Blackout Blog

Chris's Blog Archive: January 2023

Permalink entries for Chris's blog in January 2023.

I make music. These days, I make lots of music. And the results of all that music making are available for you to listen to. My latest release on Bandcamp is a re-examination of material I created for this summer's Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge; once I'd upgraded the studio with new monitors, I found myself going back and polishing my favourite tracks and I was stunned by how much better the results sounded. The album is called The Future Never Arrives and this time around you get nine seconds short of an hour of music with strong prog and eighties pop influences.

Once again I'm making this release a name your price deal, so you can get it for free. Go get some!

BRING ON THE SPRING

I'm sitting here in the middle of another cold snap. Temperatures here were down to -7°C again last night, and that's been the story for nearly every night this past week. Daytime temperatures have been struggling to make it above freezing, and I am really getting to the point where I've had enough of this winter, thanks very much. The weather forecast doesn't give me much hope that things will start to warm up any time soon—but we are still in January, after all.

The cost of running the heating for more than a few hours a day has been putting me off doing so. Instead, I've closed the doors to the living room and used the gas fire to heat just the room I'm in instead of the whole house. It's proved remarkably successful at retaining the heat, but oh boy, I really notice the difference when I move into the kitchen or head upstairs to retrieve another book. In the living room it's a comfortable 18°C. In my bedroom right now, it's just 13°C (55°F).

Oddly enough, one thing that I've discovered is that I sleep better at the moment when I don't use a hot-water bottle. I suspect that this has something to do with the fact that a drop in core body temperature before bedtime has been observationally linked to successful sleep onset; this suggests that if I stay warm, I'm likely to find it more difficult to fall asleep, and from my experience this indeed appears to be the case.

Mind you, I struggle to fall asleep regardless of my sleeping conditions. Sometimes I'm still awake a couple of hours after I've gone to bed. So I have a lie-in the next morning, which pushes my bed-time further back, and I end up with my sleep cycle totally out of whack; I'm currently attempting to bring it back to a more sensible schedule, but having a lie-in feels so good...

TEN DAYS TO GO

It's now just ten days until February Album Writing Month kicks off once again on February 1st and I've been helping out with beta-testing the new website, which has been completely rewritten since last year. I have to say the new site looks rather splendid. There's a new logo for a start, but the underlying functionality has been improved so that taking part will be much easier. For example, if you've signed up for FAWM's file hosting, you can now upload each new song directly from the "Add New Song" dialogue on the main website rather than having to log in to the old FAWM file server as a separate process and copying your upload's URL. It's all looking very spiffy.

Next week I'll probably start my own, rather more mundane preparations for the challenge. I will be putting fresh strings on my Stick, my bass, and most of my main electric guitars. Fortunately, I have plenty of packs of strings lying around the studio because whenever it's the Intersound Guitar Show, I always stock up. I hope the show takes place this year, though. I could do with a few more packs to hold in reserve...

Money's a bit tighter this year, so I'm not planning on any big budget additions to my collection of real and virtual musical instruments. I will be working to get the best out of the gear I already have. As I get older, I've come to realise that there is no magical new piece of equipment which will transform your sound into what you imagine it ought to be. For guitarists at least, it's what your fingers do to the strings that's where the secret of sounding good lies. The smallest change to how you play a note can radically alter the sound that comes out of your amp, even if you don't make any other changes to your setup. The thing is, that knowledge isn't going to help gear companies to sell more new gear, so it's not shared as widely as it ought to be. Also, cheap gear these days often plays remarkably well. My latest guitar is a second-hand "20th Anniversary" Squier Affinity Strat; it's one of the cheapest guitars I have ever bought, yet I love the way it plays and the sounds that I can get out of it. I'm sure that guitars costing three or four thousand quid are lovely, but these days I can't see myself ever being in the position where I'd consider spending that amount of money on one to find out if it'd make a significant difference to the way I sound. I suspect that it wouldn't.

NOT ON THE BUSES

It's not been a great day for the humble double-decker bus around here. One burst into flames outside Bristol Temple Meads Station this morning and down in Somerset a bus carrying people to work on the Hinkley Point C site overturned after what was being described as an "incident" with a motorcyclist. I suspect somebody is going to get the book thrown at them in court, there.

