Mstation Book Reviews
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Thu, 01 Dec 2005

Sound Recording Practice

Ed. John Borwick, Sound Recording Practice, 4th Edition,
Oxford University Press

This title has been around for quite some time and is one of the more respected books in its field. With the glossary and index it is 616 pages long so it's a moderately hefty tome as well. There is now a paperback version as well as the original hardback.

The approach is to have expert authors of sections which, in their totality, cover just about everything you might need to know. We start off with basic acoustics and electronics, and digital theory and then move on to studio planning and installation. Then on to equipment, mobile set ups, the producer, post-production etc. As you can see, it traces a logical route through the process.

As far as depth goes, it gives a good generalist introduction to topics. That is to say, if you want to be a sound or DSP designer or an acoustic expert, you will need to read more elsewhere but most people involved with studios and recording won't need to go very much deeper at all except into their software manuals. In places there is quite some detail: for instance there is a very handy section which lists different mic types suitable for different jobs. It's a good starter for your own mic lore collection.

And that brings up the point of how up to date it all is. This seems to be a 1992 edition so we haven't quite got to DVD or SACD yet and there isn't much about Surround either. Also, the section on recording concentrates on console digitalisation rather than offshoots such as Pro Tools and the newly popular Pyramix, operating on computers.

That's not a fatal or even near-fatal flaw. The rest of the material is so useful that the book easily earns its place in any audio engineering section of the bookshelf.

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Sci-Fi Moviescapes

Matt Hanson, Building Sc-Fi Moviescapes:
The science behind the fiction, Rotovision

This is a lot of fun. What the book does is go through a series of sci-fi movies in rough chronological order and show pictures from the movie and talk about what the thinking was and how it was implemented.

It doesn't cover all movies, just ones that have been deemed to be interesting. Here's a sample: Bladerunner (of course!), Tron, 2001, The Fifth Element, Star Wars, Dune ... I picked those out randomly. There are many more.

While Rotovision generally aims its books at the design profession, this book is readable by anyone with an interest in the subject of sci-fi movies. The implementation detail is actually quite general so that a general reader won't have their eyes glazing over at long accounts of sticking clay to wire mesh, or whatever.

Another little bonus of the book is that it might give some clues about movies that you missed that you might now want to see.

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Music Writing 2005

JT LeRoy, P Bresnick, Da Capo Best Music Writing 2005,
Da Capo Press

Finding literate commentary on what's happening in music has always been a problem. The few magazines that specialise in such things seem to have short lifespans as advertisers can't seem to believe that intelligent people are a worthwhile market. And publishers get greedy and take their publications downmarket in search of more money... at which point they disappear in a little pinpoint of light. I hope it hurts.

Two interesting things about this collection are reading through where the pieces originally appeared, and the subject matter. The second relates mostly not to now but to years gone by which I find faintly troubling. It's not that there isn't anything to write about -- there's plenty -- even the grossed-out big commercial music things have interesting aspects to examine in writing.

The writings wander amongst post-modern studies of Black Minstrelsy, Bob Dylan moments, Punk, Curt Cobain, the last days of Ray Charles, Wilco and spy broadcasts, and many more. Nicely done they are too even if, in some circumstances, it is a little difficult to work up the same enthusiasm the author has for a certain subject.

The first point was where to find such stories when they first appear -- what mags should you subscribe to? The answer is that the writings are thinly spread and come from everything from the New Yorker to the Austin_American Statesman.

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Geoffrey Willans, Ronald Searle, 
The Compleet Molesworth, 
paperback, Pavilion

"History started badly and hav been getting steadily worse". So saith Nigel Molesworth and such wisdoom shuld be respected. Our hero is a boarding schul boy frum the fifties and he spelleth as gud as we. There are lots of drawings by Ronald Searle witch illutsrate the reality of pre-politikally-corect life and give envalualbe lesons in how to survive amidst the teror of masters with kanes, bulies, parents, and suchlike problemms.

Talking of witches, which we wer only by a speling mistake, reminds us to sa that this volume culd be a valuable counter title to the latest in the Hogwarts series. In fact, and mabe yu don't beleeve this, but Hogwarts is mentioned in this buuk! We kid not, even tho it were written almost fifty years before JKR. As it hapens, it were title of little pla by N. Molesworth called The Hogwarts by Marcus Plautus Moleworthus witch, as yu can see, has a jokey latin seting.

And as iph that wasnt enuogh of a wondar of presciense, ther is allso a menntion of Google! Really! Somethinhg about google eyes but no mension of computers or internets.

