" or "Melodicant". For something faster that you might just be able to dance to, try "Spooky" or "Dub Slider". Bubbledubble are probably a bit of an acquired taste, but whether you like or dislike them, you won't find them boring.

Probably good with a couple of spliffs too!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 19 - Eagles "Hell Freezes Over" (1994)

This is the Eagles' second live album, the title of which refers to a quote by Don Henley after the band broke up in 1980, commenting on when the band would play together again. Upon it's release in 1994 it went straight to No. 1 on the US Billboard album chart and stayed there for the next two weeks.

I really wanted to like this album. I'm not a great fan of the Eagles, but they were around in the 70s and 80s when I was growing up, and I was given "One of The Nights" for Christmas 1975 (I like almost every track). However I didn't hear much before that album and I kind of lost touch with them after "Hotel California" (which I frankly heard far too damn much of on the radio at the time!).

Unfortunately one of the styles of music I really dislike is Country & Western (the other is Gangster Rap), and this album is mostly C&W. The first four tracks are new studio recordings, and the first of these, "Get Over It" is a storming slice of West Coast Rock. Sadly from then on down we're into slow slide-guitar and whiny vocals territory. I lasted until track 8 and then I switched off. I'm sure it's a great album if you really like the Eagles, but it's one I won't be keeping on the player.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 18 - Gert Emmens "When Darkness Falls Upon The Earth" (2005)

Gert Emmens is a Dutch composer. If it was 1971 his music would be considered part of the "Berlin School of Electronic Music". In the 21st Century they just call it "New Age".

I like Gert Emmens. I discovered him about five years ago whilst browsing the Electronic/New Age newsgroups, and I've got six or seven of his albums now. Gert's music is typified by soft pulsating electronic rhythms and soaring keyboards, and tracks which are between 10 and 20 minutes long. It's difficult to describe music like this to someone who's not familiar with it, but think Tangerine Dream, or Vangelis (the "Blade Runner" soundtrack), or even Jean Michel Jarre. It's not as "poppy" as Jarre, as there are huge swathes of "ambient" sections (bits of music with no beat) and you can't really dance to it. However if you're willing to just sit back and relax for 50 minutes, the album will take you on a beautiful and majestic journey (to be honest you might even fall asleep to it!). However once you discover what the album is actually about, the music takes on a whole new meaning...

The clue is in the track titles:

RendezVous With 2004 MN4, When Darkness Falls Upon The Earth, Casting Shadows On The Cold Ground, The Morning After

2004 MN4 is the designation of a Near Earth Asteroid that has been tracked since discovery in 2004, and which currently (they revise it all the time) has a 1 in 250,000 chance of impacting the Earth in 2036. Current estimations of impact energy are 510 megatons. 50-60 times greater than the Tunguska Event and 3 times greater than the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa. The largest Hydrogen bomb ever exploded, the Tsar Bomba, was around 50 Megatons.

Now go and listen to the album after finding that out. Not so nice now is it!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 17 - Scorpions "In Trance" (1976)

Ok so Pete Malcolm may have introduced me to the concept of Heavy Metal, but I was already listening to it. I just hadn't realised yet.

This was the first Scorpions album I ever heard. I first saw it in Grays Record Library and was attracted by the futuristic "Scorpions" font on the cover. And of course the attractive blonde squatting over the white Stratocaster guitar, with one breast hanging out. I was 14. What do you expect?

When I got it home it was quite unlike anything I'd heard before. I'd been listening to Queen since about 1973, so I was familiar with guitar solos (this was round about the time of "Bohemian Rhapsody", when Queen still played Rock Music), but this was louder and faster than what I was used to. It was also sung by a man with a strong German accent.

I did like it, although it wasn't as Science-Fictiony as I'd thought it would be (from the font). It did have a track on it called "Robot Man" though, so that was OK.

I suspect I recorded it on cassette and kept it for a few years until I eventually bought the LP.

It's a very different album from "Lonesome Crow", primarily because there's only two members of the band who made that album left. This is very definitely proto-Metal, although at the time I had never heard of the term. In hindsight it's very much an album of two halves - a heavier, more Teutonic style of song, and a more melodic, slightly "poppier" style. The production is excellent, and it's very loud. Roth's guitar work screeches and wails a good 4 years ahead of it's time (although I find his vocals a bit tiresome), and Schenker's underrated guitar keeps the rhythm nice and tight.

There are actually two songwriting teams at work here as well. Klaus Meine/Rudolf Schenker, and Ulrich (aka Uli Jon) Roth. Roth has been the lead guitarist for this and the previous LP "Fly to the Rainbow", and a very Hendrix-influenced one he is too. At this stage in the Scorpions game, Roth was the main songwriter, while Klaus Meine and rhythm guitarist Rudolf Schenker contributed fewer songs to each album.

Both Meine and Roth sung their own compositions but at the time I first heard this LP I probably didn't notice that there were two different vocalists here. But I did notice that I liked some songs better than others.

Is the album any good? Yes it still is. Although it's not quite the definitive lineup, that's only a couple of years away. Two LPs later Ulrich Roth would leave, Mathias Jabs would join and Meine/Schenker would become the sole Scorpions songwriters, forging the unique "Scorpions" sound that would see them through the next three decades.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 16 - The Playn Jayn "Five Good Evils" (1985)

Back in the late '80s when I lived in Loughborough, I was lent a single by a guy called "Troll". Troll was a leading light in the Loughborough music scene, regularly hosting Psychedlic discos and all-nighters.

The single was a white label promo and Troll told me it was by a band called "The Playn Jayn" and to see what I thought. I thought it was alright. The two tracks were "Mezcal" and "Chamber Door" and they were a weird mix of rockabilly rhythms, jangly psychedelic guitars and yelping vocals. At the time I probably would have labelled it as "psycho-Goth".

Fast forward 20 years and I've still got those two tracks, digitised to mp3 from my original cassette recording of Troll's single. One day I start looking around the internet to see exactly who The Playn Jayn are. It turns out "were" is a better verb. The Playn Jayn formed in 1983 and split probably about 3 years later, after releasing a studio album (Five Good Evils), a live album (Friday the 13th) recorded at the Marquee in London, and a single (Juliette).

The LPs are as rare as hen's teeth (although the live album is a bit easier to get hold of), and you're looking at vinyl here as they were never (and probably never will be) released on CD.