That's two incidents. You wait for ages, then three come along at once. What's the third one going to be?

FEED THE (ONE SPECIES OF) BIRDS

It was -8°C here last night. At noon the conservatory roof was still frosted over and the temperature in the back garden was still well below freezing. Finding food has become the principal activity of the local wildlife. The local flock of starlings is on the prowl, and they have taken to raiding my bird feeders; yesterday I filled the giant feeder I got from the RSPB a few years ago using a mix of seed, suet pellets, and mealworms, and they've emptied it in a morning. Seeing a starling pulling all sorts of feats of acrobatics to use a feeder designed for more agile birds half its size is quite a sight. The starlings haven't eaten any of the seed, though—oh no. That's just been scattered around for the sparrows, finches, and collared doves to pick up later. Much of it will get wet when the frost thaws and end up rotting and going to waste. Much as I like birds, this sort of avian behaviour isn't exactly endearing. In fact, it reminds me strongly and uncomfortably of how humans behave.

I've always seen starlings in the garden, but in recent years the variety of other birds that I see has markedly declined. Now, starlings have become dominant and it feels like they've driven everything else away (they can be remarkably aggressive when they're around food sources). The RSPB's annual Big Garden Birdwatch takes place once again on the last weekend of this month, and I will be taking part as usual, but if I see more than ten different species in the garden I will be very surprised indeed.

I need to think about my feeding strategy again...

JEFF BECK (1944 - 2023)

Yesterday I went online to be hit by the news that the guitarist Jeff Beck had passed away suddenly at the age of 78. Jeff was one of the biggest influences on my adventures with the electric guitar. Not because I sound like him, or played in his style, because nobody else could do that. He was an influence because he explored a sonic landscape of the guitar that nobody else knew was even there. He showed the rest of us what the guitar was capable of becoming, and he continued to do this consistently over the course of a career that started before I was even born. He had a unique and truly astonishing talent which let him get sounds out of a guitar that left everyone else wondering what they were listening to. He also played with a huge list of fine musicians who became influences on my music in their own right, from Clapton, Bowie, Jan Hammer, Jennifer Batten, and Billy Gibbons to Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Rhonda Smith. Jeff never stayed in one musical genre. Everything was fair game, from drum and bass to opera. And whatever he did, he was instantly recognisable.

As I said yesterday on various social media accounts: if you want to understand just what made Jeff a one-of-a-kind, spectacular genius, just grab a Fender Stratocaster and try to do this.

He's irreplaceable, and his passing is a profound loss to music.

UNLUCKY FOR SOME

I got distracted during last night's live stream by the sound of torrential rain hammering against the windows. This week it's been very wet here in the South West. Yesterday, Bristol Temple Meads railway station had to close because the tracks were flooded. News reports were full of footage of cars stuck in flood water up to their door handles. I have always wondered why people keep driving further into deep flood water like this, but clearly some motorists think that flood water won't affect their particular vehicle; there were reports yesterday of some drivers trying to force the flood gates open after the A361 was closed in Somerset because of the danger (moving water only needs to be as high as your knees to carry you away; flood water gets dangerous a lot faster than people realise.)

It's bright and sunny here at the moment, but there's a yellow warning of further heavy rain in place here that runs from 10 pm tonight until noon tomorrow which isn't going to help matters.

Over in the US, San Francisco has been seeing record rainfall, too. The state of California has been suffering from a prolonged drought, but getting lots of water all at once really isn't going to help matters much because the ground is bone-dry and too hard for water to soak in.

And if you're thinking that it never used to rain like this in the good old days, you're right. One of the side-effects of climate change is that the warmer it gets, the more water the atmosphere can hold. That means rainfall (and in some cases snowfall, as we saw last month) figures rise. And that means that floods become more and more likely. And I'm afraid that I have no great hopes left that we'll be able to fix things, because instead of decisive action by governments to rein in fossil fuel use we've got misguided idiots pulling stunts like this and this.

