Tragedy


In an attempt to exact revenge on all those tacky tourist traps throughout the world that have erected maquettes of the Eiffel Tower in order to ‘frenchify’ their businesses, Gallic architects are contemplating the construction of a replica of the Sydney Opera House beside the river at Gennevilliers, in the north-west of Paris.

I propose that they take this concept even further by declaring the area ‘Leetle Owstrellia’ and erecting an Outback Steakhouse, an Ettamogah Pub, and Leyland Brothers World II.

In my vision, rugged-but-handsome-stockmen would roam the precinct offering parched visitors a cold one, and sundrenched maidens would hand out lamingtons on every corner.

Only in this way will Paris ever come to know the true Australia.

Eeep

I know that you’ve been breathlessly awaiting this weekend past dear Acowlytes, and I’m sure that, like me, you all stayed glued to your sets through the wee hours to absorb the delights of the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest! But if you didn’t, well that’s okay too, because today on The Cow we’re presenting a re-run of the Cow Commentary that went down live as the show unfolded. This year I was pleased to have with me my Cow co-commentators Vermilion and Viridian, mavens of the young fashion world, and Violet Towne, connoisseur of all things boppy.

But hush! The crowd is settling in, the mirror balls have fired up and Eurovision 2009, hosted this year by Russia, is off and running.

Lithuania is first up – an unenviable position. As seems usual, they offer up a young effete boy singer who delivers an unmemorable tune. What is memorable is the little magic trick he does at the end – a puff of flame from his hand. I’m not sure what it has to do with anything but it is pretty. The crowd responds politely as he shuffles off into obscurity.

Israel is next, with a ditty from Israeli-Arab duo Noa & Mira Awad. It is called There Must Be Another Way, a title that succinctly sums up the whole Eurovision experience. The tedium of their song is interrupted for a few sparkling seconds when they take to bashing some olive-oil tins in a kind of odd percussion solo. It’s touches like this that really set Eurovision apart.

Russia has gone all out this year to present the most lavish Eurovision ever. The entire Irkutsk region will have to live on stale potatoes and thawed snow for eighty years to pay for it. The staging is magnificent, with huge image projection screens enfolding the performance area, pyrotechnics in nearly every routine, and illuminated glass-bottom pools of water, complete with acrobatic dancers, swinging precariously above the audience.1

But on with the show! France has entered the fray with something that can only be described as very French. The singer2 wearing an off-the-shoulder black dress, delivers up a dirgy torch song that has the smoulder setting up so high that it’s in danger of choking on its own smoke. Ms France could seriously use a little help from Mr Lithuania’s flammable fingers.

Sweden takes the stage with a singing style that Vermilion immediately dubs as Op-Pop. The blond singer belts out a number that sits squarely between My Heart Will Go On and the Queen of the Night aria from Die Zauberflöte. Poking out of what looks like a small cloud of marshmallow, she is accompanied by the cheesiest dance troupe ever to grace the Eurovision stage. Well, until later on this evening anyway.

As Ms Sweden’s last penetrating note fades away, and the remaining shards of shattered glass from the aerial swimming pools rain down on the audience, Croatia takes the podium. The wind machines are racked up to full as the handsome lead man dressed suavely in black and flanked by a bevvy of vampire brides, plays the camera with winks and smiles and a fair chunk of the smoulder that had turned to charcoal for Ms France. “It’s a Croatian Twilight!” says Viridian, and so it seems! The song, alas, is rather dull, and somewhat dragged down by the sudden appearance of a most un-Twilight-like blonde who manages to provide the only atonal notes that we’ve heard so far, and as it turns out, for almost the entire evening.

Portugal
comes on and goes off after having an energetic good time. They sure tried. Now it’s Iceland. The staging sets us up in the clouds. It’s all very blue. The blond viking lass doing the trilling is sweet in a freshly-washed-in-Persil kinda way, but the song truly sets a new standard for bland. A striking moment comes just before the inevitable key change, when a giant dolphin sails through the clouds. The number is called Is It True?, and sadly, yes it is.

Next up is Mr Greece, a strutting macho boy in a shirt and trousers so snowy bright that my tv monitor did a spontaneous auto white balance. This is Our Night! he pouts, doing his very best George Michael moves. Which consist mainly of him attempting to expose as much of his chest as possible without making it looking too much like that’s what he’s doing. “It’s Straight Guy for the Queer Eye!” shriek the twins. The song attempts to get make the Guinness Record for the ‘Most Clichés Strung Together in a Pop Song’ and is a significant contender until about three songs from now. The highlight of the number comes when Mr Greece does a Moonwalk. Except he doesn’t – a conveyor belt under his feet does it for him. Sadly, it doesn’t quite manage to take him completely off the stage.

