The blog's been taking a back seat recently as I've been up to other things, and not just gadding around London. I've been preoccupied with sorting out one or two grown-up things which are, frankly, much too boring to feature here.
But I've also been back making new music for the 50/90 challenge, and I now have eight tracks under my belt. I expected to be further forwards than this, but at least I'm on target.
Today I will be staying indoors; it's been raining here since the early hours of the morning. More significantly, today's also the day that the schools break up for the summer holidays, so the roads out there will be insanely busy this afternoon. Best stay in.
Everyone should have a favourite science experiment. It's a great way of understanding how science works and helps you to discover more about the world. If you're an engineer, you might pick the intricate and incredible ATLAS detector at CERN in Switzerland, built to investigate the Standard Model of particle physics. It was instrumental in the discovery of the Higgs Boson. If you're a chemist, the Elephant's Toothpaste reaction is always good for a laugh as it couples an energetic and violent expansion of compounds with extreme messiness; Camille Schrier used it this month to win the 2019 Miss Virginia beauty contest. But my favourite sort of experiment is the type popularised by Albert Einstein, which he referred to as a "gedankenexperiment" or thought experiment. It involves thinking through the implications of your theory and imagining what might happen if it were accurate, even if it would not be possible to perform the experiment in real life. In Einstein's most famous "what might happen if..." gedankenexperiment, which he conceived at the age of sixteen, he imagined what he would see if he could somehow chase a beam of light through space and see how it behaved. His sense that the conventional view of what should happen was wrong eventually led to his development of the theory of special relativity.
Today I was reading about another elegant gedankenexperiment originated by Jagjit Singh Sidhu and Glenn Starkman of Case Western Reserve University, and Robert J. Scherrer from Vanderbilt University. Their thought experiment involves the mysterious and unknown material called dark matter, which exerts gravity on the rest of the universe but which is otherwise invisible and undetectable. The "what would happen if..." question they asked was a doozy: "what would happen if dark matter moved around in lumps big enough to interact with a human being?" The answer they came up with was that there should be records of people dying from mysterious gunshot wounds. As this does not seem to have ever happened, they have been able to constrain the potential properties of dark matter without building any experimental equipment at all.
It's amazing what just sitting down and thinking about a problem can reveal.
I was in London last weekend meeting up with my friends from the William Gibson Message Board, a.k.a The WGB. It was the first time I'd seen some of them for several years, and I was reminded strongly just what a lovely bunch of people they are. Aside from drinking copious amounts of coffee and tea and enjoying several memorable meals, we'd gathered together in London to celebrate the work of another creative powerhouse: the Design Museum in Kensington is currently playing host to the incredible Stanley Kubrick Exhibition, which has been touring the planet for nearly half a decade now. The WGB folks (me included) tend to be deep cinema nerds, and Kubrick is a favourite of pretty much all of us. After all, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke introduced us to the first really plausible Artifical Intelligence in science fiction. Coming face-to-face (or face-to-camera) with HAL himself is quite an experience.
The show was every bit as good as I'd hoped it would be; we all geeked out over the collection of material from the director's own archive, including his director's chair, a ridiculous collection of esoteric camera lenses and the Steenbeck editing machine that Stanley used on Full Metal Jacket. There was the letter Stanley wrote in 1964 to Clarke, suggesting that they collaborate together to make
"The proverbial "really good" science-fiction movie. "
There were pages of annotated scripts from The Shining and Dr. Strangelove. There was a sixteen-foot model of the spaceship Discovery from 2001, complete with a pod waiting in front of it that had a tiny model of astronaut Frank Poole in its arms. There was an intricate scale model of the Overlook Hotel's Maze that Adam Savage made specially for the exhibition back in 2015. There was even the Durango 95 sports car from A Clockwork Orange.
I will have to go back and see the show again before it closes in September, because there was just too much stuff to take in over the space of a couple of hours. The level of coverage of Kubrick's career is astonishing, but the immense detail, reflecting Stanley's own approach to making a movie, rapidly gets overwhelming. You need to see it, but set aside the whole day if you're going to do it justice.
After two nights when I got no more than four hours' very restless sleep and two days being much more active than usual (I hit record step counts on my fitness tracker on Saturday and Sunday), when I got home on Sunday I collapsed in a heap. On Sunday night I slept for nearly eleven hours. I did the same on Monday night, too. I've felt pretty much wiped out so far this week, but it was totally worth it.
However I have managed to drag myself into a very hot studio and make some more music. I've now got three tracks under my belt for 50/90 and the prog tendencies are beginning to assert themselves again, which is a good sign. As always, you can track my progress and listen to my efforts here.