I now have both on vinyl and what a shame that this is all there is! I guess if you wanted to label The Playn Jayn then "80's Neo Psychedelia" would fit. Part of the early-mid 80s Psychedelic Revivial, the nearest bands I can compare them to are those from the US "Paisley Underground" scene of the same time - Dream Syndicate, Long Ryders, Rain Parade. You can hear the same early 60s US Garage influence in their music, but The Playn Jayn played it faster and more up-tempo, bringing them a good live following. Unfortunately this didn't translate to record sales, and the band called it a day a few years later.

Listening to them now, it's easy to see that the Playn Jayn would have gone down a storm during "Britpop" in the early 90s. Sadly they were 5 years too early.

If you want to hear what The Playn Jayn sounded like, do a search on youtube for either "Playn Jayn Juliette" or "Playn Jayn I Love You Like I Love Myself"

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 15 - Peter Frampton "Live in Detroit" (1999)

You know when you go back to where you were 20 or 30 years ago, whether it's meeting an old friend or visiting an old haunt, it's never the same. The place has changed and it isn't how you remember it, or your friend has grown older, more cynical and (let's be honest) fatter?

Well this album isn't like that. This album is how it ought to be.

THE album of 1976 (and arguably one of the best live albums of all time) was Peter Frampton's double LP "Frampton Comes Alive!". Basically to a certain generation, it's legendary. Part of our musical DNA. As Wayne says in "Wayne's World 2" - 'Everybody in the world has Frampton Comes Alive. If you lived in the suburbs you were issued it. It came in the mail with samples of "Tide".'

So when Frampton releases another live album 23 years later, it can't fail to be compared to the 1976 magnum opus. It won't be as good. It just won't sound the same. Some things shouldn't be touched.

But it is the same! Frampton's vocals sound no different, his guitar is just as good (possibly better), and both the band and the audience are enjoying themselves immensely. OK there's some differences, but that's not a bad thing at all. It's not a complete note for note replay of "Alive", but then God you wouldn't want that. Some tracks have been dropped, and others added. Again, that's no bad thing. I'm sure we've all got our least favourites songs from "Alive"...and I'd be willing to bet they're much the same (didn't we all use to skip Side 2?).

Quite frankly it's like going to see a band 20 years later and finding they haven't lost it, they sound just as good as ever, and they sound just like you remember them. Which is basically what's happened here. The band isn't quite the same, but they sound the same, and when Frampton introduces them you realise why. "Bob Mayo on the keyboards!" The defining core of the "Alive" album was Frampton on guitar and vocals & Mayo on guitar, keyboard and vocals. Both accomplished musicians, both still just as good 23 years on, and the reason why this album sounds so good.

And yes he still does the talky guitar bit on "Show Me The Way" and "Do You Feel Like We Do".

Awesome album.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 14 - Sophie Ellis-Bextor "Make a Scene" (2011)

I like Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Partly because she's got an unusual elf-like face, but mainly because she sings in an English accent, rare these days when everyone sounds American. I know this is apparently because the American accent is the easiest accent to sing in, but it's quite refreshing to hear someone pronounce "Dance" as "Darnce", and "past" as "parst".

Her first album saw her introduced as a bit of a pop diva, but over the years she seems to have firmly slotted into the "Dance/Trance" niche, which is no bad thing if you like that genre. This album is no exception. Sophie's precise, slightly nasal vocals ride above a wave of neatly programmed pulsating trance rhythms and to be honest it's almost a little too Ministry of Sound for me. It meanders a bit more than her earlier stuff, but then this is always the case (and the point) with Trance. It's designed as an aural environment for you to immerse yourself in, and in a club it probably works very well. Unfortunately on the bus it has a more soporific effect. Consequently I enjoyed what I heard...I just can't remember hearing most of it as I was asleep.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 13 - Scorpions "Lonesome Crow"(1972)

Back in the late 70s, the esteemed Peter Malcolm introduced me to the musical genre of Heavy Metal. Back then what we called Heavy Metal is now called Heavy Rock, and Metal now means something far more extreme. However back in the late 1960s "Heavy Metal" was a term used to describe the band "Iron Butterfly", who I would classify as "Psychedelic". Things change.

Anyway. Scorpions. Generally thought of as a Heavy Metal band from about 1975 onwards, this was their very first album, and it really isn't Heavy Metal. Also, although one track from it (the ballad "In Search of the Peace of Mind") was still being played in 1978 (you can find it on the live album "Tokyo Tapes"), Scorpions appeared to have quietly shelved this abortive start to their Metal career by the time they reached true "Metal" popularity. In fan circles the album was treated as a departure for Scorpions and a kind of awkward addition to the discography. In fact during the late 70s I seem to recall it was only available on import, and only die-hard Scorpions fans ever had a copy.

Although of course it isn't a departure from anything. Far from it. Not only for the obvious reason that it's their first album (and they therefore don't have a recognisable style to depart from), but also because it is plainly part of the respected German music scene of the time. From the late 60s on into the 70s (and before Western music broke through the Iron Curtain and contaminated it) there was a fantastically innovative home-grown German music scene. In part a reaction to "shlager" pop music and in part influenced by German avant-garde electronic musicians (and a healthy dose of psychedelia), a uniquely German rock sound appeared, under the general epithet of "Krautrock".

Krautrock is difficult to define, but easy to spot. Guitars are very prominent, rhythms show tribal influences, and the sound is hypnotic, repetetive, almost monotonous. But somehow it sounds recognisably "German". "Lonesome Crow" is Krautrock. Just listen to the 13-minute long title track. Haunting teutonic guitar, storming psychedelic riffs, wailing tribal vocals. If you like bands like Amon Duul, or Can, you'll like this. In fact it shares influences with the German band "Virus", whose 1973 album "Remember" started off this whole 500 Albums thing.

By the second album, "Fly to the Rainbow", the Scorpions sound (although still undeniably German) is veering towards tighter, melodic, self-contained songs. It's safe to say that if you liked your Metal Heavy in the 70s you would probably find "Lonesome Crow" an uncomfortable listen. But conversely if you weren't a Heavy Metal fan you might be pleasantly surprised. We can be certain though that if Scorpions had continued in this musical style, they probably wouldn't still be around today. Very much an album of it's time, but a fine example of the genre nonetheless.

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 12 - Katy Perry "Teenage Dream" (2010)

I pick up on a lot of music by hearing a song out of context, generally googling a line of lyric and finding out who it's by. Last year I heard a piece of music I really liked while watching the TV series "Misfits". A lyric search brought up the song "Teenage Dream" by Katy Perry, someone I'd never heard of at the time.