Armenia is up now with a catchy little number called Jan Jan. It’s a fetching piece of Europop with some odd (presumably Armenian) costume work that is kinda funky. Unfortunately, the English lyrics that begin the song are rather tragic, and the eventual switch into Armenian doesn’t completely erase the musty taste of cheese – one has to suspect that the native-language lyrics aren’t really much better, just cooler-sounding to English-speakers…

Next, Ms Russia (who is definitely no Yuliya) opts for the heartfelt serious ballad. It’s a mistake – in a scant thirty seconds she completely undoes all the chirpy ‘we’re-not-really-stodgy-potato-eating-vodka-drinkers’ hipness that the host country is trying so earnestly to convey to the rest of the world. Her humourless pleading is accompanied by a video of herself aging. I imagine it closely emulates what is happening to her manager offstage, as he realises that a tactic that looked good on paper is about as welcome here as an undertaker at a kid’s birthday party.

Quick! Wheel on an antidote! Let’s try Azerbaijan! The boppy Azerbaijanis reel off the most impressive clichés of the evening:

Always on my mind
Always in my dreams
I wanna hold you close to me
Always all the time

I believe I’m addicted to you
In your eyes I see dreams coming true
Finally I have found you and now
I will never let you go

If they have a chance, it’s because Ms Azerbaijan is stunningly attractive. Her short skirt and some handy puffs from the wind machine almost offset the negative effect of short, bald Mr Azerbaijan…

Bosnia & Herzegovina‘s entry is a small troop of escaped 19th century soldiers whose uniforms have been bleached white in the sun. That’s about all that can be said for them. I think they sang something.

Moldova appears waving colourful rainbow mops and dressed in a funky version of what I assume is some kind of national costume (I think they should seriously consider permanently adopting the knee-high purple boots, if they’re not already compulsory). Malta‘s solo singer floats among Saturn’s rings and really gives it her all. Which isn’t enough. Estonia is instantly forgettable.

Denmark‘s effort is a kind of power ballad. The lead singer seems to be in a different band to the rest of the performers.3 He earnestly tells us I Wanna Believe Again! but this Dane’s tomorrows are numbered. He valiantly battles through a sea of troubles, but sadly, his future as the winner of Eurovision 2009 is not to be.

Germany rocks up with the colourful Miss Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It’s Cab Calloway meets Casino Royale with music discarded by the Pet Shop Boys on an off night. Viridian and Vermilion think it’s cool. It sure is energetic, and just to make sure they really get noticed, the Germans perform the second of the evening’s three magic tricks by summoning up the very busty Dita Von Teese as a piece of human decoration (the eponymous ‘Miss Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ in the flesh, one presumes). The crowd goes wild. Why, I’m not exactly sure, but I guess they are the first (and only, it turns out) impressive breasts of the night.

Turkey delivers a credible dancy pop beat which proves popular with the audience. Then it’s Albania‘s turn. This is the kind of performance we hang out for on Eurovision. The song itself is a colourless ditty with no single redeeming feature. The performance on the other hand is an eccentric outtake from a Fellini movie. The singer, dressed in a fluffy pink tutu is shadowed by a green man who looks like nothing so much as a giant Gumby. As she performs, he hovers around her like some kind of malevolent green Spiderman. Aphidman, maybe. It’s most disconcerting. But not as disconcerting as the two midgets in face makeup that prance to either side. None of us, neither Vermilion nor Viridian, nor Violet Towne nor myself can make head nor tail of what this is supposed to convey. Until Viridian screams “It’s her dreams!!!” And so it is. The song is called Carry Me in Your Dreams, and it appears that these weird dancers are supposed to be from pretty Ms Albania’s dreams. Of course! Everyone dreams about stretchy green men and midgets, right?

We’ve barely recovered our composure as Norway takes the spotlight. An impossible cutesy young boy fronts the band and delivers the soppy Fairytale. The lyrics are the worst kind of awful, the song is insipid and lame and the performance is tacky. But the twins love him. “He’s so c-u-u-u-u-u-t-e!!!” they squeal. And I have the terrible sinking feeling that young Mr Norway is going to romp home with the gong.

I’m ready to pack it in for the evening when the highlight of the show strikes up. It’s the Ukraine with Svetlana Loboda and the obscurely (if somehow appropriately) titled Be My Valentine (Anti Crisis Girl). O! M! G! Where to start? With the three nearly-naked centurion dancers that swing Svetlana around like she is a kitten? With the giant hamster wheels that make up the stage set? Or simply with the striking Svetlana herself? If the winner is getting voted on energy, Svetlana has no competition. She doesn’t stop throughout the entire number, belting out the song, dancing with the centurions and playing a drum solo. It’s high camp of Everest altitude. I am laughing so much that I’m sure she sings to one of the gay boys (for surely, they are) “You have sexy bum”, but it turns out she’s really singing “You are so sexy BOM”, which only makes sense when you know that another part of the lyric is “Because I’m crazy BOM”.

