Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The Changing Sound of Now

My recently published podcast, Electronic Oddities 38, was different to my usual podcasts in that it set out to demonstrate something. It set out to show how the sound of music changes over time, how new things become possible or in vogue musically which replace the old ones. Of course, in such a relatively short podcast of around two hours maximum it is not possible to give multiple examples or work out a fully comprehensive theory full of explained examples. One can only give a flavour of the idea. However, judging by the responses so far it seems that my basic point, in the rudimentary form I gave it, has been accepted.

The podcast journeys from The Who's 1971 track "Baba O'Riley", which features Pete Townshend's use of the Arp 2600, through various 1970s uses of electric organs and synthesizers from Pink Floyd's "On The Run" to the full 22 minute version of Kraftwerk's "Autobahn", Jean-Michel Jarre's airy analog in Oxygene 4 and David Bowie's krautrock homage, "Warszawa", into the 1980s where synthpop, formerly a sound never yet heard in popular music, took over in a hundred groups here represented by The Human League, Duran Duran, Scritti Politti and The Pet Shop Boys. Towards the end of the decade the influence of Hip Hop culture is hinted at in the tracks "I Need Love" by LL Cool J and "Buffalo Stance" by Neneh Cherry.

But its not just musical styles that are referred to here. Instrumentation here also plays a vital part of the story. This goes right from the first track with Townshend's use of the Arp, into the EMS Synthi used to perform the vital repeating arpeggio from "On The Run", through the specific sets ups of Kraftwerk and Jarre at the time and into the 1980s. The Human League track "Do Or Die" from their smash hit album "Dare" is notable for being the first record from the UK made with the new (at the time) Linndrum from Roger Linn and the producer of that record, the now sadly deceased British producer, Martin Rushent, had only a few days in which to learn how to program and make use of the machine before recording. The record wouldn't sound remotely the same without it. The same can be said of other 80s tracks I used. Duran Duran's "Save A Prayer" uses a Jupiter 8 sound for its opening riff, LL Cool J's whole song is a TR-808 and a Yamaha DX7. Enya's "Orinoco Flow" is the sound of a Roland D50 preset. Put simply, some songs here couldn't have sounded as they did before the things used to make them were invented.

Unfortunately, space precluded my podcast going beyond 1989 at the current time but some have already asked me about continuing the musical story into the 1990s and beyond. The story I had already told was one of a rock instrumentation, the set up of the first few songs I played from The Who, Deep Purple and Pink Floyd, becoming infected with electronics until, in fits and starts, a more purely electronic one becomes possible. It would be inauthentic and wooden to describe this as true across the board but acts like Kraftwerk or Jarre, which were pure electronic setups, led the way for others to follow suit and to consider electronics as their new band. Such people made acts like The Pet Shop Boys possible. The technology of the 1980s, paradigmatically represented by the DX7 and TR-808 of LL Cool J's "I Need Love", made music like his and that of a thousand empty synthpop songs possible. A new way to sound gave birth to a rebirth of the pop song of the 1960s. Back then it had been the sound of three minutes of guitars as songs were based in rock n roll. But in the 1980s this was re-invented with synths as synthpop, a totally different sonic palette. 

So if I am saying it was instruments that gave birth and rebirth to new sounding music what happened after the end of my story, after 1989? Well it seems to me that were I to continue telling the story we would move into the digital 90s when numerous new forms of dance music were tried and invented from Rave to Drum N Bass and Jungle. And let's not forget Trip Hop either. Already on the cusp of the 90s there had been a surge in Acid House based on a 1982 invention of Roland's called the TB-303. The sound of this synth, still heard today and either loved or loathed in equal measure, was the new toy to play with and it took a few years for urban beat makers to decide what to do with it. They decided to use it as the centerpiece of a track rather than as its understated bass support. Instruments such as these, which were relatively cheap and accessible not just to professional musicians but also kids in the street, started what would become a democratizing movement in music creation which led directly to the free for all that we see today.

