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Chris's Blog Archive: March 2024

Even though FAWM drew to a close on the first of the month, I kept on working on music. I recorded a new album of my own but also ended up running some recording sessions for a friend's band, which turned out to be great fun. I seem to have found another potential side hustle!

It took a while to iron out some wrinkles with the solar panels I'd had installed back in February, but once the big storage battery sitting in my garage started communicating properly with the inverter and its peripherals inside the house, it all made a very noticeable dent in the amount of energy I was importing from the grid. I'm rather enjoying the process of bringing the house up to a reasonable state again, and it's very nice to see quantifiable benefits from doing so.

I make music. These days, I make lots of music in all sorts of different genres. My latest release is a collection of instrumental tracks I recorded at home in February and March 2024 after rediscovering the joys of improvising into a loop pedal as a way of breaking out of the compositional habits that I hate falling into. I named the album after the first piece I recorded for this year's February Album Writing Month that way, Something To Do While I Think Of Something To Do. As always, the new album is available for streaming and download at Bandcamp, where you can also explore my extensive discography of older material there as well.


The temperature overnight on Friday night dropped down to just 0°C (that's 32°F) but despite this, the country is now back on British Summer Time (BST). The clocks went forwards last night. The fact that it won't get dark this evening until 7:30 or so is nice, but the fact that it will stay dark for another hour in the mornings will, I hope, prevent me from waking up too early, which is something that I've been doing for a while over the past three weeks or so.

I'm not a great fan of BST. I've complained about this repeatedly here over the years that it's not recognised as a valid date and time format by RFC822 so I have to convert times in my feed.xml file back to GMT. But the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has argued convincingly that switching to GMT in the winter causes many unnecessary accidents and even deaths and they think we ought to stick with BST all year. The UK actually did this from 1968 to 1971 (and I can vaguely remember this happening) but in a free vote in the House of Commons in 1970 the vote was overwhelmingly in favour of switching back to GMT in the winter.

Let's not get started on the difference between us and the United States, who switched to "Daylight Savings" time three weeks ago, which has long been a source of unnecessary stress for those of us who have ever done business with companies across the pond...


This week I got another couple of projects under way which will make a significant difference to the house's external appearance. I hope to get the two remaining big projects (I need a new bathroom and a new kitchen) under way before very much longer. It feels good to be getting work done on the house. It has been rather neglected over the last few years.

The projects that have already been completed are paying off nicely. It looks like my energy bill for this month will come in at just under £100. (Edit: It did, at £98.03.) That's less than two thirds of what I paid in March last year, and aside from March being relatively mild, it's also because I've been almost completely self-sufficient for electricity over the last couple of weeks. So far this March I've only used 37 kWH of electricity from the grid. Last March, I used 230 kWH. I'm still using gas for my cental heating, but since the Eddi box in my airing cupboard got its firmware upgrade and started doing what it's supposed to do, I've effectively been getting my hot water for free. And once the nights start getting warmer and I can switch the heating system off again, the only gas that I'll be using will be for cooking and my utility bills should plummet.

But this week I also paid for a project that's more about my own development. I don't often embark on adventures like this, so it's been a bit of a leap of faith for me, but it's an exciting prospect that I'm very much looking forward to. More on that soon...


I thought I'd release my latest album this week rather than next because although Bandcamp Friday happens next week (on April 4th), releasing the album early means that I could post on the FAWM website to let people who commented on some of its nascent tracks in February (and said some nice things about them) know that the album's available. It's called Something To Do While I Think Of Something To Do.

Something To Do While I Think Of Something To Do

Lasting nearly an hour and a quarter, this album is so large that it wouldn't fit on a single CD. I really enjoy making this sort of music, so after February finished I just kept going. The result is a selection of gentle instrumentals that were all inspired by some of my favourite science fiction novels.

Rather than doing my normal Twitch stream next Thursday, I'm going to hold a live listening party for the album on Bandcamp. I've never done one of these before, so I'll be interested to see how it goes. I hope you'll join me there!


Since I finished the new album, I've been having fun catching up on my synth programming. I rebuilt my favourite patches on the Roland JX-3P that I'd created after I backed up my original patches to a cassette forty years ago, and I managed to get pretty close to the originals, I reckon. I've also been teaching myself how to program the latest member of my synth stable, the Korg Wavestate Mk2. It's rather different to all the others. It doesn't have operators like my Korg Opsix does (and getting usable sounds out of that beastie is challenging enough). In fact, the Wavestate doesn't even have oscillators! It's all sample-based, and it has a prodigious number of samples stored in its internal memory.