Here. Enjoy Svetlana and co. on their official preview video. It doesn’t have the er, glamour of the Eurovision performance, but it will give you some idea of the talent on offer.

[PARENTAL ADVISORY: Features images of coffee beans being crushed, naked people covered in chocolate, skimpy bikini shorts, fruit, archery and angels]



Phew. How do you follow an act like that?! Not with the insipid effort offered up by Romania, that’s for sure.

My hips are ready to glow,
This record is so hot and I have so much to show.
I’ll find a boy for a kiss.
Who knows maybe he’ll be my prince.

I hope you do find your prince, Ms Romania, because you’re never going to make a living off your songwriting.

Oh dear. Now it’s the United Kingdom‘s turn. Apparently the UK hasn’t won the Eurovision for many a year and they are desperate to get a look-in. And when I say desperate, I mean Desperate with a capital $. Ms UK, Jade Ewen, takes the platform and belts out a number penned by Andrew Llloyd Webber and Diane Warren. And, for that added je ne sais quoi, Sir Andrew is actually present tonight on piano, in support of Jade’s efforts. He’s had his ‘hair’ specially coiffed4 for the occasion. The song is called It’s My Time:

There’s nothing I’m afraid of
I’ll show you what I’m made of
Show you all
It’s my time now

I’ve got the will
I’ve earned the right
Tonight… Tonight…

It’s my time
It’s my time

Jade. Dear. No it’s not.

Which leaves only Finland and Spain to clean up the mess. The Finnish entry is the wimpiest combination of pop and white-boy ‘rap’ (I use the word cringingly) you’re likely to encounter this side of a Christian Fundraiser, and the Spanish effort is remarkable only for the execution of perhaps the lamest magic trick5 ever performed outside of an 8 year old boy’s bedroom.

And so, without even a glimpse of a fat lady to sing us on our way, it’s all over. My vote is going to the Ukraine, because, well, someone has to preserve the true Eurovision tradition. Sadly though, after we cross to the International Space Station6 for the announcement of the commencement of the voting process, the European viewers don’t seem to be agreeing with me. They all like the insufferably cute boy from Norway, who veritably trounces the competition in one of the most decisive wins in Eurovision history.

And so, as the Russians party well into the early hours with liberal helpings of borscht and vodka we bid a fond farewell to Eurovision 2009. Next year it looks like we’ll be in Norway acquiring tolerance for Rakfish and akvavit, and even more spectacle, as, in the tradition of Eurovision, the Norwegians attempt to outdo all those host nations who’ve come before. I know you just can’t wait to join me there.

  1. I can’t even imagine someone trying to pull something like this off in our hyper-litigious Western society… []
  2. Apparently a star of some repute; as we will see, the Big Guns are being wheeled out all over this year! []
  3. Who evidently think they’re in Kiss judging by the fireworks they’ve requested for the song… []
  4. …or is that a squirrel sitting on his head…? []
  5. The lead singer was ‘vanished’ in front of our very eyes! A couple of guys held up a curtain and then whisked it away and she was gone. Magic! Except that she very plainly just stepped off the back of the conveniently high platform she was on once the cloth was in position. Puh-leeze. And this in front of an estimated audience of 100 million people! []
  6. In space, no-one can hear you scream. []

Nothing.

Sob.

She’s found someone else, I just know it.

You know you’ll never survive the Apocalypse when you wonder for a moment why the spelling on your handwritten shopping list didn’t just auto-correct…

Srsly.

Oh noes!

Spam Observations #47

You may remember some suggestions previously here on The Cow for methods by which spammers might… hmmm… let’s say elevate… their craft, a concept inspired originally by a shining example from one of the Masters of Literature at how it could conceivably be done.

Well, this morning I had a communication from one Carmelo Butcher*, who is pitching what I assume to be some kind of health tonic in the following verse:

The more you think
The more stars blink
They are young today
But were elder yesterday
Want to live free and become a star
Get a good health and be the best by far

Oh someone pluck out mine eyes and feed them to the crows.

Carmelo manages, in one fell swoop, to demonstrate that he is challenged in literature, physics, philosophy and salesmanship.

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*Interestingly, a qualified Google search turns up only two results for a ‘Carmelo Butcher’ (and I suppose I’m adding another one with this post). One Carmelo appears to be a randomly generated name in something called ‘The Nashville Guide’ and the other a spammer.

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Microsoft, in their desperation to get the drop on Apple’s ability to spin gold out of new gadgetry innovation, are frantically searching for something, anything, in an effort to increase their cool factor. They are not good at this. Maybe you remember Zune? Or The Surface? Well, Zune was just a case of imitation I guess, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that no-one aside from Tom Cruise is going think that a table is a better interface for a computer than it is a thing to stop your coffee falling on the floor.

