Invisible Blog

Chris's Blog Archive: February 2023

February was the most emotionally intense month I've had for more than a decade. One week I was attending my father's funeral; the next, I found myself falling in love.

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 the first album I've recorded from the ground up using my spiffy new Focal monitors and oh boy, have they made a difference to the clarity of my mixes. It's called Happy In The Dark. and this time around you get one hour, one minute, and fifty-six seconds of densely layered instrumental music that has been described as "dreamy". I'll take that.

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


This morning I uploaded the 21st piece of music I've worked on this month to the FAWM site. This one was a collaboration with my friend and fellow FAWMer Metalfoot, and we ended up creating a prog epic that is well over six minutes long called Unexpected. I'm very pleased with this one, and Alex knocked it out of the park with the lyrics.

That takes me to exactly half the number of songs that I helped create last year. While the site won't stop accepting new submissions until noon tomorrow, I think I'm done for this month. I've had a particularly intense time of things over the last four weeks (has it really only been four weeks?) and it feels like a good song to end on.

As usual, I'll spend time in March listening and commenting on other people's songs. As of right now, I've left 240 comments but I've received considerably more than that on my work; my first ten songs alone have received more comments than that, and I always feel guilty about getting more comments than I've given. But I need to take stock of a lot of things at the moment and I'm looking forward to a few days where I'm not on the clock and I can just sit quietly for a while.


Last night there was a big geomagnetic storm; unfortunately I only found out about it (from Professor Chris Lintott on Mastodon) as it was subsiding. I rushed outside to see if I could see the aurora, but the quarter moon was very bright and even with using the "night sight" setting on my phone, I couldn't see any evidence of the northern lights.

Elsewhere in the country, people had more luck.

You can check whether or not to look for the aurora tonight (or any other night, for that matter) here.


Another month, another Netbeans update. This time I remembered to update my copy of Notepad++ before running it (in administrator mode) to edit Netbeans's configuration file. I'm not sure what else I've done differently, but this time I had to install the Darcula LAF plugin manually. That wasn't a problem, and everything seems to be running as expected.


The blog's title this month has proved to be strangely prescient, but I have emerged from my cloak of invisibility to post an update. My friend Leah came to stay for a few days before she set off to stay with friends and relatives across the UK before travelling on to Berlin to stay with her sister. We've known each other for forty years through thick and thin, and it's always a joy to catch up with her. We went out for a curry, went for a walk around the village and got spectacularly muddy, ate doner kebabs, watched old movies (Leah's never been to Berlin, so Wim Wenders's Wings of Desire seemed like essential viewing) and comedy shows (Leah's a big fan of The Young Ones but had never seen an episode of Father Ted, so obviously that had to be remedied), we went shopping in Stroud, and we did a lot of talking.

She's been gone less than a week, and I miss her terribly. The house feels empty without her.

I wrote in the last post about long-buried feelings, and how I've become able to channel the intensity they have into music. When I sat down to do that again this week, I wasn't expecting the result (which, incidentally, is the fourteenth song I've written for FAWM this year, so I've hit my target) to be a love song, but that's what Alive turned out to be. Some of the feelings I'd kept buried turned out to be good ones, and that was as much of a shock to me as much as it was to her. "In a good way!" she told me.

I don't know where this story goes next. And I don't think Leah does, either. We have a lot more talking to do. But for now, it feels like my life isn't quite as dark as it was. And that feels good.


It was my father's funeral on Friday. It was a small affair at Cromer Crematorium with just his immediate family. I was going to say it was quiet, but afterwards, outside, we watched a couple of USAF F-22's practising dogfight manoeuvres. I think Dad would have approved of that.

I found it all rather overwhelming. Finding myself staying in a house with a dozen other people after two years of isolation where I've frequently gone for more than a week without encountering another soul was too much stimulation for me, even if they were all close relatives. I got home late on Saturday afternoon after a five-hour drive and since then I've hardly done anything. I feel exhausted, both physically and emotionally. And that was a surprise, because let's face it, my father and I didn't get on at all. I'm sure he wouldn't have seen it that way, but then again, he seldom took any interest in anyone else's internal landscape.

