Go to the bitwise magazine home page...

 

 
Rants & Raves Home
bitwise Home
Archives...
About...
 
Need a writer?
Contact me...
 

 


SapphireSteeel Software

 

 

March 2000

This month Huw Collingbourne indulges in hero worship by e-mail in an exclusive interview with the 'godfather of rave', Rolf Harris! This column originally appearaed in issue 161 of PC Plus magazine

Sit down, stay calm and prepare yourself for a shock! OK, here it comes - Rolf Harris did not invent the Rolf Harris Stylophone! I know this because Rolf told me so.

You may recall that I first started musing on the incalculable influence of the stylophone back in the November issue. For the benefit of younger readers, I should explain that the Rolf Harris Stylophone was a hand-held device that produced electronic burbling noises when poked with a little 'pen'. Long before he branched out into vets and Led Zeppelin, Rolf used to advertise stylophones on the telly. I, being young and naïve at the time, assumed that Rolf had personally invented the instrument just as, a decade or so earlier, he had invented the wobble board.

"No, I didn't invent the stylophone," says Rolf, "It was Burt Coleman's company, Dubreq, that produced the stylophone in the late sixties. David Bowie used the instrument in his first big hit, Space Oddity, you know…"

A stylophone? You're kidding! I always assumed Bowie used a mighty Moog synthesiser!

"No, it was a stylophone! The Moog synthesiser didn't exist at that time. The stylophone was the first of those electronic organs. It only disappeared from view when Casio invented one with actual moveable keys like a piano, and suddenly the stylophone was obsolete."

Amazing to think that, but for Rolf and his stylophone, we might never have seen the dramatic emergence of the computer-synthesised music ranging from techno and rave to Gary Numan and Flat Eric! Still, I shan't hold it against him.


Rolf's web site as it was at the time this Rant was written

In recent years, a new generation of music lovers has come to appreciate Rolf's ground-breaking work at the cutting edge of the avant-garde movement. From his searing indictment of man's inhumanity to his fellow marsupial ("Tie me kangaroo down, sport") to his heart-rending plea for tolerance of the alienated and dispossessed in society ("I'm Jake The Peg, diddle-iddle-iddle-um, with my extra leg, diddle-iddle-iddle-um…"), Rolf has always been ahead of his time. And so it was with the stylophone.

To this day, the instrument commands a fanatical following. "I recently got a few of my stylophones all spruced up and rejuvenated," says Rolf, "And we used them at a gig in Southampton, four of us on stage playing Moon River, using two of the original ones, one treble one an octave higher, and one bass one an octave lower. It got an absolutely marvellous reception."

Ah, if only I had been there!

Bearing in mind Rolf's crucial role in promoting electronic music, he is curiously indifferent to the current generation of music software. "I haven't used any music programmes. Although I've sat in stunned amazement and watched other people working their magic with them. I guess my feelings here are that I'd prefer to make music and have it recorded in the old original way. Music software is an awful lot of stuff to learn if you're not going to use it all the time."

COMPUTER LOVE

Rolf is certainly not a computer novice. Not only does he have a powerful hardware setup (Advent PC Pentium III, 13Gb hard disk, 64Mb RAM, DVD drive, Windows 98, an Epson Stylus Photo 1200 printer plus "a great slim looking Mermaid Ventura TFT monitor and a crash hot Scanjet 6200 C scanner") but he also takes an active part in producing computer-enhanced art work for both his record sleeves and his web site.

It was through his web site that I managed to get in touch with Rolf in the first place. Don't bother trying to do the same, though. Rolf is very coy about giving out his e-mail address. I had to go through several intermediaries before I was finally granted access to the great man himself.

"All the drawings I've used on my website have been done long-hand," Rolf tells me, "I

don't get much joy from using my Wacom graphics tablet or Corel Draw 8. It isn't that I don't like Corel, it's just that I prefer to do the art work for real, and then, if I want it on screen or want to alter it

in a subtle way, I scan it and work from there with the program."

