Hail to the kings of movie soundtracks

Last Saturday I closed a loop that had started 40 years ago: I watched the movie Footloose.

Yes, I’m talking about that old Kevin Bacon chestnut. I finally got around to seeing it.

Some of you may remember that the movie as well its soundtrack were huge hits in 1984; the catchy title song, in particular, was all over the radio and TV. It was almost as big as previous year’s Flashdance.

As for the movie? I never bothered to watch it because I took it for a musical.

Time passes.

We’re now in 1986. The movie Top Gun comes out. It’s hugely popular and complemented by a killer soundtrack lead by “Danger Zone”, another Kenny Loggins track.

Kenny may have been dubbed the “King of Movie Soundtracks” in the eighties but it was ultimately Giorgio Moroder and Harold Faltermeyer who were pulling the strings.

There’s a pattern emerging here.

Again, I’m not bothered to watch the movie. Tom Cruise irritated me to no end, and knowing that a bunch of Northrop F-5 jets were standing in for fictitious MiG-28s cheapened the premise of a blockbuster movie of its scale – mostly because I was into building model planes at the time. I knew my jet fighters.

I also happened to be a member of a record library, so I borrowed the soundtrack LP. It got copied onto the A-side of a cheap C-90 cassette while the B-side was filled with the Footloose soundtrack because the pairing worked rather well.

Here’s a scan of the insert of the tape I made in 1986:

J-card/insert of "Top Gun & Footloose" soundtrack tape

It’s boring as hell because I didn’t have suitable magazine cutouts available although, in hindsight, if you’d think of the term “crop duster” then it suddenly makes some sort of sense and would apply to both movies.

Fast forward to December 2023.

The original Top Gun movie is on Netflix (obviously bolstered by the success of last year’s sequel), so I finally decide to watch what one can only summarise as a testosterone-laden cock-measuring contest of a US Navy recruitment exercise in the typical Jerry Bruckheimer vein. It’s definitely a product of its time and has a target audience.

Then, a few days ago, Footloose popped up on Netflix too.

I suddenly remembered my old tape. Watching the movie became an unfulfilled duty.

The plot, as it turns out, is actually similar to Top Gun — being the familiar cliché-riddled tale of a handsome, rebellious guy with father issues who beats the system/enemy, earns the respect of his peers, and ultimately gets the girl (except that there’s more dancing).

The story is as American as apple pie, and the girl is always blonde.

Although the tape no longer exists, it certainly left a to-do list behind.

And now, we can close this forgotten loop in the space-time continuum.

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Happy Birthday, Flickr!

Flickr turned 20 years old last weekend.

While it may have lost some of its original lustre in recent years, Flickr was, is, and remains one of the prime sites for amateur and professional photographers alike.

It is the OG of photo sharing sites. Flickr managed to survive multiple changes of ownership despite becoming something of a running gag for a period.

It was August 2005 when I signed up, armed with wanderlust and a new 5 megapixel Fujifilm camera. I was ready to share the captured sights and wonders of the world around me.

Plastic flowers for sale at the Oriental Plaza, Johannesburg

Since I knew there’s no way I would compete with far more advanced or prolific photographers and their fancy Canon EOS 300D/Digital Rebel cameras, Flickr’s free tier (restricted to a maximum of 200 photos at the time) was quite adequate for my humble needs. I felt a member of a community and an even larger sense of excitement when one of my photos was selected to appear in a real book. Others turned up on various random sites. When I noticed that many of my photos were of landscapes and cities (ergo: geographically relevant but artistically uninteresting), I moved those over to Panoramio while the best of the best went up on 500px. One must diversify.

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Review: 2023

So this is Christmas, and what have you done?
Another year over, let’s see what went wrong…

That little pandemic which failed to kill off humankind by forcing everyone home has given way to another disruption: Artificial Intelligence. The age of AI is upon us.

Following the pandemic’s end, many tech behemoths such as Google, Microsoft, IBM, Facebook and Amazon laid off thousands of workers as the industry went into a form of recession; it also allowed CES to take place again for the first time since the pandemic, showcasing the usual palette of dystopian products the world doesn’t need.

The Doomsday Clock has been set at 90 seconds to midnight.

Google went “code red” following ChatGPT’s sudden success, prompting founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin back into active work. In December, Google’s Gemini model would be unveiled. Governments the world over scramble to control and regulate the genie before it figures out how to escape from the bottle.

“Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.”

Chinese company Unitree builds a cheap, bipedal humanoid robot that resists simply getting kicked over. In fact, they are reproducing: Robots are starting to build more robots.

