Some you win, some you blog

Chris Harris's Blog

Hi there! Welcome to Chris's latest blog...

Last update: February 2020

Blog Archive
Chris's Home Page
HFO Home Page

RSS feed Subscribe!

Comments? Feedback? Cool link? Send me an email at headfirstonly (at) gmail.com!

My new album Beyond is now available on Bandcamp. It's also on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music, Tidal, and all your other favourite streaming services.

My recent albums Generator and Fort are also available at Bandcamp, together with a wide selection of my earlier music.

LOW POWER MODE

After a couple of decent weeks, I've found myself struggling again. I'm not sure exactly why, but I'm having trouble sleeping and when I do drift off in the early hours of the morning, my dreams are filled with anxiety and an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness. It's not been pleasant. As a result, I spend my days feeling drained and I've found it difficult to summon up the enthusiasm to write new music for FAWM. Rather than having a song count well in to the twenties by now (that was my initial, wildly overenthusiastic plan for the month) I am still a couple of songs away from reaching the traditional target of fourteen tracks. On a couple of days in the last week I've done very little beyond reading a book or taking naps. I feel much the same physically as I did when I was in the deepest throes of depression, although mentally I feel much more robust than I did back then. My energy levels are certainly about the same (in that they have almost completely disappeared.) As I sit here typing this, I can feel the muscles under my left eye twitching, which is a sign of stress I've recognised in myself when things get particularly bad.

The thing is, I don't feel like my current bout of illness or lack of a job should be affecting me quite as badly as it clearly is doing. "Maybe you're just burned out?" Mel asked me when we were chatting online a few days ago. I hadn't considered the possibility, perhaps because I've had the best part of a year to recover from the rigours of my last job, the brutal commute that I was making to the office, and—frankly—the cynical way in which my services were dispensed with when the company got into difficulties. But after listening to a few podcasts about depression this week, I'm beginning to think she's right. As another old friend of mine pointed out to me a few days ago, burnout is a form of depression. Furthermore, as the podcasts that I've listened to this week have reminded me, feelings of anxiety and powerlessness are accepted to be principal triggers of the condition, together with the loss of a job, lack of a close personal relationship, and childhood trauma. At the moment I seem to be, basically, a poster boy for depression's principal causes.

And so I've switched to low power mode as a form of self care. I'm not going to push myself to break (or even equal) my best-ever FAWM tally of recording 31 songs in a month because that would be a silly and possibly very damaging thing to do, however attractive it sounds. I'm going to rest, look after myself, and avoid setting myself any new challenges for a few weeks. And if things don't improve after that, I'll be heading back to the doctor's to investigate some more active strategies for making things better.

MENACE

My phone pinged late last night. As I have my phone set to "do not disturb" after bedtime, it got my attention immediately. The cause turned out to be my weather app telling me that the Environment Agency had issued a flood warning for the village, effective from 2am on Sunday morning. It's all thanks to Storm Dennis, which has been making its presence felt here since the small hours of Saturday morning. Even down here in a sheltered valley, the wind was roaring around the house. It's been raining pretty much constantly for the last couple of days and the back garden is very waterlogged, but it's not under water. I should be safe from flooding here at the top end of the village, but I notice from the flood warning map on the EA's website that the new housing estate built right next to the Little Avon River at the lowest part of the village—on an area that used to regularly flood in bad weather—might not be so lucky. Go figure, eh?

As FAWM is still under way, I took a predictable course of action and set my Tascam DR-40 on the bathroom windowsill to record the noise of the wind. Then I moved to the front of the house so I could mix in the sound of rain hitting the windows. After that, I fired up Ableton, improvised a looped piano part over the wildtrack using a looping piano patch I created on the Korg M3, and then added some improvised e-Bow guitar to finish things off. The result is called Dennis The Menace.

Of course.

PROGRESS

As I suspected, the next step in treating my kidney stones is a CT scan to identify exactly where they are. And I now have a date for the scan. Even better, it's in the coming week. After that, I will be visiting the urology department in yet another local hospital to see what they can do—but while that appointment has also arrived, that won't happen until the tail end of next month.

I'm grateful that we still have an NHS; I just wish that big companies like Amazon paid their fair share of taxes here so it could get the funding it deserves.

Meanwhile I am still struggling to get a decent night's sleep. On Friday night I slept so badly I ended up taking a nap at lunchtime. Last night was just as bad, although the coffee I had for breakfast today is doing a good job keeping me awake so far. I suspect I still haven't recovered from the drive home from London last week after William Gibson's talk at Emmanuel Hall when, thanks to a stretch of the M4 being shut, I didn't get to bed until 6am on Wednesday morning...

IT'S THE EIGHTIES

I completed the finishing touches to the track that Mel and I wrote for FAWM last night, and it's now available on the website if you'd like to give it a listen. We've called it I Remember When.

We went for a heavy hit of 80s nostalgia, and as well as some very trebly rhythm guitar parts, I wheeled out Arturia's Fairlight CMI emulation for a nod to The Art of Noise; (the sound is a widely-used factory preset on the Fairlight that's called "Saraar".) Mel's production chops pushed the track count into the low 30s, which is more than I think I've ever used, but I was very pleased to discover that the Studio PC that I bought last year coped with things without breaking a sweat.

Working on tracks with Mel is always a pleasure. This week I'll be devoting most of my time to working on more music. As always, I find that taking part in FAWM is one of the most creatively satisfying activities there is. If you're a songwriter, I can't recommend it highly enough.