But back to the 90s which I remember as a bit of a digital wasteground. Synthesizer purists today often disdain the 90s as the fashion in synths became for so-called digital romplers, synths with the heart and soul and heft of a warm analog sound removed from them. Often the music of this time can sound fake and cheesy whether that be the wave of New Jack Swing that rolled over us from America or, to my British ears, the urban forms of music which were using digital tools such as the mega-selling Korg M1. Its piano sound would become ubiquitous and annoying throughout the 90s. But there was also a backlash in popular music and a resurgence in guitar bands through the mid 90s as acts like Oasis and Blur rose to fame, the supposed antidote to tracks like the very digital sounding "Rhythm of The Night" by Corona. The problem with digital synths, and this is not just true of the 90s but they are a good example, is that they are too perfect, too accurate, too mathematical. Analog synths contain variation right down at the basic level of the waveform. Digital synths don't. Its a subtle difference but its there. And that changes what you hear.

There is an actor missing from our story so far and this is partly because it was not a feature of music or music-making that I was familiar with. This is the computer. While some had been using rudimentary computers since the 1980s (such as the Commodore 64 or the program Sound Designer, issued in 1984 and which would, in the end, become Pro Tools) many had not. I was one of the ones who had not but as we went into the 21st century everything would change. By the year 2000 Ableton Live and Propellerheads Reason software had been invented and issued for the first time. Software synthesizer plugins  and DAWs had been developed throughout the 90s and by 2000 we had Reaktor from Native Instruments, first issued in 1996 as Generator, which was an environment for creating your own software instruments and sound processing devices. 

Such tools (as well as earlier versions of what would become the Cubase and Logic Pro of today, invented in the late 80s and early 90s respectively) would fundamentally change how music sounded because they moved the focus of writing to a computer sequencer. Whereas before even musicians using synthesizers had still been players making a song according to sound and feel now they began increasingly to make it according to the computer timeline or, a new phenomenon, to simply be computer users who wanted to make music. I can play you a thousand songs from between 2000-2010 that are locked to the grid, as people call it. The influence of softwares like Live, and DAWs in general, not only allowed musical expression but also shaped it as well. They came not as neutral, uninterested parties but with their own inherent philosophies which were inscribed in what they would and would not let you do as well as in how they let you do it. When you have a grid to work to you work to it. You begin to count samples when what you are making your music with is basically just a fancy counting machine. And that's exactly what a computer is.

You might dispute my last claim but I would argue that people, even musicians, are often easily led and so people, even musicians, are much more likely to do the things that are easy to do rather than taking the effort of doing something that takes more imagination or effort or works against the grain of their tools. People are trainable and habitual and they can be molded by their environments. Plus we have to remember that with each new technology it does take some time for these things to mature and so the first uses of these things are unlikely to be the most innovative or the most striking. The first decade of the 21st century, the first proper, fully-fledged software decade, is full of very neat, precise, in the box music that feels somewhat inert, neutered, coiffured and its because now producers work to that grid on the screen. They worry about drawing neat curves in their softwares and how it looks on the screen. This is a fundamental change. Everything lines up and becomes symmetrical. Take a listen to the numerous popular tracks by Timbaland from this period for a perfect definition of this "in the box" electronic sound.

There is another podcast I did in the Electronic Oddities series and it was back in Episode 9. I called it "The Invention of Electronic Dance Music" and it was meant to be similarly educational as my most recent edition of the show was. It aimed to take dance music from the 1980s, the first genuinely made purely with modern electronic devices, but still with an old time player's sensibility and with no computers in sight, and to contrast its SOUND with the dance music we know from today. I challenge anyone to argue that that old stuff is not fuller, fresher, rawer, more alive and with more depth and soul than its modern, computerized counterparts. You can hear it in the beat AND in the sounds. The overall sonic effect is something much more engaging and effective in my ears. The trouble is it gets lost over time. People's ears get used to the new normal. They think things were always like this (or maybe they never knew anything else?). But it wasn't. As these two podcasts of mine show, when you compare and contrast you hear sonic change. To know where you are sonically, you need to know where we've been and where we came from. It puts where you are now in a necessary sonic perspective.

