Reflecting the Soundwave

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:31 am


Alex and I had a big, big day yesterday. In the morning we were in Lismore for the ordination of my brother, Paul, as a pastor. Got to see the family, and will write more about Paul and the ordination later. At one point during the church service when a lovely little old lady was singing a solo hymn in that vibrato-heavy old church style I leaned over to Alex and whispered ‘This is one extreme of your music experience for the day.’

Then we jumped on my bike after a short chat with the assembled family members after church and heading the 2.5 hours north to Brisbane. Combining that ride with the wooden benches we sat on later in the day, ‘The Iron Butt Challenge’ was considered as an alternative title for this post.

We’d planned to make it to the Soundwave festival at about 3, but church ran long and then we had to at least briefly hang out with the family, so it was more like 4 by the time we arrived.

We headed to Stage 1 and got into it. The rest of this post features guest commentator Alex, who was at her first big festival and also seeing her first metal gigs, giving her complementary reactions and comments.



I did want to see Primus, and I’m glad we made it. Les Claypool is a freak-genius player of the bass, and their funky anthems are a lot of fun. Got to hear ‘Tommy The Cat’, and then a couple of others I didn’t know, and Les donned a pig mask partway through. Definitely fun, but for me the whimsy kind of overpowers the music, so that it’s a novelty act more than something I want to listen to seriously. We meandered off after 3 songs so as not to miss Dummi Borgir.


For the first real metal show I’ve seen live, I was shocked, but pleasantly surprised at the quirks and oddities of the Primus show. The pig mask definitely made me look twice. In terms of their music, it was weird and funky and probably not something that I’d listen to on an iPod just becuase I think that you’d need the weirdness of the live show to complement the weirdness of the music. But, live, they were a great show and very entertaining.

Dimmu Borgir


When we were planning our day at the festival there were only two non-negotiables for me, these guys and Iron Maiden (though of course Alex could have gone and seen something else). I didn’t get any real argument about either of them anyway, but I definitely wanted to see this band, and they didn’t disappoint. Highlight of the festival for me in terms of discovering something new.

I was kind of peripherally familiar with their brand of symphonic Norwegian black metal, but the show was just amazing. Corpse paint really needs a grim and frost-bitten northern midnight, not a big blue sunny Brisbane afternoon, but they played with great power and conviction, chatted with the crowd and just put on a great metal show. They used backing tapes a fair bit, but that’s understandable given that their last album heavily featured a symphony orchestra and choir. I could say more, but I’ll just say see these guys live if you get the chance.

Oh yeah, and I yelled to Alex during this set ‘…and this is the other extreme!’


Dimmu Borgir was the band that surprised me the most in terms of my reaction to them. I really, really enjoyed the show and the music. I had thought that because they were on the heavier side of metal their songs would all be similar with fast guitars and faster drums but this was definitely not the case. Each song had different and interesting riffs and melodies and, although I couldn’t understand the growl-y words at all, it was not unpleasant to listen to.

In terms of the performance, it was amazing, although I couldn’t help but laugh at the very metal-ness of the show. The corpse paint, long hair, costumes, it all seemed a little too stereotypically metal, like maybe it was a loving parody (think: Spinal Tap). This was before I realised that metal shows were exactly how they were portrayed and, while it seemed a little comical at first, I really enjoyed the epic-ness of the performance and the show that the band members put on for the fans.

Ill Nino


Crank had told me this was a band to check out, and they were on right next to the stage where Dimmu had just finished and where Slayer were next up, so it was convenient.

In general I enjoyed them, but they focused on the heavier end of their spectrum, and it all got a bit repetitive and ‘samey’ after a while. Too many profane exhortations of the crowd. They were massively groove-heavy, with two drummers as well as bass and two guitars, and I suspect I’d probably enjoy their albums, but they just didn’t do a huge amount for me live.


My reaction to Ill Nino is very similar to Dad’s. I enjoyed the groovy-metal music for the first few songs but after a while, all the songs kind of melted into one continuous stream of drumming and bass riffs. I did really enjoy the singing-growling mix that the singer did and felt that that helped to break up the general monotony of the music. Like Dad, I suspect they are better on their albums when you can hear and understand the lyrics a little better.



I’d seen the other three of the Big Four thrash bands (Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax) live and enjoyed them, so in a Pokemon sort of way I needed to complete the set by checking out Slayer. Friends whose taste I trust {waves at Boogerhead} had assured me I’d be converted to fanhood, but I had my doubts and I’m afraid they were confirmed.