My mate Pete is constantly amazed at the gaps in my current musical knowledge. But he's a Refrigeration Engineer who spends most of his time on the road, listening to Radio 1. I spend most of my time on buses (hence this blog entry), in work, or at home. I'm very rarely in the car, and when I am I don't listen to the radio. In fact I never listen to the radio, so I really don't pick up on recording artists until they have thoroughly saturated the mainstream. I think this is generally a good thing, because it means I have no preconceptions of what I "should" and "shouldn't" be listening to.

So I came at this album completely cold, so to speak, and I really like it. I love the "over-produced" feel of it, and the fact that it's unashamedly a "pop" album. I've got a great fondness for music from this kind of "dance" genre to be honest. I think it's the combination of relentless repetative rhythm and the sheer "wall of sound" feel that I like. I would go so far as to say that almost every song on here could be a single (and they're certainly all ripe for extended remixes). One track in particular - "Circle the Drain" - puts the lie to the idea that this album is full of vacuous and shallow songs. In fact now that I know who Katy Perry is, and who she's married to, the lyrics to "Circle the Drain" seem eerily autobiographical. I'm sure that's not the case though.

Anyway, it's a an album that's made to be played loud, either in the car or while cooking a meal, just so long as you can bang your head around and sing along. This is probably Amy's favourite album as well, so there you go, I share my taste in music with an 8-year old. This is also not an untypical choice of music for me, and would fit nicely on a shelf next to my Sophie Ellis Bextor, Charlotte Church and Lily Allen albums.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 11 - Creedance Clearwater Revival "Creedance Clearwater Revival" (1968)

In 1978 I bought a copy of the "New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock" book. For the next 10 years it became my bible of what rock music I liked, what I might like, and what I should avoid. I remember seeing the entry for Creedance Clearwater Revival, but never read it. For some inexplicable reason I got them mixed up with Fairport Convention and assumed they were a folk band. I didn't really like folk music so I gave them a wide birth.

Fast forward to 2010 and I'm round my parents' house in Kent. There's some very tasty R&B coming through the speakers. I ask them who it is, and of course it turns out to be Creedance. I've also now since found out that they recorded "Bad Moon Rising" (popularized by the film "An American Werewolf in London").

This, their first album, is so not what I expected. It comes from those couple of years surrounding the Woodstock Festival when American musicians suddenly discovered how much more interesting an instrument the guitar could be when you plug in a couple of effects pedals and muck about with the settings on your amp. Inidentally, Creedance played at Woodstock in '69 but unfortunately it was at 3am in the morning, so they didn't end up being recorded for either the album or the film.

The stereo separation is a bit distracting, especially with headphones on, and most noticeably on the track "Suzie Q" where the vocals come out of the right speaker and the guitar comes out of the left. But that's the only gripe I have with this album. Tight as a drum, but with that hypnotic quality typical of post-psychedelia, this is pure and simple good old American Rock n Roll.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 10 - Todd Rundgren's Utopia "Another Live/More Another Live" (1975)

I first saw the LP "Another Live" in the Grays Record Library about when it was first released. I was incredibly excited because I'd only just discovered Todd and his band Utopia. I'd been attracted by the psychedelic sci-fi design of the first Utopia album, and then captivated by the music. This then was the second Utopia LP I'd ever seen. I took it out, got it home and played it immediately, and it was fantastic. It was a live album (I love live albums) with a close-up grainy picture of Todd's sweaty head on the cover - presumably taken in the throes of some mean guitar solo!

Now years (decades!) later I have the CD, and it's still as good as I remember it. It has a very energetic quality, as if the band are really enjoying themselves, and the whole LP is incredibly upbeat. Also, for a live album it strikes a good balance between old and new material. There's 8 tracks on it, only 2 of which have ever been heard on a Todd album before. Of the rest, 4 are new compositions, and 2 are covers ("Do Ya" by The Move and a rocked-up version of "Something's Coming" from West Side Story). It's also the last time you get to hear the original "Utopia" band, as Todd split them up after this tour. "Utopia" reformed two years later, but as a slimmed-down 4-piece.

Which brings me to "More Another Live". Recorded on the same tour as "Another Live", this is actually a bootleg. It's kind of an alternative version of the official album, in that it shares some of the tracks, and the running order is roughly the same. However there are some differences that make it an essential buy for the discerning Todd fan. Recorded in London for Radio One's "In Concert", the quality is excellent. A lot more between-songs banter and the fact that it's one complete gig (whereas the official LP was culled from several performances) make it flow much better. It also contains live versions of songs from this era of Utopia that never appeared on official live albums (like "Freedom Fighters"), and preshadows the 1978 Todd live album "Back to the Bars", containing a lot of the songs that would become a staple of the man's live set for the next decade.

Oh and it's a nice surprise when you realise that the version of "Mister Triscuits" on "Another Live" actually starts halfway through the song, and the bootleg has the full version.

Two cracking 70s Prog/Rock n Roll albums!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 9 - Joe Gibbs & the Professionals "African Dub All-Mighty Chapters 3 & 4." (1978/79)

Joe Gibbs was one of the most influential and prolific producers to come out of the Jamaica Reggae scene in the 70s and 80s. Together with sound engineer Errol Thompson, Gibbs produced over 100 Number 1 hit reggae singles. During the late 60s popular Jamaican hit singles began to be modified with echo, remixing and overdubs, resulting in the "Reggae Dub" genre that we are familiar with today.

During the 70s full-length Dub albums began to appear, initially in small specialist pressing, but eventually hitting the UK rock charts. The UK New Wave "Punk" scene in particular took notice of Dub during the late 70s, with bands such as the Clash collaborating with artists like Lee Scratch Perry.

Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson's collaborations were initially released on four highly influential LPs - the "African Dub All-Mighty" series. Long deleted and sought-after on vinyl, these four albums can occasionally be found collected on CD (complete with original pops and clicks). I was lucky to pick all four up on a double-CD set a few years ago. Although now reaching mainstream popularity, Dub is still unusual enough as a genre not to sound dated. These albums are as weird and wonderful now as they ever were. Enjoy either on their own, or with a "smokey" accompaniment.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 8 - Gillan "The Japanese Album" (1978)

This is one I'd never heard of until recently. The first album by the band Gillan, after Ian Gillan disbanded The Ian Gillan Band (hopefully that sentence all made sense!), and I'd always thought that "Mr Universe" was the first Gillan LP, but nope it was this.

Only released in Japan, Australia and New Zealand at first, the album was available on import in the UK. When the band recorded "Mr Universe" the following year later some of the tracks from this album were re-recorded for that one. From the sound of this, they kept the best ones.