The Roland Jupiter 8, first issued in 1981.

And now we are in 2017. Since about 2010 or 2011 the tools have begun to change again and now electronic music makers have gone in several directions. Software still retains its fans (and DAWs retain their place as the go to recording device). Electronic avant-gardists Autechre, to the chagrin of some, have eschewed all hardware devices in favour of a software environment (Max/MSP) in which they can design unique and individual setups for themselves. They make a music with it that sounds like no other so maybe we can praise their determination and singularity of purpose. They have not been lazy users of software, content to go where it leads by default, but they have used it to further their own unique ideas. On the other hand, we have seen a resurgence of hardware and even of analog devices. Many manufacturers have jumped on this train and a new generation of kids have a multitude of relatively cheap devices to fiddle with. There is also a more expensive version of this based around modular synthesis, a thing which in many ways started the modern period of electronics itself in the mid to late sixties in the pioneering work of Moog and Buchla. Re-imagined in the mid 90s by Dieter Doepfer to a different standard as Eurorack, this form of doing synthesis has come from left field to emerge as a definitive scene within electronic music as a whole. It has led to many modern devices having CV and Gate ports added to their spec. This would never have happened in the 90s!

But there is a further thing to note about today and I leave you with this thought. This is that music is now ubiquitous itself. It is no longer confined to physical products one had to buy, borrow or steal that was made by professional musicians in expensive recording studios. More music is put online in one day than you could probably listen to in your whole life. We are literally drowning in the stuff and much of it is terrible. Much of it is sonic doodling, the effluvia of bored people. Music, aided by the technology which made it possible for anyone to make it by moving their finger across the glass screen of their mobile device on some app, is now everywhere. In many respects it has become worthless. Is it now also pointless too, now that anyone can do it and the most carefully produced piece of music is side by side with thumb jams and sonic afterthought, my latest noodle? Technology made it so anyone could make sounds, join them together and call it creative. But what happened to the ideas? Is music more than sounds?

Saturday, 4 February 2017

What Synthesists Want

It started off, as most things do with me, quite naively. It was then, as is quite proper for the Internet, completely misunderstood and someone chose to be so offended that they left. I had been looking at an article about the Nonlinear Labs C15 which is a software synthesizer designed by the founder of Native Instruments and the creator of Reaktor, Stefan Schmitt, that is essentially built inside its own custom controller. Thus, it has the power and flexibility of a software instrument but wants to beguile the person who can't put away their need for tactile control. It is advertised as being made for people who like playing musical keyboards and now has numerous demos provided by Federico Solazzo on the Nonlinear Labs website. You might be wondering why me looking at an online article about a curious synthesizer caused Internet outrage. It did so because, musing on what I'd seen, I then went to my Facebook group, Electronic Music Philosophy, and wanted to start a discussion and so I proposed, in the manner of a debating contest, that "the most powerful synthesizers available today are software synthesizers". I was referring to their possibilities, flexibility and "bang for the buck" qualities. It unleashed a deluge of commentary (and one person leaving the group).

Nonlinear Labs C15, a software synth in a box.

John Bowen, who was the first official Moog clinician before moving to work with Dave Smith in 1976 (he's responsible for pretty much all the Sequential Circuits presets thereafter) and later worked with Korg (he was product manager for the Wavestation and helped voice the Korg Z1), in the past few years designed and brought to market his own synthesizer called the Solaris. The Solaris, I saw advertised in one video I watched about it, was said to be a hardware synthesizer designed to be like a software one. This about face from the usual claims of synth manufacturers, a territory that is chock full of software designers telling you how much like hardware their digital plugin sounds, was jarring at the time and it stood out from the crowd of those hawking their products. It's what? Its a hardware synth that wants to emphasize how like software it is? I'm pretty sure I remember John Bowen saying this on a video I watched. This claim must surely have set all sorts of alarm bells ringing for some. I have never played a Solaris so I cannot comment on what it is like but I understand that it has some pleased owners. Some, so I read, were a bit baffled by its complexity.