I think I gave them a reasonable shot, but given the intensity and roughness of the crowd, we ended up bailing after 4 songs.

Part of the problem was the mix: maybe it was intentional, but the guitars were completely buried. The kick drum could be felt whole-body, which was great, and while Tom’s monotone roars, which don’t impress me much, were kind of audible, Kerry King and Geoff Holt (from Exodus – standing in for the ill Jeff Hanneman) almost might as well not have been there.


I must say, I wasn’t too impressed with Slayer. It might have been because the very rough crowd pushed me aside every few minutes and so the music wasn’t really worth dealing with the sweaty, stinky metal fans. Similar to Ill Nino, the first few songs were good but the monotone singing made it difficult to enjoy for very long. We left pretty early into the gig (something that involved hitching a ride behind other fans because both Dad and I are too polite to shove our way through the crowd) but I don’t feel like I missed out on a real metal experience at all.

One Day As A Lion


I’d been anticipating this show – Zack de la Rocha from Rage Against The Machine with a drummer and a fuzzed-out Rhodes electric piano, rapping and singing. And for 3 songs or so, it kinda worked. Then you realise that a fuzzed-out Rhodes doesn’t really replace the complexity of bass and guitars. And it all starts to sound the same. The fact that we didn’t know the lyrics and couldn’t hear them was unhelpful too, since this is political hiphop/rock and the content is important. Have to say, an hour of it ended up being a bit of an ordeal.


I hadn’t really heard of One Day as A Lion before Soundwave so I was fairly open to anything they did but I just found them a little boring. The music was good although it did tend to sound the same after a while. The performance lacked flair so I found myself watching the fans instead of the band. It was just a little hard to be amused by one guy running around stage for an hour while the other two did nothing particularly interesting behind their instruments. Again, I think they’d be better recorded when you can hear the lyrics and do something else while listening.

Queens Of The Stone Age


We’d intended to head back to Stage 4 to see Rob Zombie, but sanity intervened: Maiden is Maiden, and if you don’t want to stand for a 2 hour set you capture a seat early. So with some misgivings I decided to skip the Zombie experience and stay where we were seated in front of Stage 1 for Maiden. That meant an hour of QOTSA first.

I was only peripherally aware of their body of work, but had a sense I didn’t like it. And yeah. Not horrible, rocked pretty hard, riffy, sometimes trippy, kind of punky in spots…

But lots of simple, repetitive riffs. And maybe I’m just too old for it, but ‘This song is about screwing’ as stage banter just doesn’t do it for me. It all just seemed tedious and a bit dumb, though lots of people around us seemed to be into it. Maybe I’m missing something… but I won’t be seeing them again. I left Alex minding the seats (and our bike gear) and wandered off to find some food and a couple of drinks.


QOTSA just tried a little too hard, I think. I’m not really sure about the performance because I spent most of it people-watching but when I did look, they seemed to be really trying to get the audience involved and it was just a little annoying. If fans want to jump, they will, stop asking. But, that being said, the music was good. It was interesting background music to my watching and it didn’t get same-ish after a while so I didn’t mind listening. Good time filler while we waited for Maiden.

Iron Maiden


I might leave this one to Alex, since I’ve seen them before and written about them here before. But they definitely did not disappoint, with a set heavy in the new stuff and some from the middle career, but enough old classics sprinkled through as well. Great show and a great end to a big day.


I don’t even know where to start with Maiden. It was fantastic! The stage set, I’m told, was relatively simple by Maiden standards but the band’s energy and geniune enthusiasm was electrifying. Bruce Dickinson performed with his usual antics, sprinting all around the stage, jumping, dancing, generally acting like a child who ate too much candy. The guitarists played amazingly, and entertainingly as well, dancing and running around as they played. The entire time my eyes were drawn to the stage and delighted by what I saw. They made my aching butt worth the pain, and, if you’ve ever ridden pillion for a few hours, you’ll know that that is saying something!

Conclusion: Incredible ending to an incredible day.


Old Passport

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:44 am

I applied for a new passport yesterday, and when it arrives it will be pristine: 32 blank pages to record my travels for the next 10 years.

The old one has a heap of good memories in it, though, so I thought I’d muse on it a little before it goes into a bottom drawer.

