Happy new year

Welcome to 2015, long live the new year!

My year in blogging started with a realisation that I only wrote 5 posts last year. That is a tiny amount, especially considering that I hoped my new phone would lead to me writing more.

Life is a funny thing. It can get in the way and take you by surprise. Last year was busy and there were a lot of things that made me think of blogs to write, but I never got round to them. Both Guardians of the Galaxy and the Lego Movie stood out as original mainstream movies worthy of comment (I’m a still a little unsettled by the Lego Movie’s condemnation of all who obey the instructions) but that I never got around to writing about.

I would like to write more this year, but I’m not promising anything. I just want to assure you that I am still here and will still be writing when I can.

I leave you with one of the positive things from last year. The headlines constantly spoke of the dire state of the world, but this video brought a smile to my face. There is no reason why the partnership should have happened, yet it did. The result is something completely silly and purely made for fun.

Hear the sound

It starts as a whisper. It didn’t come suddenly, breaking the silence before, but it was soft, as if it had always been there.

Then I hear a heartbeat. It’s faster than my own; scared of something unseen. Another joins it, this one slower. It sounds weak and I don’t hold out much hope for the owner. More join these two, all at different paces, until I hear the heart cry of the whole earth. Then voices rise up; clamouring, shouting, screaming and crying.

Up above it all, I hear God shed a tear for His people’s pain.

Someone stands to their feet. They are in sharp focus now and I hear the sound of clothing being ruffled. There is a metal clanking and I recognise it as armour being taken up. A blade is unsheathed and I hear it being sharpened.

Again, more sounds come into focus. The soldier is not alone and is joined by many others getting ready. There is a clatter as everyone gets ready at his own pace. Some are quite frantic, others calm and measured in their preparations.

Then a singular drum is beaten. The preparation stops and the soldiers rush into position and fall still. They are quiet, only the background groan of the world can be made out.

The drum is hit again and the people start to march. There is a repetitive undulation which shows they are now working together in perfect time. The church is rising.

Above them, a crowd of heavenly beings cheer. Most are shouting encouragements to keep going because they see what is coming. A seldom few are barking out orders from above. If the army is listening, they’ll know what to do.

A swooshing sound fills the air. Thousands and thousands of fiery darts are flying towards the army. They come to a stop and I’m relieved to hear the sound of shields bearing the brunt. They’re not still for long though and I hear more shields being raised as they start moving again. The din is now like a thunderstorm on a tin roof; I can only assume they are in a Tortoise formation.

This carries on for a while before combat breaks out and the noise is chaotic. There is roaring, gasping, yelping and the sounds of war. It’s hard to isolate any one note; the battle is all encompassing.

After a time though, this too gets drowned out, but now with jubilation. The army has gained ground and the enemy flees, wailing in fear. The army cheer and thank God for their victory.

The cry of the earth is brought back into the fore, but the sound is changing here too. I hear chains falling to the ground and the sound of sadness has stopped. There are many reactions, to many different things, but all over the world, victory is at hand. Some say I am healed others that I am free.

Faintly in the background is the sound of rushing waters.

In heaven above there is singing and music rejoicing over those who have been released. Harps, trumpets and various other instruments blare out a song of praise. The voices sing in a language I don’t speak, but the message is clear all the same. They speak of victory and triumph, peace and love, and of being accepted and fully known.

God says, “Come to me friends and have rest.”

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My church is about to release their first album, Hear the Sound. It’s about listening to God and trying to make Him the focus of our lives.

When I hear that phrase, this is what my mind eye pictures. I’m sharing this because it makes me love Him more and I long to give Him praise.

If you would like to find out more and possibly pre-order a copy, you can go to http://hearthesound.com/

Indian Monty Python

Last Tuesday night I was leaving a restaurant in central Bangalore and I saw a poster on a billboard that made me step back. I looked again to check it was what I thought I recognised and it was. A poster for Spamalot the musical.

I read the details an my mind was blown. It was a CAUSE foundation production, putting on their own version of the broadway show on Saturday night. Tickets cost between 200 (£2.50) and 500 rupees (£6).

I was shocked and amazed by this. Firstly, by the fact that a British comedy (though on seeing it, I must admit it was probably written for an American audience) was here, over 5,000 miles away. I knew that Monty Python was met with International acclaim, but with typical British cynicism I had assumed this meant in Europe and the USA. I didn’t expect their irreverent silly slapstick to have appealed here, though why it would be limited to our Sceptred Isle escapes me.

I also found it hard to swallow that it was being done for charity and at such a good price. I had believed the rumours and gossip about Eric Idle only doing it for the money and being a miser in real life. This is a failure on my part that I hope to now deter in others. This use of the official name, poster and screenplay stand as testament against those malicious lies which are so tempting to take on board.