Mr Gates’ wizards’ latest Next Big Thing is called MySong*

Here, let the Ian Simon, Dan Morris and Sumit Basu, the brains behind MySong at their lab at Microsoft Research, tell you all about it:

MySong automatically chooses chords to accompany a vocal melody, allowing a user with no musical training to rapidly create accompanied music. MySong is a creative tool for folks who like to sing but would never get a chance to experiment with creating real original music.

OK, so that’s a big ask: you sing, MySong plays along. If someone told me that some software dudes had accomplished that feat, I’d be mighty impressed. But, you guessed it – in the manner of most things Microsoft, it kinda sorta of works. Only kinda sorta. That might be sufferable† when it’s software that deals with word-processing or spreadsheets or operating systems, but when it comes to music, ‘kinda-sorta’ is nothing short of disastrous.

Check out this video tour of the features of MySong, including someone using it to make an accompaniment for her rendition of The Way You Look Tonight.

Old Blue Eyes she ain’t. And that’s part of the reason that MySong is destined to be a Surface-class turkey. The inventors of MySong continue with their spruik:

Come on, you know who you are… you sing in the car, or in the shower, or you go to karaoke clubs, or you just once in a while find yourself singing along with catchy commercial jingles.

Yes. Apparently, this invention is being pitched at people who can’t sing, and who, very sensibly, restrict their efforts to places where no-one else can hear them. In the YouTube example above, the woman crooner dishes out an out-of-tune vocal line, and MySong responds by providing a suitably toneless accompaniment. Perfect! But what the hell are you going to do with that??? My brain just makes little fizzing noises when I try to work out whether the Microsoft thinktank has actually thought this one through.

Let’s just do a bit of psychological reverse engineering. If someone is an average-to-bad singer, what’s the thing that they’d really like to see in a piece of software of this kind? I’d guess it’d be something that made them sound like Frank, or Dean, or Celine, or Aretha or maybe even Elvis, swinging onstage to the beat of a thirty-piece Big Band – something they could play around to their friends and say ‘Hey, this is me! I could be doing Vegas!’

Instead, with MySong they end up with a terrible recording of their out-of-tune moaning backed with clunky tuneless noodling on synthetic instruments that they would only dare play in the shower or in the car. Sum advance: zero.‡ Or possibly negative, if you factor in psychological damage.

True enough, it’s only early days for MySong, and maybe it might turn into something one day. But hey Bill, here’s a tip: when your boffins come to you with this kind of project, you ask them if it’s Vegas-worthy. If they say no, send ’em back to their cubicle. For God’s sake don’t let them go public with it!

Persevere through the YouTube vid if you can, faithful Acowlytes. It has some real clunkers. For example, here’s a screen shot of some of the controls you can set on MySong:

MySong is Jazzy & Happy

Man oh man. In a Microsoft Music World there’d be a button for everything. Happy, jazzy, jivey, jolly! No thinking required!

But here’s a how it should really be:

MySong is actually crappy

I’m sure the technical feat that Messrs Simon, Morris & Basu have accomplished is of some magnitude, but all their toil amounts to further fuel for the fire of what I shall now call The Reverend’s Rule: Just because you can get a computer to do something, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should.

ADDENDUM: In a curious piece of synchronicity, the dudes at Celemony, the genii behind the awesome pitch tracking/correction software Melodyne, have announced their new software Direct Note Access. To explain briefly: Melodyne allowed you to take a musical recording of a single monophonic instrument – a violin, or a trumpet, or a voice, for instance – and gain control over every note, so that you could pitch correct errors, or even create harmony melodies by arranging the first recording as a second part. Now, DNA allows you to do the same thing with polyphonic recordings. That is, you can take a recording of a guitar strumming chords, and then unravel the recording to gain control over each individual note of the chord. It is nothing short of astonishing. Check it out.

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*Apple’s insistence on calling all its products “i” something is irritating enough, but Microsoft’s ‘My’ prefix is so pathetic as to be almost a cry for help. I wonder what Freud would make about this all blatant ego-technocentricity? Aside from anything else, aren’t they just plain embarrassed to be so obviously unoriginal?

†Although, quite honestly, I really don’t know how anyone can put up with the clunky retarded piece of techno-obfuscation that is Windows. Having to recently field a number of Windows ‘issues’ for Violet Towne, I am completely convinced that the only reason it exists is some kind of plot to keep IT nerds employed.

‡Well, zero for punter, $$$ for Microsoft. Hmmm. I guess that wouldn’t be the first time they’ve palmed off something of useless utility onto someone who didn’t actually want it.

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