Last Monday it was the vernal equinox, the date at which the Sun passes northwards across the equator and as a result is seen to rise exactly due east and set exactly due west. It's also the date at which the lengths of day and night are very roughly equal, which is how the event got its name (from the Latin for "equal night"). For astronomers, the vernal equinox marks the first day of spring.
For meteorologists, however, spring began back on March 1st. As the Met Office explains here this is because they base the delimiters of the seasons on temperature cycles; by March, the Northern Hemisphere is beginning to warm up after three cold dark months of winter.
But for me, spring begins on the Sunday morning when I wake up and the clocks have all gone forwards an hour on to British Summer Time (BST), which always happens on the last weekend of March. This year, that's today. As usual, I've been round the house fixing the clocks on all sorts of devices that don't adjust themselves automatically.
At least these days I don't have to worry about catching up on the hour's sleep that I lost last night, as I can set the alarm clock for whatever time I want during the week. My sleep hygiene is a lot better than it was when I was working, and I get around four hours of restorative, non-REM sleep every night. When I was spending four hours a day commuting to and from my last job, I counted myself lucky if I got a quarter of that amount. And judging by the amount of time it took me to build my NREM sleep up above 40% of each night, it has taken me more than three years to regain the sleep deficit that I suffered as a result.
Lack of NREM sleep is known to be a contributing factor in the development of Alzheimer's disease, so I'm hoping that my sleep habits these days are ameliorating some of the damage I did to myself when I was younger.
Having a lie-in is probably my favourite indulgence. Being able to put the noise and stress of everyday life on snooze, turn over in bed, and go back to sleep for another twenty minutes or so feels incredibly luxurious.
All of which may explain why I didn't get out of bed this morning until quarter past eleven. Bliss!
For a while now (and by that I mean a couple of years) the camera on my Pixel 3 has refused to hold focus, either in Google's native camera app or with the Instagram app. It's been intensely frustrating; if I was still working full time I'm sure I would have just given up and bought a new phone by now. But I'm not working these days, so I've gritted my teeth and stuck with it. Most of the time, I've ended up with something more or less usable after half a dozen attempts but the camera is the thing on my phone I use the most; I specifically bought the Pixel 3 because at the time it had one of the best-rated cameras on the market and I know I should be getting better pictures out of it.
Today I did another Google search to see if there was anything I could do about it other than buying a new phone (not going to happen) or forking out £100 to have its camera unit replaced (also not gonna happen), and saw a suggestion on Google's own support page to clear the memory cache on the phone's camera app. As ludicrous as that sounds as a reason for its focusing mechanism to fail, I opened the phone's settings and gave it a go.
I was utterly stunned to discover that it's fixed the problem. It is, quite frankly, the most ridiculous design flaw I have ever encountered. But the discovery has saved me a trip to the phone shop in the immediate future, which makes me very happy.
The last time I tracked my Chapman Stick for a piece of music, I was disappointed with the results I got from my PJB Briefcase Ultimate amp. That was a surprise, as the amp is a cracking piece of kit; I assumed that it was because the strings on the Stick needed replacing. That's not an enterprise I embark on very often as a new set costs on the order of £50 these days. I was recording Stick again today (with the same strings), so just to make sure the problem wasn't the amp I got down on my hands and knees to check what settings I'd left it on.
That's when I discovered I must have accidentally turned off its built-in compressor while I was recording something else last month (the switch for it is the same type as—and directly above—the amp's on/off switch). With the amp's input set for a passive instrument instead of an active one and the compressor switched back on again, I was getting the old, familiar "thud" out of the Stick once again.
I have also discovered that adding Ableton's Drum Buss plug-in set to its "Transient Shaping Enhance" preset really adds the special sauce to a Stick part. Those strings will do for a while yet, it seems. And that also makes me happy.
Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the UK release of Pink Floyd's seminal album The Dark Side Of The Moon, so after I'd finished last night's Twitch show, I sat down to give it a listen once again.
I have the album on vinyl (I bought when it came out, because I'm old) but last night I picked the 30th anniversary release to listen to on SACD, as this features a surround sound mix created by engineer James Guthrie at the request of the band.
I have several things in my hifi setup that can play discs but it took me a while to figure out that only one of them plays SACDs using the surround data layer and not the CD layer. Once I'd figured that out, I sat back to enjoy the music. I wasn't surprised to discover that I still knew the words to every song, and could even remember where the various voices were going to come in and what they were going to say. It's still a glorious sonic experience.
