Friday 29 April 2011

Bomb at The Argana, Djema El Fna, Marrakech, June 28 2011

We see, hear, and read news about terrorist attrocities around the world nearly every day and they always seem so far away from most of our normal reality that we tend to let them wash over us, sad that it is to say that. Yesterday's bomb at Bomb at The Argana restaurant in Marrakech changed all that for me.

I'm not usually given to writing about topical or political subjects, but this is personal. I first visited the pink city in 1972 and have been back many times since then. Buses may no longer arrive there and the cars are kept away at night, the once-rough ground may be paved over, and there's more light around the food hawkers tables, but Djema El Fna is still the heart and the pulse of the city, always bustling, exciting, alive. The gnaouistas (you can't call them gnaoui) still play their parodies of the true form, the young boys beat their drums and dance, the water-sellers quench travellers' thirsts, snakes are charmed, and young children sit in a circle listening to an old man telling wonderful stories of times past. That is the true Marrakech and it always has been thus, long before the hippies and then the tourists came. Incidents like today's won't stop the Marrakchis and we mustn't let it stop us tourists and travellers from visiting this beautiful city.

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Monday 25 April 2011

The Third Man theme

Inspired by an idea from Marvin Naylor, here's a playlist of the The Third Man theme. Enjoy!

Thursday 21 April 2011

Posting HD videos on YouTube

When I first started posting videos on YouTube in 2007, they were audio only - I mastered them using Windows Movie Maker as wmv files with a short text header and trailer and typically they were around 10MB. That year, I also uploaded the wav files (about 30MB each) to Fileden and created playlists which could be played from my blog. The audio quality was usually pretty good - I used a little Zoom H4 digital  recorder with an AT shotgun mike - and almost all of the bandwidth was tajken up with the audio.

In 2008, I got my video camera, and started to record the visuals as well as the audio, but, I still mastered them as wmv and tried to maintain a similar, small file size. While the audio in those files wasn't bad, the video quality wasn't that good. Typically YouTube wasn't able to deliver more than 240p.

In 2009, as network upload bandwidth became better and YouTube relaxed their file size limits, I started to render my videos as mp4 files, now using Sony Vegas Movie Studio, and I tried  to keep the files at around 100MB. YouTube was now able to deliver these at up to 480p, which I considered a pretty good improvement.

Last year, YT upped its limits to 2GB and I moved to a BE broadband connection which had up to 2Mb of upstream bandwidth, so I started to increase the size of the mp4 files to about 800MB for a 10 minute video. Now YouTube could play these in HD at 1080p, but I found that my download speed was no longer good enough, and the videos would stop and start. so I usually played them at 720p or even 480p on a bad day. I also found that I couldn't play them locally any more. VLC would play the first couple of minutes OK, but then would stop showing any video and just play audio. Two steps forward and one step back.

Recently, I discovered that I hadn't done anything with my 2010 recording of Maalem Mahmoud Guinea and Daby Toure, so I edited and mastered one of the numbers, and rendered it in Mpeg 2, producing m2t files, at around 1.2GB per 10 minutes of video. Not only would these play well locally with VLC and QuickTime, but YouTube could deliver them pretty reliably in HD at 720p.

Update: 15 Oct 2011

I've been getting quite a few Google searches ending up on this page, so I thought that I'd add a few details about the setting I use:

Software: Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD 10
Encoding: MainConcept MPEG2
Vegas template: HDV 720-25p - I film in the UK so always work in PAL at 25fps
Audio: 384 Kbps, 48,000 Hz, 16 Bit, Stereo, MPEG
Video: 25 fps, 1280x720 Progressive, YUV, 18.3 Mbps
Pixel Aspect Ratio: 1.000
Aspect ratio: 16:9

I know I could probably reduce the bit rate, but this works, so I'm loathe to change it.

I'd welcome your comments on what works for you.

What's interesting is that I've been using the same camera all for all of this - a Panasonic GS-400, which creates a 12GB avi file for each hour of tape. The high quality is inherent in the original, but it's taken me three years to discover the optimum way of delivering the quality on YouTube. I re-rendered and re-posted one of the numbers by the Korean drummers, Samulnori Molgae, but honestly, life is too short to re-render everything that I've recorded and posted over the past three years. Looking back at some of my old stuff, I cringe a little, but people still watch and listen to them. My most popular video - Maalem Hamid El Kasri - is only available in 240p but has had over 40,000 plays and still gets around 50 plays a day, so I figure I shouldn't worry too much.

Thursday 7 April 2011

Essaouira 2010 - Daby Toure and Maalem Mahmoud Guinea

Here's the music from the set that Daby Toure played with Maalem Mahmoud Guinea the Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival 2010 at Place Bab Marrakech, Friday 25th June 2010. I recorded it last year, but forgot to master it.

Watching and listening to the whole set again (and again and again) over the past few days has reminded me just how wonderful these musicians are. Daby Toure led the vocals on their opening number, but there comes a point where Mahmoud just turns the song into a completely different one, one of his Gnaoua standards. You can see the look of surprise and sheer joy on Daby Toure's face as he realizes what's just happened. I've mastered them all now, so here is the YouTube playlist:

Daby and Mahmoud, if you're listening, I hope you like it. The music was great. Thanks!