READ MORE BOOKS

This summer the Blog will be celebrating its twentieth anniversary. The website has been in existence for considerably longer than that, and it's grown quite a bit since I bought a book on HTML and put the first version together by editing files with Microsoft Notepad. There are now more than three hundred separate pages of HTML to choose from and I dread to think how many thousand words of text I've written for them. As a result of all that growth, some of the site's older backwaters have become rather neglected. This weekend, I realised that I hadn't updated my page about the books I'd read since 2015, when I abandoned it in favour of recording my reading progress on Goodreads.

Things have changed since then. I deleted my Goodreads account and ceased dealings with Amazon after they refused to let some of their staff go home during an Illinois tornado alert back in 2021; a tornado hit the facility and six people died. It takes a lot for me to class a company as being so evil that I refuse to have anything more to do with them, but Amazon got there.

However I realised that in tracking my reading progress, I was getting a lot of satisfaction from seeing how high the count of books I'd read used to get. People also used to like the reviews I wrote. Since I found myself semi-retired, I easily manage to read at least one book a week and yesterday I decided that I should start tracking the books I've read once again, but that I should do it here on my own website. After all, why should I spend lots of time and effort creating content for someone else's website when I have one of my own to maintain? So I've updated my books page and also set up a page for the books I've read in 2023, which already has book number one listed and reviewed.

I have plenty more books lined up. Let's see what sort of figure I can reach this year; I'm aiming for at least sixty.

SLEEPY

I must have been very tired last night. I slept for over nine hours and had the most intense dreams I've had for many years. It felt like I was living in a Studio Ghibli movie and while I can't remember the details now, I remember thinking as I woke up that they had been as vividly coloured as a video game.

And this was without eating cheese before bedtime.

COUNTING DOWN

February Album Writing Month starts four weeks today, and I'm already getting excited at the prospect of writing a bunch of new songs. You might be thinking that this implies that I'm not making music at the moment, which would be highly irregular for me, and you'd be right. At the moment, I'm focusing on instrumental music and I've been in the studio pretty much every day noodling around with synths and guitars. I'm not working at the frantic pace I sustained last summer, and I'm not planning on doing a treble FAWM again like I did last year, but it looks like I'll have another full-length album to launch well before the songwriting challenge gets under way once again. As always, I'll be releasing it on Bandcamp.

This week, I've written new intro and outro pieces for my live streams on Twitch. I had a particularly productive day yesterday putting together new video sequences for them which I've already loaded into OBS. I think I'm ready for my return to streaming tomorrow night.

But today, I'm taking things easy.

HAPPY NEW SAME OLD SAME OLD

After spending the evening watching a couple of films (Knives Out: Glass Onion for the second time, and it is still excellent; and The Matrix: Resurrections for the first time, which was a profound disappointment) I was in bed by midnight last night. It seemed to be a subdued night for the rest of the village, too. Most unusually, I didn't hear a single firework all evening. Scarborough ended up cancelling their civic firework display entirely yesterday, although they had a great reason for doing so. I was up before 10 am this morning and you know the drill by now: drink coffee while listening to the New Year's Day concert from the legendary Musikverein in Vienna on the TV and the big audio system (and my Yamaha surround amplifier actually has an emulation of the acoustics of that very same concert hall, which I find pretty funny given that the broadcast engineers will have worked very hard to remove as much of the hall's characteristics as possible). It's sounding great.

There was plenty to update on the website. I discovered I'd run out of custom-drawn headers for the years on the blog's archive page earlier this week, but there's now a fresh column for the New Year. And in updating my spreadsheet of blog headers I ended up downloading and installing a fresh release of Libre Office, although I was disappointed that the release notes make no mention of the many bugs in it that annoyed me throughout 2022.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that my expectations for 2023 are about as low as they can get. I'm well in to my sixties now, and I've abandoned the idea that things can only get better; long experience has shown me that things will always find a way to get worse.

IN WHICH CASE

The thing that I do to counter all of the bad stuff going on is to make music. I did so yesterday, and I will be back in the studio again this afternoon.

But for the moment, I'm just going to enjoy listening to Franz Welzer-Möst and the Vienna Philharmonic doing what they do best.