I started out by bringing the Wavestate downstairs and working on the coffee table with a pair of headphones, and came up with four interesting "performance" settings (the Wavestate doesn't do presets or patches) that I've saved. Today I compared that workflow with programming it using its Editor/Librarian software, but before I could do that, I needed to update its firmware. And before I could do that, I had to update the Korg System Updater software. And once I'd done that, I discovered that there was a new firmware update for my Mk 1 Korg Opsix as well, and getting the updater to talk to that meant changing the network driver for the Opsix on my PC back to the Microsoft RNDIS6 driver because the Korg driver for it (which I don't remember installing) didn't allow the PC to see the Opsix, and so that was the whole of the afternoon gone.

Although the software editor lets you see all of those samples in the Wavestate's memory which I mentioned just now, putting a new performance together doesn't feel as immediate. This is particularly true if you use the Wavestate's "randomize" feature to generate a completely random collection of settings from which to start creating something usable, because doing this in the editor involves opening a separate window to specify which bits of the performance you want to randomise and by how much, doing the randomizing, and then closing the window again before you can audition the sound you've come up with. If you do this hands-on, you set up the limitations to the randomize function once, and then just push the Wavestate's dedicated randomize button to generate the performance. Nevertheless, I got a few more interesting sounds out of it this afternoon and I'm sure they'll end up in one of my compositions at some point.

It's all lots of fun.


I should have kept my mouth shut. Over the past week my storage battery started playing up. It would get to about 30% charged and then switch to discharging, even when there was plenty of power available from the panels to keep charging. And the wireless dongle—which lets me use my phone to directly monitor what the system is doing rather than get data via the Internet (with all the concomitant delays which that introduces)—has completely stopped working. Yesterday Ryan came round to see what was happening and found a loose data cable in the cabinet on the side of the house, so the flashing red light on it has gone out and the battery is now working again. Right now, it's charged to 94% which is higher than it's managed to get for over a week, but sadly the dongle is still completely unresponsive.

Ah well. There's a lot of technology involved in getting one of these systems up and running so I was expecting one or two bumps in the road to free energy. But the box in the airing cupboard that I was having problems with last week has been earning its keep, diverting more than seven and a half kilowatt hours of power to the immersion heater so far this month and giving me free hot water. And even though it's currently (looks out of window) hailing outside, the roof is generating more than a kilowatt.

But even though the system hasn't been working as well is it could have, it looks like my energy bill this month is going to work out as being roughly half of what it was this time last year.


This morning I have been listening to the new album from Cambridge's very own Goddamit Jeremiah, Disco Squirrels Blinking and very much enjoying it. It's a punk masterpiece stuffed full of really great songs. And because Helen and Jacqui both take part in FAWM they asked a whole bunch of us if we wanted to be in the video for You're My Kind Of Weirdo so of course we said yes...

The band have a Facebook page where you can find out more about what they're up to and where they're playing. They're good. You should check them out.


I've been having a lot of fun this week recording music—and not just mine, either! My trusty 32-track recorder and I were out on Monday evening, tracking drums for a friend's band who will be shooting a promotional video at some point in the not-too-distant future. They wanted a recording that shows off how good they sound live, so that is where I came in. More details on that as things progress. Taking gear out on the road has taught me that I need to treat it with respect, so as soon as I got home from the session I ordered a proper flight case for the recorder. Could this be a new side hustle for me? Judging by the results I got when I played everything back here, I seem to be pretty good at getting a decent sound with it...

My own music has been taking up a fair amount of time as I have become more than a little bit engrossed in recording an album full of pieces which employ live looping as their principal compositional process. I find this approach strangely addictive. Perhaps it's because it's almost entirely improvisational so I never know what I'm going to end up with until I push the record button. Finding out has been a lot of fun.

I should have the album ready for next month's Bandcamp Friday, and it is already shaping up to be one of the longer albums I've released. With a grand total of 17 tracks, if I could afford to properly release things on physical media this would be well into "double CD" territory. I've already produced the cover, and there's a strong theme to the album even if I'd hesitate to use the phrase "Concept Album" to describe it. Yes, I've been thoroughly enjoying myself.