There’s a very colourful Canadian Permanent Resident visa – since relinquished since we’ve been out of the country too long.

Here’s the short list of countries visited from 2001-2011:

  • England
  • Canada
  • South Africa
  • Germany
  • Lesotho
  • USA
  • France
  • Singapore
  • Malaysia

Italy, Switzerland and The Netherlands should have featured too, but I couldn’t spot them.

(that was just starting at page 1 and leafing through)

Lots of great memories there: interesting to think about what I’ll see and experience while carrying the new passport.

That list a couple of posts ago shows that the new passport will get started with a bang, at least, and I won’t look like a n00b for long.


Human Awesomeness

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:43 am



Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:56 am

I’ll only see the inside of airports in many of these countries, but I’m putting together an itinerary for my conference travels in June-July and so far it looks like this:

Frankfurt, Germany
Lisbon, Portugal
London, England
Edmonton, Canada
Montreal, Canada
Boston, USA
San Francisco, USA
Auckland, New Zealand

And then back home. Stays are in Lisbon, Edmonton and Rhode Island (near Boston). Seven countries in a couple of weeks…


What I’m Up To

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:10 pm

I’m on study leave this semester. That means I’m not teaching any courses and not attending any committee meetings or coordinating any programs.

But if you think that’s a recipe for a mellow and relaxed 6 months, have another think! Some of it is definitely self-inflicted, but here’s a partial list of activities for this leave:

  • Australian Research Council grant application (Discovery). Applying for $230,000 over 3 years to continue my research on visualisation. Deadlines of the 10th and 21st of Feb and the 21st of March for various levels of completeness
  • 4 weeks, dispersed across the semester, of research data collection (interviews and classroom observations) in Townsville
  • Completing a literature review, rewriting and resubmitting 6 or 7 papers based on the last ARC grant
  • Application for promotion to Associate Professor (application package takes a couple of weeks to put together)
  • On-going supervision of PhD and MPhil students including meetings and reading work
  • Examined a Pakistani PhD thesis this morning
  • Preparing and presenting a conference presentation at the EdMedia conference in Lisbon, Portugal and preparing and presenting a workshop on program evaluation and a quasi-keynote talk at the Gordon Research Conference on Visualisation in Science in Rhode Island
  • Major writing project for the $7.8 m Teaching Teachers for the Future project, focused on helping primary, middle years and high school teachers think about how to use information technology to teach science
  • Completed a maths course over the summer, enrolled in 2 physics courses in Semester 1. Since this is only my hobby, I’ll probably have to drop one of them, but we’ll see


Connoisseurs Generous and Otherwise

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:39 am

Prompted by some discussions on a forum, I was thinking about connoisseurship. It’s an idea Elliot Eisner has used in relation to educational research, but is more often used in relation to food, wine, artistic performance or objects like paintings, furniture, pens or watches.

A connoisseur is someone who has devoted time, energy and attention to learning the attributes of the particular thing on which he or she focuses, and can therefore appreciate qualities of that thing that an amateur will not.

It just struck me that if a connoisseur loves the thing-in-itself, he or she is likely to be generous, to be excited about sharing the experience with others. It’s possible that s/he could come across sometimes as condescending, given superior knowledge, but the impulse would be generous.

On the other hand, if what a connoisseur really enjoys is the exclusivity of the knowledge, then that person is likely to be ungenerous: to be more focused on using the specialist knowledge to tear others down and denigrate their tastes than on sharing the enjoyment of the ‘good stuff’.


My Chymical Romance

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:47 pm

So what’s the big idea?
she said, of chemistry
as discipline?

All matter’s made
of chemicals
quoth I

Chemicals are not
just odd-named
coloured things

in testtubes held
by whitecoated old
white men

but every molecule
that makes up me
and she

And fires each synapse
that crackles with the chemistry
between us


Four Forms of Immortality

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:09 pm

As part of a forum discussion, a friend wrote:

…as we observe in the Universe, ‘death’ changes meaning to ‘change’. If my understanding is correct, a dying star is simply going through a change, one state to another.(bravus feel free to correct)

If I took that definition and used it for life on this earth, I would be into reincarnation or something like it. …death seems to be a natural for the process on this earth.