The Solaris, designed by John Bowen

Perhaps the people in charge of Roland heard of the Solaris too. Bowen went through many iterations of the Solaris before he finally produced the one which would be the production version. So maybe somewhere in some dark room at the Roland headquarters in Japan some eagle-eyed soul saw this claim of being a hardware synth but with the functionality and features of a software one and a light bulb clicked on above their head. What Roland did was invent what they call ACB which stands for "analog circuit behavior". This is a fancy term for the modeling of all the componentry of an analog circuit in order to compile a digital recreation of it. This process is the basis of all the Roland Aira devices of the past few years as well as the Boutique recreations of the much more analog Jupiter 8, JX-3P and Juno-106 and the new flagship System 8. These are hardware devices which contain what are essentially soft synths. Indeed, the System 1 and System 8 synths use what are called by Roland "plug out" synths which can also be used as soft synths in a DAW environment. Its an interesting concept and in some contexts I'd have cause to criticize it. But not today.

The Roland System 8, essentially several soft synths in a custom case.

Autechre are a leading avantgarde electronic act beloved by many and with a hardcore fanbase of often tech savvy people. They have evolved to work exclusively with Max/MSP, a software platform which enables them to essentially build whatever devices they need. Thus, they have the flexibility to design a rig that is a custom fit for exactly what they want to do musically. In interviews they claim to have lost interest in hardware synthesizers with throwaway comments such as that they have not even bought a hardware instrument for at least 5 years. In this they are not like their fellow fan favourite of the electronic intelligentsia, Aphex Twin. He has a well known love for all things hardware and software. For Autechre, though, their move into software is simply led by their musical desires. As they have said, what they want to do can only be done if they can build their devices in a custom way from the ground up. Digital software is the only game in town for that. Autechre have said that they could not replicate in hardware the things they can do in software. Its food for thought when they are making music that many would regard as "cutting edge". In distinction to many electronic musicians like them today, you never see any pictures of Autechre posing with the latest hardware super synth or a giant modular rig. Their musical dictates have led them to some outwardly unimpressive code in a box. 

The above was just a few examples of developments in instrument design and usage from the present. As I write all three of the instrument types I named are current products and Autechre are going strong having toured and released a 5 part, over 4 hour long album in 2016. So I have been talking about the contemporary electronic music scene here. But, of course, this isn't the whole story. Yet its notable in an electronic music world that is more recently noted in headlines for its "return to analog" or even just to hardware that software platforms are still going strong. And I suspect there is a hidden multitude of software users out there. In 2009 Native Instruments launched their product Maschine, a groove-based software platform that destroyed the old hardware platform of the Akai MPC for a while. Akai have had to painfully reinvent the MPC as a result but now we find it has re-emerged as what is essentially a DAW in a stand alone box. It can be argued that the invention of Maschine was also a factor in Ableton's creation of Push, a pad controller for its Live software. All the power of Live or Maschine is in the box, as the modern parlance has it. The controllers are saps to the human need for a feeling of direct control over the machine. The same can be said for the recent development of so-called MPE controllers such as the Roli Seaboard or the Linnstrument. They are ways for modern players to catch up with the expressive potential of digital synthesis in the box.

Now although you may have been deceived into thinking by the previous five paragraphs that I'm here to big up software synthesis in this blog, you'd be wrong. I take no sides in any hardware/software battle  and much less in any analog/digital debate. I think those debates are pretty much pointless just as many people do. I think that electronic music is about sounds and any device that can produce sounds is alright by me. I am platform agnostic. This means that my original thought which presaged the debate that was had was heuristic and exploratory in intent. It was meant to tease out the issues and find out what was at stake. I think that people who make electronic music should think about this because it helps them to define where they want to go and what might be useful in doing that. Fortunately, the electronic music community is full of lots of thoughtful people who do exactly this in both physical and coded domains. There are Facebook groups for designers of hardware and software instruments and seemingly growing communities of electronic music makers who want to try their own hand at creating things custom built by them, for them. This is all to the good. 