More details next week.


The last wrinkles have been ironed out of my solar PV installation and it's now doing what it's supposed to do: any surplus energy generated by the panels on the roof now gets diverted to the immersion heater to heat my hot water. When the water in the tank reaches the desired temperature the PV system switches to exporting surplus power to the grid. The idea is that this free energy will reduce the amount of energy I have to pay for when I use my gas boiler to top up the tank. For most of the year that—and cooking on my gas hob—is all that I use gas for.

At present, the only power that's going in to my storage battery is from the panels. I'm doing this to see if I can get through a month without consuming any electricity from the grid at all (or at least come very close to doing so). The weather earlier this week was distinctly grim and that meant my battery was pressed into service quite a bit; I didn't quite make it through the evening without if getting down to its reserve level (which I've set fairly conservatively) so I didn't quite manage self-sufficiency for a couple of days, although if I'd tapped into the reserve storage I'd set, I would have done. The weather outside is still dull and overcast today, but it must be brighter because as I type this at 10:30 am the panels are generating a kilowatt, which is much more than I'm consuming right now so the battery is being charged back up again.

I like this game.


I made another trip over to see Dan at Puretech yesterday. My trusty Juno-106 is now fully operational and back where it should be: on the keyboard stand in my studio. I spent a couple of hours playing with it yesterday afternoon and even programmed some new sounds on it. Dan said that replacing the control chips as well as the sound generator chips that he normally swaps out worked so well that he'll probably adopt that practice as standard when he gets one in for repair in the future. The work wasn't cheap, but I look on it as an investment, because synths of this vintage are now extremely desirable items. Mine, with a new patch backup battery fitted and in mint condition (I even have the cardboard box it came in from the factory) will be worth a couple of thousand quid should I ever decide to get rid of it. That's a lot more than I paid for it, back in the day. Sometimes, being a pack rat who never gets rid of anything turns out to be useful...

But I had to return the Juno-60 for further work, because it has not been happy since I got it home in January. When Dan plugged it in in his workshop, it did make noises (which was an improvement on when I'd last powered it up) but the sounds it was making were not the ones I'd programmed and it started doing some very strange things indeed (like oscillators switching on and off all by themselves). My heart sank when Dan uttered the words you never want to hear from a technician:

"Oh, that's very weird..."

By the end of the afternoon, he'd established that the Juno's CPUs seemed to be the problem. There are two: one on the CPU board, and one on panel board B, so he's ordered replacements for both of them. These have to come from Europe, so it'll be a while before I get the synth back, but at least there's only one gap left in my synth array this morning.


My grandmother used to say that an hour's sleep before midnight did you as much good as two hours' sleep afterwards, and now that FAWM is over I've been putting that saying to the test. I am beginning to think that she was right. I've been having some entertainingly weird and vivid dreams for the past few days. More importantly, though, it seems to have warded off my usual post-FAWM crash (unless you take the act of getting a good night's sleep itself as the crash; who knows?)

But it's nice to feel as if I've worked off any sleep deficit that I may have accumulated since Christmas. I do not miss the days when I was trying to function on less than five hours' sleep a night. I couldn't inflict that on myself these days.


Further playing with Ableton Live 12 has confirmed my fears that they still haven't fixed the snap-to-grid functionality when you're working in odd time signatures.

And Ableton's new Roar distortion plug-in has been somewhat eclipsed by the launch yesterday of iZotope's new version of my favourite fuzz box, Trash (which explains why, to my considerable bemusement, they withdrew Trash 2 from sale last year). I was able to upgrade from my previous version for just £29.40, which was about what I paid for Trash 2 several years ago. I was pleased to see that the new version's very extensive collection of presets includes all of the legacy presets that I know and love, like Honk Monkey and Acid Bite and the new sounds are satisfyingly filthy. I've already made good use of the updated interface's extensive tweaking potential, too; Trash looks a lot slicker and cleaner than its predecessor.

More music-making is on the cards today, I reckon.


I realised this morning that I hadn't checked the release page for Apache's Netbeans editor for a while. It looks like I missed out on version 20, but I'm now running version 21. Once again, I found myself unable to get the same look and feel that I used to have on earlier versions of the editor, even though Netbeans ostensibly imports settings from any previous installs that it finds; once again, I had to manually edit the jdkhome environment setting because the installer was too dumb to find my Java installation. And the "Fonts & Colors" tab in the Options dialog box still hasn't been combined with the "LAF" settings that are currently in a separate "Appearance" tab, a thing that makes me eyeroll hard as someone who used to work in the UI field, because both sets of options affect the program's UI in similar ways.

