Changing notes

iPod speakers

I admit it — I’ve been dragging the technology chain. While many in my community are discussing which ebook reader to acquire (and oh, the temptation there!), I’ve only just entered the mp3 age. My first acquisition: an iPod Classic, black, 160Gb. That should hold the silence at bay! (But let us not forget, sometimes, silence is indeed golden.)

Why now? It was time, I figured. Time to stop carting CDs around the country, or relying on the paltry 100-song capacity of my voice recorder for emergency relief on aircraft. Time to overcome the jamming, jumping, slowly fritzing stacker in the boot of the car, and the bland if not annoying, repetitive, often facile radio. Time for something that offers the right music for the right moment, at the touch of a button.

But what to put on it? Everything! But no, let’s prioritise. Favourites, clearly; and now, alphabetically: Android Lust, yes; Bryan Adams, maybe not. Choices, choices… My, how our tastes have changed, and how, yet, we can’t quite let go of the old stuff, the formative stuff, the aural milestones on the musical journey to now.

It comes with a moment of mourning for artwork: from LP gatefolds to CDs and now to postage-stamp sized jpegs. Still pretty as the flick across the iPod screen, but not so much art as guidepost, now. The fanboy in me wants a cover to be signed; it wants liner notes. I know it’s all about the tunes, not the packaging, and my ear can’t really pick up the quality loss from file compression (though they say this AAC stuff is almost as good…), but still: can you sign my iPod mister?

And then there’s the accessories. A protective sleeve for the so-slim iPod, speakers for overnight on the road (aren’t these cute? small, light, bass boost, iPod recharging while you play: tick, tick, tick and tick).

You’d think this is the kind of stuff shop assistants would try to sell you when you were buying the original unit, but no: much more important to chat to your mate on the phone, reluctantly cradling him away on one shoulder for the time it takes to ring up the transaction, let alone show the customer some options. I don’t much need the value-adding at food counters, but when you’re buying tech, yeah, a little bit of effort would go a long way to helping the customer complete the set. But the dude saved me money because I found the gear I needed elsewhere and cheaper, so hey, cheers for that.

So now it’s back to the A-Z, that cycle of choose-burn-add-eject-artwork-choose, with one avaricious eye on the ebook readers: Kobo, BeBook, dare I say iPad…?

Benatar? Hell yes; but which? Or all? Choices, choices…

Vampirefest, or, how I spent World Goth Day

kirstyn mcdermott reading at vampirefest

Yesterday was World Goth Day (appointed by goths, for goths), so it was appropriate that I donned my Nosferatu t-shirt and headed out to the Melbourne Science Fiction Club’s annual mini-con, this year branded Vampirefest!

The mini-con wasn’t all about the Undead: there was a Tardis and a light-sabre and a tricky standee of Dr Who who kept staring at you, no matter where you were standing in the church hall, and a Stormtrooper made an appearance. There were booksellers and fan groups and interest groups and it was all good, especially once the sun started to come through the windows and warm the winter chill – hooray for the coffee pot! No Twilight shirts in the audience that I saw, but there were a few “And then Buffy killed Edward: the end” ones — clearly, this was a gathering of true believers.

I was chuffed at the attention paid to my talk about the evolving nature of the vampire, and how cool was it to see the young readers in the front row showing discernment in their vampire literature. There is hope for the monster yet!

Unfortunately, that message didn’t quite make it through the debate, where my team failed in our bid to overturn the premise that ‘vampires should just lay down and die’. But again, I took heart from the youth vote!

The Dr Who club had the invidious task of opening proceedings with a presentation of vampires depicted in the TV series; they didn’t quite get the attention they deserved due to stalls still being set up and general greeting chit-chat, but I enjoyed the snippets they showed, and found it interesting that the Time Lords had an edict to kill or be killed should they encounter any bloodsuckers. The vampire mythos, it seems, is truly universal!

I utterly failed at the trivia contest, managed to keep my hands in my pockets during the auction, and got to revel (even if she did go on to kick our butt in the debate) in Kirstyn’s first public reading (from behind the vampire balloons!) from her forthcoming Madigan Mine (not a vampire story, but a Gothic one, with blood and obsession and maybe-ghosts).

All in all, a fine day, further enhanced by lunch with a pal from Brissie and after-con drinks with another Queenslander and her gal pals.

Nix, Kobo and the evolving delivery of the book

crammed book shelves

Syncronicity or what? Last night, I was at a do at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre, where four speakers presented diverse insights into the way in which technology is spreading the written word. And afterwards, at dinner, a text arrived saying someone’s hubby had just bought a Kobo reader — I can feel the pressure mounting to take the weight from the shelves and go digital (this photo shows why — those are the DISCARD shelves).