The CAUSE foundation stands for Cooperation of the Arts for the Underprivileged in and Society & Environment and more can be learnt from this video. Their aim is to foster local creative talent with surplus funds going to local charities. This persuaded me to go and see this once in a lifetime event, after all, how often do you get the chance to hear some of you country’s most famous and most silly songs be sung live in a different accent and in a concert hall shaped like a violin?

The power of words

This post is a follow up post from We Used to Wait and once again involves Arcade Fire. If you haven’t gathered by now, I rather like them.

I was listening to their debut album again, also fantastic, and was listening to their song Rebellion (Lies). Before I discuss my thoughts on it, it’s important you know the lyrics, so I’ve included them with the video below.


Sleeping is giving in,

no matter what the time is.
Sleeping is giving in,
so lift those heavy eyelids.

People say that you’ll die
faster than without water.

But we know it’s just a lie,
scare your son, scare your daughter.

People say that your dreams
are the only things that save ya.
Come on baby in our dreams,
we can live on misbehavior.

Every time you close your eyes
Lies, lies! (x4)
Every time you close your eyes (x4)

People try and hide the night
underneath the covers. (x2)

Come on hide your lovers underneath the covers (x2)

Hidin’ from your brothers
underneath the covers,
come on hide your lovers
underneath the covers.

People say that you’ll die
faster than without water,
but we know it’s just a lie,
scare your son, scare your daughter (x3)

Now here’s the sun, it’s alright!
(Lies, lies!)
Now here’s the moon, it’s alright!
(Lies, lies!)(x2)

Every time you close your eyes
Lies, lies! (x4)

Every time you close your eyes (x3)

The reason I chose to include those lyrics is because it is important that you get what the song is saying. Or at least, what is said.

On first listen, and many following listens as well, this song seems to have an accurate title. It’s written about a man persuading someone else not to listen to the people around them, as they are liars.

The reason I say this is that one evening, I was listening to this and started to sing along to the chorus, as it’s rather catchy. Even though I don’t agree with it, I found myself saying it aloud and with gusto.

By just singing along, I was expressing agreement with the lyricist, and I don’t believe there is some big conspiracy in which we’re all being lied to. On realising this, I stopped myself instantly.

As the song continued to repeat its refrain, I sat there silent. This didn’t feel any better. I had moved from support to acceptance, which while being an improvement, was still wrong.

What I wanted to do was to act on what I deemed to be true and oppose this fiction that was being presented. In order to explain how I did this, I need to discuss my reading material of late.

As I’ve noticed these blogs have a tendency to head towards the philosophical, quite unintentionally, I have decided to read up on the subject. As this blog is concerned with getting my ideas, thoughts and feelings across, I figured that communication studies would make sense as a start point.

The area I am currently looking at is Semiotics, the use of symbols and codes. This is one of the main ways we connect with each other.

One example of this is in language. Every word is a symbol for some more complex meaning behind it. The word dog is a symbol for the meaning behind it, which is different for every person who hears it. Consider the difference between a pet owner’s and a vet’s idea of the exact definition.

Back to my original point, the song. The line I wanted to sing was “every time you close your eyes, Lies, Lies” but I didn’t agree with the author’s intention.

I started to think about the eyes, and I hit upon a possible meaning that I liked. It became for me a very simple and straightforward metaphor about staying awake spiritually.

If we being to fall asleep spiritually then Satan, the slanderer-liar, will pour lies into our ears. I therefore took the line to mean that; that every time we let our guard down a voice tempts us with fabrications of fancy.

What I did next was to sing this loud on top of what they were singing. I was proclaiming my truth over theirs and it is this moment that requires some thought.

Now some may say that this was a little excessive and perhaps it was. Regardless, some interesting points must be made.

With words being as vague as they are, can we guarantee that we always know the writer’s intent? I would argue not, though we can make informed guesses when we are aware of the context. This includes the surrounding text, its intended purpose and audience as well as details of the person who wrote it.

This point becomes particularly important when considering faith. I recently read a very good post on the subject of what it means to praise, which can be found here.

This clearly has an impact when singing in worship. We should all be fully aware of what’s coming out of our mouth and what we are publicly agreeing with. Of course full awareness is nigh on impossible, but we must at least have some comprehension.

This also has very simple ramifications when reading the Bible. Do you simply accept your first thoughts about the intended meaning or do you dig to find the real context? Then you have the question of how deep you go, not stopping till you know all the author’s generational issues.

Of course, none of these questions have a definitive answer, but it was something I thought worth sharing. As always, your thoughts, if any, are welcome below.

We used to wait

This blog has taken a long time to write, but now, I think I finally get what I want to say. So, here goes.

Recently, I bought the latest Arcade Fire album, The Suburbs. It’s a really good album, one of the best by a band that if you don’t already know, you should probably check out, as they are really very talented.