But within that same community I divine that some lingering prejudices do remain. One, of course, is to value presence over absence, to value tactile physicality. This, I think, is why some come to the defence of hardware over software at any mention of the latter. Immediately, comments appear about the tactile nature of hardware, the fact that a certain user "just doesn't feel right" using a mouse and how its not the same or as much fun. I hear this. But I also note this isn't really a musical criterion. Its an ergonomic one and that doesn't mean its unimportant. It just means its not a musical criterion. Its nothing to do with sound or sonic possibility. Its to do with you as a person. I personally dislike touchscreens and I am profoundly annoyed by the recent moves to push this technology and make synthesis dependent on touching a screen. But if I heard music that had been created by others whilst touching screens it would be irrelevant to me. The touchscreen is not a musical issue in this respect but an ergonomic one for the person who uses a touch device or touch-enabled synthesizer. Some people in my debate mentioned how they disliked DJs on laptops but as a DJ who used a laptop and used CD players before that I can report that over 20 years of active research leads me to the conclusion that such people are the odd ones out because I never recall anyone mentioning it to me at a party or disco. I do recall lots of people laughing, dancing, smiling and generally having a sweaty and enjoyable time. As a listener you just experience sound. If you listen to analyze where it came from and critique it on the fly you're a very strange bird indeed. Especially at a disco.

In the course of the debate that my original comment initiated there were some insightful points and relevant comments. I had never meant to suggest that software synthesizers were the be all and end all. Such a statement would have been as dumb as saying the opposite. When talking about sound any and all sources are in play for they, together, constitute the whole of the possibilities. But we live in a finite world and so this necessitates choices. Some users of modular synthesizers, specifically Eurorack, wanted to argue that their modulars could go head to head with soft synths in the power, flexibility, functions and features stakes and hold their own. This might very well be true if you have a setup of Richard Devine proportions but how much did that cost and how much space is it taking up? There can be no doubt here that in software one can pack in features and functions (and expandability) in no space at all since its simply code. To replicate that physically would require a large wallet and a large space... and it wouldn't then be portable. (Richard Devine's live rig is much smaller than his studio setup.) You can now buy software that emulates Eurorack modular in any case and the only limitation is your CPU. In other places I have criticized a software like Softube Modular but now I find, in this context, that actually you can have modular synthesis but its in your computer and you don't need to worry about power rails blowing or rack rash.. or your wallet so much. Want another LFO? Just click and you've got one.

Softube Modular, which is an emulation of the Eurorack hardware format and some actual Eurorack manufacturers have licensed models of their modules.

So what do synthesists want? Well if the discussion that I started is any guide, and it may or may not be, they want functionality but not at any cost. They also want a certain sound quality... which shouldn't be confused with sound quality as an absolute. Some seem to want a kind of sound as opposed to "the best sound", whatever we decide that might be. (I think thats why people want Minimoogs, for their sound. In terms of mere functionality they are less appealing.) In my discussion some said digital plugins had the best sound possible whereas others said hardware couldn't be beaten for sound. Synthesists also seemed to want "musicality" which sounds very like an amorphous, subjectively-judged quality to me. Those who spoke most about musicality were those trying to make some point against software which, so it seemed, they thought was not as musical as something they could touch. 

Some synthesists conceded that, in terms of the most possibility for the least effort, software was clearly the king. There are numerous platforms (Reaktor and Max/MSP being just two) in which you can essentially design entire synth rigs to your own specifications. No hardware setup can match that since you are always stuck to the limitations of the hardware devices as they've been designed by others. But at the same time many noted that the limitations of a physical world are not bad. They are good. It is not necessarily the creative ideal that you have every function and feature at your fingertips for then you will simply achieve overload which is creatively destructive and you become a synth collector rather than a synth user. 