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The quality of slide scans

When we were children, photos existed in two formats: as prints and as slides.

The prints were stored in photo albums curated by my parents, and the slides were tucked away in their original little plastic boxes in a bookshelf. Our collective memories were safe.

Every so often we’d find ourselves gathered around the dining room table and Dad would pull out the slides, insert one into the slide viewer and pass it around while recalling an exciting anecdote or another one of his tall tales.

The slides had completely disappeared off my radar until early 2008 when my father brought them over — along with a slide scanner he couldn’t figure out how to operate.

Logik LDScan11 slide scanner

Once we did, the results of those scans were rather scattershot.

We blamed it as much on the scanner as the quality of the slides (which had always been stored properly in a dark and dry place) and some of the original shots (blurry and/or poorly exposed). Nonetheless, we did manage to salvage a few good pictures. My father was generally satisfied with the results and left the scanner as well as the slides in my care because I knew that someday I would revisit them with my trusty old Epson Perfection 3490 Photo flatbed scanner.

That day arrived in early 2020. It was time to digitise all my photos.

By then, my own analogue photo collection consisted of a multitude of prints and Polaroids, the aforementioned 35mm slides as well as the original negatives from my own basic analogue cameras.

Before launching into the project, I made the mistake of looking for inspiration and workflow ideas because, well, it’s not like I’ve never scanned anything before, right?

Advice for the grossly incompetent exists in spades; what follows are my thoughts and experiences on the matter. Brace for impact!

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September and the inner demons of detritus

This CD, as I begin to write these words today, is exactly 20 years old.

It’s never been played. It’s a virgin.

What is the Quadrumatrix? A 20-year-old CD-R, that's what!

What happened?

I found the CD during a recent archaeological dig in the basement. It wanted to be found because, just a few days prior, a colleague had given a presentation about techno music, complete with a live demo of his mixing skills. While none of the gear and tools he showcased were entirely unfamiliar to me, it did get me to wax nostalgic about the crudeness of the tools and methods we used to create our own series of mixing projects back in the day – and we didn’t use turntables or CDJs either. We relied on audio files while my colleague mixed tracks live via his Spotify account. He publishes his mixes on YouTube, we distributed ours via CD-R. Does anyone even use those things anymore?

I’m starting to feel old. Things have changed.

This particular CD was the runt of the litter. It’s that extra disc (four, actually) with the cracked case that never found a customer.  It’s that disc I wanted to gift to someone or slip in somewhere when I got rid of a larger batch. I remember the project as clearly as if it was just 20 days ago. How could the last two decades have flown by so quickly? I shudder to realise that in another 20 years’ time I’ll be as old as my father when he died.

And so the CD continues to hang around. Contrary to expectations it still plays!

There are many others like it in the basement: CDs that have never been listened to by me (or anyone else), DVDs of movies I have yet to watch (or see again), and documents to be scanned. There’s material for art ideas that have yet to be realised and tech that’s getting more vintage with each passing year it waits to be rediscovered.

The issue with dated media and technical matter became more palpable when I realised that yet another birthday was looming. Every year is getting shorter, I never seem to find the time (and all those other Floydianisms permeated by the clichéd stench of a mid-life crisis). Why am I even bothering with this stuff? Wake me up when September ends!

There be many monsters hiding in the dungeon.

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Panoramio: To boldly go where no Google car has gone before

Well, how about that?

No sooner had I removed all my photos from Google Places did Google dispatch their fleet of Street View cars to fill in the missing locations in Germany!

It’s just coincidence, of course.

Although both statements are correct they are completely unrelated.

Still, seeing as this year seems to be revolving around nothing but salaried work and digitising my stash of photos, there is a bit of a story to tell. It begins with Flickr.

Flickr is/was a great place to showcase photographs. I’ve been using it for nearly 20 years. Naturally, many of my photos featured city or rural environments with an emphasis on places or objects within them. Eventually I discovered a site called Panoramio.

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Photo stitching software

In my previous post I wrote that AI-based utilities have no place in my personal photo enhancement toolbox. Their results have been more miss than hit on my digitised snapshots. One set of utilities, however, has managed to generate results that almost border on the magical: Photo stitching software.

Many modern cameras and smartphones today feature the ability to create panoramic or 360-degree images but it is stitching software that is able to take photos, ideally from the same vantage point, of one or more subjects and almost seamlessly stitch them together into one larger picture.

So long as the focal point and lighting are similar, the results can be quite amazing.

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