How about trying a different program? Maybe MetaCreations' Painter which is much better for producing authentic-looking painted effects?

"No, I'm really not interested in doing a 'virtual' painting, I want hands on stuff. I must say it is great fun when you can do a sketched-out bit of art work, scan it and then go right in at enormous magnification and 'clean up' awkward bits or change the colours without having to go and do a whole new drawing. For the background of my cover design for my new CD 'Bootleg 1'…" (available from Rolf's web site) "…I drew a chunky, bubble-type lettered 'ROLF HARRIS', photocopied it a few times, stuck those copies together, put a thin greenish colour wash over the whole thing and then scanned it.

"We didn't like the effect of the green eventually, so we easily changed it to a turquoise blue. The nice thing is, I've got it all saved, so when 'Bootleg 2' comes along, I can alter the art work and re-use that background, in a different colour without having to re-draw the whole thing. Great!"

OFFICE BLOCKS

Great is not a word that I use much when talking about Microsoft Office 2000. Word 2000, in particular, is rapidly driving me up the wall. It's all those damn' windows. In previous versions, when you opened a new document, it appeared within a unified Word environment. This meant when you minimised Word itself, all the documents were minimised along with it. Now, when you one document, all the others remain cluttering up the screen.

The other really stupid innovation is a menu system that constantly rearranges itself, shuffling some items into different orders and hiding others altogether. This makes it optimally difficult to find the menu items you are looking for. Fortunately you can turn this off using the Customise item on the Tools menu - if you can find the Customise item, that is!

Converting my databases to Access 2000 has given me more grief. My troubles began when I tried clicking buttons to run Visual Basic (VB) code that I wrote some years ago. Access 2000 popped up messages stating 'Compile error: Can't find project or library'. What did it mean? And how was I going to fix it? Frankly, I was stumped.

I wasted much time searching for help on conversion compatibility issues to no avail. Incidentally, the help system is another thing I hate about Office 2000. In the old days an overlapping help window popped up in a fraction of a second. These the help window forces the Word or Access window to move across screen and then pops itself up alongside it. This often takes ten or more seconds.

Next I looked up the help entry relating to the error message. This told me that I should try to fix my problem by displaying the References dialog. It didn't tell me where I could find this dialog. After hunting through the menus for a few minutes I eventually came across a menu item labelled 'References' in the Tools menu. I guessed that might be what I needed. Unfortunately it was greyed out so clicking it had no effect.

Anyway, suffice to say, a morning had dragged past and I was still getting nowhere. I was on the verge of re-installing Office 97 when I decided to get the advice of PC Plus's resident VB guru (a worried-looking, ashen-faced individual), Dermot Hogan. He told me what the help system didn't - namely, that the References dialog is only available once you explicitly stop VB's execution by clicking Run, Reset.

Now I was able to view a list of references to files including one called Microsoft DAO 2.5/3.5 Compatibility Library which was marked as 'Missing'. I unchecked the check-box alongside this file name and added a check alongside another item called Microsoft DAO 3.6 Object Library then tried again. This time it all worked fine.

What I don’t understand is a) why Access didn't check off the appropriate references itself during the process of database conversion and b) why the help system couldn't have provided a complete step-by-step guide to fixing the problem. I have to say that even though I don't consider myself to be a complete novice where PCs are concerned, I'd still be getting nowhere if I hadn't had a convenient VB expert to help me out. If this is Microsoft's idea of user-friendliness…


FOOTNOTE

The Stylophone was invented in the late '60s by Brian Jarvis. It was marketed by the Dubreq company which was forned by Brian and his brother, Ted Jarvis, and their friend, Burt Coleman. In the early '70s, the stylophone was widely advertised on TV by ever-popular Aussie/British entertainer, Rolf Harris.

Rolf's web site can be found at: www.rolfharris.com


Copyright © 2009 Dark Neon Ltd. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Go to the bitwise magazine home page...