Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

First Round of Existential Camera Question Goes to Zoom

August 4, 2012
bradspurgeon

I have been hanging around home for the last three days as I edit my documentary film about open mics, and prepare my memoir and my novel for adolescents for submission to publishers/agents. What this has meant is wonderful experiences using the new Final Cut X, which got so hugely criticized when it first came out last year. It has also meant thinking a LOT about cameras, films and editing; and meeting an existential question to do with cameras, which was started off by a recent experience.

First, a note on Final Cut X. I had a week’s worth of training – 35 to 40 hours – on Final Cut Pro 7 in 2007. I then bought Premiere Pro for my home use, as I was only using a PC at home. Then after I started assembling all the rushes on my documentary about traveling around the world to open mics last year, I realized that my PC was antiquated and could not deal with the 100 hours or more of sound and footage that I had accumulated for the film, from interviews in 20 countries last year.

So I decided to buy a heavy duty Mac Pro – one of those PC-looking Macs that sits on the floor – and to buy Final Cut X. I had heard all sorts of crappy things about it, since filmmakers were as unhappy as I was, no doubt, at having learned how to use Final Cut Pro 7 and then discovering that Final Cut X had re-written the paradigm, and it looked like iMovie.

I needed one thing in particular that it had just come out with, and that was the new multicam aspect that came out after the first version. I had often done interviews with three cameras operating at once, as well as a sound recording device. I needed to sink all of that, and the Premiere Pro system – even using PluralEyes’ synching software – was not great…in fact it was a pain.

Now that I have started editing in ernest, I can say this is better than like driving a limousine. This is like sitting in a television studio and snapping your fingers during a live feed to mix and mash all the camera angles as the show goes on. It is FUN as hell, and works incredibly. I never thought editing the film would be so much fun. Additionally, Final Cut X does all the rendering in the background without you having to ask it to do so. It is sooooo simple, so beautiful, so cool.

Now to get down to figuring out what to discard from my film, making the storyline work. But I think I have that approach worked out now! In any case, it’s as fun doing it as it was interviewing people and putting the footage together.

zoom q3hd

zoom q3hd


So, that other thing I mentioned? That was to do with hardware and recording. I continue going to open mics for fun and for this blog, and I carry around a little portable Zoom Q3HD recording device, which is mainly made to record great sound, with a camera recording device added almost as an afterthought.

But it is so simple to use and to carry – on my belt – that I have always thought it was the ideal device for this blog. Unfortunately, sometimes when the lighting is really bad, the image quality is trash. Having said that, it can see in the dark to a degree, and has three basic settings for the lighting, so it is easy to use brainlessly.

But when last week I saw a video that Patrick Lamoine did of me playing at the Coolin open mic two weeks ago I was struck by the extraordinary quality of the image, and I asked him what he filmed it with. It turns out it was done with a Canon DSLR camera. That is, a camera for taking photographs that also does video. This has become a very common way to make videos, and some people are even making full length films with DSLRs.

I had noticed Patrick using the camera with a large microphone attached to it, as he attends all the Coolin open mic sessions and takes the official photos and videos – it is a great concept. I seriously wondered if I should change over to a DSLR for my blog. But Patrick had also used for a separate sound device at Zoom H4, placed above the bar – and that is apparently what he used on the video of me.

(If the video does not work correctly, click the link above it:)

Brad Spurgeon par Coolin_Open_Mic

Check out the video – even if it is not my most vital performance – in fact, I was a spaced out on this first song, “Year of the Cat” by Al Stewart, and I did a better job on the next song, my own, “Except Her Heart.” (And you may notice people behind me leaving as soon as I start, and another looking at his cell phone – but you can’t win them all!) But the quality of the image when compared to most of what I deliver on my blog is just fabulous.

My interest piqued, I then started looking at more of the videos Patrick has taken in recent weeks. I was able to find one of the same performance that we both made a video of. It was the delightful trio of starring the deadly Alix on guitar and the fun Ansaya on vocals. The video done by Patrick was not done in the same light as the one he did of me, but it was with the same camera.

This is the video I took of the trio with my Zoom Q3HD:

So if you actually compare the two videos, my portable – and half-the-price – Zoom Q3HD really stands up to it, and the sound is far better. So I don’t think, all things considered, that I will run out immediately and buy a DSLR. But I think I will keep looking around to see if there is anything irresistibly cool on the market, now that I have had my attention turned that way….

This is the video Patrick Lamoine took of the trio with his DSLR at the same time as I took mine with my Zoom Q3HD (if the video does not work correctly, click the link above it.):

Alix Thierry, Anzaya Khan & Mohamed Azzouz par Coolin_Open_Mic

Still, I’m so busy with the film that I should probably calm my buying ardor and just get on with it.

A Three-Part Blog Item to Make Up For Time Lost in Travel Warps

July 10, 2012
bradspurgeon

PART I

I just hate letting the blog slide, but things were just way beyond my control over the last couple of days, and I do not want to leave the impression that either I was not doing anything interesting, or not doing music, or not taking risks in life to live my dreams. OK, now that I have that dramatic lead out of the way, let me get on with a three-part blog item, which is the only way I can figure out doing justice to the last three nights of musical levity and profundity.

