Pete Um and the Terrible Digital Curse Of Um   Leave a comment

Alright, so I know I haven’t got beriberi or dengue fever or leukaemia but I do feel a bit cursed at the moment. Allow me to sketch a picture of the artist at work one night about a week ago. There I am, hunched in a corner of my cavernous and junk-filled room, because for some reason only my anglepoise lamp was working, so it was basically me and my TEAC A3340-S reel-to-reel machine (one dodgy channel), because the rest of the room was shadows. It’s also bitterly cold, just like in an important Russian novel. I was using the four track because my computer is fucked, as I may have mentioned previously, and yet I feel compelled to create stuff otherwise I’d just be a bloke drinking beer and getting wasted. So I’m there drinking beer and getting wasted, having just mastered about three days worth of analogue tape abuse down onto digital tape with my smart TASCAM MD 301MK2 minidisk player, and I found myself musing that of all the bastard things that have gone wrong on me equipment-wise in recent times (for instance the Memory Man delay pedal that I got in a swap with Phil had just died two days previously, which was about the second time I’d used it, point of fact) my TASCAM had been solid as a rock. And hey, I thought, some of this reel-to-reel stuff isn’t quite so harsh and random when you get in the right, uh, frame of mind. Suddenly the music stopped, although the LED seemed to be trying to convince itself that it was still playing. I got up with shaky legs and a sick heart and pressed stop. “BLANK DISC” it blinked at me. “FUCK YOU” I said. I pressed eject. “BLANK DISC” it said again. That’s all it ever says now. It’s hanging onto the mixdown tape too. I can see it but I can’t get it out of the machine. I tried to do another mix on my portable minidisk player but it’s come out too quiet and the player doesn’t seem to have a facility for changing the line input level. Then I tried another mix onto my hard drive but I fucked it up because it was late and cold and I was tired and freezing and caned and pissed off. The point is that this is over an hours worth of music and you have to get it more or less exactly right.
Anyway, I decided that enough was enough I couldn’t just be beaten into submission like an analogue dog with an evil digital master, so I took matters into my own hands and started whining at Andy about my problems. We arranged for me to take my PC over to his to run some tests. Before doing so, however, I just checked some obvious things like swapping the monitor and checking if the video card was nice and snug in its motherboard slot. Everything was cool. It was still fucked.
Andy took one look at my machine and pointed out that the video card was not in fact nice and snug in its motherboard slot, and in fact it was noticeably popping out of it. I’d confused my firewire card with my video card. He readjusted the position of the video card and booted up the machine, which then ran hassle-free for 48 hours, even when you did challenging things like opening different programs or using the CD-Rom drive. We assumed, therefore, we’d found the root of the problem. Or rather Andy had. Then I took my PC home, or rather I asked Sam to ferry me back and forth again. Then I plugged everything in and wired all the gubbins up, hands shaking from the exertion of carrying the brute up three flights of stairs and then manoeuvring it into the stupidly cramped position in which it lives. You know how it is – that frame of mind you are in when you’ve just, say, bought some new bit of fun utility kit and got it home and rushed through the assembly process without recourse to manuals and so forth because you’re so eager to plug it in and see it WORK and USE IT. Well, of course, it didn’t and I couldn’t. It just gave me a DISK BOOT FAILURE. INSERT SYSTEM DISK message, and when I restarted it it gave me the old parallel lines jazz. Twice. Then the third (lucky time) it booted but the mouse didn’t seem to work. That happened about four times. Finally it booted up OK and it’s been fine ever since. Go figure. It is a fucking voodoo curse.
And, as a postscript, this is what happened to me the other Saturday when I pitched up for that Cabaret gig in Hackney (A Special Occasion). I’d prepared a set of my most cabaret friendly tunes, but for some reason the MOVE function on either of my portable minidisk players (including the one where the rechargeable battery doesn’t recharge and one of the pins on the plug on the power adaptor has broken off which means that you have to jam open the hole on the four-way plug with a match in order to use it) had ceased to work. It would still let you NAME tracks, or ERASE them, but for some godawfully obscure reason that MOVE option had disappeared. I felt paralysed. Normally I bring several minidisk tapes along just in case, you know, something goes awry. As it happened, what with all the time-sucking difficulties associated with lost MOVE functions, I was struggling to get out of the door in time to catch the train to get to a part of London that is not catered to by London Underground by the ludicrously early soundcheck time of 1PM. This meant that I had considerable metropolitan thumb-twiddling time before I got to do my ten-minute slot at 9PM approx. Therefore when I couldn’t put my hands on an alternative singing-over-tapes tape in the dunes of studio junk that litter my room I gave up on it. I recall thinking that I’d had my share of snafus that week already. Anyway, when I got to The Mildmay Club, which has perhaps the most splendid interior ever cursed by an Um performance, there were no bands busily soundchecking as might be expected and as indeed I was expecting, but there was a man being told how to use his legs and feet to get onto the stage with maximum theatrical effect, and this seemed to me to be taking a hell of a long time. There was a soundman, but he was laying down in the darkness on a seat in the auditorium. Eventually I approached him and started to explain how I would need my minidisk player onstage with me because I needed to have access to it during my performance. Why is that, he asked. Simple question. Complex answer. Lots of talk of missing MOVE functions and minidisk players that suddenly say BLANK DISK. Matey offers to use his minidisk player, which he has with him, to put my songs in the order in which I would like to perform them. The guy has a small moustache that could possibly inspire trust. OK, I say, but for God’s sake don’t erase anything. Ha ha. So yeah, he MOVEs the songs about, a little bit too quickly for my liking, but then he is one of those soundmen that seems to have a lot of nervous energy, the type of which that is often best absorbed in fast technical work. All goes well until he attempts to finalise the new track sequence by ejecting the tape in order to initiate the TOC (table of contents) function. You minidisk people know what I’m on about, although I sense I may have lost a few of the rest of you along the way in this story. Anyway, you can guess the rest. What’s the worst possible error message I could get at that point? That’s right. BLANK DISC. Of course the guy is mortified, but mortification is of little use to me at this point. He begins to rapidly fire apologies and unhelpful suggestions and/or observations at me, while I stare into the abyss. It goes something like this (you have to remember that he speaks really fast and I’m speaking slowly and in a sort of emotionally flat way):

