It's been quite a week. I didn't get to bed before 1 am on both Thursday and Friday night. I haven't pulled two consecutive late nights for a long time, and after spending most of Saturday in a crumpled heap, I know why. But it was worth it.
On Thursday night I caught the 22nd film in the current run of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, Avengers: Endgame. Don't worry, I'm not going to go into spoiler territory; I'll just say that I thought the movie was very satisfying and handled a surprisingly rich blend of emotions very well. Three or four of the gags in this film are the funniest I think I've seen in any MCU movie, and they had the audience laughing out loud, me included. On several occasions, though, characters said something unexpected or ever-so-slightly odd that made me wonder if they might be setting things up for the next phase of the movies; given how far back some of the things that pay off in this movie were set up, I wouldn't be surprised if this was completely intentional. No doubt time will tell.
On Friday night I was back at St. George's Hall in Bristol to spend an evening with Heavy Devy himself, the inestimable Mr. Devin Townsend. Dev has become one of my favourite artists over the last decade, and it's always a pleasure to see him perform on stage. On Friday night he'd stripped things back to the basics: this was a solo concert with acoustic guitar, a few backing drones triggered by an Ableton Push, and Dev's amazing voice. The version of "Deadhead" that he belted out as the second or third number in the set (depending on whether or not you count playing a cheeky few bars of "Detox" to begin with as a song or not) made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. The audience in St George's were very different from the crowd at the Trinity Centre when Dev last came to Bristol with an acoustic tour. There, the whole audience bellowed along to every song; here, everyone sat in reverential silence, although there were a few Ziltoid and Herman puppets in evidence. Dev was quite taken with the acoustic in St George's, which is extremely dry and unforgiving (his exact words included "brutal" and "clinical") and he would occasionally provide commentary on the song while he was playing it, describing his reactions and demonstrating a pin-sharp awareness of both his performance and the venue receiving it. Dev knows when he's not delivering a perfect performance, but the way he ploughed through only his second ever live performance of "Why?" from Empath with running commentary on the shortcomings of its delivery only served to make him even more endearing. A few gags were set up in advance, including a comment to sound guy Paul about how glad Dev was that he'd fixed the feedback problems (cue a sharp burst of booming feedback from the guitar) and a comment on the lights being a bit bright resulted in the hall being plunged into darkness. Both got big laughs. He then asked whether the lights could be made red, and instead got a soothing wash of pink across the stage. "Pink? Okay, I can live with that..." After a twenty-minute intermission (which was introduced, as only Dev can, with the immortal words "now is your opportunity to urinate and defecate, and avail yourself of a beverage"), the second half of the show was in a Q&A format, with Dev reading out a number of questions—some more coherent than others—that had been submitted by the audience. Even for one of Dev's concerts, this got more than a little out there. Somebody gave him a very accomplished portrait; someone else asked if he could send a message to his friend, who was too ill to attend. Dev dutifully did, and got the rest of the audience to shout a greeting too. Somebody then took the opportunity to interrupt and announce that his friends in the audience were expecting twins, and weirdest of all, "Steve" asked Dev to hit pause so that he could go out for a wee. This last interruption prompted Dev to stop answering questions and instead improvised a song that examined the shortcomings of Steve's weak bladder and dodgy prostate in gleeful detail. The audience lapped it up and cheered Steve when he returned. We would quite happily have stayed there all night and I suspect Dev would have too; the show went on way past its curfew, and he finally left the stage at 11 pm after a rousing finale of "Life" off Ocean Machine where we all joined in with the refrain of "See you on the other side." And I'm sure we will, but I have tickets for the show in Cardiff in December as well, just in case.
As you can see from the header at the top of the page, the album I blogged about at the weekend is finished, and you can listen to it or buy it on Bandcamp right now - just click on the link.
But the really exciting part for me (and, I hope, for you too) is that, unlike my earlier releases, this album is also available on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music, Tidal, and all your other favourite streaming services.