I replied:

I don’t think you’d end up with reincarnation, at least in the sense of consciousness and ‘past lives’ and such. The change would be more that your body would decay and dissolve into the earth, and those chemical elements – which started out their journeys in the hearts of supernovas – would move on to plants and animals and the earth and other living things. Under such a view there are two – no, three – forms of immortality (neither conscious):

  1. that process of your component parts coming from and then returning to the Great Chain of Being represented by the complex interlocking systems of our ecosystem
  2. the passing on of your DNA – and so much more – to your offspring
  3. the passing on of ideas and other contributions to human society – work you’ve done, wealth you’ve built, books you’ve written, paintings you’ve painted
  4. (OK, one more) the memories you leave in the minds of all those you’ve touched

In the light of these forms of immortality, life is meaningful even if it turns out there is no resurrection. I hope there is, but if it turns out there isn’t, I don’t want to have wasted my life pining for it.


This is the kind of thing the web was invented for – very cool

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:37 am


A Fable

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:30 pm

I heard this somewhere years ago, but couldn’t find it again so I decided to retell it myself. Hope you enjoy it:

Two men came to the philosopher Demosthenes and said ‘We wish to leave Athens and move to Crete. You have lived in Crete: tell us, what are the men of Crete like?’

Demosthenes turned to the first man and said ‘Tell me, first: what are the men of Athens like?’

‘Ah,’ said the man, ‘that is exactly why I want to leave! The men of Athens are cruel, dishonest, rogues to a man! A man’s property isn’t safe – or even his life! I’m greeted with scowls and cursing every day in the street. I can’t wait to shake the dust of this city from my feet!’

Demosthenes looked at him sadly: ‘I’m sorry to have to tell you, my friend, that you will find the men of Crete to be just the same’.

Then he turned to the second man. ‘And you, sir: what do you think of the men of Athens?’

‘Ah’, said the second man. ‘They are delightful, kind and good. I’m greeted with smiles and waves, and find people willing to lend a hand as well as accept help. I’ve enjoyed my time in Athens among these good people very much.’

Demosthenes smiled: ‘I’m pleased to tell you, my friend, that you will find the men of Crete to be just the same.’


π is wrong

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:18 am

These guys really do have a point: http://tauday.com/

The site is fun because they’re partly serious and partly sending up conspiracy-theory sites, but the circumference divided by the radius does make a lot more sense in most mathematical operations. I can’t tell you how many times 2π turns up in the integrals I’m doing at the moment, particularly in polar, cylindrical and spherical coordinates. Integrating from 0 to τ would just be neater.

I doubt it’ll catch on – too much momentum. But they do have a point.


On With The Body Count

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:46 am

It’s something that comes up fairly often in discussions of religion, for all sides. Atheists point to the death toll and suffering in the Crusades and the Inquisition. Christians point to the deaths in Russia and China and ascribe them to atheism.

Personally I don’t find it a particularly interesting argument, just because it’s so slippery and prone to bias. Here are a few of the issues:

  1. Raw numbers tend to be compared, but that’s not logical. If the Crusades killed a million out of a world population of 200 million at the time, that’s half a percent of the world population. If Stalin killed 20 million out of a world population at the time of 4 billion, that’s one tenth as many in relative terms. So saying ‘atheism has killed more people’ is not really honest unless the number comparisons are relative rather than absolute.
  2. To what should the deaths be ascribed? The deaths in the Crusades are usually ascribed to Christianity, but it’s fair to acknowledge that that was allied to a fair degree of desire on the part of European monarchs to gain reputations as warriors and to extend their domains and tributes. Similarly, the deaths in China and Russia this century are often ascribed to either atheism or communism, depending on the motives of the speaker, but can also be seen as the results of totalitarianism more than either. There is so much rationalisation and re-interpretation done that the argument becomes almost meaningless.
  3. Hitler is a convenient case in point. He used elements of Christianity in his writings and speeches and claimed God was on Germany’s side, so some claim his massacres should be ascribed to Christianity. Others recognise that he was probably using these elements strategically and for propaganda purposes rather than out of real belief. The word ‘Socialist’ in the name of the National Socialist (Nazi) party is sometimes used to ascribe his crimes to socialism, despite the fact that his politics were far to the right.

And so on. It’s a propaganda device people use, but I’ve seen it used so many different times by different people in different contexts to support their own positions, often in very counterfactual ways, that I tend to just reject it entirely because I don’t have the energy any more to try to teach people enough history to understand why they’re talking nonsense.

This discussion will get echoed to Facebook, and it’s been inspired by and should complement the discussion sparked by my ‘religion eats your brain’ status update.