Yesterday, I told myself that I needed to do something creative rather than heading back to bed for a nap. So I fired up the studio and started playing piano (using one of my favourite virtual pianos, NI's Noire, which is a faithful recreation of Nils Frahm's treated Yamaha grand piano). After about fifteen minutes, I suddenly realised that something unusual seemed to be trying to make its presence known, so I used Live's very handy "save what I just played" capture function and then worked it into an instrumental with a beginning, middle and end. The result was this piece, which I've called Drained.

I was on the edge of tears by the time I'd finished. It felt like I'd tapped into some long-buried feelings and turned them into music. It was an extraordinary afternoon; although it was very productive, it was also astonishingly intense. I was astonished by how much it took out of me. I spent the rest of yesterday in a small heap on the floor.


Eight days into February, I'm more than half-way to my goal of writing fourteen songs for FAWM, and I haven't even started today's recording session yet.

I seem to be having a decent month, creatively speaking. I've covered a range of genres and while most of the music I've made has consisted of instrumentals, I have forced myself to sing on a couple of occasions. Maybe it's the new monitors I'm using in the studio; maybe it's because I wrote 175 pieces of music since last year's FAWM began and I've just got into the habit of paying much more attention to what I'm doing, but I can hear something different in my mixes. They sound more cohesive, but they also sound much, much clearer (so that I can usually pick out each element of the mix without difficulty). It's not because I'm using any wonderful new mixing software; aside from the speakers I'm listening through, my setup hasn't really changed for over a year now. And the mixes translate well when I play them on other devices, or listen on headphones, so it can't just be the quality of the speakers I'm listening on, can it?

One change I have made over the past year is to make sure that my individual mix elements are much quieter than they used to be. And I've learned that I can push a track with lots of high-frequency content, such as a keyboard track which uses FM synthesis (bells, mallets etc,) down by as much as 22 dB and it will still cut through. I've found myself mixing the guitars as much as 12 dB lower than I used to and if you've listened to much of my music you may find that fact a bit shocking. I know I do. It's weird. But I really like the results I'm getting this way.


It's the 1st of February, and you know what that means, don't you?

Yes, it means that the songwriting challenge we know and love as February Album Writing Month has begun once more, and over the next month I will be endeavouring to complete the challenge of writing (and recording) fourteen songs—a whole album's worth of music—in twenty-eight days.

I've taken part every year since I signed up in 2009. FAWM is one of the most fun things that I do every year and I get a lot of pleasure out of rising to the challenge. Last year I went more than a little bit nuts and ended up overachieving by a factor of 3; I wrote and recorded 42 pieces of music. That will NOT be happening this year. A number of other commitments (including my father's funeral) mean that there will probably be more gaps in coverage than usual this year. The blog will be updated as and when with tales of what I'm getting up to, but its coverage may be spotty.


Many thanks to World of Books, who have responded to my comments on the Stellar Editions paperback edition of G. H. Hardy's A Mathematician's Apology that I reviewed on my What I'm Reading page last month by sending me a copy from a different publisher. I wasn't expecting them to do that, nor did I ask them to, because it wasn't their fault that the book was so badly put together, but I'm very grateful to them for doing so.

Thank you!


As it's FAWM, I have updated my Music Page to keep my musical activities current. I list all my album releases there as well, and January's album of instrumentals was duly added to my burgeoning discography.

In doing so, I found myself tutting at the woeful state of the source code for the page. Fixing one annoyance sort of snowballed; one thing led to another, and I ended up reformatting the whole lot in NetBeans (which I updated to version 16 last month). Nobody else is ever likely to look at the code, but I do, and I prefer to have things nice and tidy. And it stops NetBeans grumbling about most (but not all) of my design choices.

So I ended up tidying the code on a number of other pages as well. If you spot something I've broken as a result, please let me know.