It was their single’s video, however, that first got my attention and subsequently held it. Or rather, I should say “the interactive film featuring We Used To Wait.” The website here shows a beautiful and strange experiment that I thoroughly enjoyed and I suggest you see it before reading on. At least a listen to the song would be nice.

I really love the lyrics of this song. The refrain “now are lives are changing fast, hope that something pure will last” really reflects my feelings on life at this present time. I am becoming very busy and things are a bit up in the air. I’m feeling very tested and frayed at the edges, but as part of being refined, it’s all fine by me.

It is, however, the title that has been bugging me, as it stuck on me as something significant. I felt it resonate with me, but the reasoning eluded me for quite a long while.

I therefore took it upon myself to weigh it up with what little I know of the Bible. I will now sum up my conclusions, but please, if you have any evidence to add, whether it be for or against what I am saying, then please comment below and correct me.

There are numerous references to the virtue of being patient in the Bible and it is always a positively regarded thing. I searched for a reference where it said something along the lines of “do not wait for other people to do good but do it yourself”, similar to the quote “all it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.” I found nothing like this, however, and have had to conclude to patience being a good thing regardless.

One thing I noticed in my searching was the phrase wait for the Lord. This almost made me give up on finding why I felt so uplifted about the idea of putting the days of waiting behind me and marking it off as being simply my flesh screaming out.

I did also spot, however, that at times, this was changed to wait on the Lord. It was this that led to my realisation of how big a difference there is in these two things.

Imagine a restaurant. The customer comes in and sits down. They wait for their order to be taken and then wait for it to arrive. They just come in, take something and leave. The diner has a wonderful time, but that is all. It won’t affect their life outside particularly and will only cost them as much as the meal.

Now consider the waiter. This person waits on the clients. It’s a completely different role.

Think about it. The waiter is constantly looking out for customers to help. He will move on the inclination that they want to order, not waiting for their demands to be definite. His urgency is to please them; their desires become his concern. If the table wants an entertaining evening, it’s his job to make them have a memorable night. If they want a quiet date, the waiter will be as unobtrusive as possible.

This is the revelation that I have got out of this song. Too many Christians, myself included, come to church at times wanting to be fed. They come for a gorgeous meal and because God is love, being in his presence is always going to be a good time. What is God’s desire for us, however, is that we wait on Him. The waiter in the example above does not need to know the customers well to understand how to serve them. The same is true for God. You know the basics and what his heart is for and against, so you can act on these things.

In conclusion, what I have realised on hearing this song is that I want to stop being a child who used to wait for God to do things for me, but instead become a man who waits on Him. This is not being impatient, as I will have to be patient for my time to come. I will also still have to wait for the clear directives we sometimes need and for answers to prayer, but not for direction. I have enough information for that.

Image

Recently I’ve been watching and rewatching a video on Youtube that has rather tickled me. It’s very rude, so do not watch where people are possible to overhear you.

The content is highly messed up and that’s part of why I like it. I see it as a logical extension of what is acceptable if pre-marriage sex is acceptable and is therefore highlighting how disturbing that idea really is. I don’t expect it to be to everyone’s tastes, but this is a world in which we are all different and our tastes very much so. What is acceptable is a very subjective thing anyway, but more on that in a future blog.

One of the main appeals of it however, is the acting. I find both of them so good at mixing the laughable and yet slightly believable acting. I particularly like Justin Timberlake, as this is a complete turnaround from what he was doing when I first noticed him.

That got me thinking though about Mr Timberlake and how his image has changed over the years. He started out as a squeaky clean pop star without a blemish, all handsome looks and tween appeal. This then grew to something aimed at his ageing and maturing audience, with more a focus on his success and talent. After a brief break from music, he came back with the single SexyBack, showing him once again as a confident man well aware of the fact he was attractive to women. He also has focussed on his acting career, appearing in kid’s films such as Shrek the Third and Yogi Bear, in addition to more serious fare such as Southland Tales and the Social Network, reviewed here.

It is the last of these in combination with the video above that have made me think the most. In both of these he plays a complete jerk, someone who believes they are cool and awesome but are really hollow and selfish. I can’t help wondering whether these roles were chosen for him because they show a genuine lesson learned by the man or whether they think that he is this kind of idiot. Part of me thinks the former, as it is a great move to gain new fans. He’s not lost any who found him attractive, as nothing has changed there, but those who couldn’t stand his sell out nature, as that’s what I imagine they call it, can see him attack that type of person. It’s a very clear shift from what he was and marks him as a much more mature person.