Some synthesists, and I have my suspicions that this might actually be a silent majority, wanted the convenience of a format in which you can save things, including the most complex of software patches. And your modular machine from the future can't do that. The same people wanted to live in a land that was not bound by physical limitation in the same way that a person with hardware is. These same synthesists wanted a device which could do additive, spectral, granular, formant and virtual analog synthesis types and have the ability to morph between the types on the fly. We are very much in the software realm here. 

In the end synthesists want a lot of different things and they aren't always the same. But this is good since, when it comes to sound, variety is strength and is the factor which makes music as a whole as interesting as it is. The cold, dull world would be the one in which all music was the same.

If you want to read the full unexpurgated discussion that inspires this blog, with comments supporting all sides, you'll need to join Electronic Music Philosophy. 

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Nazi-punchers of the World Unite

Much furore has been generated since an anonymous person in a hoody interrupted a TV interview that white supremacist, Richard Spencer, was giving on the occasion of Trump's inauguration. It was one small punch for a man, one giant punch for Mankind. But since then liberals have debated the rights and wrongs of punching Nazis and those with sympathies for Mr Spencer have accused the left of abrogating the rule of law and of being domestic terrorists advocating violence. They have, from my point of view, done this utterly disingenuously which is the way they usually do anything. But, you might be surprised to learn, I don't berate them for this. This is because there is one thing that those on the right get absolutely correct. They realize they are in a war and they are prepared to do whatever it takes to win it. 

One small punch for a man. One giant punch for Mankind.

I have mused on the Nazi punching for very nearly a couple of weeks now. First of all, like many, I find it funny. Who wouldn't land a blow for their beliefs, or against ones they regard as disreputable, if they could? You can be sure that many on the right would love to hurt someone on the left. Some even do. White domestic terrorists of the right wing persuasion are amongst America's most dangerous citizens. But let's be honest enough to say the reverse is true as well. Even whole religions have revenge narratives. The Book of Revelation, the last book of the Christian Bible, is a 22 chapter revenge narrative where all God's enemies are given a proper punching. Many Republicans, I'm sure, love it. But I'm sure many feminists, too, dream of the day that they can ram the patriarchy back down its own throat. These narratives are seen as being about justice but justice is often not much in vogue today. People seeking social justice are referred to as SJWs (social justice warriors) in a very deprecating way.

I look at this whole scene in a very historical way and I think that's the way we should look at it. A lot of people are called Nazis or fascists today. Some suggest Trump is. Others say Bannon definitely is and, certainly, reading quotes accredited to him it seems as if he wants to destroy civil society as we know it. Personally, I think that Trump doesn't really believe much at all. He is not a person of political conviction. He just believes in the aggrandizement of Donald Trump. He wants to build as many golden hotels with TRUMP on the top in 10 foot high letters as possible. He could care less about political ideology. This is not so for all the people on his staff, not least Bannon. The historical angle becomes useful when comparing these people to known and actual Nazis. As in the actual historical Nazis. We just went past the 84th anniversary of Hitler's rise to become Chancellor of Germany. It had taken him almost ten years to get there from his failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich in 1923. 

What we see in an historical analysis of Hitler's rise is that he used fear and intimidation to achieve it along with a vigorous politically-motivated narrative. It was, in the parlance of today, very much "Germany First". That is to say that he wrapped his ideology in a flag and this is something a lot of fascists do. But its important to note that this is never what the actual agenda is. Behind the slogan are always lots of ugly truths just waiting to be discovered. Or put into action. Germany First meant death to Jews, people of various frowned upon sexualities and various differing creeds. It meant death or imprisonment for many simply for vocally disagreeing with it. For Germany to be first, it seems, others had to be exterminated. We know that there are those within the Trump administration who are very much more ideologically motivated than Donald Trump and they surely see a slam dunk when all the branches of government are being ruled by the same party at the present time. This is a time to put ideological ideas into action. Trump wants an Attorney General who was too racist to be made a judge and an education secretary who doesn't believe in public education. These are just two examples.