The albums you listen to as a teenager go in and stick in a way that doesn't seem to happen as powerfully when you're older. All of Pink Floyd's albums are favourites of mine, but DSOTM—and to a lesser extent their follow-up, Wish You Were Here as well—have inhabited a part of my mind in vivid detail for half a century. It was nice to confirm last night that DSOTM clearly still does.
I've been working on more music. It's been an odd week; one moment, a piece I'm working on comes together seemingly without effort and sounds (to my ears, at least) like it's one of the best things I've ever done. The next moment, I suddenly run out of steam and everything grinds to a halt as I curse the results of my recordings as clumsy and uninspiring.
I can't put my finger on what exactly it is, but I feel like I'm off my game a lot of the time at the moment. Is this me processing the fact that my father passed away at the end of January? Is it a long-term effect of catching Covid back in October? Am I coming down with something, or is it just old age? I really don't know.
All I can do is keep plugging away and hope that I have a good day rather than an off day today. And do the same thing again tomorrow.
I follow a few information security people on social media and over the last few years almost all of them have raised concerns about the Chinese video sharing site TikTok at least once, because the app you must install on your phone in order to use it does a lot of things that had them raising their eyebrows. For one thing, you have to agree to give the app access to all your "user content" which it will share with the company that runs it, and that's a pretty broad range of things to grant access to. For another, the app uses your phone's location feature and reports back where you are. And yes, I know that Google tracks your location as well, but Google doesn't have connections with the Chinese government.
To almost nobody's surprise, the UK Cabinet Office has now announced that henceforth Tiktok must not be installed on any mobile phones used for official purposes, which is a smart move. Unfortunately it should really have been made five years ago (the international version of the app launched in August 2018).
Do you use Tiktok? Are you aware of the security concerns? Do you care? I wouldn't touch the thing with a ten-foot pole.
So resting for "a few days" has stretched out into an entire week, and I still feel very tired. It was nearly eleven o'clock when I dragged myself out from underneath the duvet and crawled out of bed this morning, and I immediately wished that I hadn't bothered as the house was very cold (last night it was -4°C outside and despite the fact that the central heating only went off half an hour ago, I've just given up and switched it back on again for a couple of hours because it's only 14°C at my desk right now.) I'm not at my best just now, but I suspect the continuing cold weather is responsible for a significant amount of my overall lack of energy or motivation.
So I've been sitting around the house or retiring under the duvet as I work my way through the various stacks of books that are waiting to be read. I've reviewed each book that I've finished on my What I've Been Reading page, and at the moment I'm on target to reach my regular goal of reading at least sixty books by the end of the year. There have been times recently where I wondered whether I still had the focus to read something for more than a couple of hours at a time, but given that I spent one day this week reading the final book in the Expanse series from cover to cover, I think those fears have been allayed.
And I'm beginning to get over the post-FAWM crash, I think. I've started work on the next album, which will incorporate some of the instrumentals that I recorded during February. I've even made progress working on some new tracks. I thought I even had a title for the album, too, but since I created the directory for it on the studio PC a couple of days ago, I've changed my mind about it and have yet to come up with a replacement title that I'm happy with. My creative endeavours are progressing, but they are doing so at an almost glacial pace. Still, the clocks will go forward to British Summer Time two weeks today, and I hope by then that spring will start to show more signs of arriving and things will have begun to warm up once again. I've had enough of the cold.
Even though February saw me out in the real world far more than usual, I still managed to write 21 pieces of music that clocked in at just under an hour and a half, all told. That's a pretty decent showing, I reckon. But it takes it out of me; I always prepare myself for the aftermath and even when it doesn't immediately hit on the first of March, I never tell myself that I've got away with things this year, because I know I won't have done.
Last night, I could feel the crash coming on. I had a light, meat-free tea (mushroom soup, if you're interested) and no alcohol at all; after a long soak in the bathtub, I measured my blood pressure (114 over 78) and then went to bed.
And didn't properly wake up until twenty past eleven this morning. I am so tired today. I now realise that I've felt like this all week, because I clearly lost track of which day of the week it is several days ago. Up until I just fixed it, this site's feed.xml file had got the date wrong.
I think I need to rest for a few days.