The question that naturally follows is whether this is then ok? The question of celebrity image is a large one, that I cannot hope to cover in its entirety in this short blog, but it is worth thinking about. It is common practice for a solo artist to use their own image for brand recognition and to suggest otherwise is almost lunacy. Would Daft Punk have risen to worldwide fame if they didn’t dress up and would you try an unknown new artist if they weren’t willing to show an indication of what their musical style was like? I doubt it, but at what point does this marketing become manipulation? How much of their image should be determined by what they do in real life and how much by their desires of what they want to be?

Consider the case of Justin. With the social network and the mother lover video he is presenting an image of being someone who is having fun and yet also very aware of his own self image and how he affects others. Is this right if he has not genuinely learnt the lesson from his early days that money and success are not everything? If it’s wrong to pretend to be purer than you really you are, and then is it acceptable for the press to expose this fraudulent behaviour, even if it interferes with their private life? In an ideal world, nothing but the truth would be presented, but is this possible when you yourself are the brand? You can’t be wholly honest, else people will see your sinful ways and judge you for it. On the other hand, who has the right to judge that you have hidden too much and not revealed the full picture? It’s a hard call and one any artist wanting to present themselves to the world must think about. You may not be able to answer it fully, but there certainly is a lot to consider.

A change to Spotify

I don’t know if you’ve heard the news, but Spotify’s free service is due to change at the end of this month. Not only are they limiting user’s monthly allowance to 10 hours but they are restricting the amount of times you can play a track to five times. After playing a song five times, you will not be able to play that again unless you pay.

This is quite a radical change, and one that has caused me to think hard about my use of their service. Like many I imagine, I have used it to construct playlists and then listen to them repeatedly. For example, I have a set of albums I really enjoy, soundtracks to films I like and a selection of fifties and sixties rock ‘n’ roll. I use Spotify at work to pick a playlist that I’m in the mood for that day and listen to it with one ear, with office chat being heard by the other. I essentially treat it as a radio station that I control the content of, some of which are tracks I’ve already bought, others I’ve not. I would say I use it for at least ten hours in a week.

This new announcement essentially ends this kind of usage for free. They have essentially rebranded the free service to be used only for discovering new music. It is this “heavy use” as a radio channel that they wish to ban, as I imagine it is becoming unprofitable. However, I don’t think that this is the best way to go about it. I can understand that something needs to be done, but this feels unfair. Not for the users, as many are saying it is, but to the advertisers. The companies who’ve paid for exposure to users have now been devalued by limiting the amount of time users can spend listening. A problem I’ve always had with Spotify is that it seems to me that half of the adverts are for themselves. I would estimate that you have one thirty second advert for Spotify and one for another company every three tracks, which if we assume on average lasts a total of ten minutes, then for every user there will be a maximum of a hour of advertising, half of which will be for Spotify. That is an incredibly low level of exposure and not worth the effort of hiring famous names (such as David Mitchell for Go Compare) for your Spotify slots.

It has made me think about my music buying habits though. I haven’t spent much on music since getting Spotify; I would imagine not more than three CDs in a year. Upon realising that, I was a bit shocked. Is it ok for me to spend so little supporting the artists I enjoy so much? There are specific albums that I listen to often but haven’t purchased because I can listen to them on Spotify. Can I justify doing this? There are film soundtracks I listen to because I don’t want to watch the whole film but just have a brief reminder, are those worth purchasing, particularly if I’ve bought the DVD?

There are several choices open to me. I can keep not spending and switch to another free service such as we7.com. I have used them before in the past as they have some albums that are not on Spotify that I wanted to listen to. I didn’t mind the fact that there was a five second advert before every track, it was more the fact that it wasn’t distinct from a web browser and also had long load times. Another option is paying five pounds a month for Unlimited. Its good value, but what would I be paying for? After what feels like a sudden and treacherous move by Spotify, I don’t particularly want them to give them my money, especially as I now fear they could change their service at a moments notice because their business model wasn’t well thought out. I also want to make sure my money only goes to the artists I support and not just a selection of record labels.

I want something that I can listen to on my computer at work, and this means no data on the machine, but streaming the music. I think the most likely option, and one that I wish more people would follow as opposed to piracy, is that I will surrender my wide choice for the free price. I intend to use iPlayer and other streaming services to listen to radio channels at work and will buy CDs that I particularly like. That way I don’t have a choice over what I listen to but will be happier listening to it for free as opposed to paying Spotify for the privilege. I may still use Spotify for its new intended purpose as a try before you buy service but I will not pay to essentially rent music. I don’t want to pay for something that after several months of use I come away left with nothing.

At the end of the day, we “heavy users” must be grateful for what we had. Spotify that was has been a great tool for fighting piracy, but it has never been perfect. I have heard people saying that before Spotify they would torrent an album and if they really liked it would resort to buying it, but now Spotify it and if they really love it, pirate it. They are a company when all is said and done and this seemed too good to be true. As its popularity grew, it turned out it was. You will be missed Spotify Free, farewell.