It's a novel experiment and a big leap forward for me; there's an ocean of music out there in the digital domain and I wanted to see what happens if I let my tracks swim with the bigger fishes. I'll add links to each service as the album comes online there. If you could add it to your libraries, I'd be very grateful as this helps raise my music's visibility with the arcane algorithms that such services use and gets it into people's ears, which is where I think it belongs.
After the stand for the second monitor on my work setup developed an annoying rattle last month, I bought a VESA mounting arm for it (with my own money) which cleared the problem. The stand was cheap, at under £20, but turned out to be much better than I expected. In fact, it was too good to leave at work. As I'm not going to be there much longer, I have now brought the stand home and used it to add a second monitor to the PC in my home studio. This means that I can now run Live on my main screen and have any plugin windows open on the second. I also took the opportunity to replace the analog D-SUB cable I've been using on the main monitor with a £5 digital HDMI to DVI cable. The main screen I use is an old, 24-inch flatscreen Samsung monitor, and it's old enough to predate the introduction of HDMI, but its native resolution is 2048 by 1152 and now that I'm feeding it a digital signal, the picture on it is pin-sharp.
To try out Ableton with this switched-up rig, I went back to some tracks from my recent FAWM and 50/90 endeavours and listened to them again with critical ears. For all my talk of producing "finished" demos with full production values when I take part in these challenges, repeated listening to the results usually makes me want to change things. For one thing, if I get bored with a track after half a dozen listens, it's unlikely that anyone else is going to rate it as being any good. So I took some of my "nearly there" efforts and pulled them apart, taking away old things that weren't quite working, and adding new things in their place. I spent most of yesterday afternoon deeply engrossed in this process, adding extra instrument tracks, moving segments around, recording new guitar and synth parts, and aggressively remixing anything that didn't sound up to scratch. When I finally called a halt I realised that I had half an album's worth of material on my hands. It seems silly to stop at this point, so I've set myself the target of having an entire album's worth of freshly polished-up tracks ready to release by the end of the Easter break.
I'm even recording some new music to round things off. When it's all ready, I'll post the link here.
It's just over a month since I picked up my Lexus hybrid, and I've already driven over 1500 miles in it. So, what do I think of the hybrid experience so far?
The short answer is that I'm loving it.
I am really enjoying not having to fill up with petrol every few days. I can get well over 450 miles out of a single tank without any effort at all. Even with the driving style dial set to normal, I'm getting around 61 miles to the gallon on a commute that includes long stretches of motorway driving. If I stay off the motorways and go cross-country instead (as I did last Friday to avoid the inevitable end-of-term traffic on the M4—the tailbacks for the Almondsbury Interchange had already reached junction 17 by lunchtime) I get around 74 mpg, which I find astonishing.
I've now spent many hours in the driving seat, and my first impression of a very comfortable driving position has not altered. Inside the car it's much quieter (particularly at low speeds, and we'll get to that in a moment) which helps to reduce fatigue when driving long distances. The reduced levels of cabin noise also mean that the audio system does what it does very well. It's nice to finally have a DAB radio so I can listen to BBC6Music and Radio4 Extra in the car. Other things that have made me smile include the keyless entry and ignition (at least, they did once I'd replaced the batteries in the key fobs, as the car showed a "key battery low" message several times), a steering column adjustment system that actually lets me get the wheel into a comfortable position, and having a sunroof again. I hadn't realised how much I'd missed being able to pop the roof for a bit of fresh air.
The biggest surprise I've had so far happened when I drove the car at night for the first time; the headlights, particularly on full beam, seem to be an entire order of magnitude brighter than the Juke's. They illuminate the road ahead as well as the lights on my old 350Z did. The foglights also seem to be better, and I made good use of them yesterday, which was the foggiest morning I can remember for quite a while.
Now that the weather is warming up again, I've had the sunroof and the windows open and I've realised just how quiet the car is when it's in EV mode and just using the electric motor; when I'm doing less than 20 mph in the business park, or the local supermarket car park, it's virtually silent. It's weird, but it's the future. And that seems a good way to sum things up.