OUT AND ABOUT

With spending days in Bristol and London last week, I broke my weekly step count record. I was the most active I've been since I bought my fitness tracker eighteen months ago; I averaged nearly 5,000 steps more than my recent daily step count. And yes, I feel much better as a result. The weather might not be as conducive to maintaining that level of activity today, but I want to avoid sinking back into my normal, lethargic state if I can possibly avoid it.

FROM PERIPHERAL TO AGENCY

I've spent the last week playing host to, and hanging out with my friends from the William Gibson Board (or the WGB, to those in the know). We've known each other digitally (and subsequently in real life) for the best part of two decades, and it's always a joy to meet up with everybody once again. For the London meet, we convened at the Market Hall Food Court in the West End, and took over a whole corner of the establishment. The food was excellent, and the venue is now my go-to location for grabbing something to eat when I visit the Smoke.

WGB in full effect

Yes, I even bought a new fedora to celebrate the occasion and realised when I saw a photograph of me in my leather jacket that I appear to be turning in to Terry Pratchett...

As its name suggests, the WGB started as a bulletin board where people who admired the work of William Gibson, author of Neuromancer and Johnny Mnemonic, could discuss his work and share related information. It became a nexus around which a global tribe of like-minded people soon accreted; people who like Gibson's work tend to have other interests in common. And when WGB people are interested in something, it's seldom trivial or tangential but instead detailed and deep. Very deep. Finding other people who understand the appeal of obscure brands of watch from the nineteen fifties or WWII cryptographic equipment is not a common occurrence for those of a nerdy disposition, so we tend to make the most of it, up to and including getting married. We last met socially last summer, when a bunch of the usual suspects met up in London to attend the Stanley Kubrick exhibition at the Design Museum and a couple of manga exhibitions. The last time the WGB got together for a book tour was back in November 2014, when Bill's previous novel The Peripheral was published.

This gathering was convened to celebrate William Gibson's latest novel Agency, which was published last month. Bill is in the closing stages of an intense publicity campaign to promote the book and was in the UK this week for a couple of public events, one in Bristol and one in London, both of which I attended.

There was more interest than usual in Bill's thoughts on global politics, prompted in part by the setting of the book in an alternate version of Earth where Brexit didn't happen and rather than Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton was the winner of the 2016 presidential election. But the profile of Mr Gibson's work has also been considerably elevated in the UK by Dominic Cummings's recent call for weirdos from William Gibson novels to apply for posts at Number 10 Downing Street, and everyone was eager to know what Bill made of it all. Mr Gibson was, it became clear, less than impressed by Cummings, particularly by his apparent inability to remember the name of the principal character, Cayce Pollard, from Bill's novel Pattern Recognition. Cummings, indeed, had described her in dismissive terms simply as "That girl hired by Bigend"— Cummings clearly (and, given who he works for, predictably) being the sort of personality to identify with the novel's villain rather than its protagonist. "I don't think he gets it," Bill commented during his Bristol discussion with Andrew Kelly. Bill was amused by a recent tweet from WGB member Jan which had referred to Cummings as Hubertus Bellend and now I will never think of Cummings by his proper name ever again. When asked by Andrew Kelly whether he thought Bigend would have a use for Cummings, Bill replied, "I don't think so. I think Bigend would discreetly arrange for Cummings to gain employment with somebody he didn't like very much."

Bill said that after the London event, his publicist was delighted by his "cute fans". I don't know if I personally identify as cute, but I know that they're all lovely people. I'm already missing them.

INTERLUDE

Long-time WGB regular and fellow FAWMer Mel had come over to London for Tuesday's William Gibson event and as originally she was going to be performing at a gig on Friday night, she'd arranged to stay with me for a couple of days so we could nerd out together. Unfortunately, Friday's gig was cancelled, but we made the most of things by working on a track for FAWM, watching a lot of movies and TV, and bingeing on takeaway food (which for a very long time has been our favourite pastime when we hang out together). When I discovered that Mel had never experienced the culinary delight of the takeaway doner kebab, I determined to address matters. Mel is now a fan.

Watching Mel at work using Ableton—even on the unfamiliar OS of my Windows computer rather than her own MacBook—was something to see; the speed at which she works is incredible. The rapidity with which could get things organised was an education. She showed me that I really need to polish up my knowledge of Live's keyboard shortcuts!

I'm going to head up to the studio and complete my parts of the track this afternoon, and I'll post a link here to the finished song when it's been submitted to the FAWM website.

BLUSTERY DAY

After seeing the weather forecast for today, several people from the WGB decided to travel home early. It was a good decision; last night I lay soaking in the bath listening to the rain thrashing against the windows. The trees in the garden are flailing around today as Storm Ciara passes through. The high winds have disrupted travel across the country, with a trampoline ending up on the railway line at Chelsfield, between Orpington and Sevenoaks. Further west, houses are without power. I'm hoping that it will stay on here. I have stuff to do and I need electricity for it.

It's not all been bad news, though; high-altitude winds across the Atlantic were reaching 250 mph and it looks like this has allowed a British Airways flight to reclaim the record for the fastest West-to-East crossing by a subsonic aircraft. The aircraft in question, a Boeing 747, reached a peak ground speed of 825 mph—not bad for a fifty-year-old design with a maximum airspeed of Mach 0.92, or 705 mph!

SO THAT'S THAT

Whatever I was going to say about Brexit, I couldn't do better than Tom Peck writing about last night's celebrations in Parliament Square in this morning's Independent: "a static, knuckle dragging carnival of the irredeemably stupid."

HERE I GO AGAIN

It's February, which means that once again February Album Writing Month is under way. As it's a leap year, we get twenty nine days to write new music and generally celebrate creativity. It's been the high point of my year for over a decade, so I'm off to shut myself away in the studio and see what happens.