“Oh dear. Oh mate. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry about that. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know why that happened. I’m really sorry.
“It wasn’t your fault…I’m just…”
“I’m really sorry. I don’t know what happened. You don’t have a spare disk with you then?”
“No”
“Oh dear. Where do you live?”
“Cambridge.”
“Oh dear. I’m really sorry. What are you going to do?
“I don’t know…I’m trying to think…”
“Of course. You’re trying to think. You’re thinking on your feet. I am really sorry about this. I don’t know what happened. This is why it’s always go
od to have a backup in case…”
“I usually do have a backup. I just thought…”
“I’m really sorry mate. I don’t know what happened.”
“It’s not your fault. It’s to do with me. I have a …curse…”

Anyway, rather than go all the way back to Cambridge for the sake of a minidisk for a ten minute set, or just giving up on the gig entirely, I eventually decide that since I am basically a singing-over-tapes merchant I might as well go the whole hog and sing along to the Um CDs I have brought along to sell. And, without prolonging this postscript any further, that is what I do, and it works out rather well. I could recount some of the demands the rest of the evening made on my nervous system, but I don’t think I’d be doing myself any favours. The weird thing was that tons of people came to the event, but they were more like a theatre audience in their heterogeneity, which worried me a bit to begin with. On balance though, I reckon I went down better than most. In fact two blokes approached me separately but one after the other in quick succession to ask if I would appear at a forthcoming 40th birthday party (funnily enough my next gig, the next day, was also a 40th birthday bash). I’m on the up. I can feel it. If I can just throw off this terrible voodoo curse…

Posted December 2, 2004 by peteum2013 in Uncategorized

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