Originally entitled simply "Gillan", "The Japanese Album" is very much an LP of two halves. Some of the tracks are sub-metal pub-rock, whilst others still stand out decades later as rightful classics (I'm looking at you, "Fighting Man"). The whole album does suffer from songs being stretched out beyond their legitimate length by simply repeating the chorus 3 or 4 times over different instrumental solos, but then that's more a symptom of late 70's Metal than a specific fault of the band.

At the time, Gillan's style of music fitted in perfectly with the burgeoning New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, but now 30 years down the line you can kind of hear that he's still dragging a lot of old Deep Purple musical themes along with him. Maybe that's not a bad thing, if you like those themes, but in 2010 it does sound a bit dated.

However, I'm very familiar with Gillan's work from 1979 onwards, and it's nice to hear what to me is a "lost" album from just before they hit the big time.

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 7 - May Blitz "May Blitz" (1970)

May Blitz have a pretty recognisable sound, a feeling that I've heard them before. They're what was called "Heavy Rock" back when this, their first LP, was released, but their "retro" sound is also back in favour today.

5 or 6 years after this LP was release "Heavy" would mean "Deep Purple" or "Led Zeppelin", but back at the fag end of the 60s, it was a term used for bands like "Free", "Cream", "Iron Butterfly" and the "The Jimi Hendrix Experience"; and you can hear the echo of those bands in May Blitz's debut album.

You can also hear the precursor of the sound that "Black Sabbath" would take and eventually metamorphose into the 1970s "Heavy Metal" genre (in fact I'd put money on this album sharing many a 70s record collection with the LPs "Black Sabbath" and "Paranoid"). Sadly May Blitz never had the success of Sabbath (though I think they deserved it) and the group disbanded in 1971 after their second and final album.

The production is sharp, with the wonderful bleakness that only a three-piece band can give you, and the usual blues influence prevalent in so many bands from the 69/70 years is pleasingly absent. This is early 70s British Heavy Rock at its best.

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 6 - Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush "Strange Universe" (1975)

Now I always wanted to like Mahogany Rush. Their name sounded like "Rush" (another band I liked), and Frank Marino looked like my kind of guitar hero - long-haired and dynamic.

This is their third album, and it just doesn't do it for me. Frank's guitar is excellent. Very Hendrix. As is his singing. The album's kind of mid-70s Progressive Rock (or the American equivalent, Pomp Rock), almost spacey in places. But the sum is somehow less than the whole for me. The songs are well-played and well-sung, but they're also well dull.

Ah well, you can't like everything can you.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 5 - Peter Green "In The Skies" (1979)

I first heard this on the radio in the mid-80s and at the time had no idea who Peter Green was, but liked the album. I now know that Peter Green was the driving force behind early Fleetwood Mac, who left in 1970 after basically taking too many drugs, and that this was his first attempt to dip his toe in the water after 8 years as a virtual recluse.

It's not what you'd call a mind-blowing album, but it has a warm and quietly persuasive rhythm section that gets under your skin, and some tasty blues guitar work that wins you over. Snowy White's on this one as well, and Pete Bardens from Camel on keyboards.

Good album for a late winter's night in front of the fire with a bottle of fine wine and a spliff.

(See what I did there? Advising you to listen to someone's drug rehabilitation album while smoking marijuana?" How very Rock 'n' Roll)

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 4 - Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen " We've Got A Live One Here!" (1976)

I honestly didn't think I'd like this, but I've heard of Commander Cody and I thought I'd give them a go. The band name leads you to expect something a bit trippy and psychedelic, or maybe something along the lines of Country Joe & the Fish, but this is actually a pretty straightforward Country & Western/Southern Boogie/Bluegrass band, and a surprisingly listenable album at that - probably because it's live and everyone seems to be having a good time. The band is in good humour, tight and professional. It's like listening to a Blues Brothers Concert. Nice one.

Favourite track - "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)"

Dave's 500 Bus Albums. No 3 - Rare Bird "Rare Bird" (1969)

I've been meaning to have a listen to UK progressive rock band Rare Bird for years , and finally here's their debut album from 1969. What I would call "creepy keyboards". You know the kind of thing - The Nice, Emerson Lake and Palmer - that echoey Hammond sound that you associate with Keith Emerson, Jon Lord, and chase sequences through Swinging London in Hammer horror films set in the early 70s.

This is true "progressive" rock music, and isn't what we'd now label as "prog rock" (a far more melodic style of music). Rhythms and time signatures change at the drop of a hat, the soundscape is very stark and brittle, dominated by keyboards and bass, and at first listen you'd swear there was no guitar anywhere in the mix. Overall it has a doom-laden and cavernous sound, but you can definitely hear the influences of many of the later 70s bands in here. Bits of Black Sabbath sound like this, and a lot of Genesis. In fact the Genesis debut album wouldn't look out of place next to "Rare Bird" on the shelves of a 1971 University student's room. This is not to say that these bands were directly influenced by Rare Bird, but more that this album gives us a window into a style of music that was very prevelent at the time.

Is it a classic? Probably. Is it any good? I'm not sure. To my ears in 2011 it's a difficult listen and to be honest I think time has passed Rare Bird by.

Dave's 500 Bus Albums. No. 2 - Scorpions "Comeblack" (2011)

Formed in Hanover in 1965, Scorpions (note lack of "the") are coincidentally another German rock band who do not deserve the label "krautrock" (except perhaps their first LP "Lonesome Crow" which is a good example of what "krautrock" is often taken to mean). The decision to sing in English has directly resulted in their continuing success as a worldy-reknowned Heavy Metal act, and personally one of my favourite bands. They seemed to be everywhere in the Metal Years of the 1980s.

And now they're retiring. This is their final album, and an unusual choice. "Comeblack" consists half of re-recorded Scorpions classics ("Rock You Like a Hurricane", "Wind of Change", "Still Loving You" to name but three), and half of cover versions ("Tainted Love", "Children of the Revolution" etc). Is it any good? Well, yes. It's not a "Blackout" or a "Bat Out of Hell", but every track shows the band's musical proficiency, and the album is full of Scorpions trademark wall of sound riffing and bleeding-ear solos. Klaus Meine's voice is a bit more "cautious" than I remember, but the he is in his 50s and he's been screeching out vocals for the band since 1970.

