Rounding up 2016: 30 days of music

Recently I posted the 30-Day Music Challenge to my Facebook profile. It was one of my Sunday afternoon projects: I scrolled through my music collection and made a list, then used Hootsuite to schedule thirty Facebook posts, one to go out each day at 4pm.

The full list is as follows:

DAY 1: A song you like with a colour in the title

Monday 21 November 2016: Amy Winehouse – Back To Black

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DAY 2: A song you like with a number in the title

Tuesday 22 November 2016: The Selecter – Three Minute Hero

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DAY 3: A song that reminds you of summer time

Wednesday 23 November 2016: Rainbow – Catch The Rainbow

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DAY 4: A song that reminds you of someone you would rather forget about

Thursday 24 November 2016: Red Hot Chili Peppers – Wet Sand

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DAY 5: A song that needs to be played LOUD

Friday 25 November 2016: System Of A Down – Chop Suey!

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DAY 6: A song that makes you want to dance

Saturday 26 November 2016: James – Laid

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DAY 7: A song to drive to

Sunday 27 November 2016: Ministry – Jesus Built My Hotrod

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DAY 8: A song about drugs or alcohol

Monday 28 November 2016: The Verve – The Drugs Don’t Work

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DAY 9: A song that makes you happy

Tuesday 29 November 2016: Outkast – Hey Ya

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DAY 10: A song that makes you sad

Wednesday 30 November 2016: Janis Joplin – Piece of My Heart

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DAY 11: A song that you never get tired of

Thursday 01 December 2016: Rammstein – Sonne

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DAY 12: A song from your preteen years

Friday 02 December 2016: Duran Duran – Friends Of Mine

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DAY 13: One of your favourite 1970s songs

Saturday 03 December 2016: Funkadelic – Cosmic Slop

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DAY 14: A song that you would love played at your wedding

Sunday 04 December 2016: The Damned – Love Song

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DAY 15: A song that is a cover by another artist

Monday 05 December 2016: The Lightning Seeds – You Showed Me

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DAY 16: One of your favourite classical songs

Tuesday 06 December 2016: Delibes’ Flower Duet from Lakme

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DAY 17: A song you would sing as a duet on karaoke

Wednesday 07 December 2016: The Beautiful South – Song for Whoever

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DAY 18: A song from the year that you were born

Thursday 08 December 2016: Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run

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DAY 19: A song that makes you think about life

Friday 09 December 2016: R.E.M. – I’ll Take The Rain

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DAY 20: A song that has multiple meanings to you

Saturday 10 December 2016: Pearl Jam – I Am Mine

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DAY 21: A favourite song with a person’s name in the title

Sunday 11 December 2016: Madness – Michael Caine

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DAY 22: A song that moves you forward

Monday 12 December 2016: The Killers – Everything Will Be Alright

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DAY 23: A song that you think everybody should listen to

Tuesday 13 December 2016: Triggerfinger – First Taste

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DAY 24: A song by a band you wish were still together

Wednesday 14 December 2016: The Smiths – There’s A Light That Never Goes Out

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DAY 25: A song by an artist no longer alive

Thursday 15 December 2016: David Bowie – Absolute Beginners

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DAY 26: A song that makes you want to fall in love

Friday 16 December 2016: India Arie – Ready For Love

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DAY 27: A song that breaks your heart

Saturday 17 December 2016: Bette Midler – Stay With Me

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DAY 28: A song by an artist with a voice that you love

Sunday 18 December 2016: Selah Sue – Crazy Sufferin’ Style

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DAY 29: A song that you remember from your childhood

Monday 19 December 2016: Phil Lynott – Old Town

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DAY 30: A song that reminds you of yourself

Tuesday 20 December 2016: Catatonia – Strange Glue

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Politisplaining, Alt-Rightsplaining & Mediasplaining

Because mensplaining and womensplaining are old hat — sexism, like racism and other type of bigotry, is apparently mainstream again — I figured I’d introduce the new concepts that I think are (unfortunately!) going to be all the rage in 2017: politisplaining, alt-rightsplaining and mediasplaining.