And this morning — here’s the syncronicity bit — a pal has pointed out this transcript of a speech by Aussie author Garth Nix at a Kobo launch, in which he has insightful and reassuring things to say about books made of paper, and books delivered by other means.

With further, affordable choices in eReaders becoming available to Australian readers, the e-branch of bookselling has to expand. If this means easier access to a wider audience, with remuneration, naturally, this has to be a good thing. Good enough to have this old fossil not only contemplating the wild world of eReaders, but golly gosh, one of them mp3 players as well. Not that I won’t still buy CDs — as with books, I like to feel and unfold and admire on the shelf — but it sure will reduce the luggage when I travel.

The vampires are rising

flier for MSFC Vampirefest mini-con

Great news from the Melbourne Science Fiction Club: we have reinforcements! Foz Meadows, Mary Borsellino and George Ivanoff have joined the coterie of guests at the club’s annual mini-con on May 22, this year billed as Vampirefest!! It’s going to be very cool to compare (bloody) notes with these guys.

Kirstyn McDermott and I will be facing off in a debate about whether vampires should just “lay down and die”, and Kirstyn will be revealing her debut novel, Madigan Mine (due out in August).

There’s also a talk about vampires in Dr Who — was it just me, or did the most recent episode about ‘vampires’ in Venice kind of suck? — and an auction. A whole bunch of Melbourne’s fan clubs are piling in under the one roof, and there’s a call for attendees to wear costume.

That Vampirefest is being conducted in a church hall is the icing on the cake!

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen

alan garner's weirdstone of brisingamen

“So it was agreed; they walked swiftly, and carefully, close together, and the swords were naked.”

Isn’t this a great line? It gave me chills, last night, as I was revisiting one of my favourite childhood reads, Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen.

The book was first published in 1960, and follows the adventures of Susan and her brother Colin when they are caught up in a mythic battle between the forces of good and evil. It’s a road story, set in quite a small patch of Cheshire, as the pair, with allies, seek to unite a magical talisman with its rightful keeper to stave off a looming apocalypse. I’d been dying to revisit Garner’s work, and Susan Cooper’s too, ever since reading Ysabel, by Guy Gavriel Kay, a gorgeous tale which landed me firmly back in memories of those beautiful stories that marry myth and the modern age.

It’s not without hesitation that we revisit such favoured tales, for fear that they have lost their power with the years, both ours and theirs. Fortunately, no such disappointment awaited, and Garner’s magic still runs strong. Off to revisit Moon of Gomrath, to see who of Brisingamen’s cast pop up!

Here’s a lovely piece from the Guardian, marking the book’s 50th anniversary. (In an aside, it’s also 30 years since Ian Curtis died, the Joy Division singer being a native of Macclesfield, in the environs of which Brisingamen takes place.)

Remembering Ian Curtis

It’s thirty years ago today that Joy Division singer Ian Curtis took his own life. So sad, and such a waste. To mark the anniversary of a great songwriter and performer, one whose music has affected me deeply, here’s a tribute video pulled from the interwebs, set to a suitable anniversary song, New Dawn Fades:

Could be a good night for a Twenty-Four Hour Party People/Control double – two exceptional films, the first about Factory Records and their artists, the second an amazing biopic.

Ronnie James Dio dead, Jeff Martin live

So I’m just about to say how much I enjoyed Jeff Martin’s gig at Ruby’s last night, and I see that Ronnie James Dio has died from stomach cancer. The little guy had a massive voice — anyone who saw him tour with the Heaven and Hell Sabbath tour had nothing but praise for him (alas, I was elsewhere, and now the opportunity is forever lost).

Maybe it’s fitting, then, that Jeff Martin’s Requiem-Hurt combo was a highlight of last night’s two-hour acoustic set, accompanied by Armada bass player Jay Cortez. This was their third night in a row, and Martin’s voice had taken on a huskiness that added to the impact of the slower tunes, but he didn’t favour it, giving each song everything he had.

This was my first outing at Ruby’s, an easy 30-minute drive from home and plenty of off-street parking, at least at eight on a Sunday night. It’s an atmospheric and intimate club, lots of black and red, and a wicked timber staircase down to the basement loos. Naturally, as it is these days, it seems, the crowd had its share of tossers who got more vocal during the night: I’ve never seen bouncers come to the front of the stage at a Jeff Martin gig before, and it was a relief when the manic-depressive domestic in front of us finally decided to take it outside.