Here's a question for you: if you read any Internet forums, what are your thoughts on posts by people (usually newbies) who take it upon themselves to set everyone else the equivalent of homework? By this, I mean encountering threads with titles like "Give me your views on (arbitrary topic)!" or "Let's all do (something that everyone else has been doing for years)!" or just "Show me your (whatever)!" These thread titles always seem to end in an exclamation mark. They are always presented in the form of an imperative, not a polite request; as a command, not a suggestion. Often, it turns out that the thread is nothing more than an attempt to legitimate the original poster's self-promotion, as they will often follow up their initial post by answering their own question with the thing that they wanted to brag about in the first place, demonstrating a profound lack of interest in anyone else's responses that may have been made in the interim by kinder souls than me who take things at face value.
Maybe it's because I'm old and grumpy these days; maybe it's because I act as a moderator on a couple of forums and Facebook groups and have therefore become much more attuned to potentially negative behaviours, but I've noticed this sort of topic popping up more and more frequently of late, and it's really beginning to grate. It's sneaky and disingenuous; it's a thinly-veiled attempt to co-opt power; to gain social status within the forum; to control the conversation; and it's profoundly narcissistic. You may even have noticed that the way I started this blog entry, with a non-rhetorical question, is a variant of this behaviour. Did it feel off to you? It does to me.
Is there a marketing school out there that teaches this sort of behaviour? Because I wish they'd stop.
It's the first of the month, and it feels like I need to take a moment to catch my breath. February was pretty intense. Actually allowing myself to have feelings once again instead of being completely shut down emotionally (as I have been for more than a decade) was a scary step to take, but I don't regret doing so for one moment. For the past decade or so, I've been pretty complacent about maintaining a worthwhile level of happiness and while I have't been steeped in the depths of melancholy all the time, I definitely developed a joy deficit. Mental illness can be insidious in the way that it trains you to expect less and less from your life; depression tells you that your lack of affect is simply because you don't deserve anything better. PTSD robs you of much of the capacity to get out and do something about it. So confidence shrivels up and dies, and the world outside grows greyer and greyer.
As a result, I've just "kept calm and carried on" and buried myself in my music-making while pretending that being on my own all the time didn't matter. After all, I'm now in my sixties, so I thought that my personal life had little chance of ever changing again. But being on your own all the time does matter. It's not good to be shut away in isolation, day after day. For a glorious few days in February, I wasn't alone, and I can't begin to describe how comforting that was.
Now, my future feels like it's offering alternatives to only being the eccentric old guy who lives on his own and makes music. It feels like life could be richer, and more complex, and infinitely more rewarding. I want to experience those alternatives. I'm fine with abandoning the certainty that next month's blog will be an account of things that are largely the same as they were last month, or last year. I'm heading into the unknown, and I like it. I feel alive again.
As I posted yesterday, with my song count at just half what it was last year, I decided that I'd done enough FAWMing for 2023. I still managed to exceed the target of writing 14 songs in the month by 50%. I'm happy with that, given that I had plenty of other things going on for large parts of February, including going to my father's funeral and playing host to Leah while she visited from California. And 21 songs is a pretty decent reckoning considering that every single track I did this year was a densely layered and fully produced extravaganza. That, after all, is what I do. But last year I blogged at the beginning of March about how knackered I was after writing 42 songs; being creative is fun, but it's also intense intellectual work, and doing so for protracted lengths of time really takes it out of you.
I don't do the big production stuff to show off; I do it so that I can learn how to produce professional sounding music quickly and profusely and then get it placed in radio, film, and TV productions. I started doing this last year, and while I haven't really pushed things very hard yet doing so, I am amazed by how often the few works I've submitted so far get Shazamed by people wanting to know what (or who) they are listening to. It seems that people like what they're hearing, so I'm going to make more of it.
This is one reason why I concentrated on instrumental music for FAWM this year. Only six songs out of the 21 had vocals, and I only wrote the lyrics for five of them. Another reason was simply that I've been more than a little distracted by real life recently, and I find writing instrumental music to be more comforting than writing lyrics. Finally, I wanted the music I wrote last month to sound different and unusual, and in doing so I also wanted to push my production chops up a notch. Every new layer you add to a piece of music makes it more difficult to keep everything separated and clear, and I learned a lot about how to steer clear of muddy mixes during February.
Last year, proceedings closed with 12,792 songs posted on the site. This year, the final tally when the "New Song" button disappeared at noon was 12,673. That's within one per cent of last year's count, which shows a remarkable degree of consistency.
The FAWM site will be open for listening and commenting for another month, then it'll go back into hibernation until July, when the Fifty/Ninety challenge kicks off again. I plan on taking part once again, although I won't be aiming to beat the 117 songs I wrote for the challenge last year. That was just too crazy, even for me.