It's always unpleasant when your company gets bought by a larger organisation that couldn't care less about the things that made your enterprise special. It's even worse when they subsequently decide to shut you down. I've been there; it's horrible. So my heart goes out to the folks at Vertigo Comics, where it was announced last month that the imprint is being shuttered. Vertigo, in case you didn't know, were the folks responsible for publishing Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Warren Ellis's Transmetropolitan, Garth Ennis's Preacher, and a host of other classic works including Lucifer, Hellblazer, and The Saga of the Swamp Thing (which was written by Northampton's very own Alan Moore). The closure of Vertigo is a very big deal for the comics industry, and not in a good way.
DC is now part of the conglomerate behemoth that currently calls itself Warner Media. Warner Media is itself owned by the telecommunications giant AT&T because one of the world's largest international telcos is the obvious pick when you're looking for someone to run one of the comics industry's most innovative imprints, right? No, I didn't think so either. Weird. The company alienated a whole new tranche of consumers this week when it announced that the long-running comedy publication Mad Magazine will cease to publish any new material. Mad has been in business since 1952. Instead, the magazine is switching to recycling old material (with new covers) and will close completely in August, once its existing reader subscriptions run out.
When you're younger, you assume that the institutions you know and love are permanent fixtures. You never imagine that, one day, they might just go away. Unfortunately, as you get older you discover that the things you cherish don't last forever. Even so, I was surprised how upset I was by both these bits of news.
I've already got one song under my belt for 50/90 this year. I started out nice and easy with a bit of blues, because it's a style of music I love listening to (and playing) and after all, It All Comes Back To The Blues.
I've also started work on track number two, which is developing along proggier lines, but I can't quite figure out what it wants to be quite yet, so I'm leaving it to marinade for a while. I suspect that means it's going to fall into the "long and complicated" category...
Today, though, I'm feeling a a bit out of sorts. I don't know why, but I can't focus. So I have spent the day doing household stuff like laundry and I'll come back to the music when I'm a little more with it. At least I'm getting some excellent guitar tones out of my gear at the moment. The fiddling about with things over the last couple of weeks is really paying off.
The studio has been tidied up and organised. The guitars are ready and waiting. The software on the studio PC is as up-to-date as it's going to get. My fingers are itching. It can mean only one thing: I'm about to start on another of my annual songwriting challenges.
For Fifty/Ninety the goal is to write fifty songs in the ninety days between the fourth of July and the first of October. I've taken part each year since 2013, and each year I've managed to reach the target and write at least fifty songs (in 2014 I got more than a little bit carried away and managed to write well over sixty). It's a much longer haul than February Album Writing Month and the work rate required is faster; successfully completing FAWM only entails writing one song every two days for 28 days. Summertime also tends to have more demands on your time than the depths of winter, and as a result of all this the number of participants is much smaller, but the 50/90 community is enthusiastic and highly creative, and good fun to be around.
As regular readers of the blog will know, I spent some time last month getting the wrinkles ironed out of my current guitar effects rig, as I'd been having power supply problems. Last night I spent an hour or so playing guitar, and everything worked as it should, so I think I'm all set. I've also changed one or two pedal settings, resulting in my best-ever lead tone; thanks to the judicious addition of a noise gate in the G3's patch, there's no background noise in the signal at all when I stop playing. This is all the result of playing at louder volume during my jam session with Paul last month. As a way of showing how important playing with other musicians is in helping you to develop your sound, this sort of thing is hard to beat.
All my preparation time involves the technology I use to create music. I don't spend any time thinking about creative themes, or pondering the approaches I'm going to adopt until the challenge actually starts. It's not that I think it would be cheating to do so beforehand—it's that learning to "switch on" your creativity at a moment's notice is one of the most important lessons that taking part can teach you. When you've got a deadline to meet, you can't be precious about waiting for your muse. Right now, I have no idea what sort of music I will come up with on Thursday. But I will come up with something on the 4th; that much I do know.
I can't wait to find out what it sounds like.
I was very excited to learn this morning that Netflix is planning to develop a big-budget television series based around Neil Gaiman's Sandman series of comic books. The comics, which chronicle the adventures of Dream, a.k.a. Morpheus, the God of Sleep and his interactions with his siblings (Destiny, Delirium, Desire, Despair, Death, and a lot of other names all beginning with the letter D, collectively known as the Endless), are rightly regarded as classics of the genre.
We are living in a golden age of television at the moment. Thanks to competition from streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, networks have realised that they have to up their game with regards to quality. Studios have also realised that a television series provides a better format for really getting to grips with a story than a ninety-minute or two-hour feature film can manage. The extra space gives plots the luxury of slower pacing and resultingly larger payoffs. The recent adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens is a prime example (you see what I did there?)
I'm still waiting for the adaptation of Larry Niven's Ringworld, though.