Yeah, it's a good album, and I found myself wanting to sing along to more than one track. On the strength of one listen ("Tainted Love") the wife's asked for it to be put onto her USB pen drive for the car. What more can you say? Recommendation enough.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums. No. 1 - Virus "Remember" (1973)

An occasional series dedicated to the my 45-minute bus journey to work...which is just long enough for me to listen to two albums per day.


Apparently often labelled as "krautrock" (simply because they were German!), Virus were a band from Westphalia who produced just two LPs in 1971, and are a perfect example of that forgotten hard rock sound that flourished in between the Psychedelic swan-song of Woodstock and the birth of Glam circa 1973. A sound that I love. Think Ten Years After, Pink Fairies, even Grand Funk.

Released in 1973 (and re-released on CD in 2004), this final album is simply a live broadcast for Radio, recorded in Koln in April that year, which is probably why it's mono. The sound though is excellent. You can hear echoes of Jefferson Airplane in there, and a bit of Traffic, but the main thing that stands out is that this is a good old rock & roll band without a trace of self-indulgence. Where are they now? Who knows. They burned briefly and they didn't burn brightly, but they acquitted themselves well while they were here, and it's a shame they weren't around longer.

I will be interested to see if I can dig up the other two albums ("Revelation" and "Thoughts"). Meanwhile this album will be staying on the mp3 player for a while.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Faster Pussycat, Download Download!!

Well a week on..is it a week? Probably more. Anyway, things are faster all round now. I bit the bullet and bought five new 200AV HomePlugs - one of them a wireless extender - to replace my 85Mbs ones. They're marketed as 200Mbs, but that's not really the whole story. There is a Transmit and a Recieve rate, and they can be different. Also, it can depend on your wiring and where the plugs are in relation to each-other. The further away a pair of plugs are, the lower the data rate between them.

Luckily there is a utility you can run on each PC, and it will show the data rates on all plugs relative to the one you are connected to by ethernet. Looking at mine at the moment, I'm getting Transmit/Receive rates of 129/95, 72/117, and 102/60. All in Megabits per second.

Unfortunately there's no immediate way to identify which plug is which as it lists them by MAC address. The old 85Mbps system allowed you to change the name of each plug, so you could label them as "Router", "Xbox" etc. Obviously the data rate to the one with the router is the one that determines internet download speed. All of these seem higher than the 36Mbps my fibre now provides, but that's obviously not he whole story, as speed tests only show a maximum of about 21Mbs through the HomePlugs.

Incidentally this helps to identify the plug connected to the router, as while a speed test is running, you can see the data rate fluctuating on one of the devices.

Although that's only 21Mbs, it's still 10x what I was used to on ADSL, so I shouldn't complain. I'm just intrigued is all.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Fibre Broadband - the first week

OK, it's been about 7 days now, and how's the Fibre broadband been? Well, I'm above the 9Mbps threshold...providing I connect direct to the router! Yes, my Homeplugs are a bottleneck. If I plug a laptop directly into the router I can get about 32Mbps download, which is about full speed. Speed tests on PC connected via Homeplugs only max out at 11Mbps.

Needless to say I have ordered some replacement Homeplugs - the 200Mbps variety. Other than that, it's so fast, and yet so smooth. The ability to get content that used to take hours, in only a few minutes, is phenomenal.

The increase in Allowance is amazing too. I was restricted to 13GB per month during Peak hours. Admittedly Peak was between 4pm and Midnight, but still we didn't do much more than 120GB of usage per month, and about 40GB of that was overnight anyway.

Now Peak is between 8am and Midnight, but the Allowance is now 120GB. Which equates to just under 4GB a day. We're currently doing between 1.5 and 2 per day so far.

All in all a resounding success. Now all I need is to find a buyer for the old router and the slower Homeplugs....

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Fibre Broadband - The 3rd Day

Well it's quick, I'll say that for it! 9Mb/s according to www.mybroadbandspeed.co.uk (that's 9 Mega bits per second). Which equates to about 1.1MB/s (that's 1.1 Mega bytes per second).

Which is a bit slow for fibre. According to the BT engineer (and Plusnet) I should be getting 32 Mb/s...around 4 MB/s.

I'm not complaining exactly. After all, it's a pretty good speed hike so far - almost 4 times faster than my old 2Mb ADSL. But I'd like to know if it's going to increase, and if so, when. Or if not, why not.

The new allowance looks good - 120GB a month as opposed to 13. Obviously for the new generation of streaming web apps. Well, I won't be doing much streaming at 1MB/s, will I?

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Fibre Day - the Day After

Well I had intended to add to to yesterday's post...but I've had no internet.

Engineer turned up about 11am, with instructions to just fit the fibre modem and activate the line. No setting up of equipment. Which was fine, since I had no equipment. The router I'd ordered from Plusnet hadn't arrived. The engineer fitted the modem, activated the line and tested it. All green from the Exchange end. Except I had no router. My ADSL was now Fibre, and hence my old Modem/Router was now unusable.

The engineer said he did have a Plusnet router in the van, for testing purposes. If Plusnet authorised it, he could give me that. We rang Plusnet. They okayed it with the engineer and also apologised for the fact that they had been having stock problems, and the router was only being posted today. Unfortunately the standard lead time is 3-5 working days! In consolation they knocked a week off my next bill.

The engineer got the modem out...only to find out it was a standard Thompson ADSL router. So as much use as my old Netgear. So there we were. No broadband for 3-5 days. OK, I could cope, but the kids were devastated. A 13 year old with an Xbox who can''t connect to XBoxLive? Disaster!

Anyway, just had a phone call from the wife. The router has arrived by Courier. Hooray!! So I'll see how easy it is to set up this evening...

Oh and by the way, the problems I experienced yesterday? Yes, it was the Switch. It has finally broken and was dragging the whole network down to 10Mb/s. I've bought a new one.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Fibre Day #1

It's the day of the big changeover. The engineer is booked in for today. So far nothing has happened.

Actually that's not true. Something odd's going on, and I don't know if it's related to the change from ADSL to fibre or not. Amy complained almost immediately this morning that the internet wasn't working. I checked, and sure enough it wasn't. Did the usual "switch everything off and on again" and it came back. However something's up with our PCs' network cards. Yes PC plural. We have 4 that are on most of the time. Two Windows XP and a couple of Linux boxes (Freenas and Mandriva). All were reporting they were connected to a 10Mbs network instead of the usual 100.

Unless my switch has decided to go wrong, this seems to be from the router. I can only surmise it's to do with the fact that we're switching over today. We had an email from Plusnet saying "your product change is now complete", and a look at their site confirms I am now on Fibre broadband (even though I'm not yet). I'll wait and see what happens when the engineer comes.