Read the full post »

Lazarus, the musical: a review, of sorts, in social media updates

screenshot-2016-10-26-23-09-13 Read the full post »

Ear nuggets!

Ear nuggets!

These are my purple ear nuggets! I got them from ACS in 2016 after developing hyperacusis; they helped me return to every-day life with all its noise(s) and now allow me to go to the cinema and to gigs again.

They filter the sound you hear, reducing or blocking out the worst/loudest noises while still allowing you to answer the phone or follow conversations around you. (As a downside of that, people who can’t stop talking during performances or folks eating crunchy snacks throughout a movie become more noticeable —as if they weren’t annoying enough…!) As yet I haven’t been able to get used to the different sound of my own voice* when wearing these ear plugs, so I prefer not to talk, but in my case that’s not necessarily a downside.

Custom ear filters not cheap, but I think they are worth the investment; alternatives for someone with hearing sensitivity issues might be to withdraw from a normal working and social life and/or spend months on NHS waiting lists for an audiologist, otologist and/or therapy (if you can even get the referral). Once my GP had confirmed my ears were free from infection and, after syringing, free from wax as well, ACS created moulds of my ears. A couple of weeks later I received my custom hearing protectors, which essentially do the opposite of hearing aids, except there aren’t any batteries involved; you choose a specific ‘strength’ of filter in advance, and if that turns out to provide either insufficient or excess noise reduction, you can opt to buy a different type. All in all the process took 3-4 weeks and a significant amount of money (£170-180 + travel time & expenses), but to me that was less of a price to pay than the alternatives I mentioned would have been.

I started off by wearing my custom ear plugs pretty much all day every day (either in addition to or in place of noise-cancelling headphones), and then slowly reintroducing myself to sounds and noise, by taking out my ‘purple ear nuggets’ and wearing standard in-ear headphones (<£20 Skull Candy earbuds provide a soft, warm, non-screechy sound while blocking out outside noise, yet without leaking much sound themselves); first with pink noise (something I’d already used with my noise cancelling headphones), then without noise (pink or otherwise), and then slowly reintroducing the music and podcasts I love at increasing volume, or wearing no ear buds or ear plugs whatsoever. My aim was to build up my pain threshold in relation to my hearing, and I figured this might work best by practicing with those sounds that I used to love before sound and noise came to equal pain.

Nowadays I only wear hearing attenuation when there are loud sounds around me (building work, loud music I didn’t pick played through crappy speakers, noisy old tube trains, a vacuum cleaner, the washing machine during its spinning cycle, low-flying helicopters and so on), be it at home or elsewhere. I’ve worn my ‘purple ear nuggets’ whenever I’ve gone to the cinema, and at the time of writing this I’ve just attended my first rock gig wearing them (not wanting to force things I didn’t enter the venue until after the support act had finished, only attended the main act, and didn’t stick around for any afterparty).

Custom ear filters like ACS’s are clearly great for gig-goers, clubbers and ravers and the like, and although they can also be a great aid for anyone affected by hyperacusis, they’re by no means perfect for the latter, as they don’t block out the horrid hiss of office air con or rainy-day traffic on wet roads (noise-cancelling headphones** may work better for those).

Also, the little cord ACS supplies with each set of ear plugs is useful to attach when you’re wearing the ear plugs to crowded events where you could be at risk of losing them (it even has a clip to attach to your clothing), but the way the cord itself conducts sound into your ears via the plugs is a hyperacusis sufferer’s nightmare; the same applies to the cream supplied with the plugs: comfortable, perhaps, if you hardly ever wear the plugs, but not pleasant if you’re a regular wearer with hyperacusis or another type of (hyper)sensitivity to sound.

Because I found very little had been written about using custom hearing attenuation as a (fast-tracked) means of dealing with hyperacusis or other hearing sensitivity issues, I decided to write this in the hope it may help someone else in a similar situation to mine.