I left off with my last Oxford blog talking about the lost opportunity at the Oxford Folk Club. Well, Saturday night I had nothing lined up for playing music when suddenly a Formula One racing journalist colleague and I discovered after many years of knowing each other that we had a passion for music, and on his side especially jazz. It was clear we would hit it off when I told him I could never sing jazz, but loved it. But I added the singer HAD to be astounding for me to like it, as most amateur jazz singers sound to me like cold porridge – or flat champagne.

So he said, “Who is a great jazz singer?” I said, “Jimmy Rushing.” He said, “Guess who I was listening to in the car on the way to the circuit this morning?!?!” Yes, Rushing. So later in the day, this colleague told me he had been invited to a barbecue of a mutual colleague of ours – a photographer – and I was now invited and should bring my guitar to entertain the guests. I felt great relief telling him my guitar was in Oxford, that I could not return there and then back to the circuit. For the location of the party was in a small village next to the circuit. “Bad news, Brad. It turns out our colleague’s daughter has a guitar,” he said to me.

He must have picked up on my relief that I would not be found out as a fake, since I had spoken a lot about my musical adventure – as had some others of our colleagues to him. I was scared shitless that I would not be up to his expectations. But music comes first, emotions come first, the real reason for playing and singing, come first: expressing inner emotional truth, and who gives a fuck what others think.

So I went to the party, drank enough to relax, ate, and met the 25 or so guests. Then at the right moment, I got the daughter’s guitar out and began playing. It turned into about one hour of singing along, clapping, fun, emotion, and a general huge success. I had an astoundingly good time, and reports back the following day confirmed that I was not alone to have fun. So it was yet another example of, “Push yourself towards expanding the boundaries and doing what you love and taking chances.”

PART II

I ended up sleeping over at this person’s home, in the swimming pool room, and so thereby avoiding traffic and getting to the circuit early for an interview and then the race. I then returned to my hotel in Oxford, went out to dinner and then went to the Harcourt Arms pub’s open mic, which I also attended last year in its first weeks of its existence. Remember, this one came out of the Bookbinder’s open mic down the street, which was organized by Nigel Brown…. A year later, with Nigel still running the Harcourt Arms open mic, I was greeted warmly as I entered, by both Nigel AND the publicans. Wow! It is like a second home. I have a lot of those now around the world.

It turned into a perfect open mic evening with a wide cross-section of performers, wonderful meetings with musicians, locals, tourists and three drop-dead gorgeous German women students all studying biochemistry! (I now realize I should have gone into science….) There was a fabulous pub atmosphere as usual in this consummate neighborhood English pub, with the added attraction of it being located in the great university town.

But the adventure here would become for me yet another case of following instinct, desire and ambitions as I performed a set of two songs alone, and then got another chance to go up, and I asked Nigel a question.

“This year,” I told him, “as I travel the world, I am trying to play and record myself playing, in each country with a local musician. Would you like to play with me?”

He said fine, but added that I would be better off with a guitarist named Johnny Hinkes. So I asked Johnny, and he agreed to play with me. I had not really been very motivated to ask, as it really is like leaping across a big canyon to go out and put yourself forward and say, “Can someone play with me?”

But when I got up to play with Johnny, I realized that I was with a lead guitarist like none I had ever played with before. I started with “Mad World,” because I thought it suited the moment, and would be easy and good for him to play along to. But he did such an amazing and different job with it, that I decided to be ambitious and do my song, “Borderline.” He was even better with that, and had never heard it before. It was a fabulous success, I had the time of my life, and I got it recorded too – although not on video. The Harcourt Arms and Nigel Brown came through again – better than ever! (I was then offered a cab ride back to my hotel by someone going that direction, which was a fabulous time saver for my Monday travels.)

PART III

It was a long, long, long day from Oxford back to Paris. I had to drive my rental car to Avis in London, then go to the St. Pancras station and take the Eurostar. Just before entering the Channel Tunnel, the train stopped at a station and we sat there for 2 hours!!! That is 20 minutes short of what the whole trip is supposed to take. The train had a technical problem and could not go through the tunnel. Would we have been suffocated or something?

Finally, we switched to a new train, and I arrived in Paris at 20:15. It was too late to return home and THEN go to the Coolin open mic as I planned. So I just went directly to Coolin with all my luggage and my guitar and ate a meal there – English fish ‘n chips – and I waited for the open mic. I was not feeling particularly inspired about the evening, but it began to grow on me, I saw friends, I heard great music, I got into the vibe, did my bit, and then saw some people I met last week – the trio with Alix, Anzaya and Leyone, whom I had met last week when I hosted the Galway open mic.

Suddenly, I found that I was having the greatest evening, totally into it, loving every moment. It was yet another cool Coolin, and I was again on top of the world. A fine end to a busy weekend.








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