Posibly this no longer been printed but mabe it is. Ah, actually Penguin has somethign lik it just called Molesworth -- out now.

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Garageband 2

David Pogue, Garageband 2: the missing manual,
Pogue Press, O'Reilly

The junior relation of Logic and Sountrack which comes free with new Macs is actually a fairly easy piece of software to get making music on. A little exploration of what happens if you click this or that soon finds most people getting the hang of the thing.

However, if people have no experience at all with making music then the relationships of things and what to expect are not so immediately apparent. And it is those people who will really benefit from this book, which takes you through all the basics of how and why and even has some music lessons in the back.

There are also things that are not intuitive and not apparent from looking at anything. One such thing is sound fonts. You can load, play, and record them in garageband and this book tells you how.

It is a handy allround GarageBand reference, and lots of color illustrations make pinpointing what to do in certain circumstances an easy task.

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DJ biz handbook

Stacy Zemon, The DJ Sales and Marketing Handbook,
Focal Press

This really is just about the business side, is US-centric and is about the weddings, parties, anything side of things. And maybe a bit on the bowling alley side of the street as well. That's not a snooty remark, it's just the truth -- the truth being that marketing to the John Clerkwell IIIs is going to be quite different to marketing to Bren and Kyle.

That sort of thing aside, if you're a beginning DJ you have to start somewhere and after your friends are all partied out you might need to talk to people you don't know. This book is as good a start as any at making you think about how it will all go down, and if you think you might make a living at it then some of the points might be helpful.

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Digital Photography Pocket Guide

Derrick Story, Digital Photography Pocket Guide, 
Third Edition, O'Reilly

This is a compact (4"x6", 155 pages), well-indexed guide to what you can do with your digital camera. While the information is available in other places, e.g. at, there's added value in having it in a pocket format that you can take with you and look at while you're in the field.

The book starts with an explanation of the different kinds of cameras on the market and why you might want to pay for which features. One paragraph that would have saved me a frustrating and expensive trip to the local computer store is in the discussion of memory cards, and how much of one you might need: Some cameras don't even provide a memory card in the box. Make sure you have a compatible one on hand, or you'll be sorely disappointed. The experienced amateur photographer probably knows most of what's in this book, but will probably still enjoy browsing through the tips. For instance, the explanation of the "Red-eye" flash mode in the manual for my Kodak CX4300 is fine for telling you how to use it if you know about the phenomenon: flash fires three times, once to set the exposure, once to reduce red-eye, and once to take the picture. But the book also tells you how to reduce red-eye without using the mode if the extra flashes are annoying the photographer or the subjects (have the subject look at a bright light to constrict the pupils just before the picture is taken). And it suggests using the red-eye mode for subjects who blink at the flash, on the grounds that their eyes will be open again by the time of the final flash.

The compact size of the book is made possible by limiting the subject matter to the use of the camera itself, and not discussing the use of the computer to process or publish the results.

So if you want some advice about how to go about choosing a digital camera, or to spend some time thinking about how to use the camera you have to take better pictures, this book would be a good choice for a companion. (Laura Conrad)

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Bob Dylan

Douglas Gilbert and Dave Marsh, Forever Young:
Photographs of Bob Dylan, Da Capo

The photographs in this book were from a photoshoot for Look Magazine done in 1964. The pictures never made it into the magazine because the editors thought Dylan too scruffy for their not very Bohemian readership. He doesn't look at all scruffy but he does look different, which he was and is.

Here we have Dylan as a young twenty-something, not long out of Hibbing, and with a little fame to his name. This was before he went electric and just as he was getting together with Joan Baez. The black and white photos show us Greenwich Village and Woodstock in the background of Bob and various friends and acqaintances.

The very interesting text is by Dave Marsh and he sets the background of what is going on at the time and what is coming up, along with the attitudes of what was to become known as the counterculture, and which was a continuum from the Beats. Indeed, Alan Ginsberg is one of those in the pictures. He seems to have had a large talent for popping up at media moments.

It's all a nice slice of history and there is a little extra folder of photos for framing included. Nice touch.

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Ambient Findability

Peter Morville, Ambient Findability, O'Reilly

This is a very interesting journey through the land of theoretical information. It is a top-down journey and we don't get too buried in semantics even though it is necessary to have some loose definitions to hand.

As this is about findability, you can guess that usability is a close cousin and our information world, once we start to apply things, is the web. And as such it's useful for web professionals as well as marketing and design types, and any one else that's interested. One observation made in the book is that the marketing crowd haven't caught up with the web in any intelligent sort of way. They should definately have a read of this.

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