Please note I am not medically trained and have written this only to share my personal experience and my opinions based on this experience, and not to provide any medical advice. If you have any issues with your hearing, please get yourself seen by a doctor; it’s what I did but perhaps I left it a bit too late — and that’s not something I’d advise anyone.

For more information about the specific hearing protection pictured, go to acscustom.com/uk/products/hearing-protection/pro-series.

To learn more about hearing sensitivity issues, visit braininjurysociety.com/information/acquired-brain-injury/hyperacusis-noise-sensitivity-hearing.

If you do not suffer from any issues relating to your hearing, but you do love music and you love going to clubs or gigs, hearing protection is worth considering, anyway. In my opinion – and I stress, it’s my opinion only, based on personal experience alone – good hearing protection will not take anything away from the immersive experience (whereas turning down the overall sound may) but it does prevent pain and damage.

*This issue – called occlusion – is more of a problem with standard foam earplugs than it is with custom plugs; for me, the problem is not so much the sound of my own voice but rather the volume, in that I have no idea whether I am speaking too loudly or softly when wearing my custom ear plugs.

**Note: If you’re going to invest in noise-cancelling headphones: my Sennheiser PXC 250-II are fab on aeroplanes where everyone’s cell phones are switched off or on the tube in tunnels where there is no signal; but attached to or near some – not all – mobile devices the GSM buzz they pick up can cause sheer agony for anyone with (hyper)sensitive hearing. I had to buy my noise-cancelling headphones in a rush, with no time to research or shop around, but I wish I’d known this before I spent an arm and a leg on them.

Film review: Imperium

While I don’t often write film reviews (aside from short opinions on iTunes, perhaps), once again I felt compelled to; this time after watching the dross that is Imperium.

***WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***

British actor Daniel Radcliffe plays an FBI agent who goes undercover with white supremacists and for the most part he does a good job. It’s just that his American accent occasionally slips and his short stature affects his credibility as his character’s undercover alter ego. Clearly, this lack of credibility is only obvious to the viewer, because on screen, Radcliffe’s character Nate has no trouble fitting in with various groups of neo-Nazis and appears to infiltrate with comfortable ease and at remarkable speed, deflecting any tension with wit and intelligence. Hopping from one racist clique to the next, Nate is always the smartest in a room full of white guys; he has an answer to every question and an explanation in response to any doubt raised. If it wasn’t for all the other white blokes being so thick, no doubt his cover would have been blown faster than you can shout ‘White Power.’

Meanwhile, Radcliffe’s Australian co-star Toni Collette‘s American accent is better than his, but her problem in this film is that she seems to parody rather than just play an FBI supervisor. In Wittertainment parlance, it’s a performance turned up to eleventy stupid. The less said about it, the better.

The most believable acting performance in Imperium comes courtesy of Tracy Letts. By the time we learn the truth about the radio presenter he plays in this film, I sincerely wonder how many broadcasters, columnists and other professional opinion-givers in the real world have built their careers on a similar earning model to that of the fictional Dallas Wolf. It makes sense. He makes sense. Letts’ convincing performance is let down, however, by how poorly his part has been written into the plot; it’s a storyline that might have worked better before internet radio and podcasting blurred state lines and country borders, but I’m not sure it stands up in 2016.

Taking cues from American History X and The Firm —the one with Gary Oldman, not the one with Tom Cruise— only illustrates how good those films were and how not-very-good Imperium is. Moreover, unless my memory is deceiving me, there’s one specific scene early on that I feel I’ve seen before, at the end of I.D.:

What, if anything, did I learn from this film? Two things. Firstly, that going undercover doesn’t require FBI training or experience; reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People should suffice. Secondly, once you pretend to be a white supremacist, you will no longer need your glasses; then, when you stop pretending to be a white supremacist, you will need your glasses again. (Mind you, with a frame as ill-fitting as Nate Foster‘s, I doubt glasses are of much use in the first place — he must have been peering at the rim more than through the actual lenses.)

Imperium is currently on limited release in UK cinemas and available to stream from We Are Colony and Amazon Prime (other options or services may be available) For a proper film review, I refer you to Mark Kermode’s one here.