Friday, 14 October 2011

FTTC available in my area!

Ok, just did a BT line check today and found that Fibre Broadband has been enabled at my exchange. I can get up to 36Mbs FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet). I check Plusnet's site (my current ISP) and sure enough the upgrade to Fibre is now available on the "Change Product" section.

I've looked into this procedure a lot, and there don't appear to be any terrible pitfalls. There is the fact that my current modem/router is a long way away from my PCs, so I have to use HomePlugs to bridge the gap through the electrical mains. This could cause a bottleneck if it is less than the speed to the internet. I check, and most of my Homeplugs are running at 50-60Mbs. So they're faster than the internet. Good.

The connection to Andrew's room is slightly slower (30Mbs) but he only plays his Xbox and we're currently getting 2Mbs on ADSL so he'll notice the speed jump.

I drop into the Plusnet forum and ask whether I can keep my current static IP. The answer is yes. Fibre is go!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Out There? Nope, they're Here!

Andrew and I once wrote a short piece of experimental fiction using simple principles to build an alien ecosystem. This evening I idly wondered whether I could create an example of non-terrestrial intelligent life.

The trouble with doing this sort of thing (as authors and film/TV writers have discovered) is that you just end up with something based on life on Earth. The aliens always act just like humans, with the same selfish drives and attitudes. I didn't want to do that, so I started wondering about going back to first principles.


OK. So what things are there that intelligent life on Earth (for "intelligent" read anything from cats up to humans) tends to do that define it's intelligence and make it successful? I started jotting down some ideas:

Anticipate what's round the corner (both metaphysical and physical)

Bond/Fight with others. Basically make alliances and relationships

Differentiate between things

Assign Territory

Hunt Food

Estimate & Generalise

I quickly realised that most of these are actually caused by the same drive.

Anticipating is a part of Internal Modelling, in which the organism imagines itself in alternate situations and observes the results.

Hunting Food mainly involves skills learned from Anticipation. So see above.

Ditto for Estimating & Generalising.

Assigning Territory and working out relationships? Hmmm...they're part of Anticipation as well.

What about Differentiation? No, that's not the same. That's merely figuring out how one thing is different from another. It doesn't involve any subjectivism.

Aha! Subjectivism! Most of the traits we ascribe to intelligent life are selfish ones, that the organism uses to further its own existence. A kind of Selfish Individual strategy. Hold that thought. I decided to look at Modelling.

Modelling has been postulated to be the basis for Self-Awareness, and hence the basis for Mind. I know that humans are self-aware, as are the greater primates, and even cats and dogs appear to demonstrate this, mainly by dreaming and displaying forms of simple and selfish emotional states.

So to imagine non-terrestrial intelligent life, I might have to imagine life without Modelling. But since Modelling is primarily used for selfish ends, would this mean Non-Selfish life? What would non-selfish life be like? Well, I guess it would be life without an instinct for self-preservation. But would that work?

At first glance Self-Preservation appears to be a strategy that prioritises the organism over the species. but since practically every higher organism on this planet exhibits self-preservation - and most extant species are obviously successful - therefore a selfish strategy is a successful strategy.

A Selfish-Individual strategy. Successful because it works. Regardless of the fact that every individual is out to protect it's own skin, the species as a whole thrives.

So what did I have then? Intelligent (or sentient) life on Earth can be defined by a strategy of selfishness and individuality, the tool for this strategy is Internal Modelling, and the by-product is Mind.

So a good starting point for imagining Intelligent Alien Life might be to turn Selfishness and Individuality on its head and postulate a non-selfish individual that prioritises the survival of the species above it's own survival. Remove Internal Modelling and you effectively have an individual without a Mind. Could such a thing work?

Then I realised it already does, and we've got it here. Social Insects. Creatures that will attack something that attacks them, but solely for the defence of the species. Ants swarm over powerful attackers, losing individuals every second, but relying on sheer weight of numbers to win the battle. Bees die after using their stings.

So this proves that a Selfless Non-Individual strategy does work and works very well. But could it evolve intelligence? Yes it could, and does, although not within an individual. Instead the sum total of the Intelligence is made up from the behaviour of each individual. The larger the colony, the more potential for higher collective intelligence, and thus the familiar Sci-Fi concept of the Alien Hive Mind.

So I guess my attempt to postulate Alien Intelligence is already at an end. All I had to do was go outside and disturb an ant's nest.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Interview With A Green Girl

No, I don't eat as much as I used to. Especially when the sun's out, then I just don't feel like eating at all. It's a problem when it's really bright though, because then I have to wash a lot. It kind of comes out on my skin. Mainly skin that's not covered, but it really ruins my clothes. I've been told that it's glucose syrup. I mean, it's okay, but you can't spend all summer licking your arms, can you? If I get too much sun then it really comes out on my face, though it tends to get sort of dissolved in sweat. I have to wash my hair every day which is tiresome, but I really love sunbathing now, because it makes me feel good, sort of really alive, you know? A bit gooey, but good. I don't tan now, which is a shame, but I don't have to worry about burning. Now I just go green.

You know, since it happened, I've noticed that I breathe less too. At least during the day. At night? Well, I don't know because I'm asleep. Ha ha. My Mum says my breathing’s more normal at night...more like before, I mean. They say I'm recycling my oxygen and carbon dioxide internally, in my bloodstream, in the capillaries near my skin I think.

I'm back home now with my parents. It was good to be let out of the hospital. I mean, it wasn't as if I was ill or anything...well, they didn't know what it was really, and being in hospital was really scary. I really thought I was going to die, with all the people in like space suits around me. Like I had some kind of deadly disease. My Mum’s been really good about the whole thing, though it's been a bit of a strain for my Dad, what with the papers and the TV people outside all the while. My sister left home to live with her boyfriend though, I don't think she could cope with me around.

Things I like? Well we go to the seaside lots now, because I really enjoy swimming and they reckon it's good for me now. They said that my skin absorbs lots of food and stuff from the water. [Editor’s note - Absorption of ambient nutrients by biotic epidermal layer?] Something like that, anyway. I feel real good after a swim. And I can stay under for ages without breathing too. Scary? Not really, though it was at first. It's just that you don't feel like you need to breathe...so you don't.