But its not this I'm primarily concerned with here. What I am concerned with is the other side, those who OPPOSE Trump. This side is more interesting because the very relevant question at this time is "What are they going to do about it?" In their rhetoric the Trump administration is Nazi, white supremacist and racist. This is not an exhaustive list. One can easily add corporatist to the list and probably misogynist too. How does one oppose such people? Does one oppose such people by being mealy-mouthed? Maybe one opposes such people by signing petitions? Maybe you oppose them by posting memes or being sarcastic about them or complaining about them in discussions with your friends? Maybe you oppose them by going on marches and holding up banners? Hey, maybe you oppose them by punching them!

But I wonder if the liberals have any balls. I wonder if they have any lines in the sand. I wonder this because, if they don't, I see them living in a right wing fascist state for a long time. Liberals are known for things like tolerance, understanding and freedom. But if you tolerate a white supremacist for too long, understand them and give them freedom then you may find that your fellow citizens of color are given the shitty end of the stick of life - as well as lots of other fringe elements in society too. Toleration, understanding and freedom are not absolute goods. They function only within boundaries. Absolute amounts of any of them become self-refuting. So I wonder where the liberal boundary lines are? But in wondering about the lines I wonder how real the lines are because a line that is not policed and vigorously defended is not a line at all. That means you have to put your neck on the line. Are there liberals prepared to put their neck on the line? There have, historically, been such people. Without the loss of millions of allied lives the world might today be run politically by the axis powers. Without people of color prepared to stand up to injustice and not bow the knee America today might still be racially segregated. If the Union hadn't fought maybe the Confederacy would be in power today. To the extent we have a knowledge of the past we know that political freedoms are not given. They are won and paid for in sacrifice and in blood.

In short, politics is a matter of confrontation. Those who want to conquer love pacifists for they care not for their morals. They only care to win. But do liberals care to win and what will they sacrifice to secure the win? Token gestures here and there are all well and good. We may note the Women's March recently and protest marches in various places about Trump. But that hasn't stopped Trump forging ahead with his plan with new Executive Orders seemingly every day. I foresee a time when some may have to choose between a peaceful family life for themselves or influencing the direction their country goes in. And please be in no doubt: it will take this. Political power is only achieved because no one stops it when someone takes a liberty. Ten people taking action is seen as extremism. Ten million people taking the same action is seen as a popular uprising. Numbers count here. I have long said to myself over many years that if you can put millions of pairs of feet on the street for whatever cause then you will get immediate action. But people have to be prepared to get off their behinds and take that action themselves. It is a strict numbers game. And you may have to count the cost. This is why I say liberals have a choice: peaceful family life or political freedom and justice for all. Be in no doubt: fascists are happy with apathy.

Richard Spencer, I think, deserves a punch. He is not a reasonable man. He is not open to debate to convince him that his white supremacist views are incompatible with more liberal points of view. He is a hate preacher who wants to disadvantage other sections of society based on a belief and based on something those he despises could not change anyway: their skin color. I have said repeatedly over the last ten days that if no one had opposed Hitler with violence (Hitler himself used violence to intimidate his opponents and help him achieve power in the first place) then we might all be talking German today. The analogy holds because Hitler started off as a vocal nobody but, left largely unchecked, his rise led to tens of millions of deaths. Who doesn't think that that should have been opposed vociferously and physically as soon as possible in the light of our historical knowledge today? Any right-minded person would. So if we see people with the same kind of ugly and discriminatory thinking today what should we do?

If you could go back in time would you kill Hitler? What about if you knew what some current person with political power would become? In the end you have to fight for what you believe in or cooperate by your silence in whatever agenda rules the day.

Make your choice but know this: there are no lines in the sand if you aren't prepared to defend them.

PS Some may say that violence begets violence and I don't necessarily disagree with that. However, the equation remains the same: where is the line and what are you prepared to do to defend it? Whilst actual, physical opponents exist some measure of response will always be about how much, and in what way, you are prepared to push back. Doing nothing is not a solution.