But despite my moaning, I still find myself using it because (1.) it's entirely free and (2.) I can't find anything else that does the same thing without spamming me with adverts or upgrade options that I'm never going to be interested in...


(Did you see what I did there? I was watching "Beyond The Lighted Stage" again last night after I got a copy on eBay to replace the one I have which has died of disc rot. What a lovely documentary that is; the extra of the three of them having dinner together is a delight, and one of my favourite things ever.)

Ableton Live 12 was released this week, and despite feeling somewhat burned out after the hectic bustle that was FAWM, I've been playing with it, off and on, ever since.

The interface still feels like it's stuck in the early 1990s. The number of different colours available to assign to individual tracks is still limited to 70 (which I presume is because these are the only colours that the original Mk 1 Ableton Push is capable of showing on its pads) and while they've made some tweaks to the UI it still feels old and clunky. I haven't used Live 12 for anything other than pieces in 4/4 so far, so I have yet to discover if Live 11's lack of accuracy when using "snap to grid" with odd time signatures has been fixed.

But I'm rather taken with the new Roar distortion plugin, and Robert Henke's Granulator III (which can be downloaded as a free add-on pack from the Ableton website) is tons of fun.


After waking up yesterday morning to an unexpected and unpredicted fall of snow (the Met Office only issued its yellow warning of snow after it was already falling here), today is bright and sunny and the snow has all gone. And as I type this, my roof is generating 5.3 kW of electricity. That's pretty good considering it's only March and even though it's noon the Sun is still relatively low in the sky. I wonder what I'll get out of the panels when the sun is high overhead at the height of summer? I'm looking forward to finding out.

And yes, I will try to stop banging on about the solar panels I've just had installed, but it's something that I've wanted to get done for many years now, and I'm chuffed to bits that it's finally happened.


But I need to rest, I think. I've been in quite a lot of pain for the past few days and sitting in a chair making music (or listening to the music that my fellow FAWMers have mad and leaving comments on them) has not done my health much good over the last month. This morning I had the lie-in I'd promised myself, and it felt good.

Once I feel a bit better, I plan on getting out and about a lot more. Now that we're getting more hours of sunlight every day, this feels like a good idea—although given the amount of rain we've had this winter and the quagmire-like state of my back garden, I think I'll probably be sticking to paved footpaths for the time being.


The "Add new song" button disappeared from the FAWM website at noon, and the madness that is February Album Writing Month is over for another year. Despite all the disruption of the past few weeks, I had a very productive month and my final tally of tracks stands at thirty. That's my fourth-highest tally since I first posted to the site back in 2010, although it was still a long way off the year I went crazy and wrote forty-two songs, back in 2022. I have just updated the spreadsheet I use to track my creative output (because of course I have one, doesn't everybody?) and was amused to see that my grand total currently stands at 1,337 tracks. That feels somehow fitting.

I worked hard at my craft this year. If you listen to any of the songs on my profile page (and you can do so until the site goes into hibernation on April 1st) I hope you'll agree with me. I have a lot of listening and commenting to do on other people's songs, so that will be my priority for the next week or so. And it'll be a very enjoyable thing to do, because judging by all the songs I've already listened to, a lot of other FAWMers have had a bumper year, too.

But this afternoon I'm beginning to think this year's traditional post-FAWM crash—and there always is one—is going to hit me particularly hard. It was hard to get out of bed this morning, although I managed to get up, have breakfast and write and record a final song for FAWM before the site stopped accepting submissions. I intend to take the first half of March at a much less frenetic pace than I set for the whole of February. Tomorrow, I'm going to have a proper lie-in.


As I type this, the sun is shining and my newly-installed solar panels are generating more than 3 kW of electricity. At noon, they were putting out more than 4 kW, and it's relatively cloudy outside. Most of this is going into my battery, which is currently sitting at 50% charged (I'd run it down over the last couple of days because the weather has been somewhat grim). But so far this week, I've imported just over 16 kWh of electricity from the grid; at this time of year that figure has usually been above fifty.

The real payoff will happen once I start exporting power to the grid...