Yes sometimes I do worry I guess. I think about, like what if I change into some kind of plant-thing for good! They told me that it's stable and that they don’t think it’s going to spread any further. [Editor’s note - Photosynthetic viral layer has established base equilibrium with human epidermis]

 
Do I like being different? Well, like anything, I guess there's good stuff and bad stuff, but whatever, I can’t do anything about it. I suppose I'm stuck with it for the rest of my life. What?...oh, yes, I know they've been saying that, but I don't know how long I'm going to live. I don't like to think about it, because it might be a very long time.

Can I infect anyone else? Well, you must know the answer to that, else you wouldn't be sitting here would you? Ha ha. They say they're pretty certain I can't pass it on, because the virus got changed when it infected me. It's a sym...sym something now. Symbiotic, yes, that's it. But then they don't really know, do they? I mean I suppose there's nothing wrong with being this way. It's not painful, and I feel better than I ever did before. It's not as if I'm locked up like some kind of laboratory animal. I only have to go to the Clinic once a week now, for them to check stuff.

I didn't have a choice though, that’s what I don't like. It just happened. And I wouldn't want someone else to get it the same way as I did. And it was very frightening at first, after I came out of the coma, and it was sort of...doing things to my body. But I do wish I wasn't the only one, that there was more like me. Just one other person, someone I could talk to. I mean, I know I'm talking to you, but you don't really understand it do you?

I have to get away sometimes. I go to the sea, which is only a mile from where we live, or up into the woods. Somewhere there's not many people. I can't go in the daytime though, I just get followed by everyone. I sort of sneak out, really early in the morning. Mum doesn't like it. She thinks I'll get kidnapped or something! Or catch a cold! She doesn't seem to realise that I don't feel the cold like I used to. I like to be there in the woods just before the sun comes up, and then I can stay all day and come home at night. I suppose I've got something in common with the trees now!

Do I have a boyfriend? Looking like this? What do you think? I wish I did. But, well, I'm seen as a sort of freak-thing aren't I? "The Green Girl", "The Plant Girl", that's what they call me, isn't it? My Mum tried covering my skin up with makeup once, so I looked more like flesh, but it just made me feel really sick so I had to wash it off. Somebody shouted "Greenie" at me when I was leaving the Clinic the other day. It hurt, because it was like being called "wog" or “Paki” or something. Why are people like that? Sometimes I tell myself it's because they're jealous. Because I can do things they can't, like live underwater, and go for ages without eating, and because I don’t get hurt so easily anymore, or because I’ll stay young for longer. But I'm still a person. I've got the same memories. I do the same things I used to. Live the same way...sort of. I'm still me.

No...it’s okay...I’m alright. I just start crying like that sometimes. I get a bit upset because, well, I guess that deep down, I do feel really alone. I'm not a freak or a monster, or an alien, but that’s how people see me. But I am still human aren't I? I mean, what do you think? You're the one sitting there asking me all the questions. How about if I ask you one? Am I still human? [Editor’s note - debatable; subject was infected by symbiotic virus, forming integral chloroplasts in the upper skin layer. Subject could be classified as hybrid being]. I mean, all these notes on your question sheet there. Did you write those, or did you get that from the doctors? You people, you make me sound like some...some kind of experiment gone wrong! That's it, isn't it? An experiment didn’t work properly, and I ended up like this. I got infected by something somebody grew in a laboratory, and what was it? It was a virus somebody made - a weed-killer virus, to get rid of ivy on walls! And they tested it up in the woods and didn't tell anyone. And now look at me! I'm eighteen years old, and I'm not even human anymore! You tell me. What am I now?

I'm scared, that's what I am. I’m lonely and I'm scared and I wish it hadn’t happened to me, and I want to go home. I’m sorry...I don't want to talk to you anymore. Please get my Mum. I want to go home now.

Monday, 24 January 2011

OK, so if you really take Quantum Theory to its extreme, there should be a multitude of universes where the laws of physics are different to ours. But since the laws of physics conform strictly to mathematical rules, this means that at least one of these universes would have different mathematical laws to us.

But how can the laws of mathematics be different? For example, surely 2+2=4 everywhere? How can we conceive of a universe where 2+2 didn’t equal 4 but equalled, for example, 5?

Well we could. Look at that equation above. 2+2=5. How can we prove that isn’t correct? OK, well don’t we look at the sum of the whole and compare it with the result? In other words, we count how many there are before, then how many there are after. But we have based those sums on what we observe. We could see that when 2 and 2 were brought together, the result was 4. So we created a rule to predict the result, to confirm the result, but not to ultimately know why that was the result.

If we lived in a world where 2+2 did equal 5, how would we know the reason why this was happening? We would add together two 2’s, count the result, and the answer would be 5. The only way you can determine changes like this in amounts, is by comparing before and after. Even describing an addition of this kind as units moving over one at a time, so we can see the increase in numbers, doesn’t work. We can’t see a flaw, because a) we have to use the same mathematical laws to count, and the result is always the same and b) why would there be a flaw? The maths works.

You see that’s the point of the laws of mathematics being different. They still work. Adding 2 and 2 always produces 5, but nothing goes wrong as the computations get bigger and wider, because everything works. You put 200 and 200 together, you add up the result, and it’s 500. But if you add 100 and 100 together, you get 250. It all works. It looks completely illogical from “our” side, but to “them”, our mathematics would look incomprehensible. To them, 2+2=4 would seem absurd, impossible, because in their universe it doesn’t work...because their laws of maths are different.

Of course, what’s to say that our universe of 2+2=4 is the “correct” one? Of course it isn’t. Quantum physics in our universe conforms to this equation, and Quantum physics is surely the same through all of creation, regardless of what “universe”? Well no, because any change in the laws of mathematics will directly affect Quantum physics, and make it slightly different. So our Quantum physics only applies to (and therefore describes...or is it the other way round?) our universe. Our physics cannot therefore predict what will happen in a universe with different mathematical laws.

Let’s take an extreme example.

A different universe exists where a particle took a quantum decision, say 60% probable. In our universe our Quantum Physics says this particle would be only 48% likely to take the same decision. That’s because that different universe says that 2+2=5. It is determined by, proven by, and conforms to the actual result observed each time.

Therefore there are an infinite number of these universes according to our Quantum physics. But in the 2+2=5 universe, their Quantum Physics gives a different answer, one that our Quantum physics can’t even understand. Their answer may that there are a different infinite number of universes...but unfortunately that number does not include us.

However our Quantum Physics will tell us that their universe can’t exist, because it doesn’t conform to our laws. Since there is no overall multi-universe yardstick for determining which law of mathematics is “correct”, therefore none of them are any more or less correct than any other. Because each universe can only use it’s own laws to investigate anything, and because the 2+2=5 universe can’t be described by our maths, how could we ever observe it, or even determine where it is and how to get to it?