But they managed to contain themselves for the opening songs, Morocco and the aforementioned Requiem. The set canvassed Martin’s career, including Tea Party favourites The Bazaar and Sister Awake rubbing shoulders with solo songs The Kingdom and Stay Inside of Me (a duet with support act, Brisbane singer pear), and Armada tunes The Rosary (written for his dead grandmother) and Line in the Sand, and a stomping encore double of Going Down and Black Snake Blues. Add a second duet (regret I didn’t catch the singer’s name), on the Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush hit Don’t Give Up (a RockWiz hit with Tina Arena), and a cover of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable, emotionally charged concert. But then, his usually are, which is why, despite the aggravation of arseholes who chatter and elbow and take their flash photographs, I keep going back for more of the same (but never quite the same).

Martin is said to be withdrawing for a few months to work on a new album. Can’t wait for that!

Phillip Island, penguins and cool beach retreats

phillip island beach

A weekend sojourn to Phillip Island shows why the outcrop off the coast of Victoria is such as a popular destination for Melbournites looking to escape the big smoke.

We hadn’t even reached the island, a mere 90-minute drive down the M1, before we were lured off a side-road at The Gurdies to sample local wine and cheese at Ramsay’s Vin Rose cellar door — quite presentable cab sav and pinot noir accompanied by mild brie and blue, amongst others.

As if that wasn’t enough temptation, the Phillip Island Chocolate Factory lurks on the main road, just after you’ve crossed the bridge from the mainland, and it’s wares are very tasty indeed.

We spent the night at the Banfields motel, a very tidy, very friendly and very quiet conference centre boasting the only cinema on the island, though alas we’d missed the Sunday matinee. Not that we had time. We were on a penguin mission! A stop to see Captain Grossard’s lonely cliffside grave — and feel the icy wind blowing in from the sea — was enlivened by the presence of two quite unconcerned cape barren geese as we made our way to the parks complex at the Nobbies.

We arrived in plenty of time for our dusk penguin parade viewing. No pictures are allowed at the wildlife centre, a welcoming commerical building with oodles of duckboards to ferry the crowds to their stations. We forked out for Penguin Plus tickets, giving us a secluded, small stadium by the beach where the penguins have worn a wide track as they make their way from the sea to their burrows littering the foreshore and surrounding cliffs. There are some 60,000 of the little birds in the rookery — the last on the island. (The little penguins were once known as fairy penguins, but political correctness has apparently kicked in.)

The penguins were awesome, coming up in waves. It was like something from the D-Day landings, with little penguins advancing in platoons, flankers and point men out, a little hesitant about entering our softly lit viewing area, then charging: some hobbling, some weaving, some tripping, others darting forward at a furious clip. Some went under our platform, others paused at the very edge, only metres away, to give us the beady eye. We had about an hour of viewing before having to make our leisurely stroll back along the boardwalk to the complex.

Pino’s Trattoria, still open post-penguins on a Sunday night, provided the perfect remedy for the night chill, though the beachside viewing platform hadn’t been as windy nor as cold as we’d expected.

On Monday, the breeze was still up, but we found it fell away to nothing on the lee side, offering very pleasant conditions for beachcombing — not a bad way to spend the day after our seal tour was cancelled only two hours from departure. We had time to only see a few of the parks and beaches, but it was enough to know we want to return and spend more time taking in the natural sights. Red rocks, black basalt formations, wild flowers, and some truly amazing waves got the cameras clicking.

We topped up with a massive coffee at the Lil’ Honey Cafe at San Remo before cruising back to Melbourne.

This was my first real sample of regional Victoria since moving to Melbourne, so it bodes well for further exploration. I can certainly see myself hitting the island again — but not at Grand Prix time!

More Phillip Island pictures are on Flickr.

Vale Lisa Lamb

Lisa Lamb by Mark Greenmantle

Lisa, photographed by Mark Greenmantle at our book launch in 2007.

I just got back from a trip to Phillip Island and was all fired up to share the penguin fun, when I got an email telling me that our gorgeous Lisa Lamb has died. So the penguins can wait.

Lisa was a pal from Brisbane, a comedian and a reporter and a writer and a performer and an event manager and, most importantly, a mum. But it was her performance that led me to know her, a vivacious, vibrant personality who was grabbing the world with both hands, wowing the adoring boys of France with her burlesque, lighting up rooms with her presence, cracking laughs over massive steaks a person of her petite size had no right to be able to tuck away.

We’re told it was a cardiac arrest that put her into a vegetative state that has been enduring for months, and one can only imagine the heartache that must’ve brought her family, to have this huge personality contained in such a way. It feels like the death of Superman, honestly.

In life, Lisa blazed, and in her passing, she throws a long shadow.

Vale, Woolly, and godspeed.