It's Sunday afternoon, and outside the Sun is shining. It's a welcome change from the heavy rain and hail that arrived a week ago (when there was even snow, further north). The advent of spring has resulted in an unusual burst of domestic activity by me this weekend; I've done the laundry and the ironing, I put up some bookshelves, and I vacuumed the house, upstairs and down. I've even started to clear up the living room, which looked like I was in the third week of a particularly disruptive poltergeist attack. I knew I hadn't tidied up in a while, but when cleaning starts to blur into archaeology it's past time to get busy. I've managed to clear away most of the stacks of books that had accumulated on the floor by my reading armchair, and the recycling bags are gradually filling up. I've even registered my new car at the local Sort-It centre so that next weekend I can take a bunch of old electronics there for recycling. Spring cleaning is very definitely under way.
I've been amazed by the amount of dust that had accumulated since the last time I went round with the vacuum cleaner. It wasn't that long ago, surely? Okay, it might have been a month or two, or perhaps three, but the size of the dust bunnies that had built up under the bed was remarkable. There was a thick layer of dust on the shelves in my bedroom and I found myself wondering just where it all came from. At this point you're probably thinking about the old chestnut that most household dust consists of human skin cells, but that turns out not to be the case; more than half of it comes from outdoors. As there are several very active quarries within a few miles of here, I wonder if what I'm seeing is, in part, pulverised rock from local blasting? When they set off charges, it throws big clouds of dust into the air. Even so, I suspect a lot of the dust in my house comes from textile fibres; some of my carpets could really do with replacing, as they were fitted when the house was built back in 1990. I'm thinking of switching to hardwood floors where I can, but that particular project is on the back burner for now.
Nevertheless, the cleaning has had a noticeable effect. The coffee table is clear and I've made good headway on the dining table, too. And rock dust or no rock dust, I've got the windows open to let in some very welcome fresh air.
The only trouble is, I know what comes next. Spring means that it'll soon be time to start fixing up the garden...
The flicker of resilience that's crept into my thoughts today is not something that I'd expected to happen as a result of cleaning the house, but I'm sure that it was doing the housework that caused it. It's been a most welcome surprise; I think I needed to feel like I achieved something today.
I've been at a low ebb for the last couple of months. I've come down with every stomach bug that's been going around. My weekends have been spent indoors, and recently they've featured frequent afternoon naps. I've been so down, in fact, that I've been considering going to see the doctor about it, but I think I'm just following my normal pattern: my low points usually come in phases, and they often arrive at the end of winter. The evenings may be getting lighter, but when the clocks go forward I usually feel like I'm still wrapped in the gloom of deepest winter. It takes a while for my dopamine levels to respond to the extra daylight.
Sometimes my low points herald the start of better things. It's twenty four years ago today since I moved out of my house in Milton Keynes and the curtain closed on a part of my life that now feels like ancient history. I was not sorry to leave MK behind. As soon as I started working for CBL in Filton all those years ago, I felt like I belonged here in the South West, and once I'd moved in to this house that feeling got stronger. Sometimes my anxieties become so overwhelming that I lose sight of what I'm capable of, or of how lucky I am to live somewhere like this. I need to work on my personal resilience and remind myself that I've been through big changes in my life before—and rather than being disasters, they seem to have worked out pretty well.
I don't think it could have possibly been more painfully obvious yesterday that the tradition of All Fools' Day is something whose time has been and gone. Real stories in the news have become so ludicrous and fantastical that any amusement to be gained from fictitious ones has long since been replaced by irritation, if not outright, bleak despair. On a day when SpaceX boss Elon Musk decided to release a rap song about a deceased gorilla, scientists announced that dubstep puts mosquitoes off having sex, and an actor who plays the President of the Ukraine on a television show has ended up as a front runner in the polls to elect Ukraine's next real president, what's the point of trying to decide whether stupid stories are true or not?
Satire isn't necessary any more. Can we just quietly agree not to bother with April Fools any more, and get on with stopping the real fools from breaking anything else, please?
There's an interesting essay over at Nautilus (which has become one of my go-to sites for discovering interesting and thought-provoking articles) about the geometry of thought, which reveals that not only does our hippocampus represent thoughts in a three-dimensional space, the smallest individual cells of this cognitive space appear to align against a hexagonal grid. Fascinating.