To find their universe we would have to live in a universe where their laws already applied. In which case we would already be living in that universe, so we couldn’t find it or observe it elsewhere. Because how would we determine if another universe we could see that was identical...actually was another universe, and not our own? We couldn’t, since only by it being different could we determine it was not us, but if it was not identical then we couldn’t observe it anyway.

Oh I know what you’re thinking. Surely we could observe universes where things were slightly different, but the physical and mathematical laws were identical to our own? Yes, but those are changes in the world through the mathematics of our Quantum Physics, and since our Quantum Physics is the same as theirs, what happens is from the same set of laws. So they live in a universe where an electron went that way, and we live where it went this way? No I don’t mean that. I mean that another universe can’t have different mathematical laws than we have, and be observable by us. Our physical and mathematical laws predict that kind of universe can’t exist. But their universe’s physical and mathematical laws might predict that they can exist, and that our universe can’t!

So is there no way we can ever reach, or communicate with, these universes? No. We could reach a universe where President Kennedy was never assassinated, or the Gulf War never happened, or even where the US never landed on the moon...because although certain events would be different, they conform to the same physical laws as in our universe.

But the others? We can never get to them, for in order to exist, they have to be completely unreachable by us, because the laws of our universe will not provide us with a way to reach them.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The Theory

A long long time ago, humans evolved the ability to form generalisations from small amounts of information. This probably started as a survival trait – tube-like thing that hisses equals “snake”, avoid it! The individuals that were most successful at avoiding hissing things in the grass stayed alive the longest, and now the world is populated with their descendents.

As time went on, this trait has become better and better defined, slowly but surely evolving into the ability to deduce meaningful patterns in the world around us, from very little raw information. I believe that this is the single-most defining facet of our intelligence.

Why? Because from this ability stems almost everything that makes humans human. For example, we see shapes in the clouds. In fact it’s almost impossible for us not to. Show us a curly line, we either see the letter S, or the number 2, or maybe even a swan.

However, just to have evolved this ability isn't the whole story. The animal brain appears to work on a very sophisticated "reward" mechanism, and humans (being animals) are no exception. The human brain (for all its supposed sophistication) is at heart nothing more than a very complex conglomeration of simple processes. In order for this simple brain to do what is best for it, animals have evolved a very complicated system of chemical reward. That's what dopamine is. You do something good, the brain rewards itself with a burst of dopamine. You get a buzz.

This is a very handy way of ensuring an individual actively seeks out things that do it good (eating food is pleasurable) whilst avoiding things that don't (pain is bad). Of course, now that the human mind is such a complicated beast it deals with far more esoteric and abstract things than mere food & water. Socialization for a start has been a major development in the human species, so much so that our entire mode of communication (including our body language) is geared almost exclusively to social interaction.

However, let's not forget that for all our sophistication, we are still creatures driven by simple animal processes, and as such we need simple animal drives to make us do anything. Learning to be a social animal may well be the best way to ensure our personal survival in human society, but we still need simple rewards to make it work. For example, competitive instinct is very prevalent in human society, and our athletes often describe how much they enjoy the act of winning.

But hang on, isn't that because winning gives you a buzz? Yup, it's our old friend dopamine again. Surely this is the underlying mechanism behind almost every human endeavour, from climbing Mount Everest to reaching down the back of the sofa to retrieve a dropped pencil. Try it yourself. You're looking for something you’ve mislaid. You don't know where it is, but you have a general idea (gained from using your highly-developed pattern-recognising ability). And you're right! You find what you're looking for. Now didn't that make you feel good?

Let's take it a step further and really see this mechanism in action. Listen to some music. Something popular and repetitive. You're tapping your foot. Why? Because music exercises your pattern-recognition system wonderfully. In the space of 2 or 3 seconds you listen to the beat, extrapolate what's coming next...BLAM! you're right! Buzz! Listen, tap foot, Buzz!

Welcome to music - the ultimate quick dopamine fix!

As an aside, this would probably explain why Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (he says, showing his age) is probably much more popular with the General Public than anything by Chopin or Mozart. You can listen to Relax and start mainlining dopamine within a few seconds. But Mozart? Well you have to listen to it a few times before you can start recognising what comes next. This is possibly why it takes a while for most people to “get into” classical music.

Now then. Here's where it gets amusing. This wonderful brain reward system probably works for everything we do. Hand in hand with Pattern Recognition, we have a very powerful tool for manipulating our personal world, and it can even be used for more abstract endeavours, like thought, or scientific theory. In fact, let's have a look at Scientific Theory...or even just Theory (notice I’m capitalizing here)..

What is a Theory? At its simplest it is an invented explanation that fits all the observable facts in a particular situation. It may not be right, but that's not what our brains are interested in. All our brains care about is whether it fits the facts, and that there are no loopholes. Because if our Theory works...Buzz!!

Put your hands together once more for dopamine, rewarding us yet again for successfully extrapolating a scenario from a jumble of evidence.

So we've got our Theory, and it makes us buzz every time we think about it. So we tell other people our Theory. They listen, but they don't get the same kick as we do, because they didn't come up with the theory themselves (we don’t care. Just the fact of telling them is enough).

However they want that buzz too, so what do they do? They take the facts and concoct a different theory, giving them their own dopamine buzz.

Now there's a downside to this as well. Ever been unable to reach that pencil? Came second in the race? Had your theory blown away? Not a nice feeling is it? Nope, it's not. It's an anti-buzz. It makes us feel bad, and takes away our dopamine flush. This drives us to a) look for the pencil harder b) run faster next time c) defend our Theory.

Maybe it even results in us distorting the facts to fit our Theory. Who can honestly say they haven't lied to protect themselves? The News is full of scientists and politicians who have been caught out hiding the facts, or distorting (even fabricating) the evidence.

I believe the human brain's reward system is that powerful that it drives more than the will to succeed. It drives the will to succeed at all costs.

The bottom line is that because of my brain's chemistry I will fight to the death to defend my Theory from all who seek to disprove, deride, or undermine it. Not only that, but I will also endeavour to persuade others of the validity of my Theory, including searching for further evidence to back it up...even discarding or altering evidence that contradicts my Theory.

And you know the beauty of this Theory? It perfectly explains the reasons behind the Theory itself. This little piece of puff that you are reading now is a Self-Validating Theory. The fact that I am working so hard to explain and defend this Theory...proves the Theory itself!

And nothing you can say will ever disprove this.